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A Little Crooked

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Title: A Little Crooked
Author: tea_for_lupin
Prompt Author: cranky__crocus
Prompt: 66 -- Minerva’s hat is crooked; Irma/Poppy reaches to fix it and finds herself awfully close.
Pairing: Minerva McGonagall/Irma Pince
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 802
Warnings: None
Author's note: Many thanks to K for her superfast beta superpowers.

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There weren't many things that Irma Pince, Hogwarts Librarian, felt herself unprepared for within her domain. When it was time to dust the Bestiaries, she went forth girded like a gladiator, feather duster in one hand, wand in the other, and a battle-gleam in her eye that would make even a dragon think twice before putting up a fight. What Irma did not expect to see on such an occasion, however, was a tabby cat shooting out from one of the shelves as if pursued by a pack of Ravening Heffalumps, then rocketing up into the severe bespectacled form of Professor Minerva McGonagall.

'Merlin's beard, Minerva,' Irma hissed in an aggravated whisper (thanking the heavens she had managed to avoid shattering the sacred silence of the library with some unseemly cry). 'What on earth do you think you're doing?'

'I do apologise, Irma,' Minerva whispered back, casting a quick glance over both shoulders and Summoning her hat from the floor with a wave of her wand. 'I'm not usually so precipitate, I hope, but under these circumstances, well, I'm afraid I simply desired a quick getaway from--' she pursed her lips as if what she was about to say caused her physical pain '--Professor Lockhart.'

'He's not headed here, is he?' Irma tightened her grip on her wand; fury drew her thin features into angles even more pinched than usual. 'Because ifhe fancies giving me advice regarding the care of my books again--'

'You might, hmmm... hex him into the lake, for example?' Minerva shook her head sympathetically. 'I can't say I'd be sorry to see it.'

Irma cocked her head thoughtfully. 'That's far from a bad idea, Minerva. I don't suppose...'

Minerva shook her head again, perhaps a shade too regretfully. 'No, I confess I already thought of that, but unfortunately Dumbledore keeps the squid far too well-fed these days, after that time... Ah, but you wouldn't remember that, I suppose.' She tucked her wand away and settled her hat on her head.

Irma could not help noticing that it was a little crooked. 'Your hat, Minerva - allow me.' She tucked her feather duster into the belt of her robes and crossed the narrow aisle between the books to adjust Minerva's hat.

She didn't have to, to be sure; indeed Irma could have simply pointed out the hat's crookedness and allowed Minerva to adjust it herself. But then -- perhaps -- she would not have been quite so acutely aware of the lock of silver-streaked black hair that dangled loose from Minerva's usually prim, tight bun, minor casualty of her Animagus transformation. And then -- perhaps -- Irma might not have felt inexorably drawn to gently, very gently, take the silken-soft strands between her fingers and tuck them behind Minerva's ear. Nor would she have heard the slight hitch of Minerva's breath as she did it.

So while there was no strict reason for these minutes among the shelves to unfold themselves in this way, somehow they did so nevertheless: a step, an adjustment, a lock of hair, a breath. Then, of course, Irma caught the faint perfume of heather smoke and shortbread that hung about Minerva, sweet and strangely fresh amongst the bookish smells of parchment and leather -- which, as even Irma had to admit at times, could most flatteringly be described as musty. And then, of all things the most surprising, but seeming at the time quite thrillingly natural, Minerva caught Irma's hand before it could fall away to her side, and pressed her lips -- dry, cool, with just a hint of warm wetness between them -- against Irma's open palm.

Colour flooded Irma's face; she could not hold back a soft gasp of both desire and disbelief. For once, in her own library, she was lost. 

'Minerva, I --' she began, when she could once more manage to speak. But there was a sudden irruption of hushed chatter nearby, and Minerva released Irma's hand gently and stepped back.

'Thank you for your assistance, Madam Pince,' she said, in a low voice that was nonetheless loud enough to be heard by the students in the next aisle if they happened to be listening (and what acts of desecration are they up to, I should investigate immediately, Irma thought, a little dazedly, but her palm was still tingling and her face was still flushed). 'Perhaps we could continue this research over a cup of tea later this evening. I have one or two pertinent volumes in my room that you may like to browse through.'

A rare, full smile broke over Irma's face, and the sharp lines of her jaw softened. 'Certainly, Professor McGonagall, that would be--' and try as she might she could not hide the catch in her voice '--delightful.'