February 14th 1993
There was something – or someone – behind that curtain, Irma thought as she stood very still at several yards' distance. Not for the first time she cursed the impossibility of Disapparating at Hogwarts. What if …

Then again, whatever had been in the Chamber of Secrets was supposed to be invincible and deadly. It had no need to lurk behind curtains. The most likely explanation contained the words 'adolescents', 'hormones', and 'Valentine'.

Irma cleared her throat. The curtain moved. Irma steadied herself against the wall, her wand ready in her hand.

"Is that you, Irma? Thank heaven for that."

Minerva McGonagall stepped out of the little recess. Irma blessed herself for having had the good sense to talk first and hex later. Minerva looked exhausted – again.

She works far too hard, Irma thought. And patrols endlessly. Hasn't had a good night's sleep in months, I'd say.

"What were you doing there?" she asked, utterly astonished. Another round of patrolling? Did Min want to find out something? She couldn't be hiding, the thought was too ludicrous for words – a less than stellar description for a thought that had just been put into words, Irma realised.

"I was hiding," Minerva sighed. "I'm trying to get to my rooms, and I can't take three steps in this bloody castle without someone stopping me with yet another problem. I'm at my wit's end."

She looked at Irma, made a movement as if to continue speaking, then stopped.

"Do you want me to walk you to your rooms?" Irma said. "I mean," she added hastily, "you could pretend that we have some important discussion; it might stop people from talking to you."

"That's just what I wanted to ask you," Minerva smiled. "Would you? I am sorry to bother you …"

As if, Irma thought, walking up with Minerva, taking care to look businesslike.

"What was it today?" she asked.

"That Valentine card action. If I hear one more rendition of 'His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad,' I'll scream. And you know what that damn Lockhart did next?'

Irma was briefly remembered of a childhood favourite among her Muggle books, 'What Katy Did Next'. This didn't seem the right moment to bring it up.

"No, what is it this time? I got a card from him with Surely the Hogwarts Books must love you! on the inside, but I thought that rather amusing. That is, I amused myself shortlisting books to send to him - the one that bites, or the one that gets stuck to your hand, or even the one that makes the reader feel as if he's living inside it."

Minerva grinned, and immediately looked stern and concerned again, as befitted a Deputy Headmistress in deep conversation with the Librarian.

"Surely that could be a pleasant experience?"

"It's set during the Goblin Wars, at the time when the Goblins were winning."

"Ah, I see. Well, your day was at least as well-spent as that of your colleagues."

They had reached Minerva's door, and to Irma's surprise – and delight – Min invited her in.

"Would you like a drink? Ogdens? Wine? I've only red, I'm afraid …"

"A glass of red would be lovely," Irma said, as she sat down in one of the cosy chairs and looked around. Lovely room, it was. Soothing. Must be a haven, after Min's usual working day. Quickly, she returned her attention to the interrupted conversation. No need for rude staring.

"What did the others do, then? Oh, Merlin, no! Don't tell me … He didn't send cards to everyone, did he?"

"I'll spare you the discussions on the individual cases and just give you the summary," Minerva grinned, as she served the glasses and sat down contentedly in another chair.

"Pomona was treated to Surely there's a little lovage for you!, and ponders the use of a Shrivelfig – she said that even if it doesn't shrink his ego it still might work on other bits.

"Argus got Surely you'll find another cat to love! He merely wants to hang, drown, and quarter Lockhart. And scatter his ashes on the four winds. As Argus put it in his inimitable way: 'A short, sharp shock will do the bastard good'.

"And Filius got Surely there's a little love for you!; he contemplates a colour change charm – on Lockhart's person or on his wardrobe, whatever would pain him more."

Irma couldn't help herself. She screamed with laughter. "Oh, Minerva, it's priceless – you should have been an actress. The way you tell it … and as to Filius, I'd definitely recommend changing the hair and eyes. It's quite clear that Potter's not-so-silent admirer has never really seen the colour of a freshly pickled toad, but the idea is not without merit. You might suggest …"

"You're right, and I will."

Minerva laughed and looked less tired, Irma noticed with pleasure.

"I'll get us a refill," she told Minerva, "you stay where you are. You deserve a bit of rest. Put your feet up."

For a moment Irma feared she had overstepped the mark; it was the first time she was in Minerva's private rooms. Surely it was too forward of her, to do the honours like that – to act as if she belonged here? But Min just smiled and thanked her.

She filled both glasses carefully, anxious not to spill a drop on Minerva's side table. Then she put Minerva's glass on a small occasional table next to her chair. Min had closed her eyes for a moment. Irma realised how utterly drained the Deputy must feel, what with overexcited students, disgruntled staff, the Petrification victims, Lockhart's idiocies – the list was endless.

Irma looked down on Min's face. A small lock of hair had escaped the immaculate bun, and the worry-line between her eyes was deeper than usual. She felt a sudden rush of tenderness and without stopping to think, she did what she had done hundreds of times during exactly the kind of erotic fantasies her Guidelines advised against: she briefly caressed Min's cheek.

