This story was first posted at an LJ fest, but I dedicate it, with her kind permission, to my wonderful friend Tetleybag, whose enthusiasm for trouser parts and Berliner Bubis made me put Minerva in her chosen Halloween outfit as soon as I read the prompt. Thank you, dear Tetley, for this particular inspiration and for so much more.
Thank you, my wonderful beta Kelly Chambliss, for your invaluable help. As always, the story is much better because of your wise words.
Disclaimer: All characters are owned by JKR. Except Mr Mainwright, who has his own company that has been in the family for generations. He has no intention whatsoever to sell to Warner Bros.
It was one of those days.
It had started with torrential rains during breakfast, which had resulted in a muddy flying field. The First Years had landed like falling meteorites and soaked Rolanda to the skin. Half the Second Years had whinged at being forced to fly in the rain; one or two dare-devils had tried to bully those who were genuinely scared, and she had had to hand out a few detentions.
In the afternoon the wind was expected to turn into a full-blown autumn gale; all the signs were already there. So Rolanda had cancelled all Quidditch practices and dismissed Oliver Wood's wails. And after she had cleared up the broom cupboard, she had had to return to the field where, as expected, she had found the Weasley Twins. They had stayed behind because "flying on the wind is really wicked, Madam Hooch!" It was, when she did it. Not when it involved hexing down the Twins of Doom.
What Rolanda Hooch could use was a quiet afternoon in her rooms. Preferably in the company of Minerva McGonagall, although that was unlikely to happen. Minerva would be busy on Hogwarts business, and if she did have some hours to spare, she'd spend them worrying over the Dementors in the grounds, a possible attack by Sirius Black, and the litigation threatened by Lucius Malfoy after Draco's injury during Care of Magical Creatures. The best Rolanda could hope for was reading by the fire while Minerva marked essays.
What she got, as she hurried through the castle ready for a change of clothes and a chair near the fireside, was the icy-cold sensation of Peeves flying through her. The little twerp hurtled down the corridor like a bat out of hell and yelled "McGonagall's ma-a-a-d!" before he put himself out of wand-reach.
It was well and truly one of those days.
Muttering under her breath – there was nothing like a bit of Harpies vocabulary to ease the seething mind – she turned the corner to the staff quarters. The first things that struck her eyes were an upturned bucket and a puddle of water: the forensic evidence of Peeves's exquisitely-elegant sense of humour. Then there was a loud Obliterate, a flash of bluish light, and the puddle was no more. Instead, there was a faint dent in the granite floor.
And Minerva McGonagall.
Who was, indeed, as mad as a wet hen.
And as wet as a wet hen.
Peeves had clearly had some success.
Rolanda took one good look at the situation and immediately grasped the salient facts. Minerva had Obliterated that puddle (and quite a bit of granite) without even drawing her wand. Mad, therefore, didn't begin to describe it.
If one runs into one's lover who has just suffered a Peeves Prank, it is clearly a moment that calls for social interaction. If said lover is Minerva McGonagall, it is also a moment that calls for great care. Minerva disliked clichés at the best of times. Lately, with all her worries, it had been – well, not the worst of times, but a difficult period.
Rolanda began to realize that the day didn't want to go down as just 'one of those days'. It was hell-bent on being a Day of Epic Proportions, a Day that would Live On In History. The important thing was to make sure it wouldn't be The Day Rolanda Hooch Got Hexed. And there were a daunting number of wrong things to say.
Like, "Was that Peeves's doing"? Best case scenario would be, "No, I couldn't make it to the little witch's room in time." Worst case scenario didn't bear thinking of.
Or "Are you upset?" Minerva wasn't so much upset as likely to ignite from the light of a glow-worm, wet robes and all.
There was a possible explanation for this somewhat excessive reaction to what was, after all, a mere case of 'Peeves again'. But only a man would say, "Is it that time of the month?" to a witch who had the word Obliteratestill hovering on her lips.
Rolanda wasn't a man. She chose "I think we could both do with a cuppa" instead.
Once they had closed the door of Rolanda's rooms behind them, she took charge. While Minerva performed drying spells on her robes, Rolanda changed, put the kettle on, and lit a fire.
"Now, tell me all about it," she said. "And I don't mean Peeves. What's happened? Did the Dementors give trouble again? How Albus could ever agree to having them in the grounds, I don't know."
"It isn't the Dementors. But it's Albus, all right," Minerva snapped. Silently, Rolanda poured the tea.
