Novel Excerpts

Epithalamium

With the door from his office safely shut behind them, he said, “I’m surprised you want to see me.””Of course I want to see you. I’ve been dying to see you all day. That’s why I came. I wanted to know how you are.”

“I’m fine, as you see,” he said. “Largely thanks to you. I wasn’t quite myself last night. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

“You were upset. I couldn’t leave you in that state, Albus.”

“Will you leave me now?” he asked.

“No.”

“You should, Minerva.”

Her anger flashed hot at his words. “How can you say that to me?” she asked.

“You’ve always known, I think, that I am a dangerous man. And now you know that I am a foolish, wicked, and cowardly one. How can you possibly want me now that you know me?”

The fire in her chest was instantly doused. He had laid himself bare to her and expected her flee from what she saw. This was not the great and powerful saviour of the wizarding world nor the brilliant mage who had dazzled an adolescent girl with his matchless intelligence and pointed kindnesses. This was a man, wretched and frightened as any who ever believed himself so sinful as to be unlovable. Dumbledore had been stripped away, leaving only Albus. Did she love him?

“Honestly?” she said in answer to his question. “I have no idea.” Then after a second, she answered her own: “But I do.”

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A Slant-Told Tale

Minerva’s footfalls sounded terribly loud to her as she walked the corridor leading to the entrance to the Headmaster’s office. For perhaps the first time in her life, she was unprepared—she had no idea of what she might say to Albus. “I’m sorry” just didn’t seem adequate, nor was it especially accurate. She was—she had long been—unhappy at having deceived him, but faced with the same choices, knowing what she now knew, she wasn’t sure she would act differently.From the moment of his birth, Malcolm had been everything to her. Minerva had kept her son like a beacon in her mind, guiding every step she had taken, every choice she had made since he’d been given to her by whatever power governed these things. And if some of those choices had been wrong, they’d nevertheless led them here, to this time and place, to safety. Malcolm was healthy. He was happy. He was whole. She held that in her heart like a talisman as she approached Albus’ office and whatever he might have to say to her.

The gargoyle guarding his office seemed to be expecting her, as he said, “Enter, Professor McGonagall,” and the stone entryway parted as soon as she stepped in front of it.

The inner door stood open when she arrived at the top of the spiral staircase, and Albus was standing in the middle of the room, hands folded behind his back, and Minerva felt like a student being called on the carpet for some infraction of rules, which, she supposed, in a way she was. Except the infraction was seventeen years behind her.

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Come Autumn, Sae Pensive (1967)

“Are you scared?” he asked her.She didn’t answer for a minute. “I suppose.”

He knew it was a thing she would admit to no one but him.

“But I won’t be ruled by fear, Albus,” she said.

He smiled. “That’s what Thorfinn said.”

“I am, after all, my faither’s daughter. Sigrid Thorfinnsdóttir,” she said, giving her Viking name.

He recognised it as a talisman against fear. Her mother had not been Viking; Morrigan had been Celtic through and through. Albus was not surprised that his wife tended to ally herself with the fierce magic of Odin and Thor rather than the nature-bound spirituality of her mother’s people. She was a woman more inclined to bend lightning to her will than to worship its power.

“I wonder who our little one will be like.” Minerva said.

“It had better have your looks.”

“And your brains? Is that what you’re implying?” she asked, raising an impish eyebrow at him.

“How about a combination of your logical mind and my creative one?”

“Creative? Is that what they’re calling it now?”

“And what would you call it, Mrs Dumbledore?”

“Untidy.”

His retort was to gather her in his arms and kiss her until she was gasping for breath.

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Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart

“Despair, Minerva? That isn’t like you.””And what is ‘like me’? Everyone else seems to know—Albus, Poppy, you—I wish someone would tell me, because I’m hanged if I do,” she said, suddenly fierce.

“You are . . .” he began.

“What?” Her eyes were desperate.

“Astonishing.”

“Ha!” she barked. “So I’ve heard. Forgive me if I can’t quite agree with that trite assessment. ‘The astonishing Minerva McGonagall, most powerful witch of the age . . .'”

“You are, Minerva. You cannot run from who you are.”

“I have never run from anything in my life, Severus Snape,” she retorted throatily. “Minerva McGonagall Dumbledore, Sigrid Thorfinnsdóttir, Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, leader-by-default of the Order of the Phoenix, Elder Emerita of the Wizengamot is not permitted to run from anything.”

“Minerva, stop,” Snape said, taking her by the shoulders.

“I would love to. Oh, how dearly I would love to!” she spat.

He pulled her against him, and they stood breathing against one another. He could feel the steady thrumming of her heart, smell the scent of honeysuckle and linden in her hair, and all at once he was fourteen again—before the Dark Lord, before Lily hated him and died for it, before all the choices that had led, inexorably, to this place—catching her scent as she knelt by him in the classroom. He had caught something else too: for the first time, on that day twenty-four years past, he had sensed the power she inhabited, almost as if it were an electrical charge coming off her skin but from a far deeper source. He had felt it course through him for an infinitesimal moment while she held his wand hand in hers as together they Transfigured an object whose name was lost to him now, and he knew he wanted it. He had always been a little afraid of his own magic—his brutal father had seen to that—but at that moment in the Transfiguration classroom, he had recognised that his own power was, like hers, immense, and it had frightened and thrilled him at the same time. He had wanted to ask her how she didn’t burn with it, but of course, he had been a boy, and Professor McGonagall could hardly have been expected to tolerate such an impertinent question, could she?

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Till A’ the Seas Gang Dry

They walked back to their hotel and got a recommendation from the desk clerk, whose girth, Albus later declared, was a hint that she knew where the neighbourhood’s best food was to be had.

The restaurant was homey and small, but they were early, and the waiter gave them a prime seat near the blazing fireplace. Minerva was hungry, so they had a hearty risotto of Borlotti beans to start, and a bottle of Amarone. That was followed by a rabbit stew in rich broth for Minerva and a fritti mista for Albus. They polished off the red wine with dinner, so he ordered two glasses of sweet Torcolato to go with their pudding, warm chocolate cake drizzled with hazelnut cream.

As they stepped out onto the cobblestones of the tiny street, Minerva put a hand to her head.

“I think I’ve had too much wine,” she said.

“Minerva McGonagall? Drunk? Impossible,” said Albus, and she batted him on the elbow he offered to steady her.

“There was a lot of wine in that risotto. And I think there was some in the broth with my rabbit. Then you ordered wine with the pudding.”

“All part of my dastardly plan to get you pissed and have my wicked way with you.”

“You brute,” she said, smiling, and he pulled her into his arms.

She was just tight enough to feel no shame as they kissed in the middle of the street with evening strollers looking at them as they passed. His lips were warm and sweet, and she felt positively wanton as she pressed her tongue into his mouth.

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