every night I hope and pray
a dream lover will come my way
a girl to hold in my arms
and know the magic of her charms
Dream Lover – Bobby Darin
1956, Soho, London
Soho is as grimy as it is colourful. Against the rain-slick pavements, grey tarmac, and swollen rain clouds filling London’s skies, the feathers worn by the girls from The Windmill provide welcome splashes of orange, blue and green. The feathers quiver in the breeze, and Minerva steps to one side to let two girls pass as they move through the streets laughing and dashing as if they’re late for an important show. There’s such an eclectic hum and bustle to the place, where showgirls exist alongside the Berwick Street market traders that shout out to Minerva, cat-calling and offering their wares. Ducking her head, Minerva doesn’t stop to browse through the market stalls. She takes the most efficient route through the crowds, walking quickly with her cloak wrapped closely around her body to keep out the chill wind.
After traversing through the busy streets to try to find her way out of the Muggle world and into the magical one, Minerva pauses to contemplate the crumpled parchment with Pomona’s directions scribbled on one side. Pomona Sprout—Minerva’s best friend and trusted source for all brandy related purchases—assured her there was no finer place to purchase a bottle of plum brandy than Little Compton Street. Minerva’s determined to get only the very best to thank Albus for putting in a good word for her with Armando Dippet. She’s certain the glowing character reference from Albus secured the job offer from Hogwarts that enabled her to finally hand her notice in at the Ministry. Minerva decided to take Pomona’s advice, despite being sceptical about the existence of a street shrouded in such secrecy. The only other place Minerva knows that holds its secrets so close to the cobbles is Knockturn Alley, and she sincerely hopes Pomona hasn’t sent her on a wild goose chase somewhere like that.
“It’s very important that you don’t tell anyone,” Pomona had said. “It’s very much a need to know kind of place, not something to share with those idiots at the Ministry.”
“I won’t say a word, Pommy. You’ve known me for long enough by now to be assured of my discretion, I hope.” Not one for idle gossip and certainly not one for breaking the confidence of a trusted friend, Minerva had been offended by the suggestion that she might spill the beans to one of her colleagues. Besides, she only has one week left at the Ministry and is delighted to leave behind Harold Bagsworth and his unwelcome advances. “I rather like knowing something he doesn’t.”
Pomona knows all about Bagsworth, of course. It’s one of the reasons she worked so hard at helping Minerva see the other career opportunities available to her. Ministry politics sounds like the dullest thing. There’s never a quiet day at Hogwarts, you mark my words. Working with Pomona is another advantage to the job at Hogwarts and Minerva knows Pomona is already eager to properly show off her new greenhouse, latest shipment of Mimbulus mimbletonia and the Wiggentree she's been trying to grow.
Minerva clutches the parchment with the directions in her hand and continues to make her way through the bustling London streets, trying to avoid stepping in too many puddles as she goes. Pomona was quite cagey about what Minerva might expect from Little Compton Street, including the reasoning behind it being such a closely guarded secret. After Pomona made a cryptic remark about Little Compton Street being a far better place to find love than the bureaucratic Ministry, Minerva had made it quite clear she didn’t have time for anything of that sort. With a cryptic we’ll see, Pomona had given Minerva careful directions and the subject was swiftly changed.
Minerva can’t imagine what Little Compton Street might have to offer that would alter her staunch conviction that searching for true love is a fool’s errand. Minerva’s not the sort who believes in love at first sight, and she’s not entirely sure she believes in love—the romantic kind—at all. She spent a large part of her teenage years briskly rejecting the advances of her male peers, for the most part finding them impertinent in the extreme. She’s never understood the notion of butterflies in one’s stomach and she finds playing Quidditch eminently more satisfying than ogling the male players. Minerva can count on one hand the number of men she’s found even remotely attractive, inspired instead by the company of articulate, passionate women. Minerva focused her energies on working as hard as she could to secure a job which would enable her to live independently, reliant on nobody but herself. After leaving Hogwarts, a brief flirtation with her friend and confidant Dougal McGregor made Minerva’s heartbeat quicken and her cheeks heat when he turned her around the dance floor in a whirl of excitement. When a handful of stolen kisses failed to move her quite as she had expected they might, she was quick to put the red cheeks and momentary palpitations down to nothing more than the exertions of trotting about the dance hall with an energetic partner.
At just twenty-one and eager to make her mark on the world, Minerva simply has no time for fanciful daydreaming or dining out with male suitors in the hope of finding a husband. She dislikes Valentine’s Day—at least she dislikes the way the cost of her favourite chocolates and flowers sky-rocket—and she finds herself increasingly frustrated by the older men who approach her with condescension and misplaced flattery about her eyes, her nose, her mouth and on one particularly awful occasion, her buxom figure. She can’t abide such crass advances and would much prefer being appreciated for her sharp mind and work ethic than her appearance. She has precious little time for those that place more value on the colour of her robes than her intellectual endeavours.
Minerva isn’t against the idea of partnership exactly. She has desires that swell and flourish within her, she simply finds that the addition of a man tends to pour cold water on her interest somewhat, diminishing rather than heightening her arousal. An experimental tumble with a nice Muggle with a Scottish accent that reminded her of home left her watching the ceiling as he fumbled and murmured sweet nothings. It wasn’t unpleasant exactly, and Minerva was quite happy to explore sex with a willing partner. It just felt like trying to force a piece of a jigsaw puzzle into the wrong place. She pushed him away before they could get much beyond a little enthusiastic petting over their clothes. The mechanics of it, she’s certain, would have improved with time and practice, but she simply doesn’t feel invested enough to put her energies into something without the potential to enhance her life in a meaningful way.
Minerva is quite content with her accomplishments. Although she sometimes wonders why a set of muscular arms and a chiselled jaw fail to make her stomach coil with heat and her body flood with desire, she simply puts it down to the fact that she finds a good conversation and a shared appreciation for books far more arousing than a quick smile and a handsome face. She doesn’t let it trouble her in the slightest, and on the occasions that she desires physical intimacy, she is eminently capable of satisfying herself.
Minerva passes a huddle of people dancing in a car park, the upbeat music filtering from a nearby store. A desire to join in tugs momentarily at Minerva, the lively music beckoning to her. The group of Muggles look like they’re having a splendid time and Minerva misses the camaraderie she had with friends at Hogwarts. She made few friends at the Ministry, having nothing in common with the men eager to dress like Muggle bankers with bowler hats and stiff, grey suits, or the ones that stride around in fussy, expensive robes, talking loudly about their important work. If not for Pomona, Minerva would feel quite alone. Even Albus isn’t exactly a friend. It occurred to Minerva shortly after resolving to buy him a gift that she knows as little about his life outside of Hogwarts as she knows of a stranger’s. Minerva resists the urge to linger, a wistful nostalgia for happy days at school making her inexplicably melancholy. The longer she watches the Muggles enjoying themselves, the more alone she feels, unsure if she will ever find a group of people that respond well to her stern ways.
Leaving London will be another pleasant upside to Minerva’s career change. She understands that for some feeling the pulse of the city is a tantalising draw, but she misses the greenery of Scotland, the craggy hills and the vast open spaces where she can fly undisturbed. She’s used to Scotland’s rolling farmland and putting on her hiking boots to take a rousing walk through the countryside. When loneliness and dissatisfaction creep through her, she finds there are few places as isolating as a big city, where everybody else appears to be having the time of their lives. She enjoys her own company when she has flowers to admire, when she can breathe in the fresh country air. In London she's more likely to find rubbish and weeds.
Stopping outside a small shop just on the corner of Greek Street, Minerva shakes herself with a tut of annoyance and takes one last look at the instructions from Pomona to be sure she’s in the right place. It certainly doesn’t look like the kind of place to find plum brandy. Aside from a tiny café, the area is tatty and non-descript, the newsagents Pomona’s instructions mention huddled away beneath a dark awning, innocuous enough to be almost invisible to the average person walking through the gritty Soho area. Minerva glances upwards, reading the sign with its cursive script as if somebody painted it in a flourish. Lister’s Newsagents.
“This is definitely the place,” Minerva decides. She pushes open the door, met by a surly shop keeper who appears irritated about having his afternoon reading disturbed. The shop is so narrow, Minerva can hardly believe there’s access to anything in here and she double-checks her instructions.
“If you’re one of those lot looking for books, you want the back room.” The man jerks his thumb towards the door behind him. “Always coming in, never coming out,” he says. With a shake of his head, he returns to his paper, still muttering to himself.
A little unsettled, Minerva passes the man and goes through the tiny doorway behind the till. She’s surprised when the narrow corridor opens out into a room covered with books. Piles of them tower in precarious stacks, higgledy-piggledy shelves dusty with cobwebs. Taking a breath, Minerva makes her way to the back of the shop, supposedly the site of the entrance to Little Compton Street. As Minerva moves deeper into the dusty room, she’s still not entirely convinced the whole thing isn’t an elaborate ruse.
At last, Minerva reaches a shelf which is free from dust. The book titles are all clear and the shelves are arranged in neat rows of leather-bound tomes, as if people regularly make the time to clean that particular part of the shop. Where the rest of the books have an air of musty neglect, here everything is colourful and pristine, the quiet hum of magic palpable in the still air. Minerva finds the copy of Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness exactly where Pomona said it would be. Reaching for it, Minerva gingerly pulls it from the shelf as per her instructions. It doesn’t slip out of its place on the shelf. Instead it tips back as if on a magical hinge and the entire shelf begins to creak open. Minerva quickly steps out of the way, looking over her shoulder and wondering why the shop keeper hasn’t come to investigate. Despite her fears however, the room in the back of the shop stays just as still as it was when Minerva first entered.
The shelf opens into an archway on to a cobbled street; twisting and turning like Diagon Alley, the action just out of sight. Even the gust of air that passes through the generous opening has a different quality to Diagon Alley. The mood of Little Compton Street is different and breathing it in leaves Minerva's stomach fluttering with anticipation. There’s something so strange about Muggle music in magical space, the hum of chatter and the faint twang of rock n’ roll filtering into the newsagents. Minerva recognises the distinctive tones of Buddy Holly, and the laughter emanating from Little Compton Street is instantly warm and inviting. It’s like seeing the first rays of sun on a cloudy day, the grime of a grey morning in Soho vanishing in a flash.
With a delighted laugh, Minerva gathers her tartan cape around her shoulders and steps through the opening. The shelves close behind her, as if to protect her from the prying eyes of London’s Muggles and the other witches and wizards who walk through the city completely unaware of this pretty little street and its existence.
“Hello, Little Compton Street,” she murmurs. “Where have you been all my life?”
Little Compton Street is sunnier than the streets of Soho, which reflect the grey London day in piles of black bin bags, wet, grey tarmac and cloudy skies obscuring rooftops. The archways of Little Compton Street are charmed with the late afternoon glow of the summer sun, like the ceiling in the Great Hall at Hogwarts. Colourful ribbons flutter in the breeze as they catch on a gust of wind and the space is buzzing with people dressed in eclectic mixtures of Muggle and magical clothing. There are costumes which are celebratory and theatrical, women in exquisitely tailored suits and men drinking pints outside one of the buzzing bars. Little Compton Street lacks the seriousness of Diagon Alley, its streets alive with laughter and a palpable sense of community. It’s as though all of the best people on Diagon Alley have come here: the musicians, the dancers, the artists. There’s a sense of playfulness that skips and thrums through the narrow, cobbled street. Music filters through the air and there’s such an unmistakable feeling of life and joy, the air is saturated with it.
Minerva walks slowly, soaking up the atmosphere. She pauses outside a pub called The Gryffindor Lion. Unlike the pubs Minerva is used to, this one is so busy the crowds have spilled out onto the streets. The Leaky rarely gets busy enough to draw so many people and drinking in The Three Broomsticks is a staid, solemn affair, the tables primarily occupied by professors and Ministry workers on official business at Hogwarts. By contrast The Gryffindor Lion has the buzz of pubs in the summer about it, its sizeable crowd choosing to take their party onto the streets instead of sitting inside a dark, cramped space. Minerva is half tempted to go inside and sample one of their whiskys, but she’s worried she might stick out like a sore thumb. The Gryffindor Lion appears to be a particularly popular spot with young men and there’s not a witch in sight.
“You know this place too, Albus?” Minerva keeps her voice low, pondering over a conversation with Albus and the casual reference to somewhere called ‘The Lion’ that Minerva simply assumed was a Muggle pub. She wonders if he too knows of this street, and why he wouldn’t introduce her to it. She likes the pub instantly—the sign having a very Gryffindor-like feel to it—and she can certainly see why Albus would feel quite at home in this part of town with his extravagant robes and his appreciation for all wizarding curiosities. There are tiny cafés—a fascinating little place called The New Yorker with an array of delicious cakes in the window—bookshops, places to buy copies of the Prophet and arty little photographs, both magical and not. Although she's sorely tempted to linger, Minerva decides to find the shop recommended by Pomona for plum brandy so she can make her purchase first. She can spend the remainder of the afternoon exploring Little Compton Street, particularly intrigued by a quaint bookshop which juts out from the line of shops, cafés and bars.
Minerva makes her way through the cobbled streets, drinking in the sights from the huge courtyard with its wide green space and posters advertising open-air theatre shows to the countless shops and bars that seem so full of life. She dwells for a moment on a poster of two women in top hats, laughing together. The play is called Tipping The Velvet and, feeling oddly furtive for reasons she can’t explain, Minerva pockets one of the leaflets in the hope of returning to Little Compton Street another time. It’s been years since she’s been to the theatre, and the idea of seeing a play performed in this spectacular space makes her giddy with excitement. She extracts her scrap of parchment with Pomona’s directions and continues on, before she can become further distracted. For the first time since she accepted the position at Hogwarts, Minerva has finally found an enclave in London she would be happy to visit, time and again.
Pomona’s directions take Minerva away from the hum and energy of the main part of Little Compton Street, down a small, cobbled walkway which twists and turns up a slight incline. She comes to a stop in front of Scamander’s Spirits and presses close to the window, the array of bottles and the brightly coloured display sending a kick of excitement through her body. She carefully pushes open the door and beams at the shopkeeper, who has none of the surliness of the man in the newsagents. He seems delighted to show her the different choices, the shelves heaving with a dizzying array of cognac like nothing Minerva has seen before. Eventually she settles on a new make of plum brandy—highly recommended love, finest tipple on Little Compton Street—and a small bottle of bourbon, a first for a Scotch purist such as herself.
“Make sure you try an Old Fashioned at Gateways if you want a smart cocktail.” The man hands Minerva her bag and change. “Come back on Sunday if you can, we’re expecting a new delivery from The Isle of Skye. Fifty-year-old blended Scotch. We’re doing a tasting.” He hands Minerva a card, giving her a broad smile. “The name’s Sam. Sam Turpin.”
“Nice to meet you, Sam.” Minerva shakes the man’s hand. She’s become wary of overly polite men as a rule, but Sam is genuinely friendly and not in the slightest bit interested in making any advances, or suggesting they go for a glass of wine together. “I’m sure I’ll be back to peruse your Scotch collection when it arrives.”
“Looking forward to it. Enjoy the Gates.” Sam winks and then continues about his business, tidying the bottles and adding magical candles which show off the displays to their best advantage.
Minerva leaves the shop and breathes in the balmy summer air, still keen to continue exploring. She doesn’t particularly want to leave Little Compton Street, although she’s curious about how to leave if the Muggle newsagents closes early. None of the people going about their business seem in a particular hurry however, and she decides not to worry unduly. She looks to her left and notices a sign with the name Gateways swinging in the breeze. The bar Sam mentioned. It has a pleasing visage, with an inviting bright blue door, and Minerva is intrigued by the delicious cocktails that are apparently served inside. Even though she only intended to purchase the brandy and go about her business, something about the place beckons to Minerva. Little Compton Street is like nowhere she has ever seen with its splashes of colour and welcoming atmosphere, and she wants to stay and enjoy the place for a while longer, feeling truly at home for the first time since moving to London.
A sturdy witch in a very dashing Muggle suit tips a hat to Minerva and gives her a saucy wink, before disappearing inside Gateways. Minerva’s stomach flutters unexpectedly—she hopes her fish and chip lunch isn’t repeating on her—and her curiosity grows. As another witch with a shock of white-grey hair follows the first inside the bar, Minerva decides a small diversion wouldn’t be a terrible thing. Perhaps a cocktail or a small nip of Scotch might settle the strange sensation in her stomach?
Taking a breath, Minerva walks quickly to the door, pushes it open and steps inside.
“What can I get you, darlin’?” The woman behind the bar has light brown hair piled high on her head, loose strands falling around her face. With rosy cheeks and a broad smile, she has a cheerful, welcoming look about her that makes her instantly attractive to Minerva. She can tell from the dimpled smile and the flicker of playfulness behind the woman’s eyes that she likely has a sharp sense of humour, and if there’s one thing Minerva enjoys more than even the finest Scotch, it’s the company of a sharp-witted woman.
“I hear your Old Fashioned comes highly recommended.” Minerva smiles and extends her hand to the barwoman. “Minerva McGonagall. It’s my first time here.”
“Minerva?” A strange expression crosses the bar woman’s face, but it disappears so quickly, Minerva must have imagined it. “Very pleased to meet you. Sincerely. I’ve heard all about you, of course.”
“You know how people talk,” the woman says, airily. She begins to make Minerva’s drink, her head bowed. “I’m Elsie Ware.”
“Did you go to Hogwarts?” Minerva finds herself curious about the woman, who shakes her head.
“Aye, although I'd warrant it was before your time and I didn’t finish. I left to help with the war effort, working in one of the munitions factories in Lancashire.”
“The Muggle war?” Minerva finds herself even more fascinated by Elsie’s story. Due to her family’s remote location in the middle of the Scottish wilderness and with her time spent at Hogwarts, the impact of the war—rationing aside—didn’t touch her as much as it did others.
“The very same. My parents were Muggles. I’m from a family of twelve and the only witch of the lot. No time to learn magic when your brothers and sisters are being shipped out of the city to the country, and your ma’s trying to cope without them.”
“Wasn’t your father around to help?”
“Fighting. Died in service.” Elsie’s lips press together as she adds a final flourish to Minerva’s cocktail. “What brings you here to Little Compton Street?”
She seems eager to change the subject, and Minerva obliges. “My friend Pomona Sprout told me there’s no better place to buy plum brandy.”
Elsie laughs, shaking her head. “She did, did she? Well, she’d be right about that.” She wipes down the bar surface and throws the cloth over her shoulder. “What do you think of the entertainment?”
Minerva had been aware of the music—a smoky rendition of Blue Suede Shoes—but for the first time she really takes in the performer. Her heart gives a peculiar kick as she finds herself mesmerised by the person onstage. The gentleman has bold, distinctive features and his eyes glint with mirth as if he’s waiting to tell a joke of some sort. His smart Muggle ensemble and slicked back brown hair make him look particularly dashing. Minerva can’t help but stare at him, heat rising from her neck to her cheeks when their eyes meet. He winks, boldly, then does a very Elvis-like move, his hips moving as he plays the guitar. The crowd seem to be enjoying the show, whooping and clapping with delight, the room warm with the sound of music and laughter.
“Who is that?” Minerva whispers.
“That’s our Will. Draws in far more punters than the cocktails.” Elsie smiles broadly at Minerva and gestures to a table by the stage. “Why don’t you take a seat? Enjoy the show.”
“I will. Thank you.”
Minerva makes her way to an empty seat close to the stage and settles in it, placing her bag from Scamander’s beside her. She soon gets caught up in the music, the singer’s energy infectious. His charisma makes Minerva’s stomach flip with giddy excitement, which is most unlike her. As he moves onto a slower number, his eyes find Minerva’s and his lips curve into a slow tease of a smile. Although Minerva is tempted to look away, she's captivated by the warmth in his eyes and the way he looks her up and down. There’s nothing threatening in his gaze, or seedy. Instead he simply takes her in with refreshing honesty, his attention primarily on her face which is more than can be said for some men. Minerva isn’t sure she’s ever found a man quite so aesthetically pleasing as the mysterious singer, whose eyes are framed with thick lashes, sculpted cheekbones giving his face a pleasing architecture. As Minerva staunchly holds his gaze, she’s surprised to see a dusky pink bloom in his cheeks before he turns back to the microphone and announces it’s time for his break, his Northern accent as pleasant as his music to Minerva’s ears.
“Minerva McGonagall, isn’t it?” The man approaches Minerva’s table, small hand extended outwards with the finely tailored suit cuffs moving upwards to reveal a slender wrist.
“Indeed.” Minerva swallows and takes the offered hand which is cool and firm in her own.
“Gryffindor, if I remember correctly.”
“Yes. Although only just. The Sorting Hat couldn’t decide.” Minerva releases the stranger’s hand with a small smile. “Forgive me, I’m not sure I recall…”
“Will. Hufflepuff.” The stranger’s tone is rich and pleasing with a husky edge. “Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank, but I prefer Will if you don’t mind.”
“I thought you were—” Minerva stops, close to blurting out I thought you were a man before she catches herself. She becomes suddenly self-conscious, aware that might be a rude comment. She winces and pats her bun, cursing herself for such a thoughtless first impression. “I’m sorry. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Will.”
“Don’t worry.” Will laughs, the sound low and inviting. “An easy mistake to make. I’m what you might call a male impersonator—drag king, if you prefer.”
“Oh.” Minerva nods, as if she understands what that means. She can’t help but feel foolish, Will making her more unsettled than most people manage.
Will’s eyes twinkle and she gives Minerva a kind smile. “I’m used to confusing folk. I’m not sure I’m a very good woman, or at least not in the way we’re told we ought to be. I’m something of a hatstall myself, in that regard.” Will pulls a face. “I’m not fond of labels, but you could call me a butch, I suppose.”
Minerva makes a mental note to look up butch as well as drag king in her Encyclopaedia. “I like your suit,” she offers, for want of anything better.
“Thank you.” Will looks pleased. “It’s a Little Compton Street special, from the tailors next to Terry’s ice-cream place. The crowds go wild for Elvis. We can’t let the queens at The Gryff have all the fun, can we?” Will winks.
“The Gryff?” Minerva wants to keep Will chatting for as long as she can, even if she feels like a first year trying to learn Charms.
“The Gryffindor Lion. The gay bar down the street. They’ve a drag night on Thursdays.” Will chuckles under her breath. “I’m guessing it’s your first time here?”
“Yes.” Minerva’s heart races at the reference to a gay bar as things start to fall slowly into place. “I was buying plum brandy for a friend.”
“Finest plum brandy in England.” Will pushes her hands into her pockets and gives Minerva a curious look. “First time visiting Little Compton Street too?”
“First time anywhere like this,” Minerva says, boldly. She hopes her question isn’t rude, but the need to ask it burns through her. “Is this a gay bar too?”
“Certainly.” Will puffs her chest out, looking proud. “Oldest in the UK, even older than the Muggle ones. It’s been here forever. Little Compton Street is somewhere our sort can go, best place in the world. We don’t widely publicise it. Those who need to know tend to find out about us, one way or another.”
Minerva gestures to the empty seat at her table, a myriad of emotions leaving her unsteady and in need of her cocktail. “Would you care to join me?”
Will settles opposite Minerva and heaves a sigh of relief. “Good to get the weight off after prancing around on stage all afternoon.”
“Drinks on the house.” Elsie appears and gives Will’s shoulder a squeeze, the affectionate interaction making Minerva wonder if there’s something between the two of them. The idea of it intrigues her, even as an unexpected flush of jealousy takes her by surprise.
“Usual please, Elsie.” Will grins. “Good, wasn’t it?”
“Always looking for compliments. You know you’re a star.” Elsie gives Will a fond smile, before disappearing off to make whatever Will’s usual is.
“Who’s the friend lucky enough to get a bottle of Scamander’s brandy?” Will reaches for the bag on the table and extracts the bottle with a look of approval.
“Albus Dumbledore.” Minerva pats her bun again, watching another brief exchange between Elsie and Will as fresh drinks are deposited on the table. “I’ve been invited to teach Transfiguration at Hogwarts, largely thanks to the reference he gave to the Headmaster. I’m afraid Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry isn’t everything I thought it would be. Besides, I’m not sure I like living in London.”
“I’m not sure I’d like living in London either, but I’ve got a little flat in Little Compton Street. It’s not much—just a one bed above the toad shop near The Gryff—but it’s home. There’s only a handful of places people can live here, it’s mostly bars and shops. The landlord owns the toad shop and I get to help out with his crups when one of the girls has a litter. I’m lucky.”
“You are.” Minerva would like to live somewhere like Little Compton Street very much indeed. It’s almost as appealing as returning to Hogwarts. She gives Will a small smile. “It’s a shame I’m going back to Scotland this Autumn when we’ve only just met. I should like to see more of Little Compton Street.”
Will’s eyebrows rise and she looks amused. “You would, would you?”
“Yes,” Minerva replies. “Very much.”
“There’s school hols and a whole summer before the Hogwarts Express leaves King’s Cross. Plenty of time for me to show you around if you want.”
“I’d like that.” Minerva smiles, enjoying Will’s company enormously. “Do you entertain full-time?”
“For the most part.” Will takes a sip of her drink. “I’m at Hogwarts myself, on occasion. I’ve done all the degrees in Magizoology a person could possibly take so they ask me to substitute sometimes for Care of Magical Creatures when Silvanus gets himself bitten by his bowtruckles or goes off on one of his expeditions to find Chimaeras in Crete. I've never met a kneazle I didn’t like.”
A thought occurs to Minerva, as she shifts in her seat and her instructions from Pomona rustle in her pocket. “If you’re part of the Hogwarts staff, I assume you know Pomona Sprout. She’s the one who recommended Scamander’s to me.”
“Aye.” Will nods. “I know Pommy, and not just from Hogwarts. Her and Elsie have been together for a couple of years, now. Watching them get gooey-eyed on the dancefloor is enough to make the rest of us singletons as miserable as a hairless Pygmy Puff.”
Minerva stares at Will, unable to believe that Pomona—her best friend—would keep something like that from her. Shame worms through her, as she wonders why her friend wouldn't be happy to tell her about Elsie. Perhaps Pomona thinks Minerva wouldn't approve? The thought makes her sad, the gnawing sense of loneliness from earlier returning with force.
“Why wouldn’t she tell me?” Minerva murmurs.
“Oh.” Will looks momentarily confused, but then pats Minerva’s hand before leaning back in her seat and tipping her head as she lights a pipe. “She obviously wanted you to find out if she sent you here.”
“It's hardly the same thing,” Minerva replies, a little waspishly.
Will shrugs. “It's coming out in a roundabout sort of way. Perhaps she doesn't know how to say it out loud. Those conversations can be tricky, trust me I’ve had a few.” Will puffs out a circle of smoke and sighs with contentment. “Even if it’s someone we’re close to, doesn’t mean the words don’t get tangled up.”
“I’d like to think I would be fair. I hate to think she wouldn’t be able to tell me.”
“I think in her own way, she has,” Will replies. “I’d say the most important thing is she sent you here to Little Compton Street. You don’t strike me as a fool, Minerva McGonagall. I imagine she knew you’d clock on to things soon enough.”
“Perhaps.” Minerva recalls the conversations she’s had with Pomona over the years—the way she’s talked about her unsatisfactory romantic encounters and her appreciation of women. Considering Minerva was the brightest witch of her year it’s ridiculous to think she could have been so obtuse. She frowns. “I’ve been a little foolish. I suspect her sending me here was intended to open my eyes, in more ways than one.”
“That’s as may be.” Will puffs thoughtfully on her pipe. “Has it worked?”
Minerva holds Will’s gaze despite the flush of heat that warms her cheeks. “It has. Pommy’s quite crafty, really.”
“I’d say so.” Will grins and the warmth of her steady gaze gives Minerva the kind of butterflies she’s never experienced before. “Lucky for me she did things this way, because it means I got to meet you properly.”
“Long overdue from the sounds of things,” Minerva replies.
“I’ll say.” Will has another sip of her drink as her lips tilt into a contemplative smile. She holds Minerva's gaze for a charged moment, before Elsie hollers her name across the bar. I don't give you free drinks for sitting on your arse chatting up our paying customers all afternoon. “Looks like it’s time for my next gig. They work me like a Gringott’s dragon in this place. Will you stay?”
“Yes.” Minerva smiles at Will, her heart beating quickly in her chest. “Definitely.”
“Good. I’ll even sing you a song.” Will drains her drink, making her way onstage.
The lights in the room dim and Minerva sits back, her mind rolling with questions as the rich sound of Will’s voice carries her away.
Several days later, Minerva is looking forward to returning to Little Compton Street to meet Pomona. After finding herself with some unexpected free time during the afternoon, Minerva takes the opportunity to arrive a little early, keen to investigate the bookshop she noticed on her first visit. She wanders briskly through the cobbled streets, stopping by the bookstore and looking up at the small windows above the shop. They make her think of Will with her flat above the toad shop, and recalling their meeting sends a jolt of pleasure through Minerva.
She struggled to sleep the previous night, too hot and then too cold, as her mind worked feverishly with thoughts of Will. Even now, in the cold light of day, the memory of the light, teasing conversation leaves her somewhat breathless. She felt so at ease with Will, it was as if they had known one another for years. There had been no awkward silences, no monumental blunders, and the night had ended with a firm handshake and a quick wave. For one thrilling moment, Minerva had expected Will to kiss her, and ever since she’s been trying hard not to get distracted by imagining how such a kiss might feel.
“You’re becoming an insufferable romantic, Minerva McGonagall.” Rolling her eyes at herself, Minerva shakes away her foolish imaginings and pushes open the door to the bookstore.
The air inside is thick with the musty scent of leather-bound tomes which are stacked up to the ceiling over several levels. The shop tilts sharply to one side, and in some places even the lightest step causes tall piles of books to wobble alarmingly. Minerva makes her way through the shelves and picks up a Muggle classic she has been intending to read for some time. She busies herself in the section on advanced Transfiguration for a while, before advancing to the enormous section which contains books she’s never seen before. For Minerva, discovering new literature is like finding a missing part of herself, the final pieces of a jigsaw. She loses herself in the different sections, combing through everything with a careful eye on texts that particularly pique her interest.
She curses herself for her hot-cheeked curiosity, feeling like a teenager as she opens one particular book of photography. The pictures are of women in bars, many dressed in smart tweeds or clothes like Will’s. There are a couple of women sipping champagne and chatting together, their proximity suggesting a certain closeness that makes Minerva’s stomach flip. The book is called The Friendly Society and as innocuous as it appears on the front, the pictures soon give way to more erotic portraits. Grainy sepia tones and black and white snapshots of moments of revelry become more intimate, and Minerva lingers for a particularly long time on a picture of two women kissing and some of the artfully explicit couplings towards the back of the book. Her heart beating, Minerva takes the book to the counter and extracts some of her hard-earned Ministry money to pay for it. She can’t help but feel exposed by her purchase, vulnerable to the disinterested gaze of the shopkeeper.
“Popular book, this. We’ve sold three this week.” The shopkeeper gives Minerva a warm smile, pulling a face when he turns over the book on Transfiguration. “This, however…”
“Not much interest?” Minerva manages to keep her voice steady and casual, which is a miracle in and of itself.
“Not in Transfiguration. There aren’t many that come to Little Compton Street for academic texts—some want books on the history of the place of course, or Muggle literature. Have you seen the lesbian pulp?”
“No.” Minerva shakes her head, all further words caught in her throat. The shopkeeper doesn’t seem to think her investment in photography at all strange. If anything, he seems surprised Minerva hasn’t purchased anything else.
“It’s in that room there. For next time. We're getting new copies of The Price of Salt in next week if you like things a bit happier” The shopkeeper hands Minerva a bag. “We’ll round it down to a Galleon for the lot and I'll put the Highsmith on reserve if you fancy coming back to see us. I’ve been wanting to shift that book on Transfiguration for some time, you’re doing me a favour. Enjoy.”
“I will.” Clearing her throat, Minerva gives the shopkeeper a quick smile. “Thank you.”
When Minerva turns to wave goodbye, the man is already settled back in his seat engrossed in his book once more. She shrinks her package down into a sensible pocket-sized square and slips it into her robes. Although Minerva is eager to explore the other shops and bars, a large clock in the main square tells her she’s already ten minutes late for her meeting with Pomona, her browsing having taken more time than expected. Picking up her pace, Minerva makes her way back to Gateways, a flutter of excitement in her chest as she wonders if Will might be there again.
Minerva swallows back a flicker of disappointment at the sight of an empty stage when she enters the Gates. She scans the bar, but Will nowhere to be seen. Pushing her disappointment to one side, Minerva approaches the table where Pomona is waiting anxiously.
“I’m sorry I’m late.” Minerva unwinds her scarf and unbuttons her outer robes, putting them on an empty chair and taking a seat. “I overstayed my welcome in the bookshop.”
“How very unlike you.” Pomona grins at Minerva and gestures to a second drink. “I took the liberty of ordering for you.”
“Thank you.” Minerva sits and has a sip of her drink—a delicious whisky based cocktail—and gives Pomona a small smile. “You’re very crafty.”
“I am?” Pomona feigns innocence. “I only wanted you to see one of my favourite places in the world.”
“I think you wanted to open my eyes to more than Little Compton Street.”
“Did it work?” Pomona sounds nervous, despite her easy smile.
“Indeed it did.” Minerva folds her hands and studies Pomona. “I wish you could have told me, Pommy. I feel as though there’s been a piece missing between us all this time.”
“It’s not something I’ve been ready to talk about. Daft really, after all this time.” Pomona stares at her drink, not meeting Minerva’s eyes. “Forgive me?”
Minerva tuts. “I’m not concerned with apologies, there’s nothing to forgive. I simply want to understand.” She shifts in her seat, doubts resurfacing. “I worry you might not have trusted me with the truth. Perhaps you thought I would respond unkindly?”
“No, I never thought that.” Pomona looks up, expression fierce and reassuring. “I simply couldn’t find the words. We—none of us in our world—talk about any of this outside of these archways. This is the first place I’ve felt visible, the first place people truly understood the feelings I didn't understand myself. Even the best of us are guilty of reacting badly to things we don’t understand, and I'm sure I would have explained everything very poorly, I didn't know where to start.”
“I think I understand well enough.” Minerva extracts her book, deciding to be bold. If Pomona can be open with her at last, she feels it important to reciprocate. “I decided to get a book.”
“Ah.” Pomona is triumphant, a small smile playing across her lips as she looks at the title of the book, now shrunk down to the size of a postcard. “I know it well. A fine choice.”
“Thank you.” Minerva puts the book away again and glances towards the bar, where Elsie waves at them. “I like her. Very much.”
“I’m glad.” Pomona’s expression softens in a way Minerva hasn’t seen before. “I like her very much too. She’s one of the finest women I’ve ever known and I've been so eager for you to meet her, Minnie.”
“Then I couldn’t be happier for you both.” Minerva glances at Pomona. “I gave Albus his brandy, and he recognised it immediately. He knows about Little Compton Street too?”
“Yes. He sometimes comes here, although he’s more often found at the Newt and Niffler. An old friend of his set up the establishment, I think he’s more at home there.”
“I feel as though all of my friends were keeping secrets.” Minerva tries not to sound too put out, but she can’t help the note of frustration in her voice. She doesn’t think of herself as a judgmental person, or as someone who can’t be trusted with secrets. As much as she tries not to make the personal lives of her friends about her own feelings, she's saddened that none of them saw her as the trusted confidant she thought they did.
“It’s not easy for Albus.” Pomona’s jaw works as she looks away, her expression cloudy. “It’s illegal in the Muggle world for two men to be together, and I think he feels the burden of that. It may not be illegal in ours, but nevertheless it’s frowned upon. I fear it would compromise his position at the school, were he to live as he wished. It’s more complicated than trusting—or not trusting—a friend. I wouldn’t have known about Albus either, had I not bumped into him at the Niffler one evening. I think he was quite upset, at first. He wouldn’t come to the greenhouse for days afterwards. I had to lure him in with a story about a rare breed of Mandrakes to get him to have a conversation with me. If somebody isn’t ready to share that information about themselves, being caught off-guard can be horrid.”
“I know so little about any of this,” Minerva murmurs. “I feel like a shoot that hasn’t flowered, with roots that are still trying to feel their way through the earth. I’m ashamed of my own ignorance.”
Pomona snorts. “If there is one thing you’re not, Minnie, it’s ignorant. I know you won’t rest until you’ve studied every last brick in Little Compton Street. You'll end up with a far better understanding than most of us about Muggle legislation and the nuances of the Ministry’s position—unofficial as it may be.”
Laughing, Minerva raises her glass at Pomona. “I look forward to the challenge.”
“I thought you might.”
“Evening.” A familiar voice behind them punches the air from Minerva’s lungs. She twists in her seat to find herself face-to-face with Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank for the second time that week.
“Evening,” Minerva responds. Mercifully, her voice doesn’t leave her in the pitiful squeak it might well have done, with her heart thudding in her chest and her palms sweaty.
Pomona’s quiet huff of laughter lets Minerva know that she looks as star-struck as she feels. With a racing heart, Minerva moves her seat to make room for Will, who looks particularly dapper that evening. She makes Minerva’s heart race in her snappy suit and highly polished brogues. Minerva is mesmerised as Will discards her blazer, rolling her shirt sleeves up to reveal strong forearms and an attractive watch with a thick leather strap.
Minerva waves off Pomona as she goes to speak to Elsie at the bar and focuses on Will. “I wasn’t expecting to see you again so soon.”
“I’m a bit eager I’m afraid.” Will looks sheepish, rubbing her hand over her chin. “Elsie told me you might be here. I enjoy your company, and I’m not one for beating around the bush.”
“I appreciate people who are forthright,” Minerva replies. “I can be quite forthright myself.”
Will laughs. “I can imagine.” She sips her drink and contemplates Minerva. “I thought you might like to see more of Little Compton Street with me one afternoon. There are few places that feel as homely as the Gates, but I’d like to show you around the rest of it. I thought we could go for a stroll, then have a picnic.”
“I’d enjoy that very much,” Minerva says, the familiar fluttering from last time returning to her stomach. “I’ve been longing to look around properly. I intended to take a walk this afternoon but the bookshop distracted me.”
“I don’t blame you. A terrific little place. Not many of those books can be found in libraries, Hogsmeade or Diagon. We’re lucky to have a place that sells them.”
“I’m starting to realise that.” Minerva pats her bun, self-conscious under Will’s open gaze.
Will leans forward, her eyes shining. “Do you ever let your hair down?”
“Sometimes.” Minerva sniffs and fights back the heat in her cheeks. “I imagine you think me uptight.”
“Not at all. I’m just curious.” Will lights her pipe. “I'd say your hair looks very pretty, loose.”
“Pretty?” Minerva stares at Will, horrified.
Will holds up her hands, laughing. “Oh Lordy, have I put my foot in it?”
Minerva's lips tug into a smile, Will's laughter infectious. “Not in the slightest, but I should warn you that my hair is tangled and untidy when loose, as one might anticipate. I choose practical styles, not fashionable ones. It’s hardly going to fall into elegant waves around my shoulders, if that’s what you expect.”
“I don’t have any expectation.” Will studies Minerva, her voice gruff and sincere. “For what it’s worth, your conversation is far more important to me than how you wear your hair. In my own clumsy way, I’m trying to be charming. I like the thought of seeing you with your hair down, one day.”
A flash of heat courses through Minerva and her heartbeat quickens. There’s an intimacy in Will’s suggestion and she can’t help but picture a moment of loosening her hair with Will behind her, lips travelling along the curve of Minerva’s neck—
Minerva cuts off her thoughts in her tracks, sure she must be blushing furiously from the way Will continues to smile at her as if she knows exactly what kind of impact she’s having.
“In those circumstances I imagine you would let your hair down too?”
Minerva allows her gaze to linger where it hasn’t previously, tracing the neat row of buttons on Will’s waistcoat and then sliding up again. She can’t imagine Will misses the subtext for one moment, not least because she doesn’t have the kind of hair one would shake loose in the first place. There’s something rather predatory about drinking whisky, talking in flirtatious code and gazing so openly at Will, but Minerva’s relieved to find her open admiration met with an enthusiastic smile.
“Of course.” Will tips her drink in Minerva’s general direction and gives her a wink that makes Minerva feel like a giddy teenager. “That’s precisely how it would be in those circumstances.”
“In that case, I would like that very much.”
“I've always been clumsy with words,” Will says, around her pipe. “It's why Elsie prefers me singing, to talking.”
Minerva laughs, knowing that's not in the least bit true. “Your compliments aren’t clumsy. I’ve become touchy about misdirected flattery after two years at the Ministry. I foolishly hoped I would be appreciated for my abilities, rather than my appearance. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.”
Will makes an irritated grunt. “I can well believe it. There are those that believe all women are after is a husband, a new set of pots and pans and a copy of Rosie’s Recipes For Romance, the way to your wizard’s heart and all that. It won’t be like that at Hogwarts, in any event. I can promise you I’m not one of those lecherous old Ministry buggers that enjoy making themselves feel superior to the talented young witches they always overlook.”
Minerva shakes her head, shooting Will a fond smile. “I'm well aware of that. I don’t imagine you have a lecherous bone in your body.”
“Perhaps one or two, if the mood strikes me.” Will grins to show she’s teasing, the mood between them warm and electric. “You can always be straight with me. Even though I’ve got a decent grasp of magic and can tell you a little-known fact about any magical creature you choose, I’m a plain speaker, not necessarily a smart one. If I like someone, I tell them. I don’t want to cause offense and if you want to enjoy a drink and not feel like you’re being verbally pawed at, I’ll mind my tone.”
