Later That Afternoon
Minerva perched above a scroll and a pile of virginal parchments, the dictionary by her side and the grammar within easy reach. She dipped her quill into the inkpot - she didn't hold with the self-inking ones; she was old-fashioned that way.
It couldn't have been, could it?
Her gaze trailed out of the window. The shutters were open; this side of the house lay in the shadow now, and she'd decided that some natural light was worth a bit of heat.
It couldn't have been that Hermione was flirtingwith her?
Please. Minerva was an old woman, and hardly an attractive catch for a young one whose life was so different from that of a retired schoolteacher in the Highlands who found little time for anything apart from her work on the Hogwarts Board, and the articles she wrote and presentations she gave, the conferences and symposia she went to, and her translation of the correspondence of Boudicca the Breastplated and Litavis the Lovely.
Or was she?
No, and that was the end of it.
That gesture could have meant anything. Morgana's heart, didn't Minerva know all too well that affection could have many faces? Hadn't she tucked many strands behind ears herself, written notes, shared gazes and smiles, perhaps with a bit of tingling in her stomach? Yes, she had. All of that, and more, in her school there had never been more to it, never even the ideathat there could be more - well, at least until Rolanda had showed her that night, in a snowed-in, icy cottage in the Swiss mountains where there had been nothing for them to do but stay warm and keep quiet.
Besides, Minerva knew a thing or two about what it was like between teachers and their pupils. She'd had crushes, notably on Professor Merrythought, and been on the receiving end of her share of them, too. And to be very sincere, it wasn't as if she didn't know how to motivate a girl to give her best and make the most of her brains, when she had that starry look in her face. A bit of benign aloofness, with well-dosed praise and sometimes a hand on a shoulder if one could be certain it would do no harm. Heavens, it had been done by teachers and enjoyed by pupils from Mytilini to Moorehead Towers, and there had never been more to it apart from a little, well, pleasant ritual, she supposed she might call it.
Then again, Hermione hardly was a schoolgirl now, was she?
The quill had dried up again, and Minerva let sink into her lap. No, Hermione very much wasn't a schoolgirl now. In fact, she had grown more womanly, more handsome, too, than Minerva had ever expected her to. Rounder, softer, with the clearly-defined face of an adult yet without the marks of strain that so often accompanied them, and with eyes that had seen their share of things yet hadn't stopped searching.
But was she even the type?
Could Poppy have been right again?
Minerva had laughed when Poppy had suggested the possibility. "Oh, Poppy," she'd said, "you're seeing elves by the light of the day. Of course a woman with a brain is an ill fit for Ron Weasley of all men, but that doesn't mean she's not interested in anyof them."
"Please, Minerva," Poppy had said. "Who said anything about 'any of them?' - even though I admit that a decade spent with Ron Weasley should probably be enough to get every woman off ... never mind. No, I merely say that the way she talked with the other speakers at the Women In Office Conference suggests that she sees the erotic and emotional potential of those of her own sex. Or the older ones, at least. Some are like that, you know ..."
"Oh, be serious, Poppy," Minerva had said. "You've been saying that the girl has potential ever since she first set foot in the library, back at Hogwarts. And have events proved you right at the Yule Ball? During the Order years? After the Battle?"
"Just you wait, Minerva McGonagall," had been Poppy's answer. "Just you wait. Meanwhile, what about that little suggestion of mine that you ease up that workload of yours and start relaxing a little more again? You've been rather sharp these past weeks ..."
Well, Minerva thought. She dipped her quill into the inkpot and embarked on a second attempt at putting words on parchment. While it was perhaps - perhaps - true that Poppy was right, that still didn't explain what Hermione could possibly have in mind with an ageing, bony teacher who was traipsing through the bush like a mudfish out of water, or better, a retired schoolmarm inthe water, other than to wipe a stray strand of hair out of her face with an affectionate and probably a little compassionate gesture.
Granted, Hermione might have made fleeting remarks about how she'd never be one for traditional relationships again, and about the difficulties she had always had with most people her own age. She might have brushed Minerva's arm as if by accident or casually touched her shoulders or her back more and more often of late, when she sat down next to her at dinner or got up from breakfast or stopped to show her something -
Ah, but wasn't it now she, Minerva, who was seeing elves by the light of the day, out of the wishful thinking of an ageing woman who hadn't been touched in a while?
Minerva shook her head at her own silliness and proceeded to dedicate her attention to Boudicca the Breastplated.
All the greater was Minerva's surprise when that night on the terrace, under a clear, moonlit sky, she found herself with her arms around Hermione's waist, and soft lips tasting of sunbalm and a hint of Pinot noir on her own.
