Authors Note: I know, I know... another story from me before I finished my open ones. But hey enjoy.
It was something that Hermione had always wanted to do; since she had heard about the illicit adventures of The Marauders, since she had realised Rita Skeeter's secret but honestly she had wanted to do it ever since she had seen a dignified looking tabby cat transform into the slim, elegant Professor that she so admired.
The adventures of the previous seven years had not been conducive to letting her fulfil that ambition but now that Voldemort was gone... all of the possibilities in the world were open to her and her friends. Harry and Ron had gone on a trip to 'find themselves' and Hermione had elected to stay and finish what she had started all of those years ago.
So she had remained within the crumbling ruins of the school. Hermione ignored protests that she should be out enjoying herself and began to help the remaining staff to rebuild. Through the long evenings and weekends off she began to study and practice to fulfil her other ambition – that of becoming an animagus.
It didn't take the young woman long to succeed.
Chapter One – Among the ruins
With an agile leap the small calico cat cleared the gaping hole in the West Hall Staircase and slipped underneath some crumbled masonry. Until the main wards were re-established to defend the castle, all of the entrances were charmed to alert the inhabitants to anyone entering or leaving. In her animagus form Hermione could wriggle through blocked corridors and the small holes left unrepaired in ancient walls.
On a night like this she needed to be outside. The sky was clear and crisp, the stars bright and more visible than normal. A ghostly green ribbon of light flickered across the heavens, as though the spirits of those who had died here were welcoming her.
The main courtyard was free of debris and Hermione could explore without fearing that she would hurt herself. One aspect of being a feline that she had not yet adjusted to was the fact that her senses worked in overdrive, she would either focus on one thing to the exclusion of all else, or was almost deafened and blinded by the sheer amount of stimulation around her. No wonder that a lot of new animagi went insane or became trapped in their animal forms.
She could hear the ants marching over the neatly swept cobblestones, could smell the distant scent of highland cattle, hear the splash of the octopus in the lake. Lithe footsteps led her across the courtyard towards the rubble-strewn causeway that formed the main approach to the castle. A narrow 'human' path had been cleared down the middle but Hermione's cat form avoided it, flitting around, between, through and over obstacles.
Suddenly between her feet was the faint scent of blood, long since scorigified. The smell was faintly familiar but she didn't bother trying to identify it. Smells and faces were harder to recognise in this form, she knew that from experience. And to be honest she did not want to know who had bled on this patch of stone.
Her trek into the night continued.
Eventually Hermione reached the middle of the causeway and slowed her steps because this was the most damaged part. Her footing became treacherous. Most visitors to the castle apparated into the courtyard or used the floo network and so repairing external structures was not the priority. This had been neglected.
The scent of rabbits wafted on the breeze and she lost her caution, not watching where she was putting her paws. The small cat began to walk towards a subsiding part of the bridge, not noticing the slight tremors that started even under her tiny weight.
"Meeeerrrooowwllll!" The sudden annoyed warning from another cat made her jump into the air, all four paws leaving the ground at the same time. She shot a startled, defensive hiss upwards towards the animal.
All of the pet cats with the exception of Mrs Norris had fled the castle before the battle and so this was the first feline that Hermione had met in her cat form. Her sensitive nose told her a great deal about the creature, more than her eyes did – despite having the ability to see in the dark.
The other cat was sat on the crumbling balustrade, tail neatly curled around large paws. Vividly striped in grey and black, whereas she was camouflaged in muted shades – instinct told her that this was a powerful, confident feline in its prime. Hermione did not have the experience to identify friend from foe, she knew that her ears were folded back against her head and that her fur was sticking up along her backbone but she couldn't help it.
Hermione hissed again and continued walking. The other cat lept, knocking her from her paws. The calico yowled, irritated. A large striped paw pressed her onto her side, applying pressure every time that she tried to move. After a moment she gave up struggling and lay placidly. The paw released her and allowed her to stand.
The vividly striped tabby walked a few paces forward and pressed its weight on the weak section of the structure. A loud crumbling, grinding noise sounded and the cat jumped back, just in time as a huge section of stonework plunged into the ravine. Hermione whimpered as the realisation hit as to how close she had come to death.
