|beholder_mod (beholder_mod) wrote in hp_beholder,|
@ 2008-04-14 15:35:00
|Entry tags:||fic, het, minerva mcgonagall, rufus scrimgeour|
FIC: 'By the Numbers' for featherxquill
Title: By the Numbers
Pairings: Minerva McGonagall/Rufus Scrimgeour
Word Count: ~3500
Warnings: Angst, angst, angst. And a lamentable absence of smut.
Summary: Minerva learns that all the old stories about love were wrong.
~ one ~
Well, that was boring.
Minerva glanced around the Gryffindor table as she took a seat. For the first time she allowed herself to give the Great Hall a proper look over. Her mother had been right—it was impressive—but she had expected to be awed. And she wasn't.
Her new house mates greeted her warmly, smiles at the ready. She nodded in reply, probably earning herself a reputation for coldness, but she didn't care. She'd never been an exuberant girl and she had no intention of changing herself to suit anyone else.
A boy plopped himself down on the other side of the table. For some reason the grin he flashed her under the onslaught of back slaps from the older Gryffindor boys set her teeth on edge.
He extended a hand. "Rufus Scrimgeour."
Without moving, she looked at the hand, then met his eyes. The smile began to wilt and the hand dropped.
~ two ~
"So, as you can see, I'm in a bit of a pickle." Professor Pears gave them his oiliest smile and her heart dropped.
Minerva glanced to her right. Scrimgeour looked as smug as ever. Bastard.
"A difficult, difficult choice. Many hours spent pondering, what.
Now, you're both marvellous players, of course," Pears continued. "But Quidditch captain is a coup for a young wizard. A first step, demonstrates leadership and all that."
A fake contrite look crossed the man's face. "Or witch, of course."
He's going to give it to the boy. Of course. Heaven forbid a girl should be made Quidditch captain.
Their head of house's catarrhic snuffle drew her attention back. "You understand, my dear. Of course you do, a sensible girl like you, how important such a thing is to a young man's future career."
Minerva stared. She'd never noticed before the knowing coldness in his large, rheumy eyes.
"No. I'm afraid I don't. Sir."
~ three ~
Minerva checked the picnic basket; it was empty. "No hard boiled eggs, I'm afraid."
Standing beside the blanket, Rufus surveyed the former contents of the basket spread around her. "I doubt we'll starve. There's enough here for ten."
"House elves don't know the meaning of 'light lunch'."
"Apparently not." He dropped heavily onto the blanket and sprawled in the shade. "Not that you'll have time to get used to them."
Minerva sighed as her heart dropped a little. But there was nothing for it. Time to grasp the nettle and get the unpleasantness over with at the start. "Actually, Albus was hoping that I would stay--"
She stopped, teapot hovering over his cup. He had that warning look in his eyes that she'd been dreading for days.
This was their third... meeting. Minerva didn't want to call them dates, as she and Rufus Scrimgeour were most definitely not dating. To an outsider these meetings might appear to be dates, but to her they were just social get-togethers between former house mates who'd managed in adulthood to overcome former animosities But they were not a couple. In her mind Minerva was firm on that point.
But she couldn't help but recognise a growing tension between them, a sense of anticipation. While her heart wasn't quite prepared to think of it as a courtship, her mind recognised that the two of them seemed to be sidling towards one.
"Why is it whenever we meet you spend most of your time talking about Albus Dumbledore?"
Rufus selected an apple from the pile and took a hearty bite. "Yes, you do," he mumbled around his mouthful.
She adjusted her robes around her knees and resumed pouring the tea, barely restraining a small huff of indignation. She most definitely did not go on about Albus, even if his role in her life was shifting from mentor to friend. Rufus and she discussed a wide variety of subject at their little tete-a-tetes.
"You know about him, don't you?"
Oh, the look, again. The one that tried to say "Aren't I a dashing fellow? You know you can't help but think me charming, can you?" but had been setting her teeth on edge for almost fifteen years. "I know a great many things about Albus."
"So you know he's a complete bender?" With a wet crunch he swallowed the rest of his apple down.
Minerva blanched, then flushed. Rufus' jealousy of Albus was getting out of hand if he'd resort to such slanders. "What a ridiculous thing to say."
While his grin took on a hard edge, Rufus licked his fingers clean. "True. I swear. My great-uncle Philemon knew him at school. Complete girl's blouse, he was, even then."
