A/N This fic was written for the HP-worldcup-bets on Dreamwidth. I had put my hope and faith in the German team (and that for a Dutch girl). And … well … It was a small consolation that our boys in orange made the finals. This story was written to pay my debt of honour, and below you'll find three good reasons not to read it.
It isn't beta'ed. I've the best betas in the world, but in this case they're also the recipients.
It's too long. 500 words of starched, white uniforms with, perhaps, a bit of Quill-tickling thrown in was what Tetleybag hoped for. 3k of waffling and a second-hand neck rub is what she gets. Ah, well. It's an imperfect world we live in. If it weren't, Holland would have beaten Germany in the finals.
And it's OOC verging on the crack, but I'm not to blame. Tetley started it, Miss, she wanted to play at Role Reversal. And then it all just … happened. Liek whoah.
Hogwarts, Tuesday morning
Pomona Sprout peeked around the door of the office.
"Am I disturbing you, my dear?"
"Oh, Pomona, I'm sorry," Poppy Pomfrey said ruefully. "I didn't mean to snap at you. It's just – "
She pointed at the pile of parchments on her desk.
"That looks like a nice amount of contributions," Pomona said as she sat down opposite Poppy. "Last week you were worried you wouldn't have enough material. At least people are writing now."
"They're not," Poppy sighed. "They're waffling. Babbling. Blathering. They're having all sorts of god-awful egotrips. Really! 'We're planning a Liber Amicorum for Minerva's 85th birthday; please share your strongest, best memory of her. ' What is there not to understand about that?"
"What sort of thing do you get, then? Surely they can't be all bad," Pomona replied soothingly. Poppy really seemed quite flustered. And stressed. She even looked right royally pissed off – it wasn't an expression one would normally associate with kind, calm Poppy, but now it seemed fitting.
"Well, on the positive side, there's a lovely piece from Rolanda on the shenanigans the two of them got up to when they tested Potter's Firebolt. And Molly Weasley has contributed a nicely-written story of the first and only prank she ever pulled on Min – in Min's first year of teaching, that was. Molly charmed the blackboard so that all the writing showed up in a tartan pattern. Very entertaining, and just the kind of thing I was hoping for.
"And Filius has promised me a piece by the end of the month. He needed some time, he wrote."
Pomona and Poppy exchanged an understanding look. Filius's strongest memory of Minerva was linked to the Christmas when Death Eaters had destroyed his family. He would work his way through that, and then he would choose some suitable Hogwarts moment and turn it into a story as elegant, well-executed, and pleasing as his Christmas decorations. If courage were linked to size, that man would top Grawp.
"But on the other hand," the angry look returned as Poppy pulled a parchment from the pile, "there's junk like this. Oliver Wood." She adjusted her reading glasses and read out loud.
"My strongest memory of Professor McGonagall is of the day she fetched me from a class because she had found me a Seeker. Of course, Harry had to find his way … blablabla … During the second year … blablabla … In the third year I changed my overall strategic … blablabla.
"Oh, and as an afterthought, there's Professor McGonagle was pleased, too – and he misspells her name! And that's how awful most of these stories are. Really, the things people think fit for publishing!
"And there's worse. Read this!" Poppy handed Pomona another parchment. Pomona checked her hands for traces of earth and carefully picked it up.
"I see what you mean," she said after a few minutes of reading. "It's bland, it's cliché-ridden, and it could be about everyone. There's nothing that really shows us Minerva's character. Who wrote it?"
"What? Rita? Surely, she could do much, much better than this?"
"Oh, she could. Most of them could."
Pomona grinned. "Yes, well, we can't give them a detention or force them to try again. All you could do is editing it a bit, but if it's this bland, it would take a Quick-Quote-Quill to get results."
"Exactly." Poppy pointed at a neat, white quill on her desk. "That's exactly what it takes, and what I will use, too!"
"Poppy!" Pomona was speechless.
