This story was written as a Christmas gift for Kellychambliss and Tetleybag. They were the inspiration for the story and the title, but above all they are a constant inspiration in my life. The marvellous miss_morland did a wonderful job as a beta.

It's part of a series, and it might be more fun to read things in order:
1. Sleeping Dragons
2. A Helping Hand
3. Procrastination

Quills, black ink, green ink, parchment, recipe book. Wilhelmina aligned each item with meticulous care. There! The preparations were done; she could sit down for a brisk bit of list-making. And then she'd tackle each item on that list. She'd start straight away – that is, she'd make herself a cup of coffee and then she'd start.

As she stirred the instant coffee, she thought of Minerva and her ideas on the brew. Well, why not make herself a proper espresso, or even a cappuccino, this time? After all, thanks to Luna's generous offer, she had all the time in the world for her Christmas preparations. Good girl, Luna. Very good. A few days off were exactly what she, Willa, needed to get everything done, and it was very generous of Luna to make it possible. She took out her wand and carefully Transfigured the steaming mug. Smelled good. Not quite Min's standards, but good indeed.

Willa took the cup to the table and picked up her quill. Now, what would be the most practical way of doing this? Wait! She'd have a look at the latest issue of Witch Weekly first. They did a big Christmas Special each year, full of useful tips. She might find some ideas. Some ready-made check-lists, even. No need to re-invent the cauldron. And the cover really looked a treat …

A bit later, Willa closed the magazine with a disgruntled sigh. On the good side, she now had something to say to her colleagues at the annual Christmas drink. She'd have some comments that really showed an interest. The section on Dreaming of a White Christmas had been beautifully done. Mind, it would cost you an arm and a leg to buy all those white decorations, and it would take the better part of a week to put it all together. But the pictures looked lovely.

On the downside, she had just frittered away the better part of an hour, and she wasn't a step further. All they seemed to think of in that magazine was the Big Countdown to Turkey Time. And that was the one thing Min had been adamant about …

So she'd better list the things they had agreed on. Right. What had they decided, exactly? As Willa stirred a second cup of instant – she wouldn't Transfigure it this time, she'd settle down to her list now – she remembered the afternoon a few weeks ago, when Min had shown up suddenly.

Quite surprised Willa had been, when she had walked towards the cottage and noticed the two pots of lavender on the same side of the door. Their old sign, from the First Voldemort War. Agreed upon after that dreadful episode when Willa had entered her cottage and, while she was still taking of her gloves, had realized she wasn't alone in the house. There was someone in the living room. This is it, then, she had thought. They've come for me. To capture me. To use me as leverage for Min. Never. Never that. And she had drawn her wand and cast a thundering Petrificus Totalus through the wall. The heavy thud had been most satisfying.

To her surprise, a complete silence had followed. The silence where no-one moved, no-one breathed or was startled, simply because there was no-one. She had been rather pissed off by that – did Lord V. think one would be enough to capture her? It was an insult.

Then she had carefully opened the door to the living room, her wand still drawn. And she had seen Min stretched out in front of the hearth, stiff like a broom, with a smile still on her lips and, as they found out later, a sizeable bruise on her arse.

Willa had been mortified. Even when Min had turned it all into a big joke and had insisted on repeated kissing-the-pain-away therapy, she'd been devastated at the thought of what could have happened.

"You could have broken something," she had agonized. "Could have hit your head against something. It might have …" But she couldn't bring herself to saying it. The sharp edge of the hearth stone, so dangerously close. So they had agreed on a sign for whenever Min showed up unexpectedly. The two lavender pots on the same side. "How symbolic," Min had sniggered, and that had made Willa laugh for the first time that day.

Well, that's one properly dissolved instant coffee, Willa thought, as she slowly returned to the here and now. Nearly stirred the bottom out. She resisted the temptation to look around. There was no crowd in her kitchen, pointing and jeering at the woman who had Petrified her lover. It just felt as if there was. Always did. Worse than a hot flush, to remember that moment.

She turned to the table and picked up the quill. Forget about it. Start the list. What Min had said was …

xoxoxoxoxox

"I'm home!" Willa shouts cheerfully. Minerva steps from the kitchen, an apron tied over her robe. A waft of something with garlic and wine follows her. "And something smells delicious," Willa adds.