The tabby bumped into her shoulder as it turned and walked in the direction of the school. The meow it gave was imperious, obviously she was being told to follow. After such an effective demonstration Hermione felt as though she had no choice. She obeyed.
Once the young woman stopped dragging her feet, she took her time to watch the very unusual cat that she was following. The tabby moved stealthily but with a skill that she didn't yet possess – always picking the best route through the rubble, keeping them both safe. But it also seemed to be scanning the area for danger (or food), large ears were swivelling in all directions and it frequently paused to survey their surroundings.
Hermione realised that they were not heading for the same opening as she had used before. They were on the wrong side of the courtyard. The tabby led her to a sheer wall, where six feet above the ground was a missing pane of glass. Powerful hindquarters tensed and the cat lept up gracefully.
The smaller calico looked upwards at the smooth stonework and meowed plaintively. How on earth was she supposed to jump that high? The tabby gave another imperious command from above. Hermione dug her claws into the stone, wiggling her bum as she tried to work up the courage to jump.
Summoning all of her strength the calico lept towards the window and only made it halfway up the wall before falling back onto the cobblestones. The other cat purred encouragingly and Hermione tried again, falling even shorter this time. The tabby idly stepped off of the window sill, landing daintily next to her.
Amber cat eyes stared into green ones apprehensively as the larger cat drew closer. Their whiskers brushed as the tabby moved its mouth to the back of her neck. Hermione almost cringed when teeth gripped her scruff gently but firmly. The next thing she knew she was lifted off her feet as the striped cat lept upwards.
Hermione closed her eyes, scared of falling. So she was very surprised when they landed safely and the teeth freed themselves from her neck. The larger cat delicately sniffed her face and she returned the gesture. The tabby smelt like fresh ink on parchment and freshly mown grass with a hint of ginger. It gave a soft meow in goodbye and jumped down from the window sill, running down the corridor and deeper into the castle.
Hermione headed off towards bed.
The next morning
"You look happier today Hermione."
"Thank you Professor."
"Now I've told you to call me Filius." The small man boomed with laughter and patted her on the arm.
"It is hard to break the habit... Filius." She smiled at him. "What are our plans for today? I finished the library yesterday."
"I'm not sure, Minerva will be here in a few minutes in any case."
Hermione nodded returning her attention to her breakfast. It was currently the best meal of the day, sent up from The Three Broomsticks because the kitchen was not completely repaired yet. Lunch was sandwiches provided by Aberforth at The Hogs Head, who enjoyed some truly odd concoctions. Dinner was generally sent over by Molly Weasley who was a good cook but not on par with the elves or Rosmerta. Every day was long and exhausting, so they all generally stuffed themselves.
Currently Hermione was the only person present who was not a member of staff, occasionally a new face would appear to help for a day or so but would then vanish. Some of the staff members would go home for a few days. Only Professor McGonagall and herself had remained in the castle since the battle except for the funerals. They had seen rather a lot of each other and had found that they worked well as a team.
Horace Slughorn was currently wolfing down breakfast along with crystallised pineapple that he had received by owl that morning. He was more popular than ever, now that he had embellished the tales of his bravery during the battle. Hermione shook her head wryly and helped herself to another piece of toast.
Minerva walked into the room exchanging greetings with her staff and sat in the empty seat next to Hermione. "Good morning."
"Good morning Professor."
"Hermione was just wondering if you had anything planned for her now that she finished the library." Filius chirped.
"I did not realise that you were done, that was fast."
"I left a report on your desk last night."
"I apologise but I ignored my paperwork yesterday."
"Day off?" Hermione chuckled.
"Something like that. However I think that I will have to do it today or the weight will bring down the tower."
"Hey, I underpinned that tower, it's solid."
"The lady doth protest too much." Minerva teased Hermione but without malice, making the younger woman smile. "The stone causeway has been neglected for too long, I was planning to start on that today. Would you like to help?"
"Of course Professor."
It was amazing how different things looked with her human eyes. Due to her greater height she could see much further into the distance, although without the same clarity. Remembering to test it first, she leant on a relatively intact part of the balustrade and looked down into the dizzying abyss below. She shuddered at the thought that if not for the other cat she would have fallen into that.
"I assume that you are not planning on jumping?"
"No Professor. I don't think that it has come to that."