Minerva shakes her head, a rush of fondness making her wonder if these feelings she has for Will aren’t in danger of running a lot deeper than she first imagined.
“It’s welcome, coming from you. I’m just not sure how to respond.” Minerva glances away, her cheeks heating. “I’m not overly experienced in these matters.”
“Yet you’re fond of learning,” Will says, amused.
Minerva laughs and meets Will’s gaze again, with a surge of boldness and anticipation. “I can think of few things I take more pleasure in.”
Image Description: A drawing of Will and Minerva sitting with drinks at a candle-lit table. Posters cover the wall behind them and further back there are women dancing. Will wears a white shirt with a blue waistcoat and tie, and holds a pipe. Minerva wears a green dress with small buttons up the front. They are smiling at each other. Art by Owlpostart.
Will puffs on her pipe and holds Minerva’s gaze for a charged moment, before their conversation is interrupted by Elsie and Pomona who take the two spare seats at the table. Pomona is more relaxed than she was when Minerva first met her, the tension having ebbed away from her shoulders and her smile happy and relaxed. She’s every bit as content as when she’s experimenting with dragon dung fertiliser.
“Has this one been bothering you?” Elsie nods at Will. “She’s been on at me since you came in last. Minerva this, Minerva that. I hope you’ve been working on some new songs instead of getting distracted by trying to romance poor Minerva here.”
Will snorts, a light flush rising in her cheeks as she avoids Minerva's eyes. “I’m not trying to romance anyone, thank you very much.”
“I wouldn’t mind if you were,” Minerva replies, shocked by her own boldness. It makes everyone laugh and Minerva’s nerves dissipate, replaced by a warm, contented feeling of safety and camaraderie.
“Have you been chatting up that young buck from The Gryff again?” Will asks Elsie. She lowers her voice and mock-whispers to Minerva, the scent of her spicy cologne pleasing as she leans in close. “Elsie’s hoping he might take over my singing spot.”
“He’d have less cheek and wouldn’t be half as demanding, I’d warrant.” Elsie gives Minerva a wink to show she’s teasing. “The Gryffindor Lion doesn’t give away free drinks to the entertainment. I could save a fortune.”
“Who needs a fortune when you have entertainment like this?” Will points at herself and gives Elsie a broad smile. “Is Smithy around?”
“She’ll be in later. Try not to argue over Buddy Holly if you can help it.”
“I make no promises, El. I have very strong feelings about music.”
Minerva settles back and listens to the back and forth, heat creeping into her cheeks when Will catches her staring. She’s spent so much time blushing this evening, at this rate Will’s going to think she’s been hit with a Beetroot Hex.
Minerva McGonagall. Pull yourself together at once, she says to herself.
When Will puffs her pipe and gives her another broad smile however, Minerva has a sneaking suspicion that no amount of talking herself out of behaving like a love-struck teenager will help.
Minerva unfastens her hair with careful movements, one pin at a time. The tightly-wound strands loosen, and curls fall around her shoulders. She contemplates herself in the mirror, taking in the light flush on her cheeks and the heat which creeps up her neck, over her collarbone, and travels lower, hidden by a sensible white nightgown. She’s never been unduly concerned about her looks before and pays little mind to whether she might be seen as attractive. If anything, she resents being judged by her appearance and hates the idea that being the object of a hungry male gaze should be considered a compliment. Now she finds herself wondering how she looks to Will. How she might look to Will when she’s like this, light make-up removed, and hair uncoiled from its tight bun, just as Will suggested.
She fingers the cotton with a frown and flicks her wand to Summon the books she purchased that day, resizing them and opening the book of photography. She settles on her bed and turns the pages slowly, looking at the photographs of the women. They look so happy, so free. There’s a joyful defiance, a sense of camaraderie. The pictures come alive with the kind of emotions that span, twisted and danced through Minerva that evening as the Gates filled up and the dancefloor filled out. Women, dancing with other women. Conversations about Ministry politics without the interjection of one of the fusty Ministry elders pointing out that witches should be seen and not heard. Bright, energetic verbal sparring in the kind of company Minerva could spend her whole life keeping. Minerva brushes her fingers over a photograph of a pretty witch looking happily at a cheerful witch in a bowler hat and an excellent waistcoat. Minerva gets giddy with possibility, imagining her and Will in the photograph. She lets her senses fill with the memory of the musky scent of Will’s cologne and closes her eyes momentarily to properly picture the image of Will framed in crisp, tailored masculine lines, a deep sense of longing gripping her unexpectedly.
“You've gone long enough without losing your head over any man. Don’t now tell me you’re suddenly love-sick because a woman in a nice suit turned your head,” Minerva admonishes herself.
Despite her words, she can’t deny the heady rush of pleasure she feels around Will. It's a pleasure that answers so many questions and helps illuminate something about herself that Minerva wouldn’t have thought to contemplate, had she not been steered gently towards Little Compton Street by Pomona. With the benefit of hindsight many of Minerva’s experiences during her teen years now make perfect sense, the last few pieces of the puzzle of her romantic inclinations finally slipping into place. With a sigh, Minerva closes the book and places it on her bedside cabinet. She takes off her glasses and rests them on the book, closing her eyes in a vain attempt to get to sleep.
It’s impossible to drift of, with her body thrumming restlessly and demanding attention. Murmuring a curse under her breath, Minerva slips her hand beneath her nightgown and under the waistband of her knickers to seek out the parts of her body that usually bring her some much-needed relief. She closes her eyes and imagines Will moving over her naked body—sleek cotton and rough tweed against her bare skin. She wonders how the coarseness of Will’s guitar-playing fingers might feel against her most intimate of places. She imagines undressing Will—of being undressed by Will—the promise that lingers below the curves of Will’s hips. Images race through Minerva's mind. Slender wrist, small, cool hand, fingers clasping a pipe, holding a drink, sliding over her breasts and moving lower still. Sharp heat travels through her body and makes her skin tingle as she allows herself to dream of Will's hands playing Minerva's body like a well-tuned instrument, of feverish kisses under the hot, summer sun, on a little cobbled street under the arches.
When she reaches a heady climax, Minerva’s mouth parts in an involuntary gasp and her lips form an oh of pleasure. As the pleasure ebbs away from her she slides her hand from her undergarments and sucks in a deep breath to steady her racing mind. There’s a quiet, bothersome anxiety in the aftermath. Minerva wonders if it’s wrong to make generous, cheerful Will part of her intimate fantasies in such a fashion. She can’t help but wonder if Will would mind. Perhaps she would be as put-off by Minerva’s eager interest in her, as Minerva has been put-off by overbearing men of her acquaintance?
With a low tut of annoyance with herself, Minerva twists her hair into a loose braid and plumps her pillow, knocking it into shape.
She closes her eyes and makes a second attempt at sleep, Will's imaginary kisses still warming her lips.
The next few days pass in a flurry of owls from Will, culminating in the suggestion that they meet at Little Compton Street on Saturday. Minerva isn’t easily distracted, and yet she can’t help the nervous anticipation that flutters within her, whenever she thinks of the weekend. It doesn’t help that she has little to occupy her time. The new term hasn’t started yet and her notice period at the Ministry has officially begun. As such, she’s left to wander aimlessly around London to clear her head. The rain from the previous week has dried up entirely, the congested city muggy in the midst of an unexpected heatwave. The air is stifling, with London buses, green coaches, Hackney carriages and the odd commercial car crawling lazily along the hot tarmac. The crowds on Oxford Street swell to fill the pavements as people use holiday time to shop and ogle the huge Coca Cola sign at Piccadilly Circus or the grandeur of Buckingham Palace. The parks are full of people and the whole city has a restless hum to it—an energetic party atmosphere that matches Minerva’s mood. Although she’s itching to revisit Little Compton Street, Minerva keeps away. She doesn’t want Will to find her overly pushy and part of her wants Will to show her around properly, rather than investigating the shops and bars by herself. Minerva quells her impatience by telling herself she can always return to Little Compton Street after Saturday's meeting, to look around on her own.
Eventually Saturday rolls round, muggy and overcast. The air has a close, oppressive quality as if on the cusp of a beckoning thunderstorm that would ease the gathering tension. The weather is apt, given Minerva’s increased agitation. Her stomach is as restless as a jar of Cornish Pixies and every inch of her body thrums with an electric excitement. Shaking her head at her foolishness, she makes her way to Little Compton Street, walking briskly through the West End crowds. The owner of the newsagent is as surly and disinterested as ever, and it isn’t long before Minerva is back on Little Compton Street where the air is lighter and fresher than the pedestrian-clogged London streets. She finds Will waiting anxiously by the Little Compton Street sign, where they agreed to meet. Her face breaks into a smile when she catches sight of Minerva and she adjusts the knot in her tie, her clothes as well-tailored and attractive as ever.
“Hullo there.” Will half extends her hand, then thinks better of it, shoving it in her pocket and clearing her throat. “Lovely weather we’re having.”
“In Little Compton Street, perhaps. The West End is miserable. I'm longing for a thunderstorm.”
“You can take the girl out of the Highlands...”
“Precisely.” Minerva's nervousness dissipates as she falls into step beside Will. It helps, knowing Will is anxious about their meeting too. It makes Minerva feel less unsettled, more in control of the situation. “I’ve missed coming here.”
“You should come and go as you please.” Will gives Minerva a warm smile. “Nobody needs an invitation to visit Little Compton Street once they've found the place.”
Heat rises in Minerva's cheeks. “I wanted to wait until you could show me around properly.”
“Oh.” Will looks surprised, but pleased. “I'd better do a good job, then. You don't enjoy hoofing around London with the rest of the crowds?”
Minerva shakes her head. “Not particularly. A stroll through Hyde Park can be nice enough, on occasion.”
“London’s full of tourists at this time of year. Can't stand it, myself.” Will comes to a stop at Compton Common, pointing to a colourful sign. “There’s some open-air theatre starting in an hour or two. I thought we might have our wander then get some food and watch the entertainment.”
“Perfect.” They continue walking, with Will telling hilarious stories about the owners of difference shops or nights out at one of the many pubs and bars. It’s not a huge, sprawling space and yet there are new things to see in every little nook and cranny. Minerva enjoys listening to Will talk about the history of the shops and the bars, finding exciting new things to look at with each explanation that lends a richness and vivacity to each and every location. They pass so many bars with such interesting names: Madame Jojo’s, The Black Cap, The Joiner’s Arms and of course, The Gryffindor Lion. There are countless shops selling everything from coffee and cake to books, as well as a couple of shops with darker fronts that remind Minerva of the Adult shops and theatres in Soho.
“It’s like London, see.” Will stops opposite Scamander’s and points up, her free hand on the small of Minerva’s back. The light, steadying touch sends a thrill through Minerva and she sways a little closer to Will. “None of the history’s at eye-level, or not much of it, anyway. It’s all underfoot or at the top of buildings. All the past hidden away in the places no one looks.”
Minerva takes in a cracked terracotta sign high above Scamander’s, listening to Will’s explanation about a pub that used to occupy the site during the nineteenth century. As they’re standing there, the shop owner Minerva spoke to during her first visit comes outside to put a blackboard up advertising a new range of gins.
“Hello again.” Sam beams at Minerva, nodding his head to Will. “Alright there, Will?”
“Better than ever.” Will winks at Minerva, her cheeks flushing lightly. “Is business still booming?”
“Good as it’s ever been.” Sam looks between Minerva and Will curiously. “You didn’t make it to the whisky tasting.”
“No.” Minerva’s mind has been so full of Will, she completely forgot about her promise to return. “Another time, perhaps.”
“There’s always plenty going on.” Sam puffs his chest out, proudly. “We’ll be doing something at the Gates in a couple of weeks, if you fancied that instead?”
“I’m always up for a few drams if Minerva is.” Will grins at Minerva.
“Certainly.” Boldly, Minerva slips her hand into Will’s and gives it a quick squeeze before releasing it. “Another chance for us to get together.”
“Aye.” Will holds Minerva’s gaze, her eyes wide but her smile bright. “I’m going to carry on showing Minerva around, Sam. I’ll be in touch about this event of yours.”
“I’ll look forward to it.” Sam laughs under his breath and Minerva is sure that the electricity between her and Will is impossible to miss. Once again, a giddiness overcomes her, and a warm tug of desire settles in her belly. “Enjoy the sunshine.”
“Oh, we will.” Will takes a breath and then slips her hand, small, firm and cool, into Minerva’s. “Let’s be off, then.”
“Yes.” Minerva squeezes her fingers around Will’s, a rush of fondness overwhelming her. “Let’s be off.”
They wave goodbye to Sam and continue walking through Little Compton Street, hand in hand, with nobody giving them a second glance.
“When do you go to Hogwarts?” Will asks.
“A month or so. I think they like the staff to return a little earlier than the students to get things ready.”
“I can imagine. There won’t be much time to think when the little terrors arrive.”
“Do you teach very often?” Minerva looks curiously at Will.
“Not a lot. Mainly when Silvanus loses another arm, decides to try to fly a Hungarian Horntail again or gets attacked by a rogue batch of Nifflers.”
Minerva laughs. Silvanus Kettleburn’s approach to teaching Care of Magical Creatures is the stuff of legends that has made him part of pub conversations far beyond Hogwarts and Hogsmeade.
Will clears her throat and gestures to the nearby shop. “This is me. My little flat cost a lot less than the rest, because they put me above the toad shop.”
“There’s nothing wrong with toads,” Minerva replies. She reads the sign in the window, shaking her head. “It’s not just toads. It’s a menagerie. I think it’s a wonderful place to live. I can’t imagine why your place isn’t the most expensive of the bunch.”
“You haven’t heard the racket at feeding time.” Will seems pleased by Minerva’s comment, nevertheless. “It might seem an odd choice of flat to some folk, but it suits me down to the ground. I’ve always wanted a crup, but I’m out of the house too much. This way, I can still walk them and feed them sometimes, without taking on one of my own.” Will chuckles and extracts her keys from her pocket, showing Minerva the keyring. “Free advertising, too.”
Minerva opens her palm and the amphibian keyring hops across her finger, before settling into place and looking as innocuous as any Muggle keyring. “I like it.”
“Helps to have a set of keys that comes hopping when I whistle. I’m forever losing them.” Will glances up at the brightly lit window, presumably her flat. “I suppose it would be awfully forward to invite you in for a nightcap?” Will glances back at Minerva. “No funny business, just a nosey around the place and a glass of Ogden’s, if you fancy.”
Minerva takes a breath, feeling rather like she has her toes curled on the edge of a diving board, contemplating whether to dive in.
“I do,” Minerva replies.
She closes her eyes, and jumps.
Will’s flat is as comfortable and welcoming as Will herself, a pleasing array of books lining the shelves which Minerva takes her time to browse through. A fluffy kneazle curls around Minerva’s legs with a purr, before stalking off to watch them disdainfully from the top of a bookshelf.
“That’s Elvis. The runt of the litter, would you believe? Nobody wanted him because he looked like he’d been hit with a jinx, with tufts of fur sticking up everywhere. Not that you’d ever know it to look at him now, he’s a proper little Lord of the Manor.”
“He’s a very handsome fellow.” Minerva scratches behind Elvis’ ears and watches Will busy herself putting out fresh food and water.
“You’re not allergic are you?” Will washes her hands when she’s finished and puts her wand in a protective case, presumably to keep it out of reach from Elvis.
“Not in the slightest.” Minerva takes one of the books from the shelf, flicking through it. “I’m actually a registered Animagus. A Muggle cat.”
“Brilliant.” Will grins widely, her eyes sparkling with humour. “You’ll have to show me some time. Doesn’t that take forever to learn?”
Minerva nods. “The books aren’t lying about having to hold the leaf of a Mandrake in your mouth for a month. Albus encouraged me to learn in my final years at Hogwarts. He seemed to think it might come in useful one day.”
“You could be an Unspeakable with magic like that. A spy!” Will is excited by the idea, pouring two drams of whisky and handing Minerva a glass.
“Hmm.” Minerva makes a non-committal sound. She used to think she would end up involved in Magical Law Enforcement in a strategic position of some sort, until she realised how utterly terrible the Ministry was. As thrilled as she is to be returning to Scotland and Transfiguration, she can’t help but feel the loss of the career that drew her to the Ministry in the first place. “Teaching at Hogwarts isn’t nearly as exciting as being a spy.”
“I’d warrant you’ll have plenty to keep you entertained at Hogwarts, you mark my words.” Will takes a sip of her drink, her tone amused. “You went straight for the books.”
“Of course.” Minerva gives Will a smile. “They can tell you as much about a person as anything else.”
“They can, can they?” Will chuckles under her breath. “What do my books tell you about me?”
Minerva traces her fingers over a couple of the spines, reading the names thoughtfully. “Aside from the obvious interest in Magizoology, you’re interested in history and animals, magical and Muggle, well beyond what you would need to know for teaching Care of Magical Creatures. You love Muggle music, too. Every book looks well-read as though each one has been thoroughly enjoyed. There’s no false pretension, not one of them is for show. You dust them, which people don’t always do with their books. I think you like to read. You look after the things that are important to you.”
“Very good.” Will shifts closer to Minerva, her voice warm and pleased. “What else?”
“You like women.” Minerva settles on a couple of books that she recognises by name, having spent some time between her last meeting with Will and this one expanding her own library. “Stories about brilliant, bold, women, Muggle and magical. Stories written by women. Stories about women falling in love.”
“Funny that,” Will murmurs. “I didn’t know my bookshelf was me wearing my big gay heart on my sleeve, not that I mind. What does your bookshelf say about you, Min? Can I call you that?”
“You can.” Minerva can’t abide pet names and in complete contradiction to Will, has always insisted people use her full name. With the exception of one or two of her closest friends who can get away with calling her Minnie, very few people attempt to shorten her name and she's not sure anybody has ever called her Min. From Will’s lips however, the name Min is a delightful, secretive thing that feels just right. Like it’s theirs, and theirs alone. She puts down her drink on the table and runs her tongue over her lips, looking at Will. A jolt of desire passes through her, swift and unexpected. “My bookshelf says I read a lot—”
“—Of course you do.”
“It says I’m discovering things about myself that were unexpected but make a great deal of sense now I’ve had time to process them.”
“Oh.” Will gives Minerva a small smile and shifts closer to her. “Does this journey of self-discovery send you anywhere in particular?”
Minerva closes the gap between them, her voice lowering. “It sends me right here.”
Despite enjoying Will’s company enormously, part of Minerva had wondered if the kisses would feel no different to her flat encounters with men. She's pleasantly surprised to find that kissing Will is very different indeed. Lips move in a similar fashion, mouths open and everything is just as hot and warm as she remembers, but this time her whole body responds to the kiss with an eagerness that leaves her breathless. Minerva is intimately aware that it’s Will she’s kissing. Will is hands down the most attractive person Minerva has ever had the pleasure of knowing and it’s a little embarrassing to admit that she understands—at last—the phrase weak at the knees.
Will’s talented, clever mouth captures her own and makes her entire body thrum with pleasure. With an eager sigh, Minerva moves closer to Will, their bodies fusing together. The kiss is as easy as breathing, every slide of their tongues sending a hot coil of pleasure through her body. Will pulls back with a laugh when Elvis jumps off the bookcase and begins to curl himself around them as if he wants to join in whatever game they’re playing.
“Sorry about him,” Will says, sheepishly.
Minerva shakes her head, her heart racing. She takes Will’s hand, unsure of the etiquette or how to make her desires known. It’s rare for Minerva to feel at a loss for words but she finds it impossible to begin to articulate what she wants, to find the words for something she has never really known. How does one even ask to be taken to bed? Despite years of being forward and confident in herself, Minerva finds herself quietened into a strange submission by the headiness of the kiss, an unfamiliar bashfulness creeping through her and leaving her cheeks hot.
Mercifully, Will seems to understand perfectly. Without another word, she squeezes Minerva’s hand and leads her through the quiet flat.
“I don’t do this much, despite what Elsie or Smithy try to tell you.” Will gives Minerva a sheepish smile. “A few lasses here and there. I flirt a lot, I enjoy kissing, but this…not so much.”
“You don’t enjoy it, or you don’t do it often?” Minerva raises an eyebrow at Will. “For the record I should note I don’t do this at all. Once, to a point, with a man. Never with a woman.”
“I enjoy it alright.” Will pulls a face, clearly thinking. “Bits of it, anyway. I’m a strange fish.”
“I'm sure you're no stranger than most,” Minerva replies. She settles on the bed next to Will, lying so they’re facing one another, both still fully clothed. “The last thing I want is for you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. You might have to help me out as we go.”
“I'm not uncomfortable, Min,” Will replies, gruffly. “It’s not that I don’t enjoy the doing. I’m just not so certain I enjoy the being done to. Does that make it clearer?”
“A little, I think.” Minerva brushes her fingers along Will’s arm, the thick tweed thick and warm beneath her fingers. Her words get caught in her throat and she finds herself quite unable to put a sentence together properly. “I’m not usually quite so tongue-tied.”
“Me neither,” Will says. She clears her throat. “I should probably warn you I use magic to flatten things down a bit.” She gestures across her chest.
“No warning necessary.”
Even with the nerves jostling around in her belly, she Minerva is certain that she wants this, whatever this might be. From the moment she laid eyes on Will in the Gates, this moment seemed inevitable. Will seems to feel similarly and the time for conversation is over as they fall into another kiss. There’s nothing to rush towards, no unwelcome pressure for anything more or hands groping unpleasantly around. The kisses themselves move Minerva more than anticipated and it’s not long before the breathlessness of them turns the deep, searching kisses into something messier, urgent and out of control. They undress one another without magic and although it’s not smooth or elegant—Will has far too many buttons and Minerva’s jumper gets caught on the pins holding her hair in place—it is, nevertheless, perfect. By the time they’re stretched out again in the warm light of the setting sun, everything is exactly as it should be.
“Pretty.” Will fingers a long strand of Minerva’s hair, her eyes as warm as her smile. “I know you might not like the word much, but I want to tell you. You’re so lovely, Min.”
As much as Minerva dislikes her appearance being the focus of attention, in this circumstance she takes it as the compliment it's intended to be. Truthfully, she does feel pretty under the heat of Will’s gaze that warms her skin and makes everything tingle with anticipation. More than pretty. She feels wanted, desired. It’s far too soon to speak of love, but there’s a safety in Will’s hunger, a fondness and frank, honest care for Minerva that carries so much more than the flare of interest from unwelcome on-lookers like Minerva’s former Ministry colleagues.
At work Minerva would try to erase aspects of her femininity to make her seem more professional and severe. Here, with the sounds of Little Compton’s Street’s music faint in the background, she's happy to be completely on display. She welcomes it, inviting the curve of Will’s happy smile against her skin and basking in the heat of her gaze that settles on her body like the warm rays of the sun. She stretches out, cat-like, enjoying the way Will takes in the slope of her breasts, the tidy thatch of dark hair between her legs, the way her hair falls in loose curls around her shoulders, over her breasts. She drinks in Will too—the pleasing thickness of her frame, those guitar-playing hands now equally firm and tender on Minerva’s skin, the thick crop of her hair and the twinkle of humour behind her eyes.
Minerva can’t help the low moan of pleasure that escapes her as Will kisses over the curve of her breasts, kneading one in her hand. The light breeze in the room travels over her nipples, now stiff peaks and incredibly sensitive to every movement of Will’s lips, tongue. Every movement intensifies the contrast between the chilliness of damp skin exposed to air and the hot suction of Will’s mouth.
Minerva allows herself to be thoroughly explored as Will’s mouth travels lower, her breathing getting shallow as Will reaches her destination. There’s such intimacy in this. For someone as keen to retain outward control as Minerva, the notion of giving in so completely to somebody else’s tongue and fingers is a strange one. Yet there’s also a fire that burns fiercely within Minerva. A strong, powerful urge to explore the yearning that’s been building steadily within her since she first discovered Little Compton Street.
“You’re so wet,” Will murmurs. “You taste even better than the most expensive bottle at Scamander’s.”
“Honestly, Will.” Minerva laughs, breathlessly. “You don’t need to constantly flatter me. I’m quite comfortable.”
“Comfortable, eh?” Will looks up, a small smile playing across her lips. She looks so handsome in the half-light, her eyes a deep, warm hazel that Minerva could look at forever. “Maybe I should stop talking before you start thinking sex with me is as relaxing, like a mug of hot milk and a chocolate digestive.”
Minerva’s laugh bursts from her, free and happy. She pulls Will up for a fierce, eager kiss that quickly chases the last bit of nervous humour away. When Will gets back to work, this time there’s no laughter, just the curve of Will’s smile against Minerva’s skin, the talented movement of her tongue, the sure path of her lips. As Will slides her fingers into Minerva’s body and kisses, sucks and licks at Minerva, she isn’t sure quite how many times she reaches a dizzying, bone shaking orgasm, only that her pleasure crests in waves until everything is hot, sweaty and sensitive to the touch.
“I feel incredibly lazy,” Minerva says, breathlessly, sometime later. Her head is swimming, heat pooling lower in her body and everything is so warm and wet in the aftermath of pleasure she doesn’t ever want to come down from the intense high. “I’m letting you do all the work.”
Will moves up on the bed and tips her head to look at Minerva with a grin. Her cheeks are flushed and her eyes sparkle with mirth.
“Turns out I like doing the work.” Will pauses, a note of doubt creeping into her voice. “Do you like it too?”
“Yes.” Minerva slides a hand into Will’s hair, her voice rough as she kisses Will, groaning when Will’s fingers find her again, pressing closer, desperate for more of that maddening pleasure. “Yes, I like it very much.”
“Well, then. Don’t stop yourself from having fun under any misguided notion that I’m not enjoying things every bit as much.” Will returns to her task, humming against Minerva’s neck and she moves her fingers inside Minerva and out again with ease, the slickness of Minerva’s arousal easing the passage. Minerva swallows and strokes her fingers along the short, coarse base of Will’s hair.
Her voice sounds gravelly and unfamiliar to her own ears, but her words ring with the eager truth of her heartbeat. “It’s good Will. Don’t stop.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” With a groan of pleasure, Will resumes her movements with a focused urgency. Her fingers move faster inside Minerva, who slips her leg wantonly over Will and pulls her closer still, losing herself completely in Will’s kisses and the taste of herself on Will’s lips. When she comes to a shuddering climax, Minerva shouts out Will’s name.
Although she will deny it later that night, curled up with Elvis and Will with a mug of hot cocoa and a Rich Tea biscuit, it’s entirely possible her toes curled.
“Morning.” Will rolls over, short hair sticking up everywhere. She has a broad grin on her face, and she presses a light kiss to Minerva’s shoulder in a way that makes her feel instantly relaxed. “Are you in any rush? Terry—his shop’s next to the tailors—does a brilliant coffee. I could treat us to almond croissants, even if the last thing I need is a croissant.”
“You’re perfect.” Minerva gives Will a quick kiss and pulls back to contemplate her. “Perfect, just as you are.”
“I think you need glasses, Minerva McGonagall.” Will chuckles under her breath and stretches out like a contented kneazle. “Do you have somewhere to be?”
Minerva drinks in the sight of Will and her body thrums with excitement and anticipation.
“No,” she replies. Her heart kicks and trips, and she wants nothing more than to spend the rest of the day with Will, sipping coffee and exploring Little Compton Street with rich, buttery, almond croissants in hand. For the first time in her life, she can imagine whiling an afternoon away in bed, curled up by Will’s side.
“I’m exactly where I want to be,” Minerva says.
The morning sun shines down on them, bright and eager with possibility.
woke up this morning feeling fine
there’s something special on my mind
last night I met a new girl in the neighbourhood
something tells me I’m into something good
Something Good – Hermin’s Hermits
1960, Minerva McGonagall’s Private Quarters, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
“Close the curtains, Min,” Will grumbles from her warm spot beneath the duvet. “It’s too early for this nonsense.”
Minerva obliges with a flick of her wand. The room darkens once again, save for one stray sunbeam which catches Will’s brow as she shifts onto her back with a gentle snore. Elvis—obviously not one for being left home alone by himself—mewls and wanders from the room, his fluffy tail swishing as if he disapproves of their laziness. Minerva turns back to watch Will sleep, following the curve of her smile. It’s the sort that implies good dreams about raising young dragons and starting a home for abandoned crups. She traces Will’s morning-soft skin and curls up beside her for added warmth, pressing her ear to Will’s chest to listen to the steady beat of her heart. She slides her fingers down Will’s chest and over her gently sloping belly, letting her fingers dance lightly against Will’s skin.
Minerva can’t believe it’s been four years already since she first set eyes on Will in Little Compton Street. The rest of the fifties passed in a flash and Minerva took to her new job at Hogwarts with renewed vigour, finally certain she’s exactly where she should be. She still wonders if she would have made a good spy, but most importantly of all, she knows she makes a damn good teacher. The students seem to take to her balance of firm but fair, and she gets a genuine thrill from seeing them improve from bright-eyed first years. She takes particular note of talented young witches, making sure that they are not being overshadowed or overlooked by their male counterparts, knowing that when they go into the working world their jobs will be made harder by virtue of being witches instead of wizards. In terms of Minerva’s own job satisfaction, the relief of being free from Ministry politics and bosses that almost certainly didn’t appreciate her worth was sudden and swift and her position at Hogwarts makes her feel valued in the workplace at last.
Then there’s Will. Brilliant, beautiful Will, who has been Minerva’s staunchest ally from the moment of their first dizzying night together in Will’s tiny flat on Little Compton Street. Minerva smiles as she traces the ill-advised tattoo that adorns Will’s upper arm, its lines shaky and confused. The colours have faded slightly since the early nineteen-fifties, but the somewhat forlorn looking Pygmy Puff is still easily identifiable.
“Merlin’s beard! That was a night and a half,” Will had told Minerva over a dram of whisky. “I’ll tell you something, Min—never trust a Hufflepuff.”
Minerva smiles, and clasps Will’s hand. The movement elicits a soft snort, a pause and then another light snore of contentment.
Minerva often watches Will when she sleeps, although she would deny doing anything of the sort if confronted directly. There’s something so perfectly peaceful about their early mornings. Minerva has always been independent, and Will is as fiery and feisty as Minerva in her own way, but despite their heated debates on everything from Magizoology to Muggle history and Ministry politics, it works. They work. Minerva wasn’t sure it was possible, before Will. There’s a power to contentment, a strength in their bond that some days has her worrying if it’s just all too good to be true. Minerva runs her fingers lightly through the tufts of brown hair that rise from Will’s head in messy spikes and her lips tug into a smile as if she’s having the most pleasant sort of dream. Will is full of swagger and confidence, eminently comfortable in her own skin. Even when she’s dreaming, Will emits an energy that draws Minerva to her with magnetic force.
“You’re wonderful,” Minerva tells Will’s sleeping figure. “I really do believe you’re capable of anything.”
Will’s smile widens. “I’m trying to sleep and you’re a horrible distraction.”
Taking umbrage with the description, Minerva settles back with a sniff. “You sleep far too much. It’s a gloriously sunny day and we could be out walking the grounds before breakfast.”
“We could,” Will agrees. She shifts up onto her elbow and contemplates Minerva, blinking her eyes open as she yawns. “There are other things better than traipsing around outside though.”
“What things?” Minerva sucks in a breath as Will’s mouth places damp kisses on her jaw, travelling lower to Minerva’s neck. “Oh, I see. Those things.” Will’s skin carries the faint scent of tobacco and musk and her early morning kisses still leave Minerva weak at the knees.
“Yes, those things.” Will’s voice is muffled against Minerva’s skin, her talented fingers already sending sparks through Minerva simply by pressing lightly against her heated flesh. “They strike me as much more appealing than hoofing round the Great Lake at dawn.”
“I suppose one morning in bed wouldn’t hurt…” Minerva trails off with a gasp as Will slips under the duvet, her hot kisses sliding down Minerva’s body and reaching her belly button before moving lower still. “Will.” It is supposed to be an admonishment, but it sounds very much like please.
Minerva sighs, quite happy to give in to Will’s ministrations. She parts her legs willingly and pulls the duvet down so she can see Will. She would hate for Will to suffocate under all that goose-down, although she can imagine Will being somewhat proud if that occurred. What a way to go, Min. I’d be bragging about that to all the other ghosts.
Minerva smiles and brushes her fingers over the back of Will’s head, her breath faltering as Will begins doing wonderfully wicked things with her tongue.
Will reaches up to clutch Minerva’s free hand and squeezes it, in a can’t talk now kind of motion, her mouth doing a particularly fine job of convincing Minerva to skip her brisk morning wander.
The walk can most definitely wait.
“Is something funny Mr Yaxley?”
“No, Professor,” Corban Yaxley replies smoothly. “Nothing at all.” His smile is cold, his features sharp and hard as he studies Minerva.
“Then I suggest you stop whispering and concentrate on your work.”
“Of course.” Yaxley’s smile doesn’t meet his eyes and they take on a curious gleam as he continues to watch Minerva closely, almost as if he’s trying to deliberately unsettle her. “Is Professor Kettleburn unwell again?”
“Not at all.” Minerva frowns at Yaxley. “Why would you ask?”
“I saw Professor Grubbly-Plank leaving the castle this morning.” The glint in Yaxley’s eyes turns triumphant as a couple of students mask their laughter with coughs as Minerva glances at them sharply. “I assumed she was here to teach Care of Magical Creatures again. What other reason could there possibly be?”
An icy cold grips Minerva and she keeps her expression implacable, determined not to allow a student, especially a Slytherin, to get the better of her. Silvanus Kettleburn has (remarkably) managed not to lose his arm, get thrown from a dragon or get bitten by one of the creatures in his care for several months. With the Care of Magical Creatures position adequately filled, there could be no reason for Yaxley to enquire about Will. The fact he’s so eager to find out about Will’s presence in the castle suggests that idle gossip about the nature of her relationship with Minerva is already starting to spread, despite them both being careful about the frequency with which Will visits Hogwarts.
Minerva can’t help but feel naïve. With Little Compton Street so well hidden and many of her friends successfully keeping the details of their private life out of the curious gaze of students, she never dreamt people would imagine Minerva’s relationship with Will to be anything other than platonic. She herself had barely even realised such a relationship was possible until stumbling across Will, Elsie and the rest of Little Compton Street in her early twenties. Despite being nearly thirty, Minerva has never spoken publicly about her private life simply because she has never enjoyed being gossiped about and she can’t see what her love-life has to do with anything. Perhaps her close friendship with Albus and Pomona—both intensely private—has made her especially cautious, or perhaps it’s simply that Minerva has never felt particularly happy about the idea of being defined by her partnerships, being gossiped about or allowing intimate details of her life to become fodder for public comment.
Now, Minerva regrets letting her guard down. To simply assume her students would think Will a close friend and nothing more was a rare error of judgment. Minerva may have been slow to discover and embrace the word lesbian, but that doesn’t mean others would be quite so naïve to the workings of the world.
“We’ve been around forever, Min,” Will had said to her one balmy night as they strolled through Little Compton Street. “We’re in all the history books. Two women, living together, growing old together, dancing together. Those that tell the stories just don’t see it for what it was. They’ve never been able to tell our tales, because they wouldn’t know where to start. That’s why it seems like we’re invisible. They rub out the bits of us that they don’t think are a proper part of learning. We become strong lasses that refuse to take a husband, friends, two barmy old women crocheting together in their nineties like they haven’t been up to all sorts in the bedroom. Lesbians, gender variant folks, gays, those that like witches and wizards both. We’re all there, woven into the centuries, right back to the beginning of time. You just have to look a bit harder to find us, like the history on the buildings. You just have to look above eye-level and learn how to read the terracotta on the walls.”
Minerva swallows, thinking back on Will’s words. She had assumed that people wouldn’t see what was right in front of their noses unless it was pointed out to them. It was ridiculous to suppose a younger generation of students might be as naïve to the ways of the world as Minerva was in the fifties. A wave of anger at her own foolishness makes her snap at Yaxley.
“That’s quite enough.” Minerva returns to her book and flicks her wand to turn the pages of the textbooks. “You will study in silence until the end of the class.”
She ignores the low whispers and at last the students return to their studies. The silence grows steadily more oppressive, quills scratching against parchment like nails against a blackboard. Every breath or whisper makes Minerva look up sharply, as if one of the students is about to expose her to the rest of the class or confront her with questions she isn’t prepared to answer. Her time with Will so far has been so blissfully easy, that this strange, hot-cheeked shame that worms within her is a most unusual and unwelcome feeling. She curses herself for being so open, as if the corridors of Hogwarts have any of the safety of the narrow alleys of Little Compton Street.
Finally, the class draws to an end. Minerva dismisses the students with a curt, clipped tone. As the final pupil leaves, Minerva sits back in her seat and takes in the empty classroom. Her stomach turns, fear making her nauseous. She doesn’t know what would happen if she were to reveal the secrets of her private life, but from Yaxley’s mean smile and the fastidious care taken by Albus to ensure the public don’t learn of his secrets, Minerva can only imagine that her cherished position at Hogwarts might be at risk. Although the more tempestuous part of her wants to throw caution to the wind, she knows that within Hogwarts she could make a meaningful difference and she wants to be able to teach without distractions caused by whispers about her personal life.
After gathering her things together, Minerva makes her way briskly through the corridors. Every burst of laughter from pupils huddled in groups of yellow, blue, green and burgundy is more exposing than the last. It’s as if their laughter is all about her—as if she’s walking through the corridors of Hogwarts with the word lesbian shimmering like magic above her head. She picks up her pace, swallowing back the fear and discomfort that threatens to overwhelm her. She’s not ashamed. She would never be ashamed of Will. Brilliant, wonderful Will.
Yet Minerva knows no matter how hard she battles with the feelings inside her, there’s a creeping fear that comes with teetering on the cusp of being discovered, a worry about the consequences of living as boldly and unapologetically as Will appears to manage with such ease.
She shakes the unpleasant thoughts from her mind and makes her way back to her quarters to retrieve her broom. There are few things that ease the mind as much as a good book and flying in the rain. She hopes that a brisk turn through the cloudy skies will help chase away her concerns and determines not to let one obnoxious student ruin the most important relationship of her life.
Being back at the Ministry is the one part of Minerva’s job that causes her the most displeasure. She understands the need to have somebody from Hogwarts liaising with the Ministry and is pleased Albus trusts her with such a task, but she can’t stand returning to the place that brought her such unhappiness as a young graduate fresh out of Hogwarts. It’s difficult to believe that she gave up her job there nearly a decade ago, when so little about the place has changed.
Just as it’s always been, the Ministry is fusty, and male dominated. Even the turning tide of socially progressive people racing to the top echelons of Ministry politics haven’t eradicated those that believe social progress to be harmful. There are too many people waiting in the wings, patiently biding their time as if they’re waiting for a new world order to come in and take the reins. They speak in pompous, scathing tones about any proposed legislation designed to protect marginalised groups and they gather in dull, tight-knit groups, complaining under their breath and throwing their weight around at any given opportunity.
It’s as if they want to make clear their relevance—to demonstrate that the hallowed halls still belong to them, whatever others may think with their visions of a better future for those who require the most protection in the wizarding world. The corridors have all the usual opulence and the thrum of magic that once seemed so powerful and exciting is now oppressive and stifling. The gilded statues have lost their sheen and even as the Ministry shines as brightly as it ever has, Minerva can’t help but see tarnished things, the flaws and cracks invisible but deep and present. One day the cracks might all join together into one deep gulf, and people will take up arms on either side.
“Minerva McGonagall! To what do we owe this pleasure?”
Minerva rolls her eyes. Speaking of tarnished things. She turns, fixing her face into a smile that she hopes doesn’t look as forced as it feels. “Good afternoon Harold.”
“Yes, indeed.” Already distracted by Minerva’s tartan-covered chest, Harold’s smile is even oilier than Minerva remembered, his hand sweaty as he extends it for the shaking. Minerva tries not to wrinkle her nose as she shakes the offered hand, quite sure Bagsworth is the sort who sneezes into his hand and doesn’t wash it.
“A productive meeting, I thought.” Minerva didn’t think the meeting was productive at all, but it’s the kind of platitude one not wanting to aggravate the Ministry too much should make. For reasons she can’t yet fathom, Albus seems to have decided Minerva should keep her cool around even the most odious of Ministry employees, which is the only reason she entertains people like Harold at all.
“Highly productive.” Harold crowds into Minerva’s space, putting a casual hand on her arm. “However, I think there is more to discuss. The choices made by Dumbledore at Hogwarts—a man who could have been Minister had he not had such unconventional ways of thinking—are causing some rumblings.”
Minerva tuts and takes a small but pointed step away from Harold. “Albus has revolutionised the way things are run at the school and students and staff alike are happier for it. The Ministry should focus on its own affairs and allow those of us at Hogwarts to focus on ours.”
“You and I both know that’s not how this works.” Harold moves closer again, seemingly unphased by Minerva’s attempts to put distance between them. “I believe a more intimate relationship between the two institutions would be beneficial for all concerned.”
Minerva’s stomach rolls and she’s suddenly aware of the quietness of the corridor and the absence of other workers in the vicinity.
“I can’t imagine what you mean.” Minerva begins to walk, eager to get away from the empty space to somewhere Harold is less able to crowd her, away from prying eyes. “The Ministry and Hogwarts have always had a professional relationship which is quite intimate enough.”
