Story Excerpts

Exotic Matter

It was going on three o’clock when she rose from her bed and removed the wards from the box that was Concealed at the top of her wardrobe. Gazing into it, she made a decision. Or rather, she acknowledged the decision she’d made the moment she looked into Harry’s blank eyes.

Three hours later, she used the privilege of her position to Floo directly to Albus’s quarters, surprising him before he’d risen from bed.

“There may be a way to save them.”

“Tell me,” he said, pulling on his dressing gown and gesturing for her to sit
He listened to her without interruption, seemingly without reaction, but she’d known him long enough to understand that the slight twitch of lips meant she’d surprised him.

When she finished her tale and showed him the item in question, he said, “Are you certain it will work properly?”

“It did forty years ago.”

He looked into her eyes, and she waited to feel the press of his Legilimency against her mind, but it didn’t come.
“You haven’t used it since?” he asked.

“Never.”

He was silent, looking at her appraisingly, and she understood that he was recalibrating her in his mind, reconciling the Minerva McGonagall he’d thought he knew with one who could make the only functioning prototype of a dangerous magical instrument and keep it a secret for decades.

“Why did you take it?”

His question surprised her. They almost never spoke of personal matters, of their whys and wherefores. That path would be too fraught with hazards neither wanted to engage.

Because I was angry, she wanted to say. Because they didn’t deal fairly with me. Because Rufus kept his bloody job, while I was tossed out without a reference. But he knew all that. He wanted to know the excuse she gave to herself, wanted to judge whether her private lie should affect his actions. He was not a scholar of time travel, but he was a man who understood that a lie could affect the fabric of reality just as surely as the tiny instrument that hung from a chain around Minerva’s neck.

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A Perfectly Potent Potion

They had the same idea at the same time.

That became apparent when her door opened and he found himself staring into his own face.

It took a moment before she burst out laughing, and it was strange to hear his own bass-baritone assaulting him from the other side of the doorway.

“Do come in, Minerva,” she said.

“Your accent sounds ridiculous on me,” he said, stepping into her chambers.

“And you make me sound like a Sassenach,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

She made a show of taking off the luridly tartan shawl he’d Transfigured from one of his mufflers.

They stood staring at one another for a moment, then they both spoke simultaneously.

“Do you want—”

“Are we or aren’t we—”

Minerva smiled, and without any warning began to unbutton her trousers.

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Sybill Trelawney and the Unexpected Gift

The dinner was interminable. Sybill managed a few bites of potato and nothing else; even if she had had any appetite, her hands were shaking so badly that she could barely get the fork to her mouth. Finally, blessedly, the pudding arrived, signalling that Christmas dinner was nearly over.

When Dumbledore stood to offer a closing toast—in pumpkin juice, sadly—he caught Sybill’s eye and smiled encouragingly. A vision of him lying in the mud, his long white hair matted with blood, danced before her.

She screamed.

When she took her hands from her face, the vision faded, but she couldn’t look at Dumbledore. Desperate for anything to distract the Inner Eye from the terrible thing she had Seen, she fixed on the two boys standing near the end of the table. “My dears!” she said to keep herself from uttering anything she shouldn’t. “Which of you left his seat first? Which?”

Minerva said something, but Sybill couldn’t hear it. The voices were speaking to her again.

As she fled the Great Hall, no one heard her murmur, “Choosing death, you will defeat it.”

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When I Waked, I Cried to Dream Again

She was both surprised and not when he pressed up against her and put an arm around her waist.

“It’s the best way to stay warm,” he said.

“Yes.”

She tried to sleep, but her awareness of his body against hers made her heart thud dully in her chest and her thoughts careen from place to place. Gradually, she became aware of a nudging sensation against her buttocks. As it grew firmer and more insistent, she realised what it was.

In years to come, she’d try to decide if he would have done it anyway it had she not pressed her bottom back against him, but she never came to a conclusion.

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Comme Un Rêve de Pierre

He used to be the handsome Weasley. Birds and blokes liked him on sight, and no one had been surprised that he’d been the one to nab the half-Veela.