"I thought I'd cook us dinner," says Minerva, "and I've a bottle of red open. I needed some for the chicken, so how about a glass? And how was your day? How's Luna doing?"

This is too close to prattling for comfort. Clearly, something is amiss. Not seriously amiss, or Min wouldn't be making chicken stew, but she's a tad too cheerful, and there is a brittle note to her voice. Willa takes off her coat and gloves, and envelops Min in a big hug. As she expects, Min clings just that little bit longer.

"Such a treat," Willa says, settling herself against the kitchen counter. "Shouting 'I'm home', I mean.

"Shouting 'I'm home' is a treat?" Minerva looks surprised.

"Yes. Love it." Seeing the uncomprehending look in Min's eyes, Willa explains. "Different for you, I dare say. You're surrounded by hundreds people all day – when you get to your rooms, you crave solitude more than anything. But I always worked alone, and when you were here in the holidays, it was a treat to have you to come home to. Still is. Now, how about that glass of wine you mentioned?"

Minerva pours, and Willa noticed that she looks more relaxed. They're not in the habit of saying 'I love you' all day, every day, but sometimes things need to be spoken.

"So, to what do I owe the pleasure?" Willa asks.

"Well, I've some excellent news, actually," Min says. "It's about Christmas. I can come and spend it here."

"Here?" For one moment, Willa is speechless. Min has never left Hogwarts over Christmas – there were always children who couldn't go home, and Min needed to be there for them. That's why they celebrate Christmas – if you can call it 'celebrating' – with a visit from Willa on Boxing Day, the exchange of gifts, and an afternoon of leisurely talk in Min's rooms. And at some point, one of them usually says something about a last present she wants to unwrap …

"Yes, here. It's really rather marvellous of the others – the staff I mean. Filius and Pomona came up with the idea. They said that I deserved a proper Christmas holiday for once; they would hold the fort. Hagrid's there to help, of course, and Neville is staying, too. So I can leave on the 24th. And I don't have to be back till the 2nd of January – that's when the Hogwarts Express comes in. It's really too kind of them. All that extra work. Aren't they marvellous?"

The last time Min put so much sincere, professional warmth in her voice was when she got the Order of Merlin First Class. And Willa knows only too well what Min had to say in private about a Ministry that did bugger all during the war and that took more than two years to award a posthumous Order to Severus. So, what's the best way to tackle this bit of middling good news?

"It'll be wonderful to have you here, Min," Willa finally says. "Gives you a chance to put your feet up during the holidays. To have the kind of Christmas you've always wanted. And, you know, you might even like it."

"What do you mean, I might even like it? It's terrific, of course," says Min, turning around for what looks like a completely unnecessary stir in the stew.

This is the explanation for the exaggerated cheerfulness, then. Mins' staff may have wrapped it up in gift paper with a sprig of holly on top, but basically they just told her they can very well do without her. And they told her she must want to take things easier. It's a try-out for retirement, that's what it is. It's 'See? Hogwarts manages without you. The show will go on.' Willa knows what it feels like. She has had her 'retirement is getting real' moment when she took on Luna as an apprentice. She's used to the thought by now. Comfortable with it. Yes, she's comfortable with it. Min isn't. Just starting on the journey, Min is. Willa takes the spoon from Min's hand, puts an arm around her waist, and draws her close.

"I mean that it hurts like hell, doesn't it?" she says. "That they can do without you. Mind, they've had to rope in half the staff, but … It's a first step towards leaving – and that was all right when it was just plans, but it's getting real now, isn't it?"

"No! Well, yes. It does feel like a first step. A sort of official slowing down. But I love spending Christmas with you, really, I do. I don't prefer Hogwarts …"

"Course you don't. Never thought you did," Willa interrupts. "Stop apologizing, Min. I know I come first with you. Only doubted that once, during That Year. Never before, never after. Wish I could convince you."

"So do I," Minerva sighs. "It's just … But, on the other hand, I've spent thirty years telling you that Petrificus didn't matter, and you … See? You're blushing even now."

"Well, we both have our bruises. And there's no need to rub your arse, Madam, I know a thing or two about healing. That particular bruise is gone, and you won't get kissing-the-pain-away therapy. Not before I've had that stew. And then we'll make some plans for Christmas."