“Come, come, Minerva.” Harold stops her from walking, his fingers circling around Minerva’s arm. “You can’t be unaware of my desires?”
“You can’t expect me to attend to them in the event such desires are misplaced?” Minerva retorts, snapping with impatience. She shakes her arm loose with an aggravated huff, her stomach rolling as Harold continues to occupy her space.
“I always understood you to be an ambitious young woman.” Harold’s voice dips, the teasing cadence of it taking on a cool, unmistakably threatening undertone. “I would invite you not to be so reckless in your consideration of what would be an undeniably advantageous union.”
Minerva snorts. “Advantageous for whom?”
“For both of us, I expect.” Harold’s smile is back, his eyes flicking over Minerva’s body. “I imagine you would be eminently satisfied by our meetings.” He leans closer, his pungent breath as repulsive as the firm hand that settles itself around Minerva’s wrist and squeezes. “You need to learn to let yourself go, Professor McGonagall. Enjoy yourself a little more.”
“Stop this at once.” With a grunt of annoyance, Minerva pulls herself away from Harold’s clutches and folds her arms across her chest. Her anger overwhelms her—anger at the Ministry for appointing men like Harold to positions of such power and influence, and their uncanny knack for turning a blind eye to behaviours that are so quietly tolerated.
Minerva is quite certain that Harold and his cronies are part of the rot that stops young women from progressing through the Ministry. Too many young witches arrive at the Ministry and leave before they can fulfil their dreams of rising through the ranks, unable to contribute to the running of the wizarding world because of the men that view them as subordinate. She wonders how many witches have been coerced into one of Harold’s beneficial liaisons and the thought of it makes her nauseated.
“There will be no union,” Minerva snaps. “No intimacy. If you cannot remain professional, I will be forced to raise this with your superiors.”
“Don’t be foolish.” Harold’s unphased by Minerva’s response. No doubt his superiors would laugh at Minerva’s rejection of Harold’s unwelcome advances. They would probably use words like frigid. “You’re making a grave error.”
“I’m making no such thing.” Fire flames within Minerva and she leans close to Harold to show him that he doesn’t intimidate her. “You’re barking up the wrong tree, Mr Bagsworth. I have no more interest in wizards than I have in Slytherin winning the House Cup, Flobberworm flavoured ice-cream or being hit with the Cruciatus Curse.”
An expression of disgust crosses Harold’s features and he pulls back, adjusting his robes primly. He refuses to meet Minerva’s eyes, his cheeks almost puce with anger.
“You would do well to keep details of your unnatural desires to yourself, in that case.” He looks up and gives Minerva a tight, mean smile. “I can think of a few people who would question your suitability for teaching, if such proclivities became known.”
The same fear that has clawed at Minerva since Yaxley’s pointed comments a month or so ago returns. Of all the people she could have allowed into the innermost sanctum of her life, Harold Bagsworth is one of the few she should never have trusted. Even if her disclosure was an attempt to stop his lecherous advances, it was foolish in the extreme. It could compromise her position at Hogwarts, at the Ministry. It might put others she associates with in danger or leave them exposed against their will. Attempting to swallow back a wave of panic, she steels herself against the fear and shame that rolls through her, hating that this odious man can make her question the good and beautiful things in her life. She reminds herself that Harold Bagsworth is a hateful example of everything wrong with the Ministry of Magic and, most importantly, that he is no match for Minerva McGonagall.
“I suggest you are very, very careful about threatening me,” Minerva says, voice icy and calm. “Might I remind you that the Ministry has no ability to interfere with the appointment or dismissal of teaching staff.”
“We’ll see about that.” Harold leans in, his breath the repulsive stench of rotten things. “The Ministry is no place for dykes and queers.”
Minerva’s reply sticks in her throat, Harold’s mean smile holding. It’s only because for some godforsaken reason Albus requires her to keep the Ministry on side that she doesn’t wipe the grim smile from Bagsworth’s face. She takes real pleasure in imagining how he might hop around the place in agitation if she turned him into a weasel.
“Good day, Mr Bagsworth.” With a dismissive glance in Harold’s direction, Minerva wraps her tartan cloak more tightly around her and strides through the Ministry. The lifts are full of workers leaving for the day, the bodies tightly packed and the air hot and claustrophobic. By the time she’s finally outside in the cool London breeze, Minerva is desperate to breathe in the freshness of the early evening, taking greedy gulps into her lungs.
Minerva’s plan had been to go to Little Compton Street to meet Will, but she can’t imagine spending the evening drinking cocktails and chatting to Elsie, Pomona and others as if nothing had happened. With trembling hands, she ensures nobody is watching and beckons to an owl she recognises as part of the postal service, scribbling Will a quick note to let her know she’s taken an unexpected turn. As the owl flies off towards the stormy clouds, Minerva pushes her trembling hands into her pockets.
Taking another shaky breath, she takes a final look around to ensure there’s nobody nearby before Apparating to the gates of Hogwarts.
“I want to lodge a formal complaint.” Minerva’s voice shakes, her hands trembling again. She twists them together and steels herself, keeping her voice level. “Against Harold Bagsworth.”
“Oh.” Albus pulls a face and busies himself pouring two generous glasses of brandy. “Him.”
“Yes, him.” Minerva unbuttons her cloak and places it on a chair, sitting heavily and taking the offered drink. “I had hoped the Ministry might have changed a little since my time there. Nothing’s changed at all. Nothing.”
“That’s not entirely true,” Albus replies, easily. “Nobby’s election as Minister last year marked quite a turn for the Ministry. The first Muggle-born to hold that position, no less.”
“Then there should be no issue with processing my complaint.” Minerva takes a calming sip of the brandy, the sweetness and the strength of the liquor doing little to quell her fury. “The nerve of the lecherous old fool.”
“May I ask what happened?” Albus takes a seat and contemplates Minerva over his glasses.
“Years of assuming he could make unwelcome advances when I was a junior in his team and today—” Minerva stops, the words making her so angry it’s difficult to articulate her rage. She takes a breath and continues when she’s able to do so. “He called me a dyke because I rejected him. Because I have as much interest in him as I do in attempting a Wronski Feint in a field full of hornets.”
“He assaulted you?” Albus asks, quietly.
“Not in so many words.” Minerva glares at Albus. “He strongly intimated it would harm my career and my social standing if I didn’t entertain him. Must he force his hand up my skirt before I’m to be taken seriously?”
“Of course not, I simply—”
“—He’s a man in a position of significant power who uses his influence to try to coerce women into bed with him,” Minerva interrupts. She has no time for any clumsy attempts to condone Harold’s behaviour and Albus would do well to keep quiet for a moment. “That’s assault. Not in the crudest of terms, perhaps, but an assault nevertheless. He must be stopped. The Ministry has plenty of other bigots lined up to take his place.”
Albus contemplates his glass for a moment, before looking up. “If I can offer you my personal assurance that Bagsworth will be dealt with, would you consider the matter closed without making an official complaint?”
Minerva’s anger increases and she’s minded to throw her brandy at Albus. “That behaviour is by no means an isolated incident at the Ministry. Do you realise that?”
“I do.” Albus nods, his expression grave as well it should be.
“Going through the official channels forces the Ministry to take a position on such things.” Minerva is so tired of the Ministry, so angry at their constant desire to turn a blind eye to such abuses of power. She gives Albus a frosty look. “I came here because I expected you to understand. You’re supposed to be on our side in this, Albus. Have the Muggle-borns and werewolves you fight to protect taken up so much of your time you have no energy left for us witches? For your own community of dykes and queers?”
Minerva snorts under her breath, her disappointment in Albus growing steadily.
“I’m not suggesting that we don’t hold Bagsworth—and others like him—culpable, I just don’t believe the mire of Ministry red-tape is the way forward.” Albus rubs his beard and looks away, deep in thought. “I’ve had to compromise my own beliefs on countless occasions.”
“This isn’t about compromising beliefs, Albus. This is about doing what’s correct. About protecting those that might not feel as bloody minded as I do when I’m around men like Harold.”
“—I can assure you, you don’t!”
“No.” Albus sobers and he studies Minerva, falling silent at last. “I don’t understand. I know my own difficulties are not the same as yours, and I understand your desire to protect young witches working in the Ministry.”
“Thank you.” Minerva takes a breath, her anger calming as at last she’s finally being heard. She thinks about Albus and his compromises, wondering how he goes through life keeping everything so private and why—as one of the most powerful wizards in Britain—he demonstrates little desire to protect other wizards like him, yet is determined to fight for other causes, without any regard for whether or not the Ministry shares his views.
“Why are you so determined to hide your interest in wizards from other people, when you’re happy to fight for other things, irrespective of the consequences?” Minerva’s throat tightens and she struggles to find the right words, not wanting to attack Albus but needing desperately to understand. “I’m so sick of being made to feel abnormal for something that’s the most natural thing in the world. People expect me to be meek and mild, men like Harold expect me to capitulate, and why? Because we’re all too scared to come out of the closet, too scared to let anybody see the truth in our hearts.”
Albus takes a sip of his brandy, before looking at Minerva again, his expression defeated. “Sex between men remains a crime in the Muggle world. They can’t very well throw me in Azkaban in ours, but the approach taken by the Muggles is persuasive and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if somebody attempted to put me through a Muggle trial.”
Minerva tuts. “Come, now. You would Obliviate the entire British police force and Confund every last judge and jury before you let that happen.”
“Perhaps.” Albus gives Minerva a small smile. “However, I’m certain I would be removed from Hogwarts swiftly, even if they attempted to say it was for some other reason. I can’t risk that, not at this juncture.”
“These are just jobs.” Minerva shakes her head. “Are we really going to let professional aspirations take priority over fighting against injustice?”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Then explain it to me. I can’t allow the behaviour I witnessed today to continue unresolved.”
“I agree,” Albus replies. “But you and I both know what will happen. A complaint will be made, they’ll take months to process it and you’ll be tangled up in an administrative maze whilst Bagsworth continues working and your name becomes increasingly more tarnished.”
“I don’t care about my name,” Minerva bites back.
“I do.” Albus raises his voice, the force of his anger taking Minerva by surprise. “You are one of the few people I can trust absolutely, and everything is changing. Can’t you feel it? We, none of us, are safe. Those that want to see us overthrown have been working for decades to put themselves in positions of influence. They have enormous wealth at their disposal, the often tacit, if not vocal, support of people holding the highest positions. The Minister is vulnerable, there are countless people who wish to see him fall, and my own job is under threat.”
“Your job, again.” Minerva tries to keep the disgust from her voice. “I’m starting to think you care more about your position as Headmaster than you care about being a decent human being.”
“You misunderstand.” Albus sighs, heavily. “It’s not my job I’m concerned about. It’s the people who would be most impacted if I don’t hold this position when the time comes. The people who will suffer if you don’t continue to hold sway at the Ministry once the wheels are in motion.”
A chill passes through Minerva, making her shiver. “You make it sound as though we’re going to war.”
“I believe we are.” Albus frowns at his drink. “If I’m wrong, I give you my word that I’ll fight alongside you in these matters. If my sense that things are about to become very, very difficult is misguided, I would consider trying to change perception about same-sex relationships.” He looks up at last. “People think I’m a daft old fool, fighting for werewolves, for Squibs, for Muggle-borns. I, however, am none of those things. As soon as I bring my personal life into my causes, there are countless people that will be waiting in the sidelines to discredit me, specifically. The papers are already spreading rumours that I was bitten as a child and have been hiding my Lycanthropy ever since.”
Minerva snorts. “The papers are a ludicrous waste of fine parchment.”
“Indeed.” Albus inclines his head. “Nevertheless, people are out for blood. I can’t risk anything that might discredit me in the eyes of our sympathisers, much less those who are actively working against us.”
Minerva considers Albus’ position, her mind working feverishly. “I would never involve you in any personal grievance I choose to raise. Your secret—for as long as you wish it to remain so—is safe with me.”
Albus nods. “Thank you.”
“Of course.” Minerva swallows her brandy and studies Albus. “I thought the idea of a Hogwarts liaison at the Ministry was odd. I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“Quite.” Albus gives Minerva a small smile. “It’s a new role. One, you might say, has been designed specifically with you in mind.”
“Why on earth would you continue to push me back into a place I hate?”
“Because I trust you. Implicitly. And if we are going to war, I need a lieutenant I can rely upon without question.”
“I’m not your lieutenant, Albus. The cheek of it.” Minerva huffs and flicks her wand to pour them both more brandy. “Having said that, if you’re planning to draught me into military service, you would be wise to let me in on your strategy. I can’t be expected to consider my case properly, without all the facts.”
“Very well,” Albus agrees.
He takes a sip of his brandy and begins to talk.
Perhaps Minerva will be able to try her hand at being a spy after all.
Get well soon love. Have Pommy make you her famous hot toddy.
I’ll have finished larking around by midnight if you fancy coming round to let me look after you. We'll miss you at the Gates tonight. I'm going to have to spend the evening with Smithy. She's going to have words, when you're next in.
Minerva checks the clock in her room. It’s a little after midnight. Will should be back by now, pouring herself a nightcap and lighting her pipe, probably wondering if Minerva intends to visit. Her mind is so busy from the long discussion with Albus she can’t face the thought of explaining her encounter with Harold again. Even the thought of responding to Will’s anger leaves her exhausted. A niggling voice in the back of Minerva’s mind tells her she’s avoiding Will for reasons other than tiredness, but she ignores it. She will simply tell Will that she went to bed early and hopes that suffices.
Minerva strips and washes her face, loosening her hair. She slips on a cool nightgown and slides between the sheets, lying on her back and blinking at the ceiling. The business with Bagsworth aside, the conversation with Albus that followed was discomforting, to say the least. She believes in doing things properly, by the book, yet she also sees the benefit in currying favour with the Ministry. Not only would Minerva’s presence there enable her to keep an eye on the kind of lecherous behaviour exhibited by Harold and his cronies, but she can see the sense in the strategy Albus appears to be devising in the event of something akin to war. The term lieutenant doesn’t seem quite so foolish now, and the thought of the battles to come gnaw unpleasantly at her, as she turns on her side and tries to get comfortable.
She still wants to make it known that behaviour like Harold’s isn’t acceptable in the Ministry, but as she mulls it over, Minerva suspects Albus is right. The Ministry is so concerned with trying to protect the work spearheaded by its first Muggle-born leader, those on Minerva’s side are distracted by other things. For those that aren’t on their side, a public complaint would likely be just one more opportunity to get those that support Nobby out of the Ministry. Minerva also knows that not making a formal complaint doesn’t equate to not taking action, and although she disapproves of anything unethical, she takes little issue with the suggestion that Bagsworth be distracted from his position as a mentor to young Ministry employees by a particularly heavy dose of paperwork and a case which is to be presented as important to soothe his ego, and yet is nothing of the sort. Yet despite having some tentative resolution to the issue of Harold Bagsworth, there are plenty of things that still occupy Minerva’s mind.
The memory of Harold’s cloying smile and the spittle that landed on her cheek when he spat out the word dyke leaves Minerva ruffled in ways that go beyond his unprofessionalism and predatory nature. Both Bagsworth and Yaxley have made Minerva feel different in a way she hasn’t experienced before. She’s been made very aware of homophobia through her research and conversations with friends, but she’s never been directly confronted with it as she has been in the last six months. She flourished in Little Compton Street, and that’s where she’s had some of the happiest moments of her life. Being confronted with such blatant hatred for herself and the people she loves in the wizarding world has taken her by surprise. Instead of rousing defiance within Minerva, it causes a shame that lingers. Walking through the street with Will, hand in hand, now seems like an impossible dream. Minerva is often invited to formal events, and her previous thoughts of bringing Will and assuming others would think them nothing more than friends now seems such a foolish notion. Minerva loves Will. She loves Will to the depths of her bones in a way she didn’t believe was possible, but she is suddenly, impossibly fearful of the courage such a simple act involves.
“That isn’t our world,” Minerva murmurs. “Not for me, not for Albus and not even for Will—not outside of Little Compton Street.”
As much pleasure as the little street gives her, she can’t help but feel living more openly might help, that hiding away in underground bars with like-minded friends simply makes people like Harold see people like Minerva as abnormal.
Minerva huffs and rolls over, putting a pillow over her ears to block out the creaking and squeaking of the school at night. As exhausted as she is, she already knows it will be difficult to sleep.
“I don’t care if they think I’m different,” Minerva decides. “I’m proud to be different. I won’t let them change how I live my life.”
Even as she says it out loud however, Minerva knows it’s the easiest thing to say in a quiet, isolated room, and the hardest promise to live by no matter the stakes or the cost.
It’s six months later when Minerva finds herself back at the familiar blue door of the Gates, heart drumming in her chest as she contemplates whether or not to go inside.
You’re being foolish, Min, Pomona warned her earlier that month. Minerva can’t help but feel that Pomona is right. It’s not that she’s been avoiding Will exactly—they still see one another when they can—it’s just that Minerva’s work with Hogwarts and the Ministry has left her with less time than usual for visiting Will on Little Compton Street. With the Care of Magical Creatures position taken care of—at least for the time being—there has also been little need for Will to come to Hogwarts, and Minerva has made countless excuses to avoid going to Will’s gigs at the Gates. Their relationship has become like a long-distance love affair, conducted secretly through letters without any of the physical intimacies Minerva has always so enjoyed. If she’s honest with herself, she knows that part of her reticence is the memory of Harold’s words and the smug, sly curve to Yaxley’s smile which still sting like a bruise that refuses to fade. She doesn’t know if she can be everything Will wants her to be, struggling to deal with the hot pulses of shame and discomfort that refuse to go away. It's been easier to throw herself into work, to put a safe distance between her and Will, convincing herself it’s better for both of them.
Taking a breath, Minerva steels herself and pushes open the door. The Gates is busy as usual—it always is when Will’s playing. What catches Minerva off-guard is how stepping into the bar is like coming home. Everything is so warm, so familiar, Minerva instantly feels like a coward and a fool for allowing men and boys whose opinions she cares little for to make her pull back from the people that transformed her life. Will is nowhere to be seen, and although Minerva would usually make her way to the makeshift dressing room backstage—really more of a storage cupboard, Min, but I like to imagine there’s a mirror with my name in lights—something holds her back. It’s entirely possible Minerva might no longer be welcome in Will’s personal space, having kept her distance for so long.
“Evening Minerva.” Smithy approaches the bar, cleaning one of the pint glasses with a dishcloth. “Haven’t seen you around these parts for a while. The usual?”
“Please.” Minerva takes the drink gratefully, resisting the urge to down it in one. “Is Will around?”
“Somewhere, I think.” Smith shrugs, clearly oblivious to Minerva’s tumultuous emotions. “She’ll be out in a bit I expect. She likes to be where all the activity is.” Smithy winks at Minerva and moves to serve someone else with a whistle, leaning her ample frame against the bar and flirting with a witch with bright blue hair. Minerva has never felt so self-conscious of her prim tartan and her highly polished brogues with a smart, sensible heel, thick tights and her tidy bun. She feels too prim and stuck-up, too carefully arranged for her poise to be believable. She must appear quite ridiculous when surrounded by people like Smithy and Will, so comfortable with who they are and so very unafraid.
“Minerva McGonagall, isn’t it?” A tall woman with long dark hair approaches the bar, her smile open and inviting. “I’m Rita.”
“It is indeed.” Minerva shakes the woman’s hand and smiles back, glad of a distraction from her anxious thoughts. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Your Will’s a marvel, isn’t she?” Rita gestures to herself and gives Minerva a wry smile. “Didn’t give two hoots when she saw me wearing a summer dress that fit all wrong. Taught me to do my makeup and everything. She knew I was having trouble and turned my whole life around. Never once asked for anything, not so much as a pint of ale.”
“Oh?” Minerva can’t help but be surprised that Will would be giving makeup advice, on account of the fact she never wears any herself.
“We’re alike, Will and me. Not in all the ways, but she understands it, I think. What it’s like to be born in the wrong body.”
“How long have you known Will?” Minerva looks more closely at the woman and tries to recall Will mentioning her before, but she draws a blank.
“Two years now.” Rita has a sip of her drink—a bright, decadent cocktail in a martini glass. “She brought me here, introduced me to Elsie. I never thought I’d be welcome somewhere like this.” Rita pulls a face. “There’s some that still don’t think I’m a proper woman, but Will told me not to mind them. She says those folk are like ill-bred Blast-Ended Skrewts.”
“She was right,” Minerva replies. She feels rather stupid—as naïve and uncertain as she did when she first entered the Gates—not entirely sure she understands why people wouldn’t welcome Rita, or why she’s only hearing about this friend of Will’s for the first time. “I’m sorry I haven’t met you before.”
“Don’t be sorry. We’re meeting now, that’s the main thing.” Rita gives Minerva a broad smile. “I don’t think there’s anyone finer than your Will, and the things she says about you, well. You’re quite the formidable team, by all accounts. My Min’s brilliant, she always says. She thinks you’re quite something. I'm going to be singing the Blues here on Tuesdays, if you fancy it. I've been dying to meet you.”
Guilt worms away at Minerva as she wonders what Will would think of her cowardice, of her deliberate avoidance of their friends, their life together, the little flat and kneazle that always brought her such comfort. She’s irrationally angry with herself, the conversation only making her feel worse about letting the voices of doubt overwhelm the other voices in her life—the important ones.
She’s about to ask Rita more about her friendship with Will when the woman herself emerges from behind the stage, with a pretty witch hanging onto her every word. Just as it did the first time she saw Will, the breath leaves Minerva’s lungs when she sees her now. She’s so handsome, so attractive to Minerva still, even after all this time. Her hair looks freshly cut, swooping over one side of her forehead. She’s wearing one of Minerva’s favourite blazers, a deep, burgundy velvet that makes her look like the star she should be. Minerva is quite certain she’s never met anyone in her life that makes her body hot with desire in the same way Will manages to accomplish with a simple wink, a smile and a flash of velvet tailoring.
The witch giggles at something Will says, her hand lingering on Will’s arm. Will looks pleased with herself—as well she might, being such an outrageous flirt—and annoyance worms through Minerva with a hot spike of panic. The thought of Will going home with this other witch, the thought of losing Will, is something Minerva can’t bear. With a huff of aggravation, Minerva says her goodbyes to Rita and pushes her way through the crowds to give Will’s witch a thoroughly unimpressed look.
“I hope you’re both enjoying yourselves,” she snaps.
“Very much.” Will’s jaw works and she turns to Minerva, raising a questioning eyebrow at her. “Lucy here is interested in learning the guitar.”
“I have no doubt you rushed to offer private tuition,” Minerva replies, coldly.
Will’s cheek clenches, her smile disappearing and her expression turning cloudy. “I did nothing of the sort.”
She turns to Lucy and murmurs something that sounds like an apology—the nerve of her to apologise for Minerva! The witch gives Minerva an odd look, before returning to her group of friends, leaving Minerva and Will alone.
Will contemplates Minerva, sitting down heavily with a cross expression on her face. Once again, Minerva envies Will. So at ease with her own skin. So unbothered about the school and the Ministry; the institutions that force people like Minerva and Albus to be careful about how much they choose to disclose. Will knows nothing about the war that’s coming—primarily because Minerva has kept Albus’ confidence—so of course she can relax. The futility of it all and the hot creep of shame that’s been growing like weeds takes hold of Minerva, forcing her fear to the surface.
“Is this how it’s going to be?” Will asks, looking up, crossly. “You’re going to come in here and tell me I can’t chat to a lass because you’re jealous?”
“Of course not,” Minerva replies, her voice tight. “I’m not the jealous sort.”
Will rolls her eyes. “If you say so.”
“Don’t do that.” Minerva’s anger at the Ministry and all the school yard whispers about her private life spill out into the space between them that seems so insurmountable. She wants to take Will away, to kiss her and tell her she’s sorry, but fears that won’t solve a single thing. She wonders if this is what it’s like to love in all the ways that feel so right; the ways society deems to be so wrong. Making secrets out of the people who help her be the best, brightest, boldest version of herself. Denying her lover and keeping everything that makes life so rich and wonderful behind closet doors.
“I’m not doing anything.” Will gestures for a beer and Elsie brings it over, giving Minerva a small smile before disappearing without another word. Minerva wonders if she knows they’re having problems, and she wishes Elsie would come back to diffuse the tension between them, just for a moment.
Will sighs heavily, bringing Minerva back to their conversation. “Why are you here, Min? I thought maybe you didn’t want this anymore. I wasn’t flirting for the record, but would you blame me if I did? When was the last time we spent any proper time together?”
“I don’t know.” Minerva deflates, wringing her hands together. “I’m so confused.”
“So am I.” Will sounds as miserable as Minerva feels. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“I don’t want to lose you either.” Of that, Minerva is sure. They have their moments but they’re compatible and better together than apart. Minerva’s issues have nothing to do with Will and everything to do with the outside world and the way its whispers strangle all the joy like Devil's Snare. The secrecy, the shame and the force of self-doubt has grown steadily over the months, turning the once quiet voice into a dull roar.
“Why do you keep pretending you’re busy?” Will takes a gulp of her beer. “I know you’re pretending, so don’t even try to deny it.”
“I am busy.” Minerva’s voice raises and she notices Lucy giving her a startled look. She lowers her voice, muttering under her breath. “You have no idea of the things that are happening, the wheels in motion—”
“—No, and I don’t particularly care.” Will’s mouth is set in an angry line. “Why should I bother about any of that?”
“Because it impacts you, even if you think you’re above anything to do with the Ministry.”
“Does it?” Will snorts. “Funny, that. I don’t recall you telling me a single bloody thing about any of it. Can’t be that important.”
“Of course it’s important.” Minerva’s unable to keep her voice level any longer. “I can’t share official business with you, you know that.”
Will’s jaw works. “Never had you down for a politician, Min. You’re spending too much time with that crowd at the Ministry.”
“Because I have to spend time with them. Do you think I want to? You know how much I hated the place—how much I still hate the place. It’s fine for you, cocooned away here, prancing around on stage. Some of us have real jobs to do.”
The pink splash in Will’s cheeks and her wide-eyed look of hurt makes Minerva’s chest tight. It’s difficult to breathe in this warm, jolly bar where everyone is so determined to pretend everything’s fine. She wants to scream with frustration, wants to pull Will into her arms and make all the bad, tumultuous feelings of the last six months go away.
Instead, she pulls her cloak tightly around herself and leaves the Gates and Little Compton Street without a backwards glance.
“Bloody Floos. Why can’t we Apparate like normal people? Too posh for that, aren’t you Hogwarts, old girl. Won’t let us do things the easy way.” Will pats the wall next to the fire, clearly unaware of Minerva’s presence.
“Ahem.” Minerva clears her throat, her heart giving a fond kick at the sight of Will chatting to Hogwarts like the school is one of her kneazles.
“Blimey, you scared the life out of me.” Will clutches her chest with a yelp, spinning to face Minerva. “What the blazes are you doing up?”
“Not sleeping, obviously.” Minerva stands, a little embarrassed by the wobbliness of her knees and her red eyes and puffy face. She’s not used to coming home to cry angry tears over a failed romance. The whole night has been quite disconcerting. “I’m a fool.”
“You’re nothing of the sort.” Will squints at Minerva, her expression worried. “You look like you’ve had a couple of rounds with a Hippogriff.”
“I feel like I have.” Minerva lets out a watery laugh. “I’ve been quite inconsolable, ever since I stormed off in a huff.”
“You did storm off, didn’t you? I had to go and make old Crockford at the Leaky let me use the Floo so I could come here.” Will sighs and reaches for Minerva. It’s so easy to be back in her arms, her tweed warm and scratchy as Minerva buries her face in it. “Oh, Min. What went wrong? I couldn’t go to sleep after all that, love. I wanted to try and make things right, even if I’m not very good at saying the things people want to hear sometimes.”
“You’re saying exactly what I want to hear.” Minerva pulls back and looks at Will. “Will you stay tonight? I’m so tired, I know we need to talk but—”
“—Bed,” Will agrees, gruffly. “We can talk there. Proper talk, this time. No distracting me like you usually do.”
Minerva laughs, feeling a little lighter than before. “I don’t distract you.”
“Beg to differ.” Will follows Minerva into the bedroom and unbuttons her shirt after taking off her blazer. “Why on earth were you sitting out there in the darkness? There wasn’t even enough light to read.”
“I was contemplating coming to see you. I think if you had left it ten minutes longer, I would be at your flat by now.”
“Glad to hear it.” Will gives Minerva a tentative grin, before her smile slips. “You could have met Presley.”
“My new kitten.” Will shrugs. “Well, ours, really. Elsie’s got him for tonight. He’s a bit mad and doesn’t like being alone in the dark.”
“Oh.” Minerva feels as though she’s clutching onto something that’s slipping through her fingers, as Will’s life looks so full and vibrant without her, so different. “I’d like to meet him.”
“You can. Whenever you like.” Will looks at Minerva, seriously. “You know I’m not the sort to go off with anybody else, don’t you? I wouldn’t do that, not until we’d sorted things out one way or another.”
“I know.” Minerva shakes her head and slips between the sheets, pressing her feet close to Will’s. “I wouldn’t even mind you flirting, usually. Whether you were or weren’t is beside the point. I was angry at myself, not you. I hate the way I've let things get between us.”
“Hmm.” Will studies Minerva, reaching out to brush her hair back from her face. “Why don't you tell me about those things?”
Taking a deep breath, Minerva tells Will—at last—about Harold Bagsworth, Corban Yaxley and her long conversation with Albus. She talks and talks, as Will listens patiently, as if understanding that Minerva just needs to get everything out before she stops talking altogether.
“I started to feel so ashamed,” Minerva finishes, the burden of her secrets finally lifting. “Of you, of us, of everything we have. I couldn’t very well tell you I let a schoolboy and a colleague I’ve always despised shake my confidence. What on earth would you have thought?”
“I’d have understood.” Will’s jaw works in annoyance, but this time Minerva suspects her anger is directed elsewhere. “I know what those snide remarks do to a person, how they build up until you can't even think straight.”
“But you don’t let anything bother you.”
Will snorts. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that. I’ve just had longer than you to get used to the comments, the whispers. Doesn’t mean I wasn’t waltzing around in dresses to make myself look less butch, back in the day. I didn’t want people to clock me for what I was, what I am. I've cried more tears than I can tell you, Min. Strange tyke I was, with my salamanders and pet Nifflers. People had opinions on me, alright. Even the Muggles. I had a cry in the loos at café in Cornwall last summer hols, because some young upstart asked why I dressed like a man. He didn’t even know what he was saying, but it still stung. I just wanted a pasty, a pint of Doom Bar and a stroll on the beach. I never expected to end up sobbing over my cream tea. It caught me right off-guard. It made me think everyone knew.”
“I can’t imagine you being frightened,” Minerva whispers. The thought of Will in Cornwall being made to feel like that has her resolving to sweep Will away to Trevone one day to wipe away that memory once and for all.
“Of course I was,” Will says. “I still am, to tell the truth. Not always, not as often, but sometimes. It’s never nice, being made to feel different or odd or like you’re doing something shameful. I might seem full of bluster but that’s just my armour. I’ve had a lot longer than you to make it strong enough to withstand the chinks and cracks. Don’t kid yourself the Will you see at the Gates is the beginning and end of the story.”
“I didn’t know you felt that way.” Minerva’s voice wobbles and Will leans forward to press a chaste kiss on Minerva’s lips.
“Maybe I should have told you then,” Will replies. “It might have helped, knowing I’d understand. It takes time to get those niggling voices to shush, but if I didn’t, I’d never go out or meet anyone at all. Maybe I do spend too much time prancing around on stage or keeping to Little Compton Street, but why shouldn’t I? People look at me funny all the time, Min. Because of the way I dress, the way I wear my hair. I don’t have to be holding hands with a lass for some to form views about who I am.”
“It’s a wonder you leave Little Compton Street at all.” Minerva laughs, shakily. It all seems so hopeless.
“Don’t be like that.” Will shakes her head. “I do leave Little Compton Street, of course I do. I’m not walking down the streets looking over my shoulder all the time. I’m just trying to tell you, very clumsily, that you’re not alone. That there’s plenty of us that have had the comments you’ve had, or ones like them. You don’t have to bury yourself in work because you don’t know where to start explaining it to someone like me.”
“How do you deal with it?” Minerva asks.
“Sheer bloody mindedness.” Will laughs. “I trust my own mind and if I don’t think what I’m doing is shameful—if it’s so brilliant—it can’t be all bad, can it?”
“It’s not all bad. Not even a little bit.” A surge of defiance pulses through Minerva and she resolves that the time for isolating herself and cowering is over. There’s a war coming, after all. “I’m sorry I distanced myself from you and I’m even sorrier that I was cruel about your job. I love that you’re an entertainer. It’s one of my favourite things about you. I was in a particularly spiteful mood.”
“It’s okay.” Will looks away and shrugs lightly, her cheeks flushing, her voice rough. “It made me feel a bit daft, but I know you didn’t mean it.”
“You’re not daft in the slightest.” Minerva pulls Will close, hating herself for making Will feel this way. “I didn’t mean it at all. Please forgive me.”
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t forgive you, Min.” Will’s voice is muffled against Minerva’s neck, before she eventually pulls back and gives Minerva a watery smile. “I’m just glad we talked this out. Very clever of us, I think. We might be alright at this after all.”
“Yes, I think we might.” As Minerva watches Will fondly, a thought occurs to her. “Who’s Rita?”
“Rita from the Gates?” Will frowns at Minerva. “How do you know her?”
“I met her tonight.” Minerva tries not to sound put out after they’ve just managed to make things up. “She tells me you’ve been friends for years.”
“Aye.” Will nods. “I should have introduced you.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Because I chat to her about things I don’t understand myself,” Will replies, with a shrug. “Rita’s never felt right in her own skin, not until she started dressing as she does and people started calling her Rita, instead of Mister this or that.”
“Oh.” The penny finally drops, and Minerva feel daft for not understanding what Rita was telling her earlier. “That’s why you’ve been helping her with makeup?”
“Maybe.” Will gets quiet, looking away from Minerva.
“Do you feel like that, too, Will, not Wilhelmina?” Minerva knows of course that it’s Will, never Wilhelmina, but Will has always been she and her, has only ever described herself as like a hatstall, without going into too much detail beyond that.
“Sometimes,” Will says, quietly. “I don’t know. Woman never quite felt like it fit me right, but I’m not sure man does, either. I’ve learned to stop worrying about it, I don’t want to overthink it. Que sera, sera.”
“I want to know your friends,” Minerva says, firmly. “I promise to tell you when one of my students sends me into hiding, as long as you promise to tell me about the things that make you topsy turvy, even if you think I might not understand.”
“Thank you,” Will answers, her voice gruff. “You know me and talking, Min. I'm not overly good at it.”
“Yet you do enough of it.”
Will grins and gives Minerva a light shove, the tension ebbing away. “It’s not easy talking about this. I don’t even have the right words for it. I’m always going in circles. You’re so logical, so articulate. I can’t very well come to you when my thoughts are knottier than Spaniel fur and blather on about something I can’t even straighten out in my head.”
Minerva shakes her head, unable to believe that Will has spent all this time thinking Minerva possesses the same confidence she herself saw in Will. “It doesn’t matter to me where your thoughts take you, you’ll always be my Will.”
“Even if I never work out who the bloody hell I am?”
“Even then," Minerva says. “It helps to know you don’t have everything all worked out. It makes me feel less foolish.”
Will gives Minerva an incredulous look. “I’m a woman—ish—dressing up as Elvis Presley to sing out-of-date songs in a magical lesbian bar on a street ninety-five percent of the population don’t know exist. I live above a toad shop and half the time I don’t even know if I’m a man or a woman. And you think I have everything worked out?”
Minerva’s heart swells and she pulls Will into a fierce kiss that leaves them both breathless. When they finally full apart, Will has a daft smile on her face that Minerva is sure is reflected on her own.
“I’ve been wondering.” Minerva clears her throat, picking her words carefully She almost pushed the niggling doubt to one side, before deciding to be open about her concerns. It’s a good way to begin as she means to go on—talking, instead of bottling things away. “Why did you let me pull away so easily?”
“Because I’m an idiot.” Will sighs. “I often feel very selfish when it comes to you, Min. You walked into the Gates and I had to fall in love with you right then and there, not even thinking about the fact you might want to try other things with other people.”
Minerva stares at Will. “Why on earth would I want to do that?”
Will shrugs. “Because it was all new to you, wasn’t it? It’s not new to me. I’ve been ‘round the block a few times.”
“Don’t we know it.” Minerva rolls her eyes before giving Will a soft smile. “You’re ridiculous. I haven’t so much as had my head turned since you came on the scene and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m as happy as I’ve ever been—at least I was.”
“Past tense?” Will looks uncertain.
“Past, present and future.” Minerva leans in to give Will a slow kiss. “It was other people making me unhappy. My own mind, boxing me in. Never, ever you.”
Will clears her throat. “I sometimes wonder if the physical bit is everything you hoped for.”
Minerva frowns. “Are you worrying I don’t enjoy having multiple orgasms?”
Will laughs, her cheeks turning pink. “I wouldn’t go that far.”
“I would.” Minerva smiles at Will. “What’s bothering you?”
“I can be a funny fish, with the way I am.” Will gestures to herself ruefully. “Binding myself flat, not liking being on the receiving end of things too much. It’s supposed to be a partnership, isn’t it? A two-way street. I wouldn’t like it much if somebody talked at me all night and didn’t let me get a word in edgewise.” Will looks mournful. “Maybe being in bed with me is like having Hamlet or one of those other fellas doing a monologue.”
Minerva clears her throat, trying not to laugh at Hamlet being referred to as one of the ‘fellas.’ She’s always been so happy with Will and she hates that this has clearly been eating away at her for such a long time.
“It’s not normal, is it?” Will finishes, miserably.
“I’m beginning to think that normal is a very dangerous word,” Minerva replies, crisply. She gives Will a slow deep kiss, sighing with pleasure as their bodies meld close to one another. “It’s our normal, and I’m perfectly happy with things, just as they are. The idea of you teaching that young witch to play guitar, of losing you—” Minerva swallows, her heart aching even from the thought of being without Will. “I couldn’t stand it.”
“Better not lose one another, then.” Will smiles at last, her unhappy expression clearing.
Minerva replies by sinking into another blissful kiss with Will. They move together against one another, taking pleasure in the motion of one another’s bodies against each other. The pleasure builds and it’s not long before a familiar heat pools in Minerva’s belly, her body slick and wet.
Will slides down between Minerva’s parted legs and takes her time. She parts Minerva’s folds slowly, sliding her fingers through them gently in a maddening tease. Sometimes it’s hard and fast between them and other nights, when the moon hangs low in the sky, there’s no rush, no pressure. It’s warm and soft, Will’s smile pressing against Minerva’s entrance, her mouth slick and her tongue wet, hot and focused. She moves up a little, flicking her tongue against Minerva the way Minerva likes best. She brings Minerva to a slow, shaking climax and then changes her focus, moving up the bed.
“Can I?” Will presses her damp lips to Minerva’s cheek, her voice rough. “I want to work on one of those multiple orgasms you claim to like so much.”
“Please.” Minerva captures Will’s lips in a breathless kiss, the slide of Will’s fingers into her body bringing a different kind of pleasure entirely. They don’t always do this, their love-making having developed over the years in all kinds of ways, with one or two magical tricks involved to enhance things. For tonight though, Minerva doesn’t want any toys, or any spells. She just wants Will’s mouth against her, the push and curl of Will’s fingers filling her body as the sounds of sex fill the room. She kisses Will for the longest time, her climax just on the cusp until it hits her with force, leaving her body trembling and her thighs clenching as she groans and kisses Will through it, messy, wet and urgent.
When Will finally slips her fingers from Minerva she collapses back onto the sheets, her heart hammering in her chest as she tries to get her breath back.
“Well.” Will joins Minerva, lying on her back and staring at the ceiling. “That was something.”
“It was indeed.” Minerva curls up next to Will, breathing in the scent of her cologne. “Thank you for being here.”
“Always.” Will runs a hand through Minerva’s hair. “We haven’t talked about Albus. About any of that.”
“I know.” Minerva swallows and presses closer to Will. “Let’s pretend we don’t know of it, just for a night.”
“Okay.” Will sounds uncertain but she tightens her arms around Minerva. “Let’s pretend.”
When Minerva looks out of the bedroom window the trees are bathed in silvery moonlight and one bright star, that flickers and glimmers more brightly than the rest.
Minerva closes her eyes and makes a wish.
It’s a perfect spring day when a small group of witches and wizards gather together with magical placards at the March For Squib Rights organised by Michael Armstrong at the Ministry. Minerva holds up her sign, thinking about the recent celebrations on Little Compton Street after the Muggles partially decriminalised homosexuality the year before.
“Everyone’s marching now. Muggles, witches and wizards. I can feel things are happening, can’t you?”
“Aye.” Will glances at Minerva and looks around quickly before squeezing her hand, letting go after a moment. Minerva has had none of the wobbles of a few years ago, but they continue to keep their relationship out of the public gaze. Speculation, at this stage, is the last thing Minerva needs. “Is that still on your mind?”
“Perhaps,” Minerva murmurs. “I sometimes wonder why we keep those other causes of ours underground. I can’t imagine there wouldn’t be people who would march for us too.”
“Do you think we need marches?” Will raises her eyebrow at Minerva and pushes her sign into the air with a quick holler of Squib Rights! “I’d say we’re much better off as we are, without anyone bothering us. The last thing we want is everyone to start coming to Little Compton Street to have a gawk at the queers.”