"Stop being an ass, Scrimgeour." She slammed the plate of chicken sandwiches down next to his knee. Belying her thoughts, she added, "I can't imagine why you would want to slander such a well-respected wizard."
"I can't imagine why the idea bothers you so much. If you're just friends."
Minerva had never expected happiness to be frightening.
After four months "together" (she refused to think of Rufus and her as "an item") Minerva was willing to concede that she might well be happy. She exhibited all the standard symptoms: periodic giddiness, a tendency to smile without provocation, and warm, spontaneous thoughts about the object of her affection.
But it wasn't what she'd thought it would be. She'd always expected to feel lighter, brighter, elevated, a better person once she'd found someone to care for.
And did happy people fight as much as she and Rufus did? That certainly didn't accord with expectations. For someone who had firmly decided that yes, she was happy, she did spend an inordinate amount of time angry with and perplexed by the person who was supposedly the source of this state of well-being.
It wasn't logical. It didn't make sense. Was she truly happy or was she deluding herself, something Minerva prided herself on never doing? Was she so desperate to be happy that she could convince herself she was? Was her mind so malleable?
It frightened her, this inability to make sense of her happiness. And if it was so intangible, how could she be sure it wouldn't disappear just as unexpectedly as it had arrived?
~ five ~
"So that's your plan, is it? To keep asking until you get what you want?"
Rufus rolled over on the blanket, his devilish grin that gave her stomach flutters crossing his face. "Damn. You've found out my cunning plan." He flopped onto his back and closed his eyes against the sun. "It's not as though I'm constantly asking."
"I make this number five."
He snorted. "What a burden, to be pestered with proposals from brilliant, devastatingly handsome young Aurors."
"I've yet to receive one of those. Just from some arrogant, bandy-legged fellow." Minerva turned back to the basket to hide the beginnings of a smile.
"Bandy-legged?" Heart-stoppingly fast, he rolled and leapt, tackling her to the blanket.
After a gasp she caught her breath, just before he took it away again with a kiss.
"This bandy-legged fellow's tired of you hiding yourself up at that school."
Not this again. He nuzzled her neck and she forced herself to fight the way it made her head spin. "Rufus—"
"I never get to see you."
While it hurt to do it, she pushed him off. "You can visit. It's hardly Azkaban, you know."
"Tea in the staff room is hardly what I had in mind."
It was an effort to keep her tone playful. "We can take tea in my rooms when you visit."
He grinned and she tried to remember why she'd hated that grin for all those years, but couldn't. "Oh, naughty tea in the schoolmistress's private rooms. That's another matter entirely—"
He leaned over and tucked a loose black strand behind her ear. "Naughty, naughty schoolmistress," he growled as he leaned in for another kiss.
She laughed, even as his lips met hers.
Later, the sun lit her closed eyes as her fingers twined in his hair. Minerva enjoyed the rare calm, knowing it wouldn't last.
"I won't ask again," Rufus mumbled.
She hummed as she gave his hair a yank.
He turned his cheek to her stomach and she felt his voice rumble through her body. "And you won't tell me why?"
With a flick of her wrist she extricated her fingers. "No."
~ six ~
The image cycled over and over. As Minerva watched, the glistening snake curled around the skull, writhing, slithering through the mouth that seemed to jeer at the tiny Aurors on the ground below, scurrying at the bottom of the picture.
Though she'd never seen it before, the image horrified her. It seemed to exude evil. Absent-mindedly, she traced the frame of the picture with a fingertip, not able to bring herself to touch the skull and snake that glittered, in the black and white photograph, as if they were made of diamonds strewn across the sky.
When Rufus eventually arrived, well after his usual time, she was bleary-eyed from hours staring at the front page of the Prophet.
He dropped his cloak on her sofa then came over to the desk and gently pulled the newspaper out from under her hand.
She looked up at his scowl. "What is it?"
He made as if to read the front page, though she knew he'd have seen it first thing that morning. Though she knew better than to ask, she wondered if his was one of the tiny shadows there.
"We don't know yet. A sign of some kind. Perhaps a signature."
There was something about the way he was looking at the picture that struck her as odd.
"You've seen it before."
With a sigh he dropped onto the sofa and unlaced his boots before stretching out.
He dropped an arm over his eyes and made as if he were going to sleep. "Can we not talk about this right now? I've been on the hop since yesterday morning."
He had been there, then.
