autumn stories: 1972 (year 2), the works and days of hands (G)

Summary: An afternoon in the staff room, second year. Unicorns cause much alarm; secrets are kept; punishment is impending. For Day 12 of scarvesnhats with a prompt from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Pratchett-watchers may spot another reference.
Warning: No actual Marauders are involved in this fiction.
Rating: G, very G

Minerva McGonagall swept into the staff lounge, took in the other teachers’ presences with a sweep of her Seeker’s eyes, and went to the drinks cabinet to pour herself a neat whiskey, on the rocks.

“Trouble?” Slughorn asked, leaning forward and craning around. He was always keen to hear about Minerva’s troubles: God alone knew, she’d gotten every wild child this year and last, every single one.

“I’ve just had the most painful interview of my life,” she snapped, and swept over to her favourite spot, the window seat with the green courderoy cushions. She flung open the windows, letting in a swirl of cold air and yellow fog that curled up under the table. “Black and Potter, of course.”

There was a murmur, interspersed with titters and tongue-clicks. No teacher was unaware of the potential seven years of bad luck there.

“What’ve they done now?”

McGonagall sipped carefully, eyeing Vahanna Euwill over the rim of her glass. “Unicorns,” she said finally. “You did unicorns with the second years today. And I know that Horace won’t be giving them the facts of life lecture until next year, but… Well, Narcissa is yours, Horace, and of course she told Black that old chestnut about unicorns and virgins.” McGonagall waved one hand vaguely in the air, sketching sigils in the mist. Looking down towards the forest she could see the unicorns, snorting silvery mist into the evening air, chasing each other in the pen, golden hooves kicking up the brilliant maple leaves. A few children hung on the fence, enticing them with carrots.

She could see Slughorn’s face, reflected on and warped by the window glass, split into a wide, gossip-loving grin. “So, Hanna, which one of the students do they say isn’t a virgin this year?”

“Is that what they were on about? Block-headed little fools,” Euwill snorted; it sounded a little too much like a whinny. She stretched out her long legs and wiggled her bare toes at the fire. “Never read the textbook unless I threaten to whip them.” Her eyes cut to Slughorn, and she sighed. “Lupin, of course. I admit I hadn’t thought of the… timing of the lesson. A bit too close to the full moon, eh, Minnie? The beasts wouldn’t have a thing to do with him.”

McGonagall leant back against the cold stones, and the glass in her hand slowly refilled itself. “Potter was all set to send hit wizards to the Lupins’ house. He thought… well, it was a bad month, wasn’t it, Poppy?”

Pomfrey didn’t look up from her knitting. It was the season of mufflers. “There’s only so much I can do, Minerva. There’s no literature on werewolf puberty, you know. I just put him back together the morning after as best I can.”

“Yes, and we are grateful, you know,” McGonagall said with a trace of acid. “But he is bruised and ill-looking, as always, and combined with Black’s erroneous knowledge of unicorns, well…” She shifted on her seat. “They thought that Lupin’s parents were, ah, doing things to him.”

Flitwick looked up from the game with Dumbledore that he was engrossed in. “Did they approach Lupin with this story?”

“No, thank God for small mercies. Imagine.” McGonagall summoned a dish of almonds and ate three, slowly. Flitwick lost two dwarves to a troll, and even Slughorn was silent with contemplation. “I’m not sure that we can keep it a secret for six more years.”

Dumbledore turned his head, his piercing blue gaze meeting McGonagall’s in a way that might have made sparks fly. “Can it not be done, Minerva?” he asked.

“Oh, the boy is clever enough,” she said, looking away. “I’d hate to send him down. Those four boys—well, you know.” Heads nodded; unfortunately, they knew all too well. “They’d probably find it all very amusing. What their parents would say, I shudder to think.”

“It might be good for them to learn some compassion,” Flitwick said, regrouping his forces in a corner of the boards. “You heard about the other day…?”

“Didn’t we all.” Slughorn chuckled and piled his books up, shuffled his papers significantly into folders, and shovelled the lot into his gleaming leather satchel. “Boys will be boys.”

“Even Remus Lupin,” Dumbledore said idly. “I’m afraid he wouldn’t take very well to being an object lesson.”

McGonagall was watching the sky over the Forbidden Forest as a cat would watch a mouse. The lowering sun made the evening mist soft and golden, and her eyes could have been wrong (despite the enchantments set on her glasses), but… She banished her glass and bowl of nuts. “I may be late for dinner,” she said, rising, her mouth set. “They’ve got into the brooms again. I’ll be seeing the miscreants in my office,” she added. “Go ahead and shut the windows after me, Vahanna.”

“Oho,” Slughorn said in ringing jolly tones, no friend to tact. “Your four reprobates?”

“Undoubtedly,” McGonagall said, taking her spare broomstick from the cupboard. She stepped up on the window seat, straddled the broom, and soared off, her sharp figure slicing through the fog.

“My,” Euwell said. “I don’t envy her.” She padded over to the windows. She could just see McGonagall descending like a Fury into the glorious autumn brocade of the Forest. The fog smelled of woodsmoke and roasting apples, and it filled her with a longing that had no name.

She shut the windows with a snap and bolted them, then turned and went to pull on her boots. “Dinner time, then,” she said to Slughorn, and they descended to the Great Hall together, observing and taking House points from the pageant of life before them.

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