But whenever they’re together in public now, he can feel people’s eyes sliding reluctantly over to him after they’ve had their breath taken away by Fleur’s beauty. Then their breath hitches again, but they recover and speak, always to him—he isn’t intimidating—but not really looking at him, and sometimes he wonders if he’s got latent Legilimency skills, because he can almost hear them wondering why she stays with him.

Beauty and the Beast, they think.

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Alone and Palely Loitering

Thoughts of murder cropped up a few times over the next centuries—of course they did! What husband did not occasionally dream of ridding himself of his wife? Especially one who snored and never once in three hundred years missed an occasion to mention the fact that he’d been unable to perform on their wedding night.

When they moved back to Paris in 1649—London had become altogether too depressing to tolerate, what with the theatres closed—he became terribly taken with an actress of Molière’s.

Her voice was so much more melodious and her bosom so much whiter than Perenelle’s, and she never snorted when she laughed or yawned when he was speaking about something important.

She was perfection.

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Four Christmases

Legilimens!”

She was inside his head again, but this time she meant business. He could tell because she was more like a razor’s edge than water or quicksilver—her movement through his mind was sharp and bit deep, and he was shocked. It had never felt like this, not during his early lessons, nor on the occasions they’d practiced since.

He realised with panic that he was letting her in too far, and he tried to catch up, to get ahead, rifling through his own memories at lightning speed to find something to bring forward to catch her, but he was lost. He could do nothing until she stopped to examine something more closely. They went on and on, Minerva’s mind probing and darting away, Severus following vainly in her wake—

Oh, no.

She’d stopped. It was a Christmas memory again—one he’d never let her see, and although he was reasonably certain she’d run across it during the early days of their lessons, she’d never stopped to look at it before.

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Gin a Body Meet a Body

Perhaps it was the combination of the dream-state he felt and the memory of his long-ago fantasies that led him to ask, almost without thinking, “May I touch you?”

“Yes, Severus. Please do.”

He propped himself up on one elbow and gingerly placed his other hand on her shoulder. Her skin was cool and dry, and he ran his palm down her arm. When he reached her hand, her fingers closed briefly over his.

He next moved his hand to her neck, stroking the soft flesh there carefully with two fingers as she tilted her sharp chin upwards to give him more access. When he moved his hand over the coverlet to rest on her belly for a moment, she pulled it down to allow him to touch her bare skin, and he kept his hand still, feeling it move up and down with her breath.

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The Observer Effect

She begins to follow Severus in her Animagus form, so she knows when he goes into Hogsmeade, knows what he’s going to do when he puts on his glamour, trudges away from the castle, and slips into the seedy lane, nearly disappearing in shadows between The Hog’s Head and the nameless apothecary.

She watches the first time. But she cannot see his face in the gloom of the alley, so the next time, she pads silently away when the woman gets to her knees. Nevertheless, it gives her a devilish little thrill to know this about him, that he has a need to be touched.

It is summer when he catches her at it.

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The Peculiar Resilience of the Refugee

In May, there’s a memorial for those lost in the war, and Petunia surprises herself by deciding to go.

She and Rosmerta take the Knight Bus together. Petunia is used to it by now, or as used to it as one can get, but Rosmerta isn’t, it turns out. Petunia talks to her to try to take her mind off the stomach-turning, hair-raising ride. As they talk about nothing in particular, Petunia realises that this is the first time Rosmerta’s been out of Hogsmeade since she took Petunia in, at least that Petunia is aware of. To make conversation, she asks, “Have you been to your Ministry before?”

“Yes. Once.”

Rosmerta doesn’t elaborate, and Petunia has the sense that she doesn’t want to discuss it, so she changes the subject to her time living in London.

“It was exciting,” she tells Rosmerta, “but frightening, too. I’d never been away from home. We’d go into Manchester with Mum or Dad occasionally, of course, but it wasn’t the same. I was alone in London, except for my flat-mate, and we . . . well, we didn’t get on. I left after a year. Vernon, my husband, seemed like a good alternative to another year of typing and accounting courses.”

The bus gives a lurch just then, and Rosmerta grasps the back of the seat in a moment of white-knuckled panic.

After a second, she asks, “And was he?”

“Was he what?”

“A good alternative.”

Petunia thinks for a moment.

“Yes,” she says. “He was.”