Minerva tuts under her breath. “People wouldn’t gawk.”
“Wouldn’t they?” Will snorts. “We’d become a place for spectators. Anyway, there’s nowt illegal about what we’re doing. Most people think witches aren’t bothered about sex at all. It’s all about lying back and thinking of England, not like those Muggle men that were being chucked in prison left, right and centre.”
“They still are, by all accounts,” Minerva says, darkly. Some wizards on Little Compton Street spend time in the Muggle bars and clubs, the influences on Little Compton Street informing everything from the names of the bars to the politics. “Sam Turpin said there are more arrests now than before. Police going into the bars in Soho, raiding The Colherne, the Tavern. They’re throwing their weight around now, more than ever.”
“People don’t like progress.” Will pulls a face. “Same with our lot. Half the Wizengamot resigned when Nobby got elected as Minister. I warrant there’ll be as many trying to disrupt our protest today, as there will be people marching.”
Minerva glances at the suspiciously quiet street, fear creeping through her. There’s a strange energy in the air, as if the people who don’t believe in equal rights for Squibs are just waiting to cause a disturbance. The sky is bright and blue, and the day seems too good to be true. These kinds of events rarely pass peacefully.
“Maybe we should speak to people on Little Compton Street about organising a march of our own, up here in the open air. They might want to see attitudes change.”
“Some will, some won’t.” Will shrugs. “If the wrong sort get in at the Ministry I guarantee one of the first places they’ll hit will be Little Compton Street, once they know we’re there. We don’t want to do anything that’s going to call attention to ourselves with the world so topsy-turvy. The people that go there feel safe. All it takes is for one wrong person to find us, to pretend to be one of us, then we’ll be like the Muggles. Aurors lining our streets, raiding our bars and throwing people in with the Dementors just because we love differently to them, or don’t fit their expectations of what it means to be a witch, or a wizard.”
Even though she knows in her heart that Will is right, Minerva can’t help but feel frustrated by the lack of passion for bringing the stories of Little Compton Street into the broader public sphere. As much as she values her privacy, she can’t help but feel that hiding away only exacerbates the problems, and even as she meets such thoughts with defiance these days, keeping such a huge part of her life private still makes her feel as though she’s doing something shameful.
“I don’t like being made to feel as if I should be conducting my personal affairs in secret, as though I’m doing something wrong,” Minerva says at last. “I have never lived my life in the shadows, I’ve always confronted the things I believe to be wrong.”
“I know, love.” Will sighs and turns to Minerva, balancing her sign on her shoulder as she walks. “But I’m not sure everyone would thank you for bringing news of our little street to the eyes of the folks reading the Prophet. Can’t you feel it?”
“Storm’s a-coming.” Will hums under her breath. “There’s something off about the world at the minute, a darkness gathering. There might be a time for our fight, but I think people have other things on their minds. What if Albus got caught up in it? We’d lose our staunchest ally at Hogwarts. Influential with the Ministry too. Now isn’t the time to upset the apple cart. There are those that need our focus—the Squibs, the Muggle-borns. Don’t start something that’s going to give people cause to distrust you, not now.”
“Perhaps you’re right.” Minerva glances at Will. “Do you think it’s selfish of me to want to try?”
“Not a bit.” Will shakes her head. “I just don’t think it’s the time. It’s taken the Muggles years and we’ve barely even started.”
Minerva is about to say something else when a strange popping derails her train of thought. It’s quiet at first, as the marching crowd look around with confusion.
“Hold on—” Will stops, her face ashen. “Something’s not right, it’s—”
The air fills with green and black, a hissing sound gathering in the quiet space. The open streets seem suddenly closed, the world plunged into dark shadows and the air filling with muttered incantations. It’s as though hundreds of snakes have been unleashed onto Diagon Alley and people scatter in different directions as robed wizards and witches fling spells at those running away. Their faces are obscured by peculiar masks, their robes bearing no signs which would identify the people beneath them.
Minerva drops her placard and clutches Will’s hand, fearing for Will more than for herself. They run breathlessly through the cobbled streets, their feet heavy as they move and the sound of manic laughter trailing behind them, drifting closer with every gust of wind. Eventually they reach a spot which is quieter than the rest and huddle into a small crevice between two buildings, staring up at the sky.
Suspended in the dull afternoon is a bright green skull, with a snake curling from its mouth and diving down onto the streets with a hiss.
“What is that?” Will whispers.
Minerva clutches Will’s hand tighter and swallows back the wave of fear that crashes over her.
“I have absolutely no idea.”
“Morsmordre,” Albus says. His voice is calm, but the heaviness of his expression and the deep set of his frown, the downward tilt of his lips, demonstrate the sombre weight of his feelings. “The spell is called Morsmordre.”
“What purpose could it possibly have?” Minerva looks around to make sure that nobody can overhear their conversation, but The Gryff is busy as usual and the attack on last week’s march the last thing on people’s minds.
“Fear and intimidation, I expect.” Albus grimaces. “A calling card, perhaps. I have a feeling we will be seeing more of it in due course. My sources suggest the attack last week was a dry run. A first flex of muscles, to warn those of us who disavow pure-blood rhetoric that the consequences of supporting Muggles, Muggle-borns, Squibs and Half-Bloods will be severe.”
“Nobody was injured at least,” Will replies. “Strange shapes in the sky aren’t going to intimidate me.” She puffs out a couple of smoke circles after sucking on her pipe. “Nothing more than a few fancy smoke circles.”
“It’s a lot more than that.” Albus gives Will a small smile, despite his sober words. “I wish an addiction to tobacco was all we had to worry about.”
Will rolls her eyes, glancing at Elsie. “What do you think of all this?”
“I’m Muggle-born.” Elsie looks nervously at Pomona. “They’re not going to take kindly to the likes of me, whoever they are. You’ve seen the riots.”
“Nothing more than the elites posturing,” Minerva says, brusquely. In her heart, she’s not sure she believes the force of her own conviction. The riots organised by those who believe in the supremacy of pure-bloods have been growing in number, those at the helm holding some of the most powerful positions in society, with a wealth of personal funds at their disposal. “We’ve had a Muggle-born Minister—”
“—And where’s Nobby now?” Elsie interrupts Minerva, taking a quick gulp of her drink. Minerva doesn’t miss the slight tremble in her hand. “Poisoned, by Abraxas Malfoy by all accounts.”
“Eugenia Jenkins is a good sort.” Pomona places a soothing hand on Elsie’s arm. “She’s done instrumental work campaigning for social reform.”
“Better make sure she’s not drinking any of Malfoy’s coffee too, then,” Elsie mutters, darkly. “She won’t last long as Minister if she does.”
Minerva glances at Albus, who looks deep in thought. The loss of the first Muggle-born Minister was a blow to Albus as much as it was to the rest of them. Nobby had been vocal about the causes they supported and a close friend to Albus. His work behind the scenes was instrumental in ensuring people like Harold Bagsworth didn’t get promoted to positions of even more influence and power. From her confrontation with Harold several years prior, Minerva has been able to gain the confidence of the Minister and ensure young, female employees are protected from the insidious lechery that occupied the halls of the Ministry in her day. As with many things in his life, the ailing health of Nobby is something Albus has rarely discussed with any of them.
“We have issues beyond the Ministry.” Albus looks up at last, taking a sip of his Butterbeer. “Tom Riddle came to Hogwarts earlier this year to enquire about a position teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts. He saw fit to bring some of his loyal supporters to the Hog’s Head—Nott, Rosier, Mulciber, Dolohov—presumably ready to take orders if his attempts were unsuccessful.”
Minerva glares at Albus, unable to believe he kept this from her—from all staff. “Tom Riddle is going around calling himself Lord Voldemort. He’s in the thick of this, as are the others. I wouldn’t be surprised if the attack on the Squib march was organised by him.”
“Neither would I,” Albus agrees, gloomily. “The spell is his, my source tells me. Morsmorde. Riddle’s mark.”
“Don’t you think we deserve to be kept informed of his presence in the school?”
“I’m informing you now.” Albus’ voice is tight, his eyes flashing as he meets Minerva’s gaze. “I said no, naturally. He will never teach at Hogwarts whilst I’m in charge. If I have my way, I’ll do everything in my power to ensure he never sets foot in the school again. Not on my watch.”
“Nor on mine.” Minerva relents, unable to remain angry with Albus. The events of the last few years have unsettled her, and she knows Albus is struggling with the turning tide as much as the rest of them. He too has secrets, and Minerva is beginning to suspect those secrets go beyond his sexuality. Lately it’s as though he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. “Will’s right about Little Compton Street.”
Albus gives Minerva a shrewd look. “What of Little Compton Street?”
“We should remain hidden,” Minerva says, the words settling like lead in her belly. “It’s safer for everyone.”
“Of course we should remain hidden.” Elsie stares at Minerva. “We don’t want every Tom, Dick and Malfoy snooping around.”
“I can see that now.” Minerva curls her hand into a ball, her short nails digging into her skin. Will’s hand on her own steadies her, and she tries to keep her voice calm. “I would never dream of sharing our secrets without express consent to do so. On the other hand, I don’t like being forced into hiding. We should be out there with the other people marching for rights, the ones confronting the Ministry.”
“We have rights,” Elsie says, tightly. “Or at least we do until somebody decides to strip them away from us. This is my home. Our home. Don’t you dare bring those people into my house.”
“Don’t give her that tone.” Will glares at Elsie. “She’s right, and you know it. How many times have you said being hidden away makes you feel ashamed of who you are? Don’t shout at her for feeling something you’ve had years to work on yourself.”
“It doesn’t matter in any event,” Albus interjects. “Little Compton Street remains secret. It must. I’ve only recently been appointed Headmaster at Hogwarts, and there’s precious little chance of me remaining there if my proclivities are known. The next person in line might very well be the one who gives Riddle the job he’s sniffing out.”
“I know.” Quietly furious, Minerva purses her lips together. “I’m simply having a conversation, trying to express some of my thoughts on the matter. I don’t believe in hiding away, I never have. I don’t think it keeps us any safer, in the end. I can’t abide the thought of sitting around here and doing nothing.”
Albus gives Minerva a fond smile. “You won’t be doing nothing, Minerva. You’re my eyes and ears at the Ministry, one of the few people I trust absolutely.” Albus’ smile slips and he looks away, his brow furrowing. “We, all of us, will have work to do.”
Silence descends on the group and the air fills with a stagnant promise that the cloying atmosphere suggests means the worst is yet to come.
dance while the music still goes on
don't think about tomorrow
dance and forget our time is gone
tonight's a night we borrow.
Dance (While The Music Still Goes On) – ABBA
1971, The Christopher Street Inn, Little Compton Street
“We are all agreed.” Albus clinks his shot glass with the others. “Little Compton Street continues to remain a secret.” He drains his shot in one, rubbing his beard and looking into the distance. “We have to remain vigilant. New faces, new people. We have a habit of welcoming people when they find us, but now we must be on guard. I cannot impress the urgency of this enough. Any strange behaviour, even old friends acting in an unusual fashion, should be reported to me immediately.” It's a conversation they’ve had countless times in the years since the attack on the March for Squib Rights in 1968, arguments born out of a desperate desire to do something in a world that’s changing for all the wrong reasons.
“Agreed,” Minerva intones, along with the others. She takes her short shot of sweet brandy knowing that Albus is right. They have argued long and hard about whether or not remaining underground is the right thing to do and now their focus needs to be a state of high alert, keeping an eye on new people discovering the street. Her early ideas of bringing Little Compton Street into the public gaze now feel impossible, in the midst of an open war, declared at the end of the previous year. “As much as I hate the idea of hiding away, I can’t help but feel those who are committing such travesties in the Muggle world would love an opportunity to do so here.”
Elsie gives Minerva a wan smile. “I know it’s killing you, love.”
“Better that than letting my principles kill everybody else.” Minerva squeezes Will’s hand, swallowing back the wave of fury that is so familiar to her these days. “I expect the crowd supporting Voldemort wouldn’t take too kindly to our existence.”
“I doubt it.” Pomona pulls a face, her hand clutched tightly in Elsie’s. “They hate anything that isn’t pure. There’s not many of us here bothered about keeping the bloodlines going, that’s for sure.”
“Who wants to be pure anyway?” Elsie leans close to Pomona and gives her a slow kiss. “You’re the finest witch I’ve ever known. Your blood—my blood—means nothing.”
“I think we’re all agreed on that, Elsie.” Will frowns, her brow furrowed as she contemplates those gathered around the small table. “Knowing they’re wrong doesn’t make us any safer.”
“I agree.” Albus glances around the bar before speaking under his breath. “The threat would be…significant.”
“We’ve always been under threat,” Will says, fiercely. “From Muggles and witches and wizards alike. Holding hands on the streets of London isn’t any safer than it used to be.” Will knocks back her drink. “At least we’ll be on the right side of history.”
“Depending on who’s writing it,” Minerva replies, tartly. “We cannot underestimate their strength. Only last week Chipping Camden was decimated by a Death Eater attack on a Muggle market and—”
“—I know.” Will interrupts Minerva, her gruff voice shaking with anger. “I know we can’t underestimate them, but it doesn’t mean we can’t agree it’s bollocks.”
“I’m simply pointing out the danger.” Minerva purses her lips and glares at Will. “There’s not much use in being on the right side of history if none of us are alive to read it.”
“—Stop it!” Pomona speaks up, unusually forceful. “There’s nothing to be gained by fighting amongst ourselves. We’re all on the same side.”
“Nobody’s to be trusted anymore,” Elsie offers. “This used to be a place I’d welcome strangers. I’d think that’s brilliant, another lass who’s stumbled upon us and found herself. I’d take them in with open arms. Now I hate strangers. Faces I don’t know. New witches, who probably feel every bit as scared as we do. I can’t trust anyone I didn’t know from before.”
Minerva glances at Albus, and he nods, his expression grim. “As Albus has already alluded to, I don’t believe it’s just strangers we need to worry about. There have been reports from the Ministry—the Imperius Curse is favoured by the Death Eaters. People have been turned. Many, many people, some of their own volition, others without any say in the matter. Be cautious, even with faces you know as well as your own. It’s not just new people that can cause harm.”
“You’re a right pair, you and Dumbledore here,” Will mutters. “Life and soul of the party.”
“I’m just trying to be realistic,” Minerva says, tightly.
“I know, pet.” Will slips her hand into Minerva’s underneath the table and leans in, murmuring quietly enough that her words are for Minerva’s ears only. “I’m sorry I was an ass. Fear can do that, sometimes.”
“No apologies.” Minerva gives Will a small smile and squeezes her hand gently, her tension dissipating. “I won’t hear of it.”
Will grins at Minerva, before her expression sobers. “What’s to be done about all of this? Keeping Little Compton Street secret can’t be the only reason we’re here. We’ve been keeping this place under wraps for decades. Same old, same old as far as I’m concerned.”
“We’re here because we need to learn to recognise the signs of a witch or wizard that’s been tampered with, for a start.” Albus slides a number of photographs across the table, the faces grainy sepia. “We also need to know the people we cannot trust.”
“Some of these people are just boys and girls.” Elsie picks up a photograph of people Minerva recognises as Antonin Dolohov, Evan Rosier, Narcissa Black and Lucius Malfoy. All prefects and several of them not yet out of Hogwarts. They’re smiling at the camera in their Slytherin robes and look as any other group of friends might. “These are children. Are you telling me I need to watch out for youngsters, too?”
“We need to watch out for everyone,” Albus replies, grimly. “All of the photographs you have in front of you are people I know to have affiliations or sympathies with those on the other side of the war. There are people in their first year at Hogwarts that are already making all the wrong connections and demonstrating significant magical prowess—”
“—Severus Snape,” Minerva murmurs. A young, angry-looking boy, with a talent for magic far exceeding his young years. She too has noticed the amount of time he’s been spending with the likes of older boys like Lucius Malfoy, drowning in his tatty robes, his dark hair hanging over his face.
“Yes, quite.” Albus shakes his head. “Some of them, I hope we can save before they take a path that will forever shape their lives. That is the job of the Hogwarts staff. Minerva, Wilhelmina when you’re teaching, others at the school.”
“I really do prefer Will if it’s all the same to you.”
“My apologies.” Albus nods at Will and she shrugs.
“Not the most important thing on your mind, I’d warrant.”
“What do we do if we see these people?” Elsie goes through the photographs, putting aside the one featuring students and turning to the pictures of adults.
“I encourage everyone to practice your Patronus Charms. If you can’t send one already, learn. Make no mistake, we are locked in battle, whether we want to be or not. If you see any of these people or their relatives in Little Compton Street, you’re to alert me by any means necessary. We’re particularly vulnerable without any Floo connections. Although we’ve taken measures to ensure people can no longer Apparate in and out of Little Compton Street, much like Hogwarts, such measures are double-edged. They will doubtless keep us safer but they will also make it far harder for people to leave in the event of an attack.”
Any good mood disappears entirely, the agitation and fear palpable. The bright, happy music that filters through the bar is entirely at odds with the mood of the evening. Minerva glances at the people dancing, chatting and laughing at the bar. The space everyone is celebrating in was set up in part as homage to riots at The Stonewall Inn and in part to reflect a growing trend of fascination with all things American on Little Compton Street. She wonders how her battles will compare to the ones fought across the ocean, or the ones fought by Muggles in the UK, born out of fury from years of being treated poorly by government and law enforcement. It would be so nice, not to know every detail about the war. So good to be able to have just one night off, without feeling as though she’s constantly on watch. Minerva’s been looking over her shoulder for years now, every movement in the shadows, every flicker of light, every peculiar look from a stranger leaving her more unsettled than the last.
“What happens if we can’t contact you quickly?” Elsie gives Albus a strange look, her words pulling Minerva from her thoughts.
Albus meets Elsie’s question with a blank expression. “I hope you never need to find out.”
The music outside Will’s flat is as loud and energetic as usual, the whoops and hollers from the people gathering in the street filtering through the small gap in the open window.
“Everyone’s celebrating as if we’re not in the middle of a war.” Minerva stretches out in bed and tilts her head to look at Will. “Don’t you think it’s strange?”
“Maybe.” Will shrugs. “But I’m not sure I know the alternative. Are people supposed to just stop living?”
“Hardly.” Minerva tuts under her breath. When she speaks again, her voice is quiet. “Don’t you think these nights have a different energy, lately?”
“Perhaps,” Will murmurs. “If the songs are going to get turned off soon, maybe people just want to dance while the music’s still playing.”
“I suppose.” Minerva swallows and looks at the ceiling. “I sometimes feel as though we’re in another world, here. As if people don’t know the work that’s happening on the outside, as if they don’t care.”
“Oh they care,” Will says, brusquely. “You know that chap of yours at Scamander’s? The one who gets all the good whisky in?”
“Sam Turpin?” Minerva shifts on her side and faces Will. “Of course I know him.”
“You might not have heard about his mum and dad.” Will pulls a face. “Death Eater attack on Wandsworth. Both caught up in it. His mum’s in St Mungo’s, his dad’s in Janus Thickey. They tortured his poor pa—in his eighties, would you believe. Those merciless bastards thought he was part of some resistance movement—which he’s not. Ginger haired chap. They’ve been reckoning he was mistaken for a Weasley.”
Minerva swallows, a bitter, metallic taste on her tongue. “Surely they must have realised their mistake early?”
Will laughs, bitterly. “They realised, alright. But by then it was just sport. They do that, don’t they?”
“Torture people for fun?” A wave of nausea makes Minerva’s stomach roll and she inclines her head. “Yes. They do.”
“Sam’s not the only one.” Will rubs her jaw, her expression cold and furious. “There’s lots of them. The ones partying down there. People who’ve lost stuff. Let them turn the music up, if it helps, I say. Let them play their damn songs as loudly as they possibly can.”
“You’re right.” Minerva glances at Will. “You must think I’m always trying to take whatever happiness we find here away from people.”
Will snorts. “I don’t think anything of the sort. You’re carrying a heavy burden, Min. You, Albus, the Weasleys and the others involved in fighting against the changing tide. I don’t blame you for being angry, sometimes. I can’t say I’d blame you for wanting to give it up, either. Move to France, buy a cottage by the sea.”
“Do they have cottages by the sea in France?” Minerva smiles at Will. “Is that where you’d rather be?”
“Doubt it.” Will pulls a face. “Can’t speak a word of French. I’d never be able to survive without ordering my petit pain.”
“Let’s talk about something other than the war,” Minerva decides. “Tell me about your music.”
“Not sure there’s much to tell. People are going off the stuff I’m used to playing. Stuck in the fifties, that’s me.”
“Don’t you want to learn new material?” Minerva props herself up, looking down at Will.
“I’m learning a song by that Liza Minnelli.” Will grins at Minerva. “Elsie’s in love with her.”
“Elsie’s in love with Pomona.”
“Liza, too.” Will laughs under her breath. “It’s not my usual fare. Cabaret, it’s called. A big, bombastic show tune, not a guitar in sight. It’s stretching the vocal cords, that’s for sure. I’ve smoked one pipe too many. I’m trying to learn it for her birthday. I thought it might be a surprise.”
“You’ll have to show me,” Minerva says. She pauses, wondering why she’s never asked this before but suddenly feeling a burning desire to know the answer. “Were you and Elsie ever more than friends?”
Will shifts in the bed and blinks at Minerva. “Yes. For one breathless minute, we imagined ourselves in love.”
Minerva raises her eyebrows. “A minute?”
“A little longer than that.” Will gives Minerva a sheepish smile. “Not by much, though. Not in the grand scheme of things. We never fit right, me and Elsie. In any of the ways. We fumbled around with one another, got on well enough to work out how to bring the punters into the Gates, but it was never meant to be. We were two people who should have been able to make the best kind of music, but in the end, it was worse than an out of tune guitar.”
“There’s nothing worse than an out of tune guitar.” Minerva smiles at Will. “Is it foolish to be jealous?”
“Not in the slightest. I’m horribly jealous of that Douglas of yours—”
“I’m pretending I can’t remember his name.” Will winks and pulls Minerva close. “Horribly, horribly jealous. Elsie loves Pomona. She’s been daft about her from the first moment she came into the Gates. I’m about as interested in Elsie romantically as I am in learning to play The Beatles. She’s my best friend. We could have had a right old awkward time of it, but we didn’t. She’s a diamond.”
“I know.” Minerva swallows, clutching onto Will tighter. “I’ve always known there were people before me, but I don’t think I’ve ever had the courage to ask about them.”
“Why now?” Will raises her eyebrows at Minerva. “We’ve been together for long enough, you can’t have been stewing over it all this time.”
“Not stewing, exactly. Wondering, at times.” Minerva gives Will a kiss, sinking into her arms which always feel like coming home. “What about Smithy?”
Will snorts with laughter. “Smithy would sooner go to bed with Albus than me. Safe to say, I’m not her type.”
“Well more fool Smithy, then.” Minerva listens to the music thrumming outside, taking a moment to soak up the atmosphere of Little Compton Street, the night still a faint, lively hum from Will’s bedroom window. “People are outside dancing like someone's going to turn the music off. I want to know every last thing about you, before the songs end.”
“I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.” Will noses at Minerva’s neck, breathing her in. When she speaks, her voice is muffled. “For the record, I’ll keep dancing with you even when the music stops.”
Minerva swallows and holds Will tighter. “Will?”
“Hmm?” Will’s voice is still muffled as she clings onto Minerva.
“Play me like a love song.”
“Minerva McGonagall.” Will pulls back with a laugh, her eyes shining. “That was a line and a half.”
Minerva gives Will what she hopes is a very saucy smile. “Did it work?”
Will chuckles, nodding her head. “You’d better believe it.”
“I—” Minerva’s voice catches in her throat, her voice rough. Her whole body is perspiring, her hair stuck to her cheek. Slowly the strange, unpleasant sounds of laughter slide away and she finds herself staring at an anxious-looking Will, with Presley—no longer a kitten anymore although still a fluffy little thing that never seemed to grow to full size—giving a concerned miaow and watching her with doleful eyes.
“I’m fine.” Minerva pats the bed, catching her breath. Presley jumps onto it and curls up beside her, as if knowing she needs comfort. After giving him a few pats, he takes himself off into the living room and Minerva watches him go. “I think I scared Presley.”
“He’s seen worse,” Will says. “He has to listen to me play new songs, remember? Doesn’t like them half as much as Elvis used to.”
Minerva gives Will a soft smile, knowing how much she misses her first kneazle. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Will’s brow furrows. “You might not have scared Presley, but you didn’t half give me a shock. You looked as though you were fighting a battle with someone, all the tossing and turning you were doing. At one point I thought someone was inside your head.”
“Maybe they were,” Minerva murmurs. The nightmare comes back to her in a flash. Death Eaters, the glowing green of Morsmordre above Will’s flat in Little Compton Street, the anguish of her own scream and the sound of eerie laughter racing across deserted cobbled streets. “I dreamed they were here. That they came for the street.”
“Ah.” Will nods her understanding. “I’ve had that one before. Not a happy thought.”
“No.” Minerva pushes her hair back and pulls a face. “I’m all sticky. Would it be odd to take a shower?”
“Not if you need one.” Will gives Minerva a light kiss on the neck. “I don’t mind you sticky, for the record.”
“I think a cold shower might be just what’s needed to wash the dream away.” Minerva squeezes Will’s hand and goes to the bathroom, needing to be by herself for a minute. The cold water is powerful and it runs over her skin, cooling her heated body. She tilts her head up into the water and closes her eyes, letting it pound down on her face to try to banish the images that continue to kaleidoscope through her minds.
Eventually she turns the water off and dries herself, returning to bed. Will has lit the bedside candle and is sitting up in bed, reading a book about frogs. She looks up over the rim of her reading glasses when Minerva comes into the room.
“Much.” Minerva decides to forego a nightgown for the rest of the night and slips into bed beside Will, looking at her book. “You didn’t have to stay up.”
“I wanted to.” Will puts a bookmark into the book to keep her page and drops it on the bedside table. She slides off her reading glasses, leaving them on top of the book and turning to face Minerva. “Do you want to talk about it, or do you want distracting?”
“Distracting, I think.” Minerva plays with a button on Will’s pyjama top. They’re fancy things that Will purchased on a whim because they had the air of a country gent’s smoking jacket about them. The satin is cool and smooth against Minerva’s skin, pleasing to the touch. Although Minerva isn’t usually one for avoiding conversation—very much a fan of nipping things in the bud—there has been so much talking, so many futile conversations about things they are often powerless to change.
“If they come, they come,” Minerva says, quietly. “We can’t stop living our lives just in case.”
“We’ll be ready,” Will replies. “Most of us on Little Compton Street have fought a battle or two in our times. We won’t go down without giving them hell. Anyway, this place is as protected as Hogwarts these days.”
“You’re right.” Minerva holds Will’s steady gaze and runs her fingers down Will’s chest. “Will?”
“Yes?” Will’s voice is slightly breathless, as if she can already anticipate where Minerva’s mind is.
“I want you to take my mind off it.” Minerva’s voice is clipped, the memory of her nightmare flooding back with force. She doesn’t want to start shrieking and blustering, she has enough of that dealing with children and arguing about strategy with Albus. Tonight she’s itching to let go in other ways, to channel all of her pent-up thoughts into raw feeling.
“I can do that.” Will clears her throat, before speaking gruffly. “Arms above your head, Min.”
Minerva melts into the bed with a sigh. Will always knows. She stretches her arms over her head, humming with contentment as satin bindings wind their way around her wrists.
“Everything, er, green?” Will asks, anxiously.
“Yes, yes.” Minerva opens her eyes, impatiently. “Green as a cucumber, I’ll tell you if it’s not.”
“Fine.” Will rolls her eyes and then incants another spell which leaves Minerva blindfolded.
Minerva thought she would find having the ability to move or see stripped away from her terrifying. She couldn’t imagine putting herself in another person’s hands in such a fashion—leaving her body vulnerable. With Will, she welcomes the sensation of letting go. She finds she sleeps without dreaming when they play like this, until her body’s aching for more, harder, faster.
“Oh!” Minerva gasps out when Will smacks her lightly in between her legs. She parts her legs in invitation, and Will does it again, and again.
It’s a wild, frenzied blur of pleasure. Sharp smacks against her clitoris until she’s begging, the deep slide of a toy inside her, the buzz of their favourite vibrator. Her hands curl, fingernails digging into skin. Will’s gruff murmuring against her sensitised skin—you’re so wet, Min, so fucking lovely—and her pleasure crescendos.
They make good music together, her and Will, Minerva decides as she slips into a deep sleep with her whole body aching in the very best of ways.
Such good music.
The Ministry of Magic has a restless quality to it, the people striding through the corridors attempting to make themselves look official and busy. A change of Minister is bound to bring with it a significant staff shake-up and Minerva wishes she could be confident the changes are going to be for the better. She found Eugenia Jenkins ineffectual at times, but her replacement, Harold Minchum, is far worse. Minerva remembers his rise through the ranks from her own Ministry days and has always found him somewhat odious. He’s part of the group that Bagsworth always favoured spending time with—clearly the name Harold, reminiscent of old Etonians, bodes nothing good.
“More Dementors at Azkaban.” Arthur Weasley shakes his head, speaking to Minerva through the corner of his mouth. “This fool’s in power because he wants more Dementor’s at Azkaban.”
“I’ve never been convinced in their loyalty,” Minerva mutters. Another riot occurred inside the Ministry yesterday, a group of protestors breaking in to douse the walls with magical paint that has only just been removed, to hide the signs of troubled times. “It’s a dangerous tactic, but of course with all the attacks people just want to feel secure. Yesterday’s protest tells us that much.”
“I understand, believe me I understand, but administering the Kiss to innocent parties?” Arthur shakes his head, despairingly. “There have been countless miscarriages of justice. Dementors simply want to feed on happy souls, they don’t have any regard for whether or not the people they feed from are good, bad, or somewhere in between. It’s idiotic to place such reliance on creatures like that.”
“I quite agree,” Minerva replies. “However the killings in Norfolk were just one more atrocity to add to a growing list. People are anxious, emotions are running high. People like Minchum know precisely how to capitalise on those anxieties.” Minerva glances over at Minchum, who’s deep in conversation with Barty Crouch. “The Department of Magical Law Enforcement is going to pot.”
Arthur looks morose. “How are you otherwise, Minerva?”
“As well as one can be, at times like this.” Minerva glances at Arthur. “How’s Molly, and the children?”
“Bill’s a proper little man now.” Arthur’s chest puffs with pride. “Charlie begs me to read him stories about dragons every night. He loves the things.” He flushes and leans closer. “Molly’s expecting a third.”
“Goodness.” Minerva squeezes Arthur’s arm. “Many congratulations to you both. It’s nice to have some good news amidst all this unhappiness.”
“It is, although I can’t help but worry about her.” Arthur shakes his head. “She insists on getting involved. I tell her that’s my job, but she doesn’t listen.”
“Nor should she.” Minerva gives Arthur a stern look. “She wants to protect the family every bit as fiercely as you do, I expect. I’m sure she worries about you too, here every day surrounded by people we barely trust enough to converse with.”
“I know.” Arthur sighs. “She’s a brilliant woman, my Molly. It’s one of the reasons I love her so much. There’s no fear. Not for herself at least.”
“I can relate to that.” Minerva can’t understand the desire to have a large family, babies never having interested her particularly, but she can certainly understand the fierceness of Molly’s desire to protect those she loves. The nightmares that leave Minerva breathless and shaking are always the ones that involve Will or her friends coming to harm. As the war has intensified the group on Little Compton Street have formed a firm family of their own. Minerva knows exactly what it’s like to fear for the wellbeing of family, even if her own looks different to Arthur and Molly’s. “I hope to see her, soon.”
“We don’t have much to make anything fancy, but Molly’s always able to whip something up from her pantry. You should come for dinner.” Arthur glances at Minerva, his jaw working as if he’s debating whether to say something else. “You and your…colleague. Wilhelmina, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Minerva raises an eyebrow at Arthur. “She prefers Will, however.”
“Yes, of course.” Arthur clears his throat, a flush in his cheeks. “Have I said the wrong thing?”
“Not at all.” Minerva gives Arthur a small smile. “Although we both know that colleague is not an entirely accurate description.”
Arthur chuckles. “Is there a description you prefer?”
“Partner suits just fine.” Minerva glances around to make sure nobody is in earshot. “Although colleague will suffice in circles like this, at least for the time being.”
Arthur nods his acquiescence and gives Minerva a warm smile. She’s struck by how young he looks, with his shock of red hair and his broad smile. It makes her think of Sam Turpin’s family, attacked after being mistaken for Weasleys, and a bolt of fear runs through her. She doesn’t want to lose this good man, or any of her friends. The thought of it terrifies her.
“I’ll speak to Molly,” Arthur says. “Perhaps you could make some time this weekend.”
“I’m sure we could, if convenient for Molly.” Minerva realises this is the first time—aside from her moment of anger at Bagsworth—that she’s disclosed the nature of her relationship with Will to anybody outside of Little Compton Street. Doing so is freeing. A small weight lifted, a warm thrill of delight that comes with affectionate understanding and acceptance. It makes her realise that whilst now might not be the time for big marches to raise awareness of Little Compton Street, there are good people in her life. Good people she can trust, and share her secrets with, without needing to compromise her safety or the safety of others.
“Thank you,” Minerva says at last, her words caught in her throat. “For the invitation.”
“You’re welcome.” Arthur smiles. “We’re friends, I hope.”
“Yes.” Minerva keeps close to Arthur as Minchum begins droning on about Azkaban. “We certainly are.”
“I’ve never had a proper chat with the Weasleys.” Will adjusts her tie as they make their way to the door of The Burrow. “They’re proper wizarding royalty. Fighting the good fight, and all that.”
“They certainly are.” Minerva gives Will a quick kiss. “I have friends in high places.”
“Give over.” Laughing, Will pushes lightly at Minerva. She grins, eyes shining, and cheeks flushed. “I’m glad you told them about us.”
“I’m glad too.” Minerva knocks lightly on the door to the house, not wanting to wake up the children. Arthur had specifically invited them for supper after bedtime on account of the madhouse—as he put it—of getting Bill and Charlie ready for bed.
“Come in, come in.” Arthur Weasley opens the door, beaming at them both. He has a towel thrown over one shoulder and a stuffed dragon in one hand. “Charlie wouldn’t sleep until I found Alfie. He was under the settee. Come inside, let me take your coats.”
Arthur helps them off with their coats and they take off their shoes, before going to find Molly in the living room as Arthur dashes off to tend to a crying Charlie—presumably agitated by the missing Alfie. Molly gives Minerva a fierce hug and then hugs Will too, much to Will’s obvious surprise.
“Welcome, both of you. We’re so happy you could make it.” Molly laughs and tucks a strand of loose hair behind her ear. “It’s nice to have adult company for a change. Arthur’s been so busy with the Ministry I’ve hardly got out at all, and even though I can’t have a glass with number three on the way, I just know Arthur’s dying to have a drink with you both. We’re up to our ears in dirty nappies and Death Eater riots. What a frightful combination.”
“You can say that again.” Minerva accepts a glass of sherry from Molly and raises her glass. “A toast to you and Arthur and your growing family, Molly. You look marvellous.”
“Thank you.” Molly pats her stomach fondly. “We don’t know the sex yet, but we’re calling her Priscilla. At least I am. Arthur keeps calling her Percy, he thinks Priscilla’s too fussy.”
“Well, hello there, whatever-your-name-is and congratulations to your mum.” Will clinks her glass lightly against Molly’s. “Thanks for having me over this evening, awfully good of you.”
“Of course.” Molly ushers Minerva and Will to chairs at a small table. None of the china or chairs match, but there are sprigs of wildflowers on the table, a dusty bottle of red wine and carefully folded napkins. It’s obvious that Molly and Arthur have gone to some significant effort this evening, and Minerva makes a mental note to repay them.
“Here we go.” Arthur comes into the warm, cosy room, carrying an enormous roasted chicken that smells delicious. “Charlie’s settled, the chicken’s ready for carving and the roasters are just about ready Molls.”
Molly retreats to the kitchen after giving Arthur a quick kiss on the cheek and returns with one more delicious treat after another. From perfectly crisp and fluffy roast potatoes to the best sage and onion stuffing Minerva has ever tasted in her life, everything from the buttery carrots to the generous splash of homemade gravy is exquisite.
“You could run a restaurant with cooking like this.” Will dabs the corner of her mouth with a napkin, after swallowing a large mouthful of chicken and potato. “I’d eat there every night if I could.”
“You’re very kind.” Molly laughs, clearly happy with the compliment. “How long have you and Minerva been together Will? It is Will, isn’t it? I know how some people hate their name being shortened.”
“I prefer it. Will suits me just fine.” Will gives Molly a broad smile and then glances at Minerva. “How long’s it been, Min?”
“Since summer nineteen-fifty-six,” Minerva replies, promptly.
“Not that she’s counting.” Will winks at Minerva.
“How long?” Molly stares at Will, then Minerva, then looks back at Will again before elbowing Arthur in the side. “Arthur Weasley you waited twenty years to invite our friends to dinner? Are you that unhappy with my cooking?”
“It hasn’t been twenty years. I’m not sure Minerva or Will would have fancied eating supper with either of us when we were still getting detentions for sneaking off for a moonlit stroll at Hogwarts.” Arthur rolls his eyes before wrapping his arm around Molly’s shoulder and giving her a quick kiss on the top of her head. “You came to our wedding in sixty-eight, Minerva. Will would have been very welcome. I’m afraid I didn’t know, otherwise I would have included an invitation—”
“Please don’t worry.” Minerva cuts off Arthur before he can apologise for all the lack of invitations Will’s received over the years. “I dislike being gossiped about and as such I have always kept my love life extremely private.”
“Out of disliking gossip, and necessity,” Will says. She glances at Arthur and Molly. “You must know what some of our lot think about this.” She waves a hand between herself and Minerva. “Two witches, two wizards. People just don’t talk about it much, you see.”
“I know,” Molly says, quietly. She glances at Arthur, then leans forward. “My brother Gideon prefers the company of other wizards. Not that we’ve ever met any of his partners.”
“I’m not sure Gideon’s the sort for long-term commitment.” Arthur shrugs. “He doesn’t talk about it much, mind. He doesn’t think we’d understand.”
“You’ll have to introduce us,” Will says. “We’ve got some old haunts we visit, if he doesn’t know about them already.”
“I think he’d like that.” Molly looks excited. “Do try to find him a boyfriend, will you? We worry terribly.”
“You worry, you mean. Gideon’s always seemed happy enough to me.” Arthur tops up the wine and sits back with a sigh of satisfaction. “Besides, he’s got other things on his mind.”
Molly pulls a face. “We weren’t going to talk about the war.”
“Quite right too.” Arthur extracts his wand and smiles at Will. “I understand you play guitar. Would you fancy giving us a song, or is it your night off?”
Will puffs her chest out proudly. “I never met a guitar I didn’t like. I’d love to play you some Elvis, if you don’t mind the Muggle stuff.”
“Not at all.” Arthur’s eyes light up. “I’m actually quite fascinated by Muggle music. Can you tell me how it works?”
The conversation continues around them and the evening stretches into night with drinks, laughter and plenty of singing and dancing.
Nobody mentions the war.
“Me too,” Minerva agrees. “The Ministry needs more men like Arthur Weasley. A few more like him and a few less like Harold—Bagsworth or Minchum—wouldn’t go amiss.”
“Too right.” Will squeezes Minerva’s hand. “Do you think you’d ever have them round for dinner at the Little Compton Street flat? I bet Arthur would love The Gryff, I could imagine him asking all sorts about their magically modified Muggle music speakers.”
“I’m not sure.” Minerva glances at Will in surprise. “It’s so odd, thinking about inviting them here. What happened to you, Elsie and Smithy being so desperate to keep everything a secret?”
Will snorts. “It’s not as though someone who’s straight can’t step foot on the hallowed grounds of Little Compton Street. People have families, relatives, friends. It’s true that most of us are queer enough in some way, but I wouldn’t mind them knowing. It’s different, when it’s people we trust.”
“I’d never thought of it like that.” Minerva contemplates the idea for a while. “I would worry about Albus. Pomona told me how cross he was when she saw him in The Gryff. I’m not sure he’d thank me for bringing Order members to one of the last remaining places he can relax.”
“You could always ask him,” Will says. “Let him decide.” She chuckles. “I suppose you've heard he's been leading efforts to make modifications to the entrances since all the trouble started, not to mention the ban on Apparition. I reckon that’s why we’ve managed to escape so unscathed, why people still feel so safe here.”
“Did you say entrances, plural?” Minerva looks curiously at Will. “I thought there was just the one—at the back of Lister’s.”
“No, there’s three.” Will counts them off on her finger. “One through in the basement of Soho Bookshop, the one by Lister’s—” she winks, “—that’s the ones the witches usually use, and then there’s another that leads into one of the shops that’s been closed for as long as I’ve been coming here. That doesn’t get used much. I wouldn’t even know how to find it from London.”
“How strange. After all these years, I’ve never known.”
“Well now you do.” Will pushes open the door to the Gates and lets Minerva go through first. “Your round, Min.”
Minerva laughs, because isn’t it always?
“I’ve never seen anything like it.” Arthur Weasley is wide-eyed, as he wanders through the cobbled streets, taking in everything. “Did you know about this, Gideon?”
