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October 2020 Recs

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This month, I’m reccing two Minerva-centric series, one older and one new, plus an older stand-alone fic that will give you a much-needed smile in these troubled times.

The Minerva Quartet, by eldritcher, is a rich, multi-layered and bittersweetly beautiful series of four short stories revolving around Minerva McGonagall and her relationships, platonic and romantic, with several other characters, some surprising and some not, and with Hogwarts itself. It meanders about in time, which serves the narrative well as a deep look into the hearts of characters we think we know.

The author gives no summaries or ratings, but I’d put the stories at a PG-13, generally, with the occasional foray into hard R-rated territory in “How do you like your blue-eyed boys?”

It begins with “Thy Kingdom Come,” which gives us glances into Minerva’s early relationships with Albus Dumbledore and Tom Riddle during her school years, when the “Monster of Slytherin” first hunted the corridors of Hogwarts, and shortly thereafter, as she gets an education on the darkness hidden within people’s souls.

“I, Alastor” shows us Minerva through Moody’s eyes. The perceptive Alastor sees a great deal about Tom Riddle and the rivalries that govern Hogwarts, but he can’t quite draw a bead on Minerva at first. What he learns over the years, about her and about himself, isn’t comfortable, but it leads him to acceptance.

“How do you like your blue-eyed boys?” takes us back to Minerva’s POV in the aftermath of the Battle of Hogwarts, as she tries to reconcile herself to what Dumbledore and Snape have been to her, and the fact that the only person who has really understood her is a madman. She in, turn, offers understanding to Harry that no one else seems to be able to, and receives some surprising comfort of her own from an unexpected source.

“O Gentle Faustus” returns us to the first-person narrative of Minerva’s schooldays and her observations of young Tom Riddle, who sees what others do not. Minerva, in turn, observes the effects of obsession in others through the years, and of her own.

Why you should read it

These are stories about the beautiful and dreadful parts of being humans who love. They cut to the heart of what it is to long for what we know we should not want, and knowing the price, want it just the same.

The main characters are self-aware enough to understand important things about themselves and one another but often helpless to change their course, which is, of course, the most human of failings.

Eldritcher has an excellent sense of the little details that reveal character. The stories have the quality of a particularly lucid dream; they suggest things, but never hit the you over the head with them, allowing the reader to suss out the important bits and the themes that animate them, and there are occasional surprises that shock the reader out of any misplaced complacency regarding what a particular character will and won’t do.

Literary and mythological allusions and references are woven deftly through the work, and I adore the way Eldritcher makes Hogwarts castle a character in its own right.

Read the stories at Eldritcher’s LiveJournal (read their other stories, too, while you’re there; they’re all terrific.)

Nox Lumina

Stories range from PG to NC-17.

Last month, I recced “Turn the Light” by eudaemonia; now I’m delighted to rec the entire series, which comprises nine stories that trace the evolution of the relationship between Minerva and Severus. The author’s notes say it’s based on the album Lux Prima by Karen O and Danger Mouse, which I’m not familiar with, but the stories it’s inspired are wonderful, so I may have to give it a listen.

“Lux Prima” takes us into Severus’s mind at the moment he learns of Lily Potter’s murder. Despite his grief, his sense of self-preservation is intact as he navigates a Ministry hearing.

“Ministry” sees Severus begin his Hogwarts career after his reprieve from a potential Azkaban sentence. A sentence teaching at Hogwarts seems, at first, not much better, but he finds something to interest him: Minerva McGonagall and her hidden past.

“Turn the Light,” as I wrote last month, focuses on a chance encounter between Minerva and Severus that changes the nature of their relationship. Minerva has watched him grow (uncomfortably) into his role as a teacher and finds herself unexpectedly drawn to him, despite her many misgivings.

“Woman” shows us a Minerva trying to reason herself into or out of a relationship that, she soon admits, has little to do with reason.

“Redeemer” finds our not-so-happy couple grappling with the ramifications of the Dark Lord’s return on their relationship. It isn’t all doom and gloom, though.

“Drown” picks up after Minerva is hit by the four stunners. Severus visits her and hears some surprising things, including how much she means to him.

“Leopard’s Tongue” describes what can only be called a collision during Severus’s unfortunate tenure as Headmaster of Hogwarts.

“Reveries” shows us the final confrontation between Minerva and Severus, and it’s a painful, intimate look at what’s going on between them during those familiar moments from Deathly Hallows.

“Nox Lumina” finds Minerva wanting closure after Severus’s death.

Why You Should Read It

I love stories that show us what characters like Minerva and Severus keep hidden—their foibles, their doubts, and their inconsistencies.

These are not comfortable people, and there are no easy answers here. It’s a guilty pleasure to watch two intelligent characters try, and so often fail, to understand their own motivations and needs. They butt heads, rub up against one another (literally and figuratively), and ultimately provide something that neither of them finds elsewhere.

The comfort they find is matched by the pain they cause one another, as I can only imagine it would be, given these characters and their circumstances.

In addition to the delicious, delicious angst, it includes some moments of lightness and humor, which settle perfectly on these two.

And now for the lightness …

“Under the Mistletoe”

“Under the Mistletoe” by shadowycat was written way back in 2005, and it’s lost nothing in the years since.

Why you should read it

The story takes a familiar fandom trope—magical mistletoe—and uses it to show us a side of Severus that we don’t often see. It just skirts the perimeter of OOCness in a refreshing way but keeps his Slytherin sensibility and craftiness completely intact. Minerva is her sly-cat self as she leads him on a merry dance that ends just as you want it to—in satisfaction for all. A terrific respite from all the darkness and angst that often surrounds this ship without crossing over into unbelievable fluff.