As always, writing has gone much more slowly than anticipated, even though it's now summer. As always, I apologise and will do my best to update again shortly. But, if it's any consolation, this chapter somehow stretched far longer than I intended it to, which is good because I already know exactly where next chapter (the former end to this chapter) is going...
Also, this was a particularly difficult chapter for me to write, just because the emotional tone felt rather different to me than the rest of the story to date. As a result, please expect edits over the course of the next few weeks. (Reviews are also extremely welcome, even if you feel like I've really ruined things and want to just let me know...)
Disclaimers, disclaimers - you all know the drill.
Angst and Anxiety
Akemi hadn't expected to see Minerva at the Auror Office that Monday, so she did a double-take when the Scottish witch wandered almost absentmindedly through the door of their small office and slid into her chair.
'You're back,' she said in surprise. Minerva yawned in response. 'You know, if you want to sneak out now, I told Moody you probably wouldn't be in today – you could go catch up on sleep.'
'No, no, I have to prepare for this exam,' sighed Minerva, half-heartedly pulling a thick tome on wizarding strategic battle history across her desk and flipping through it without really absorbing anything. Akemi watched her with raised eyebrows for a few seconds.
'It's not for another four weeks, Minerva,' she said, reacting with no surprise when Minerva ignored her, then gently reaching over and shutting the cover of the book with a grin.
'OK, go ahead and study if you want, Professor McGonagall,' she teased, 'but first tell me all about the wedding. If you're not too hung-over, that is.'
'I absolutely am not,' Minerva snapped, leaning back in her chair and rubbing her eyes.
'Late night, though?' Akemi smiled innocuously. 'How's Jeff?'
Minerva rolled her eyes.
'Fine, and it was lovely to see him, as always.'
'I'm sure it was,' replied Akemi. 'And Pomona? Oh, you said she'd said she'd have to leave a day early, though, didn't you. You did say hi to her for me, though, I hope? And you got to see Augusta and… shoot, just forgot her now-husband's name…'
'Paul,' Minerva answered. 'I won't tire you with every gory detail of the wedding, but it was very nice. Augusta's family comes from quite a bit of money, so it was considerably more elaborate than one would expect in this economy; lots of curious blue-haired aunts and uncles wanting to know who we all were and where we were from, and of course I couldn't say a word about what I did for a living, but it was still nice to see the old Hogwarts crowd.'
'Of course.' Akemi sighed a bit and tickled the end of her nose with the tip of her quill. 'God, I can't wait to go home for Christmas. I miss all my friends back in San Francisco, and my family. And avocados. Never thought I would miss California-grown avocados so much, but there you go.'
'What, are our pasties and puddings not good enough for you?' joked Minerva. 'When are you heading home?'
'Moody's not letting me go until two days before Christmas,' Akemi said far too cheerfully. 'Mean man, that Moody. By the way, was Albus Dumbledore there this weekend?'
'Yes, he was. Why?'
'Nothing. I was just chatting with Moody after you left on Friday, and he started speculating whether or not you'd run into Albus Dumbledore while you were there. He was your professor at Hogwarts, right?'
'Wow.' Akemi stared dreamily into space. 'I can't believe you know Albus Dumbledore. You've never told me much about him...'
'I never knew you'd be interested,' replied Minerva. 'How do you know about him?'
'I wrote an essay on the twelve uses of dragon blood at Proctor,' Akemi explained. 'Absolutely ingenious, Dumbledore. What's he like in person?'
'What's he like in person?' Minerva repeated. She exhaled slowly and pensively. 'Merlin. It's hard to explain. He's unabashedly brilliant, but not overly arrogant about it. He can be utterly terrifying, but otherwise he's extremely forgiving of errors. He's one of the most interesting people I've ever met, and even though I almost got him sacked once, he still really likes me. Funny person, Dumbledore.'
Akemi's mouth was hanging open slightly.
'You almost got him fired?' she said finally.
'It's a long story,' said Minerva quickly. 'Anyway, you'll have to meet him some time.'
'Oh, wow.' Akemi shifted in her seat. 'Gosh, I don't think I could. I just know I'd say something really stupid. I mean, Moody already thinks I'm a lunatic, and if Albus Dumbledore…'
'Moody does not think you're a lunatic,' Minerva said firmly. 'For heaven's sake, Akemi, he thinks you're brilliant, and you must be blind if you don't realise that.'
'Does he?' Akemi frowned slightly. 'Well, maybe I…' She paused.
'Yes?' Minerva raised an eyebrow.
'Never mind,' said Akemi reflectively. 'Hm.'
After a few moments of pondering something beyond the confines of the office, the American witch glanced over at Minerva, who was staring at a page of her book blearily, clearly not absorbing a word she read.
'Minerva McGonagall, get out of here,' Akemi said exasperatedly, tugging the book away from Minerva. 'If you really insist, take that monstrosity home with you, but for Pete's sake, get some rest before you try to learn anything.'