“Not a clue.” Gideon Prewett has a thick shock of light brown hair and a cheerful smile, his eyes just as wide as Arthur’s as he looks around. He’s warm and funny, and Minerva liked him immediately. “How do people find out about this place?”
“Usually it finds them,” Will says. “But people are more wary now, what with the war and everything. There are less new people than usual coming here. Too many can’t be trusted and those that are new probably don’t like the funny looks they’re getting as people try to work out if they’re one of You-Know-Who’s lot.”
“It’s a shame Molly couldn’t make it,” Minerva says to Arthur. “Maybe next time.”
“She’ll be raring to go once the little one arrives.” He leans close to Minerva, keeping his voice low. “It’s good of you to ask Gideon. I think he’s going to come back here again.”
“I hope he does,” Minerva replies. “What do you think?”
“I can see why you like it.” Arthur looks around, uncertain. “Are you sure it’s okay me being here?”
“Of course.” Minerva knows that Albus won’t be out tonight and he wasn’t the slightest bit concerned about Gideon and Arthur visiting. In her heart she suspects Molly and Arthur won’t be regular visitors to Little Compton Street, but she hopes they’ll return on occasion. She has a sense the place doesn’t feel as instantly right to Arthur as it did to Minerva when she first found the Gates, although he seems to be enjoying the jolly atmosphere, delighted that Minerva was so comfortable sharing the secrets of Little Compton Street with him.
“There’s a drag night on at The Gryff,” Will says. She’s caught in a deep conversation with Gideon who looks as enthralled as Minerva was on her first visit. Gideon, she hopes, will feel happy returning. “Fancy it?”
Minerva nods. She usually prefers the Gates, but she can tell Will’s keen to make Gideon feel as welcome as possible, crafty thing that she is.
“Pomona and Elsie are coming too.” Will looks excited. “You know Pomona of course, but Elsie’s a riot. An institution, you could say. Queen of the Gates! That's the women's bar down the street, not that you'd know it when the boys all turn up to sample our cocktails.” She waves her hand to point it out to Gideon. “Come and watch me play next Thursday if you like. I won’t be offended if you slope off to that new super club, The Sundowner. Most of the boys do. They don't really come to Little Compton Street for the lesbians.”
They make their way through the crowds towards The Gryffindor Lion, and Minerva swells of pride and affection. For Will, for Gideon, for Arthur, and most of all, for Little Compton Street.
“I think he’s enjoying the night out before the baby comes,” Minerva says, fondly. Arthur spent the first part of the evening—as expected—talking to the barman about Muggle music. Now he’s deep in conversation with a drag queen over something involving hairspray.
“Aye, he’s certainly doing that.” Elsie grins. “Not enjoying it as much as the other fella, mind.”
Minerva laughs. “Gideon’s proving to be quite popular.”
“He’s been snogging that dancer all night.” Elsie chuckles. “Good on him, I say. No better place to find someone than here. Besides, we all need a bit of fun to break up everything else that’s going on.”
“I know.” Minerva glances at Elsie. Although she’s clearly having a good night, her eyes are shadowed and she’s harried and on-edge, glancing around as if she’s trying to pick unfamiliar faces out of the crowd. “You’re worried.”
“You could say that.” Elsie’s brow furrows. “I keep looking at people funny. Keep wondering what’s on their mind when they look at me funny.”
“Will mentioned there were spells to keep Little Compton Street protected.”
Elsie snorts. “From people who don’t like our lot, maybe. It’s not them I’m worried about. It’s the ones that don’t like Muggle-borns that bother me. I’d warrant there’s a few of those, even here.”
“I hadn’t realised.” Minerva takes in the space and the crowd, looking at it in a whole new light. Little Compton Street always felt like the safest place on earth to hold hands with Will, but she hadn’t considered it might be a place any sympathisers with the other side would ever frequent.
“I’m known, Minerva.” Elsie has a sip of her drink. “I might not be known the way you are, or the way Albus is. But I’m known here. I’ve marched for Squib Rights, for Muggle-borns. I’ve got a big flag that says No Less A Witch Than You behind the bar.
“The selfish thing,” Elsie continues quietly, “Is that everybody keeps saying how scared they are for everybody else. Will can’t stop worrying about you off at the Ministry, putting yourself right in the firing line. Albus worries about everybody, it seems. It’s like he knows things that we don’t. But I—”
“—It’s okay,” Minerva says, when Elsie breaks off. “You can say it.”
“I’ve got so much left to do.” Elsie’s voice wobbles and she looks at Minerva, finally meeting her gaze. “I’m worried about me. Isn’t that the strangest thing?”
“No,” Minerva replies. A lump rises in her throat and an icy shiver travels down her spine. “It isn’t strange at all.”
Minerva thought she knew something of grief until she received the short, poorly written owl from Will, informing her of Elsie’s death.
It was quick, her sources tell her later. It wasn’t anything to do with Little Compton Street or Elsie being Muggle-born. It was a Death Eater attack on Elsie’s village and the people caught up in it were the ones that happened to wake up that morning and take a simple trip to the Muggle market to buy some flowers on a hot summer’s day. If Elsie had been at the food stalls on the next street buying jam, fresh farm eggs or sausages instead, she would have had time to respond, to Apparate. Had she decided to look for mead in a nearby shop instead of pot plants for her garden, she would have been able to send a Patronus like Arabella Figg did last week during the Death Eater attack on Hathersage.
Flowers. It was nothing to do with loving women. Nothing to do with Elsie’s tireless work providing a safe haven for the witches of Little Compton Street. In the end it all came down to deciding to buy flowers. Minerva isn’t sure she will ever be able to buy flowers again without the metallic taste of grief settling on her tongue, without her heart aching from the hole left by her wonderful friend.
She strides through Little Compton Street which is more mournful than usual. The parties—even in the worst times—have always been loud and vibrant, the sun-blemished cobbles warm and hot from the rays of the setting sun. The arches have always been charmed to make the sun shine on Little Compton Street. For the first time, the magical skies are grey and stormy, the arches swollen with rain clouds. There’s a bite in the air. Even the weather has teeth, sinking into Little Compton Street’s inhabitants, sharp and precise. The whole street is in mourning, the silence of the space as peculiar as the absence of people laughing and dancing without a care in the word.
The door of the Gates is jet black, instead of its usual bright, welcoming blue. A small sign on the door bears Smithy’s familiar handwriting.
CLOSED FOR BEREAVEMENT UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
“Oh, Min.” Will clutches the door handle as if it’s the only thing holding her up. “Oh, Min.”
Without a word, Minerva pulls Will into her arms and holds her while she weeps.
“How do you think?” Will snaps. She curses and clutches the makeshift dressing table, hunching over and shaking her head. Her voice is rough when she finally speaks again. “Sorry. I don’t mean to behave like a Hippogriff with a sore head.”
“You’re not a Hippogriff.” Minerva puts a steadying hand on Will’s back and sighs as Will moves into her arms. “You don’t have to do this if it’s too difficult. Nobody would judge you for needing to grieve in private.”
“She would.” Will pulls back with a watery smile and points to the ceiling, where paint flakes and untidy cracks snake across the off cream that presumably used to white before years of smoke filled the room. “Her up there. Elsie Ware. She’d say I thought you were a star, Wilhelmina. You wouldn’t see Liza bottling it.”
“She wouldn’t.” Minerva smiles despite her mood. She pats a tuft of Will’s hair down. “I like the quiff. Very dapper.”
“Fitting, for the occasion.” Will pulls on the lapels of her velvet blazer and pulls away from Minerva, giving herself a critical look in the mirror. “My eyes are red and puffy. I look like I’ve had an all-nighter at The Gryff.”
“You look just fine.” Minerva swallows around the lump in her throat. She doesn’t want to leave Will alone, fiddling with her tie and talking to a gloomy ceiling like Elsie’s still there. “Should I stay here? I can support you from behind the curtain.”
Will snorts and ushers Minerva towards the door. “I won’t hear of it. Get yourself right up at the front of the crowd, I want to see you when I’m singing. You can get me a whisky while you’re at it, I’ll want a shot or three when I’m finished.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Minerva gives Will a slow kiss, sinking into it for longer than she means to as Will clutches onto her tightly and hauls her close.
“You always did make me weak at the knees, Minerva McGonagall,” Will murmurs. She gives Minerva a small smile and makes a shooing motion with her hand. “Now clear off. I need to check I can still shake my pelvis like Elvis. I can’t very well do that with you laughing at me.”
“You’ll knock their socks off,” Minerva says. She wants to say how proud Elsie would be and how brave Will is, but that can wait. She has a feeling the last thing Will needs at the minute is to be reminded who she’s singing for, and why.
She makes her way outside to the main bar. The Gates is busier than it’s ever been. The usually female-dominated crowd is much more mixed tonight, drag queens dressed in huge feathery gowns chat quietly to Smithy at the bar, and the regulars from The Gryff drink colourful cocktails and pints of ale by the door, which is open so the crowds that can’t fit in the bar can still pay their tributes. Minerva pushes her way through the crowd and finds Albus and Pomona standing just to the left of the stage.
“Is Will ready?” Pomona says, anxiously. She gives Minerva a quick hug and glances around the room. “Elsie would love this. She always said she wanted the kind of funeral that would turn into a street party.”
“Then we’ll do her proud.” Minerva tips her Scotch in Pomona’s direction and waves a quick hello to Rita who gives Minerva a hug. The crowd’s polite murmurs quieten as Will walks on stage her face paler than usual. Will is a natural born performer, and the wideness of her eyes and the way she blinks under the strong lights are the only indications of her nerves. “Here she is,” Minerva murmurs. She lets out a very un-Minerva like whoop of encouragement, which Albus, Rita and Pomona echo with enthusiastic clapping.
“Typical Will,” Pomona says, voice wobbly. “Always stealing the limelight, that’s what Elsie said.”
“She can’t help herself,” Minerva replies, fondly. She knows Pomona doesn’t mean her comment maliciously, the admiration and affection in her voice fierce and clear. “Born to be a star.”
The familiar introduction to Cabaret makes the gathered crowd cheer and Will begins to sing. She gains momentum as the huge crowds show their appreciation, her actions exaggerated as she moves across the stage, twirling her top hat in her hand and using a very fancy ebony cane as a prop. She uses some kind of Sonorous Charm to project her voice, so it carries over the cheers and hollers with ease.
When she reaches the quieter point of the song, Will’s voice breaks a little. Will takes a breath, her voice shaking. Her eyes seek out Minerva’s and she swallows, her throat bobbing as she gathers herself. She throws her head back and hits one of the biggest notes of the song perfectly.
“Oh isn’t she marvellous?” Pomona says, a little breathlessly. “I wish Elsie were here to see this.”
“I think she is,” Minerva replies, quietly. Pomona’s body begins to shake, and Minerva gathers her close, holding onto her tightly as she cries. “Darling Pommy. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
Pomona holds on tightly to Minerva, sobs wracking her body. The queens from The Gryff gather close beside them and when Will finishes the song the yells of encore build around them. Will gives the crowd a smile that shakes at the edges.
“Raise your glasses high and let’s give the Queen of the Gates the send-off she deserves. Life is a cabaret, or that's what our Elsie always said. Let’s keep this party going until dawn—I want all the queens up here singing Shirley Bassey because otherwise I'll end up as hoarse as a chain-smoking Gruffalo.” She grabs the glass Minerva left for her at the foot of the stage and tips it towards the roof with a watery laugh.
“Laughing feels all wrong without you, old chum.” Will drains her drink and takes a breath, her eyes shining with tears. “Thank you for the music.”
The crowd cheers and everybody raises their glasses to rapturous applause
“Look at all these people here for you, pet,” Pomona whispers, her eyes red and her cheeks blotchy. “You're a star.”
Minerva keeps her arm around Pomona and joins in the rousing chorus of Will's next song, trying not to look at the empty space behind the bar that suddenly seems so vast.
“Good evening, Aberforth.” Minerva unbuttons her cloak and shakes Aberforth’s hand, glancing around the Hog’s Head. “How are the goats?”
“Better than business,” Aberforth replies, gruffly. “It’s either empty or people are in here drinking away their sorrows until I have to carry them out and find some way to get them home before they Splinch themselves. Mundungus polished off the last of my stout on Wednesday and I’m not due another delivery until the third.”
“As long as he kept away from the whisky,” Minerva replies.
“That he did.” Aberforth pours Minerva her usual and nods towards a small nook towards the back of the bar. “My brother’s through there, if it’s him you’re after.”
“It is indeed. Thank you.”
Aberforth snorts. “Ask him to arrange his meetings elsewhere. It’s no wonder we can’t sell pints to anyone but Mundungus Fletcher when Albus is in here muttering about You-Know-Who’s lot. It’s bad for business.” He leans close to Minerva after looking around. “We have enough official Order meetings, without him using my bar for all the unofficial ones.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Minerva replies. Giving Aberforth a quick nod, she goes to find Albus looking thoughtfully at a half-drunk pint of Butterbeer. “Albus. Your brother seems to think you should be conducting your business elsewhere.”
“This isn’t business. I’m simply meeting an old friend for a drink.” Albus waves his hand. “Aberforth is always grumpy about something, you know that as well as I do.”
Minerva decides not to pass any comment and places her cloak on a nearby chair, taking a seat. “What’s the latest?”
“Sirius Black and James Potter were chased by Death Eaters last night.” Albus flicks his wand, conducting a quick check for anybody trying to use eavesdropping charms. He casts another quick spell that sends a protective layer around them, humming and crackling until it disappears from sight, the only sign of its presence the powerful pulse of magic that makes Minerva feel as though she’s underwater. “We can speak freely for at least the next hour.”
“Good.” Minerva considers the news of Black and Potter. “Death Eaters are attacking children, now?”
“Death Eaters are attacking everyone. Besides, I’m not sure James Potter and Sirius Black could rightfully be considered children any longer. Their peers have no qualms about becoming Death Eaters, if my sources are to be believed.”
Minerva’s stomach swoops. “Severus Snape?”
“According to my sources, yes.” Albus nods. “Regulus Black, too.”
“Good grief.” Minerva shakes her head. “Two brothers, on either side of the war.”
“Indeed.” Albus looks gloomy. “I imagine people like Black and Potter are considered easy targets, not to mention they’re both Gryffindor enough to throw themselves directly into the fray.”
“Is there a way of cautioning them?” Minerva has half a mind to take house points from both of them, when she next sees them. Students or not, they are still not too old to get into trouble.
“I’m not sure discipline is the answer.” Albus quirks a small smile at Minerva. “I’ve asked them both to join the Order. Together with Lily Evans, Peter Pettigrew and Remus Lupin. I believe young Remus in particular could prove quite advantageous.”
“Advantageous?” Minerva’s voice rises and she tries to keep it level, glaring at Albus. “They’re still so young—practically children. They shouldn’t have to get involved to this extent.”
“They’re already involved,” Albus says, grimly. “They’re all quick and smart, good at magic and Lupin can make connections with the werewolves in ways nobody else in our group can.”
“You’re using children like pawns in a game of chess,” Minerva snaps.
“Far from it.” Albus’ eyes flash. “The best way to ensure they remain protected is to involve them in the work of the Order, for the moment at least.”
“Come, now.” Minerva scoffs at Albus thinking he can pull the wool over her eyes. “I’m not naïve enough to believe it’s only their protection you’re concerned with. You have just admitted yourself that Lupin will prove useful.”
Albus grimaces. “Perhaps. In any event, we have precious little choice in the matter.”
“Fine.” Minerva sighs. “You-Know-Who clearly isn’t worried about recruiting youngsters. I can just imagine the trouble James Potter could get into if allowed to bluster around uninformed, waging a war single-handed. Sirius Black too, for that matter. The whole gang of them.”
“Precisely. We should ask Aberforth for some chips.” Albus has a sip of his Butterbeer, the subject of his new Order recruits clearly closed. “What updates do you have from the Ministry?”
“Plenty,” Minerva replies. “And little of it good.”
The noise of the background music in the pub fades away as Minerva continues to talk.
Seeing James Potter and Sirius Black dancing in The Gryffindor Lion just before Christmas takes Minerva quite by surprise. She had only come in to see if there was any Captain Morgan’s going spare after a run on the rum (as Will called it) at the Gates. The very last thing she expected to see was her two former students and newly ordained Order members dancing to Sylvester.
“What the blazes are those two up to?” Will comes to a stop next to Minerva, her eyes wide. “Isn’t that Potter chap engaged to Lily Evans? I’ll have his guts for garters if he’s doing the dirty on her, you just watch me.”
“Let’s leave.” Minerva tugs on Will’s arm with an urgent whisper. “It’s none of our business, let them be.”
“I’ll have a word, don’t you worry.” Will puffs out her chest.
“You’re no fun,” Will grumbles.
They’re almost out of the door when Minerva hears the familiar tones of Sirius Black, shouting above the loud music.
“It’s Professor McGonagall! Look, Prongs. Professor McGonagall.”
“Oh for the love of Merlin.” Minerva pinches the bridge of her nose before counting to ten and confronting a sozzled Sirius Black. “Mr Black. Mr Potter. What a surprise.”
“You can say that again,” Will mutters. “How’s the girlfriend, Potter?”
“Fine, thanks.” James squints at Will. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“Professor Grubbly-Plank, James,” Sirius whispers, not at all quietly. “Don’t be a pillock.”
“Lily knows I’m here,” James says. He frowns at Will. “Not that it’s really any of your business.”
“Lordy.” Will rolls her eyes. “Is there no end to this boy’s charms, Min?”
“Apparently not.” Minerva gives Potter and Black a stern glance over the top of her spectacles. “The last I heard, you two were being chased by Death Eaters.”
“We’re still being chased by them.” Sirius frowns. “Fucking Slytherins.”
“Mind your bloody language.” James nudges Sirius in the side.
“I’m sure my delicate ears can cope, thanks all the same.” Will mutters something impolite under her breath. “We’re here for the rum.”
“There’s rum?” Sirius looks interested.
“Not for you, you’ve had quite enough.” Will makes her way to the bar with a huff and Sirius and James look sheepishly at Minerva.
“Her bark’s worse than her bite,” Minerva tells them.
“His too.” James points at Sirius, who laughs at something that’s clearly a private joke. James’ expression sobers. “I don’t want you to think I’m doing anything wrong by Lily—”
“—You don’t have to explain your business to me.” Minerva holds her hand up to cut James off. “As long as you’re not asking me to keep any secrets for you, I’m quite happy to mind my own business and suggest you two do the same where I’m concerned.”
“Of course.” Sirius and James speak simultaneously, and Minerva can’t help but feel they’re expecting house points.
“Enjoy your night, both of you.” Minerva catches James before he leaves, giving him a small smile. “And be careful. I don’t want to hear about any more Death Eater confrontations. We need you two boys fit and well.”
“We’ll look after ourselves,” James promises. “Enjoy the holidays, Professor.”
“Thank you, I will.” Minerva watches as Will returns, shrinking several bottles of rum and putting them into her pockets, until there’s only one remaining. “Why do I suddenly feel very old?”
“Because those two young pups would make anybody feel old,” Will replies.
“I’m not sure.” Minerva watches James and Sirius laugh and dance together, grabbing one of the microphones for the next round of festive karaoke. “I think they’ve both had to grow up fast in their own way. You know Sirius was thrown out of his family home at sixteen?”
“I heard something about that.” Will frowns, watching them both. “Rotten to the core, his parents are. His brother’s in with a bad lot too.”
“I think his friends have become his family.” Minerva gives Will a quick kiss. “It’s something I’m familiar with, at least.”
“Well you’re a darn sight more sensible than Sirius Black, however moony-eyed you’re getting over him.” Will gestures to the door. “Come on, let’s get going. I took three more bottles of rum than I should, and Graham’s already told me off for bringing down the tone. He had the cheek to tell me lesbians are bad for business. Can you believe it?”
“He deserves to have his rum stolen, then.” Minerva opens the door and breathes in the fresh air, a welcome change from the heat of the sweaty pub.
“Well.” Will takes Minerva’s hand as they leave The Gryff to James Potter and Sirius Black singing something about sleigh-bells. “What do you reckon Elsie would have made of those two?”
Minerva laughs and tilts her head up. It feels like snow. “I think she would have barred them from the Gates, for a start.”
“Good old Elsie.” Will releases Minerva’s hand to unscrew one of the bottles of Captain Morgan’s, taking a swig and smacking her lips. “I hope you’re getting a laugh out of these silly new boys of ours, Elsie Ware.”
She hands the bottle to Minerva who takes a sip of her own and holds the bottle aloft.
“Cheers, Elsie.” Her words shake and she takes another sip of rum to steady herself. “Merry Christmas, pet.”
For the first time ever, snow begins to fall on Little Compton Street.
laughing, screaming, tumbling queen
like the most amazing light show you've ever seen
whirling swirling, never blue
how could you go and die? What a lonely thing to do
Boy George – Il Adore
1981, Undisclosed Location, Order of the Phoenix Meeting
Minerva has always hated the places Albus chooses on steady rotation for the Order meetings. This new house festers with unpleasant things, the ghosts of the portraits that sneer at them still lingering between the cracks of the woodwork. The paint is flaking, and the property is vast and unattended, an abandoned air to what can only have been an old Pureblood property, the perfect place for the resistance movement to hide without fear of being discovered. If there was a way of meeting elsewhere—of bringing other Order members to Little Compton Street without risk—Minerva would suggest it in a heartbeat. As it is, there are divisions drawn even amidst the close-knit group. The frostiness between Lupin and Black has grown steadily worse, as Black and Potter have become increasingly close with Lupin more on the outside than ever.
“Congratulations.” Minerva shakes Potter’s hand, his eyes rimmed with dark shadows, the sign of a new father. She hasn’t since him since the birth of Harry, his time at Little Compton Street seemingly in the past. “Please send Lily my best.”
“Of course, thank you.” James looks around, ensuring nobody can hear him and lowering his voice. “I want you to know, I was never cheating on Lily. We had—we have—our ways that might not work for others, but they work for us. I would never betray her, never leave—”
“Mr Potter.” Minerva holds up a brisk hand. “I learned a long time ago that it is unwise to make assumptions about other people's affairs. You do not have to explain yourself to me.”
“Thank you.” The tension leaves James’ body and his easy smile returns. He pushes his glasses up on his nose. “We thought we might bring Harry to Little Compton Street one day. Me, Lils and Sirius. Maybe in the summer when he’s a bit older. He loves anything colourful. He’d be so excited seeing all the rainbows.”
“I can well imagine.” Minerva smiles. The addition of rainbows in Little Compton Street have been a welcome bit of cheer. Inspired by the introduction of the rainbow flag into Muggle activism, the little street quickly followed suit. The archways are now covered with ribbons, the bars proudly displaying colourful flags over the doors and everywhere you look new spots of colour have sprung up, new garlands and lights that glisten like stars in the dusk. “Is he well?”
“He’s brilliant.” James fishes in his pocket and pulls out a photograph. A small baby with a shock of dark hair is curled in Lily’s arms. Minerva can almost hear his gurgles as he opens his mouth in what looks like a laugh. “Harry James Potter.”
“Hello, Harry.” Minerva touches her fingers to the photograph lightly. “I’m glad everyone is happy.”
“We are.” James nods towards the Longbottoms. “Alice and Frank have just had their first too. We’re going to make sure they’re best friends. Neville and Harry. I reckon they’ll be thick as thieves, just like their mums and dads.”
“I hope so.” Minerva swallows back a gnawing trepidation, the lingering fear brought about by a decade of war that has steadily grown in violence and brutality. “When they come to Hogwarts you can rest assured, I will do my utmost to protect them both.”
“I know. They’ll be safe in the castle, with you and Professor Dumbledore there.” James glances around again to ensure there’s nobody in earshot. “How’s Will?”
Minerva purses her lips, because Will is, in her words, hopping mad, Min. I don’t want you doing this alone. Let me help and stop insisting on doing everything yourself. The thought of Will as part of the Order of the Phoenix fills Minerva with dread. It’s not that Minerva doesn’t believe her eminently capable, it’s simply that she’s not sure she would ever forgive herself if anything happened to Will. Losing Elsie has taught her that nobody is ever truly safe but bringing Will into the Order would make her particularly vulnerable. Minerva herself isn’t even a fully-fledged member, although she regularly attends meetings to bring Ministry updates. To bring Will in at this stage with the brutality of the attacks—and the Death Eater focus on finding Order members—would be nothing short of lunacy. In the end Minerva says none of that.
“Will’s fine. She’s playing at the Gates later. There’s a fundraising event for the Elsie Ware Foundation.”
“I can’t come tonight but you’ll have to tell me how to make a contribution,” James replies. “The Queen of the Gates is a legend that lives on, even for those of us who never got the chance to meet her.”
“She was truly wonderful.” Minerva sniffles, before composing herself and swallowing back unhappy thoughts. At least the Elsie Ware Foundation—established to help Muggles impacted by the loss of magical family members during the war—has given Pomona, Will and Smithy focus for their grief. The Foundation has proved incredibly successful and Minerva is proud of Will for her work establishing it.
“Is there any reason why you and Mr Black are no longer speaking to Remus?” Minerva glances across at Lupin, sitting by himself and looking tired. His clothes are shabbier than usual, his cheeks and chin dark with stubble. Even Peter Pettigrew is chatting to Frank, studiously avoiding Lupin’s brooding gaze. For some reason the sight of Remus pulls at Minerva’s heartstrings. He seems so very alone.
“Oh, him.” James pulls a face. He watches Remus, his expression cloudy. “He’s been spending too long with those werewolves he’s been undercover with. Sirius, Peter and I think they might have got to him.”
“I see.” Minerva isn’t so sure Remus is untrustworthy. She’s seen countless people under the Imperius Curse and Remus displays few of the hallmark signs, although time has also taught her to be cautious. Instincts these days are all people have to go on. “It would be a shame to be unkind, if his allegiances aren’t changing. I can’t imagine it’s been easy for him. I understand the transformation process can take its toll.”
“Yeah, but we’ve always been there for him. We even became—” The fierceness of James’ tone dissipates, and he stops talking, his jaw working. “Never mind.”
“Very well. I expect you would know your friend better than I would.” Minerva says goodbye to James and approaches Arthur Weasley. He’s lost the plumpness from before, his face skeletal and pale as he glances around the room as if expecting any one of those gathered to attack. “How is Molly, Arthur?”
“Not her best I’m afraid.” Arthur swallows, his throat bobbing. “Fabian and Gideon, gone. Just like that. Her brothers, the only family she had left on the Prewett side. We thought there might have been some saving Gideon, but it wasn’t to be. She’s been distraught and with a new baby in the house, it’s just making things even harder.”
“Ah, yes. Ronald, isn’t it?”
“Ron, yes.” Arthur gives Minerva a watery smile. “One day we’ll have a girl, you mark my words.”
“You have a full house of fine wizards in any event,” Minerva replies. “Six, now, isn’t it?”
“We’re working on a Quidditch team.” Arthur chuckles under his breath, before sobering again. “You heard about the McKinnons and Edgar Bones and his children?”
“Yes.” Minerva nods. Marlene McKinnon’s death had hit her hard, a brutal slaughter of her entire family. “Caradoc Dearborn’s missing too, I hear.”
“They’ll find him dead, just like Benjy.” Arthur turns paler still. “The violence of it, the inhumanity. These people deserve to rot in Azkaban for the rest of their lives.”
Minerva is inclined to agree. The circumstances of Benjy Fenwick’s disappearance had been a mystery for some time, before parts of his body were found some distance apart. Of all the deaths, his mutilation demonstrated a gleeful, brutal eagerness for gory sensation, an escalation in the violence doled out by You-Know-Who and his Death Eaters.
“Alastor Moody is investigating Dearborn’s disappearance. He’s taking down the Death Eaters one by one.”
“Not quick enough,” Arthur replies, his face flushed with anger. Eventually he swallows, his shoulders slumping forward as his body shakes. “I’m sorry.” His voice is choked, raw with grief.
“There’s nothing to apologise for.” Minerva holds Arthur in her arms and soothes him as his grief pours from him. Looking around the room, he’s far from the only person utterly broken by the horrors vested upon them. There’s not a single person she knows who has escaped this war without losing a friend, a lover, a member of their family. The worst part is the unpleasant sensation that scratches and twists inside her, the niggling suggestion that the worst is still to come. Arthur composes himself and Minerva takes a seat next to him at the long dining room table.
Although not officially an Order of the Phoenix member, Minerva attends the odd meeting when Albus requires broader feedback on the actions at the Ministry. As such, a couple of faces are unfamiliar to her, particularly a young man who she can’t quite place, but he reminds her of someone she’s seen before.
“Order, order.” Albus smacks his hand on the table, calling the meeting to silence. “Some of our friends can’t be with us this evening, but we must do as we can with those that remain.”
“Some of our friends are dead, that’s why,” Arabella Figg mutters under her breath. “If they managed to get Meddy, they’re going to get the rest of us, mark my words.”
“Enough.” Albus’ eyes blaze, the force of his magic emanating from him. “We’re all devastated by the loss of Dorcas, but—”
“—But nothing!” Arabella bangs her fist on the table. “Dorcas Meadowes was the finest of all of us. Stronger than most here, by a long stretch. He killed her. You-Know-Who. Did it himself, by all accounts. Took pleasure in it too, probably. If she couldn’t get away, what hope do the rest of us have?”
“We’re not giving up,” Albus replies, tightly. “None of us are giving up, no matter how bad things may appear. When one is in darkness you simply have to remember how to turn on the light.”
“There’s not much light about this war,” Arabella says. “They’re the ones bringing us down, one by one. How many have our group lost? We’re losing members hand over fist.”
“We do what we must.” Albus waves a hand to indicate the discussion is over. “Minerva. Ministry updates, if you please.”
Minerva clears her throat. “As you know the Aurors have been given permission to use Unforgivables. Unlike last year when the edict was new, the use of those spells has increased, leading to the capture of a number of Death Eater sympathisers.”
“Not nearly enough.” Sirius Black glares at Remus. “In any event, they don’t seem to be helping us weed out the traitors in our midst.”
“Have you got something you want to say to me, Sirius?” Remus’ voice is cold and furious, his eyes glinting as he looks up. “If so, I suggest you say it rather than dancing around the issue.”
“Fine,” Sirius says with a snarl. “The Death Eaters are onto us now they know who most of us are. This last year it’s Order members they’re targeting, why aren’t we talking about that? Someone’s snitching, they have to be. I don’t give a fuck about Malfoy, Snape or even bloody You-Know-Who. I want to know which one of my so-called friends can’t be trusted.”
Remus’ face turns ashen and he holds Black’s gaze. “You’ve always been able to trust me. You stupid, entitled, idiot. Always. If you think you can’t then I—”
The fights continue, raging around them until the meeting descends into anarchy. Minerva stands and makes herself a coffee, waiting for people to air their grievances before they can return to business.
“We’re not always like this. Chin up.” Minerva extends her hand to the new Order member she noticed earlier, and he shakes it firmly. Close up she’s fairly certain he isn’t a former pupil, but his swoop of blond hair and broad smile are instantly familiar. “Have we met?”
“I think—” He clears his throat and looks around, before leaning in and talking in a hushed tone. “I’m a dancer. At The Lion.”
“Oh.” As soon as he says it, Minerva realises why he was so difficult to place. She’s used to seeing him in fewer clothes. “Forgive my bad memory.”
“Don’t worry.” The man grins. “I’m guessing you don’t have much of an interest in me when you’re out in Little Compton Street.”
“Perhaps not.” Minerva laughs under her breath. “No offense.”
“None taken.” He extends his hand. “Tom Burbage. Pleased to meet you. Professor McGonagall, isn’t it?”
“Minerva will do just fine.” Minerva takes the offered hand and shakes it firmly. “Burbage. Any relation to Charity?”
“My sister,” Tom replies, proudly. “I think she wants to be a Professor like you, one day.”
“She certainly has the aptitude.” Minerva gives Tom a warm smile, liking him instantly. Charity has already made a good impression at Hogwarts even though she’s only in her second year, and anybody with a connection to Little Compton Street is okay in Minerva’s book. “What brings you to the Order?”
Tom’s face shadows. “My mum was killed in the attack on Rufforth.”
“I’m sorry.” Minerva takes another mug from the cupboards. “Would you like a coffee?”
“Yeah, ta.” Tom watches Minerva make coffee, leaning against the counter. “Do you reckon this will ever be over?”
The sense of things coming to a head returns, and Minerva busies herself stirring the coffee into the boiling water. It’s like treacle and shadows.
Minerva doesn’t elaborate on the fact she can’t help but feel that the end of the war might very well bring as much pain as the start.
“Fancy seeing you here, Professor McGonagall.”
Minerva gives Albus a miaow of annoyance. She’s been sitting on the wall waiting for him for longer than she cares to sit outside in cat form. When transformed to her usual self, she pats her bun, certain she looks as ruffled as she feels. Less poised feline, more alley cat.
“How did you know it was me?” she asks.
“My dear Professor, I’ve never seen a cat sit so stiffly.”
Minerva sniffs. She warrants Albus would be stiff too if he’d been sitting waiting all day. She takes in his long robes, purple cloak, high-heeled buckled boots and the wide curve of his smile. She’s feeling decidedly snappish. The Muggles in Privet Drive are the very worst sort and the large man at Number Four tried to chase her off the wall with a broom at one point. It was most undignified.
“Is it true? Has You-Know-Who really been killed?”
“Voldemort, Minerva.” Albus clucks under his breath. “I’ve been trying—”
“—Albus,” Minerva says, a note of warning in her tone.
“Very well.” Albus unwraps a sweet, offering one to Minerva. “Sherbet lemon?”
“James and Lily, Albus. Is it true what they’re saying about James and Lily?”
“I’m afraid so.” Albus stops sucking on his sweet, his happy expression slipping. “James Potter and Lily Evans are dead.”
The memory of James dancing in The Gryff before Christmas, the broad smile on his face as he showed Minerva pictures of Harry and the way he promised to bring Harry to Little Compton Street makes Minerva’s heart heavy. She lifts her glasses and rubs her eyes, swallowing back the wave of grief that assaults her.
“The war is over, but at what cost?”
“A very grave one.” Albus looks at the sky and the sound of a baby crying catches on the wind. “A very grave one indeed.”
Minerva makes her way briskly to Will’s flat, keeping her head down to avoid speaking to the large groups of revellers. The Boy Who Lived banners are still flying proudly from a month prior, although some look as though they’ve seen better days. As usual the streets are bustling with people, the music thumping across the cobbles and out into the open air. The music has changed over the years, and disco has slipped away to make space for the sound of the eighties which has a dreamy, electronic feel. The air even tastes different. With the dark shadows of the war finally lifted, everything is crisp and bright. A perfect November evening.
“Minerva McGonagall.” Sam Turpin approaches her and pulls her into a hug, an odd but welcome burst of affection, considering their friendship to date has largely revolved around a few cheery hullos and tasting whisky. “Thank you for everything. We know what you did, what all of you did for us.”
“I’m not sure how.” Minerva raises a questioning eyebrow. She has no desire for accolades. If anything, she’s even more desperate to get to the quiet space of Will’s flat after the latest—and hopefully last—Order of the Phoenix meeting earlier that evening. “My role was always confidential.”
“Not after Dumbledore had a few Moonshines.” Sam grins at Minerva. “He was on top form. He sang Eggbert’s Gregarious Erumpent Horn. Twice.”
“Oh good grief.” Minerva rolls her eyes. “Well be sure to thank him for breaking all of his own rules of confidentiality when you next see him, won’t you?”
“Of course.” Sam raises his hand in the air. “Cheers to the Boy Who Lived.”
“Indeed.” Shaking her head, Minerva makes her way quickly through the crowds and lets herself into Will’s flat. The silence is a welcome breath of fresh air, and she blows her nose, wiping away her tears at the latest news from the Order. With a heavy sigh, she dries her eyes and busies herself feeding their new kitten—Dusty—and making a pot of tea as she waits for Will to return from the Gates. She’s just tucking into a particularly good chapter of one of her favourite books, when the door clicks.
“It’s busy outside. Everyone’s still celebrating.” Will shrugs off her jacket and unbuttons her shirt-cuffs, rolling up her sleeves. She leans down to give Minerva a quick kiss before settling into the armchair opposite. “Albus was making a tit of himself the other night. Dancing like someone had hit him with Tarantallegra.”
“So I hear.” Minerva closes her book and gestures to the kitchen. “Tea’s brewed.”
“Brilliant.” With a yawn and a lazy flick of her wand, Will pours herself a mug from the armchair and takes it in hand as it makes an unsteady path towards her. “How was the meeting.”
“The Order has been officially disbanded.” Minerva rubs her forehead, her head sore. “But there were precious few of them left to disband. Tom Burbage was one of the few who escaped relatively unscathed.”
“We’ll have to have a pint with him soon,” Will says. “He’s a good lad.”
“He is.” Minerva clasps her hands in her lap. “There’s been another attack.”
“Another one?” Will sips her tea, before placing it down. “I thought everyone was safe now?”
“Not quite. There are still people trying to cause trouble, although the worst have been caught.” Minerva swallows. “Alice and Frank Longbottom.”
Will looks at Minerva, the colour leaving her cheeks. “They got them too?”
“To all intents and purposes.” Minerva’s voice wobbles. “Bellatrix Lestrange and others tortured them to the point of insanity. They are both in the Janus Thickey Ward, unlikely to ever recover.”
“Good god.” Will shakes her head slowly. “Gideon, Elsie, Frank and Alice, James and Lily, Sirius Black in Azkaban for killing young Peter Pettigrew. To think he was here, in Little Compton Street.”
“The less said about Sirius Black the better,” Minerva retorts, darkly. She still can’t find the right words to capture the angry, desperate rage that claws through her when she remembers James Potter showing her the photograph of Harry, and Sirius looking at James as though he single-handedly hung the moon in the sky. “Of all the people I expected to betray us, he would have been at the very bottom of the list.”
“Albus was worried,” Will comments, thoughtfully.
“Albus was worried about someone on the inside, we all were. He volunteered to be the Potters’ Secret-Keeper for that very reason. Of course, Potter trusted Black unequivocally.” Minerva blows her nose again, her eyes stinging from the threat of further tears. “I wish I hadn’t been so sharp with young Peter Pettigrew.”
“Don’t start blaming yourself, love,” Will says, gruffly. She stands and goes to look out of the window.
In the quiet flat, the music is loud, and the sounds of the crowds of people laughing and drinking outside The Gryffindor Lion filter into the small space. The celebratory atmosphere jars with Minerva’s mood, her anger still burning bright within her, the dull ache of grief taking up residence in her heart once more.
“It’s like Black targeted the Potters specifically,” Will continues. “If there hadn’t been so many eyewitnesses, I swear I’d never have believed it. I’ve lived on Little Compton Street for half my life and there’s not many men I’ve seen look at one another the way Sirius Black looked at James Potter.”
“I know.” Minerva swallows, a lump rising in her throat. “I don’t want to believe it. I keep expecting someone will tell me they got it wrong. Pettigrew, dead, Lily Evans, dead, Remus Lupin cast out by the very friend that ended up betraying them all. I don’t even know if Lupin and Potter fully reconciled, and that frostiness was thanks to Black putting doubts in Potter’s mind, too.”
“Will it ever fully be over do you think, Min?” Will turns from the window and leans her back against it, the warm glow of the sunset illuminating her anxious expression.
“I have no idea.” Minerva sighs. “We must exercise every caution for the next few months.” She undoes the tight bun exacerbating her headache, letting her hair fall loose around her shoulders. “However, I believe the worst of it is done with.”
“Let’s hope so.” Will picks up her tea and takes a drink. “By them outside you’d think we should be popping open the champagne, but it’s all wrong, celebrating when people are out there still being killed and tortured.”
“You-Know-Who is gone, many of the Death Eaters are in Azkaban—or dead—and those that aren’t soon will be,” Minerva says, quietly. “There are plenty of things for others to celebrate, even if we’re still at the raw edge of it all.”
“That we are.” Will smiles at Minerva fondly. “Still, I’d warrant you’re not after a knees-up at The Gryff tonight.”
“Goodness, no.” Minerva shakes her head. “I’m exhausted.”
“I bet. Shall I run you a bath?”
“Yes.” Minerva is tired to her bones, so grateful for Will and the small flat in Little Compton Street where the sun never quite sets. “Please.”
“Close your eyes, then,” Will says. Her voice is rough, her eyes warm with a mixture of affection and concern. “Let me look after you.”
Minerva tuts. “I don’t need looking after, thank you very much.”
“Of course not.” Will sounds amused.
With a harrumph, Minerva flicks her wand to Summon her favourite hand-knitted blanket and closes her eyes with a yawn. Dusty curls up in her lap, and Minerva strokes behind her soft little ears, taking comfort in the little ball of fluff.
She’s asleep within moments.
“Goose-down. Are these new?”
“I thought you’d appreciate it.” Will grins, clearly pleased with herself. “Bit of an extravagance but if I can’t buy a few feathers for you, what’s the point?”
“What’s the point indeed?” Minerva chuckles and stretches out with a contented purr. “I’m looking forward to the day when my largest worry the exacerbations of the woeful Gryffindor Quidditch team.”
“I hear the Hufflepuffs are in fine fettle,” Will replies, gleefully.
“Hmm.” Minerva huffs and nestles further into the warm pillows. “I’m minded to take to the pitch myself and show them how it’s done.”
