Hogwarts, September 1995

Strong overtones of spices, the earthy smell of a peat fire, and a mere hint of vanilla.

Wilhelmina's pipe, no doubt about it. Minerva was greeted by the comforting smell as soon as she opened the staff room door. Odd, that she should find it comforting. She disliked the smell of smoke in general, and the smell of pipes in particular. She only had to smell a whiff of whatever it was Mundungus Fletcher smoked … But then, that stench announced the presence of a man whose opinions, profession, personal grooming, and feeble attempts at humour she found revolting.

The smell of Wilhelmina's pipe was the harbinger of a good time. But where was Wilhelmina herself?

She looked around. No-one at the large table; no-one in the tea corner. No-one in the chairs by the fire. No, wait. A small crinkle of smoke rose from behind the back of the wing chair. And a familiar, gruff voice said, "Blast you! Tha's nowt but a pain in the arse."

Wilhelmina was a Yorkshire lass, then? Minerva had never noticed the accent before. And who was the pain in the arse? Umbridge? Probably. Who else?

"I dare say I agree," Minerva smiled. She could feel the stress caused by that morning's Daily Prophet seep away already.

"Is it Umbridge?"

But for once, it wasn't. Wilhelmina's anger had been caused by the very article Minerva had found disturbing. Pius Thicknesse, who took up half of page four with a picture in which he pinned the Order of Merlin, Second Class, on the robes of a retiring St Mungo's Healer.

In the accompanying article, Thicknesse went from fulsome praise for the lifelong dedication of the parting Healer to the Ministry's involvement with noble institutions like St Mungo's and Hogwarts. And from there to the importance of wizarding education and Dumbledore's unfortunate appointments "of teachers who, either because of their lack of qualifications or because of, shall we say, more personal problems, constitute a level of risk this Ministry – and every well-thinking parent – must consider inappropriate."

It was another small step towards enforced resignation. Minerva knew that Albus considered it a matter of time before the Ministry would strike, and she had to agree with him. But the more time, the better, as far as she was concerned. Both for the sake of the school and for the safety of Potter.

It took Minerva several minutes of raging on the possible harm the article could do (and on her doubts as to the legitimacy of Thicknesse's birth) before she realised that she was preaching to the converted. Make that boring the pants off the converted.

"… but you know all that already," she added hastily. "Merlin, I'm sorry to whinge like this; it's not as if you or I could doanything. You can tell me to stop, you know." She smiled apologetically.

"Needed to get it off your chest. Besides, I enjoyed your description. Fat-arsed, Flobberworm-faced fool? Brilliant."

"At least, let me make you a coffee," Minerva said, but before she could put the kettle on there was a loud knock on the door. A student – teachers didn't have to knock. Interrupting her precious time with Wilhelmina. How was the old saying again?

Students. There's always one.

She opened the door. Unruly black hair, round glasses, Gryffindor cravat.

And it's usually the same.

And, true to form, Potter brought more worries. Although she had to admit that this time it wasn't his fault. He had not attacked that owl himself. And while Wilhelmina was perfectly right that Thestrals might have caused the injury, they both knew it was unlikely in this particular case.

At least Potter had the nous to say merely that Hedwig had come from London – and his meaningful look wasn't too badly executed. Moreover, he gave her the opportunity to go out into the corridor.

To warn him, once again, against Umbridge.

More importantly, to get a firm grip on herself.

What had she been thinking?

Little jolts of pleasure at the sight of Wilhelmina – that was pleasure in a new friendship.

A feeling of utter comfort in Wilhelmina's blissful, quiet presence? The joy of a growing, deepening friendship.

A sudden fondness for the smell of pipes – of one pipe in particular? That was because Wilhelmina had advantages Mundungus Fletcher hadn't.

But watching Wilhelmina's strong, capable, yet so very gentle hands examine that owl, and suddenly wondering how those hands would feel on one's own body? Doing things that fell emphatically outside the scope of friendship?

That was … That was something she needed to give a lot of thought.