Elphinstone Urquart dies in the earliest days of 1985. He is picking something up in the garden when he feels a sting in his hand, and when he checks under the leaf of something large and harmless, he notices the very young Venomous Tentacula. He must’ve scared it.
Minerva rushes him to St. Mungo’s, and he receives treatment, but by the third day he knows he won’t be making it. He has spent every minute of the worst hours of his life telling Minerva he loves her, and somehow still dies feeling like he never said it enough.
Minerva moves through her house dressed in oppressive black like a ghost, never looking up for fear of what she might see. It is her brother Malcolm who comes to her after six weeks and helps her pack her whole marriage into boxes. Within an hour she is standing in her rooms in Hogwarts, where she kicks off her shoes to feel the cold tiles. She doesn’t touch the boxes except to take out her clothes and hang them back where they were, in the small wardrobe in the corner of her bedroom.
Rolanda Hooch watches the bravest woman she knows turn into a shell overnight. The colour of her hair fades so fast there are whispers in the corridors that Minerva herself has become a ghost.
The first time she sees Minerva smile, in early April, is when Rolanda is telling Flitwick to pay better attention to his first years.
“How do you even know they are drinking in the Astronomy tower?” He asks her, and she grins.
“Heard it through the Snapevine.”
She misses the rest of the conversation, too distracted by the way the twitch of the corner of Minerva’s mouth made her eyes light up.
“Don’t count your Quaffles until they’re caught,” she hears Minerva say, and she whips around to share a grin. The rest of the day, at every meal, meeting, or glance, they both laugh.
“The Snitch might wander but it always comes back,” Rolanda whispers in Minerva’s ear when she’s starting to look at her dinner like it might eat her instead again. She perks up and picks up her fork again.
“You can catch the Beater, but it won’t score you any points,” Minerva tells her, instead of thank you. But it’s better than a thank you, and Rolanda winks.
In summer the castle turns into a shell. It’s cold inside, even when the sun is bright and hot outside, which is rare enough in Scotland. More often, it’s cold everywhere, and there are no students to distract them, there is not much to do, but Minerva can’t go home. So Rolanda doesn’t either. She hisses Quidditch puns at Minerva when they see each other, and picks a new fight over broom quality, the importance of Quidditch gloves, or which team will win the next big match. Minerva eats and laughs, even when there’s tear stains on her cheeks, and her voice is scratchy, and her hair is greyer every day.
One day, a bright sunny one, clear blue skies, Rolanda goes to look for Minerva. Not in her rooms, not outside. An elf points her to the library, and indeed, there she is. Her hair in a thick braid, still in her night clothes. They’re alone in the castle, or alone enough.
She tries to smile back at Rolanda when they look at each other, and it comes out wobbly. She refuses the offer of food, a walk, a hand getting to her rooms so she can shower, just shivers pitifully in her wretched black bathrobe.
It stirs something up in Rolanda’s gut, to see Minerva like this. Red eyes, red nose, absolutely miserable. She hates being hopeless to stop the tsunami of grief, to fail at bringing even the smallest amount of shelter in what she knows to be an onslaught of hurt.
So she does the only other thing she can think of, and leans over the coffee table between her chair and the sofa Minerva is curled up in. Crawls up and closer. Slow enough to be pushed away. Kisses Minerva deep and firm, right on her red sore bitten lips. Heedless of snot and tears. Minerva makes a surprised little noise and then kisses back with enthusiasm.
She doesn’t stop crying, but there is light in her eyes again, when Rolanda sits back up. “Race you to the lake?” Minerva suggests, and before she knows it, Rolanda is chasing a barefoot pyjama-clad Minerva through the castle, across the lawn, straight off the pier into the water.
Minerva laughs, and sheds layers of black that are dragging her down, floats them to the side for putting back on later.
Hogwarts is full of corners and nooks, and Minerva knows them all. She slinks around as a cat, and comes out looking dusty and satisfied, with a new place for them to hide from ghosts and Filch and really not anyone else.
Minerva screams until her voice is hoarse from sex and release, and Rolanda is surprised every time by the way it feels to have soft warm hands spread her legs. Tender and sweet. She is mindful still of Minerva’s moods, and doesn’t laugh until Minerva seems ready to. Doesn’t bring up the past, or much of anything really.
But sex, and Quidditch.
“Heard you and Minerva are good friends now,” Flitwick tells her when the castle is filling up again, that last week before the students come.
“Yeah,” Rolanda says, “I suppose we are.” She doesn’t know if it’ll last.
The night after the welcoming feast a tabby with distinctive marks around her eyes nearly makes Rolanda trip over her own feet. She follows it up some stairs, down an empty hallway, until they are standing in front of a portrait that swings open without prompting. There isn’t much space behind it, but Minerva Conjures pillows and candles, and drops her formidable black robes to the ground. Stands naked and tall. Kisses like she’s finally coming up for air.
They don’t see much of each other during the semester, and they definitely don’t talk. Rolanda gets the sneaking suspicion that Minerva is unsure of what side she was on during the war and tries to reassure her without giving away too much. She’s not sure she succeeds, but counts it as a victory when she’s invited up to Minerva’s sitting room for the first time.
Never mind that it’s Halloween, never mind that Minerva looks empty with hurt and exhaustion, never mind that Rolanda has to carry her to her bed when she finally falls asleep, weak from crying.
She tucks Minerva in, and doesn’t take off her mourning clothes, but takes the time to fish all the pins out of almost entirely grey hair to let down the heavy braid. Closes the doors behind her quietly as she can before going back to her own bed.
There’s sex in alcoves and secret corridors, late at night. A quick kiss sometimes, but never where anyone can see.
Minerva’s brothers still come by the castle once a week, and she hugs them tighter. She laughs louder with Snape when he makes another snide comment. She comes out of Dumbledore’s office taking deep breaths, looking lighter and grateful.
But Rolanda gets to watch her scream.
“IT’S SO UNFAIR,” Minerva howls against the wind, and Rolanda lets her. Watches her cycle through increasingly rude words in Gaelic. Stands next to her without question and feels it when long hair escapes a tight bun and whips around her face. They keep going until they hit the next town and Minerva’s cheeks are red from the cold and the exercise rather than pain and fear.
Over hot chocolate Rolanda finds words that she’s been looking for, for months now. They tumble over each other on their way out, but Minerva seems to understand. She sits patiently, holds onto her cup, and looks at Rolanda with kindness.
“I’m happy with how we are,” she says, finally, newly grey hair, lines in her face that hadn’t existed before. Light slowly returning to her eyes. And that just about summarises it.