"Poppy, you can't do a Skeeter on people," she finally managed, trying to sound reasonable rather than shell-shocked.
"I'm not going to do a Skeeter on people," Poppy replied acerbically. "I'm going to do a Skeeter on Skeeter."
And Poppy slammed her desk with the force of someone who is quite unused to that sort of thing and therefore doesn't realize it can seriously hurt. It did nothing to sweeten her temper.
London, The Leaky Cauldron, Tuesday lunchtime
"One Shiraz, one Chardonnay," Millicent Bulstrode announced as she put both glasses on the table. "And now, Parkinson, you're going to tell me the little bit of gossip that makes you look so smug."
"Right. Here goes. Mind, at this stage, it's all conjecture; I don't have any factual evidence yet. But it seems that …" She paused to take a sip.
"Keep the cliff-hangers for your readers, will you? Get it out!" Millicent ordered.
"Well, everything seems to point in one direction: McGonagall is going to retire."
"What? You're joking! I thought she'd die in harness. I mean, that school is her whole effing life; what could she possibly do next?"
"You know, Mills, you've hit on the main problem: motivation. It's not as if she has a life outside of Hogwarts. I mean, can you visualize her with a lover?"
They both grinned. Visualising was an old game between them, but some things defied even the most fertile of imaginations.
"But on the other hand," Pansy continued, "She's not that young anymore. This birthday celebration they're planning would be an excellent opportunity for the announcement. And there's definitely a major scoop brewing at Hogwarts."
That was serious information. Pansy, a journalist and Rita Skeeter's right hand, knew every wizarding scoop before the wizards involved knew themselves.
"Rita is off to Hogwarts this afternoon, and it's that hush-hush she didn't even tell me," Pansy said.
"If she didn't tell you, then how do you know?" Millicent asked reasonably.
"She's wearing her low heels."
Millicent stared blankly at Pansy, who paused to sip her wine.
"Think, Bulstrode. It's impossible to Apparate at Hogwarts, remember? So that means …"
Understanding dawned. "That means walking all through the grounds to get there," Millicent said slowly. "And naturally …"
"Believe me, it's the only time Skeeter ever wears low heels. She's even bought a new suit for it. A rather yummy sort of warm apricot, by the way. I wouldn't mind wearing it myself. Now, try to find me another major Hogwarts event that fits all the facts."
Millicent paused to think. "I can't, and you're right," she finally said. "And I'm not even going to wager a bet on it; I've learned my lesson."
They chatted for some time, and then, suddenly Millicent looked up.
"I've got it. The One True Theory. Fits all the facts AND offers motivation."
Pansy took one good look at Millicent's sparkling eyes and put down her glass. The next bit was bound to be hilarious, and there was no point in ruining a perfectly good blouse by splurging red wine all over it.
"The Truth Beyond," grinned Millicent. "You know about that Liber Amicorum they're doing? And that Madam Pomfrey is the contact person? Well, it must be an awful lot of work on top of her normal job. And she's not the youngest, either. So Rita has decided to go down and help her.
"It's all hush-hush because she wants the honour for the book to go to Pomfrey, and she's doing it because she has always admired Poppy Pomfrey and has these deep feelings of sympathy and friendship for her. And she's wearing apricot so that she'll come across all warm, caring, and approachable. "
Pansy screamed with laughter. "Millicent, you're something else! So, basically, you're telling me that Rita Skeeter is on her way to Hogwarts on an Errand of Mercy?"
"Yep." Millicent nodded, with a grin that belied the smugness of her voice. "A closeted Ministering Angel about to come out, that's how I see our Rita."
Hogwarts, Tuesday afternoon
The door to Poppy's office was thrown open with a bang.
"That blond trollop has come to see you," Argus Filch announced morosely. From the various Muggle films he had seen, he had picked up the fact that good servants do not knock. Unfortunately, his Upper-Class butler skills had not yet reached the level of announcing visitors properly.
