For kelbelz, who may well hunt me down for this interpretation of ‘drunk Minerva’. I.O.U.
(her prompt was Drunk Minerva)
“You’re quite sure you want to spend the entire night with Aunt Minerva,” she said for what must have been the thirteenth time in less than two hours.
“Well, you know how lonely she gets.” From the doorway Florian Longbottom gave his mother what he hoped was a nonchalant shrug. He looked to his younger siblings for support.
Bay nodded as rehearsed, while Rose said, “It’s nice, Mum; we read to her and she tells us about Hogwarts in the old days.”
“She’s beyond sick, kids; you know that. If I thought you were making more work for her-”
“Mum!” he exclaimed, genuinely horrified. Auntie Minerva was family, and for a Longbottom, family was the greatest treasure of all. Also, there was an unspoken rule that talk of their favorite relative’s health was forbidden. “We help her.”
She winced. “Sorry! I know you do. It’s just- she’s very special to me, and,” she blinked rapidly, “I love the fact that you want to spend time with her.”
“Lots of people love Auntie Minerva,” said Bay in a solemn tone. “She’s special.”
“Auntie Pomona makes her special brownies,” added little Calix before Rose could silence him with a warning glance.
Their mother looked as though she was biting back a smile despite her watery eyes. She turned back to her mirror and attempted to tame her wild brown curls. “I won’t have this used against me in the future as evidence of neglect. It’s the third time this month your father and I will have gone out without you. Damnit! Why didn’t I remember to get more Sleakeazy’s!”
“Please don’t make us go to another boring lecture,” Bay pled.
“Rose and I are teenagers,” Florian pointed out. “We watch Bay and Cal all the time.”
In the reflection of the mirror she pinned him with that look – the one that terrified Uncle Harry and Uncle Ron. “Oh, so you’re a responsible young man, are you?
He saw the trap but walked into it. “Yes?”
“Good; go help your father in Greenhouse 6. He needs to get those seedlings planted before we leave in an hour.” She turned to Rose. “As for you-”
“Your hair looks lovely, Mum; Daddy likes it best down anyway!” And with that the only female Longbottom sibling slithered from the room in remarkable semblance of the symbol of her school House – but not before she sent her elder brother a triumphant smirk.
Florian complied with a sigh. Such was the nature of strategy. “Yes, Mum.”
“And tell him he needs a proper washing up – not a swim in the plant reservoir!” she shouted after him.
* * *
“How’d you manage to convince the kids to stay home again?” Neville asked as he helped her out of her coat. He handed it to the attendant and drew her hand through his arm again. “They love Manny’s.”
“I told them we were attending an Arithmancy lecture,” Hermione said absently as the smells of the familiar steakhouse assailed her nose. “Oh, Godric, but I can’t wait to get my lips around a nice thick piece of meat.”
“Easy, witch,” he chuckled, leading her along behind the waiter to a cozy private booth. “At least wait ‘til the curtain’s drawn.”
“You want it easy? That’s no fun,” she countered with a smirk. It didn’t quite reach her eyes.
* * *
“Auntie Minerrrrrvaaaaa, we’re heeeeere!” Calix shouted joyfully.
“Go away or I’ll call the Aurors!” The threat, lobbed through the nearest doorway in a crotchety Scottish burr, was followed immediately by a wheelchair whose occupant – a faded slip of an old witch – was brandishing her wand at them. “Oh, it’s you rotten children.”
Bay gave a boyish whoop of laughter. Calix bounced up and down like a little rubber ball. Florian and Rose each gave her a conspiratorial grin.
“Now, who’s up for ice cream and Exploding Snap?”
“I’ll go set up the card table!” yelled Bay. He took off down the hall followed by Calix.
Rose kissed Auntie Minerva’s cheek. “Can I get you anything?”
“How about you keep those brothers of yours busy while I rest my eyes,” murmured Minerva. “That part of the evening always tires me out the most.”
Florian watched as the old witch nodded off almost immediately. He drew her shawl more securely around her and swallowed the lump in his throat.
* * *
“Come on, Professor Longbottom; one more drink,” he coaxed.