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Natural Law

Master was a Good wizard. He learned the laws and kept them, and he was fair to his elves. Even when an elf was bad, like Grimbly, Master usually let the elves take care of their own punishments. Not like some Winky could name. Her friend Dobby served a Master who beat his elves himself when they was bad, and sometimes when they wasn’t.

Except now everything was all topsy-turvy. Master—who told the elves and Mistress and Young Master to always tell the truth—now told Winky to . . . to . . . lie! To wizards! It went against everything Winky had learned at her mother’s knee, and indeed, everything she felt at the core of her very being.

When Master’s friends came to visit after the funeral for the empty box, she was nearly ill herself when Master told her what to say on the off chance somebody asked her about the Mistress’ not-illness and wrong-day death. Winky was proud to be the elf Master trusted with his secret, make no mistake, but she hated lying to her fellow-elves, and even more, she was terrified of the idea of lying to wizards.

Luckily, the wizards and witches who came to visit paid no attention to the elves, with their enormous, grief-rimmed eyes and black tea-towels. The elves had held their own memorial for the beloved Mistress late that night, making her favourite foods, cleaning her robes and polishing her shoes, while telling stories of the late Mistress’ fine deeds. That night had been Winky’s first taste of butterbeer, and she couldn’t decide if she liked the muzzy head it gave her or not. But she did like how it made her forget her mounting troubles for a time.

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Heart’s Desire

It was Amelia who pulled away first, and the spell was broken. Minerva was suddenly and painfully aware of the crowd around them, although nobody seemed to be paying the two young women any mind. Many of the witches—and the Harpies fans were by-and-large witches—were embracing; it seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to do under the circumstances.

But something had happened, some door that had been only slightly ajar had been flung wide, and it would not be shut again. Of that Minerva was certain. Something she hadn’t even known existed had been suddenly thrust into her hands, and now it was essential as air.

Amelia’s remarkable eyes missed none of this, and she turned away, fussily gathering her cloak and Omnioculars, to give Minerva a moment to collect herself.

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A Change of Plans

The incident we’re concerned with here happened on a Sunday evening. You see, Madam Pomfrey had recommended to Snape that he take advantage of the healing properties of the hot water, mineral salts, and whirlpool in the staff bath to help ease the pain in his gammy shoulder. While the idea of a communal experience with his colleagues filled him with existential angst, he had to admit that, on this particular Sunday, the prospect of some relief from the ache in his shoulder was inviting. And, as it was Sunday, he could reasonably hope to have the place to himself.

So it was that he found himself standing outside the door to the staff bath, slippers on his feet and a hastily-Transfigured bathing costume covering his meat and two veg. He stood there for a minute, trying to make up his mind to give the password and go in.

“Rubber ducky,” he practically moaned. (In case you don’t know, Albus Dumbledore, who set the password, had a sense of humour that ran to the whimsical.) When the door opened, he peered in, and seeing nobody, he stepped in.

By the time he spied Minerva McGonagall, it was too late to retreat without losing face. She had been obscured by steam, but there she was, sitting at the far end of the large tub, all white shoulders and damp, black hair, which, surprisingly, was clipped in a rather haphazard way on her head rather than in the tight bun that was the emblem of her spinsterhood.

“Hello, Severus,” she said. “This is a surprise.”

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From the Besieged Ardea

Albus opened the note and read:

11 May 1958

Headmaster,

This is to inform you of my resignation from my post as Transfiguration mistress and Deputy Headmistress, effective immediately.

My solicitor will be in touch with you to arrange the termination of my contract. My wages for this month may be deposited in my Gringotts account as usual, pro-rated for the remainder of the month.

It is my intention to vacate my rooms immediately, and I trust you will find everything in order when it is inspected after my departure. If not, please have the appropriate amount deducted from my final pay packet.

I would request that you inform the Board of Governors of my resignation at your earliest convenience.

M. McGonagall

He shook his head to clear it and re-read the note. Then he read it again.

What in the name of Merlin’s bloody knees is this?

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The Birthday Gift

She didn’t quite know what to do with herself. It was a quarter past seven, and she was in her sitting room waiting for him. They had planned to have dinner together to celebrate her birthday, but he hadn’t told her exactly when or where they would meet, nor where he planned to take her.

