Characters: Minerva McGonagall, Horace Slughorn, Rubeus Hagrid. Various pairings mentioned, but nothing explicit.
Word Count: ~5400
Two things of which Minerva was very fond were propriety and Scotch. It was so rare these days, she reflected, that Scotch got a look-in.
A story about the trials of life, the joy of experience, and the importance of friendship – in which Horace soul-searches, Hagrid blushes, and Minerva surprises them both.
Warnings: Tipsy professors?
Author's Notes: This was written for miss_morland in the 2013 edition of the delightful hoggywartyxmas fest. I tried to include a few of Miss M's different prompts, here: ‘McGonagall/older woman,’ ‘Someone spends Christmas alone, against their will,’ and ‘The Little Match Girl’.
There comes a point in every party – at least, in every party at which the stiffer aqua vitae of life are served – when the guests have two fundamental options. Either, they may sense the oncoming roll of head with respect to horizon, feel the recalcitrance of foot for straight line and tongue for complex syllable, and deem the point at hand an excellent one at which to make polite – if slightly overfond – goodbyes, and return themselves to bed before anything embarrassing might happen. Alternatively, they might grab the nearest decanter and carry on regardless.
It may be a surprise to many that at Minerva’s first Christmas party as Headmistress, she chose the latter option. In all fairness, though, there were few people with a better excuse for a night of pass-me-another-and-bugger-the-morning. The castle was blissfully student-free, and surprisingly well rebuilt - considering they were only six months out from the war. Wounds still hurt, but there had been little time to soul-search, what with so much to do in keeping the present afloat and the future on-course. Two things of which Minerva was very fond were propriety and Scotch. It was so rare these days, she reflected, that Scotch got a look-in.
The party having dwindled and the fire burnt low, Minerva’s two remaining companions were perhaps no surprise. Nestling in the most comfortable of arm chairs, Horace nursed a glass of elf-made burgundy in one hand, and his over-full tummy with the other. Legs planted like trees on the rug and with a bucket of ale in his grip, Hagrid smiled into the embers.
It had been a very fine party. The staff common room was now bedecked with sparkling decorations and not-so-sparkling empties. The turnout had been high, the elves had excelled themselves with the catering, and, given the year they’d had, everyone had managed to keep their jollity just the right side of manic. Refilling her glass, Minerva remarked, “Even Sybill was on pretty good form, I thought.”
“Mmm,” agreed Horace, “Not quite sure what she was up to with that headdress, though.”
“It were ter keep bad spirits at bay,” said Hagrid, with an air of authority. “Come ter the forest, she did. Said she needed twelve lit’le fairies ter guard the super-nat’ral part of her mind, or some-such.”
“Fairies as guards, eh?” Minerva rolled her eyes. “Ha. By that reckoning, Horace, you’re utterly formidable!”
“Oho! Watch it, battleaxe.” They exchanged mock glares, but the effort of maintaining a straight face was too much, soon descending into undignified snorts and chortles. Minerva put her hand on his and gave it a squeeze. “There’s the problem with people who have known each other for so long, isn’t it?”
“Since I were a lad,” nodded Hagrid. “But yeh were always the bright one, Min, even back then. If someone’d told me, back in firs’ year, tha’ young Minnie McGonagall were gonna be Headmistress. Well, I ain’ta bin surprised.”
“Hm-mph?” Horace cleared his throat, pointedly.
“An’ you, o’ course. It’s just tha’ Professors are in a diff’rent sort a category, ain’t they? Yeh’d just started, Horace, I think?”
“That’s right.” Horace smiled into his glass. “Gods, I was young! I still had hair, back then. And I was… no, actually, I wasn’t much thinner… but I had hair!
“I remember dear Mama couldn’t believe it when I said I was off to Scotland again. She’d expected that when I graduated, I’d pootle about in London awhile, as one does – travel with my chums and all that – and then come back home to run the estate. Lots to do, and Pater was getting on a bit, and so forth. She couldn’t countenance that a Slughorn would be going in to teaching, like some sort of pseudo-genteel middle-middle class…” He trailed off at the pointed raise of Minerva’s eyebrow.