"Good." The older witch came to stand next to her protégée. They both looked down at the mass of tangled stonework far below. "The Minister asked me to temporarily store the broken stones down there, for later use as a memorial."
"That's a good idea. It would be wrong to sweep everything away and not leave a scar. We have to remember... to make sure that this doesn't happen again."
"In my experience there is no real way to stop dark wizards rising, all we can do is try to be ready for that to happen."
Hermione glanced at her mentor for a long moment before giving into her curiosity, "Are you always this cynical?"
Minerva smiled, "I prefer to consider myself 'a realist' but you are essentially correct."
The older witch chuckled and turned to sit casually on the low stone railing. "Not always. When I left Hogwarts I was bright, enthusiastic, optimistic and eager to change the world."
"Then real life intruded?" Hermione's voice was rather sad, knowing that she had lost a great deal of her own naivety in the last few years.
"Yes but you are naturally less pessimistic than I am – there is no need to feel that you will turn into a dire old woman." Like me was implied but not spoken.
"You aren't old. The word old implies a certain amount of frailty and impairment, neither of which come to mind when I think of you."
"You are far too kind."
"No I'm to use your word realistic. You aren't old..." Hermione laughed, "Dumbledore was old."
Minerva gave a chuckle and stood up, "Well unlike Albus... I act my age."
"Good point." Hermione also stood, surveyed the mass of broken stonework, crumbling supports and rubble before speaking. "This is a mess."
"It certainly looks different through human eyes, does it not?"
The young witch spun around, turning her shocked gaze to Minerva. "That was you? But I didn't recognise..."
The older woman walked the two steps towards Hermione, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. "At the moment your animagus instincts are overpowering your human ones. Recognising people and places will become easier over time." She then turned and with economical wand movements she began to levitate a large piece of debris away from the delicate superstructure and allowed it to fall into the ravine.
Hermione listened to the distant crash before plucking up the courage to speak. "Did you recognise me because you are more experienced?"
"I did not recognise you last night. You smell very similar to your cat form and being in the same place allowed me to make the connection."
"You don't mind that I..?"
"I do suggest that once things calm down at The Ministry, you should go and register."
There was silence between the two women broken only by charms as they began to move the large pieces off of the causeway. Although simple, the sheer weight that they were lifting and the concentration required made it hot and sweaty work. Dust stuck to their skin in a way that had become all too familiar over the last few weeks.
More than an hour passed, Hermione stopped and glanced at the older witch. Minerva was wearing dust smeared jeans and a long sleeved T shirt, it was an outfit that she tended to wear when doing dirty tasks. Idly the young woman noted that the fabric was form-fitting and highlighted curves that she had never imagined that the Headmistress possessed.
"I know, I am filthy."
Hermione realised that she had been caught staring, "No more than I am... I was just thinking that muggle clothing suits you."
An ebony eyebrow lifted. "Why thank you," the words were slightly sardonic but held an amused lilt that made the young woman grin in response.
An effortless summoning charm brought two bottles of water flying towards them. Minerva caught the both and kicked away some small debris so that she could sit down. "Take a rest." When Hermione joined her, the older woman handed her a bottle.
Gratefully the young witch took it, holding the cold plastic against her forehead for a moment before opening it and taking a swig. "That's better. I must say that I am sick of my mouth tasting like dust."
"Although it is better than Aberforth's sandwiches."
Minerva was mid-way through taking a sip when Hermione said that, she couldn't swallow and laugh at the same time. The elegant witch ended up accidentally spitting water over herself. "Shit."
The young woman laughed, "That's the first time that I've ever heard you curse."
Emerald green eyes rolled theatrically, "Well I am only human."
"It must mean that you're starting to get more comfortable in my presence."
Lips twisted into a thoughtful expression before Minerva smirked. "And what exactly is that supposed to mean?"
"You know exactly what I mean. You carry yourself so tightly most of the time and while you have a confidence that lets you relax in any situation... you don't seem to let go around most people. Professor McGonagall would never allow herself to swear in front of a former student."
Despite an intrinsic dislike of being psychoanalysed, the ebony haired witch couldn't help but chuckle. "And Minerva McGonagall would?"
Hermione grinned, "I don't know I haven't been introduced to her yet."
Something flashed in emerald eyes and the older woman was lost in thought for a moment before coming to a resolution. She held out an elegant hand, "Minerva."