"Skeeter, I mean. Wearing a flaming orange suit. Too tight and too short. Shameful, it is. Wanton. Will get the boys all exited," Filch pronounced with the utter conviction of a man who had checked and double-checked every inch of wantonness on offer and who was sure of his facts.
Poppy sighed. "Show Madam Skeeter in, please, Argus," she said.
She had planned to confront Rita that evening; this was rather a surprise. But there were advantages. She would be on her own territory. Her attack would be unexpected. And when it came to keeping a cool head in an emergency, Healers won over journalists every time. As long as she stayed perfectly focused and in control, the match would be a walk-over for the Team in White.
As many of her patients had found out, Poppy could be surprisingly direct. But when it suited her, she could also turn small talk into a form of art. As she kept up a pleasant conversation, she made a quick assessment of the facts. Skeeter in Hogsmeade by sheer accident? Unlikely. Sudden decision to drop in? Not in a million years. There was something behind it. Still, the woman had chosen to use the 'how's the book going, could you do with some help?' approach. The latter, of course, a mere politeness. But one Poppy planned to use.
She quickly stated some of her difficulties. They shared a laugh on Wood's contribution – to make Skeeter feel they were bonding. And then Poppy moved in.
"Actually, I've decided to interview some people. It might give better results. And what I could really, really use, is some help with my interview skills. Do you think you might do that?"
There was only one possible answer. Before Skeeter could put in a suggestion, Poppy quickly outlined just what exactly she wanted. Again, there was not much the woman could do – she meekly agreed to a 'mock' interview.
From here, it's a doddle, Poppy thought. It's just the same as getting students to confess the specific forbidden prank that has led to whatever unfortunate symptoms they suffer.
First, you ask the question they think is the one meant to trap them. They dodge it. They feel all smug and relaxed. Some disconnected inquiries to lull them even further into a false sense of security – then you go for the jugular. And you get what you want. Or, in this case, my Quill will get it.
"Let's get started," she said briskly.
Why couldn't people understand that a journalist was a skilled professional, Rita wondered. She had honed her own interview skills through years of practice. Now Poppy thought …
And it was truly dreadful. "Won't you take notes?" Rita had asked – but that, at least, was taken care of. Poppy had pointed in the direction of a small table with a quill and parchment.
"I've a Note Quill," she had said. "When I'm diagnosing, I need to keep both hands free for the examination."
And the white quill was merrily scribbling away. But the questions! Completely disconnected and most of them useless.
"So you're telling me you never had a crush on anyone? But surely, all schoolgirls do?"
There was something disturbingly familiar in the way Poppy cocked her head to one side and smiled invitingly. Suddenly, Rita knew. Oh, Merlin, she thought, as she expertly dodged the question. That's one of my own little tricks to extort confidences. She's trying to imitate me. But what's the point? She can't expect every student to have had a crush on McGonagall? And even if they had, it just isn't Liber Amicorum material. Page after page of adolescent erotic fantasies? I think not!
The whole interview thing was a non-starter. How could she tell the poor woman without hurting her feelings? Would an offer to edit the existing pieces be acceptable? Automatically she answered Poppy, who, now that she had asked her so-called in-depth question, looked terribly pleased with herself.
Finally, the aimless babbling stopped.
"Now," Poppy said briskly, "before we start working on this piece, I've a small confession to make. While it is perfectly true that I own a Note Quill, it isn't the one you see there. That is my version of a Quick-Quote-Quill.
"Oh, nothing to worry about; it doesn't embellish or fantasize. On the contrary. What we have here is not what you just said, it's the truth, nothing but the truth, and the whole truth that was in your thoughts. So let's check your strongest memory of Minerva, shall we, and see whether it is something better than that bunch of clichés you sent me."
Poppy picked up the parchment and cleared her throat.