“So why did yeh, then? If yeh don’ mind me askin’?”
Horace looked down soulfully, then up to the ceiling. “One word? ‘Albus’.”
“Oh.” Everyone took a moment; the scars were not yet old and white.
“I was besotted with him. Well, me and the rest of the world, of course. He encouraged me; said I’d make a top-notch Potions Master, and…”
“-And you did, Horace …That is, you do!” Minerva swished her tumbler in an exuberant manoeuvre, splashing Horace’s velvet in a way that he was too polite – or too blotto – to notice.
“That’s very kind, very kind. Albus had a talent for seeing more in people than they can see in themselves.”
“Couldn’ta said so better meself,” agreed Hagrid. “He was the one who gave me a chance, after it came out tha’- Oh. Shouldn’ta said tha’…”
“Said what?” Minerva’s interest was piqued.
“Well… ohh, I shouldn’ say any more.”
“Hagrid…?” It was her special warning tone; the one known to reduce firsties to tears.
“Oh, alrigh’. As long as yeh both keep it a secret. Yeh migh’ be surprised, but I’m actually… half giant.”
Minerva and Horace exchanged glances, and then looked back at Hagrid, quizzically.
“I bet you’re surprised, ain’ yeh?” He sounded almost triumphant.
“Well… you see, old chap, the thing is – I mean to say, recent circumstances having been what they were and all that-“
“-Oh, cut the crap,” put-in Minerva. “Hagrid, we’ve met your brother. Remember?”
A slow dawn of realisation spread over his features. “Oh, yeah. Yeah! Yeh have, haven’ yeh. Ah well, ain’t nothin’ yeh don’t know about me, then. By now, I s’pose it’s natural.” He went over to the side table and refilled his tankard, for good measure; it is a special kind of glass that can handle a gallon at a time, and that was the eleventh refill of the evening.
Minerva took a deep breath and swirled her whisky. “It’s an interesting point, though, isn’t it? After all this time, what don’t we know about each other?” Then, suddenly full of glee and mischief: “Horace! Tell us a secret.”
“I did,” he retorted, “I told you about Albus.” When that revelation did not seem to elicit much response, he added, “I’d even go so far as to say that…” – a pause, for dramatic effect – “He and I were in a relationship.” Horace seemed amazingly pleased with himself there, as if expecting the statement to command attention and admiring glances for several hours hence. His portentous tone was somewhat deflated by Hagrid’s next words, however:
“Yeah. But we knew about tha’.”
“Ha. Don’t be silly, Horace,” added Minerva, “Of course we did! All of your in-jokes-“
“-Sharin’ each other’s swishy purple robes-”
“-Long weekends in the countryside to ‘work on academic writing’-”
“-An’ those times in the Forbidden Forest when yeh both thought no-one were around-”
“-Not to mention the silly charade when the two of you came down to breakfast late, and couldn’t keep the smile off your faces-”
“-An’ that were only last year!-”
At that, Horace went thoroughly pink. “Oh, alright, alright, alright! Well and truly rumbled, now I see. -And there was I thinking that we were being subtle!” He spread his hands in wide gesticulation, disadvantaging the cleanliness of the carpet by some degrees of burgundy. Then, however, he took a deep breath and swallowed hard, eyes welling up. “But by gods, I do miss him.”
Minerva nodded. “I know, Horace. We all do.”
“He was like a father ter me.” Hagrid summoned an almighty sniff, and pulled a sheet-sized hankie from his pocket. “After me own dad died, tha’ is. Always invited me round to his quar’ers at Christmas, when everyone else had gone off ter their own fam’lies. Happy times they were, with Professor Dumbledore. We had a wonderful big tree, goose fer dinner and he always bought me a present. The only time it didn’ work out was tha’ year I’d gone an’ got meself stranded in the Alps.”
“When was that?” asked Minerva.
“I was a young lad – only eight foot tall, or so – and I’d got it in me head ter go an’ visit me mother fer the Christmas holiday.”
“Oh Merlin; did they hurt you?” She looked alarmed.