"What's happening. Has this happened before, these attacks on Muggle-borns?"
"You know I can't talk about it." His tone warned her, but she ignored it.
"How can no one have known before now?'
With a groan he sat up and she noticed now his haggard expression. "Because we kept the bloody press away, that's why."
"You must be— People have a right to know, Rufus. Especially if we've got another—"
"We do not have another Grindelwald. It's useless to panic people over what'll end up being nothing."
"Nothing? Six people dead, Rufus. And from what you say, more before! How can you say this is nothing?"
"I can and I do. This conversation is over; I've already told you more than I should have."
"Of all the arrogant—"
"Minerva," he growled.
She knew she'd never win this argument. So with a sigh she allowed herself to be drawn down onto the sofa.
But even in her dreams that night she couldn't escape the silent, glistening snake, roiling through the sky.
~ seven ~
As always, Minerva woke at a quarter of seven. Regular as clockwork, no alarm spells needed. As always, she sat up, stretched, put on her glasses, and raked her fingers through her hair. Half asleep, her hands performed the decades-old ritual: comb, pull, twist, pin, pat smooth. She knew from the experiences of cold winter mornings when her bones creaked and her body craved just another half an hour, she could do it when practically comatose.
Her dressing gown lay across the foot of the bed; when she pulled the sleeves over her arms she shivered as the freezing cold fabric dragged over her bare skin.
There was a snort behind her and she turned. He was still asleep, grey and tawny brown hair spread across her pillows, one arm flung up behind his head, as always. Like this— pretence, cares, positions, posturing, ambition and misunderstandings set aside by the vulnerability of slumber—he was almost again the young man she'd first kissed in a Kentish orchard.
But it was time for him to go, up and out the great oak doors before the children were about for their breakfast. So she traced a hand up the back of his neck and tugged an earlobe. With another snort he was awake and in little more than a moment was dressed.
And he never forgot to give her a kiss before shuffling out the door and back to his life.
~ eight ~
"Where is he?"
Minerva looked up from her marking to see Rufus standing just inside her classroom. "Where is who?"
"The boy, Minerva. We found the parents, but no sign of the boy."
Her heart stopped for a moment and it was only the experience of decades of performance in that room that kept the grief for James and Lily off her face. "What boy?"
"I've no time for games. The Potter boy, of course." He strode to the front. "This escapade has Dumbledore written all over it. He tells you everything. Now, where has he hidden the boy?"
She slowly pulled herself up to her full height. "You've no right to use that tone with me, Rufus Scrimgeour—"
"I have eight of my Aurors—eight, Minerva—out looking for that child. Almost one third the entire corps, wasted for some asinine game of Dumbledore's.
Did your friend realise when he took the boy that we now have to assume, until we know otherwise, that the murderer has him?" Minerva felt her face drop. Had Albus realised the effect of what he'd done?
"You don't know," he sneered as he stepped away from her desk. His stance was predatory as he watched her. She couldn't remember when she'd last been so angry at anyone, much less him. "You keep all his secrets for him, don't you. Always Albus!" In three long strides he was back at her desk, fists clenched. "I demand you tell me where he has the boy!"
"I'm Chief Auror, in case you've forgotten—"
Her blood was at a full boil by the time she was on her feet. "Heaven forbid that anyone should forget that!" she spat back, not much caring what she said now. "After all these years—"
He raised a hand to silence her, which made her angrier. "I don't have time for this. And considering the dead were comrades-in-arms of yours, I'm surprised by this obstructionist attitude."
She felt as if she'd been slapped. Through a supercilious smile he continued, ignoring her shock. "Yes, we know about Dumbledore's little club. Have known for years. We've let it go so long as you've stayed out of our way. But if you're going to impede the proper administration of justice I'll have no choice but to escort you to the Ministry for questioning."
The threat hung in the air between them and for the first time Minerva was afraid. She sank back in her chair under the gaze of a man who had, entirely unnoticed by her, become this.
"I believe we're done here, aren't we?" she whispered.
She could tell he'd understood. His expression softened and his shoulders slumped a little, and for a moment it appeared he was going to put the Chief Auror away for the night.
But the moment passed and he tossed his head back in a gesture Minerva realised reminded her of Lucius Malfoy. "If you want."
Did she want? Could she forgive him this as well? She sighed. "I don't know any more, Rufus."
