Title: A Slant-Told Tale
Genre: Drama, romance
Warning/s: Explicit sexual content; violence; abuse; alcoholism
Disclaimer: All characters, settings and other elements from the Harry Potter franchise belong to J. K. Rowling.
24 December 1998
“I thought I saw young Mr Weasley here,” Horace said as he led Minerva to the dance floor. “Has he decided to return to school after all?”
“No, I believe he’s Miss Granger’s escort,” Minerva said.
They settled into the rhythm of the music, Minerva easily following Horace’s strong lead.
“I would have thought Harry more to her taste,” he said.
“No, I think it’s always been Ronald. Those two have been dancing around one another for several years. It’s nice to see they’ve figured things out. I was beginning to despair of them.”
Horace spun Minerva in a dizzying twirl. His meaty hand reconnected with her waist and manoeuvred her expertly around the couple to their right. “They’re fortunate to have found love so young. Some of us don’t manage it until much later in life. If at all,” he said.
His eyes misted over, and she looked away.
They danced without speaking for several minutes before the song ended. Strings swelled and swooped, and Ella Fitzgerald’s sultry contralto filled the room. Minerva had intended to excuse herself from Horace’s embrace at the song change, but instead she just adjusted her steps and took pleasure in his fine sense of rhythm and sure hand at her waist.
He said, “I’m glad the students deigned to include some music in the line-up that we old codgers could dance to.”
“Indeed. I was afraid my eardrums would burst when that band started up. This is a blessed relief.”
“Well, the young will have their fun. We can’t begrudge them that after all they’ve been through. Besides,” he said, “I recall that my father thought Celestina Warbeck an atrocity when I started listening to her on the wireless back in the ’30s.”
Minerva privately thought that Horace’s father had a point. Although almost anything was better than the noise made by the quartet calling themselves “The Pure Mudbloods,” which Minerva thought was almost as tasteless as their music. She sincerely hoped they had finished for good and not just buggered off for a smoke or a nosh.
With the so-called band on a break, the music had taken a turn for the old-fashioned, and most of the students had fled the dance floor in favour of the punch table or had found perches on the purple velvet cushions that dotted the room’s perimeter, but a few determined couples still swayed in one another’s arms. Minerva noted with satisfaction that Neville Longbottom continued to show up his schoolmates, moving Miss Lovegood surefootedly and smoothly around the floor. He saw Minerva watching and flashed her a cheeky grin.
The music, combined with the general din of teenagers making merry, made it hard to hear. Horace said something Minerva didn’t catch, and she shook her head.
He leant down. “I say you look exceptionally lovely tonight, Headmistress.”
It was a true compliment coming from him, with his famous good taste. He was also, despite his size, a superb dancer, leading her effortlessly, and she was vaguely surprised to find she was enjoying herself.
She’d dreaded this, the first real celebration at Hogwarts after the war, but the students seemed to be having a good time. Even the staff were relatively relaxed, although that might have had something to do with Minerva’s provision of a small but fine selection of whiskies and wines in the staffroom before the official start of the Yule Ball.
They’d needed this bit of frivolity, all of them, after the horrors of past year and the austerity of the months immediately following the war’s end, and Minerva was glad Horace, Filius, and Pomona had convinced her to do it. The sixth- and seventh-years, not to mention the seven-plusses, had thrown themselves enthusiastically into the planning, with Horace’s guidance, and, as it had turned out, Minerva had had to do little but approve the modest budget for the ball.
She looked over Horace’s shoulder across the Great Hall. It seemed the entire school had turned out, and she was happy they’d decided to allow all years to attend. All the students in second year and above were war veterans, and it would have been beyond ridiculous to pretend one late night and some loud music would do any harm to 12- and 13-year-olds who’d seen the Cruciatus deployed in their school the previous year.
A flash blinded Minerva momentarily. When the spots cleared from her eyes, she saw Dennis Creevey wielding his late brother’s camera.
As it sometimes did, the weight of the missing pressed in on her, crushing in their absence. She could almost hear Severus’s waspish whisper about some Gryffindorian infraction of rules as she looked out at the scene, and she had to shake herself mentally to get him out of her head.
He would have hated this. Or pretended to.
A deep voice said, “Would it be terribly rude if I were to cut in?”
“Of course, my boy, of course,” Horace said, relinquishing Minerva to her son’s arms.
Malcolm didn’t move as smoothly as Horace, but Minerva was delighted to finally share a dance with him. He’d been busy with chaperone duties most of the evening, and she’d barely had a moment to speak with him.
He said something, but she couldn’t hear him, and he had to bend lower to speak in her ear.