By this point, she decided, she would be delighted were he to walk through her door, strip her without ceremony, and shag the life out of her, and to hell with dinner.

A few minutes later, he did walk through the door, but he clearly had no intention of shagging her, unless he planned to act out some fantasy she couldn’t even begin to guess at, given that he was wearing a rather ill-fitting Muggle suit of dark grey serge.

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Postscript

Minerva walked into the salon of Druantia’s Grotto knowing it was the last time.

In truth, she hadn’t wanted to come at all, but she felt compelled to keep the “date” she had had with Amelia. The fact of Amelia’s death was, Minerva was pained to admit to herself, still an abstract idea. By the time those bastards had caught up with Amelia (and “caught up” was hardly the term; it had been an ambush, six Death Eaters on one ex-Auror, and she had taken down three of them before she fell) she and Minerva had fallen almost entirely out of touch. Three weeks ago, Minerva had owled her, asking if she could accompany Amelia to the next club party, and Amelia had immediately sent back an enthusiastic “yes”. Four days later, Amelia was dead.

Minerva felt guilty for not feeling more, and she was afraid that it was a sign of a coarsening of her emotions. The war—her third—and other, more personal upheavals, had left a rough callus on her heart, and she felt the need to pick at it, so she squeezed herself into her corset, feeling the first pricks of loss when she had to lace the thing by magic herself rather than submitting to the pleasant ritual of allowing her former lover to lace her by still-affectionate hand.

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Bonnie Wee Thing

“Her eyes are bonnie blue like yours,” said Thorfinn.

“They might change, though,” said Morrigan. “I rather hoped she’d have your great, brown cow’s eyes.”

Just then, the wee girl decided to add her two Knuts to the discussion of her appearance, issuing forth a piercing cry of indignation, her little legs attempting to kick free of the tight swaddling that held them.

“Oh, and she has your temper, too,” said Thorfinn, gently teasing his wife.

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Sweep

The children—some of ’em—acted like it were a game, smiling and chattering as they rushed about, happy at the prospect of being allowed to brandish them bloody wands at grown witches and wizards, and you felt it, too. Or maybe it were hysteria. Any road, after the shock of hearing that horrible voice in your head—and everyone had heard it right enough, it weren’t just you—had worn off, and before the first curse hit the barriers, it seemed to you like you’d stepped right into one of them Muggle pictures Mam sometimes made you go to with her when Dad were away. Which he were a lot when it came clear that there weren’t no Hogwarts letter coming for Argus Filch. Funny how you ended up here anyway. If by “funny” you mean “thanks to the old Headmaster”, who appeared with a job offer the week after your dad had left for good. Now they were dead, the Headmaster and your dad, both, but you were still here, weren’t you? For the moment.

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Betrayal and the Art of Salvation

Betrayed. I’ve been betrayed.

She hated how overly dramatic the word sounded in her head, but it was the only one that seemed adequate.

By the time she got back to her own quarters, she was numb.

When she saw him coming through her door the following afternoon with a broad, beaming smile on his face and a bottle of Hogwarts’ best mead in his hand, she suddenly knew she would say nothing, and nearly fainted with relief.

She let him take her in his arms and kiss her. Later, when they went to bed, she claimed a headache brought on by Apparition. She declined his offer to rub her head. If it puzzled him, he didn’t say.

Over the days that followed, the numbness gradually wore off, to be replaced by the predictable pain and anger that was the stock-in-trade of the woman wronged. Curiously—to her rational self—those feelings soon gave way to self-doubt and self-recrimination, as the question of why began to overshadow the what.

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The Naughtiest Boy Helps a Friend

“Did you get any interesting questions?” he inquired.

“Mostly what you would expect. Lots of ‘Can I fall pregnant if . . .?’ inquiries, which was rather alarming, and a number of ‘What’s it like?’, which was rather personal.”

“Really? And did you enumerate the delights of sexual congress for them?”

She glared at him. “No, Severus. I simply told them that, under the right circumstances, it could be quite pleasant.”

“‘Quite pleasant?’ Did you really say, ‘quite pleasant’?” he asked, nearly spitting the tea he had been sipping all over his robes.