“No. Mighta done, but the weather - it was so awful tha’ I never got there. Got snowed-in to a cave in the mountains. Right miserable, I was. Gone out ter try to find me fam’ly, and ended up all cold and dark, all by meself for Christmas. I was very lonely.” He gave another enormous sniff. “But it was all made a lot better when Fang came along.”
“Yeah, y’know, Fang. Such a lovely dog, he is; best friend a man could have. …Apart from you two, o’ course.
“He came sniffin’ around and found the entrance. He was on his own, too, poor thing – fur all matted and his nose was so cold. Well, he took a likin’ ter me, and I ter him – and then, we weren’ lonely no more.”
Horace beamed, and gave a round of applause. “Heart-warming tale, old thing. Truly heartwarming!”
Minerva, however, looked puzzled. “Fang, you say? Your dog, Fang?”
“But, Hagrid, if you were a boy at the time, that would make your dog…” Scotch-powered, she counted the decades on her fingers, “…over fifty years old!”
Eyes suddenly wide with alarm, Hagrid and Horace exchanged looks.
“Now see here, old chap, I thought we had an understanding about that. Keeping schtum and suchlike – eh?” Horace’s stage-whisper probably carried better than his usual voice.
“Oh! I’m sorry. Really. I didn’ mean ter-”
“-What is going on?” Minerva mustered all of her imperiousness and eyeballed them in turn over half-moon spectacles. The effect was only slightly spoiled by the fact that said spectacles were at a jaunty angle on her nose, and one arm of the frame was dangling from her left ear… but Hagrid and Horace were sufficiently impressed none-the-less.
“It was only the tiniest touch of potion,” protested Horace, “a mere drop, just to perk him up a bit…”
“Am I right in thinking that we have an illegal animal on the premises? A mortal beast under the influence of Nectar Resurectiamus?”
“Oh, gosh! May I applaud you on that expert and erudite knowledge of Potions theory, Minerva, my dear? Many a full-time practitioner would not have pronounced it quite so accurately, but, of course, I would expect no less from-”
“-Flattery will get you nowhere, Horace. Out with it.”
“Illegal is such a strong word…”
“-He was doin’ me a favour, that’s all. Poor scamp was lookin’ ever so peaky at the end of the sixties. Couldn’ bear ter part with him. He didn’ ask for anythin’ for it – Horace, that is - and Albus got Fawkes to give up the feather for the brew all of his own free will. There weren’ no harm done.”
“Oh, I see!” said Minerva, somewhat miffed. “Not only do I discover that we are harbouring an unnaturally-superannuated hound, but also that my predecessor was complicit in the act. A fine chalice to drink from as Headmistress, that’s all I can say.”
Taking that as his cue, Hagrid upended the Scotch decanter into Minerva’s glass. “Yeh don’t really mind, do yeh, Min? I mean… you wouldn’ make anythin’ nasty come to happen to him? I just can’ bear to think of it; it would be even worse than when I though’ poor Beaky was gonna be fer the chop an’…” He trailed off, and retrieved the epic handkerchief for renewed use.
Minerva rolled her eyes. “I suspect that my memory may be a little fuzzy by morning.”
“Really? Yeh mean… yeh won’t… yeh know?”
“Indeed,” she replied, and gave Hagrid a smile to show she meant it. “If it was good enough for Albus – then, well. You know the rest.”
Meanwhile, however, Horace had been gazing off into the middle distance, utterly distracted by something that wasn’t quite there. “I felt so badly for him,” he murmured, “Really brought back the feeling: that pain of not having one’s real family… it cuts deep, you know…”
Once again, Minerva’s brow furrowed. “Hang on a moment. A second ago it was all about ‘Mater and Pater’, and ‘middle-middle class pseudo-gentility’?”
Whisked back to the present: “Ah, yes.” Horace gave a wan smile, and emptied his glass. Then, in a voice so low they could have missed it if they had breathed too much: “I was adopted.”
“What?” Minerva and Hagrid were suddenly at full attention.
“Yes - I’m not really a Slughorn. Well, I am legally, of course – but not by birth. My parents were Muggles. When I started showing signs of magic, they panicked, and put me in an institution. I was tested by ghastly doctors doing ghastly things. It wasn’t until I was five that the Ministry came to collect me. They spun some sort of tale to the authorities – and obliviated them, no doubt – and then told me that a magical family had been found that was desperate for an heir.