“I said I would have asked for my dance sooner, but I had to take a couple of Gryffindors to the infirmary for a dose of Sober-Up.”
At least some things never changed, she thought. “Did someone manage to spike the punch despite Filius’s protective charms?”
“No, I tested it. Their revels were fuelled by a private stash of Firewhisky, apparently.”
“Thank Merlin for that. If Fred and George Weasley were here, I’d suspect—”
A lump rose in her throat and stopped her words. What wouldn’t she give to have Fred Weasley here, attempting to get Firewhisky, or something worse, into the punchbowl and conspiring with his twin to charm the music box to play something very loud and highly inappropriate. Merlin, but she wanted them all back, even Vincent Crabbe, who had spent the final months of his short, sorry life assisting Amycus Carrow in doling out horrific punishments to her students.
To cover her sudden burst of melancholy, Minerva told Malcolm, “Don’t look now, but I think Rose is being chatted up by Derek Ainsley.”
Malcolm’s head swivelled madly on his neck.
Minerva swatted him on the shoulder.
“I said don’t look! They’re over by the punch table.”
Malcolm manoeuvred his mother around so he could watch his daughter and the young Ravenclaw prefect chatting and laughing together.
“I don’t know what she sees in him,” Malcolm grumbled. “His Potions marks aren’t all they could be.”
“Potions isn’t everything. Ainsley is a very nice young man. And his Transfiguration work is outstanding. Horace says he’s the best in the year, next to Rose.”
“Speaking of Transfiguration, how is the search going?”
“Don’t remind me. If the general quality of applicants doesn’t improve, I’m afraid I’ll have to try to prevail on Horace to put off his re-retirement for another year. I don’t know what I’d have done if he hadn’t agreed to take Transfiguration this year.”
“You’d have made me do it instead of Potions,” Malcolm said.
“Yes, I suppose I would have.”
“At least you don’t have to worry about replacing the Defence master every year. I think you’ve got him pretty well locked in.”
“You know, I think I have.”
The old Gershwin song ended and segued into something Minerva vaguely remembered from the 1980s, with too little melody and too many twangy bits.
“I think I’ll go see what he’s up to,” she told Malcolm. “If I don’t see you after your rounds, I’ll see you in the morning.”
He kissed her cheek, and she threaded her way through the bodies gyrating on the dance floor over to where Alastor stood talking with Poppy.
“And what are you two conspiring about?” she asked.
“We’re trying to work out a time for Alastor to meet with my friend from St Mungo’s,” Poppy said.
“Schedule’s a bit tight these days. Me boss is a harsh taskmistress,” Alastor said.
“I thought you said there was no way God or Merlin could get you back to ‘that hellhole’,” Minerva said.
“Matron says I have to.”
“It’s for a good cause,” Poppy said. “My Healer friend thinks he might be able to replicate Alastor’s new prosthesis and improve it with a few charms. He says this Muggle prosthesis is much better than anything wizards have managed to come up with. Muggle technology is a wonder.”
“Amen to that,” said Alastor. “I should’ve fallen a thousand feet off me broom years ago.”
Minerva’s jaw tightened at the mention of his near-death.
He noticed and put a soothing hand on her arm. “Ah, sorry, love. Didn’t mean to mention it tonight. I know it was an awful time for you.”
“For everyone,” she said crisply.
“Aye.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, I got this shiny new leg out of it, and it’s a damn sight better than that piece of tin they gave me at Mungo’s when I first lost it.”
Minerva looked down at the artificial leg that stuck out below Alastor’s kilt, and laughed. The brushed metal was bespangled with little green Christmas trees topped with blue stars and decorated with baubles that flashed alternately crimson and yellow.
“What on earth have you done to it?” she asked.
“Wasn’t me. I let one of the fifth-years decorate it as a prize for managing to deflect all me hexes during class last week. This is what she came up with. Charms are pretty good. Notice the symbolic inter-House unity.” He stuck the leg out in front of him and turned it right and left so Minerva could admire the student’s handiwork.
“An unorthodox pedagogical approach,” she said.
“Do you disapprove, Headmistress?”
“Not precisely, no. But you’ll be changing it back before we go to bed.”
He grinned at her. “Right-o.”
“And on that note, I’m back off to check on the infirmary,” said Poppy. “Next Sunday, then, Alastor?”
“Ok. Tell Healer What’s-’is-Name that me leg and I’ll be there by two.”
When Poppy had gone, Minerva asked, “Do you want to sit down?” He’d been on the leg for hours, doing patrols and helping chaperone the party.