She laughed delightedly. “Why, Professor Longbottom, if I didn’t know better I’d think you were trying to get me drunk!”
Neville treated his wife to a cocky grin and refilled her wine glass. “Drunk’s no fun, but I figure tipsy’ll get me six kinds of it later.”
“Hmmmmm,” Hermione agreed, leaning in to take an appreciative sniff of the nook between his neck and shoulder. Bergamot, cedarwood, musk, and- “Six might be a low estimate.”
He ran a teasing hand up her bare arm. “Think Rose ‘n’ Flory’ll have the boys in bed when we get back?”
“They’re at Minerva’s.” She looked up at her husband, and with those words all pretense of merriment dropped. “They wanted to stay the night with her.”
“Oh, sweetheart,” he murmured, eyes brimming with understanding. “Come here.” He held her close for a long while.
* * *
From his customary spot at the footboard of the old wheelchair, seven-year-old Calix yawned.
“It’s bedtime, Cally,” said Rose. She’d finished the washing up after their dinner of biscuits and ice cream sundaes and supervised the bedtime preparations of the younger two; now she sat beside her favorite aunt, her head on the arm of the wheelchair as Minerva stroked her long brown hair. “You too, Bay.”
Bay didn’t look up from his toy trains, which whizzed along the edge of the cozy sitting room. “It’s not fair; I only just got the tracks all set up! Why do you and Flory always get to stay up later?”
“Because we’re older,” she replied automatically. “Besides, you get up earlier in the morning; you can play with your trains then.”
“And while these two good-for-nothing degenerates laze in bed, the three of us will have our usual breakfast,” added Auntie Minerva.
Calix popped up with a smile. “More biscuits and ice cream!”
“Exactly. Now come here and let me beat you with my wand.”
He traded kisses with her, holding still indulgently as she mussed his curls and squished his cheeks. “Night-night, Auntie.”
“Night-night, Cally,” she answered in a not-so-crusty tone. Then she gave him a soft swat on his pajama-clad bottom. “Now go to bed or I’ll call the Aurors. I know some of them quite well.”
Calix was already headed out the door toward the little room set aside just for him and Bay. “I’m not afraid of Uncle Ron,” he laughed over his shoulder.
“Just for that, I’ll call Auror Bulstrode!” She turned to almost-eleven-year-old Bay and beckoned with a gnarled finger. “And you, young man.” After a similar exchange of kisses and hair mussing she remarked, “You’ve grown at least three inches since last week. Are you sure your parents didn’t buy you from the Giants?”
Bay beamed. “Dad says all Longbottom wizards are tall.”
“Yes,” she replied, placing another papery kiss on his cheek. “But you seem intent on proving that an understatement. Are you excited for school?”
“I’ve lived at Hogwarts my whole life; I don’t see how it’s going to be any different as a student.”
Minerva cackled at that, but her laughter soon turned into a cough. Florian pressed a glass of water into her hand and helped her drink, and when she finally was able she said, “Help your siblings give that new Headmaster hell for me, Bay-leaf.”
He looked pleased with the idea.
“Did you eat enough tonight?” she asked, frowning at the new thinness of his previously round cheeks.
“Well . . .” he looked at her hopefully.
“I’ll send in a bowl of biscuits later,” she promised. “And if they’re not gone in the morning-”
“You’ll call the Aurors.” He gave her frail hand a gentle squeeze.
“Oh, no; I’ll Transfigure you into a pincushion.” Her mouth twitched.
“Love you, Auntie.”
The corresponding squeeze she gave his hand may have been weak, but the emotion it conveyed was remarkably strong. “Good night, sweet boy.”
When the younger boys had closed the door to their room, Minerva turned to the remaining Longbottom children. “Now, where’s that Firewhiskey you two promised me?”
* * *
“Don’t you dare, Neville!” She struggled against the unyielding hold of his arms, laughing as he strode toward the plant reservoir.
“You had a choice, sweetheart.”
Still struggling, still laughing, she retorted, “Well, if you’d locked the door to the greenhouse, I might have agreed to take off my clothes!”
He grinned. “Where’s the fun in that?” And with that, he jumped into the plant pool fully clad, Hermione in his arms.