And before she had time to panic over that insane familiarity, Minerva held her hand. "Oh, you're such a comfort - just being with you makes me feel better," she whispered, pulled Irma gently towards her and kissed her cheek.

A grateful peck-on-the-cheek from a good friend – that's what it was, Irma thought. She had been lucky yet again – Min could have been horrified. But then, somehow, while Irma was still counting her blessings, she ended up sitting on the armrest of the chair, and they were kissing for real.

"I've wanted to do that for months," Minerva whispered. Irma felt Min's hands exploring her body, lingering on her breasts. This, she thought, is where I ought to stop her. She's had a hellish day in a hellish year; she's tired; she downed that wine far too quickly; she'll regret it in the morning. It would be a chivalrous, Gryffindor act to back out now.

Thank Merlin I'm a Ravenclaw.

Look at it rationally. Min isn't a blushing maiden. She's a grown woman, older than I in fact, more experienced probably, and she'll not thank me for deciding what she wants or doesn't want.

As her hands began to explore Minerva's body as eagerly as Min explored hers, she suddenly, incongruously, had a mental flashback to Granny Pince's kitchen. Gran, baking as always, using the pastry roll to underline her every word, saying, "It's the things you didn't do that you'll regret when you're my age, girl, far more than the things you did do."

You really were the greatest, Gran, Irma thought as she cupped Minerva's breast in her hand, moved over to sit next to her in the chair – half next to her, the chair being too small. And witches' robes are a cursed nuisance, she thought.

But anyone who could lift heavy books wordlessly and wandlessly could get robes halfway up a witch's thighs without undignified groping. Tentatively at first – was she going too far? – she caressed Min's legs, getting bolder as Minerva moaned with pleasure.

Minerva leaned over to lift Irma's robes, pausing briefly to stroke her ankle. Min's hand was on her calves, and then brushed the hollow of her knee with delicate fingertips. Were there nerves that ran straight from your knee to … there …? Irma wondered. And groping isn't undignified, it's much better than magic – don't think of using spells ever again don't think …

Fingers teasing the outside of her thighs, then the inside, then moving up and up and …oh, no … down again… and up, drawing circles, approaching but never quite touching where Irma craved to be touched, until she was a quivering mass of longing in Minerva's hands.

"Please …," she gasped, still not bold enough to ask outright. At last, Minerva finally put one tantalizing finger between Irma's legs.

Touches that went from feather light to more insistent, making Irma's hips buck. Minerva's hand cupping her mound, the soft pressure of a palm, fingers teasing her, pressing against her knickers …

She'll notice I'm all wet, Irma thought. Already. She must think I'm …

"You're all wet," Minerva whispered – was that relief?

"You really want me," Min went on – had she seriously doubted that? Ever? Minerva had been insecure … as insecure as Irma herself? That's awful, Irma thought, Min must never feel …

"I want you so much," Irma whispered, quickly, before her courage would fail her. "I've wanted you for months, for … please, your bedroom."

They just made it to the room before Irma frantically unbuttoned Minerva's robes – was that a tearing sound? And so what? They were witches, they'd put it right … whenever. As the simple, cotton shift Min wore underneath fell down Irma gasped in surprise. Satin underwear? Embroidered? Purple and black? Well, what did you expect, she thought. Gryffindor red? Tartan? Min has taste.

"Gorgeous," she whispered. Minerva smiled, taking it the way it was meant: as a comment on more than sensuous underwear.

"I'm not prim and proper all the way through," Min murmured. And that, too, was about things other than damn sexy knickers.

As Min undressed her, Irma had a brief moment of panic – which bra am I wearing, she thought. Does it even match? And when did I last shave my armpits? Min will hate that; it must look …

"Oh, god, I need you," Minerva said, with a voice so full of longing that Irma felt a ripple of excitement run through her body. Clearly, Ravenclaws could be wrong, too.

Several hours later, as Irma watched the pale moonlight move from the bedpost to the puddle of clothes on the floor, and to Min's face, relaxed and smiling next to her, she let the images float through her mind in wondering enjoyment.

Min's face, studying hers as her hand pinched Irma's nipple, caressed her tummy, stroked her softly; teasing out moans, teasing out wetness as, with her other hand, she worked one, two, then three fingers into Irma's body. And then Min's mouth had replaced one hand, and Irma had gasped and finally screamed when that soft tongue and those long, tapered fingers pushed her over the edge.

And Min herself, spread out in complete abandonment, moaning 'yes' and 'please'. The way she looked when she came, how she had clamped down on Irma's fingers. The dizzying sense of power and exhilaration, that she, Irma Pince, could make someone – Minerva! - feel like that.

She grinned briefly as she thought about her own insecurities. There might be a booklet – or an article – in that, she thought. Wandless, wordless Transfiguration spells, that'll take care of legs, armpits, toenails, and underwear, at times when witches found themselves in … unexpected situations.

But would she have the time, or the inclination, for much writing in the future? Somehow, she doubted it.

Countless Certain Ways to the Heart (and Body) of Minerva McGonagall might well be her Magnum Opus.

a/n Next week's story has a decent walk-on (yes, one could call it walk on) part for Minerva. However, it will show up as Rita/ Poppy.