“Yes, I did,” she said, brows turning to inverted diagonals at him in her irritation.

“And did you tell them it could be ‘fucking amazing’ under the wrong circumstances?” he asked, wearing a most unSnapelike grin.

The eyebrows relaxed as the ghost of a smile crossed her face. “I thought it the better part of valour to leave them to discover that for themselves.”

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The Transfiguration of Minerva McGonagall

“Minerva.”

“Hello, Tom. What are you doing here?”

“The same as you, I would guess.”

She raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

He said, “You are here to apply for the Transfiguration post, aren’t you?”

Her eyes narrowed at this. “How do you know that?”

“Simple deduction. Dumbledore placed the Transfiguration advertisement along with the one for Defence. You left the Ministry last month.”

There was the insouciant smile again, like an old friend.

She didn’t ask him how he knew about her leaving her post. “You applied for the Defence position?”

“Yes.”

“I never would have guessed you wanted to teach.”

He ignored her comment. “Why did you follow me, Minerva?”

“I was curious.”

“You know what they say about curiosity and cats.”

“Of course. I also know what they say about satisfaction.”

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Winter Gifts

His eyes close as she gently but thoroughly washes the back of his neck, drawing the flannel around to the front, tracing it down the column of his throat and around the waxy scar tissue. He opens them as he hears her dip the flannel back in the basin and wring it out. As she brings it to his chest, she uses her free hand to unfasten the first two buttons of her robe’s bodice.

Severus watches as she runs the moistened flannel over the spare tundra of his chest, making wide arcs from his shoulders to below his nipples. As she does this, her breasts brush his skin, and he can feel her nipples harden, even under the heavy fabric of her winter robes. She wears no chemise under them, and he sees the tiny peaks when she moves to re-wet the flannel. The cloth of her robes is wet where she has grazed him, and it clings to her as Severus would do, if only he could move.

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Mammals of the Order Chiroptera (August 1995)

Get control of yourself, man. You are not a fourteen-year-old schoolboy, he told himself.

The problem was that he couldn’t help remembering himself as just that, as images barged uninvited into his mind: Professor McGonagall, bending in close to his fourteen-year-old self to correct his wand work, her robe-bound breasts brushing his shoulder, her perfume smelling subtly of honeysuckle and linden; at seventeen, mesmerised by her nipples as they stood erect through the thin, champagne-coloured silk of her Yule Ball gown in response to the chill December air; even at twenty-two, on a stiflingly hot day, idly tracing with his eyes the progress of a bead of perspiration as it trickled its way down from her neck to disappear in the valley between her breasts as she sat reading in the staff room, her glasses perched on her nose, her robes unfastened far enough to reveal the barest hint of cleavage.

Dumbledore had caught him looking, and had quirked him a brief, infuriatingly knowing smile. The young Potions master had spent the next week waiting for a letter of dismissal. He had not been accustomed to men who were secure enough to let another man ogle what was theirs.

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After the Fall (June 1997)

She used the spell to open the secret door behind the bookcase that led to his private quarters. As she passed through it, she ignored the sitting room and went immediately to the bedroom. She did not allow herself the luxury of looking around at the room she had occasionally shared with her husband of nearly forty years. Moving through the room methodically, she gathered up any evidence that she had ever been there: her toothbrush and comb from the vanity in the bathroom; her lavender-scented shampoo from the bath; her green silk dressing gown from the hook on the bathroom door; the extra glass from the tray on the bedside table. The items followed her through the room, floating behind her like a wake.

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Chanson de Severus

The days grew longer, and the time shorter, and the shorter it grew, the more he thought about the old man and the woman.

She still shared the Headmaster’s bed, and although it no longer infuriated him, it obsessed him. The quizzes became routine. When? Where? How?

She had learned to answer his every inquiry; as soon as his questions no longer tortured her, they began to torment him. She answered forthrightly, as she did everything else—well, almost everything—and still he was drowning in interrogatories. They rushed in like the ocean to fill the void left by each answer.