"It's that blasted party Cornelius Fudge is giving," Minerva continued, clutching her mug in both hands.
Ah, yes. The party. During the past week, whenever the subjects of Dementors, Black, and You-Know-Who were exhausted, Minerva had grumbled about Fudge's Halloween party. She was right in that the pompous old ass was doing the wizarding equivalent of Nero playing his fiddle. Sirius Black on the loose, Dementors at Hogwarts, and the man wanted to give "a little Halloween jollification, because we could all do with cheering up."
She had also cause to be annoyed at Albus, who insisted he and Minerva both go, to keep relations with the Minister on a friendly footing. But it would be nice if occasionally Minerva would forget about all those irritations and enjoy herself. Take her, Rolanda, out for dinner. Or for a drink at The Three Broomsticks. Or to bed. The way she used to do.
Hastily, Rolanda turned her attention back to their conversation. Minerva, it seemed, had gone to Gladrags to get a costume. A costume? What was wrong with her usual dress robes, then? Damn, but she should have paid attention.
Some careful listening made it clear that Albus had informed Minerva that morning that Cornelius's impromptu little gathering would be fancy dress. Blast Albus – he knew how Min hated that sort of thing, so he had chosen the 'I'd forgotten to mention it before' approach.
"Cornelius Fudge gives a fancy dress ball?" Rolanda finally said incredulously. "I can't believe it. He's as pompous as they make them. Merlin, I wonder what he'll go as."
"You've said it. Merlin. Can you see him choose anything but the greatest Greatest Wizard of All Times? He'll be as grand as he can, and he'll enjoy it, too. All that talk of a little gathering and a small jollification – he's focusing all his energy on organizing this ball because it makes him feel he's working on some clever strategic idea for the good of the wizarding world. The bloody man should go as an ostrich!"
"What will you wear?"
Rolanda stared. First at Minerva, then at the mental image of a ball room full of wizards and witches, with a Merlinesque Cornelius Fudge at the top of a grand staircase (surely the man would have a grand staircase?) while a house-elf announced Professor Minerva McGonagall, and Min strode into the room stark naked. Up those stairs. With those endless legs. Hair in a bun or down?
"Stop drooling. I didn't mean 'nothing' as in 'nothing'. I meant I'm not going in fancy dress. Obviously."
Rolanda refilled the mugs. "Why 'obviously'?" she said. "Surely Gladrags sells costumes? They rent them out, even, I think."
"They do. I went there this morning – during the one free hour I had. It's ghastly. Feminism didn't start over fancy dress, but it's things like this that help to keep it going. Have you seenthose outfits?" Without waiting for an answer, Minerva raged on. "Every single costume is made with one thought in mind: how do we facilitate the life of the lecherous groper?
"Sexy Vampire outfits, for instance. Little black numbers with an absurd décolleté. Any vampire bending over her victim would have her breasts falling out. Besides, have you ever seen a sexy vampire? They're too thin, too pale, and they reek of rancid blood and stale coffin air."
Rolanda couldn't help herself; she laughed. Somewhat reluctantly, Minerva grinned back. "Well, it is insane," she continued, but Rolanda was glad to see that she was beginning to see the humorous side.
"What else did they have on offer?" she asked. The sexy vampire outfit didn't sound half bad to her, but clearly, what with loathing the party, Dementors in the grounds, a werewolf on the staff, and a Peeves-Prank to improve upon the shining hour, Minerva had had it up to here. It would do her good to get it out, and, as there were few things more entertaining than Min in full rant, Rolanda was eager to hear it.
"There's also the Sexy Banshee – another black dress. With a so-called neckline that ends at your belly-button and side slits up to your armpits.
"And there are several versions of The Muggle Housewife. According to Gladrags, Muggle housewives do their daily chores in full skirts with petticoats that stop way above their knees. With little frilly aprons and, again, half-naked breasts. Mind, on the right sort of body it must be very fetching, and it does make me wonder why the Muggle men I've seen in London, whenever I was there at rush hour, don't look much more cheerful when they go home. One would expect them to be skipping along the streets in eager anticipation, beaming like a Cheshire cat.
"Which brings me to the next option: cats. To dress up as a cat, one needs net stockings, a tight leotard, high heels and cutesy pointy ears.
"And when I told them I wasn't going to traipse around in those things, the salesman said the costumes were for younger women anyhow, but they did have something for, as he called it, the more mature witch. A high-priestess costume."
