Piercing emerald eyes slowly slid across the crowded restaurant over the crystal rim of a glass containing the deep burgundy merlot that could also be faintly detected on pressed thin lips as Minerva McGonagall took note of the various people dining within her vicinity. As her gaze neared the dimly lit back corner of the expansive area, she stopped scanning to focus her attention on a younger couple leaning closely towards one another, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings as they looked into each other’s eyes. The pools of green darted quickly from woman to man and back again, soaking in the body language and facial expressions as the two subjects interacted with one another: the way her hazel irises shone with a mixture of adoration and wonderment, the way he so carefully placed his large hand upon her much more delicate one atop the table, the way that small contact urged them to subconsciously inch ever closer together... each gesture speaking volumes about the connection shared between the two lovers.
Minerva’s concentration was broken abruptly as a tall and lanky man entered her peripheral vision after approaching the table from behind. With whispered words the young waiter inquired about Minerva's order. With her response that she was awaiting an additional guest, he quickly took his leave, bowing slightly at the gentle nod she offered in his direction as he did. Again the perceptive woman raised the oversized glass to her lips, sipping the liquid and allowing it to tingle against her taste-buds for mere moments before swallowing and once more resting the glass upon the table. The recommended merlot was slightly dry for her taste, but the robust flavors surpassed that slight flaw. Considering this, she redirected her gaze to the restaurant's remaining occupants. On this pass, her attention was drawn to an older couple seated just behind the last. Minerva's expressive brows furrowed slightly as her lips creased into a frown when she realized the reason her eyes had been drawn to them. The man appeared to be basically barking at the woman seated opposite him as she scoffed at him dismissively before turning to her left. It was quite curious to the woman, the vast differences in the interactions between the couples seated so closely together. Vivid green eyes again left their current target to sweep across the dining area. As she took in the other various patrons, Minerva noticed that the majority of the establishment was filled with yet more couples, only occasionally separated by what she assumed to be two people meeting for a business dinner based on the distance at which they sat and their state of dress. It was one such dinner that had resulted in the woman's presence there that evening.
She knew she was way too early, and that was the only reason why she had allowed herself to indulge in a glass of wine before the person she was supposed to meet would get there. It had begun with an initial burst of curiosity at an unexpected, accidental turn of events a few months before at Flourish and Blotts.
Minerva only seldomly took the time to visit London in person, though, and most often held correspondence by owl with the people she needed. Her schedule as Hogwarts’ Headmistress was significantly busier than it had been when she was still Albus’ Deputy. She had been familiar with all its tasks due to having had to replace Albus for shorter spans of time in his absences and him delegating some to her at her request to help at certain times during his Headmastership. However, now she had to take all of them on at once aside from her other tasks as a Transfiguration Professor. Truth be told, she had not planned on doing both at first, but it had just so happened when they had wanted to reopen Hogwarts after having it rebuilt after the Battle that Minerva chose to ‘temporarily’ handle both tasks when they found themselves without a replacement for herself at her becoming Headmistress. Truth be told, she had thought it would be easier to combine. She had thought it would become easier as she got more accustomed to it, at least, even if she never did find a replacement to teach Transfiguration. That would most likely be true if she wasn’t so determined to do everything with as much dedication as she could muster and wasn’t so set on not delegating more than necessary to her former pupil, now Deputy Headmaster, Neville Longbottom. As for not getting a replacement, she had just never found someone she felt she could entrust with teaching such a potentially very dangerous subject.
It was her own subject and an exceptional visit to London and Flourish and Blotts in the summer of the year before that had brought her to that restaurant, however indirectly. She had decided that it was time to change the obligatory course books on the subject of Transfiguration for the other ones were outdated, and had gone down to Flourish and Blotts to look for inspiration herself. She had been thinking about that for a few years already, actually, but it had never really happened. After a short article in American Transfiguration Today about the necessity of improvement on course books for Wizarding students earlier that same summer, however, her own feelings about the subject that she had managed to suppress for years had come to the surface again, and she had decided that no excuse would be good enough anymore not to do the required update. She had talked about it with Albus and shared her thoughts about it, and he had agreed that it was well time for a course book revision to keep up with the changing knowledge and teaching methods.