Clearly the quick change in subject – and to the Petrificus, something Minerva never mentions normally – means that Min isn't ready to discuss retirement yet. Still, she knows Willa understands. That's all she needs right now.

Over dinner, there's some Hogwarts gossip – all the more entertaining now that Minerva feels free to let off some steam about not being needed. Willa in her turn regales Min with the Case of the Missing Bowtruckle.

"What shall we do for Christmas?" Min finally asks when they've polished off the stew. "Do you have any ideas?"

"Not really," Willa says. "Never did Christmas before, did we? We'll have a few presents as usual, but … basically, everything else will be different."

Minerva grins. "A lifetime of being together and here we are, discussing our first Christmas. How's that for unconventional?"

"Unconventional is a good starting point, I think," says Willa, sipping the last of her wine. "Let's just do what we want to do – if this is the start of a new Christmas tradition, it may as well be exactly as we like it. And I've had my first treat. Having you here. Your turn now. What would you really like?"

"No turkey!

xoxoxoxoxoxoxox

Yes, this Christmas Holiday thing was a sore spot for Minerva. Understandably. When Willa had taken on an apprentice, they had both talked about retirement. Made tentative plans, even. And Minerva had made a few changes at Hogwarts that were a preparation for stepping down. She'd given Neville more responsibilities. Delegated things to Filius. She was getting things in shape, with her usual efficiency – but that very efficiency was backfiring on her now. This whole holiday project meant that the staff was ready to take over, eager to show their mettle. And that was something Minerva hadn't expected – not for three or four years, at least.

She'd make sure that Min would feel free to talk about Hogwarts. Whenever she wanted to. No need to pretend that she wasn't looking at the clock regularly, thinking at Hogwarts, they'll now find their presents in the Common Rooms. Or, they'll start lunch any time now. Min would probably call it whinging; it made it sound lighter, more like a joke. But it wasn't whinging – it was grieving. Giving up something important.

That was a clever little drawing she'd made on the to-do list. Or rather, on the empty parchment that should have been a to-do list hours ago. This wouldn't do. It wouldn't do at all. True, she had two whole days to prepare. One-and-three-quarter day, by now. But this wasn't the best use of her time – and she owed it to Luna to use her days off well. After all, kind, perceptive Luna was giving up quite a bit of her own time to look after everything, so that she, Willa, could do her shopping as a lady of leisure. And she could spend all of the Christmas period with Min – no need to rush off for stable-work. Luna had offered to work through Christmas of her own, free will. True kindness, that was. She ought to be grateful for it. She was grateful. Luna was a good girl. Very good.

So, no more wandering thoughts. Action. She would just note down everything they had agreed upon, Min and she, in chronological order. If there were items that demanded shopping or any kind of action, she'd write them in green. Then she'd make her way to Diacon Alley, and it was a good thing she had bought most of her gifts already. The pre-Christmas rush would be bad enough as it was.

Willa dipped the quill in the ink and firmly wrote down the first words.

Christmas Eve: Min arrives in the afternoon. Will want to curl up near the fire [check wood pile] and read the Christmas Carol book. Tea, or wine, and some mince pies.
Simple supper. Min wants

xoxoxoxoxoxox

"More than forty years of turkey! And it's not even the most tasty of birds," Min complains.

"You're absolutely right. My mum was a great one for Christmas with all the trimmings. Bread sauce, cranberry sauce, the works. Only, there was just the three of us, and Mum also believed in waste not, want not. Turkey soup, turkey sandwiches, turkey pie, curried turkey …" Willa shudders at the memory. "I like cranberry sauce, though."

"Oh, so do I. Turkey sandwiches with lashings and lashings of cranberry sauce. And I only take the turkey because you need something with the sauce."

"Agree," Willa nods. "You need to set off the tartness. But did you ever try it with toasted camembert sandwiches? That's what I make every year for my supper."

"You do yourself very well, then. How come I've never heard of it?"

"Actually … you always had the full trimmings at Hogwarts, and I thought it might sound rather bleak. Mentioned it to a reporter at Witch Weekly, once. She was aghast. Said it sounded so sad and lonely. Guess that's why I never mentioned it. Thought you might think it sad, too. And worry about it, which would have been nonsense. Always liked my quiet Christmases."