“You should.” Will chuckles. “I’d like to see it. I’ve always enjoyed watching you swoop around in Quidditch leathers.”
Minerva raises an eyebrow at Will, not one for joking when it comes to Quidditch. She takes the games extremely seriously. “I do not swoop.”
“Of course not.” Will sounds like she’s trying not to laugh. She kisses Minerva’s neck and slides her hand over Minerva’s nightgown. “Are you tired?” She asks, failing miserably at feigned innocence.
“Not as tired as I was a few moments ago.” Minerva sucks in a breath as Will’s hand slips under her nightgown, her rough palm slipping over Minerva’s hot flesh. Minerva can’t remember the last time they made love. They’ve both been so busy lately, there’s hardly been time for proper sleep, let alone anything else. She’s missed spending time with Will in bed, missed experimenting with new magic or making sly purchases from one of the Adult shops in Soho or Little Compton Street.
“Good.” Will’s voice is rough.
Will has never been one for overly mushy declarations, although she did once buy Minerva a very pleasing bunch of daisies. Brusque and red as a tomato, she shoved them into Minerva’s arms and muttered something about love with little of the confidence she exhibits when she’s talking about the healing properties of magical stoat spittle. She’s also rarely inclined to talk at length during sex, or about sex. Will really is more of a doer—in more ways than one.
As Will slips Minerva’s nightie over her head, Minerva can’t say she minds. If Will was the type to make outlandish romantic gestures, Minerva expects she would be quite uncomfortable. Once the basic likes and dislikes are established, she doesn’t feel sex warrants much further discussion, and she has never been fond of mawkish declarations whispered in her ear. She can see very well when Will’s enjoying herself. It’s in the curve of her smile against Minerva’s skin, in the eager way she explores Minerva’s body or suggests an experiment of sorts which appeals to both of their inquisitive natures and eagerness to learn new things. Most experiments, happily, have been rather successful, although the less said about their once-in-a-lifetime experimentation with semi-public love-making in the toilets of the Gates, the better. Minerva fears they scarred dear Pomona for life. Forced to make a sheepish return to their table—Will’s tie askew and Minerva’s cheeks the colour of a fire engine—Rita and Elsie gave them knowing smiles, Smithy high-fived Will like Minerva was some kind of Snitch and Pomona tried to cover up the awkwardness by starting a rousing discussion about Hippogriff manure.
“I’ve missed this.” By this, Will presumably means burying her face between Minerva’s thighs where she’s currently pressing her lips against the fleshiest part of Minerva’s slender body. She emphasises her point with a light bite, her teeth scrapping against Minerva’s skin with a pressure that makes her gasp.
“As did I,” Minerva confesses. “I’ve neglected yo—oou, ah. Yes, that’s marvellous.”
“Not a bit of it,” Will counters, brusquely. She moves her thumb into the wet, eager heat of Minerva before sliding it out to rub it slowly, with targeted precision, in just the spot that makes Minerva whimper.
“Tomorrow,” Minerva decides, “we are spending the day in bed.”
“We are, are we?” Will’s voice is a little muffled, before she pulls back, hooking Minerva’s leg around her waist and drinking in the sight of her as she continues to move her thumb in slow circles. “All day?”
“Every—last—min—” Minerva arches into Will’s hand, her thighs clenching and her body flooding with warmth. It’s funny how she has always hated being looked upon or gazed at, yet in Will’s arms it heightens her desire, making her feel quite wanton. Will has always had that impact on Minerva. Only with Professor Grubbly-Plank would Minerva endure the indignity of being smacked on her bottom like a recalcitrant schoolgirl. Under Will’s tutelage it turns out exemplary student Minerva McGonagall can be quite troublesome.
Will increases the speed and pressure of her movements, keeping Minerva held open, with her leg wrapped around Will’s waist. The force of Minerva’s climax takes her by surprise, as pleasure builds, crests and leaves her whole body trembling. The release of it causes the last of her guard to slip completely and she finds herself clutching at Will, sitting up and clinging to her tightly. She buries her face in Will’s neck and allows weeks, months, of silent tears to fall as Will strokes her hair and keeps her bundled in her arms.
“There, there, pet.” Will tightens her hold on Minerva, her hands curling into Minerva’s hair to keep her close. “Let it all out.”
“I’m trying,” Minerva snaps around a watery laugh. She presses herself close to Will and sighs as tiredness sweeps over her in the aftermath of her release. “Goodness.” She sniffles and finally untangles herself from Will’s arms, settling back on the bed. “You bought me pillows.”
“Minerva McGonagall,” Will says, seriously, “I would buy you a whole factory of them if I could.”
Minerva smiles and kisses Will softly. “Thank you.”
“The pleasure was all mine.” Will gives Minerva a rakish smile. “Well, not all mine.”
“Oh, stop.” Minerva pushes Will gently before kissing her goodnight, turning on her side and letting Will cuddle close. “The war is over now,” Minerva murmurs, her voice heavy with sleep.
The war is over.
It’s a bright, sunny day when Minerva and Will go to The Gryffindor Lion to meet with Tom Burbage. Minerva has been so busy presiding over O.W.L.s, N.E.W.T.s and tying up loose ends at the Ministry—her role as liaison now officially over—she’s ready for a drink in the sunshine, and there’s no finer spot for it than Little Compton Street. On something of a whim, she contacted Tom Burbage by owl on the off chance he might be around, unspeakably pleased when he replied right away to invite her and Will for afternoon drinks. Minerva invited Pomona along too, knowing this time of year can be particularly hard for her.
“How’s are the fanged Shrivelfig’s coming along?” Minerva asks, as she and Pomona make there way through the entrance into Little Compton Street.
“Vicious little blighters.” Pomona rubs her cheek, frowning. “And the Leaping Toadstools are making a right pig’s ear of my greenhouse. I put them in a cage, but then they started breeding.” She looks miserable. “I’ve a classroom full of horny mushrooms.”
Minerva laughs. “Perhaps being around teenagers is making them worse?”
“Might be.” Pomona looks thoughtful. She has a streak of soil on her cheek and Minerva’s heart swells with affection for her friend.
“How are things otherwise?”
“Well enough.” Pomona glances at Minerva, her cheeks rosier than usual. “Has Grubbly-Plank been gossiping?”
Minerva frowns. “No. At least, not about you. She mentioned something about Albus flirting with a Centaur during a party at the Common.”
“Albus flirts with everything. Never does anything about it, mind.” Pomona chews the side of her cheek, anxiously. “I don’t want you to think ill of me.”
“I’d never think ill of you.” Minerva furrows her brow. “Unless you try to put those horny mushrooms in my classroom.”
Pomona chuckles and shakes her head. “Nothing like that.”
“Hullo, hullo.” Will approaches them with a broad smile on her face that makes her look like a Cheshire cat. She stuffs her hands in her pockets and winks at Pomona. “Have you told Min about the scandalous behaviour at the Gates on Friday?”
“I was getting to it,” Pomona snaps. “You’re insufferable.”
“I’m a delight.” Will falls into step beside Pomona and nudges her with her shoulder. “You’re not going to start being hard on yourself, I hope. There’s nobody would judge you—I think it’s bloody brilliant.”
“You do?” Pomona stops, looking at Will. “Really?”
“Yes, really. In fact, I couldn’t imagine—”
“—For the love of Merlin, can somebody tell me what the blazes is happening?” Will and Pomona turn to Minerva as if they have just been reminded of her presence. She gives them both a cool glare over the top of her spectacles. “Don’t let me interrupt.”
“Don’t be like that, Min.” Will glances at Pomona. “Shall I tell her?”
Pomona throws up her hands. “I know you’re dying to.”
“Pommy and Smithy,” Will offers, with gleeful satisfaction. “Snogging on the dancefloor to Whitney.”
“Oh.” Minerva contemplates that. As far as she was aware Smithy was a confirmed bachelorette, always enjoying a steady rotation of witches, but she’s always wondered about her feelings for Pomona. “Well, that strikes me as a very sensible union.”
“Smithy’s been half in love with you for years, not that she’d ever have told you.” Will gives Pomona a smile, sincere and warm. “Let yourself be happy, pet. She’d want you to live your best life. We witches have longer lives than most, if we’re lucky. Be happy. For Elsie Ware.”
“Yes.” Pomona brushes her large hand over her eyes and sniffles. “It just feels like such a betrayal.”
“Nonsense.” Minerva starts walking again and Pomona and Will catch her up. “I don’t think it’s anything of the sort.”
They reach the beer garden at the back of the pub and the conversation about Pomona and Smithy comes to a halt as Tom Burbage approaches them, shaking their hands and saying his hellos. An attractive young man in a leather jacket covered in buttons—Squib Rights!, Fuck the Aurors!—stands at Tom’s side, his smile wide and friendly.
“I’m Jonathan Ashton.” The man extends his hand for shaking. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance,” he continues, cheekily. “What a modern family we are, gays and lesbians out for a pint together instead of sticking to our own bars.”
Minerva raises her eyebrows at Tom, who looks sheepish. “Jonathan’s my partner. Don’t mind him, he’s always like this.”
“I see.” Minerva takes the drink Pomona brings back from the bar, giving Will a look. “Jonathan here was just commenting on gays and lesbians keeping to their own spaces.”
“He was, was he?” Will glares at Jonathan.
“Grubbly-Plank, isn’t it?” Jonathan looks curious. “I’ve heard all sorts about you from Rita and Smithy.”
Will splutters with annoyance, and Minerva tries to hide a smile. Smithy likes to tell all kinds of embarrassing stories about Will, and Rita has the same wicked sense of humour. Minerva can’t imagine what they’ve told Jonathan about Will, but she’s certain they would have had fun briefing him on Will’s various escapades.
“Should we take a seat or are our dyke bums going to scare off the punters?” Will gives Jonathan a thoroughly unimpressed look, but he takes it in good cheer.
“Only if you start flashing them around.”
Will snorts. “It’s not as if you lot aren’t off flashing your bits at the Sundowner every weekend.”
They settle into their seats and Jonathan engages Will and Pomona in a conversation about Muggle music. Even though Will and Jonathan can’t seem to stop arguing, Minerva can tell from the way Will’s smiling that it’s the kind of cheerful ribbing Will often enjoys with friends. It’s when Will Grubbly-Plank is polite to you, that you need to worry.
“It really has calmed down, hasn’t it?” Tom says to Minerva. “I’m not sorry the days of sitting around dusty tables counting the latest death toll are well behind us.”
“Neither am I,” Minerva replies. “Perhaps there will be peace at last.”
“You’d hope so.” Tom gives Jonathan a look, as if he’s unsure whether or not to say something. “Jon’s been getting news of something afoot in the Muggle world.”
Jonathan stops mid-way through a passionate debate about Bowie, and glances at Tom, pulling a face. “I thought we were going to get pissed and enjoy the afternoon.”
“We still are.”
“Nothing enjoyable about GRID,” Jonathan mutters.
Minerva looks between them, rather impatient with people having cryptic conversations as if she has all the presence of chopped flobberworms. “GRID?” She asks, pointedly, eyebrows raised at Will and Pomona.
“Don’t look at me, Min. I’ve no idea what they’re on about.” Will shrugs, and Pomona looks equally unsure.
“I don’t know if you read The Sun--”
“Not if I can help it,” Minerva replies, crisply. “I’d sooner read the Prophet and I don’t mean that to be taken as an endorsement of our own media establishments.”
“You probably don’t get The Gay News, either. It’s Muggle,” Jonathan clarifies, as if that’s the reason Minerva might be avoiding it.
“Funnily enough it’s not a publication I favour,” Minerva replies, drily.
“There’s not much in the news, anyway.” Jonathan toys with a beermat, his brow furrowed. “Just small articles here and there, the odd obituary. I’ve mainly heard about GRID—Gay-Related Immune Deficiency—from friends in Soho, leaflets, posters in the windows, that sort of thing.”
“Gay cancer,” Tom says, darkly. “That’s what most of the press are calling it, when they can be bothered to talk about it at all.”
“You don’t get sick for being gay.” Will snorts. “Sounds like a load of rot to me.”
“Rot or not, something’s happening.” Tom’s face turns ashen, his voice dropping. “People are dying. They’re getting these purple lesions—”
“—Nobody knows what it is,” Jonathan interjects. “That’s just one of the signs. Some thought they had the flu and the next thing you know they’re losing weight and then they’re not around anymore.”
“Nobody really knows what’s causing it, how people get it or what.” Tom looks gloomily at his pint. “I thought it was something to do with You-Know-Who’s lot at first, but it’s everywhere, all over the world. My friends in the Castro have been murmuring about it for months now. It’s not to do with him. Not this time.”
“Is anyone doing anything about it in the wizarding world?” Pomona asks.
“I’m fairly certain I know the answer to that question,” Minerva replies, tartly. “The Ministry rarely involve themselves in anything that doesn’t directly service their own political needs.”
“Exactly.” Jonathan’s lips purse. “The Ministry don’t care about people like us, they just hope that if they pretend we don’t exist, we’ll eventually go away.”
The old niggling sense that remaining hidden underground might not be the best thing for Little Compton Street returns to Minerva for the first time in a long time. She knows, though, this isn’t the right time to discuss the issue—not until they know more about the illness Jonathan and Tom seem so troubled by.
“Will you let me know when you have more information?” Minerva tries to sound casual and matter of fact, not wanting to worry Tom and his partner. “I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about, but we—all of us—have contacts and expertise that might be helpful.”
“Not many contacts on the side of gay wizards, I bet,” Jonathan mutters. After a long moment, he looks up at Minerva and gives her a small smile that doesn’t meet his eyes. “Thank you. We’ll let you know when we hear more. It would be good to have some support if this turns out to be worse than we expect.”
Minerva exchanges a glance with Will, because there’s something about this mysterious new disease that makes her feel uneasy. Will is unusually quiet, her brow furrowed as she takes in the conversation. Minerva can tell Will’s just as perturbed as she is.
Somehow though, in the warmth of the sunshine and caught up in the jokes and chatter, Minerva manages to put that part of the conversation to the back of her mind.
Minerva isn’t sure what makes her venture into Knockturn Alley on a wet Wednesday afternoon, but a strange compulsion to investigate the dark warren of Knockturn’s streets makes her take a diversion from her usual route, following the footpath that descends into the seediest part of magical London.
It’s been so long since Minerva has been in Knockturn Alley the dank nature of the place takes her by surprise. Things fester in the shadows and strange hags and wizards eye her with suspicion. Even in the quietest parts of the streets hold a peculiar sense of being watched that makes the back of her neck prickle. She curls her hand around her wand, ready to duel at a moment’s notice and peruses her surroundings. Most of the buildings are dilapidated and the streets are slick with rain and moss, as if the sunlight never fully reaches the cobbles of Knockturn. It couldn’t be more different to Minerva’s last location, bearing none of the warmth of Little Compton Street. Minerva shivers and pulls her cloak tighter around her body. As she descends further into the underbelly of Knockturn she happens upon a tiny alley, narrower and darker than the rest, with shops that seem permanently closed. There are layers of thick dust in the windows and there’s no sign of life aside from one lone sign swinging in the light breeze announcing the pub as The Vauxhall Arches.
A shadowy figure in long, black robes disappears inside, and something compels Minerva to follow the person into the pub. Inside, the air smells of cigarette smoke and stale beer and the paintwork is chipped and peeling. A few wizards look up when Minerva enters, giving her an odd look as if her appearance is unexpected. There’s an oppressive feel to the place, like the mugginess of the air just before a thunderstorm. Her mind swims as she breathes in the cloying scent of unfamiliar potions that dull the usual crisp clarity of her thoughts.
Minerva mentally curses herself, hoping she hasn’t walked into a men-only bar. It wouldn’t surprise her in the slightest if Knockturn was the sort of place that excluded witches from their drinking establishments, in a draconian pursuit of Pureblood ideals of women keeping the family home and popping out heirs to a rotten legacy. Her red tartan cloak is particularly conspicuous, when everything inside the bar is dull grey, beige and black. Although she hates being intimidated by people, she fully intends to turn and go back outside when she spots a familiar figure hunched over a pint of ale, dark, lank hair falling over his face. Frowning, Minerva approaches the table and takes a seat opposite him.
His head jerks up and he stares at Minerva. His eyes are dark pools, his cheeks splashed with pink as his lip curls into a sneer. He reminds Minerva strangely of a Thestral, his features pointed and shadowed.
“What are you doing here?” His voice is low and tight. “This pub is…secret.”
“Is it indeed?” Minerva eyes Severus with suspicion. “If it’s so secret, what are you doing here?”
“Trying to drink my pint in peace,” Severus mutters. He looks down, his fingers curling around his pint, his knuckles white and skeletal. “Which you’ve ruined.”
Minerva resists the urge to roll her eyes. Severus Snape is an impossible creature and she isn’t entirely sure she trusts him. His appointment to the position of Potions Master at Hogwarts was a surprise, to say the least. He rarely has time for the staffroom, rarely interacts with his colleagues and spends most of his time glaring at Albus on the rare occasion he attends social situations, clearly under significant duress.
“I’m surprised to see you in a bar of this nature,” Minerva says, as casually as she can manage. She isn’t certain that loitering around Knockturn is going to help Severus to convince people he’s changed. “The staff tend to prefer the Three Broomsticks.”
“You’re here too.” Severus’ eyes flash, before he considers his pint once again. “If this is a crass attempt to ask about my private business, I would thank you to stop.” His scowl is evident, even as his hair falls across his face.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” There’s something about Severus looking as though he wants to disappear into himself in this grim pub that makes Minerva stall her interrogation, for now. She has no intention of letting her guard down until Severus proves himself in the way he’s obviously proved his loyalties to Albus, but nevertheless, she can’t help but want to try to…something. Get to know him, better? Understand him? Keep an eye on him?
Minerva drums her fingers on the table, thoughtfully. “Have you by any chance read the Singh paper on self-stirring potions?”
Severus gives Minerva a sharp look, his lips set in a thin line. His eyebrows knit together as he gives her a hawkish glare.
“Of course. Are you insinuating I’m not doing my job properly?”
“Not at all.” Minerva gestures to the barman for another pint and unbuttons her cloak. “I simply wondered if you had any thoughts.”
“Oh.” Severus looks surprised, if still wary. “I might have made some notes.”
“As did I. Perhaps we can compare our findings?” Minerva speaks carefully. “That is, if I’m not interrupting your plans.”
Severus gives Minerva a small, sharp smile. “Do I look like a man with plans?”
“I have no idea what kind of man you look like.” Minerva sniffs. “I am quite disinterested in the physical appearance of wizards.”
“That would certainly make life easier,” Severus mutters. Minerva finds the comment curious, but he otherwise doesn’t react at all. What makes the moment even odder, is that Minerva shared her sexuality with a sullen, crotchety Severus Snape as easily as with Arthur Weasley. After a moment he rummages in his bag and extracts a small notebook, giving Minerva a cautious look. “I have some notes here, if you’re genuine about your wish to discuss the article.”
“Quite genuine.” Minerva leans forward as Severus begins to show her his notes, his wariness dissipating as he gets caught up in the points set out in a spidery hand.
Minerva watches him as he talks, having a sip of her ale and listening.
She isn’t quite sure who Severus Snape is, but perhaps in this ramshackle pub tucked away in the shadows of Knockturn Alley, she can begin to find out.
“Have you seen this bollocks?” Will’s face is ashen, her lips pressing into a tight line as she shoves a leaflet into Minerva’s hand. “Good old Muggle tabloids with their gay cancer and gay plague rubbish again.”
Minerva looks at the Sunday Express, her heart twisting. She tears the piece of paper into pieces and drops it into the bin. “What’s the latest from Smithy and Pomona?”
“Rita’s been in bed with flu for weeks. We’re all just sending her throat sweets and homemade cottage pie to help her gain a bit of weight, even though everyone knows it’s not flu.”
“St Mungo’s aren’t doing anything?” Minerva asks.
Will looks miserable. “Rita doesn’t even feel comfortable going to St Mungo’s. Says they’re always gawking at her and they call her the wrong name. Mister this, Mister that. Rita’s no more a Mister than you are, the bloody cheek of it.” Will rubs her face, her hand passing over her eyes. “We’ve got to do something.”
“We will.” Minerva extracts her wand and strides into The Sundowner, Will following close behind. They never go to The Sundowner during the night when it’s at its boozy, clubby finest, but over the last year Minerva has come to know the barman, Paul, better. It’s easily the busiest place on Little Compton Street and it’s as good a place as any to ensure people get the right information, even if there’s precious little information available to them at the moment.
“Afternoon.” Paul flashes Will and Minerva a smile and gets two glasses off the shelf. “The usual?”
“Aye.” Minerva taps her wand on the flyers hidden underneath a beer mat on the bar. “Why aren’t these out?”
“Scaring the punters away.” Paul shrugs. “Nobody wants to be reminded everyone's dying of the plague when they’re trying to have a good time.”
“Maybe people need to be reminded.” Minerva pulls off her cloak and deposits it on the stool. She takes the leaflets off the bar and gives Paul a sharp look at the beer dripping from the bottom of the pack. She flicks her wand with a sniff, drying the leaflets. “Perhaps somewhere else to keep these, Paul.”
“We can display them here, if you must.” Paul pulls out a plastic leaflet holder with a number of other colourful flyers inside. “Next to the ones for the Blue Boys Dance-Off next week.”
“Why blue?” Will turns one of the leaflets over in her hand, frowning at it.
“As in blue movies. It’s a Muggle thing. American, I think.” Paul winks. “Dancers in the buff.”
“Remind me never to take a gig at the Sundowner,” Will mutters.
“Jonathan’s been in.” Paul pours himself a pint and leans against the other side of the bar. “Apparently he’s got some bee in his bonnet about setting up a drop-in for those showing any signs of this cancer. Lot of fuss over nothing if you ask me. Bound to be something to do with his lot. You-Know-Who.”
“No.” Minerva arranges the leaflets in their alternative location, resisting the urge to scold Paul for leaving them to get sticky and damaged on the edge of a busy bar. She studies the text and shakes her head. “You-Know-Who has nothing to do with this, neither do his followers. It’s impossible. He’s dead.”
“Maybe he came back for Little Compton Street.” Paul takes a swig of his beer. “Wouldn’t put it past him.”
“It’s not just Little Compton Street,” Will interjects. “It’s Muggles too.”
“Hates Muggles, doesn’t he.”
“It’s not just England,” Will tries again. “America, too. I’ve a friend there—bit showy like Albus, total queen—”
“—Prefer to be a queen than a dyke, love.” Paul winks at Will, and she laughs under her breath.
“I know a few of them too. The Americans started the whole Dykes on Bikes thing. Maybe we should have Butches on Brooms?”
“Don't forget Femmes on Firebolts.” Paul grins and shakes his head. “What’s the news from this American of yours?”
“Not good. He’s Muggle.” Will glances at Minerva and adjusts her shirt collar the way she does when she’s nervous. “They’re losing people every day in the big cities. We can’t ignore it.”
“Everyone else is.” Paul nods at the picture of the Muggle Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher next to the bar that he fashioned into a dartboard. “Her over there’s not mentioned a word about it, so everybody’s in a panic because they don’t know what the fuck is happening. A friend told me the doctors are practically wearing spacesuits just to feed people their tea in case they catch it because someone accidentally sneezes.” For somebody who was exhibiting all the signs of denial, Paul seems to have found out a lot of information which makes Minerva wonder if he's really as blasé as he claims to be. “The Muggles are about as useful as the Ministry and St Mungo’s. Nobody’s going to help us.”
“Well then,” Minerva replies. “We’re just going to have to help ourselves. Perhaps Jonathan has the right idea. Do you know who comes to Little Compton Street?”
“Lesbians giving me a flea in my ear, usually.” Paul rolls his eyes.
“Professors.” Minerva gives Paul a glare over the top of her glasses which silences him effectively. “Professors like me, and Will here—”
“Really more of an entertainer, Min.”
“Excellent, you can be in charge of fundraising.” Minerva shakes her head. “Professors, Healers, Curse-Breakers, Ministry officials—however useless they are when they’re actually at the Ministry—people with eyes that can read, hands to write owls, a working knowledge of spells. If we can’t get help from official channels, we’ll create our own damn channels. We’ll build an army, if necessary. I’ve done it before.”
Paul stares at Minerva, glancing between her and Will. “What makes this your battle to fight? Lesbians are fine, it’s gay men that are dying. It’s us he’s come for.”
Minerva rolls up her sleeves with a sniff. “If you think your battle isn’t my battle, you clearly don’t know me at all. Little Compton Street is home. I’m not sure it would be half as entertaining without your crowd around, barging into the Gates to get the night started just because our cocktails are better than anybody else’s.”
“Elsie Ware wouldn’t sit around doing nothing would she?” Will says.
Paul shakes his head, Will’s words sobering him. Such is the power of Elsie’s name still.
“No. She wouldn’t.”
“Well, then.” Will rolls up her sleeves and picks up a dart, throwing it neatly so it lands squarely on Thatcher’s nose. “Neither will we.”
Minerva makes her way into the makeshift Gay Men’s Health Centre she helped Jonathan and Tom set up several months prior. Although magic doesn’t seem to be helping them much when it comes to finding cures for the illness that has been ravaging Little Compton Street, Transfiguration at least is useful for converting abandoned spaces into something that can function as a makeshift hospital and drop-in centre. Testament to the necessity of a dedicated place for people to visit for more information, the place is bustling. A few of the Healers that are regulars on Little Compton Street man the tiny ward to the back of the building and a queue of anxious people wait outside, eager to be seen. Inside, people are milling around, picking up the leaflets Jonathan managed to obtain from the Muggle clinic on Dean Street in Soho.
“Any luck with the dandelions, Pomona?” Brisk and efficient as ever, back in fighting mode, Minerva approaches Pomona who has settled in a nearby seat with a cup of tea to take the weight off her feet. Minerva suspects it’s Pomona’s first real break since the sun rose.
“They won’t cure anything of course, but I think with the right ointment we might be able to alleviate some of the pain.” Pomona frowns. “What we really need is a Potions expert.” She stands and leans closer to Minerva, lowering her voice. “These Healers try their best, but really the majority of them are simply too junior and I'm convinced a couple of the more senior fellows are utter buffoons.”
“I think I have a solution to that.” Minerva squeezes Pomona’s arm. “Have a jammy dodger and get some fresh air, Pommy. You look as though you haven’t stopped all day.”
Minerva leaves Pomona too it and makes her way to the trestle table where a rainbow flag operates as a makeshift tablecloth, piled high with leaflets.
“We need to start putting our own research together.” Jonathan passes one of the newest leaflets to Minerva. “Here, this is the latest Muggle one that mentions the virus.”
Minerva glances at the leaflet, trying not to let her impatience overshadow the work she’s here to do. It’s just so woefully slow, so inadequate. Only now—years after the first reported case—do they finally have a name for the virus. HIV. The Muggles seem as alone as the patrons of Little Compton Street, the groups formed to instill a sense of urgency in government gaining little traction. Finding a cure currently seems as unlikely as finding a litre of unicorn blood. In the wizarding world St Mungo’s are ignoring the problem of course, whilst the Ministry continue to pretend nothing is happening, presumably unable to imagine that something so Muggle could possibly impact them.
“We can’t keep relying on Muggles.” Jonathan takes the leaflet back from Minerva and adds it to the pile. “We have magic at our disposal. By rights, we should be the ones helping them.”
“We have precious little option at present.” Minerva gestures to the Healers. “The Healers we do have on our side are mostly juniors and overstretched as it is. We don’t have the time or money for research, not without Ministry backing. We can’t use people as guinea pigs.”
“Most are willing to try anything.”
“It’s a question of ethics, Jonathan.”
“No, it’s a question of life or death,” Jonathan bites back.
“What if we find out our cures are doing more harm than good?” Minerva’s voice rises, her tone grim. “Are you willing to have that legacy on your hands?”
“No,” Jonathan relents. His expression remains cloudy. “I’m scared to ask what the Ministry said.”
“I have never been more tempted to use the Imperius Curse on elected officials in my life.” Minerva shakes her head. “The Ministry are unmoved. They seem content to turn a blind eye to what they perceive to be a Muggle problem.”
“The Ministry is losing it’s own people, too,” Jonathan replies, his cheeks flushed with anger. “How the hell are they explaining that?”
Minerva scowls at the memory of a deeply frustrating meeting with Arthur Weasley. He was as affable and warm as ever, but quite unable to deliver the news of progress she had been hoping to receive.
“The official stance the Ministry is taking is that You-Know-Who is responsible. St Mungo’s aren’t even equipped with the correct information, because they’re putting each death down to something different. A junior Auror failed to come into work after exhibiting clear symptoms yet Bagnold issued a formal communication about his work with a cursed pot in Surrey.” Minerva smiles, grimly. “Apparently our young Auror is being revered for dying in service to our country. They’re giving him an Order of Merlin.”
“For fuck’s sake.” Jonathan spits out the words, gathering his leather jacket closer around his body and folding his arms. “They’re such wankers. I don’t know about Thatcher, we need a dartboard with Bagnold’s face on it too.”
“I’ll raise it with Paul.” Minerva sniffs with displeasure. “I’m working on them, doing what I can, but Minister Millicent keeps avoiding my request for meetings.”
“She’s not responding to my owls either.” Jonathan curses again, under his breath. “I’m going to start sending Howlers.”
“I don’t blame you.” Minerva rolls up her shirt sleeves, looking around. “Is Will here yet? I went past the flat to feed Dusty Springfield—the kneazle, not the singer—but she was nowhere to be seen.”
“She’s in the back with our Rita.” Jonathan gestures towards the ward. A wretched expression crosses his face, caught between fury and sadness. “Our friend's in a bad way, Minerva. A very bad way.”
“So I hear.” Minerva swallows and steels herself. “I’ll go and see her. I have another friend coming later, who may be able to help with the research. Please let me know when he arrives. I’ve told him to ask for me.”
“Will do.” Jonathan nods and then continues to busy himself speaking to people filing into the clinic. Minerva waves at Tom who’s deep in conversation with a couple of wizards. He waves back, cheerful despite the circumstances that surround them.
Minerva takes a breath outside the door to Rita's room. She knows something of death, but this kind of end is quite unfamiliar. She’s used to swift spells and Death Eater attacks. The deaths Minerva has seen typically occupied one brutal night, those stories of horror leaving their own scars. This is different. Minerva isn’t used to watching a friend die, to seeing their hair thin, their bodies waste. With AIDS, time runs too slowly and yet it's constantly slipping away, like sand through a clenched fist. She isn’t used to it, and she will not stand for it.
Plastering on a smile, Minerva opens the door to Rita’s room.
Put on your game face, old girl.
Put on your game face.
“Yes, of course.” Minerva shakes her head at Will to indicate she doesn’t need assistance and she follows Jonathan out of the room, closing the door behind her.
“You brought a Death Eater to Little Compton Street,” Jonathan hisses. “Bloody hell that’s the last thing we need.”
“Rumoured Death Eater,” Minerva replies. “We trust whatever Professor Snape’s allegiances may have been his loyalty is now with Albus.”
Jonathan snorts. “I never had you down for a fool.” He glances at Severus, who’s studying one of the leaflets, only his nose visible behind curtains of hair. “He even looks creepy.”
“Not everyone can have a six-pack and blond hair,” Minerva replies, tartly. “In any event, he has given me his word he won’t speak of this to anyone.”
“What’s his word worth?” Jonathan mutters.
“A lot, when you invoke a modified Unbreakable Vow,” Minerva retorts. As much as she has come to trust—and even like—Severus, the need to keep Little Compton Street free from any additional threat led her to take every precaution. Until Severus has fully demonstrated his good intentions, Minerva feels a great deal better knowing there are fetters in place to prevent Severus from sharing the details of their work on Little Compton Street with the wrong people. Severus didn’t appreciate being asked take even a modified version the magical oath that wouldn't put him at any risk of death, but he reluctantly capitulated after a discussion with Albus. “He has been sworn to secrecy by powerful magic. I'm not daft enough to make Little Compton Street any more vulnerable than it already is.”
Jonathan relaxes, although he still looks distrustful. “Well that’s something, at least. I suppose you should introduce us.”
Minerva approaches Severus and shakes his hand, noticing how he still clutches the leaflet in his other hand which forms a fist around it. It makes her wonder if Severus too is worried about this illness, if he has his own motivations for wanting to help them find a cure beyond his newfound loyalty to Albus.
“Thank you for coming, Severus. I see you’ve had a little time to familiarise yourself with the literature.”
“I’d like to speak to a Healer. To see what they’ve learned so far.” Severus glances around the clinic, his face expressionless but for the strange, almost gleeful curiosity in his dark gaze.
“Pomona can introduce you. I advise you work with her in the first instance. She has some reservations about the more junior members of the team.”
“Very well.” Severus looks at Jonathan coldly and they stare at one another for a charged moment, neither one saying a word.
“Oh for goodness sakes.” Minerva tuts and gestures between them. “Severus, meet Jonathan Ashton. He founded the Centre with his partner Tom Burbage.”
Jonathan rolls his eyes before reluctantly extending his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“A pleasure.” Severus’ lip curls in a manner which indicates it is nothing of the sort.
“Are you queer too?” Jonathan gives Severus a curious look.
“Absolutely not,” Severus replies, tightly, a splash of colour blooming in his cheeks.
Jonathan scowls. “Brilliant. A Death Eater and a homophobe.”
“Gentlemen!” Minerva raises her voice and gestures towards Pomona. “Put your differences aside and get on with it. There’s work to be done.”
Jonathan sighs, before shaking his head. “Come on, then, Snape. I’ll introduce you to the team.”
Minerva watches as Jonathan takes Severus across to Pomona and the Healers and sincerely hopes she hasn’t made a terrible mistake.
Minerva wraps an arm around Will, who leans against her as they watch Rita sleep. Smithy is there too, anxiously eating a packet of pork scratchings and talking quietly to Pomona and Sam Turpin. The click of the door opening disturbs the quiet and Jonathan steps into the darkening room.
“We’re finally closed for the day.” He pulls a face as he looks around the mournful group. “Merlin, we’re going to need to liven this place up. No wonder everyone’s coming here to die.”
“Don’t say that,” Smithy bites back, angrily.
“Why not? It’s either laugh or cry, darling.” Jonathan curls his hand into a fist. “Or rage. Rage is good. Anything’s better than the apathy out there.”
“We could have music,” Will offers, thoughtfully. “On an afternoon. Get some of the queens in from The Gryff or those that do the plays on Compton Common. Might bring a bit of life to the place.”
“Good idea.” Jonathan perches on the bed where Rita’s once larger than life frame is now swamped even in the small single bed. He takes her hand carefully, stroking his thumb over it as she sleeps. He blinks back furious tears as Rita’s breath rattles through the still room. “I have to do something. We need to get out of Little Compton Street—we need to be marching on Diagon Alley about this, like they used to in the sixties for the Squibs.”
Minerva frowns because even though she couldn’t agree more with Jonathan, something tells her that Bagnold is more likely to shut down the critical operations in Little Compton Street than she is to help them.
“Protest as much as you want but we can’t let the Ministry know about this ward,” Minerva says, urgently. “We don’t have the proper licenses. They’d shut us down and it would take months—years—to get things opened again. We don’t have time for Ministry bureaucracy, and I guarantee that’s what will happen. Our one lifeline closed until further notice, while a useless subordinate pushes papers around for a few months under the pretence of looking into something they have no intention of properly addressing.”
“Fine.” Jonathan nods. “This ward—and Little Compton Street—remains secret. Our research remains secret.”
“Aye. It’s the right thing to do.” Will gives Minerva a soft smile. “Poor Min here has been determined to bring Little Compton Street out into the open for decades, now. Our time will come, love. Rest easy.”
“I know.” Minerva slips her hand into Will’s and watches Rita sleep. “I like the idea of music. It doesn’t feel right that we’re all so solemn. Rita would hate that.”
“Then we’ll give her the best knees-up we can,” Jonathan decides. “Bring your guitar, Will. Let’s get Queenie out from The Gryff to do a few numbers, too.”
“Will do.” Will squeezes Minerva’s hand and stands, stretching. “Are we all packed up?”
“Some leaflets need sorting,” Jonathan replies. “I wanted to come in here and see Rita first.”
“Don’t worry, lad. I’ll do the leaflets. Stay with Rita, she’d want you here.” Will squeezes Minerva’s shoulder. “I’m popping out for a smoke then I’ll do some tidying. Let me know when you’re ready to leave.”
Minerva isn’t sure she will be ready to leave. It feels wrong to file out of the ward, to leave Rita alone at night. “We can’t leave her.”
“We won’t.” Smithy holds up a bottle of rum. “Pommy and me are on the night watch.”
“Don’t get drunk and start singing.” Jonathan looks horrified. “You’ll make everyone worse.”
“Oi! Cheeky little upstart.” Smithy glares at Jonathan, waving Will off as she leaves the room.
“Fine, drink your rum. Pour me a glass, while you’re at it.” Jonathan glances at Minerva. “Tell that friend of yours to stop scowling at everyone too, when he next visits. He’s scaring people away.”
Minerva laughs under her breath. “I’ll do what I can.” She stands too, her bones creaking in protest. “I’ll be back tomorrow. Let us know when you’re going to Diagon Alley. We will come and support you.”
“You’ve got your own position to worry about.” Jonathan shakes his head. “I’ll do this alone. What’s the worst they can do?”
Minerva winces, because she isn’t sure she wants to know the answer.
“They’re not doing anything?” Will looks up from her position on the armchair when Minerva walks in. She’s smoking her pipe, surrounded by haphazard piles of papers that Minerva recognises as Muggle literature.
“Not a damn thing.” Minerva unbuttons her shawl and sends it off to hang in the hallway with an irritated flick of her wand, still furious after her encounter with a small group of Healers affiliated with the Ministry. “It’s like they refuse to acknowledge witches and wizards could ever be susceptible to a human disease. The arrogance is unbelievable.”
“At least Jonathan is out of Azkaban.”
“There is that.” It still fills Minerva with fury to think of the way the Aurors manhandled Jonathan and threw him into prison with the Dementors just for trying to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS. “I’ve never known of somebody going to Azkaban for daring to use a Sonorous Charm on Diagon Alley. I’m sure the Aurors never used to police our marches in the sixties so aggressively.”
“We had the Death Eaters for that.” Will pulls a face. “Anyway, the Ministry don’t want anyone talking about this. Everybody knew Squibs existed, werewolves, all the other things we fought for then. I’d warrant there’s a good number who don’t know anything about AIDS. How many witches and wizards do you reckon are up to date with Muggle news? Half our men here aren’t exactly close to their families, and the Ministry and the papers are staying schtum. The last thing the Ministry wants is some bloke with a loud voice and pins saying Fuck Thatcher and Bagnold is Bullshit trying to raise attention about something they want buried.”
“It’s an appalling abuse of their power.”
“It’s the Ministry, that lot are always abusing their power.” Will winces. “No offence.”
“None taken, I assure you.” Minerva makes a pot of tea. “I sincerely hope your day was better than mine.”
“I went for coffee with a lass called Aurora Sinistra. I think we’re going to be great pals. She’s going to be teaching Astronomy at Hogwarts next term. You’d like her, Min.”
“I heard we had new staff joining next term.” Minerva sips her tea and turns to face Will. “How did you meet Professor Sinistra?”
Will grins at Minerva. “Put the claws away Min, she’s as straight as Arthur Weasley.”
Minerva huffs. “There were no claws.”
“There was definitely a pointed question.” Will chuckles. “I told her about this in a roundabout sort of way. The Muggle side of things, if not the Little Compton Street side of things, at least not yet. She wants to help.”
“Well we’re going to need all the help we can get,” Minerva sighs. “I've asked Poppy to look into possible treatments and Ro has volunteered to help, although I’m not sure what use we have for Quidditch coaches. I have no intention of bringing either of them to Little Compton Street, but there's plenty to be done elsewhere. More people are being checked into St Mungo's by the day and nobody seems able to give a proper diagnosis.”
“Good old Madam Hooch.” Will lights her pipe and takes a thoughtful puff. “We always need people to keep morale up and offer companionship to those that are scared, those without family of their own. I’d say Ro would be good at that, if you sent her off to St Mungo's to see some of our boys. She’s a kind sort, beneath the bark.”
“She is indeed.” Minerva rubs her temple, able to sense a headache beginning.
“At least we’ve got friends willing to help. The Muggles are having about as much support as we are from the press and government.” Will waves a Muggle tabloid in Minerva’s direction. “I’ve never read so much Muggle news in my life.”
“At least people are admitting it’s a problem in the Muggle world, instead of hoping it will all just go away.” Minerva sighs, finishing her tea and pouring herself a dram of her favourite Scotch. “We’re quite on our own.”
“Not on our own. Not when we have a community that’s seen more than most—a group of clever Professors like Aurora, Severus and bossy-boots Hooch looking to help. At least we’ve got the magic that let us build up a ward in a matter of hours. Muggles can’t do that, not without Transfiguration experts like you. We can beat this.”
“Can we?” Minerva sits heavily in her favourite chair and closes her eyes. She just needs to breathe; needs to remember something good. “So many have already died.”
Will’s voice gets quiet, wobbling at the edges. “I thought losing Rita was hard enough but then so many others came after it’s been relentless.”
“Smithy’s been as good as gold, keeping everyone entertained with her jokes.” Minerva gives Will a soft smile. “You and that guitar of yours, too.”
“It’s not much.” Will takes another puff on her pipe. “I’d do more if I could. Anything, just to make it better.”