So that is why she had gone down to London herself and wasted a fair few hours looking through Transfiguration books. She had not found one that she particularly liked and had asked the owner about others that might not be available in his store, to which he had responded negatively, that there were quite a few American publications in the back row he indicated but that he doubted those would be what she was looking for. Honestly, she had, too, at first, and she had debated not even spending more time there and just sticking with her old ones and inform with colleagues abroad instead, but she had, eventually, decided to do go and look through them for the hell of it… only to be surprised at a seemingly marginal thick book with beige cover on the far left of the row indicated to her. Honestly, she had first passed it by before looking at the other ones only to do return to it and take it from the shelf. She had been desperate, maybe, and she had not wanted to go without really having looked at everything intently. She knew to never judge a book by its cover, and even though she had not had much hope, Minerva McGonagall had still taken the book in hand and opened it up… only to read the first paragraph of the introduction and having her interests piqued.
She wasn’t sure what exactly had done it, but something in the flow and obvious intellect of the writer shining through had had a great deal to do with it, she thought. She had bought the book to read through entirely, even if it hadn’t been designed as a course book per se, and she had been very impressed by the accuracy and the way in which this accuracy had been worded to fit with the understanding of both old and young spirits. She had begun digging and had first contacted Flourish and Blotts regarding more books of the same author, had written to the publisher when the store owner could not help her any further. The publisher’s response had come only two days later and had stated that the compliments had reached the author, who thanked her profusely for them, and that one other book in Transfiguration was available, a sequel on the one she had acquired from Flourish and Blotts, but that none of the ones that would become available in due time for the advanced Transfigurations were going to be published in time for the school year to set in. Minerva had asked once again if they could inform the author that she wished to speak with them and was interested in meeting them, since the publisher had not responded to that part of her initial owl. From there, the author had sent her an owl themselves and it had begun to ping-pong up to this meeting.
She looked fleetingly at her watch to check the time and confirmed that it had just struck the hour and that the author should, thus, arrive soon. She was slightly surprised at how much time had passed just sitting there, because she had been very early. As she looked up once more, she noticed a feminine figure by the door.
She recognized the curly hair from the past, and as the woman turned towards her, her suspicions were confirmed. She knew that this was no coincidence, that this was the woman she had agreed to meet today, the woman who went by an author pseudonym that did not even hint at her gender, even though something had told Minerva from the beginning that the author was female. Despite the fact that she had read good, clear books written by male authors, it had had a level of elegance and clarity and a weird tangible gentleness that had lead her to believe that the author was rather an authoress.
As her former charge came towards the table indicated to her by one of the waiters by the door, Minerva was taken aback by the look in her eyes. It had been years since she had seen Hermione Granger. Shortly after the Battle of Hogwarts, she and Ronald Weasley had gotten engaged and both of them and Harry Potter had acquired a job at the Ministry of Magic. Ginevra and Harry had gotten married that same year, and it had looked like Ronald and she would very soon as well, but, quite unexpectedly, close to the anniversary of the Battle, Hermione had left both her job at the Ministry and Ronald and disappeared. She had been smarter than paying any attention at all to the rumors of Rita Skeeter and others in the Prophet, but aside from that, there had not been any news about the younger witch at all in the past year, and the rumors had died down after the first few months as well, given there hadn’t been anything for them to feed on.
Minerva McGonagall was surprised to see the younger Gryffindor pop up again after so many years and especially in that context, yes, but part of her was not… A part of her had recognized the succinct yet detailed work of her former charge within the writing, both within the book and the brief exchanges by owl, albeit a writing that had obviously matured with the younger witch and the things in life that she had been through since she had read papers from her. Hermione Granger had changed. She wasn’t sure what she would have expected, and she wasn’t even sure she would have expected anything different… but the look in those mocha eyes was head-on and charging, certain and headstrong and robust.
“Miss Granger,” Minerva greeted, “or should I say…”
“You’re not obliged to call me by my pseudonym, Professor,” Hermione said with a small smile as she extended her hand, which was shaken by the Headmistress as she rose up from her chair for a moment before they both sat down again.
“I apologize for not having waited for you to have a glass of merlot, as I was much too early to arrive. It is quite a good glass in my honest opinion.”
“No worries,” Hermione said as she looked about the restaurant and inclined her head at a waiter nearby to watch his attention and call him to their table. “In fact, I believe that I will follow your advice and go for the merlot myself. It has been a while since I had a good glass of red wine and even longer since I had one in this country as well.”