For long after he'd left she sat at her desk, wondering why she wasn't sad.
~ nine ~
"He was a fascinating man."
"Nine Ministers were fool enough to try to best him, and none ever came close."
"The Board will, of course, confirm your appointment." Scrimgeour placed the parchment on Minerva's desk and began reading the next sheet. Something about Hogsmeade, but Minerva couldn't listen any more. Not to him, of all people.
So she sat, stock still behind her desk, afraid to move in case her head fell off and rolled under the bookcase. Every minute or so she remembered to blink; her eyes felt covered in sand and for some reason she remembered something Albus had once told her of a type of lizard what was able to lick its eyeballs and she had to suppress the hysteria that had been threatening to break free for the last four days. Because she knew if she started she wouldn't be able to stop until she'd wept all the tears she'd been holding back since the beginning of the war and she was damned if she was going to break down in front of Rufus Scrimgeour, of all people.
She blinked and sat upright. Without realising it she'd been staring out the window towards the tomb. Very bad form.
Rufus' bland expression couldn't quite conceal the glee in his eyes and she was almost overcome by the impulse to pick up a fork and rake it across his face over and over until the skin hung in tatters.
"Shall we go up now."
It wasn't a question, but Minerva decided to act as if it were; while she had no energy for a battle today, she had no interest in giving in without at least irritating the man to distraction.
"The Headmaster's office, of course."
Regaining her equilibrium a little, she was able to almost smile. "Oh, we can't do that. The school won't allow it while there's no Head. So, until the Board makes their final vote and it's recorded in the minutes, no one is allowed in the Head's office." She even managed a wry shrug, while in her mind's eye she saw Albus's disembodied head perched on the throne-like chair behind his desk. She allowed Rufus to misinterpret her nascent smile.
"Some innovation of Dumbledore's, I suppose?"
"No, some innovation of Phineas Nigellus Black's. To keep the Ministry from tampering with the school records during periods between Headmasters."
Scrimgeour only blinked back at her once, then shuffled his papers again, muttering under his breath.
~ ten ~
Minerva sat at the back of the cool, tasteful room and watched Cornelius and a man she didn't recognise help the widow to her chair in the centre of the front row.
As Headmistress of Hogwarts she could have claimed a seat with the worthies and family, but today she preferred the relative anonymity of Ministry middle managers and distant relatives of the deceased. The press was paying no attention to anyone beyond the third row, and that suited Minerva's mood to perfection.
Wilberforce Wimple was conducting the service today, as well, and Minerva couldn't help but wonder how many other funerals has been on the frail old wizard's calendar that summer. Which lead to thoughts of how many more were to come.
As Wimple's soft voice fluttered out through the crowded room, Minerva wondered what she was feeling. Not loss, not sadness. Certainly not grief.
Ah, yes. The teacher's closest companion. Exhaustion.
War had arrived and Minerva wondered if she had the strength for it. With Albus gone, and now Rufus, the weight on her shoulders was crushing, and it had barely begun. The Ministry was in denial and the Order was in chaos. She still hadn't decided if the school would open on time, despite her best efforts to wrangle the Board, placate parents and convince Horace to stay on as head of Slytherin. Six weeks into the job and she was up to her eyes in Albus' perennial problem: finding someone for the cursed Defence post.
But she wasn't gong to think about any of that today.
The faces around her were an adequate distraction. Few of them seemed to reflect any more grief than she was feeling. Not that that surprised her; while Rufus had been a popular choice as Minister, he'd never been a popular man. A hard man for hard times, her father would have said.
And before she knew it, it was all over. People were on their feet and either heading back to the office, relieved that a tedious duty had been fulfilled, or shuffling to the front to pay their respects to the widow.
Minerva turned. The woman in front of her seemed familiar, but she couldn't place where from. Her confusion must have shown, as the woman smiled very slightly.
"Lettice Edgecombe. My daughter Marietta was just at Hogwarts."
"Mrs. Edgecombe." Then she remembered. "Oh, yes, you're at the Ministry."
"Floo Network Administration. Before that I was with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. I was fortunate to have worked closely with the late Minister while he was Chief Auror." They stared at one another. Minerva felt entirely at sea. The expression on the other woman's face implied that she was the possessor of some great secret or other, but Minerva couldn't be bothered to care much.
"You were friends, weren't you?"
Minerva smiled and turned away. "No, we weren't friends. Never friends."
~ end ~