"Sounds like an improvement, then," Rolanda suggested, wiping away the tears of laughter at Min's tale. Minerva laughed back. She really was beginning to relax and to see what a fun story it all made. It proved that Rolanda had been right: there's nothing like a cup of tea in times of crisis.
"The mature witch, according to Gladrags, has such an awful body it must be hidden from head to toe," Minerva said, now intentionally in full lecture-mode. "The garment is a shapeless tent, in a heavy dark blue tissue with a few moons and stars in silver. Horribly warm and with a train that makes dancing impossible. When I complained, the salesman seemed quite surprised that someone who's clearly tottering towards the grave would want to dance at all. So I've made up my mind: I'll wear ordinary dress robes, and that's it." This time it was Minerva who poured some more tea, with the determined, precise gestures of a witch who has Made Up Her Mind.
"No, it isn't," Rolanda countered. "You can't go in normal dress robes when the invitation says fancy dress. Especially not since your attendance is more or less a diplomatic mission." She Accio'ed a package of shortbread. It was clear they were both going to miss lunch, and they'd feel even worse with a low sugar-level. Millionaire shortbread would help with that, if nothing else.
Min's predicament reminded her of the time she'd had been invited to a Muggle party, and the difficulty she'd had finding out what Muggle evening wear was. Her fellow Harpies had shown her pictures of evening dresses with hoops that could house a small family, and other dresses – Regency, they were called – that were mercifully without hoops or corsets but that pushed up your breasts till they looked like a plate of eggs, sunny side up. In the end, Muggle-born Emmeline Vance had come to the rescue and …
"That's it!" she cried. "I've found it. If you have some time this afternoon – do you have time?"
"Yes. Albus kindly offered to take over the preparations for Hogsmeade Saturday, to allow me time for 'a lovely little shopping spree', as he called it."
"Brilliant. I happen to know a Muggle shop – I went there once when I needed to rent a Muggle evening gown. They have fancy dress costumes, too, and theatrical ones. You'll certainly find something there. It could even be fun to go together," she added, almost pleadingly.
Would it be a good idea to go on? On the one hand, Min clearly felt better for her little rant. And she had been working far too much these past weeks. Today's outburst made it perfectly clear that she needed to adjust the balance, to make time for relaxation.
On the other hand, now that Min did look more relaxed, wouldn't it be best not to mention the lack of attention, the fact that it had been weeks since they had last done something together?
Did complaining now mean that Rolanda was jealous of Minerva's dedication to her work? Or was it the right time for concern and advice? Minerva had a lot on her plate at the moment. And her job was important to her – more than important, it defined her. In a few weeks the situation might be better. Surely they'd get Sirius Black at some point? The Dementors would leave?
Yes, and then the next problem would come and the next. Every now and then, Minerva – literally or metaphorically –needed to be reminded what it was like to fly. And each and every time it took all of Rolanda's courage to say it out loud.
"You deserve to go out now and then, to forget about the school. And frankly, sometimes – Min, I understand about the stress of the last few weeks, but I think that by now I could do a bit of your undivided attention. It's been weeks since we had fun together. Weeks since we went somewhere, since we had an evening together, even. A real one, not one with you working and me happening to be in the same room."
Minerva stared at her while the still-lingering smile slowly made place for a shocked look. "I'm not …" she started.
Then she fell silent and looked at the mug she was still clutching. She didn't speak for several minutes, and Rolanda, who knew her Min, realised that she was carefully going over the events of the last few weeks. She wanted to refute Ro's statement, but she wanted to refute it with facts. Times, places, actions. So she was looking for things they did do together, time – real time – spent with Rolanda. Not finding any. Digesting that unpleasant truth. Gathering the famous Gryffindor courage.
Finally, she looked up, swallowed, and took a deep breath.
"You're right," she said. "Merlin, you're right. I have been busy … and grumbling … and I made you miss lunch, too. I didn't even ask after your day. Oh, Ro, I'm…"
"Never mind sorry," RoIanda reassured her. Gryffindor courage, she thought. Dragon heartstring. There's no-one like Min for stubbornly repeating faults, for not even seeing it's happening again. But there's no-one like her for admitting to it, either." I know you've been busy, I know you're sorry. And I also know it'll do you a world of good to go on an outing with me. I really think you'll find something in that shop, and if not, we can still have a great time. Forget about what might happen at Hogwarts. Carpe diem."
Slowly, Minerva raised her mug. "Carpe diem," she repeated.
A/N to be continued - usual time and place.