Minerva McGonagall was a naturally curious woman, and the sight of the younger Gryffindor as the person she was meeting was something that had definitely piqued her interest and with it, a lot of questions pressing to be asked. Where had she been the past year? Did her comment mean that she had been abroad? Minerva McGonagall was aside from incredibly curious also incredibly self-constrained and patient, though, and despite the fact that she had many questions that she hoped would be answered at least in part tonight, she sat patiently as Hermione ordered herself a glass of wine as well before turning back to her company.
“I believe you must have a lot of questions,” Hermione said, with it hitting the nail on the head. When Minerva didn’t answer her with more than a nod, she continued, “I was rather surprised when my publisher informed me of your owl. It came unexpected to say the least. I did not believe that my book would be very popular, let alone be found and appreciated by you. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes.”
“Of course I appreciated it. It was very well-written, detailed without the complexity of language that usually accompanies detailed Transfiguration lecture.”
Hermione’s answer was delayed with the arrival of her own glass of merlot, which she accepted with a little smile. Minerva watched closely as she saw the younger woman wait politely for a few seconds after the waiter had left before turning back to her. It all happened with an elegance that had more often been clumsiness or at least unrefined elegance in her time at Hogwarts. Hermione Granger had changed, and it was visible in many ways. She wondered if there was any particular reason for it, until she was interrupted by Hermione’s answer. “I am very grateful to know that you appreciated my work. I’ve always held your opinion in high-esteem, especially regarding the subject that you taught me when I was a pupil at Hogwarts. Writing was not something that I ever would have thought I could do, but being away from the Ministry and this country gave me another perspective. It gave me freedom of mind and inspiration to begin writing, and I found that it is something I enjoy tremendously. I will never be the one to write novels, as I have no imagination to do so, but I like sitting down and sharing magic from my own point of view.”
Minerva couldn’t help but smile, and there was one question above all that pressed her harder than all the others at that point. “What made you decide to accept my invitation, here?”
“I’m not sure I would have accepted the offer had it come from anyone else than you,” Hermione admitted, looking at Minerva with an intense gaze. “I left the United Kingdom for a good reason, and being away from it has done me a lot of good over the course of the past year and especially the past few months. I’m not keen on being seen, and had it been sooner, I’m not sure I would have taken the risk, since I am not at all interested in being dragged back in the situation that lead me to leave to begin with. I believe that you of all people know the meaning of the word ‘discretion’, though. Also, your intent was absolutely unrelated to me but rather my writings. I figured I could do the effort to Apparate back to the island tonight to meet my former professor, the woman who’s taught me so much about the subject I so enjoy to write about.”
With that, the conversation trailed off to the wonders of Transfiguration they both appreciated and the complexities and how Hermione had come up with alternative ways to hold one’s wand to make it easier for especially younger people to do certain spells and how that was ingenious and refreshing. The conversation continued calmly and casually over the course of their meal, and albeit really rather superficial and not at all touching that much upon either of their lives, they both thought it an enjoyable little conversation. That was until the waiter came to clean off their table and asked if they would like dessert, on which they had both passed, or something else maybe, to which they had both requested a second glass of merlot, and Minerva turned to Hermione with an intense gaze. “Where have you been since you left the United Kingdom? Do you believe you will ever come back?”
Hermione waited several moments before responding. “I made for America. My mother and father and I were there on a holiday once, and I was entranced by the beauty of the nature there and the solitude it seemed to offer. Too many people believe that it is full of industry. I live in a small apartment above a book store in Montana. It is small but nice. I don’t know people by more than name, and they don’t know me, and that is the way I like it. As to your question whether I am coming back, I really don’t believe so, but perhaps you could come visit me sometime. I’ve very much missed our conversations.”
Minerva nodded in response and looked at Hermione’s expression, full of sincerity. She had missed the conversations with her former pupil a great deal, too, and Hermione had most definitely grown up since she had left Hogwarts, she could tell. She had always been a clever girl, but not like this. Her experiences in the real world seemed to have given her something more knowing, something she couldn’t quite describe.
She wondered if Hermione got lonely sometimes. Merlin knew that she herself often got lonely in the big castle. Many people knew her, and she knew many as well, and she was surrounded by people the entire time, but it was hard not to get anonymous in such a space, Minerva McGonagall had discovered. When people looked upon you as only the title you carried, the person beyond got somehow lost, too.