She swam to the surface and swatted at her husband. “Neville blublublub Francis Longbottom!”
“Now will you take them off?”
Hermione spit out a mouthful of water and clung to her husband, thankful for the solidity of his form, the depth of his heart, and the comfort of his distractions. “Take me to the storeroom, Nev. Like the first time.”
* * *
Aunt Pomona arrived late and in her comforting cloud of lavender water and cigar smoke. She handed a stack of old dented Honeydukes tins to Rose, who whisked them off to the small kitchen. Then she enveloped Florian in a grandmotherly hug. “How is she tonight, my darling boy?”
“Putting up quite a show.”
“Has she eaten anything?”
“No,” he admitted. “She’s gotten really good at pretending, though.”
“Well,” Pomona patted his back and squashed him yet closer, “I made the brownies extra potent this time. So.” She released him and rubbed her hands together in an anticipatory manner. “Are you ready to be beaten black and blue?”
He smiled at the familiar challenge. “Are you?”
“For Godric’s sake, I’ll be dead by the time you two get in here!” Minerva bellowed from the sitting room.
Pomona rolled her eyes and huffed. “It’s a good thing we love the old witch.”
“I heard that!”
* * *
He swung her over his shoulder and carried her off like the prize she was, depositing her wet and dripping from the pool on the old bed in the storeroom.
And she responded to his touches, his words, with a fervor unlike anything he’d seen before, a wild and beautiful grief hanging thick above their lovemaking. Right before they joined, he pulled back. “Hang on; we need to . . .” he reached for his wand, which lay beside the old bed in the storeroom.
She grabbed his wrist. “No.”
“I thought you said . . .”
“Let’s have another baby.” She tugged him at his arms until he hovered over her once more and spoke against his lips. “We make such beautiful children together; it’d be a shame to stop with only four.”
He hummed his agreement and pulled her close. “That it would. But if this is because of-”
“Please don’t say it,” she begged. “Please keep distracting me, Nev.”
He sighed. “You need to talk about it, love.”
“Not now.” And then, because the last thing she wanted to do was talk, she shoved him onto his back and straddled his hips. “We have a baby to make.”
* * *
“And now they want me to have a full-time Mediwitch despite the fact that I’m capable of caring for myself! I told them I don’t have the room.” Minerva began slapping her cards down. “Gin rummy.”
Rose sighed. “Can we skip counting points and just be done with cards for the night? I always end up with the shit hand.”
Minerva gave her a stern glance. “If your parents ask, remember to tell them you are not allowed to use such language here.” She looked at Rose’s cards. “That is a shit hand.”
“You have two spare rooms, Minnie,” reasoned Pomona around her cheroot, “and I’m sure you’d still have autonomy.” She gathered the cards and gave them an expert series of shuffles. “Rosie, you’re never going to win at cards until you begin taking risks.”
“Autonomy? Autonomy?! Is that what you call this! Answering to some snot-nosed administrator whenever I play my music too loud or take late-night Floo calls! Having my Owl Post orders opened! Being forbidden,” here she recited in a petulant tone, ‘alcohol, alternative medications, or any other contraband’.” She shook a finger at Pomona. “When has Firewhiskey ever considered contraband!”
Florian opened his mouth to argue that it was at Hogwarts, then thought better of it. Instead he went to the sideboard and opened one of Pomona’s tins. “How about a brownie, Auntie Minerva?” He pretended not to notice when she added a few extra hundred points to her tally.
“I take risks.” Rose pouted. “I stole Dad’s Firewhiskey, didn’t I!”
“And those spare rooms are for my family.” She downed her drink and shook the glass at Florian. “Yes, please, Flory, and bring that bottle your delinquent sister stole.”
Rose blew Minerva a kiss.
He complied, looking around the cozy sitting room with a critical eye. True, it was a far cry from her rooms at Hogwarts, but this place was specially designed for witches and wizards who were- He forced his attention back to the conversation. “It’s not really that bad here, Auntie; is it?”
“It’s nice enough. In fact, if you’re 147 and completely gaga, you might mistake it for a luxury resort. Unfortunately I am neither.” She sighed. “Nor am I under the delusion that I’ll be here much longer. You call that a drink, young man? To the top.”