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Winterreise (1976)

Sirius stood looking at his Transfiguration professor through slightly blurry eyes. He was thinking about James and his little stunt with McGonagall on the dance floor, and about all the boasting his friend was going to do about it. And about the way she looked in that dress. Then he got a wonderful idea.

“Come along, Mr Black. I’ll just deliver you to Professor Lem—“ Minerva was cut off mid-sentence when the young man lunged at her.

Sirius had intended to kiss her but missed his target, managing only to plaster his lips to the corner of her mouth and smear a short, coral slash of lipstick across her cheek. He was off balance, and she had to put her hands on his shoulders to steady him, or both of them would have tumbled to the floor. He grinned sheepishly when she straightened him up, telling him sharply, “That will be quite enough of that, Mr Black.”

She was shocked at his actions but not especially concerned about her safety. As troublesome as Sirius Black was, he was unlikely to harm her; moreover, she had her wand in her cloak pocket, and he was definitely no match for her in a duel, even stone sober. She realised she had dropped the cloak when she had moved to steady him, and was about to pick it up when she saw his eyes suddenly gain focus and grow wide.

Minerva turned to see the tall figure of Albus Dumbledore standing in the open doorway. His face had thunder in it.

“Sirius Black,” said the Headmaster, his voice low, but very dangerous. “It is now five minutes past curfew. Go to your dormitory. Now.”

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Ca’ the Yowes (1996)

When Minerva McGonagall woke in an unfamiliar room, the severe pain that gripped her chest when she tried to sit up told her immediately both where she was and why she was there.

A thickset, balding man in a green robe hurried over to her bedside. “Professor McGonagall, welcome back! Do you know where you are?”

“St Mungo’s, if I’m not very much mistaken,” she answered, her voice croaking with disuse.

The Healer smiled. “Yes, good. And can you tell me who is Minister of Magic?” he enquired.

“Cornelius Fudge, unless the old fool has finally managed to get himself the boot,” she answered.

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Familiar Rituals (1977)

“Minerva, I know it will be a sacrifice, but that’s what we committed to when we decided to become teachers.”

There was that “we” again.

“We have so little time together as it is, Albus. With the added duties of a Head of House I’ll be even busier. Not to mention the fact that I will have to spend every single night in my own quarters in the tower . . .” she said, emphasizing the phrase.

“And that will be my sacrifice, my love,” he said, taking her by the waist and pulling her close to him.

And with that, the thing was decided.

She hated that what little time they were able to steal together would shortly be even harder to come by, but she conceded that she could hardly complain at this late date.
After all, she had chosen her path years ago in that dingy room in the Hog’s Head, deciding that a part of Albus Dumbledore was better than the whole of anyone else. She asked herself now if she regretted it and decided she didn’t. She loved him. And she didn’t go in for regrets.

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Another Part of the Castle

“You may rest assured, Harry, that Professor McGonagall is quite safe,” Dumbledore said.
A sigh of relief escaped Harry. “So it was another trap,” he said.

“Oh, I doubt it,” replied the Headmaster. “Voldemort underestimates you in many ways, but even he must realise that you wouldn’t fall for the same ruse twice. Most likely, you connected with him in a dream state. You were simply a . . . guest . . . in the nightmare of a lunatic.”

“Oh,” said Harry weakly.

Dumbledore smiled comfortingly at him. “You did the right thing, Harry, coming directly to me. I’m happy to be able to reassure you. Now, if there’s nothing more—”

“But how can you be sure?” blurted Harry. “Shouldn’t we check on her or something?”

Dumbledore tried not to sigh audibly. Clearly Harry would worry until he had seen his Transfiguration professor for himself.

“Will you step into my sitting room for a moment, please?” asked Dumbledore, crossing the large office to a bookshelf opposite. Harry was startled when the bookshelf disappeared to reveal a mahogany door, which the Headmaster held open for him.

Harry was apprehensive. Had he offended the Headmaster with his doubts? He stepped into the room with trepidation.

“Wait here a moment, if you would, Harry,” said the old man as he walked across the room, opened a door opposite, and spoke something quietly into the adjoining chamber. He closed the door again and walked back to face Harry, saying nothing, but smiling beatifically.

It wasn’t until that moment that Harry stopped to wonder why the Headmaster was wearing a dressing gown in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.

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