Minerva entered the lounge and fell back against the couch. She took a deep breath and craned her neck to look at the ceiling and arch her back. When she heard a crack, she relaxed into the cushion and glanced to the other female in the room.
"Hooch," she greeted, warm given that the utterance was a surname.
"McGongall," she received in return.
"Three more rounds through the night. Every year I forget how exhausting first and last night of terms are."
"As do I."
"You don't have to be awake, you silly old bat."
"This silly old bat is awake for her crazy old cat." Hooch handed over a steaming cup of tea, which was received with a soft smile of pure relief.
"The cat is thankful. But she is not in a hat, and wishes no longer to rhyme."
The two fell into companionable silence as the Gryffindor Head sipped her tea and the Brooms Mistress remained awake for support. They both knew the hawk-eyed woman was easily nocturnal and could stay up through the night even without sensible prompting.
Minerva pulled her legs onto the couch and folded them to her side. She relaxed into the corner of the couch and cradled her tea cup.
"Have I told you about Helen, from my school days? I met her in my third year. I don't remember if I've mentioned her." She did not catch her friend's eyes. "I know I knew you..."
Hooch turned and took in the picture of her friend and lover curled up on the couch, exhausted with tea yet opening up about old school relationships. The short-haired female took her time in responding, knowing neither was in a hurry. "You haven't spoken of it to me, no. I was in Ravenclaw at the time and was acquaintances with Helen. I saw how close the two were of you. We...weren't in the same spheres."
"No, of course not, my Quidditch star." Minerva chuckled and took a last sip of her tea before reaching to place it on the table. She pointed her wand at the fireplace to increase the blaze and then sat back once more, embracing a position that epitomised exhausted comfort. "She transferred third year from Salem School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in America. A Muggle-born witch. Her parents didn't know what to do with her and she had relatives in Bristol. I never expected I could become such fast friends with anyone."
Xi laughed and nodded along, delighted Minerva was in full story mode. It was a rare occurrence. The Quidditch instructor responded, "Nor would I. I only had to spend three years trying to capture your attention for a mere acquaintanceship."
Minerva's eyes twinkled in the firelight as she her smile graced her eyes. "Too true. Hence the shock of Helen being such a catalyst for friendship. Dumbledore suggested that I invite her for Transfiguration study over tea. I did. We worked on assessments about Muggle alchemy. We borrowed the books that the other wanted. We were friends overnight.
"We went to every Quidditch game together, rooted Ravenclaw and Gryffindor, went to Hogsmeade together. Fourth year we each turned down the boys to go to our ball together as friends. Fifth year we decided it was time for us to start dating, so we chose the boys for each other. Hers lasted a year but she said it meant little. Mine never lasted more than two months and eventually Helen ran out of boys she thought would be appropriate for me."
"I know you mentioned dating boys before, but wait a moment as I allow my mind to consider you with a man."
"Man!" Minerva cried, laughing some. "I wouldn't consider it that. You know male Hogwarts students. Boys, not men, the great majority."
The other woman took a sip from Minerva's tea and chuckled as she made a strange mock hissing sound, her eyes still mirthful. She swatted her partner's hand away and settled back.
"I gave up by sixth year. She held on until seventh. The last night of term some Quidditch players smuggled in some firewhiskey and super-sours."
"Oh, yes, sorry about that."
Minerva blinked and smiled slowly. "Ah, of course it would have been you! You've mentioned that before. I should have connected two and two."
"It seems you have difficulties doing that when it comes to Helen." Hooch reached to press her companion's hand and soften the statement. "It's not a criticism, only an observation."
"I can see the same now. She feels lifetimes away. Even within my Hogwarts memories, she is a bubble of existence, floating alone but brushing against all other aspects." She paused to consider what she had mentioned. "Anyway, I don't know what so inspired me, perhaps the legal drinking age, but I joined in the frivolity you inspired."
"You got well tipsy, beyond tipsy! I remember that. We celebrated more when we knew the great Minerva McGonagall and Helen Gregran had fallen to the delights of drinking."
"Oh, that's terrible! My fall as an inspiration for irresponsibility! If I had known it would have that effect I wouldn't have let myself fall to its charms!"
"You would have robbed me of my greatest Hogwarts conquest. And I know a story like this can only continue into something revealing. Spill!"
"I kissed her in the Ravenclaw common room. After a line of boys, my first real, honest kiss was in Ravenclaw common room."
"It has that kissing feel to it, I've always found," Hooch said with a hearty chuckle. "Pity it wasn't with me."
Minerva batted her on the thigh. "Oh, you. As if that wouldn't have ruined your greatest Hogwarts conquest."
"It would have taken the prize." The spike-haired woman winked. "Although I'm most impressed it was kept a secret from even me, the woman who lived as a man. You know Hogwarts better than most. Nothing is a secret."