Pomona leaned back in her chair and blew a smoke ring. “Somebody please stuff a brownie in her mouth.”
* * *
They lay in a sweaty tangle of limbs, too tired and content to move for a long while. Finally, Neville ran a hand down her back so gently she could barely feel his touch. “Thank you,” she murmured.
He chuckled, and the vibrations traveled from his body into hers. “Yeah, you should thank me, witch; that was a right chore.”
Hermione smiled against his chest and then raised her head to meet his eyes. “I want to name-”
Her interrupted her with a noise of frustration. “Twice we’ve been through this, love; you can’t call a wizard ‘Minerva’.” He stroked her hair back from her face. “If I could just give you a girl, I would; and who knows – maybe this time it will be a girl.”
She sat up abruptly, pulling the sheet around her like a shield. “If only we’d-”
“We gave our girl a name of her own, just as Minerva has hers,” he said firmly. “And Rose’ll bloom every bit as brightly as she did. Oh, love.” He peeled back the sheet and drew her close yet again that evening. “We agreed: let every one of our children live outside another’s shadow.”
“But when she’s gone I’ll have nothing to-” but Hermione’s defenses, much like the sheet, had finally been stripped away, and she wept for that which was to come.
When her tears were spent, he held her still, willing her to absorb his peace.
“I love her so much,” she whispered. “What will I do without her?”
“You’ll remember her, and as a family we’ll celebrate her as the grand old witch she is.”
“And until then?”
“We’ll just be with her, sweetheart – you, me, and the kids, each in our own way. And Pomona and I’ll keep upping the cannabis in her brownies, and you’ll make sure we have Firewhiskey for Rose to nick.” He tipped up her chin until their eyes met. “And we’ll talk.”
She nodded in agreement and leaned her forehead against his chin. “Make me laugh, please?”
He thought for a moment and grinned. “On the upside, our kids’ll forever equate marijuana and hard liquor with an ancient, ribald woman who’s as far from sexy as possible.”
“Great,” she snorted. “They’ll equate it with love.”
And they laughed together, remembering the illustrious Minerva McGonagall and her many finest hours.
* * *
The card table had been folded up, the fire had died back to glowing embers, and the cozy sitting room was thick with cigar smoke. As usual, Rose had been called upon to read aloud.
“The warlock smiled, and told her that she need not fear on that score. Bidding her follow, he led her from the feast, and down to the locked dungeon where he kept his greatest treasure,” she read in a dramatic voice.
Minerva spluttered. “Is that what he called it,” she cackled. “His ‘greatest treasure’! Well, she certainly fell for the oldest trick in the book! Who the hell doesn’t know that’s a euphemism for ‘cock’!”
Florian snickered. He’d barely nibbled at his allotted half-brownie, but already its effects were making the room slightly hazy around the edges. “Here we go,” he murmured to his sister.
Rose was permitted no brownie because, according to Auntie Minerva, thirteen was far too young for controlled substances. Instead she contented herself with Butterbeer and strategically stolen sips of Firewhiskey.
“You know what that story needs?” Rose smiled and began mouthing along as Minerva continued, “More pussy. And there needs to be a big, thick cock at this point! Probably a blowjob. Maybe a spanking.”
“There’s no pussy in that story in the first place, Minnie! How can there be more?” argued Pomona. “It’s Beedle the Bard; the man was a mystic – he probably didn’t know what pussy was!”
This discourse had been dubbed by the two eldest Longbottom children as “the pussy rant.” It rarely varied from week to week and always provided excellent entertainment.
“Of course he did, Pomona; he was male! Florian, tell her that all males know about pussy.”
“I’m barely fifteen,” he hedged. The thing about the pussy rant was that nothing – and nobody – was sacred. That’s what made it so entertaining. Well, that and Auntie Pomona’s brownies.
At Minerva’s disappointed frown, Rose offered helpfully, “He’s only recently discovered breasts.” She stole a surreptitious gulp of Pomona’s drink.
Without hesitation he confirmed, “Breasts are waaaaaay better than magic.”