“How long must we be at war?” Minerva’s voice cracks and she closes her eyes against an onslaught of emotion. It’s only here—in the quiet solitude of Will’s flat with Dusty curled on her lap that she’s finally safe to let herself go. She doesn’t believe in public spectacles and she sometimes fears if she begins to let her grief loose it will pour out of her in unstoppable waves until the force of the current drags her under. These days it’s simply treading water, that’s all she can do.
“You take too much on yourself.”
“How can I not?” Minerva opens her eyes at last, contemplating Will. She looks worried, as she often does these days. Maybe she thinks Minerva is losing her marbles. Perhaps she’s right. “People are dying. Young men. Our friends. Do you think we should just allow it to happen?”
“No, of course not.” Will tuts under her breath.” But you’re more effective well fed and rested. Running yourself into the ground helps no one. Not when there are so few of us in the first place.”
“I know.” In her heart, Minerva knows Will is right. Exhaustion creeps through her and she’s moments away from succumbing to the fatigue, stretched thin enough that she’s almost translucent; a hollow shell full of anger and despair. “I want to be able to do something.”
“That we can.” Will passes Minerva a leaflet. “Everything’s nearly in place for the charity concert on Compton Common. It’s not much, but it’s a start. Raising money will help us employ someone with medical knowledge, potions, something. The lesbians are giving blood in America.”
“That’s one thing I don’t believe we need to do here, although I would happily do whatever required if blood drives ever become necessary.” Minerva takes the leaflet from Will. “I like the idea of the charity concert. Even if it’s just a way to bring everyone together and into the sunshine for a while.”
“That’s what we thought. Has Severus had any luck brewing dastardly elixirs in the Slytherin dungeons?”
Minerva gives Will a stern look. “No. It was always a long shot that one man could do the necessary research without proper funding or the ability to test the potions. At least his pain-relieving draughts are some of the best we have available. They may not offer a cure, but they can provide a little respite.”
“He’s an odd fish.” Will doesn’t much like Severus. Even when she’s with him, she’s noticeably wary, and they don’t have much in common that would cause them to strike up an unexpected friendship. Severus isn’t one for Magizoology or music and he continues to display a snobbery about the Muggle world that Will is so attached to. News of his teaching methods have also got back to Will, and she doesn’t approve. Her firm but friendly conversational style couldn’t be more different to the strategies Severus employs, his harsh approach to students inciting her ire.
I’ll never be friends with him, Min, Will had told her one night as they cuddled close together under the duvet with Dusty mewling at their feet. I won’t be cruel or make him feel unwelcome. I won’t make things difficult for you. Just don’t push it. Minerva understands and respects Will’s decision. They have plenty of shared friendships, but independent ones, too, and would never allow those things to become a point of quarrel. Minerva understands that Will’s memories of Elsie are richer than her own. The friendship was a huge part of Will’s life long before Minerva came onto the scene. These days Will is much closer with Smithy than Minerva has ever been, whilst Minerva's flourishing friendship with Severus has developed largely in private, over brandy at Hogwarts when they engage in verbal sparring and robust discussion of the latest publications, sharing similarly sharp senses of humour. Minerva fully understands Severus doesn’t do much to endear himself to others and she doesn’t expect Will to unquestioningly embrace someone with Snape’s former associations.
Will is polite, but brusque and Severus tends to avoid the crowds for the most part, sullen and quiet. He’s entirely disinterested in striking up conversation with people of Little Compton Street, keeping his business there strictly focused on curt discussions with Healers and others working on medication. On occasion Minerva catches him looking at some of the more attractive men—not that Minerva is any expert—with something that she can never quite decipher, teetering between hunger and jealousy. Minerva tries not to pry, knowing Severus would hate to have his private life open for discussion, but it makes her wonder. Will has always thought it strange that of all the people in her life Minerva might tell about Little Compton Street, she would choose Severus. She can't quite explain how she continues to have the niggling sense that perhaps Severus needs it more than most. In any event, however much he grumbles, Severus has spent countless hours behind the scenes working on refining potions and treatments. Minerva doesn't need Will to become best friends with him. It is quite enough that they are both careful not to let it become a bone of contention between them.
Minerva sips her whisky and changes the subject. There are more important things to discuss than the foibles of Severus Snape. “I spoke to Albus about raising publicity for the cause outside of Little Compton Street.”
“Any luck?” Will doesn’t sound overly hopeful.
“Not a bit.” Minerva shakes her head. “I believe he was able to pull a few strings to get Jonathan out of Azkaban early—they planned to hold him for a fortnight—”
“—Ridiculous!” Will’s eyes flash furiously.
“Indeed.” Minerva continues, “Albus isn’t able to create publicity without compromising his position and the Governors are looking for any opportunity to oust him. With Lucius Malfoy at the helm—”
“—How quickly we forget,” Will mutters, darkly. “I can’t believe they allowed that man to get involved in anything. By rights he should have been forced to give all that money of his to the victims of those Death Eater attacks. We had to have a fundraiser to get Elsie a decent headstone and he gets to swan around in his velvet and diamonds.”
“Of all the people that escaped punishment, his ability to wriggle out of trouble surprised me most of all.” Minerva frowns. She can’t abide Lucius Malfoy, finding his simpering, odious personality far too reminiscent of the Ministry of old.
Will’s expression brightens and she leans forward. “Enough of that weasel. We did have some good news today.”
“We did?” Minerva could use some good news.
“You’ll never believe it. I can hardly believe it myself.” Will shakes her head with a laugh. “Jonathan’s got this mad idea that Princess Di’s going to come to Little Compton Street.”
“Princess Diana of the Muggle Royal Family?” Minerva wonders if Will’s gone as mad as Minerva. “Princess Diana who’s always splashed all over the Muggle tabloids? That Diana?”
Will chuckles. “The very same, according to Jonathan. It breaks almost every rule in the book, but nobody knows about Little Compton Street and if it goes horribly, I suppose we could just Obliviate her.”
Minerva nearly chokes on her Scotch. “You can’t go around Obliviating members of the Royal Family.”
“If needs must.” Will shrugs. “Anyway, she’s obviously not going to come but we’re to keep our Saturdays free just in case. Put up some bunting.”
“I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous in my entire life,” Minerva says, tartly.
“We’ll see.” Will grins. “Stranger things have happened.”
1986, Compton Common, Little Compton Street
Nobody quite believes it when Princess Diana descends on Little Compton Street to a flurry of activity. It’s as if the street knows there’s royalty visiting, the warmth of her famous smile settling like the rays of the afternoon sun on those gathered there.
“She’s so dignified,” Will murmurs, starry-eyed and a little bit in love by the looks of things. “So beautiful.”
“That’s quite enough of that,” Minerva replies.
“It’s Lady Di.” Will turns to Minerva, taking an indignant puff on her pipe. “You can't mind me fancying Lady Di!”
“Not in the slightest.” Minerva gives Will a quick kiss, fairly certain a Muggle princess isn’t about to run off with either of them.
Despite her earlier skepticism, Minerva found herself swept away on the infectious excitement that brought the street alive. The sun shone with extra brightness, the bars all smartly cleaned and decorated with rows of bunting. Large jugs of Pimms with roughly chopped oranges, strawberries, mint and cucumber adorned trestle tables in Compton Common, and a rainbow carpet was rolled out along the cobbles to lead Diana towards the Gay Men's Health Centre. Even the flags seemed brighter than usual, upbeat music and the buzz of the chattering crowds bringing a vibrancy to the street that has struggled to find much to celebrate over the last few years. Princess Diana told them in confidence about plans to open a Muggle hospital in London next year dedicated to treating HIV and AIDS, indicating any of Little Compton Street's patrons would be welcome. After years of being ignored by all the people in high-up places, the top-secret visit from one of the world’s most famous Muggles is a reminder that there are people that care. Important people. People with warm hearts and kind smiles. She seemed so surprised to see magic up close, so delighted by even the simplest spells. Watching Her Royal Highness with Jonathan and the patients in the Gay Men's Health Centre, Minerva couldn't help but feel that there are other kinds of magic in the world.
Long after Lady Di leaves, the streets still hum with a restless energy. The parties seem set to go on long into the early morning hours, spilling out from the many bars onto the cobbles. Candles in a vast array of colours flicker and shimmer in the darkness and everything is warm and alive.
“I can’t believe she shook my hand. Lady Di shook my hand.” Jonathan clutches his hand against his chest as though he may never wash it again. “They said I’d never do it. They thought I was mad.”
“Millicent Bagnold has been in talks with Thatcher for years about trying to get a member of the royal family to visit the Ministry.” Minerva gives Jonathan a triumphant smile. “They all said no.”
“Of course they did!” Jonathan hoots with laughter. “Who’d want to go to a stuck-up party at the Ministry with hors d’oeuvres that taste worse than Tom’s feet. It’s not half as fun as Little Compton Street. Serves the Ministry right for walking around with their wands up their arses and refusing to help us, even when they’ve got us begging on the streets. Serves them bloody right.”
“A victory, indeed.” Minerva raises her glass and they all do a hearty cheers, Smithy’s ale sloshing over their hands.
Much later, Minerva slips outside to find Will sitting on a bench in Compton Common. She's surrounded by pieces of discarded bunting and numerous plastic cups that held fruity glasses of Pimms, the jugs long-since finished. Will swoops her wand slowly through the air to bring all of the cups together into a bin bag, watching as they wobble through the darkness.
“That can wait until tomorrow, love.” Minerva sits next to Will and nudges her shoulder. “Come and join the party.”
“In a minute.” Will’s voice is gruff and when Minerva looks at her more closely, she can see her eyes are red from crying.
“Will?” Minerva touches Will’s arm gently, her concern mounting. Will is so cheerful, always a constant source of support to Minerva. It’s disconcerting to see Will sitting alone in the darkness, obviously distressed.
“Elsie would have loved her.” Will leans forward, elbows on her knees and chin in her hands. “She’d have had bunting all over the Gates, would have been talking about it for years after.”
A light breeze moves a couple of the plastic cups and they roll along the ground in front of them.
“See?” Will murmurs. “She agrees.”
Minerva swallows and stretches an arm across the back of the bench, staring out into the darkness. Two men move across the Common holding hands, their laughter catching on the wind. It makes Minerva think of James and Sirius, and the taste of Will’s rum-soaked kisses that night after bumping into them at The Gryff.
“Have you been sitting out here all this time, thinking about Elsie?” Minerva asks, gently.
“Not just Elsie.” Will tips an imaginary glass to the sky. “Sorry, lass.”
“All of it.” Will’s jaw works, her expression cloudy. “We bring out the bunting like it’s an English garden party, as if people aren’t dying all around us. Little Compton Street’s lost so many of its men already, how many more to go?”
“We can’t think like that,” Minerva replies. “We have to keep fighting, we can find more Healers to work with us, we can—”
“—Jonathan’s sick,” Will interrupts. “He told me after too many Moonshines a month ago.”
“You never said.” An icy hand clutches at Minerva’s heart, her stomach rolling. “He’s seems so—” Minerva breaks off before saying he seems so well. She knows enough from what she’s seen over the last few years that looking well is no indication of anything.
“Don’t they all, before it takes hold?” Will sits back, leaning into Minerva and watching the trees move in the quiet space as the music pulses and beats around them. “He swore me to secrecy, so don’t be telling anyone.”
“I won’t,” Minerva promises. “How long has he known?”
“Merlin knows.” Will shrugs. “Long enough. Doesn’t want to be pitied, of course. Doesn’t want to think about dying. If he fights hard enough for everyone else, maybe he’ll fight the bloody thing right out of his body.” She pauses, her voice shaking. “I hate it, Min. I hate this illness. This stupid, cunting illness.”
Minerva understands the rage. She understands the futile wish for things to be different, the need to keep fighting, keep moving, keep dancing, keep singing in case one day everything just…stops.
“Come on.” Will stands and stretches, holding out her hand to Minerva. “I suppose we should get back to it.”
“Yes,” Minerva agrees. “I suppose we should.”
Minerva glances behind her as they leave the Common but no matter how hard she tries she scans the shadows she can no longer make out the two men she saw running into the Common only moments before.
1986, Gay Men’s Health Centre, Little Compton Street
“Have you seen the advert on the Muggle telly?” Tom collars Minerva as soon as she arrives at the Centre, handing her a cup of tea. “They’re finally starting to take some notice.”
“I managed to watch it with Will at her cousin Laurie’s.” Minerva shudders at the memory of the imposing tombstone dropping onto the ground and the chiselling of ‘AIDS’ onto the granite. “At least they’re talking about sexual health and preventative measures. Finally.”
“We got some of the leaflets.” Tom arranges the black leaflets with the white AIDS letters in bold and the caption DON’T DIE OF IGNORANCE bold and stark. “We’re going to give these out with condoms and instructions on how to use protective spells. Some of our lot prefer the Muggle scene and you can’t go casting spells at Muggles when you’re trying to get a shag.”
Minerva gives Tom a wry smile. “No, it wouldn’t be wise. I doubt our esteemed Minister would be supportive.”
“Me neither.” Tom sighs, rubbing his cheek. “The war ended and then it started all over again. Sometimes I go to sleep and wake up forgetting how to breathe.”
“I know.” Minerva squeezes Tom’s arm. He looks tired, and slimmer than usual. He’s always dashing around, and she’s not convinced he ever properly sleeps. He’s either drinking at the Sundowner or taking the night watch at the clinic. So many of Minerva’s friends have been impacted, but far more of Tom’s have been struck down. He refuses to leave anyone alone—some of the boys don’t have family of their own—he told Minerva once. I’m the closest thing they have and you wouldn’t leave your brother, your sons or your sisters to die alone now, would you?
“Will’s here.” Tom gestures towards one of the doors, where there’s the sound of music and laughter. “She’s doing a sing a-long.”
“I should go and join in, then. Although nobody wants to hear my warbling, I’m sure.” Minerva gives Tom a kiss on the cheek. “Look after yourself and get some rest. Let somebody else do the night shifts for a change.”
“Maybe.” Tom grins, and Minerva already knows her words are falling on deaf ears. “Bye, Professor.” He gives her a cheeky smile, having taken to calling Minerva Professor as a term of endearment.
Minerva shakes her head, fondly and wanders into the wards where Will is caught up in a rousing chorus of Tainted Love. Two of Little Compton Street’s better-known drag queens are dressed in their Shirley Bassey finest, ready to sing their own numbers. As Minerva looks around, a lump rises in her throat. There are people that look so ill. The men she remembers being go-go dancers at The Sundowner, young twenty-somethings, older men holding the hands of their partners as they take in the show. They look like shadows of their former selves, and yet every single one of them is smiling.
Minerva pulls up a seat next to Sam Turpin—the young man who welcomed her so finely to Scamandar’s on her first visit to Little Compton Street. He sits in a wheelchair and parts of his exposed skin are covered in angry purple lesions. His shock of ginger hair now peppered with grey, but when he turns to Minerva his eyes are bright.
“She’s got a fine set of lungs on her, that lass of yours,” Sam says. He smiles at Minerva. “Hello again.”
“Hello again,” Minerva replies, taking Sam’s hand in her own.
He holds on tightly, his fingers warm and brittle and Minerva begins to sing.
1987, Jonathan Ashton’s House, Ealing
“I hope you’re not planning to tell me off about my leaflets.” Paul sits next to Minerva on a rickety dining room chair, handing her a glass of warm Lambrusco. “I’ve moved from the Sundowner to The Christopher Street Inn in any event, and I’ve got posters up now. Huge things, so everyone knows where to find Jonathan and the rest of your lot. It’s a wonder people are still coming in to drink at all.”
“I’m pleased to hear it.” Minerva glances at Paul, who looks worried. She knows he has a gruff manner, but he’s become closer than ever with Jonathan throughout the years. Seeing Tom and Jonathan’s deterioration has been as painful to him as it has to the others.
Of the two of them, Jonathan is a little brighter than Tom, whose legs are covered with a colourful blanket that Minerva recognises as one of the charity quilts. That was Aurora’s inspired idea to raise funds for the Gay Man’s Health Centre—recently renamed The AIDS Crisis Unit.
“Thanks for traipsing across London.” Jonathan sits next to Tom on the sofa and holds up his glass in a toast. “Tom here isn’t up for the Sundowner nowadays, so we thought we’d bring the disco to Ealing.”
“As long as you’ve got Starship,” Tom replies. His voice has a strange rasp to it, his breathing laboured. Despite it all, he manages to wink at Minerva as he squeezes Jonathan’s hand. “Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now.”
“Anything you want, darling.” Jonathan gives Tom a quick kiss and Minerva feels as if they’re all intruding on something intensely private, despite the chasteness of the brief moment. “I’ve got exciting news.”
“You’ve always got news and you always tell us it's exciting,” Smithy says. “It’s usually not.”
“Shut up Smithy.” Jonathan rolls his eyes. Their back and forth is so familiar by now, Minerva is well aware that even when they sound as though they're arguing there's nothing but the deepest love and admiration between them. They bicker like brother and sister. Smithy told Minerva once that’s how they think of themselves. With no other family that wants us, we have to make our own, she told Minerva, brusquely.
“I’ve been in touch with New York.” Jonathan preens, looking pleased with himself. “There’s a new organisation—bloke called Kramer started it all—called ACT UP. The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power. There’s factions all over the place and I’m setting up the wizarding faction, right here.” He pulls a face. “Well, not here. Nobody wants anything organised in Ealing. In Little Compton Street, at the Centre. I made leaflets.” He flicks his wand and disperses leaflets around the group.
“He wants someone to keep it going,” Tom says. “After.” His words crack around the edges.
“I thought we were here for a party,” Smithy mutters, her face pale as she studies the leaflet. Pomona squeezes her hand and she clutches on tightly.
“I think one of the men should front this.” Minerva glances at Will, who nods. “We’ll help, of course.”
“I agree.” Jonathan looks hopefully around, but several of the wizards avoid his gaze. Minerva wants to shake them, to make people see how important it is to do something.
“I’ll do it.” Unexpectedly, Paul pipes up. Those gathered look at him in surprise, because of all the people in the room, Paul had been one of the slowest to start to take the threat of HIV and AIDS seriously.
“You?” Pomona asks, incredulously.
“Yes, me.” Paul scowls. “I don’t know what you lot are staring at.”
“You’re not really an activist are you, darling?” Jonathan gives Paul a fond smile and he glares at Jonathan.
“Times like this are enough to make activists of anyone. Even me.”
“You can have my badges when I'm gone,” Jonathan says. “So you look the part. Fuck everything else. Burn it all to ashes with me and Tom here, then chuck them over Bagnold's head. Maybe that'll finally get her attention. It's what the Muggles are doing.”
“I’ll help Paul,” Smithy offers. “We know he's only going to end up getting distracted by the go-go dancers at the Sundowner.”
“Oi!” Paul looks as though he’s about to throw hexes.
“Now, now.” Minerva stands and looks through Jonathan’s music collection, thankful for being in a Muggle flat. She finds the Starship song requested by Tom and puts the record on, holding her hand out for Will to join her. “I thought we were here for a party. You don’t see people causing this sort of trouble at the Sundowner.”
“Beg to differ. There's always trouble at the Sundowner. Full of shady queens, that place.” Jonathan takes Tom’s hand and murmurs something into his ear. “You'd better dance with me, Thomas. This is your song and I'll look like a right twat if you leave me dancing by myself.”
Slowly, Tom stands and together they stand in the space created for them, holding one another as the music plays.
Put your arms around me baby don't ever let go
Let the world around us just fall apart
Baby we can make it if we're heart to heart
And we can build this thing together
Stand this stormy weather
Nothings gonna stop us now
The sun is rising over London by the time Minerva and Will get back from Ealing to Little Compton Street. As soon as they get into the bedroom, Will closes the door and pulls Minerva onto the bed with an urgency that takes Minerva by surprise.
She’s not complaining in the slightest. She feels the need for something—anything—deep in her bones. Something to stop time in its tracks before it keeps spinning along again, taking good people to their graves. Something that heals the numbness of grief, the futility of anger, the desperation of screaming at people who don’t seem to hear. Minerva needs it too. Whatever Will wants. Hard, fast, dirty. She grinds against Will, panting into the kiss and tearing off her clothes as they roll together in the bed. When Will grabs Minerva’s hand and pushes it down her body, Minerva stills, pulling back and looking at Will.
“Please.” Will swallows, her fingers tightening around Minerva’s wrist. “Not inside, just. Just touch me. Please.”
“Anything, love. Anything.” Minerva murmurs.
It’s not the first time she’s touched Will like this, of course, but it’s rare enough that she wanted to check Will’s eyes were bright and clear before doing so. It’s rare enough that everything seems rawer somehow, more urgent, as if fucking is the only way they can both remind themselves that they’re still alive.
Minerva pushes her hand into Will’s trousers which are unbuckled at the front, and Will works her hand under Minerva’s skirt and into her knickers. Together they touch—Will’s fingers deep inside the wet heat, Minerva’s thumb rubbing over Will’s clit as they kiss, hot, open-mouthed, a sweaty, desperate, boozy tangle of desire. It’s so good just to feel something other than rage. So good to feel something other than lost, numb. Minerva comes to a shuddering climax before Will, yanking down Will’s trousers and moving her lips over Will.
With a groan of pleasure, Will drops back on the bed as Minerva gets to work. She works her mouth over Will until her face is wet, until she’s kissed every inch of Will’s beautiful, handsome body. She avoids the parts Will likes being reminded of less—not the tits, Min—and focuses on squeezing Will’s backside, on kissing between her thighs, her belly, her neck.
When they’re both breathless and satiated, they shower together.
The sun rises, heralding a new dawn.
1987, Transfiguration Classroom, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Severus looks even paler than usual, his lips pursed in such a thin line they almost disappear entirely. He closes the door behind him with a flick of his wand, slamming it hard enough that the sound echoes around the classroom.
Minerva peers at Severus over the top of her glasses. “Did it not go well?”
“No, Professor,” Severus snaps. “It did not go well.” His lips curls into a sneer. “Did the sobbing Hufflepuff not give you a hint about the success of your godforsaken idea? I have already received two Howlers from aggrieved parents and the lesson finished an hour ago—largely due to the traumatised students fleeing from the classroom faster than a herd of stampeding Hippogriffs.”
“Perhaps it was a bad idea,” Minerva acknowledges.
Severus scowls. “It was a terrible idea. If you would like anybody to attempt to educate the students on sexual health—and the specifics of homosexual health—I suggest you ask Albus.” He sits in the chair with a huff.
“I apologise for putting you in an uncomfortable position.”
“I have little regard for my reputation.” Severus rolls his eyes. “However, I would like to retain what precious little dignity I have left.”
“Noted.” Minerva hides a smile. “The young witches were more receptive.”
“Wonderful.” Severus doesn’t sound like it’s wonderful at all. “I sincerely hope these classes are not intended to be regular occurrences.”
“I think not.” Minerva holds up her own Howler, received shortly after her lesson, singed around the edges. “The parents are already protesting and without the Ministry agreeing to implement a formal health education programme as part of the curriculum our jobs will be at risk if we continue.”
“Good,” Severus replies. “Perhaps I could finally retire to my Great Uncle Alfred’s cottage in the Outer Hebrides and brew my potions in peace.”
“Not just yet,” Minerva replies. “There will be time enough for that. In the meantime, I will continue to work towards a change in the legislation, although Bagnold is as ineffective as she is conservative. I sincerely doubt she would take such a progressive step as implementing proper education about sexual health, even in the midst of a crisis.”
Severus arches an eyebrow at Minerva. “According to the Ministry, there is no crisis.”
“Quite.” Minerva tuts under her breath and stands, gesturing for Severus to leave before her. “Can I interest you in a Scotch?”
“I think it’s the least you can do.” Severus stalks through the corridors next to Minerva, glaring at students that scurry out of his way.
“A cottage in the Outer Hebrides?” Minerva gives Severus a smile. “Is that where you want to spend your days?”
“Perhaps. However, given my bad fortune, I expect death is the only thing that will bring me respite,” Severus retorts. He always has had a flare for the dramatic. “Has there been any success with the latest batch of potions?”
“I’m sorry.” Minerva shakes her head, the humour of the moment fading. “No success at all.”
“And your friends?” Severus gives Minerva a dark, hawk-eyed stare, his face expressionless.
A chill travels down Minerva’s smile as she thinks of Jonathan and Tom, both failing now in ways Minerva never expected to see unfold before her eyes.
“Not good,” she says. A lump rises in her throat and she swallows, thickly. “Not good at all.”
They continue to walk through the corridors without another word.
1987, Compton Common, Little Compton Street
The photograph doesn’t do Tom Burbage justice. It’s as good as a photograph could ever be, his expression as cheeky and cheerful as Minerva remembers, but even the magical photo that keeps Tom’s laughter replaying on a loop is a woefully inadequate representation of his vibrancy. The sunniness of Tom’s smile makes Minerva unspeakably angry.
“He was just a boy.” Minerva’s voice cracks, the pictures of her lost friends racing through her mind. “Just a boy, with his whole life ahead of him.”
“Aye.” Will takes a puff of her pipe, her expression sombre. “I don’t know why we put these photos up. We should take the photos of how he looked at the end to the Ministry. Ask why they’re letting young wizards die without doing a damn thing about it.”
“He was happy. It’s how he would want to be remembered.”
“Was he?” Will takes another vicious puff of her pipe, swiping a brusque hand across her cheek. “How happy are any of us really, Min? Down here underground, dancing away our pain, hidden from prying eyes. Maybe Little Compton Street is just another queer coffin.”
“Don’t.” Minerva slides her fingers between Will’s. “This isn’t a coffin. It’s home.”
“They bring open caskets into the home, too,” Will replies. “We have rows of them. Rows and rows. Dead brothers, sisters, a whole family turned to ash.” She turns to Minerva, lips pressed into a thin line. “Let me be angry, love. If I can’t be angry I don’t know what I’ll be. Just another broken body, another lost gay soul, I imagine. I’m so tired.”
“I know.” Minerva kisses Will lightly before pulling back. “Me too. Have your anger, if you need it. Just don’t let it burn you up inside.”
“I won’t.” Will sighs and stares ahead. “It just feels better than this numb, empty hole.”
“We have buried too many friends,” Minerva replies at last, her voice rough with the tears she’s trying not to shed.
“That we have.” Will squeezes Minerva’s hand in sympathy and they press together under the stormy skies. Little Compton Street is rarely cloudy, and this is the first time Minerva can recall the brickwork taking on the shadows of a thunderstorm since Elsie’s funeral. There’s a space in the crowd where Jonathan should be, the space briefly occupied by his wheelchair. He fought and rallied to be allowed outside, flanked by Healers to pay his last respects to his partner. When Minerva hugged him goodbye, she was struck by his slender frame, the brittle bones and sharp clutch of his arms around her body.
“Even Little Compton Street agrees,” Will says, voice quiet. “It feels the loss in its bones, even the bricks are crying.”
“There will be no more,” Minerva says.
The first strains of music begin and the gathered crowds sway together. If the world runs out of lovers, we’ll still have each other. Minerva reaches into her pocket and throws up a fistful of blood red confetti shaped like little ribbons, others following course as the music spins and the sounds crescendo through Little Compton Street. The red glitter ribbons rain down around them. Blood red; Cruciatus red. It catches and shimmers in the first crack of sunlight that appears through the dull grey skies and finally Minerva lets her tears fall, her hand sweaty as she clutches on to Will tightly enough to hurt. Minerva keeps Will close and promises herself that this is the end.
There will be no more.
Image Description: A drawing. A close-up of Will and Minerva’s clasped hands. Minerva wears a green tartan cloak, Will a purple jacket. On the ground in front of them is a colorful quilt, with a framed photo of a smiling young man sitting on one of the squares. Further in the distance there are other silhouettes, buildings decorated with rainbow flags and bunting. Red confetti falls, but the overall mood is dim. Art by Bergatroll.
when it's cold outside
am I here in vain?
hold on to the night
there will be no shame
Erasure – Always
1993, Library, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
“How old do you think McGonagall is?” Dean Thomas sounds as though he’s speaking with his mouth full, and Minerva resists the urge to tut, standing back to listen to the discussion unnoticed.
“I reckon about ninety?” Ronald Weasley sends a spark of magic into the air and yelps when it ricochets off a nearby mirror and comes back in his direction with alarming speed. “But witches and wizards live longer than Muggles, so she’ll be around for ages yet.”
Minerva resists the urge to thank Weasley for his confidence in her anticipated lifespan, not to mention his gross miscalculation of her age.
“At least ninety,” Thomas retorts. “Do you think people of that age still do it?”
“I bloody hope not!” Weasley sounds horrified. “My mum and dad don’t even do that, and they’re only seventy.”
“Your parents are seventy?” Thomas sounds rather like he’s just been told Weasley’s parents are Death Eaters.
“I dunno.” Weasley shrugs. “Probably about that. I’ve never asked.”
Thomas mulls over that information. “Still, they must have done it once or twice. They’ve got loads of kids.”
“Six times and that’s it.” Weasley shudders. “Can we stop talking about my parents? It’s making me feel ill.”
“I like Professor McGonagall,” Longbottom pipes up. “It doesn’t matter how old she is.”
Minerva decides it is about time she make the gathered students aware of her presence when they launch into a rousing chorus of Neville and McGonagall sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.
“Is there a problem, gentlemen?”
Weasley turns bright red from his neck to the tips of his ears.
“We were just talking about our Potions homework, Professor.” He tries to look innocent, as an uncomfortable looking Longbottom refuses to meet Minerva’s eyes.
“Then I suggest you conduct your discussions with a little less enthusiasm. There are other students trying to study, and I find it hard to believe any homework from Professor Snape would require you to exercise your vocal cords.” Minerva points to the sign in the library, requesting quiet.
“Do you think she heard us?” Thomas hisses as Minerva wanders to another table to supervise a much quieter group, studying diligently.
“Doubt it.” Thomas opens a dusty text with a thud. “She’s probably a bit hard of hearing these days.”
Minerva continues her rounds with a smile.
“How was your day?” Will pours Minerva a healthy measure of whisky and settles back in her chair.
“It was rather good.” Minerva takes a sip of her drink and relaxes. “Ronald Weasley thinks I am ninety years of age, and I discovered that Molly and Arthur have only made love on six occasions.”
Will snorts with laughter. “After having had the pleasure of drinking rum with Arthur Weasley in The Gryff I doubt that’s the case. Six times indeed. If he would like to hear it, I would be quite happy to tell young Weasley about his conception.” Will puffs on her pipe and blows a smoke circle into the air. “Immaculate, it wasn’t. Who else was involved in this ridiculous conversation?”
Minerva laughs at Will’s reaction. “Dean Thomas…”
Will sucks her pipe thoughtfully. “Friends with the Irish fellow, Finnigan?”
“The very same,” Minerva confirms.
“Swingers.” Will looks enormously pleased with herself. “Finnigan’s parents are swingers. I met them both at a party. One of those where you throw your wands into the hat and see what comes out. I was the entertainment.” Will raises her eyebrows at Minerva. “By which I mean I was singing, not swinging. I had to give back Mr Finnigan’s wand—the Muggles have non-magical ones, so it was really more of a stick—on account of the fact I’m not really a wand sort of person.”
Minerva shakes her head at Will, her smile broad. “Then there was Neville Longbottom.”
“Ah.” Will sobers, and her eyes soften. “The stories we have to tell about his parents aren’t the sort that would make anybody laugh.”
“Indeed.” Minerva closes her eyes for a moment and remembers Alice and Frank as they were, shining with light and youthful vigour as they fought tirelessly to defend the wizarding world. “I believe all Longbottom needs is something to give him a little more confidence.”
“And a fine wizard he’ll make once he finds it. Not all of us pick up magic straight away.” Will studies Minerva. “You’re wondering who we’re going to end up seeing on Little Compton Street, aren’t you?”
“Perhaps.” Minerva pauses. “I’m envious of today’s young people. They’re growing up in a very different world.”
Will takes a thoughtful puff on her pipe. “A different world, but a hard one, nevertheless. One with a lost generation of young men, and a wizarding world that’s a long way behind the Muggle one. I think the next generation are closer to where the Muggles were a decade or so ago. I feel almost sorry for the young folk that missed the way Little Compton Street used to be. They closed Madame JoJos last night and The Black Cap is on its way out. So many people, so many bars. Lost, in the blink of an eye.”
“It’s a sobering thought.” Minerva reaches out to take Will’s hand. “I’m not sure I could have managed to navigate any of it without you by my side.”
Will snorts, not unkindly. “I’ve never heard such poppycock in my life. If anything, I’m sorry that your first was so insistent on being your last. I still wonder if you regret the chance to explore freely.”
Minerva shakes her head with a soft laugh. “I have felt perfectly free in my explorations. There’s no need whatsoever for apologies in that regard. I am perfectly content.” She releases Will’s hand and sits back in her chair, deep in thought. “There’s another war coming, Will. The Chamber of Secrets is open again, Albus is murmuring about dark times ahead. It’s like the last time, as if I’m a lieutenant again.”
“If you are, this time I want to be by your side.” Will holds up a hand when Minerva starts to protest. “No secrets, Min. If you’re flinging yourself headlong into danger, you can guarantee I’ll be right there with you. For Elsie, for Rita, Tom, Jonathan and all our lost friends. These battles we fight together.”
“I’m tired of battles,” Minerva murmurs. She sighs and has another soothing sip of her whisky. “Why must it always involve children? Harry is younger even than James, and already getting himself into trouble, right in the thick of it.”
“I think you underestimate them,” Will replies. “From the little I’ve heard about him from you and Pomona, the Potter lad has a good head on his shoulders.”
“A good head on his shoulders?” Minerva humphs. “The foolish child brought a flying car to Hogwarts and don’t even get me started on Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger’s insistence on fighting a troll single-handedly. He’s lucky I didn’t confiscate his broom. Severus was apoplectic.”
Will grins. “Severus is always apoplectic. Besides, of course you didn’t confiscate his broom. Team Gryffindor!” Will punches her fist into the air which is generous of her considering she’s a Hufflepuff through and through.
“I hope you’re not implying I’m playing favourites.” Minerva smiles despite herself. “Prohibiting him from playing Quidditch seemed a little drastic.”
“I bet it did.” Will laughs. “By all accounts he’s a fine Quidditch player. I wouldn’t worry about Potter. He’s the sort to land on his feet. Not to mention the staff are some of the finest in Hogwarts history.”
Minerva arches an eyebrow at Will. “Quirinus Quirrell?”
Will pulls a face. “Apart from him. Do you really think You-Know-Who’s back?”
“Albus believes it’s only a matter of time. Everything seems to be pointing toward it.” Minerva shivers, a chill travelling down her spine. “Can’t you feel it?”
“Yes,” Will replies, gruffly. “I can.”
“Do you think I have it in me to do it again?” Minerva asks. She’s not sure of the answer herself. They never really stopped fighting, with Little Compton Street still reeling from the ravages of HIV and AIDS and the significant losses still fresh in her mind. “Do you know, I’ve lost count of the people that died. I used to know every name, to be able to count losses on one hand, then two, then it became too many to count, the numbers too high.”
“Aye.” Will puffs her pipe, thinking. “You can do it though, Min. You always do.”
Minerva nods but the sense that something more is coming gnaws at her, churning up her insides.
He’s coming back, Albus had said.
He’s coming back.
“He’s going to be just fine,” Poppy murmurs.
“Despite Sybil’s best efforts to convince the boy he was going to die.” Minerva resists the urge to roll her eyes, but only barely. Divination—thankfully—continues to be just as imprecise as Minerva has always believed.
“Sybil means well.”
“That’s as may be,” Minerva replies crisply. “But she had Potter thinking he was going to die for the majority of the school year. The Grim, indeed.”
“Indeed.” Poppy urges Minerva out of the infirmary “At least Severus has calmed down now.”
Minerva winces, recalling the way Severus turned almost puce when he discovered Sirius Black had been set free from captivity. “Don’t let his silence fool you. I expect he’s working on hexes as we speak, just in case he encounters Black again.”
“How on earth did he escape do you think?” Poppy frowns at Minerva. “You must have some idea.”
“One or two,” Minerva murmurs. She squeezes Poppy’s arm. “Goodnight, my friend.”
“Goodnight.” Poppy waves Minerva off and she makes her way through the castle until she finds Albus decanting a silvery memory into a small vial in his office.
“Ah, good evening Minerva.” Albus turns to her with a broad smile. “The night has been full of excitement. I expect you’re ready for a whisky.”
“That, and an explanation.” Minerva glares at Albus over the rim of her glasses. “I’m convinced you have everything to do with tonight’s events, Albus.”
Albus looks innocent but it’s entirely unconvincing. “Why on earth would you assume that?”
“Because outside of the Ministry, you and I are the only ones aware of the fact I gave Miss Granger a Time-Turner at the beginning of this year.”
“Oh yes. That.”
“Yes, that.” Minerva takes a whisky and settles into a seat opposite Albus. “Potter and Granger might have been able to manage the rest, but I would warrant somebody gave them the idea. I would also warrant the same somebody locked them in the infirmary. You were far too calm about the whole thing.”
“You know me too well, Professor McGonagall.” A small smile plays around Albus’ lips. “Rather ingenious, wouldn’t you say?”
Minerva snorts. “Rather foolish. Risky, incredibly dangerous, reckless—”
“—Yes, yes.” Albus waves a hand. “Two lives were saved, the children are quite safe and Fudge is outraged. I would say it was a good result, all things considered.”
“Hmm.” Minerva glares at Albus again, wondering why he so often makes her want to scold him. “I suppose everything worked out in the end. For you, if not for Severus.”
“Ah, yes.” Albus looks away thoughtfully. “I will speak to Severus.”
“Be sure you do.” Minerva shakes her head. “His anger cannot be allowed to fester in this manner. I already have students complaining about his teaching methods. You cannot assume he will stay loyal to you, when the time comes. You must maintain a professional relationship with Potter.”
“I have no qualms about Professor Snape’s loyalties,” Albus replies. “None whatsoever.”
“You’ve always placed such unflinching trust in him.” Minerva looks carefully at Albus. “Why?”
“Because I know more of his heart than I would warrant even he does.” Albus considers Minerva. “I thought you and he were friends?”
“We are.” Minerva nods. “Which is why I dislike seeing him toyed with. Besides, I have learned over time we must stay cautious, even when it comes to the people we’re close to.”
“Very wise.” Albus takes a sip of his whisky. “Sirius Black, of course, was on our side this whole time.”
“So I understand,” Minerva replies. “He was never the Secret-Keeper?”
Albus shakes his head. “Young Peter Pettigrew. Who, incidentally, is lucky to still be alive.”
“I’m glad it wasn’t Black.” Minerva sits back in her chair, thinking about James Potter’s broad smile and his kisses with Sirius Black on Little Compton Street. “It doesn’t diminish the tragedy of it all—those years Black spent in Azkaban—and it won’t bring Potter back, but it always felt like the cruellest of betrayals. I couldn’t understand how the story of those two young men on Little Compton Street could have ended like that.”
“Neither could I.” Albus shakes his head. “Black should be safe enough, for now. Provided he keeps himself well hidden, at least for the time being.”
“Yes.” Minerva glances at Albus. “And Professor Lupin?”
“No longer part of the staff, I’m afraid.” Albus gives Minerva a small smile. “That, at least, should make Professor Snape happy.”
Minerva isn’t convinced anything will make Severus happy after this, but she chooses not to dwell on it.
“The Yule Ball is approaching—a traditional part of the Triwizard Tournament and an opportunity for us to socialise with our guests. Now, the ball will be open only to fourth years and above—although you may invite a younger student if you wish. Dress robes will be worn and the ball will start at eight o’clock on Christmas Day, finishing at midnight, in the Great Hall.” Minerva pauses in the speech she’s now given on multiple occasions. “Today, you will be learning how to dance.”
Potter mutters something to Weasley, both of them looking disgruntled. Minerva gives them a displeased look over the top of her glasses until they fall quiet, sheepish expressions on their faces. “Potter, Weasley, I don’t need to remind you that I expect a particularly high standard of behaviour from Gryffindor students. If you put so much as a foot out of place—”
“—Likely, with Potter’s big hooves.” A couple of snickers come from the part of the hall where a cluster of Slytherins have gathered, and Minerva turns quickly to face them.
“Settle down please, Mr Malfoy.” Minerva glares at Draco Malfoy who is looking more like his father every day. He whispers something under his breath that makes Blaise Zabini laugh.
“Sorry Professor.” Draco smiles insincerely and Minerva glares at him.
“Yes, yes. Very well.” Minerva gestures to the small stage Transfigured a few moments before—really more of a box, Min—where Will is very clearly trying not to laugh at Minerva’s teaching methods. “Professor Grubbly-Plank—who most of you know from her work as a substitute teacher for Care of Magical Creatures—has kindly agreed to provide music for today’s lessons.”
Will strums her guitar and gives Minerva a wink. “Nothing finer than a turn around a well-polished dancefloor.”
Minerva resists the urge to point out the floor at the Gates is less well-polished than it used to be, sticky with years of beers and cocktails. A smile tugs at her lips and she quickly schools her face into her usual stern expression. She pats her bun a little self-consciously, remembering Will’s breathy voice the previous night commenting on how attractive Minerva is when she’s being firm with her students. Clearing her throat, she pushes those thoughts to the back of her mind and waves her hand to the middle of the floor.
“We’ll have our Triwizard Champion first. Mr Potter, if you please.”