“So, there I was – curly-haired and cute as a button, even though I say so myself – whisked away from that frightful place into a strange family – but a very kind one. Mama had wanted a child for as long as she could remember, but… well, it just hadn’t happened, for some reason. I never quite asked; it didn’t seem right to pry. But, purebloods being what they are, it doesn’t strike me as extraordinary that there might have been some sort of problem, after all of those generations.
“Anyway, everything got very much better from that point on. Straight away, I had a wonderful nursery all to myself, and five nanny-elves, and so many beautiful toys. It seemed I really had landed on my feet – not what you know, but who you know, writ large. I’ll never forget that lesson, I vow.
“Of course, from my parents’ perspective, the sudden appearance of a past-toddling child might have been a bit difficult to explain. Luckily, though, Mama had been on Madeira for her health for about three years, and I was small for my age - so Pater took me there, and we stayed for about a year while Mama and I got to know one another. I remember even now the warm sea breezes over the cliffs, the caw of birds and the soft scent of olive groves…
“Come the next winter, we all returned, happily announcing the new Slughorn into London society. Everyone else was either too self-absorbed, too polite or too mathematically-inept to notice anything funny, so it was all tickerty-boo.”
Horace paused, gazing off to a large white house over the sea. “No-one has ever known that, apart from Albus. And now… I suppose you two, as well.” Then, he suddenly went very pale and the focus of his eyes snapped back to the present, in alarm. “You will keep it to yourselves, won’t you?”
“’S’alright Horace. You’re the only ones who know about ol’ Fang, an’ his life’s on the line, isn’ it? I trust the two of yeh like no-one else.”
Horace smiled gratefully, and nodded, while Hagrid took a big swig of ale. “-An’ Olympe, o’ course.”
“Oho! Do I detect a touch of gossip there, old boy?”
“No!” Hagrid whisked one hand from his tankard to cover his mouth. “I mean, erm…”
“What would be the precise quota above which one ‘protests too much,’ would you say, Horace?” asked Minerva, with a twinkle in her eye. “Madame Maxime is a very fine figure of a woman, after all.”
“So she is,” Horace answered, “Wouldn’t you say so, Rubeus?”
“Cer’ainly not! Tha’ is… errr, I mean ter say…” He blushed so furiously the apples of his cheeks nearly disappeared into the dark fuzz of his beard.
“I think we have our answer,” declared Minerva. “Come on, Hagrid; there’s no use hiding it!”
“Oh, alrigh’, alrigh’. Yes, there might be somethin’ going on there. Early days, an’ all. S’difficult ter tell, with you women-folk. She blows hot an’ cold on me, like a Norwegian Ridgeback eatin’ ice cubes. But lately…”
“Well, she was ever so friendly when we last met up, an’ I’m off to France fer New Year, so…”
“Oh, marvellous!” Horace clinked their glasses.
“Well, have ter see what happens. But no tellin’ anyone, yeh hear? I’m nervous enough about it, as it is!”
“I cross my heart,” pledged Horace, doing the very manoeuvre with plenty of melodrama and poor aim. “Minerva?”
“Quite,” she agreed. “And I think that calls for a top-up!” Eyeballing the horizon as might a Premier League seeker, Minerva accomplished the combined feats of Standing Up, Crossing the Room, and Returning Without Dropping Anything.
“I say, could you bring some more of those cheese and paté twists? Beginning to feel a bit peckish.” Horace rubbed his belly in a plaintive, rather than an overfull, sort of way – although in truth, the two looked very similar.
She gave a theatrical sigh. “I wish you’d said that while I was over there.”
“Ohhhh,” he sulked, but then exclaimed, “I know!” Horace had clearly been hit by the revelation that he was, in fact, a wizard; he extracted his wand and preceded to levitate a plate from the buffet table – meandering of path and jaunty of angle – but ultimately, with success. Very pleased with himself, and noshing a good three or four before offering them around, he was struck by a further thought. “I say. You’ve heard probably more that you’d ever care to about silly old me, and Hagrid has let slip a juicy morsel or two, but how about our intractable, Headmistress, eh?”