And when their favorite aunt leaned forward expectantly, Rose supplied, “Venus Malfoy.”
“Oho! That girl has a splendid set of knockers, let me tell you,” confirmed Pomona. “Worthy of a bodice-ripper! Well done, Flory!” She looked at her glass with a puzzled expression. “I was sure that was full. Flory, do you mind?”
“Thanks, Auntie Po.” He bumped her proffered fist and refilled her glass. There was far more to Venus than her tits, but if it kept Auntie Minerva entertained, he’d leave out the parts about her being sweet and wonderful and certain that their destinies were intertwined.
“Be sure you pay proper attention to both nipples,” instructed Minerva, pausing to eat the last bite of her brownie. “None of this favoring one and neglecting the other. Witches notice that sort of thing.”
He and Pomona exchanged a meaningful glance, and he quickly placed another brownie on Minerva’s plate. “No partiality when it comes to nipples; got it.”
“And don’t demand blowjobs, Flory; that’s just poor form – especially for a Gryffindor! Where’s my drink!”
Rose froze by Minerva’s side, wide-eyed and glass in hand. “I was just refilling it for you, Auntie,” she said after a moment’s pause.
“Perhaps it’s time for some water, sweet girl,” suggested Pomona. “Would you bring a pitcher from the kitchen?”
The substitution of water for alcohol usually signaled the end of the evening, but tonight Auntie Minerva pressed on with unusual energy. “I want a story with some decent pussy in it, for Godric’s sake! Is that too much to ask?”
Her shrill voice cut through the brownie fog. “Tell me what you need, Minnie,” said Pomona in a gentle voice.
“They keep pilfering my stash of erotica,” she complained bitterly. “Damned cleaning witches are too cheap to buy their own. They take my things and justify it because I’m dying.” She threw her empty glass against the wall with surprising force.
It was Rose who cleaned up the mess in the following silence, and Rose who knelt at Auntie Minerva’s wheelchair, resting her head on knees sharp as glass for want of fat and muscle. “Please don’t, Auntie,” she said. “Don’t die and leave us.”
Minerva scoffed and ran gnarled fingers through the thick brown hair covering her lap. “Rule number one for your House, Rosie: don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.”
Rose lifted her head with a frown. “No; the first rule of my House is ‘take no shit about being Slytherin’.”
A breath of laughter so fragile it could have been made of butterfly wings ensued. “Draco has truly done good things for your House. What, pray tell, is rule number two?”
“Don’t be a shit.”
Minerva laughed again, but this time it bore the semblance of a healthier time; it was alive and full, and Florian and Pomona joined in its happy sound.
“What?” Rose looked at each of them in puzzlement. “It’s true; we’re to be proud of who we are, but we’re not to be dicks about it.”
“Oh, you beautiful, beautiful children.” Minerva cupped her cheeks. “I’m going to die soon, and I’m going to leave this damned chair far behind.” She leaned to kiss her forehead. “But I will never leave you.” She gestured for Florian to come closer and took his hand in a ferocious grip. “Never.”
Behind them Pomona blew her nose noisily.
“For one thing, you’ll think of me every time you so much as hear the word ‘pussy’.”
* * *
Hermione slept in the safety of her husband’s arms until morning, and when the sun’s rays filtered down through the glass roof of the greenhouse storeroom she awoke with peace in her heart.
She stretched and rolled to gaze at him, the man who still made her heart stutter after so many years. “Morning.”
And then, in the well-oiled rhythm of a marriage bedded in love, they bickered over what to do first and where to go when until Neville said, “Enough.”
She knew that tone no matter how seldom it was used. “What?”
“We’ll get ready and go pick up the kids, and you’ll stay with Minerva for as long as you truly want.”
“But it’s Friday; I spend Mondays and Saturdays with her,” she argued. “Rose has Arithmancy tutoring, and Flory has-”
“No,” he ordered in a gut-clenchingly masculine tone. “You’ll spend as much time as you need with her, regardless of work or the kids; I’ll pick up the slack. Now go get ready.”
Florian met them at the Floo. “Shhhh,” he warned. “She’s still sleeping.” Behind him Rose was playing quietly with Bay and Calix.