“You’ve got to be joking.” Harry looks at Minerva, askance. “I don’t even have a date.”
“Would nobody dance with you, four-eyes?” Malfoy sniggers and looks very pleased with himself.
“Wonderful, thank you for volunteering Mr Malfoy.” Minerva gestures to the space created for a makeshift dancefloor.
“Are you joking?” Draco’s face turns bright red, his lips curling into a sneer. “I’m not dancing with Potter. He’s Potter.” He looks around wildly. “He’s another man.”
“There’s nothing wrong with two men dancing together, Mr Malfoy. Five points from Slytherin for suggesting otherwise.” Despite being sorely tempted to wipe the smirk off Draco Malfoy’s face there’s something about the horror in his expression that differs to the cool sneer from Corban Yaxley so long ago. As a rule, Minerva has precious little sympathy for any member of the Malfoy family, but Will’s frown and a niggling what if suggests that making Malfoy dance with Potter might make her just as cruel as Malfoy himself.
“As if I’d want to dance with you anyway, Malfoy.” Potter rolls his eyes and makes his way onto the dancefloor, his jaw set.
“That’s enough, gentlemen.” Minerva beckons to Parvati Patil, a much more sensible option than Draco Malfoy. “Miss Patil, if you would be so kind?”
Parvati whispers something to one of her friends who giggles, before jumping up and joining Harry.
“You’d better not have two left feet, Potter,” she says.
“We’ll see,” Harry replies, mournfully. Nudging his glasses onto his nose, he takes Parvati awkwardly into his arms and follows Minerva’s instructions as Will strums her guitar and tries very hard not to laugh.
The things Minerva does for Hogwarts.
Truly, Albus is lucky to have her.
“How is Alastor?” Minerva settles next to Will, the music in the Gates playing quietly in the background. It’s a rare occasion that Albus ventures into the Gates, and a group of witches keep casting looks in their direction. There’s a strange electricity in the air after the announcement of You-Know-Who’s return and the untimely death of Cedric Diggory, and even a quiet Tuesday night has a peculiar energy to it. The groups gathered in the bar all talk in hushed whispers, and even Smithy looks particularly grumpy.
“Furious.” Albus says. “As one would expect.”
Pomona rubs her jaw, her expression bleak. “I took some food to Amos Diggory yesterday and helped him tend to some particularly virulent shrubs. We spent a long time together. I think he was glad of the company. The poor man is quite inconsolable.”
“I can only imagine,” Will comments. “His boy had so much promise.”
“You-Know-Who is really back?” Pomona’s cheeks flush with anger and a dark cloud mars her usually cheerful features. “How on earth did that happen? We’ve already fought one war. We can’t be expected to fight another. We’re losing children. Children!”
“We’ll lose more than that by the end, I imagine.” Albus is lost in thought, his words hollow as he nurses his pint of ale. It’s not the night for cheerful cocktails, the air leaden with the heavy weight of loss and the growing fear palpable. “This time we no longer have our eyes and ears at the Ministry.”
“I’ll do what I can, Albus,” Arthur Weasley replies.
Arthur Weasley hasn’t been on Little Compton Street for years and Minerva hates that he has to come here now, under these circumstances. She wishes they could go back to the days of dancing with Gideon in The Gryff, but it isn’t the time for merry making. Minerva misses the perfumed queens and music that skipped across the cobbles as the full, vibrant street pulsed with defiant energy, the people bonding together to keep the rest of the world out. The Gryffindor Lion was taken over by new management in the summer and replaced with The Mayor and Miners, a much quieter pub with none of the energy of the cabaret nights at The Gryff. The Sundowner is easily the most popular post-pub venue now, but all the bars are noticeably emptier these days and the Sundowner still has posters up from years ago, advertising club nights long since passed.
Even the rainbows of Little Compton Street have lost their lustre, shops and bars boarded over and tatty. Bars are closing with no punters around to keep them open and there’s an aching gulf left by those that lost their lives on Little Compton Street over the last fifteen years. The AIDS Crisis Unit has all but closed, Paul fighting with London’s Muggle ACT UP faction, and most wizards favouring ever advancing Muggle treatments having been so thoroughly abandoned by the magical world in their time of crisis. The street as quiet as it’s ever been, the sign at the entrance dusty and unkempt. The sun doesn’t quite seem to rise or set, as if Little Compton Street itself is no longer sure what its purpose is. The sun is like a flag flown at half-mast, the magic on the street caught between the bright, light happiness of old and the state of agonising grief that bled through the mossy bricks as the street wept for the people it lost. Time passes strangely on the street, music often filtering through the air without any obvious source, as if the collective memories are strong enough to raise the ghosts of another era.
“Okay, Min?” Will nudges Minerva in the side, and Minerva looks up to realise people are waiting for her to answer a question she doesn’t remember being asked.
“I’m sorry. I was lost in thought.” Minerva focuses her attention once again on the here, the now. “Do you mind repeating the question?”
Spending too long dwelling on the past or trying to discern the shape of an uncertain future is a fool’s errand.
Pick yourself up, old girl, Minerva tells herself. Put your game face on.
It’s time to go into battle again.
Grimmauld Place, it turns out, is no better than the dark, dingy locations the Order used to meet in during the last war. If anything, it’s worse, because this time Minerva—as an official member of the Order instead of a Ministry spy—is required to attend every meeting. She always makes sure to give Walburga Black a sharp shrift, ignoring the shrill, high-pitched complaint about Mudbloods, Half-Bloods and Squibs in her home. Minerva has a good mind to turn into her feline form and scratch the canvas to pieces. Walburga makes her want to get her claws out, much like another person whose eyes Minerva would very much like to scratch out.
“Dolores Umbridge must be stopped.” Minerva shakes her head in disgust. “Dreadful woman. A hideous excuse for a human being. I cannot believe the Ministry would consider her fit to be Headmistress.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” Although not officially an Order member, Pomona insisted on getting involved in this particular issue. She accosted Minerva in the greenhouse shortly after Umbridge’s appointment as Headmistress with a plan involving a pungent form of dragon dung, not that I would be happy about wasting good manure on the likes of her. “Poor Sybil has been in a significant state of distress. The unkindness, the brutality.”
Minerva humphs with annoyance. Sybil Trelawney may be one of the more ridiculous staff members in her opinion, but to see her be treated so callously by Dolores Umbridge of all people is an indignity Minerva refuses to see the poor woman endure.
“Albus will be back soon enough,” Minerva says. She turns to Aurora Sinistra. “I don’t suppose you’ve heard any whisperings, Professor Sinistra?”
“Not a word.” Aurora pulls a face. “Not even the stars can tell me what he’s planning.”
“At this rate we’ll be turning to Sybil and her crystal ball,” Minerva mutters.
Bill Weasley clears his throat. “I don’t mean to be rude Professor, but do you even know where he is?”
“Working. As Albus always does. Working on things he will be able to tell us more about in due course. I strongly advise you, Mr Weasley, after fighting more battles with Albus Dumbledore than you have had hot dinners, to trust him.”
Bill glances at Nymphadora Tonks and then looks back at Minerva with a nod of agreement. “I’m not questioning his methods.”
“Good,” Minerva snaps. “Whilst we’re on the subject of methods.” Minerva looks at Fred and George Weasley, who have been sitting very still, keeping suspiciously quiet. One would almost think they wanted to avoid being seen, for once. “That was quite a significant display of showmanship that disrupted the exams and left a number of marks throughout the Great Hall and surrounding corridors that will take months to repair.”
“Sorry, Professor,” Fred and George mumble in unison, looking sheepish.
Minerva sniffs. “There’s no need for apologies. I simply wanted to congratulate you both on a job well done. But if anybody asks, I was hopping mad.”
Fred grins at Minerva, bright-eyed. “I heard a chandelier nearly fell on old Umbridge’s head after we left.”
Minerva clears her throat. “Yes, indeed. That was Peeves, of course. It could have been a very tragic accident, fortunately everybody involved escaped unscathed.”
“I bet.” George winks at Minerva, who is well aware of the rumours implying she was in some way involved with the loosening of the chandelier.
Minerva doesn’t have the foggiest where people come up with such outlandish ideas.
She can’t explain it at all.
Minerva wakes to find Will watching her anxiously, clutching her hand hard enough to hurt.
“Where am I?” The room around her swims into focus and her head begins to pound as though a herd of Thestrals are running through it. “Merlin.” Minerva collapses back onto the pillows with a groan, wincing as she lifts a hand to her head.
“You were hit with about a hundred bleedin’ Stunners.” Will sounds cross, as well she might. Minerva would be cross if Will got herself Stunned into the infirmary, too. “Defending our Hagrid, no less. He’s only a half-giant, Min. I’d warrant he can defend himself.”
“Don’t be so sure.” The events of the night come flooding back to Minerva. Dolores Umbridge and a group of Aurors barging into the Astronomy O.W.L. practical exam. “They tried to arrest poor Rubeus,” Minerva says, her fury building as the memory sharpens. “Aurors, Umbridge, all trying to hold him down like he was some kind of—some kind of animal.”
“Don’t agitate yourself, love.” Will calms Minerva and settles her back against the pillows. “He’s just fine, Hagrid is. He managed to get away. He’ll be safe and sound, now.”
Minerva reaches for her glasses and frowns at Will, knowing immediately when she’s being lied to.
“There’s something you’re not telling me.”
Will gives Minerva a wan smile, looking away as her jaw works. “It’s was quite an eventful night, last night. Do you want the good news or the bad?”
“Bad. Quickly, please.” Minerva struggles to sit up, waving Will’s offer of assistance away with a huff. “I’m not an invalid, it’s simply a few Stunners. The news, Will.”
“Sirius Black is dead,” Will says, quietly. “That’s the worst news of all.”
“No,” Minerva whispers. “No.”
“Killing Curse, they’re saying. We don’t have all the details, yet.”
“How could they?” Minerva’s rage wells within her, making her hands tremble. “Hadn’t he suffered enough? And Harry…oh my, poor Harry.”
“Aye.” Will fiddles nervously with her blazer and Minerva can tell she’s trying to work out if she can smoke a pipe in a hospital. “Had a confrontation with You-Know-Who. Him and Albus. Both still alive to tell the tale, Merlin knows how. His friends are in the infirmary but everybody else made it out. Everyone but Sirius.”
Minerva isn’t sure she has any more grief left in her. She has been hollowed out so many times over. Sometimes when she cries her ribs still ache from the last outpouring, as if the pain of loss has just been numbed until the next strike, when it returns with double the force. All the young boys. The young men of Little Compton Street. The beautiful, bright, clever witches. The sinful waste of life because of the wars people have to fight. Minerva wants to cry, but she no longer can. Her grief leaves her in a low, inhuman growl of anguish, her throat dry from the pressure of the tears trapped inside.
The bed dips beside her and although Minerva isn’t capable of much motion at all, she manages to bury her head against Will’s comforting tweed and lets Will stroke her hair as her body shakes with the force of tears that refuse to come.
They bury Albus on an unusually wet morning on the last week of July.
Not his body, of course. That’s for others to bury in grand tombs to commemorate the Albus Dumbledore the public revered. This burial is for the few left alive on Little Compton Street who wish to remember what Albus was to them, and their hidden cobbles. Those that remember the magic he wove into the bricks to keep them safe, the way he danced with Queenie in The Gryff after one too many Moonshines and the moments when he spun Elsie Ware or Rita around the dancefloor of the Gates.
“Earmuffs.” Pomona clutches a pair of earmuffs, putting them into the large wooden box. “His favourite pair.”
“Bits of left-over phoenix ashes,” Will says, her voice gruff. “Fawkes nearly pecked my bloody finger off when I tried to get these. Good job I thought to pop a few flobberworms in my pocket to feed him before he could have my whole hand off.”
“A bottle of plum brandy, from Scamander’s.” Minerva adds her offering to the box, together with a few items of clothing, a pair of woollen socks and a letter Albus once sent to Minerva that she has cherished since her school days.
There are no prayers. No wailing, no tears. Will strums one of Albus’ favourite Hungry Hippogriff songs on her guitar, and they dig a small hole towards the edge of Compton Common. When they finish, Minerva covers the box with fresh soil, damp with rain. She takes a small stone and Transfigures it into a large headstone, which Will covers with garlands of flowers.
Albus Dumbledore. Beloved Patron of The Gryffindor Lion and Gateways. Always Welcome Here.
Minerva turns her face upwards to the sky, a gust of cold wind leaving her chilly. She closes her eyes and swallows around the lump in her throat. She envies Pomona’s ability to cry, if not the cause of her tears. There’s no grief left in Minerva. She has cried more tears for Albus than she cares to recall. She’s like a rag doll left out in the rain and wrung out repeatedly.
After a moment’s silence, Minerva turns to face Pomona and Will, both watching her, pale and anxious.
“Alastor Moody, dead. Charity Burbage, dead. There are murmurs afoot that Harry Potter is unlikely to return to Hogwarts this Autumn. We help him. However we can, however we help the boy. Do you understand?”
“We understand.” Will extends her hand and Minerva shakes it, solemnly, shaking Pomona’s hand afterwards. She watches as Pomona and Will shake hands too and then forces the name from her teeth that leaves her seething with anger, a hatred like nothing she’s ever experienced burning through her veins, betrayal bitter on her tongue.
“Severus Snape knows of Little Compton Street.” Minerva glances around, as if the walls already have ears, spies crawling along the cobbles, demons and darkness waiting to descend. “I was foolish enough to release him from his magical vow of secrecy long ago—”
“Not foolish, just—” Will tries to interject.
“—No matter.” Minerva cuts her off, unable to talk about Severus Snape, sickened by her own foolishness. “He knows of us, and he no longer has any reason to keep our secret. Constant vigilance.”
“Constant vigilance,” Will and Pomona murmur in unison.
Without a backward glance Minerva makes her way to Will’s flat. She opens the door with shaking hands and their new kneazle—Buddy—greets her with a mewl of concern. Minerva curls up on the sofa with Buddy and falls into a restless sleep, utterly exhausted.
She wakes later that night with Will curled up beside her and a crocheted blanket keeping her warm.
She lifts it to her face and breathes in the scent of Will.
The blanket is the colour of rainbows.
One of the hardest things about being a teacher is Minerva’s duty of care that requires she put the safety of her students above all else. As the battle still rages, and even in its aftermath, she has to maintain a strong, calming presence, which requires a fortitude that nearly breaks her in half. She knows that as soon as word began travelling about You-Know-Who’s defeat, Will’s first instinct would have been to find Minerva. Minerva has been nothing but visible, using a Sonorous Charm to ferry the children to bed, helping with the injured, covering the bodies of the dead. Minerva has been easy to find, if a person is still able to seek.
By the time the last of the youngest children are settled, Minerva is wretched with fear. The absence of Will can only mean Will has been injured—or worse. The thought of the worse makes Minerva nauseous and she stops to clutch her stomach on the way to the infirmary. Her life with Will flashes through her mind from the first night at the Gates all those years ago to every kiss, every racing heartbeat and every sad, bold, beautiful moment in between. They’ve lived, her and Will. They’ve lived through so much Minerva has become convinced they’re not made for dying. She just wants peace. A moment’s respite in the arms of her Will. She’s desperate to listen to her heart beating, to remind her they need to go and feed Buddy—and to tell her that they absolutely, categorically, are not getting a crup. She wants to fight with Will, to hold her close, to watch her sing, to do all the things that they always do. The thought of Will no longer being around is an impossibility. It is a dark and terrible void that Minerva refuses to contemplate.
“She’s alive,” Minerva whispers as she holds herself upright. “Alive. I’d know it if she wasn’t. If she died, my heart would stop beating too.”
Swallowing back waves of fear, Minerva pushes open the infirmary door.
“Thank goodness you’re here.” Poppy ushers Minerva into the bustling ward. “This one’s been asking after you all evening. I’ve been saying Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank now listen here—”
“Oh, Will.” Sobbing with relief, Minerva sinks into the empty chair next to Will’s bed. Relief crashes over her, her whole body going limp with the sheer force of its release. She wraps her arms around Will, so warm, so alive, and kisses her wonderful rosy cheeks not caring who's around to witness her outpouring of affection.
“Min!” Will laughs as she gently pushes Minerva back, her eyes shining with mirth. “Did somebody hit you with a Stunner again? You’re behaving like a crup.”
“I’m behaving like no such thing.” Minerva settles back in the chair still holding Will’s hand—so small and human in her own—not caring about proprietary. Fuck proprietary. Tonight is not the night for dignity. “You couldn’t send an Owl? A Patronus? A message with one of the students to let me know you weren’t one of the unrecovered bodies on the Quidditch Pitch?”
“I’ve been a bit unconscious, Min.”
“Unconscious?” Minerva roars. “What do you mean, unconscious?”
“It wasn’t really a coma—”
“It wasn’t a coma at all Professor Grubbly-Plank.” Poppy tuts and arranges Will’s duvet, pulling it up to her chin. Will does looks paler than usual and her leg is in an enormous cast. “I administered a sleeping draught, had I known—” Poppy trails off and looks pointedly at Minerva and Will’s hands clasped together.
“We’ve been lovers for decades,” Will says. “Isn’t that right, Min?” She nods at Poppy. “This one’s been calling me Wilhelmina all night. It’s making my leg ten times worse.” Although Poppy and Will are friendly enough when they see one another, on account of Poppy being one of Minerva's closest confidants, when Will comes to Hogwarts she spends most of her time in Pomona's greenhouse or with Aurora, smoking pipes, drinking rum and trying to work out how to get Muggle music to play in the school.
“I think it was attempting to get up to find some rum that made your leg worse.” Poppy sniffs. She glances at Will and Minerva’s clasped hands again and her expression softens. “I’ll leave you to it, Will. Keep your voices down. There are children trying to sleep.”
As reluctant as Minerva is to leave Will, she follows Poppy before she can disappear.
“I do wish you’d told me, Minnie.” Poppy bustles about organising her draughts, with her back to Minerva. “Did you think I wouldn’t be happy for you? I hope you know after all our years of friendship I’m not a bigot.”
“Of course I know that.” For the first time Minerva truly understands why Pomona sent her off on a wild goose chase to Little Compton Street so long ago. The words can be difficult to say, even to the best of friends. Particularly to the best of friends. Now Poppy knows Minerva feels quite unburdened, delighted at the brisk way Poppy puts any of Minerva's worries to bed. “I should have told you.”
“Yes, you should.” Poppy wipes her hands and faces Minerva. “I’m glad you’re alright.”
“And you, my friend. Any news of the others?”
“Aurora is helping Pommy with the greenhouse. It’s been hit multiple times and it contains vital ingredients for ointments and potions to cope with injuries of this number. Apparently the Carrows were trying to grow Devil’s Snare that would have strangled everything in sight. Fortunately, neither of them have the slightest aptitude for Herbology.”
Poppy nods towards the bed, where Will is watching them anxiously. “You should go back to your Will. Bring her a little rum, if you must. I don’t imagine from the ruckus outside there’ll be much sleeping here tonight.”
“I don’t know about that. I plan to sleep for a month.” Minerva hugs Poppy and whispers her thanks, before returning to Will’s bedside. “We’ll have to ask Poppy to the Gates one night.”
“Aye.” Will nods her agreement. “I assumed you had already told her. I didn’t mean to throw you out of the closet.”
“I have little time for closets anymore,” Minerva scoffs. “I have no idea why I didn’t tell her years ago.” She squeezes Will’s hand. “What happened to you?”
“Not entirely sure. Some Hex. A thingamajig.”
“Ah yes, that well-known curse.”
“Well I don’t know, do I?” Will huffs. “It’s my leg, mostly. They kept away from the hands so I can still play guitar. Not sure I’ll be up for much of that prancing around on stage anytime soon.”
A wave of fury passes through Minerva. “Who was it?”
Will rolls her eyes. “There’ll be no avenging me, Min. I’ll live to sing another song. I’d warrant whoever it was is either dead or they have the Aurors hot on their tails by now. Leave it well alone. You look like you’re about to fall over.”
“Thank you so much,” Minerva replies, drily.
“Lovely as ever.” Will grins and squeezes Minerva’s hand. “But a knackered kind of lovely. As if a few nights decent kip wouldn’t go amiss.”
“I am tired,” Minerva confesses. She sighs. “I don’t want to let you out of my sight. Can’t I just sleep here?”
“You’ll regret it in the morning,” Will says, fondly. “All those students of yours gawking at us.”
“I care increasingly less about the gawking nowadays,” Minerva replies. “I want to shout about us from the rooftops, now I know you’re alive. The thought of losing—” She stops, the words too painful to speak out loud.
“Nothing’s lost apart from my ability to jive. Not that I was ever much of a dancer.” Will glances around, then pulls Minerva in for a quick peck on the lips before releasing her. “You can shout anything you want from the rooftops but get some sleep first. At the minute I’d warrant you’d be doing less shouting and more wheezing like an asthmatic Niffler.”
Minerva’s eyes are already drooping, the sheer relief of seeing Will alive and teasing her having punched all the remaining adrenaline from her body, leaving her utterly exhausted.
“Why on earth must I have rooms upstairs?” Minerva murmurs.
“No idea, Min.” Will grins. “Should have been a Hufflepuff.”
It’s a sign of her exhaustion that Minerva doesn’t even have the energy to disagree.
“Harry.” Minerva finds herself face-to-face with none other than Harry Potter, his face ashen and grim. Only a boy, she thinks. A brave, wonderful boy. She wants to tell him not to forget to be young, but she’s not sure that’s realistic after everything he’s seen. She’s not sure she could even muster the right words in her exhausted state. “It’s a little anticlimactic to say thank you.”
Harry grins. “I hardly did it on my own.” His stomach rumbles and he frowns. “Is it weird that I’m starving?”
“Not in the slightest. You should ask your house-elf to make you a sandwich.”
“I might.” Harry’s expression turns serious. “I wanted to tell you something, Professor.”
“Can it wait until tomorrow?” Minerva is about to fall asleep on her feet, and as much as she doesn’t want to deny Harry anything, she can’t imagine she can offer a decent conversation without a few hours in bed.
“I don’t think so.” Harry shakes his head. “It’s about Professor Snape.”
“I have no interest in Professor Snape,” Minerva snaps. Her fury returns, cold and hard, the iciness of it waking her slightly. His betrayal was in many ways one of her biggest disappointments, a source of most of her unbridled anger during the remainder of the second war.
“I think you’ll want to hear this.”
Harry takes a breath and begins to talk.
Following her conversation with Harry, the utter relief at knowing her trust in Severus hadn’t been misguided hit her with force and gave her one final surge of adrenaline. Overwhelmed with grief for the tears she refused to shed for the friend she believed to have betrayed her, she decided to take her tears to a private place, walking until she reached the spot where Severus Snape’s body should have been.
The spot where Harry told her Severus Snape had died was quite empty.
Minerva chuckles under her breath, and she pours herself a dram of whisky to finally put her to sleep, planning for the first time in a long while to sleep for as many hours as possible.
“To Severus.” Minerva drains her Scotch and leaves the glass on the side. “Wherever he may be.”
One day, she will have to visit the Outer Hebrides.
“It’s not that bad, Millie.” Ginny Weasley takes a bite out of her toasted teacake and chews it thoughtfully. “I really think everything’s going to work out just fine.”
“I don’t know,” Millicent Bulstrode replies, doubtfully. “You’re not spending much time together, are you?”
“We spend enough time together, thanks. He’s always round to see Charlie. And me,” Ginny adds, quickly. “He’s round to see me even more than Charlie, of course.”
“Of course.” Millicent drums her fingers on the table. She sounds doubtful. “I know we haven’t been friends for all that long—”
“—I hope you’re not going to start with all of that rot about the past.” Ginny’s voice takes on a firm, fierce note. “You’re my friend, Millie. Whatever happened in the past. At least you’re not hanging around with dickheads like Draco Malfoy anymore.”
“Malfoy's a twat,” Millicent replies, easily. “I just meant are you sure that Harry’s, giving you the, err, attention you’re wanting?” She lowers her voice and murmurs something Minerva can’t quite catch, which makes Ginny huff with indignation.
“It’s fine, Harry’s fine, I’m fine, we’re brilliant together.” Ginny sounds very much as though she’s trying to convince herself. “Best boyfriend I could ask for.”
Minerva really is trying not to listen to the conversation, but they can’t be oblivious to her presence. She takes a sip of her tea and turns the page of her book, not really reading it. Ginevra Weasley and Millicent Bulstrode make a very odd match. Minerva knows that the Slytherins have formed their own little group—Malfoy, Parkinson, Nott, Zabini—but for some reason Millicent Bulstrode doesn’t seem part of that group any longer. She didn’t return to Hogwarts after the war, and Minerva has no clue where she went to finish her education or how she came to be in Madam Puddifoot’s eating toasted teacakes with Ginny Weasley. Not that it’s any of Minerva’s business.
After an energetic discussion about Quidditch, Ginny Weasley leaves in a flurry of activity, and Madam Puddifoot’s returns to its usual quiet mid-afternoon lull.
“You’re a right arse, Millicent Bulstrode,” Millicent mutters under her breath. “Always after the straight girls. She’s with Harry bleedin’ Potter for Merlin’s sake. You’re as big a knobhead as Draco.”
Minerva watches Millicent leave over the rim of her glasses, mulling over the conversation for a short while before returning to her reading.
“Do you remember Millicent Bulstrode?” Minerva takes a chocolate digestive from the plate of biscuits next to Will. She’s fond of a chocolate digestive. The custard creams are for Will. “Slytherin, short dark hair.”
Will munches thoughtfully on a Bourbon biscuit. “Hung around with Malfoy’s lot?”
“For a while. I think they’ve had a falling out.” Minerva tries not to smile at the memory of Millicent referring to Malfoy as a knobhead. It wouldn’t do to speak ill of former students. “I overheard a conversation between her and Ginny Weasley in Madam Puddifoots. It made me think.”
“Overheard, or earwigged?” Will grins at Minerva, polishing off a custard cream before finishing her tea and lighting her pipe. “It’s obviously got that brain of yours working.”
Minerva laughs under her breath. “Perhaps. Bulstrode made a comment about always being interested in straight girls.”
“Ah, that old chestnut.” Will puffs on her pipe. “Well, she wouldn’t be the first to have misplaced affections.”
Minerva looks at Will curiously. By tacit agreement they rarely speak about past relationships—not that there’s much to tell in Minerva’s case—and Will has always given the impression her former partners were largely fleeting encounters, with the exception of her failed romance with Elsie. “Is that a common thing?”
“Who knows.” Will shrugs. “I think it’s common enough for girls working things out to see something more in a friendship. I was great friends with a lass at Hogwarts—Ravenclaw, brilliant mind, not as brilliant as yours though, Min—”
“I try.” Will winks at Minerva. “I thought we could be love’s young dream, but she got all moony-eyed over a Slytherin Beater with arms like bricks. She wasn’t interested in fourteen-year-old who wore her pa’s old trousers and had three pet Nifflers and a salamander.”
“More fool her then.” Minerva smiles at Will. “And lucky for me.”
“I’ll say.” Will smiles, broadly. “Lucky for me too.” She thinks for a moment, blowing a contemplative puff of smoke between her lips. “Weasley and Potter are together, aren’t they?”
“I believe so.” Minerva nods.
“They’re young.” Will shrugs. “We’ll see a few of that crowd on Little Compton Street one of these days, you mark my words. Not everyone starts wearing braces and cutting their hair short at eleven like I did.”
Minerva laughs. “I’ve never cut my hair short or worn braces in my life.”
“That’s because you’re what we call a femme, darling.” Will’s smile broadens as Minerva glares at her over her glasses.
“I’d thank you to call me nothing of the sort.”
“Why not?” Will clutches her hand to her chest in mock surprise. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“I’m fully aware of that, I just don’t particularly like labels. Must we always categorise everything?”
“I should hope not.” Will frowns at herself. “Here I am, sixty-something and still haven’t found a box that fits right.”
Minerva snorts. “We’ve lived through too much to trouble ourselves with such nonsense. I don’t think we need to start limiting ourselves now, do you?”
“Very wise, Min. As ever.” Will leans forward, her eyes shining. “Speaking of boxes, you won’t believe what I saw today.”
Minerva rolls her eyes. “Is this about a crup again?”
“In a cardboard box, proper little terror he was. No place for a crup, cardboard. They’ll chew their way through it in no time. Gilly at the menagerie said he’s mine for five Galleons, and he’d throw in a toad for free.”
“You can’t have a toad,” Minerva splutters. “Your crup would eat it for breakfast.”
“Our crup,” Will corrects. “And magical animals are quite intelligent, you know. There would be no eating of anything.”
Minerva sighs. “I suppose it has been rather quiet around here since Presley died. I think Buddy’s been quite lonely.”
“Then we can get him?” Will’s face is so flushed and excited, Minerva can’t bear to say no.
“I suppose you already have names planned out?”
“I thought we could call the toad Severus.”
“Professor Grubbly-Plank, you cannot call a toad Severus!”
“I thought it might suit him.” Will looks contrite. “Is that bad form?”
Minerva shakes her head with a small smile. “No. I suppose it’s a compliment, of sorts.”
“He’s a very handsome toad. Looks like the sort that wouldn’t put up with any nonsense. A lovely Slytherin green, too.” Will grins. “I thought we could call our crup Albus.”
“Good grief.” Minerva raises her eyes heavenward. “I suppose it’s as good a name for a crup as any.”
“Well, then. It’s settled.” Will takes a happy puff on her pipe. “Albus and Severus. Part of our new family.”
“To Albus and Severus.” Minerva lifts her cup of tea in Will’s direction.
For the first time since the end of the war, saying the names of her friends out loud no longer hurts quite so much.
Minerva is partway through a delicious cream tea, when Ginny Weasley enters the teashop, shaking off her brolly and throwing two fingers up at the press outside.
“Bloody reporters.” Ginny huffs and makes her way through the café, stopping when she spots Minerva. “Hi, Professor.”
“Good afternoon, Ginevra.” Minerva gestures to the seat opposite. “Would you care to join me?”
“Ginny, please. You know I hate Ginevra.” Ginny scowls and drops into the seat, glaring at the window. “The press won’t leave me alone. I wouldn’t care if they at least bothered to ask me about the Harpies. The only thing they’re interested in is when I’m going to have Harry’s babies.”
“The Prophet is even more idiotic now than it’s ever been.”
“You can say that again.” Ginny smiles at Minerva, her bad mood ebbing away a little. “Harry’s better at handling the press than I am. They drive him barmy of course, but he’s good at giving them the brush off without being rude. I just swear at them and then they accuse me of not being very ladylike.”
Minerva sniffs. “Who on earth would want to be ladylike?”
“Who indeed?” Ginny glowers. “I just wish they’d stop going on about when I’m getting married, they’re as bad as my mum.”
Minerva takes in Ginny’s miserable expression, considering her words carefully. “I’m not sure why everybody’s in such a rush to get married. You’re still very young. There are other men—or women—in this vast world of ours, and you don’t have to rush to settle down simply because it’s expected. I myself have never married, or had children, and my life has been no poorer for it.”
Ginny looks up sharply. “Why did you say that? Men or women?”
Minerva raises an eyebrow at Ginny. “Because not all of us find the opposite sex attractive, no matter how happy they might make us in other ways. I trust that’s not a problem?”
“No.” Ginny shakes her head, lost in thought. “Of course not.” She pauses and then looks up at Minerva again. “Do you think people ever like both?”
“Of course.” Minerva nods, studying Ginny over the top of her glasses. “It’s always struck me as strange that people are so fixated on gender, when ultimately there are far more interesting things about a person.”
“I agree.” Ginny tears at a napkin on the table, lost in thought. “Was it difficult for you?” She asks at last, her voice quiet.
Minerva folds her hand on the table and nods. “At times. But I believe it would have been far harder to live in a closet.”
“I bet.” Ginny frowns and looks away, clearly mulling over Minerva’s words. Eventually she turns back to Minerva with a sunny smile. “Do you fancy a toasted teacake, Professor? They’re brilliant here.”
“I’ve been eating enough sweet food to last me all week.” Minerva gestures to her teapot. “I can always drink more tea, however.”
“Brilliant.” Ginny leaves the table and Minerva watches her go. As much as she wants to mention the conversation she overheard with Millicent, she knows it’s not her place.
“Let it go, Minerva.” She finishes the last of her tea. “These things have a way of working themselves out, in the end.”
They always do.
Little Compton Street is quiet, as it always is on a Tuesday. Will’s flat has a soft peacefulness to it, the last deep golden strains of early evening filtering through the window and making everything warm.
“Business has been slow at the Gates.” Will finishes tidying away the last of their supper and takes a seat next to Minerva, careful not to jolt her leg which is still not quite healed. “I can’t move around the stage as quick as I used to. We’ll be needing a new entertainer.”
“You still draw a crowd.” Minerva smiles at Will. “Smithy said you always generate the best tips.”
Will snorts. “I bet Smithy had a few other things to say, too.”
Minerva laughs. “Perhaps. There’s always that new witch who seems quite enamoured with you. You’re still breaking hearts after all of these years.”
Will raises an eyebrow. “Don’t be so ridiculous, Min. I’ve not broken a single heart in my life before. You don’t half exaggerate.”
“I’m just speaking plainly.” Minerva contemplates Will. “Of all the things we’ve seen, of all the things we’ve had to endure, I have not once regretted finding you.”
“Good lordy, romantic declarations after dinner?” Will gives Minerva a grin. “You’ve been at the whisky again.”
Minerva glares. “I certainly have not.”
“Mmhm.” Will doesn’t sound convinced. She stands carefully and walks with Minerva to the bedroom, closing the door so the snoozing Buddy and Albus don’t disturb them. She flicks her wand and it leaves them both naked.
Minerva laughs as she falls back onto the bed. “You’re rather impatient this evening. Be careful of your leg.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Will tuts. “I’m just fine.” Despite her words though she lowers herself carefully into position, blowing a raspberry on Minerva’s stomach.
“Will!” Minerva laughs again, trying not to kick her legs out for fear of injuring Will. She’s particularly ticklish on the bottom left of her body, just below her tummy, as Will knows very well.
“Sorry.” Will moves between Minerva’s parted legs with a sigh of contentment and Minerva stretches out on the pillows, her body responding as it always does.
After all this time the burning want from the early days has dissipated, but it still burns and curls within Minerva. Certain moments catch her unawares—when Will winks at her after playing a song, when they turn up to the Gates and Will is in her nice new velvet blazer, when she catches the look of sheer happiness on Will’s face as she sits on the floor playing with Albus.
So much of her life is defined by being Minerva and Will and yet so much of it isn’t. There are still people who know very little about Minerva’s private life, not that she fears for her position at the school any longer. There are even fewer still alive who remember the Minerva and Will of old, Elsie’s cocktails and the Blues nights Rita started in the seventies.
“Pass the lube, Min.” Will holds out her hand and scowls at Minerva. “And pay attention when I’m trying to seduce you.”
“You have all my attention, love.” Min passes Will the lubricant—it’s helpful to have a little assistance these days—and she takes Will’s free hand in her own.
There’s something so erotic, so intimate about Will’s hands. It’s Will’s guitar-playing fingers that so intrigued her all those decades ago. Touching Will’s hand now takes her back with a breathless heartbeat to her younger self, so eagerly taking the small, slim hand that captured her own when Minerva was convinced she was meeting an extremely handsome man. Hands. All the things Will’s hands have done to her during the years. The hard spankings, the deep push of fingers inside her body bringing her to climax over and over. Will’s talented thumb, her clever fingers working over Minerva’s body and making her tremble and climax, over and over. The same hands are now mottled with sun, the skin papery thin and soft, the wrinkles of the passage of time and the battles they have fought etched into every line, every scratch, every mark. Will’s hands are as erotic to Minerva now, as they were at the start. Fingers, dancing across her bones, playing her body like a favourite guitar.
“I think it’s possible,” Minerva says breathlessly, “That I have something of a hand fetish.”
“How interesting,” Will muses. “Well then, Min. Let’s make good use of them before the arthritis kicks in.”
With a huff of laughter that quickly becomes and oh yes, there, Will….yes of pleasure, Minerva settles back against a brand new set of goose-down pillows and lets Will play her favourite kind of song.
It’s something of a surprise when Harry Potter stumbles into the Gates with Draco Malfoy in tow. The pair join Minerva and Will for a drink when Will finishes her set, both sitting up straight as though Minerva and Will might take house points or hand out detentions. Minerva hides her smile at Potter and Malfoy squirming in their seats, clearly itching to leave to go somewhere the music has a bit more beat. The sight of them both and the mention of Sirius Black takes Minerva back to a different time, when Little Compton Street buzzed and pulsed with party after party, the now dusty bars heaving with people that vanished in the blink of an eye. The boys' palpable excitement reminds Minerva of her first visit to the Gates, catching sight of Will and wanting her with every fibre of her being.
“They seem happy enough to dance together now,” Will comments, when the boys say their goodbyes and hurry off to investigate the Sundowner.
“Indeed they do.” Minerva recalls young Draco Malfoy, flushed and mean-looking when she tried to teach the students to dance for the Yule Ball. “Was that really over twenty years ago?”
“Aye.” Will puffs on her pipe. “Time’s passing us by, Min.”
“That it is.” Minerva lifts her hand as Harry turns at the door of the Gates to wave a final goodbye. Potter's frame and stride so familiar in some ways, so different in others. As a man he’s already older than his father ever had the chance to be. “He’s so like James and yet he’s nothing like James at all.”
“It’s the oddest thing.” Will makes a perfect smoke circle and watches it catch and break apart in the light breeze as somebody walks past their table. “I thought about Potter and Black the other night, when I walked past the Sundowner. They were playing an old Bowie number, and it took me right back.”
“The good old days,” Minerva replies.
“Lily Evans was a fine lass,” Will says. “I never felt she wanted for anything, whatever the arrangement was with Potter and the Black fellow. Those two young pups. I wish I'd shared my rum with Black after all. Maybe I'll have a chance to raise a drink with him again, someday.”
“James wanted to bring Harry here,” Minerva remembers. “Lily, Sirius and James. They wanted to bring Harry to Little Compton Street.” She decides to decant the memory of her conversation with James for Harry when she returns to Hogwarts. “That’s a memory I’ll make sure I give to him.”
“Good idea. I’d warrant other peoples memories are the only ones he has of his mum and dad.” Will sighs, putting her pipe on the edge of the ashtray, her brow furrowing. “There are so many ghosts that walk these streets.”
“Too many,” Minerva agrees. She gives Will a small smile. “I imagine we’ll be among them soon enough.”
Will snorts. “Speak for yourself. I have no interest in seeing Albus get pissed as a fart on Moonshines again just yet.”
“I’m pleased to hear it.” Minerva stands when Will finishes her drink and they make their way out of the bar onto Little Compton Street. “I think a change is coming,” Minerva says. “A good one, this time. Can you feel it?”
“That I can.” Will squeezes Minerva’s hand. “You’ve always wanted Little Compton Street to come out into the open, Min. Maybe it’s time to break down these walls of ours, let everyone else know we’re here.”
“Maybe.” Minerva wanted Little Compton Street to be known to other people so badly, but now that there’s a possibility of that happening—a very real possibility given Harry Potter's celebrity—she can’t quite picture how that might change things. “Is it strange that it doesn’t feel like my fight anymore?”
“I’m glad it’s not your fight.” Will yawns. “Let somebody else do the hard work. You’ve been fighting for decades. Not that it's going to stop you. I know you well enough. You’ll hoist another placard, however much you try to pretend you’re not going to involve yourself in Little Compton Street's coming out.”
Minerva laughs. “You know me too well.”
“Better than I know myself, at times.” Will stuffs her hands into her pockets and closes her eyes, breathing in the air. “You can feel them, can’t you?”
“The angels of Little Compton Street,” Minerva replies, quietly.
“Those are the ones.” Will opens her eyes and rubs her jaw, looking up and around as if she’s seeing Little Compton Street and its glorious rainbows for the first time. “I still miss our Elsie.”
“I miss all of them. The people that walked these streets before us, beside us. The ones who'll walk here long after we're gone. Those footsteps on the cobbles. You can hear them sometimes, when it's quiet at night and the window's open. Like they're all still here, throwing a party at The Gryff with one last dram of whisky ready. All those memories, those beautiful, terrible memories.”
“Lots of tears and grief,” Will says.
“Lot's of laughter and happiness, too.”
“And love," Will replies. “Don't forget love.”
“Ah yes. Love. I never believed in it, you know. Before Little Compton Street.”
“It’s almost enough to make you feel old,” Will says. She gives Minerva a kiss and slips an arm around her waist. “Dance with me, love?”
“There’s no music.”
“Then we’ll just have to make it up as we go along.”
Will hums under her breath and Minerva sways with her under Little Compton Street’s archways.
If she closes her eyes and pictures it hard enough she can imagine everyone they’ve lost, right there with them, raising a glass and dancing to their silent song.
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart.
And you’ll never walk alone.
Image Description: A drawing of Minerva and Will dancing. Minerva wears green robes. Will wears a purple pinstriped suit and white fedora. Minerva rests her forehead on Will’s cheek and they both smile. Inside the building behind them, the Labrys Lesbian Pride Flag is visible; outside the building is flying the rainbow flag, the Trans pride flag, and another Lesbian pride flag. In the bottom right is the artist’s signature, AVP, and the following text: Play Me Like A Love Song, for Writcraft, WLW Big Bang 2019. Art by Bergatroll.