It hasn't been that long, and Hermione hardly feels any different. But now she watches the black-robed children hefting schoolbooks that seem nearly as large as they are, scurrying from class to class with urgency and awe, and she is no longer one of them.
"Hi, Professor Granger," pipes up a little first-year girl whose name, Hermione realises with embarrassment, she can't immediately remember.
Is that what a professor ought to say? Is she wearing the right type of grown-up smile? Hermione wonders how long it will be until she no longer feels like a child playing dress-up — a fraud. Her face is warm, and she hopes it isn't red as she strides quickly down the corridor, forgetting for a moment where she was going.
Her feet carry her to the little study near the Charms classroom, and she pauses at the door. Minerva is there, absorbed in a book, sitting in front of a great round window that frames her with the rich blue of the fall sky.
At the sound of Hermione's footfalls, Minerva looks up, and her face brightens. "Professor Granger," she says with mild surprise, and when she says it, Hermione almost believes it. She raises an appraising eyebrow. "You look as though you could use a walk."
They walk together by the side of the lake, treading on faded, fallen leaves, and carefully round the still-green bunches of pillwort that worm their way up from the muddy shore.
"I mean to get outdoors more than I do," Minerva confesses, her crows' feet deepening as she squints out over the water. "We ought to make a habit of this."
The long rushes that pierce the lake's surface remind Hermione of something she once read about Egyptian papyrus, and she finds herself sharing it with Minerva before she remembers to be embarrassed at how the small things she learns in books stay so long in her mind.
But Minerva is listening, and smiling at her with interest, not with mockery. When she answers, she touches Hermione's hand, and her skin is warm, so warm despite the air's growing chill.
Hermione sits hunched over her desk marking papers until she realises the reason she can no longer see them is that her window has turned from blue to black. She pauses only to light the candle, and goes on. There is a sting in her neck each time she turns from the scribbled, tentative students' parchments to the solid half-uncial lines of the history book from which she is trying to teach them.
A thought slips into her mind like light beneath a door: Minerva's hands on her shoulders, rubbing firmly and sweetly. The imagined sensation melts through her body and unwinds her muscles' knots, and settles into a secret tingle between her legs.
She lets out a small, unguarded moan, which sounds louder than it is in the near-silence, and makes her blush fiercely even though nobody is there.
On the day that the first snowflakes gather delicately on the windowsills, still too light to crush one another, Hermione and Minerva are engaged in the delightful work of taking books out of the Restricted Section.
"Quite a few of these were only ever here because they reveal what the Ministry considered to be uncomfortable truths," Minerva says in grim remembrance, standing on tip-toe as her fingertips walk along the volumes on the very top shelf. "Propaganda by omission. History is only dull when you're afraid to tell the interesting bits, wouldn't you agree?" She adds another book to the stack Hermione is already holding and gives her a hint of a satisfied smile.
Grinning back, Hermione shifts under the weight, hefting these glorious volumes of once-forbidden knowledge that threaten to slip from her too-small hands. The musty scent of their age makes her heart flutter; she longs to simply spread them out on the floor, open all at once, and learn.
"Ah," says Minerva, her smile broadening as she reverently pulls a tiny, ancient book from its place. She gazes at it like it's a dear old friend, and gently brushes the dust from the silvery-blue cover.
Hermione cranes her neck to see, and gasps. "Poems of Rowena Ravenclaw? I didn't think any had survived."
A knowing chuckle — an almost cheeky look in Minerva's eye as she places this book on top of Hermione's stack and taps it with a fingertip. "You may find them interesting. Perhaps not for the classroom, though."
As Hermione struggles through with an Old English dictionary, each of Ravenclaw's lines opens like a flower, gradual and exquisite. She feels no time at all passing as pages turn from puzzles to poems in her mind, one pleasurable eureka after another in the soft pool of light at her desk.
She doesn't understand why this book was in the Restricted Section until close to the end:
Alone I lie, missing her touch like a secret at midnight, sweet as the honey between her thighs...
Flushing, Hermione checks and double checks her translation, surprised at how fervently she needs it to be right.
Even in the fleeting afternoons of winter, dim and hushed as evenings, they walk.
Their feet crunch softly in fresh snow. As they move through the white-clothed stillness past the slumbering greenhouses, Hermione feels Minerva's gloved hand slip into hers; their fingers intertwine.
Hermione's heart beats hot within her, making the cold feel delicious against her face. She is afraid to look, nearly afraid to breathe — fog moves lightly over her lips — unwilling to dare any careless misstep that could shatter this. She fights the mad urge to run ahead and jump into the snow like an overdelighted child.
To hold hands with Minerva is perfect, like an illustration in an illuminated manuscript. They walk on, observed only by the round, yellow eye of an insomniac owl.
On Christmas Day, among Hermione's gifts she finds a letter bearing the Headmistress's seal.
Dear Professor Granger,
It has been such a pleasure to have you here this term. I could not have imagined anyone better suited to fill Professor Binns' position. As you share your passion for history with this new generation of students, I cannot help but think that they will be forever enriched, as well as powerfully encouraged never to repeat the errors of the past. I hope to count you as a colleague for years to come.
Let's be sure to carry on with our walks. I haven't felt so healthy in ages.
In bed, Hermione reads the letter over and over again. She traces the slanted, elegant lines of Minerva's handwriting, feeling the warmth of pride and the heat of desire both growing within her as she touches the dreamt-of words: pleasure and passion.
Her hand slips from the page and slides down her own body; she is nude beneath her blankets. She imagines herself nestled in Minerva's strong arms, imagines it is Minerva's fingers softly stroking her sex, delicately playing with her lips like turning the pages of a secret diary.
Her need grows quickly, curling her toes, arching her back. But she forces her shaky hand to go softly, easily. It's like a book she never wants to end, feeling the pages grow lighter in her right hand and reading slower, slower, slower, savouring every word.
All day long, Hermione's body has felt glitteringly, wonderfully, terribly awake. When she walks, the brush of her own robes against the backs of her thighs sends rivulets of pleasure coursing through all the little channels inside her, as does the texture of a book's cloth-bound edge when it rubs against the tip of her thumb.
But now books and marking are pushed to the edges of her desk. Every muscle tense, she holds the quill in an iron grip, inches above the parchment, as though she can force her feelings to form themselves into coherent words by will alone.
She writes: Minerva,
Then she writes: I
With a grunt of a growl, she scribbles out what she's written, so hard that the tip of the quill snaps. She crumples the parchment into a ball, squeezing it as hard as she can, and then throws it to the floor.
After another minute, she rises and takes the book of Ravenclaw's poems down from the shelf. She gets out a fresh piece of parchment and an undamaged quill, and turns to the last page, one she has read so many times that she doesn't need the dictionary anymore.
She writes it as she reads it. Probably not the best translation, but it's what she reads.
O goddess wise, born full-grown
Lie with me like page beside page
With your owl's eyes all-seeing
And read in my heart the rarest runes.
Winter's chill emanates from the castle walls as Hermione walks the midnight corridors, envelope in hand. Several times she passes by the long hall that leads to Minerva's chambers, convincing herself each time that this is mad, impossible.
At last she slinks up to the door, and quickly, before she can stop herself again, she slides the envelope underneath with a trembling hand. Flooded with relief and fear, she moves stiffly away, feeling dizzy, like treading on clouds.
She doesn't make it all the way to the end of the hall before the door clicks open.
She turns, and Minerva is there in her blue nightdress, bathed in the yellow light from within, holding the opened envelope. Minerva's lips are parted in astonishment and her eyes glisten with tears, looking at Hermione as though scarcely daring to believe what she sees — a chance at a storybook end.