“Good point, tha’ is!” Hagrid nodded vigorously. “Come on, Min, tell us summat we don’ know about you.”
“About me?” she parroted.
“Yes! Don’t be coy, now, m’girl. Chatham House rules, and these four walls, and all that.”
“We’ll have ter bribe her, that’s what it is.”
“Splendid idea. Yes, Minerva, you’re looking a touch low on whisky, if I may say so? Allow me.” He deftly refilled her glass yet again.
“Oh, I don’t know if I should…” Both of the chaps attempted to look very cross, and big smile spread across Minerva’s face at the sight. “Oh, very well! Here’s something I haven’t talked about for… well, for about ever. But hey-ho; the war’s over, and we’ve survived, and if we’re not going to mind about illegal animals and Muggle-born Slytherins, then why should we mind about an illicit fling or two?”
The introduction had clearly done the trick; they were both at full attention.
“I once had an affair with an older woman.”
“A woman!” Horace cried. He boggled for a moment. “But I thought… you know, Elphinstone, and all that? -But beating for the ladies team as well?”
Minerva smirked; she was clearly enjoying this. “I’m perfectly capable of appreciating a well-turned hourglass and an ample breast, thank you very much.”
“Well, I never!”
“Wait ‘til the students get hold of tha’.” Hagrid guffawed at the thought.
“Don’t you dare.” Minerva summoned a glare that was known to eviscerate less sturdy mortals.
“I think, my dear, we have something approaching a ‘deal’, in that case,” mused Horace, “We’re all secret keepers for one another.” Hagrid nodded. Minerva attempted a withering look, but her heart was not in it. “So come, then; tell us the story.”
“Very well. It was back in the days when I was young and my head was full of romance and Gothic novels.”
“I was entranced by her knee-melting authority…”
“-Whose?” put-in Hagrid.
Horace was smiling at the mystery. “Oooh, someone we know?”
“Yes, as it happens.”
“Oho! Gosh, let me guess. Was it… Augusta Longbottom?”
“Ha! Merlin, no. She’d have a fit if she heard you suggest she was one of the broomstick and monocle crowd.”
“I’ve got it,” Hagrid declared, “Wilhelmina? Yeah?”
“Ah, she’s fantastic. But no. Will’s been seeing the same witch in Devon for forty years, and wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Horace tried again. “Not Muriel Weasley?”
“Give me some credit.” Minerva shuddered. “But you’re not even close. Remember, I said it was an older woman. I was a wee lass of twenty, besotted with purple prose and The Meaning of Life. She seduced me with her worldly experience and the pure pathos of her childhood tale.”
“Who did?!” Their cry was in unison.
“No!” Horace stared, open-mouthed. “Galatea? Lovely lady. Wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to a pygmy puff.”
“Hang on. She was our teacher, wasn’ she? Left jus’ around the time you graduated, Min?”
“Indeed.” Minerva smirked. “And I assure you, nothing untoward went on at school.
“You recall – I went to work at the Ministry after NEWTs. I’ve always maintained that it was just a desk job to earn some galleons, but actually – yes, sod it, I’ll tell you – I was the newest recruit to the Unspeakables.”
“-And that was when Galatea retired,” Horace put-in.
“Retired? Pah! That was what she had to tell everyone, of course. In actual fact, she was summoned back to the team after a very long period of lying-low up here. There was a huge bounty on her head for being – shall we say, inconvenient, to Grindelwald’s followers – but the powers-that-be decided they just couldn’t do without her any longer, death threats or no. So, she threw off the meek and mild carapace and resumed her position as head of Secret Defence.”
"Well, I never." Horace levitated over the cream cakes to make up for the shock.
"So wha' happened? What's all this about books?"
"Ah, well, you'll have to picture the scene. There I was, a year out of school, and just beginning to pupate, as it were. I'd spent all my Hogwarts years being very serious, and focusing on getting top grades. But now I was in London, and - even though work was pretty intense - there were people, and parties, and things stiffer than gillywater, I can tell you. I became very interested in matters existential, and My Place in the Universe, and historic romantic tales - which seemed much more intellectual than modern ones, of course - and all of those things that seem to occupy bright, but late-developing, young adults. And in the middle of it all was Galatea.