"You will understand," she added, smiling sweetly, "that this is an unedited version. Quite incoherent probably, just your thoughts. We'll have to put in some serious work."
My strongest memory – Merlin, yes. Right here, in the sick ward. "Let's meet in the linen room," he had suggested. "We won't be disturbed there." And we did crave privacy. Madly in love, all over each other, all over Hogwarts, that's what we were. He was magnificent, even then. That lithe, athlete's body, those thighs, those narrow hips … In love he was, in lust, in me … Oh, god, yes.
We lay there, panting, finally exhausted. And then, sounds. Your voice, saying "How was your day?"
We hadn't bothered with a Silencio, and now we couldn't move, couldn't get dressed even, or you'd hear it.
Then the answer.
"Dreadful. I hate faculty meetings."
McGonagall's voice. We were petrified. The end of all things. Sent down. Expelled. Just weeks before our N.E.W.T.'s. Horror.
"Who was it this time?" you asked.
"Sybill . Miss Passive-Agressiveness. We none of us like the admin work, but it needs to be done.
"It's not that I'm not willing, Minerva, but my health?"
One moment we thought Trelawney had joined you, it was that good. Never knew McGonagall could mimic like that.
"My students must come first?" she continued, still in Trelawney's fey, breathless voice.
We had to bite our lips so as not to laugh, never mind the stress. Students come first, indeed. Boy, had the students come first!
"You're all tense," you said, "let me rub your shoulders."
And that was so adorable and caring and Mumsy of you, I thought. There was a silence. Then,"Ooohhh. Ooohhh, that feels so good. Oh, yes, just there..."
It was screamingly funny, of course. Stern, prim, tight-bunned McGonagall, and without knowing it the poor dear sounds just as if … And she'd have no idea what sex felt like of course. But then, nobody had. Nobody but us. We were unique, the Minx and the Lynx, the only two people in the history of the world who had ever felt … or so we thought then.
And then your voice, it had to be your voice, but it sounded all different, thick with longing.
"Oh, never mind that report, it can wait. I want you. I want you now."
And McGonagall's voice - McGonagall, moaning "Oh, god, yes!"
And the two of you left and we sat up and we stared. And stared.
Poppy looked up and stared, too. Rita met her gaze without blinking.
"That Quill of yours wants seeing to," Rita finally said.
"How come nobody knows? Surely, a story like this?" Poppy queried in a cold voice.
"Couldn't tell anyone back then; we'd still be in trouble."
"While you were at school, certainly. But afterwards? Such a scoop? Must have been tempting … especially when Minerva became Headmistress."
"I couldn't tell without giving sources – a story like this needs evidence. And too many people, like our fellow students, would have known what I did there and with whom. We weren't a secret."
"You can't tell me you worried about your reputation?"
The silence fell like a ton of bricks. Suddenly, they both became aware of a scratching sound. The quill, furiously scribbling away. When it stopped, Poppy snapped up the parchment.
Not my reputation, his. We weren't a secret then, but we are now. A scandal wouldn't do, it wouldn't do at all. And then … it changed me, sort of. You'd always been things, really. A professor. A healer. And now – real people, real women. I liked you for it. And it was your secret. Made me feel all … protective, it did. Still does.
The last words a barely readable scrawl.
"That Quill is highly unreliable," Rita snapped, but this time she avoided Poppy's eyes.
"Perhaps you're right," Poppy replied mildly. "Perhaps I …"
"You don't need a Quill, anyhow. What you need is some good editorial spell work."
"Spell work, my dear?"
"Format spells. Grammar. Spelling. Mind, you'll still have to check yourself, nothing can replace a good editor."
"That sounds exceedingly useful. And any editorial advice you might wish to give … I realise you're a very busy woman …"
"Might fit something in."
Finally, Rita looked up. She answered Poppy's smile with one of her own.
"Now," she said, "about that ghastly thing Wood wrote. Let's see what we can do with it. A good place to start would be …"