"Well, I think it's a great idea." Minerva looks at Willa's still somewhat apologetic smile and adds, "And what was that so-called journalist thinking, anyway? Does she expect single people, or couples, to do the whole turkey trot?"

xoxoxoxoxoxox

Min wants Toasted Camembert Sandwiches with cranberry sauce.
Christmas Day: leisurely breakfast. [Breakfast things – for three days] Doing exactly as we like – unpack gifts at some point. [Pick up pre-ordered book at Flourish and Blotts. Wrap the other gifts.]

xoxoxoxoxoxox

That's the main gift settled then, Willa thinks as she walks through Diacon Alley. They can order that book on the Salem Witches in time for Christmas. "I can't wait till it's at Hogwarts Library," Min has told her. Typical, that is. Min is the soul of generosity when it comes to buying presents for her friends, but she'll never spend five Galleons on a luxury, full colour book for herself. Too much Scottish austerity.

But she'll get Min a second present as well. A new dressing gown. She needs one. The current one is at least twenty years old, faded and worn in places. "Not fit for a Headmistress," Willa has pointed out more than once. "Definitely not good enough for you." But, "It's still decent and serviceable," Min says whenever Willa brings up the subject. So Willa will get her that gown.

As Willa hastens to the cashier with her purchase, she notices a large sign with Discount in screaming red letters on a rack of nightgowns. Not surprising, she thinks. Didn't see such old-fashioned monstrosities since … Well, since …

Ten Sickles really is next to nothing. And since a year she knows Minerva has this kink for Victoriana… In the night after that Acromantula sting, Min has come out of the flannel-and-lace closet. Willa ought to show some proper understanding for that little kink. Indulge her, show a willingness to try, as befits a broad-minded partner.

"It's a good thing to be open about what you enjoy," she'll say. And, "never knew you were into this kind of …erm … role-play. But it's all right to want it. Don't hold back."

Those little bunches of forget-me-nots really are too twee for words. And the lace on the wrists is a delight. So is the ruffle at the bottom. It's the most perfect period piece Willa has ever seen. Except the one Min Transfigured herself, of course. That was worse. Erm … that was even more authentic.

Willa chuckles as she adds the nightgown to her shopping. It is the perfect fun gift. And a beautiful revenge. At some point during the holidays, she will get Min to put it on. Min will look lovely. A prim-and-proper, slender Victorian maiden. Of the kind that is simply itching to be ravished …

xoxoxoxoxoxox

It was getting hot in the kitchen. Or perhaps it wasn't the right time to visualise undoing those tiny buttons, or a slow, inch-by-inch lifting of that dress. Or hands teasing other little buttons, far more interesting than mother-of-pearl ones. Or even pushing the Victorian maiden on the bed and having her wicked ways with her …

No, this was definitely not the time for visualising. The list. Almost finished now. No more procrastination.

Boxing Day: Being lazy. Hanging around with books. Walk, perhaps. Min must not feel obliged to do any cooking. [Get in all sorts of ready-made goodies. Definitely Smoked Salmon.]

And with a final flourish and a satisfied smile Willa noted down the last items on her list.

[Pick up Christmas tree]

xoxoxoxoxoxox

"It sounds so frightfully self-indulgent; all I want is doing exactly what we like, with no obligations at all."

"Min, be realistic. You've had forty years with one obligation after the other. I'd say doing exactly what you like for a change is perfectly normal. And they're good ideas. Sitting by the fire, books, a walk, and little nibbles when we're peckish. Just the thing."

"But what would you enjoy? There must be something?" Minerva stares at Willa. It's a look that has probed the souls of generations of students. Willa doesn't even try to resist. Min will get it out of her somehow. Better give in graciously.

"What I'd like – to be honest, I'd like a chstmstree…"

"A what? I didn't get that."

"A Christmas tree. A small one. Silly idea, of course. We're grown-ups. You've been up to your eyebrows in trees and decorations. Never bothered with one when I was alone. But since you asked what I'd like … well, there it is."

This time it's Minerva who gets up and hugs Willa.

