Before she was Professor McGonagall, she was Minerva Macnair. After an arranged marriage forces her into an impossible situation, Minerva does what she must to survive. When she makes a new life for herself, her secrets follow and threaten everything, including the only love she has ever found.
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’s office and whatever he might have to say to her.
The gargoyle guarding his office seemed to be expecting her.
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. 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.
She took a hesitant few steps in, searching his face for any sign of what he might be feeling.
He only said, “Minerva.”
“How angry are you?”
“Pretty bloody angry.”
“You weren’t ever to know,” she said.
“And that makes it all right?”
“No. Of course not. I just mean that I never intended it to hurt you—or affect you in any way.”
“Yet you brought him here.”
“Yes. It was best for him.”
“Did you think I wouldn’t find out?”
“You wouldn’t have. Except for this . . . accident of nature.”
“That is immaterial. I know now.”
“Yes. You know now.” She hesitated. “And how do you feel about it? Other than angry?”
He closed his eyes for a moment. “I’m not sure.”
He looked at her, and a grimace of pain flitted briefly across his features. “I cannot be a father, Minerva.”
“I would never ask that. Malcolm is my responsibility.”
“No!” Albus said sharply, startling her. “He is also my responsibility. You made sure of that.”
“I never meant—”
She had never heard him shout before, and the sound shook her as the thunder used to do when it rolled off the hills near her childhood home.
“Do you think your actions have no impact on others, Minerva? Do you? Because I can tell you from bitter experience that they most assuredly do. Whether or not you intend them.”
She had no answer.
He continued, more calmly now: “Regardless of your admirable intentions, Malcolm is very much my responsibility. You cannot wave your wand and absolve me of it simply because you’d have it so.”
“All I can say is that I expect nothing from you with regard to Malcolm. He knows nothing of any of this,” she said.
“He believes Gerald Macnair to be his father?”
“Did Macnair believe it?”
“To the best of my knowledge, he did,” Minerva said. “I believe . . . I believe my mother suspects that Gerald was not Malcolm’s father. But she’s never given any indication that she knows who is.”
Minerva had often wondered if her mother suspected who the father of Minerva’s child had been. Minerva had a dim recollection of thinking of Albus during the desperate hours in which she had been nearly delirious with the pain of childbirth—thinking he might somehow rescue her with his strong magic when she had been certain she must die of it. She knew she had screamed aloud at the end, but had she spoken his name? On that point, her memory was an unreliable reporter.
Albus said, “You could have come to me, Minerva. When things started going wrong. You could have trusted me with the truth—even after Malcolm. I would have helped you both. I think that is what hurts the most. That you didn’t trust me. Did you think I would turn you both away?”
“I didn’t want charity.”
“No. You said as much the night you asked me to bed you. You wouldn’t take my money. You were too proud. But later, Minerva? Was it really better to live with Macnair . . . to subject yourself and your son . . . our son . . . to his madness?”
“Gerald wasn’t mad.”
“No? Was he a good husband, then? A good father?”
“No. But I felt I couldn’t turn to you. I thought you would hate me for what I had done.”
“I would not have hated you, Minerva.”
“And now, Albus? Do you hate me now?”
“No. But I don’t know if I can trust you.”
Oh, how that hurt! But it was no more than she deserved.
Albus had turned and was pacing away from her.
“What will you do?” she asked his back.
“Do?” he asked, turning to her again. “Nothing, Minerva. I cannot do anything. I cannot change what’s done, and I cannot change how I feel about Malcolm.”
“And how is that?”
“I care for him. He is a good boy . . . and he is your son, which makes him dear to me. But I don’t love him . . . as a father. I cannot.”
He put a large hand over his face, and she realised with horror that he was weeping. She had caused this man, who had been nothing but good to her, such terrible pain; she hadn’t considered, even in her most fearful imaginings about his discovering the truth about Malcolm, that he would flay himself with guilt over being unable to love his son.
She could only watch as he wept.
After a minute or two, he gathered his composure. She conjured a handkerchief and handed it to him. He dried his eyes, and then, to her surprise, he gave a sharp laugh.
“Funny, isn’t it?” he said.
“All I’ve done . . . all the trials I’ve faced over the years . . . and this . . . situation has me completely unmanned.”
“Children have a way of doing that,” she said. She forced herself to add: “Do you want us to go?”