“No, I’m fine. I barely feel it.”
“Back’s ok,” he said. “In fact, the physiotherapist has dismissed me.”
“Really? As of when?”
“This week. She says as long as I keep up the exercises, I don’t have to come in anymore unless something starts bothering me again. Which it won’t, with Poppy’s charms and Malcolm’s potions.”
“That’s good news.”
“Yup. No more going down to Muggle London twice a week. Which means more time for other things,” he said with a mischievous waggle of his brows. “Think I might take up dance lessons.”
She laughed, and he said, “Oh, I’m serious, madam. I expect to be able to take you for a few turns around the floor by next year’s ball. Gotta make sure none of these other wizards sweep you off your feet. You looked too happy out there with Horace.”
“Horace was a treat after Hagrid. Not to mention Dean Thomas.”
“Trod on your toes, did he?” Alastor asked, smirking.
“Remind me to make ‘more coordinated than a newborn Abraxan’ a requirement for Head Boy next year.”
There was a break in the music. Minerva sighed when she saw that the band was gearing up to play another set.
A jingle pulled her gaze upward to a sprig of mistletoe floating in the air above her head.
“Oh, for Merlin’s sake! I thought we decided to forbid charmed mistletoe.”
“You decided,” Alastor said. “The rest of us took no position.” Before she could object, he kissed her quickly on the lips, and she heard the mistletoe pop out of existence.
She glanced around to find Neville Longbottom looking at them, the cheeky smile still on his face. She forced herself to glare at him, and he turned back to Miss Lovegood, whispering something in her ear.
Alastor followed her gaze. “Boy’s coming along nicely,” he said. “He’s right on track for a N.E.W.T. in Defence, and in Charms, Filius says. Herbology, too, of course.”
“He was an enormous help last year. I don’t know what we’d have done without him.”
Alastor peered at her, his gaze softening as he looked at her. “I’m sorry you were so alone.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“Never again, Minerva. I promise you.”
Pomona bustled up, saying, “All clear around the grounds, save for the usual activity in Greenhouse Two.”
Minerva sighed. “Who were they?”
“Miss Higgs and one of Malcolm’s.”
Alastor’s brows rose. “A Slytherin with a Gryffindor?”
“Noooo,” said Pomona. “Not someone from Malcolm’s House. One of his literally.”
“You don’t mean Max?” Minerva said.
“Tall boy. Long nose. Has his gran’s eyes … yup, that’d be him,” said Pomona.
“Oh, for— do I even want to know what they were doing?” said Minerva.
“Nothing too serious, just a bit of snogging. I took five points each and sent them to their common room.”
“Where they’ll continue with their snog,” said Alastor.
“Where they can’t crush my Shrivelfigs,” Pomona said. “Anyway, I’m exhausted, and I’ll wager you are too. If it’s all right with you, Minerva, I’ll have a word with the band, get them to wrap things up.”
“Yes, thank you, Pomona,” said Minerva.
When Pomona had gone, Alastor leant down to whisper in Minerva’s ear.
“Care to take a walk to Greenhouse Two, Headmistress?”
She suppressed her smile.
“Alastor, we are adults with our own room, which has a lovely warm fire going, and, as I understand it, some of Elgar’s non-alcoholic eggnog waiting for us. Not to mention a very large and comfortable bed, which beats a pile of Pomona’s Shrivelfigs any day of the week.”
She felt his chuckle in her body. In the dark months after his supposed death, she’d heard it seemingly around every corner, only to be confronted again and again with his absence. To have it rumble in her ear along with his warm breath was a miracle she intended never to take for granted.
“You’ve sold me. Shall we?” He offered her his elbow, and they moved towards the doors of the Great Hall.
Hermione and Ronald intercepted them just before they went out.
“Ron just wanted to say hello,” a slightly breathless Hermione said.
“Good evening, Mr Weasley,” Minerva said. “I’m very glad you could come. I had the impression you didn’t much enjoy dances.”
Ronald looked unsure of what to say until Minerva smiled at him to indicate she was joking.
His mouth widened into grin. “Thanks, Professor. I’m kind of looking at this one as my do-over,” he said with a glance at Hermione. “Professor Moody, good to see you, sir.”
Alastor shook the proffered hand, saying, “I hear you’ve joined up with the Aurors.”
“Good man. Try to enjoy all yer parts while you’ve still got ’em.”
Minerva pursed her lips, and Alastor just smiled back at her.
“Um, right. Thanks,” Ron said.
“Goodnight, Professors,” said Hermione, pulling Ron back towards the dance floor.