"That's the only thing I didn't think of," she says. "Because Filius always handles it, I guess – Christmas trees just happen, at Hogwarts. But of course I want one."

"Would mean buying a lot of decorations," Willa says. "And you wouldn't have time to … that is, I had thought of maybe choosing things together. Since we might use them for several years. Important that you like 'em, too."

"Actually, I could come Friday afternoon. And I'd love a tree that has the colours we choose! Not the ones that don't offend any House-feelings, I mean."

"I was always partial to a bit of red," Willa smiles.

"So am I. And …" Min suddenly smiles. "Now that you've mentioned a tree …"

"Out with it. You want multi-coloured, animated fairy lights? You want a stuffed reindeer singing Christmas songs? Don't feel shy, Min, you can share your innermost desires," Willa murmurs in her most over-the-top bedside manner.

"Willa, please! Although your ideas are inventive – I can see that you have given this a lot of thought." Minerva's Encouraging Teacher Voice isn't to be trifled with, either. In her usual tones, she continues, "It's just … when I cleared out my parents' house, I actually kept one tree decoration. A little angel. Frightfully kitsch, but it used to hang in the top of the tree every year, and as a child I thought it the loveliest thing in the world."

"We'll hang it in the top, too. As to lovely - it'll face some pretty stern competition, with you around."

xoxoxoxoxoxox

That was the Christmas List taken care of. Had only taken her half a day. Now off to Diacon Alley, for an afternoon of shopping. Willa planned to decorate the tree that night – leaving a space at the very top. Would it classify as being of unsound mind, the desire to kiss someone senseless just because she had kept a beloved Christmas angel for over thirty years, on the off chance of having her own Christmas tree to hang it in?

Willa checked her list once again before setting off. Just to make sure she added:

[Clean up clutter. Hang wreath on front door. Make sure little outdoors lantern is lighted when Min arrives.]

Not that she was a control freak. Just wanted to have everything perfect for Min. Relaxed, stress-free, and leisurely, everything that Christmas at Hogwarts wasn't for the Headmistress. And Willa had all the time she needed to get things just so – thanks to that excellent girl and her willingness to help out. A good thing, for a stressed-out hostess bustling around with last-minute preparations was the antidote to Christmas cheer – that much she had learned from Witch Weekly.

And it was important that Min truly enjoy herself. First Christmas without Hogwarts. First time she really considered retirement – not as a thing you might do some day, but as here-and-now. Willa had felt the difference herself. "One day, when I'm retired, I'll do …"

… nothing that has committees.

… only conferences in which at least four topics are really fascinating.

… that article on medieval unicorn lore and how the notion of virginity has nothing to do with the animals themselves.

Fun ideas, all of them. There had been conferences where she had stayed awake by calculating the number of months to her retirement. She had even calculated the weeks, when the speaker was some Ministry official.

Didn't prepare you for the first time you truly realised what you'd have to give up. She had felt it when she took on Luna. And Min had been there for her: to help her make the right decision, to hold her when she needed it. She'd be there for Min, too.

For the whole week, thanks to Luna.

Best apprentice a woman could have, that girl. Clever, good theoretical grounding, excellent with animals. Having someone to transmit a lifetime of knowledge to was an unexpectedly satisfying thing.

Who was she fooling?

The real point, the one she'd been avoiding for days, was this: Luna didn't need Willa any more than Min's staff needed Min – less, probably. Luna would be glad not to be supervised for a change – and she had been perceptive enough not to show it.

So it wouldn't take three or four years before Luna was ready to take over. One year, two at the most. Luna would be willing to work as a mere apprentice for another two years if she gave her some real responsibilities. She'd have to think of letting go certain parts of the work. Really letting go. No constant monitoring. Enough to drive anyone crazy, that.

It wasn't just Min who had to get used to the idea of change in the near-future. Of retirement in the near-future, Willa corrected herself. You should be honest in your own thoughts, if nowhere else. They ought to get started on real, focussed plans. Where they'd want to live. What the basic requirements were for their new home. They'd need a study each in Crone Cottage. They also needed to be able to afford it.

Well, this wasn't the time to work it all out. There was shopping to be done. Cleaning. Decorating. Anything to keep busy. And in fourteen hours Min would arrive.

Fourteen hours – and then they could whinge together.