"We downstairs sat in more of a lab than an office, given the nature of the work, and it so happened that the Transfiguration division was right by the Head's room. So, I suppose she became accustomed to the sight of me there - and with each click of her high-buttoned boots, and swish of her long, silvery hair, I became more in thrall."
"Long, silvery hair, eh?” Horace mused. “Swishing? I swear I never saw it other than in a bun."
"Yes," Minerva agreed, "-And no; the irony is not lost on me." She patted her own top-knot. "But, by Merlin, she was different when she wasn't undercover. She'd obviously survived for so long with a price on her life by being forgettable in public - always smiling, never cross, never leaving a trail or drawing undue attention. Indeed, her patience with all of these students makes rather more sense when you know it was a careful act! -But when she was in her inner sanctum of the basement labs, by golly, she could shout. And laugh. And say the most outrageously insulting things to people - in a way they wouldn't mind, but would make them strive to do better."
"I see! Quite the force of nature. So, what happened?"
"It was late one evening, just before Christmas. It might have even been Christmas Eve; I didn't go back to Scotland every year at that time. I was working away, trying to sort out the counter-Transfiguration of a Dark object that had come in from Prussia, but I kept hitting a brick wall. She strode past and simply said, 'Minerva, it's rubbish. All utterly wrong, will never work, and you're wasting both your own time and the Ministry's candles by still being here. Put on your cloak; we're going out for a drink’."
"Indeed. My insides were doing somersaults. When we got to the Leaky, I was all excited and clammed-up at once, and I ordered a quadruple Scotch because I thought it looked like a really worldly sort of thing to do.
“It was snowing outside. We settled into the inglenook by the fire – quite private in there, but I didn’t think about that, at first. We talked a little about the latest case in from Balkans, and plans for Christmas (neither of us really had any). Then, out of nowhere, Galatea said, ‘Half-blood, aren’t you?’
“I wasn’t quite sure where this was going. She hadn’t seemed the type to mind about heritage, but most people did, those days; you couldn’t be sure. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘Witch mother, Muggle father. He’s a priest.’
“‘Decent sort, then,’ she replied, ‘wouldn’t put you out to work in the snow?’
“I was quite taken aback by that, and said, ‘Of course not.’
“Then, Galatea gazed out of the window, and a misty expression came over her face – one betraying more softness than I had seen in my whole time in her team. The firelight picked up the gleam in her eyes, and her hair shone like liquid metal. ‘It was Christmas Eve when I first discovered that I was a witch. Muggle London was a brutal place to be, if you weren’t from a rich family – and mine weren’t. The very bottom of the pile, in fact - and cruel, to boot.’
“She talked of huge smoking chimneys, criminals and pickpockets by the river, and bodies floating in the Thames. There were horses and engines jostling for space on the roads, and kindly women who threw crumbs to toddlers who were sent out to beg for food. Children were crushed in machinery in the big new factories, or sold as servants to places far away. Others were despised as extra mouths to feed, and forbidden from coming home until they had made enough money to earn their keep by selling little paper flowers, or matches covered in dangerous compounds.
“‘It was bitterly cold,’ she said, 'my fingers had long lost their feeling, and I hadn’t sold a single box. Everyone was wrapped up indoors, and the snow was getting heavier. It didn't matter to anyone that it was my birthday, either'. She told me that she had clambered into a doorway for the night, trying to avoid the worst of the snow, but everything hurt so much and the world was threatening to go black…
"Then, all of a sudden, she was surrounded by twinkling, coloured lights. Little spheres of warmth danced all about her icy nook, glowing bright and warming her hands and her heart. They were so pretty to behold - and when she stared at each little glowing ball, it turned into the image of a tiny creature: horses with wings, eagles with lion’s paws, and delicate fairies flitting back and forth.
"It was then that the man came. He started off very angry, talking about 'underage magic' and 'spontaneous Incendio in public'; young Galatea was frightened.