“No. I cannot pretend that I didn’t consider sending you both away. But I found that contemplating that was more painful than the idea of seeing you both every day. You are very important to me, Minerva. Perhaps more than I realised.”
“And I’ve hurt you terribly.”
“For that, I am truly sorry. Will you ever forgive me?”
“I imagine so. In time.”
“And Malcolm?” It hurt her to ask, to cause him more pain, but she had to know.
“What about him?” Albus asked.
“Will you be able to stand him? As before? Be his friend?”
“I don’t know, Minerva. I don’t think it can be as before. Before I felt . . . avuncular, perhaps. Now . . . I just don’t know how to feel . . .” he trailed off, shaking his head.
“Then maybe it would be best if we went—”
“Don’t. If you go, things will never be settled between us. And I have too much unfinished business already. I don’t want you—or Malcolm—to be another on a long list of regrets.”
After a few moments, he said, “I wish, Minerva . . . I wish you had felt able to be honest with me. When you came to me with your request.”
“I wish that too, Albus. But if I had asked you outright, would you have done it?”
“Then I can’t regret it,” she said.
“No. You made that clear in your letter.” The resentment in his voice stung like salt water hitting an open wound.
She said, “And you, Albus? Do you wish it had never happened?”
He seemed at a loss for words for a moment, then he said, “I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it being so proper.”
“Which play is it?” she asked. “I can’t remember.”
“King Lear,” he said. “Another old fool.”
“He was betrayed. By people he loved and trusted.”
“But not all. He reconciled with Cordelia in the end.”
“She was the fool, I always thought. Too proud to heave her heart into her mouth. Look where it led them.”
“Yes. But I am hopeful, Minerva, that we will have a happier ending than did Lear and Cordelia.”
“I’m sure of it.”
Albus stepped towards her, and for a moment she wasn’t certain what he was going to do, but he only dabbed at the tears that had crawled down her cheeks with the handkerchief she had conjured to dry his own.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
He vanished the handkerchief, saying, “Now. Let’s have no more tears for today. Either of us.”
Albus turned and went to the window, looking out across the snow-covered grounds.
“It’s lovely, isn’t it?” he said.
“Yes, it is.”
After another moment, he asked, “He is happy, isn’t he? Malcolm?”
She smiled. “Yes. I think so.”
“Does he miss his . . . does he miss Gerald?”
“He doesn’t say. I think . . . I think he’s afraid to mention him to me.”
Albus turned and looked at her quizzically, and she said, “Our life in France was difficult. He saw more than a child should have to.”
She was glad that Albus didn’t ask more about it. She wasn’t ready to tell him the rest of it, although she would, in time. And then, she thought, she might lose him forever. But she didn’t think she could bear it just yet.
“And Alastor,” he said, “do he and Malcolm get on?”
“Very well. Alastor is surprisingly good with children.”
“Yes.” She relayed the story of the morning’s snowball fight, relieved to be talking about something ordinary again.
Albus laughed—and she thought she’d never heard a more beautiful sound. Perhaps they would come out all right in the end.
Growing serious again, Albus asked, “And does he make you happy?”
“I’m glad,” he said. “Oh! I nearly forgot.” He crossed to his desk and retrieved a small package from one of the drawers. “Your Christmas present,” he said, holding it out to her.
“I didn’t bring yours,” she stammered, “I didn’t think . . .”
He waved his hands, saying, “No matter.”
“Shall I open it?”
“By all means.”
She pulled the string holding the small parcel shut, and the paper unfolded itself to reveal an envelope upon which was emblazoned dozens of tiny black and white birds. When she opened the envelope she found two tickets, also bedecked in black and white birds.
“Tickets to the Magpies?” she asked, astonished.
“Yes. For next season. Home games, of course. I thought perhaps you and Alastor might enjoy them. Or you and Malcolm, assuming he stays in Britain after leaving Hogwarts.”
“Thank you, Albus. This is a very generous gift.”
“You’re most welcome,” he said. “Now . . . go enjoy your holiday. You’ll be visiting your parents tomorrow and overnight, won’t you?”
“Yes, if it’s still convenient.”
“Of course.” He walked her to the door, and before she stepped through it, she turned to him, saying, “Happy Christmas, Albus.”
“Happy Christmas, Minerva.”
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