"Hermione." Wryly the younger witch grinned and shook it.
Another few hours passed. The two women had managed to clear the larger chunks of debris and were about to move onto smaller rubble when a house elf appeared with a tray. "Thank you Bibbi."
It always amazed Hermione that Minerva knew all of the house elves by name and it made her smile. The older woman took the tray with a grimace, knowing that it would be another inventive meal from Aberforth. The young witch led her mentor to the other side of the causeway and sat down in the shade of a tree.
"Do you honestly believe that bettering the scenery will make this more palatable Hermione?"
Another smile followed, "It couldn't hurt."
Hermione picked up a sandwich and sniffed suspiciously at it. Her nose detected something sweet and almost a vegetable like scent. Tentatively she took a bite and began to chew with an almost comical look of shock, dismay and disgust.
"What is it?"
She forced herself to swallow, "I'm not sure but I think that it's honey and lettuce."
"For the love of all that is holy..." Minerva closed her eyes and lay back on a blanket that the younger witch had hastily conjured.
Hermione took the entire tray and pitched it into the ravine.
"Temper, temper." A teasing tone laced the Scottish brogue.
Minerva only blinked surprised as the younger woman vanished. She was rather tired and so she closed her eyes, resting the back of her arm over her face to blot out the sunlight. The Headmistress fell asleep without meaning to.
In her dreams someone was touching her comfortingly, lovingly. Fingers were caressing her body and lips were tracing her features. It was an unhurried seduction. Gentle fingers brushed against her sides and down her flanks, while kisses began to explore the tender skin of her neck.
The Headmistress woke up with a start, hazily remembering the chocolate eyes and chestnut curls of her unknown lover in the dream. She gave a frown, idly thinking that she hadn't had that type of intense sexual fantasy since she had been a teenager – obviously she was under more stress than she had previously thought. She shifted her thighs, trying to move her thoughts to safer ground before her young companion came back.
A glance up at the sun told Minerva that she had been asleep for about twenty minutes. Her stomach began to rumble but she was craving something other than lettuce and honey sandwiches. Anything other than Aberforth's latest concoction in fact. The elegant woman sat up and looked around for Hermione.
After a moment she spotted the younger watch walking over the causeway, she had a large paper bag in one hand and two cardboard glasses on a tray in the other. "Sorry I was so long Minerva." She handed one of the cups to her mentor, "I hope you like Coke."
Hermione blinked in surprise, "Um... no... Cola. It's a muggle drink."
Minerva laughed, "You should see the look on your face."
"You like teasing me don't you?"
The older witch patted Hermione's hand. "I enjoy sparring with you dear. Explain this co-la to me."
The young woman smiled, "I don't know how to describe it, it's just... Coke. It's a fizzy drink."
"What does it taste like?"
"Here," Hermione handed her a straw. "This one is diet and this one has lots of sugar. They taste different, so you should try both."
She watched Minerva struggle with the straw for a moment before she helped the older witch. Green eyes dilated in shock as the bubbles hit her tongue and they widened as the distinctive flavour washed over her taste buds. "That is... interesting."
"Try the sugary one."
The pure-blood obeyed with caffeinated alacrity, "Oooh... this one is very nice."
Hermione grinned once again, "And there I was thinking that only Dumbledore had a sweet tooth."
"Ssssh... it is a secret."
The younger woman laughed, "Ok, now this is a Big Mac." She took two cardboard boxes from the bag and placed one in front of Minerva.
"Big Mac..? Is it Scottish?"
"I don't think so but maybe. The company that invented them was called McDonald's, so while they were American perhaps there is some Scottish ancestry." She pulled out her packet of fries, opening her burger box and pouring them into the lid. "These are fries."
"Fried what exactly?"
"Um... basically thin sliced crispy chips. It's an American thing."
"Aaah I see." The older woman copied Hermione's action and took a huge bite of her burger. Emerald eyes closed in enjoyment as she gave an orgasmic moan.
The young witch snickered, "I take it that you enjoy? If a Big Mac makes you moan, what'll you do when I buy you a quarter pounder? It's been a while since I heard someone make that kind of noise outside of the bedroom."
Still chewing Minerva opened her eyes and shot a mock glare at her protégé. "And when exactly was that?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?"