They had enjoyed their usual after-dinner talk and recap of the day - "debriefing", they had come to call it, and like increasingly often of late, Minerva had stayed on for a bit after all the day's topics had been dealt with. Night had descended over Doualéné, and they had come to enjoy sharing the moment when the forest rose to its nocturnal life.
Hermione had brought out a bottle of red wine - a rare treat sent from home - and they were sipping on it quietly until at one point, Hermione set down the glass and got up from her seat. She walked up to the parapet, looked at the river, her hands absently fondling the Liberian coffee flowers that grew in a pot on the railing. Then she turned around and slowly circled Minerva's chair.
Minerva couldn't bring herself to object when two hands laid themselves on her shoulders and two thumbs gently began massaging a spot that had become tense from the paddling. They took their time, the hands, and when the tension had quite seeped away, they just stayed there.
Stayed there for a long, long while.
"You know what it is that I'm asking you, don't you?" Hermione asked.
Minerva did not answer immediately, instead twirling the half-full glass in her lap.
"I'm not quite sure," she said quietly, her eyes fixating the Liberian coffee for a while before she continued. "I should hate to misinterpret."
They fell silent again. Neither of them moved, and the sensation of Hermione's hands on her shoulders, little by little, sent a curious calm down Minerva's body. Somehow, the feeling reminded her of that first day, when she had lain on the bed, beginning to sense that the place was ready to welcome her, to make her a part of itself and itself one of her. She only had to allow it, be willing to be surprised, and to let the encounter happen on its own terms.
Without overburdening it with fears or expectations.
It had worked for the ferry trip to the town market.
Slowly, Minerva set down the glass.
She got up from her chair and took Hermione's hands that had glided down her back as she'd risen.
She took one last look at Hermione's eyes. One had to be willing to be surprised, but that didn't mean that one had to be foolhardy.
She saw no resistance, no bewilderment or amusement at the hazy gaze of an ageing, old-fashioned woman who had involuntarily spent a goodly part of the afternoon fully clothed in muddy waters. Rather, she saw warmth and a smile, and perhaps a bit of longing, even, though she wasn't quite sure. And thus, without fears or expectations, she gently lifted Hermione's hands, bowed her head, and carefully touched the warm, tanned skin with her lips.
When she looked up again, she felt one of those same hands on her cheek, gently inviting her closer, and then two arms slinging themselves around her neck, soft curves touching her body, and at last, a pair of lips.
"Will you come inside with me?" Hermione whispered as she loosened the embrace.
Minerva let her arms sink, a wan smile in her face.
"Hermione ..." Minerva murmured. "Are you quite certain of this? I'm old. You'd find that ... "
"I take this to be the usual protestations in conversations such as these," Hermione said with a smile. "The question is: do you want it? I'm not going to ask more than you're willing to give, neither now nor at any other time, but I think I've made my meaning plain, and all I want to know is: do you want this, and do you want it now?"
Did she want this, and did she want it now? Oh, Merlin, did Phineas Nigellus wear a funny beard?
"Yes," Minerva said.
Poppy Pomfrey had been reading by the light of the old Tiffany lamp when she suddenly experienced a myoclonic reflex, commonly known as hiccup.
She closed her book and wondered. She hadn't drunk anything cold, and no spirits, either. Dinner had been two hours ago.
She shook her head and opened her book again, trying to hold her breath to make it go away.
A page. Two pages.
She let the book sink again, trying not to think of it.
Funny thing, hiccups. Hadn't her grandmother collected all sorts of superstitions associated with them? Bad luck was one. Well, Poppy didn't believe in negativity; it only gave one stomach ulcers. "Someone's thinking of you," was another. Continental, that one, if she remembered correctly. Of course someone was; that someone was currently in the kitchen making them tea. The third one was interesting, but Poppy had no idea where her grandmother had got it from; she'd never found a source for it. "Something you wished for has come true."
Ach, these things always happened, didn't they? After all, one was a retired nurse and ran a volunteer rent-a-gran agency and a free clinic for homeless Muggles and Wizards. Naturally something came out of it on occasions.
Her eyes fell on a stack of letters on the secretary desk. A set of envelopes with colourful stamps and the red and blue rim of the International Magical Postal Service.
Poppy frowned and cocked her head. Could it be ... ?
Her face broke into a mischievous smile.
Well, well, she thought, wouldn't that be something if it were?
She got up as she heard footsteps and the rattling of the teapot in the corridor.
"Come and kiss me," she said when Wilhelmina came in with the tea tray.