"Helen always was. I don't know how or why, but it seems she was a secret to everyone but me, a few of the professors and the few boys she went steady with."
"What happened after the kiss?"
"I, in all my Gryffindor bravery and firewhiskey stupor, tried to run away."
"I forgot I wasn't leaving Gryffindor tower and took a wrong turn. She found me soon after crying behind one of the knight statues, which was patting me on the back. I actually felt comforted."
"Lowest of lows," Hooch agreed, wincing at what Minerva presumed was the idea of being comforted by century-old metal suits. "What happened?"
"She kissed me back. Last night of school after four years of friendship and we finally recognised what had been staring us in the face. It felt too late." Minerva sighed and knit her fingers together over one knee, taking comfort in the linking of fingers, even if only her own. "As you know I lived in America for a time. I had a friend on the west coast, poor town. I wasn't well off despite being clever. Helen came to live with me when she discovered through the grapevine that I was living in America. I hadn't wanted to force her hand, given her previous move had not exactly been her idea.
"We lived together in California for a time but life was so different from Scottish and English living that I didn't feel I could continue. The attempted rape by an American wizard who somehow got the wrong impression from me...that was the last straw. But you knew all that."
Hooch nodded sadly. "I wish you hadn't been faced with that."
Minerva sighed softly, saddened to have to connect her story with such an enraging turning point. "In some ways I do, in some ways I don't. It was unsuccessful, thanks to Helen. That I will always appreciate. It would have taken me too long to return had that event not occurred. I was intelligent before, but after I felt wiser, or at least more prepared. Real life was not Hogwarts.
"I told her I needed to get my head on straight and would be moving back in with my mother. Helen told me she desired nothing more than to come. We lived with my mother for a year and moved to Kent. I thought we were happy. On my 28th birthday she left. There was a speech of sorts, not one I will ever fully understand, but she left in the end. I never saw or heard from her again. She was the central pivot of my life—despite that I tried to keep that from being so—and then she was gone."
"Did you move back in with your mother?"
Minerva shook her head. "I moved in with Irma, actually. I believe I mentioned that. She still jokes with me to try to keep my spirit up, telling me that for the first year she lived with a ghost rather than the 'Great Minerva McGonagall.' She and her partner were angels to put up with me. I know he would rather have had other guests."
"You mentioned it was a longer stay than your others, I think."
"At that point it was. I stayed with them for three years. Charmed her boyfriend, but they broke up just before I left. The first few relationships out of school were always difficult, weren't they? Experimenting with adulthood. I had thought I was lucky with Helen. Apparently that wasn't the case."
"Does it still hurt?" Hooch moved closer. It was not enough to intrude. Minerva appreciated the sentiment.
"It hurts incredibly. It never had an end. She left, but it always felt like an open door. It still does." She sat straighter and rested the other way, leaning slightly against the other woman. "Hermione reminds me of Helen. With the door open in my past, having Hermione around is like witnessing someone different walking back and forth before the door but never entering. It is comforting in knowing that someone is still out there, but painful in that the doorway remains empty."
Xiomara nodded and wrapped her arms around the female before her. "From what little I remember of Helen, I can see the resemblance in Hermione. I am sorry to hear that it is painful. Will this new link of the Time-Turner between the two of you help or hinder?"
"Some of both, I imagine. I would have been attached to her regardless—with or without memories, Harry and Ron, saving the school and Time-Turners. She is an ideal student, at least for an academic instructor. Those types of students are always endearing to teachers if they're doing their jobs right."
"I understand. Just let me know if there is anything I can do. Feel free to speak of it any time, or mention her name and I might know which direction your thoughts move. I will try to help where I can." The athlete leaned to brush her lips against the slouched female's temple.
Minerva looked to the clock above the mantle and gasped. The mood was through in an instant, although neither seemed to regret it. "You could help by reminding me I have rounds!"
"My dear crazy cat, you have rounds. In approximately..." Hooch looked to the clock and smirked, "Five minutes ago."
"You useless old bat. They've probably blown up the dormitories by now or impregnated each other or something terrible."
"You sure have baskets of faith in these Gryffindors of yours. They're probably trying to trick the first-years. Go, go save the future of your pesky upper classes!"
McGonagall stood and turned. She crossed her arms and gave the woman a look. "You will only understand this when Flitwick retires and you are left the Head of Ravenclaw. Then you will not find me so unreasonable."
"That day will never come, and I will always find you unreasonable. I need a hard-headed woman to keep me in line, say the voices of partners past."
"I won't stay to argue with that." Minerva strode toward the door and turned the knob. She shot over her shoulder a soft, "thank you," without looking back. She did not hear the response of, "you're welcome, my love," but she felt it. The reminder of present love was just what she needed, for a portion of her pined for the love of other Hogwarts arms and she had little interest in flittering her time away in self-pity and hypothetical wonderings.