What would it be for Hermione then, so anonymous in a city where people didn’t even know your name or fame? “I was brought up in the Scottish highlands, but aside from Scotland and the United Kingdom, there’s nothing I have seen of the world,” Minerva responded, watching how the light overhead danced off of the soft milky skin upon Hermione’s jaw line and a twinkle in her eyes accentuated her beauty. She had become more beautiful and mature for sure. She had first known that she would grow up to be like this when the younger Gryffindor had dressed up for the Yule Ball. Some years had done a great deal to her appearance. She still looked youthful but without any hint of childishness. She was a woman now in every way.
“Perhaps one day when your busy schedule allows, you can come to Montana and enjoy its calmness with me? I enjoy the leisure way of living.”
“Perhaps,” Minerva mused. “Unfortunately, I only expect for my schedule to get worse with meetings in the upcoming weeks.”
The conversation fell silent then, and when the waiter brought them their glasses of merlot, they both sipped calmly and slowly over the course of the next few minutes, each woman caught in her own thoughts. When Hermione finished her glass and slowly set it back down on the table empty, she finally looked up at Minerva. “I hope that you have gotten the answers you were looking for when you requested to meet the author of the book you so enjoyed, by the way.”
“I did,” Minerva whispered, letting the last of her wine slide down her throat and setting her glass down as well. “Perhaps it is time for me to get back to the castle, though, as enjoyable as this was. I truly hope that we will get to see more of each other again soon.”
“I hope so as well,” Hermione said. “I hadn’t had a decent in-depth conversation with anyone in quite a while.”
“I know how that feels,” Minerva responded. “I talk to Albus’ portrait sometimes, but it isn’t the same, and I often feel like the majority of the people I have meetings with are a bunch of idiots.”
With a soft laugh at the comment, Hermione responded. Asking the waiter for their check and each paying half of the wine and fish dishes they had had, they readied themselves to leave the restaurant. As soon as they were on the curb, though, the women turned to each other to say something, neither of them speaking when they caught the other one wanting to speak. Smiles grew on their faces. They walked together in silence. When they were at the end of the small street and back on the main street, they stopped and stared at each other. “If you didn’t have to go back to the castle, I would invite you to perhaps Apparate with me and enjoy a stroll in the Montana fields at twilight in a couple of hours before sharing more wine with me at my apartment. I’m not sure if it has to do with the time difference, but I am not at all tired, and I don’t believe I am ready to end the evening yet.”
“Perhaps Hogwarts can wait a little longer,” Minerva mused as she looked at Hermione and her eyes fell upon slightly parted pink lips. She didn’t know if it was the bit of alcohol she had had or the intensity in Hermione’s eyes and more mature beauty in her or both that drew her so much to Hermione now. “I have Filius watching everything. I trust he would send word to me if I was needed.”
Taking a risk then, Hermione extended her hand for Minerva to take, which she did. Hermione Apparated straight to her apartment and straight into her bedroom. If Minerva was surprised at the turn of events, she didn’t show it.
There was no time to consider things, no words, only gasps as Hermione stepped into Minerva’s personal space and pressed herself flush against her, touching her fingertips to Minerva’s jaw line. She had always been drawn to Minerva, ever since the first time she saw her, for her magical abilities and her professionalism, her determination and loyalty and the strength and gentleness that were interlaced in her daily persona and offered to another in different balances depending on the situation and who you were to her. She had not realized how much she had truly missed Minerva and the conversations they used to have, the exchanges about different life aspects and the casualty and comfort that she felt at all times when with the older woman. “I’ve seen you stare at me the entire night,” Hermione whispered, her hand sliding into Minerva’s hair, gently guiding the taller woman’s head down so their lips could touch, gently and tentatively at first, then harder and rougher when it felt right to both of them.
Minerva’s hands flailed as she didn’t know where to put them, until Hermione’s free hand captured one of Minerva’s and brought it to her bosom, wordlessly pushing past her buttoned-up silk shirt, the top buttons easily coming free and popping off in all directions, and letting it rest above the swell of her breasts, skin against skin. A moan slipped unbidden from Hermione’s lips. Their lips parted then, and both women eyed each other with blazing passion. Whether they continued down this path or not, the night was not over for them yet.