A shard of fear pierced Hermione’s heart. “Are you sure? Did you check her breathing?”
Rose gave her a decidedly sarcastic look. “No, we hadn’t thought of that. Good thing you’re here.” She shot Florian a glance and returned her attention to her younger brothers.
“I’m sorry.” Hermione knelt beside her daughter. “Really, truly, Rose; I didn’t mean that as an insult. I’m just worried about her.”
“You shouldn’t worry,” she responded, chin raised in an unconscious replica of her mother’s. “She has all of us, and that’s all she needs.” She hugged her as she hadn’t for years. “And it’s Rosie, not Rose.”
Florian addressed his father in tones just loud enough to carry to the rest of the family. “I think we should all stay here, Dad; I don’t think there’s much time left.”
Neville crushed his oldest son to his chest with arms made even stronger by love and sorrow, and together they cried as men do when confronted by things they cannot change.
It was Calix who slipped from the room unnoticed and came back to tug on his father’s trouser leg. “Daddy,” he said, “Auntie Minerva promised us biscuits and ice cream for breakfast, and I’m hungry.”
* * *
“If you check on my breathing one more time, I’ll hex you.”
Hermione jumped back with a start. “You were just so . . .”
“Quiet?” She closed her eyes and bit back a smile. “Yes. It’s called sleep.”
She gestured blindly, rewarded by the telltale sinking of the mattress beside her, and opened her eyes. “What time is it?”
“Half past nine.”
She sighed. Getting out of bed was a real bitch nowadays. “How do you feel about helping me up?”
“I’d love to,” answered Hermione.
“Just so long as you don’t mention that request to that upstart admin at the desk,” she warned. “I won’t have a Mediwitch invading my privacy.”
“Never,” promised the Brightest Witch of the Age. “How dumb do you think I am?”
Minerva snorted. She’d seen Hermione do some incredibly stupid things in her life – mostly for love – and questioned the aptness of that moniker some days.
“I’ll stay with you.”
She opened her eyes to find Hermione tearstained and earnest. “I beg your pardon?”
“I’ll stay if that’s okay with you.”
Okay? Okay? Her daughter-figure here, where she was most needed? “I won’t put up an undignified fight if you’re determined.” She was rewarded with a smile bright enough to light the dungeons of Hogwarts. “But only if you all stay.” She gave her best glare. “I’ve become accustomed to those rotten children of yours.” And that big, dishy husband as well. But always you, my girl.
“We’d love to.” Hermione squeezed her hand. “It might be in shifts, but we’ll be here from now on.”
Minerva knew a good deal when she saw one, but still she haggled. “Gin rummy with Pomona every Thursday night.”
“Of course – as often as you’d like.”
“And Flory and Rosie, too.”
“They’d love that.” Hermione beamed.
Minerva went for the jackpot as only a Gryffindor can do. “And you; you’ll be there as well.”
Long, long ago the Sorting Hat had dithered over the placement of a young Minerva McGonagall. Had it been called to sort her now, it would have shouted ‘Gryffindor’ with unequivocal confidence, for Minerva took to her quarry with all the splendor of a lioness. “I require copious amounts of cannabis and Firewhiskey.”
“I know,” Hermione breathed with a smile. “We’ve been providing both.”
“Well, then. We seem to have an agreement.” She closed her eyes. “I just need a few minutes before the whole ‘get up’ part of the day. It’s almost as difficult as convincing Bay and Calix I’m healthy as a horse.”
“I’ll just go and dish up the biscuits and ice cream for breakfast, shall I?”
Minerva smiled at the cheek in that best-loved voice. “You sound like your daughter, you minx.”
There was the sound of laughter so bright and full it filled the room with life, and then Hermione was gone in a rush of love and efficiency.
Minerva settled deeper into her pillow, more content than she’d been in months as the sounds of her family wafted to her ears. Her family.
She considered the enticing prospect of introducing Hermione to Pomona’s brownies in practice and a good pussy rant. Oh, those children were truly family, the way they’d taken to that. She smiled. Maybe she should suggest Flory take notes for the younger Longbottoms. After all, where else would they learn the good stuff?