"Of course, from that point on, things began to look up. Her succour came from an unlikely source: Phineas Nigellus Black, of all people. He made it clear that he wouldn't usually waste time over Mudbloods, but that it had been a pretty extraordinary show of magic for a young girl, and, as Headmaster to a depressing cohort, the school needed all the talent it could get. A few months later, she was sorted into Ravenclaw, and never sent back to that horrid family again.
"So, imagine the scene. I was sitting there with my splendidly formidable boss who was sharing her intimate life history with me, half-past drunk on whisky. I listened, utterly rapt. Then, when she had finished, her eyes came back from the snowy window and settled on me with such acuity that I blushed to the roots of my hair and my pulsed raced from her closeness.
“Stuttering, I said something really green like, ‘Oh my goodness, how beautiful,’ and Galatea smiled and said, ‘So are you.’
“Then she kissed me. It was like the angels of heaven and the flames of the inferno all at once, and I couldn’t believe something so fabulous was actually happening to me.”
“Blimey, Min!” said Hagrid, “And then?”
“Well, rather what you might expect to happen… and it was wonderful. Galatea taught me a thing or twelve that night, I have to say. Absolutely intoxicating. And after that night, I looked at the world in an entirely different way – all the colours were brighter, the horizons were wider, and every tingle was an earthquake.”
He started to colour again, at the description. “So did yeh see her again, after that? On personal terms, I mean?”
“Yes, I did.” Minerva paused. “But it wasn’t straightforward. She was very driven by work on any day that wasn’t Christmas – fiercely committed to it, and that always came first. I wanted to get on, too, of course. And on top of all that, we didn’t want to let on to the rest of the team, for obvious reasons. It was tricky. And tempestuous. She blazed away at pretty much everything, but I had some fire of my own as well, and sometimes the two really hit each other in a cloud of sparks – in good ways and in bad. There was never enough time, but we always found ourselves coming back to one another when we could; I couldn’t dream of wanting anyone else.
“I thought it might help somewhat when I moved up here to take the Transfiguration post, but Teya was terribly worried that her old enemies could use me to get to her – and that wasn’t unreasonable. So she refused to visit, or even to owl. We saw each other most weekends, though; I started a training course that would take me to London every Saturday, and it was easy to slip into the Ministry building from there, melting in and out of crowds.
“Ah, what a story!” said Horace. “How long did it last?”
Minerva paused, seeming to weigh her next words. “Many years, in that kind of state. But it all came to a head after Teya’s last ever case. She had overstretched our links on the Continent chasing a particular band of necromancers, and the die-hards had finally rumbled her, scenting revenge. The Minister was issued with an ultimatum: put to death one Chief Unspeakable yourself, or we’ll do it for you - along with a few dozen British magical children.”
Hagrid gasped. “He didn’t?”
“Thankfully, not. But it did mean that Galatea had to retire – for real, this time. She spent the rest of her life living under an impenetrable glamour, in a fabricated identity. New name, new documents – they even invented a family for her. In fact, the deception was so complete, she ‘became’ a man.”
Minerva looked at them both patiently, waiting for the Sickle to drop.
After a good few moments, Horace had connected the pieces. “No! …Elphinstone?!”
“The very same!” Minerva laughed. “It feels good to actually tell someone about it, after all this time. At first, it was awful for Teya – having her wings clipped like that – but a few months in, she seemed very happy. We lived together properly for the first time and actually put some effort into having a relationship – which on both our parts was clearly overdue. It was lovely.” She looked down, into her glass. “I miss her terribly.”
They all sat in silence for a time, old memories and new hopes dancing at the edge of fuzzy vision and weathered hearts.
Just then, the big grandfather clock struck four.
Horace got to his feet shakily, and raised a goblet. “A toast,” he said, “To absent friends.”
Minerva and Hagrid joined him, glasses aloft.
“And present ones,” Minerva added. Her eyes settled fondly on each of her companions. “And long may our association last.”
Hagrid sniffed once again, but this time he was smiling. “That’s just lovely, really it is. An’ by now, it’s Christmas Eve! I do love yeh both, y’know. Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas,” said Minerva, drawing them both into a hug.
Horace wiped a tear from his eye, and clasped Minerva and Hagrid tight. “Merry Christmas, indeed.”