Minerva and Alastor made their way to the staircase to begin the long climb to the Head’s Tower. They took things slowly, for both their sakes, stopping to rest for a few moments at each landing.
When they reached the second floor, Minerva said, “Let’s go through the office. I have to pick up a few things for tomorrow.”
“You’re going to work on Christmas?”
“Just a few letters I need to respond to, and I can do them after breakfast in Malcolm’s quarters so I don’t have to come all the way back here.”
“What time are they expecting us in the morning?”
“If Hélène had her way, it would be the crack of dawn, but Malcolm and Eliane have talked her down to nine.”
“Very efficient of you to get your entire family moved to Hogwarts. Now you don’t even have to leave the castle to do your Christmas visiting.”
“Yes, it was rather clever of me, wasn’t it?”
“Oh, you’re clever, all right, Minerva McGonagall. Also entirely too beautiful for yer own good.”
“Goodness, Alastor. I think you’d best have Poppy’s Healer friend check your new eye.”
“The eye works perfectly, thank you very much.” He kissed her deeply, and when they broke, she resisted the impulse to look around to make sure no one had seen them.
Instead, she traced two fingers gently along the scar that ran below the false eye. It no longer bulged and swivelled madly around, but sat in his natural socket looking not very different from his other eye.
She said, “The new eye is very nice, but I hope you didn’t give up the old one just because you thought I’d like this one better.”
He caught her fingers and brought them to his lips, kissing their tips.
“As much as I enjoy doing things you like, no, it wasn’t just for you. The old one hasn’t worked quite right since Barty Fecking Crouch Junior used it, and it’s a bit of a relief not to wear it. Except in class. Gotta keep the kiddies on their toes.”
“Yes, having 360-degree vision would have been a huge help in the classroom.”
Alastor took her hand as they continued their walk towards the Headmistress’s office.
“Do you miss teaching?” he asked.
“Sometimes. Usually I’m so busy I don’t have time to miss it.”
“Malcolm says he’s likin’ it.”
“That’s what he tells me. I think he does miss having his own practice, though.”
“I’m sure he does,” Alastor said. “He doesn’t miss some of his clients, though, he says. Especially that—”
“Madame Le Galle,” they said together, then laughed.
D’you think Eliane is happy here?” Alastor asked
“Why? Has Malcolm said something?”
“No, I just wondered. She’s always loved Paris so much.”
“I can’t imagine that it wasn’t a sacrifice,” Minerva said. “But Malcolm wanted to stay after the war, and I know she’s happy to be here while the children are in school. Plus there’s her work with Aurora and the centaurs. I think she’s enjoying that.”
“Yeah. I can’t make heads or tails of it, though.”
“Nor can I, but I suppose that’s why neither of us is an astronomer.”
They had reached the outer door to the Head’s office, and once the spiral staircase had carried them up and they entered the office proper, Alastor limped over to lean heavily on the back of a chair.
“You’re knackered,” she said.
“A bit, yeah.”
“Why don’t you go on. I’ll collect what I need and follow you up in a minute.”
He straightened up and stretched. “Ok. Don’t be too long.”
“Don’t drink all the eggnog.”
“Wouldn’t think of it.”
Minerva shuffled through some papers on her desk as she watched him out of the corner of her eye.
He moved slowly up the staircase leading to their private quarters. He was overdoing things, she thought. Probably to prove to her—and maybe himself—that despite everything he’d been through, he was still the strong, stalwart warrior he’d always been.
She knew, though, that, despite the improvements, Muggle and magical, in his condition, he still had pain, and getting around on the prosthetic leg took more energy than he let on. She and Filius had managed to coax the castle to create a magical connection between his third-floor office and their private rooms in the Head’s Tower, but he still had to climb the stairs several times a day to go to the Great Hall and other parts of the castle. He claimed the exercise was good for him, and she supposed it was, but she couldn’t help worrying about him.
They’d agreed that, once Hogwarts was running to her satisfaction, and she was certain there was a good, solid staff and clear line of succession, she and Alastor would retire, likely in two or three years. Although she’d often thought that she’d like to stay around until Hélène finished Hogwarts—assuming Malcolm and Eliane stayed in Scotland after Max left school. But that would be another eight years, and Minerva didn’t want to wait that long.
So they’d go. Not far, still in Scotland, certainly, but somewhere they could finally relax and have some time alone. Not that either of them was likely to want to sit around a cottage, gardening or doing needlework, or whatever it was pensioners were supposed to do with their days, but a bit of a rest would be welcome.
Until then, there would be plenty of work.
She rifled through the correspondence the Head’s owl had left on her desk. Among the usual official correspondence and notices from the Ministry, there was one letter addressed to her personally. She opened it with a flick of her wand and scanned the contents.
She sighed. It was another chastising note from an outraged citizen complaining about the Headmistress’s “openly consorting” with another teacher without the benefit of marriage. She ripped it in half and dropped it in the rubbish bin. At least there hadn’t been any Howlers for weeks.
And the governors had held their collective tongue on the matter, thanks in no small part to Molly Weasley’s ability to strongarm the other governors into shamed silence any time one of them dared to question the morals of Minerva McGonagall.
Alastor had made no noises about marriage, for which she was grateful. The notion still stuck in her craw, even though Kingsley—or Minister Shacklebolt, as Minerva supposed she should call him, even in her own mind—had summarily done away with the Ministry’s binding rituals and marriage charms.
Gerald’s face flashed briefly through her mind—the Gerald she’d come to know before drink and debt had taken him over. His life had been warped by the antiquated values of traditional wizarding society just as surely as hers had. It had all been such a waste. Perhaps The Pure Mudbloods had the right idea after all, pointing out the utter absurdity of it all.
Now, the next generation had a chance to get it right. Harry, Hermione, Ron, Neville, Ginny, Luna … and all the rest of them. To marry — or not — for love and bring up their children to know that a person’s worth isn’t dictated by where or to whom they are born, or even their intelligence or talent, but rather by what they do to and for others.
She looked at the pile of documents on her desk, selecting the most urgent and rolling them up to put them in her pocket.
Dumbledore’s voice from the wall behind the desk startled her.
“How is he?”
She looked up at the portrait.
“Alastor? Fairly well, all things considered.”
“No more problems with memory?”
“A few minor lapses, but nothing serious.”
“Severus did a good job.”
The sound of Severus’s name on the portrait’s lips still sent a ping of anger through her, but she tamped it down.
“Yes,” she said. “I don’t know how he managed to master memory charms along with all his other responsibilities, but he managed to do the job without anything important going missing.”
“We worked on it quite a bit over the years. It was prudent for him to be able to selectively remove and replace memories, both his own and others’.”
“Yes, I suppose it would have been.”
She wondered if there were memories Severus had removed from his own mind and not replaced. She wouldn’t have blamed him.
“You must have done an excellent job replacing Alastor’s memories,” the portrait said. “It can be a tricky thing.”
“It was Malcolm. Severus left very detailed instructions, and he followed them.”
“Ah. One master potioneer to another.”
“Indeed. And we wouldn’t have found them, if you hadn’t told us where they were.”
“I’m very glad to have been able to do you that service,” the portrait said, and once again, her eyes filled.
She smoothed her palms over her robes.
“Yes, well. I’m glad most of you portraits survived more or less intact.”
She straightened the paper on her desk and used her wand to put out the candles on the large candelabra, leaving only a few single candles lit around the office to light her way.
“And are you happy, Minerva?” the portrait asked, stopping her in her tracks.
She turned back to the portrait, who wore a ghost of the smile she remembered so well.
“Yes,” she said.
“I’m very glad. You see? it all came out all right in the end.”
“Not for everyone. Not for you,” she said quietly.
“Oh, Albus did all right. He had a long, productive life. Work he enjoyed. Dear friends. His end was not a bad one, except for the pain it caused others. And I am glad that this bit of him remains in me, so that some part of him is able to see you happy and secure. You and Malcolm and Alastor. It would make Albus very glad.”
“I hope so.”
“Well, you’d best be off. Alastor’s waiting.”
“He is. Good night.”
“Good night, Minerva. Sweet dreams.”
Thanks to all the readers who have travelled this far with me. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride as much as I have.
I must note that the idea to have Snape rescue Alastor was one I first encountered in Troika, a wonderful Minerva-Alastor-Kingsley story by the talented Selmak. It’s available under Selmak’s author name on both Fanfiction.net and An Archive of Our Own, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves insightful characterization married to intriguing story, all laced with wry wit and affectionate humour.
This work of fiction is based on characters and settings created by J. K. Rowling. All recognisable characters, settings, and plot elements are copyright © Ms. Rowling and her assignees.
The author believes this work falls within the scope of the Fair Use Doctrine as a transformative work.
For more information, see the Organization for Transformative Works.
All original characters, settings, and plot elements are copyright © Squibstress.
This work of fiction is available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0) license.
A few lines of dialogue were used from the following works:
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire © 2000 J. K. Rowling. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
The Maltese Falcon © 1941 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows © 2007, J. K. Rowling. London. Bloomsbury Publishing.
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