Minerva nodded distractedly and shuffled out of the office with the book under her arm. Akemi watched her in relaxed amusement, then straightened abruptly as Moody poked his head around the door frame.
'Did I just see McGonagall walk out of here, looking like the walking dead?' he asked, smirking.
'I wouldn't say she's quite that decrepit,' said Akemi, glancing down the notes she was reviewing as Moody swept into the office like a benevolent hurricane and settled into Minerva's chair.
'Well, I'm glad you convinced her to go home before she worked herself to that point.' Moody put his feet up on Minerva's desk and looked at Akemi, who was furrowing her brow over some detail of the Gremlin Uprising of 1759. Tacked to the wall above her desk was a carefully-drawn calendar, a Muggle photograph of her with her siblings by the Golden Gate Bridge, and a quote written in neat handwriting on card paper.
' "Our government conceived in freedom and purchased with blood can be preserved only by constant vigilance," ' read Moody off the wall.
'I needed some aphorism or another to keep up my morale during all this,' explained Akemi, sitting back and meeting Moody's gaze. 'You know, on all the days when Churchill and FDR aren't vowing to preserve world peace and universal liberty. Never thought a good motivational quote would come from William Jennings Bryan, of all people, but my dad says it never hurts to take good advice, wherever one can find it.'
' "Preserved only by constant vigilance," ' muttered Moody under his breath. 'I like it. What's this that Churchill's done now?'
'You haven't heard about the Atlantic Charter yet? Honestly, Moody, don't you ever read Muggle newspapers?'
'That's what I've got you for, isn't it?' Moody grinned, his beady dark eyes twinkling mischievously. 'McGonagall keeps me updated on the wizarding news from the Prophet; you make sure I'm informed about all the goings-on in the Muggle world that The Economist and The New Statesman see fit to print. Between the two of you, all I need to do to finish my job is deal with the Minister for Magic every day and ask Dumbledore for a word of advice every now and again.'
'How is it that everyone around here knows Albus Dumbledore except for me?' laughed Akemi. 'Minerva says she just saw him at her friend's wedding.'
'Ah, stay around long enough and I'm sure you'll run into him at some point or another, Yukawa.' Moody scratched his head. 'Remind me again when I'm letting you go home?'
'Not until December 23,' Akemi reminded him with a slight pout. 'Believe me, you'd better have something really good lined up for me and Minerva come 1942, if you're scheduling our last exams so late in the year; otherwise I just might not be able to drag myself away from the sunny beaches of California.'
'Well,' replied Moody with a grumbling bark of a laugh, 'I think I'll be able to lure you back to this side of the Atlantic, somehow.' He paused and glanced from Akemi to the quote above her head. ' "Constant vigilance." Hm.'
'Oh yes, and now that you've begun hinting, please don't reveal a word of your scheming, Moody; I so enjoy the suspense.'
'Merlin, McGonagall's sarcasm is rubbing off on you,' groaned Moody, pushing Minerva's chair away from the desk and swinging his legs off the desk. 'Yukawa, I'm not saying a word about what I've got planned for you and that industrious but snarky Scot. However, if you're willing to abandon your studies for an hour or two to fill me in on Churchill's latest shenanigans over a cup of tea, I might be willing to share with you a Dumbledore story or two.'
'You're incorrigible,' said Akemi, blushing slightly as she carefully closed her book and tipped it back into its place on her shelf.
'No, I'm older and wiser than you,' corrected Moody as he held the door open for Akemi. 'And I'm not daft enough to make you and McGonagall any promises, when who knows what might happen between now and December 23.'
To absolutely no-one's surprise, Jeff passed his NEWTs with flying colours and wrote to Minerva to inform her that he was moving to London to begin practical training at St. Mungo's.
'He claims that, in all likelihood, it's because Dumbledore pulled a few strings, but I think he's being ridiculous.' Minerva sighed in mock frustration and leant back in her chair. 'If anyone could wrangle a position in such a prestigious Healer training program on his own, it's Jeff.'
'No doubt,' rasped Aeneas, smiling slightly. It was a sunny Saturday morning in September, and when the Healers had sent Alexia an urgent owl the previous night to inform her that her husband had regained his powers of speech, she had sent the same owl straight back to her daughter in London. Now, Minerva was well into her second hour of detailing all her recent news to her father, just for the pleasure of hearing him respond.
'Well, however he got it, it means we're here together, at least,' said Minerva cheerfully. 'I think he'd like to see you, if you don't mind, Dad. He has very fond memories of visiting us that summer.'
'Of course, please do bring him around. After all, he'll be working only a few wards away.' Aeneas searched Minerva's face carefully. 'You really do love him, don't you.'
Minerva blushed. 'I suppose I do.'
'Well, good. Anxious as I think every father must be when his daughter goes off to make her mark on the world, it takes a load off my mind to know that mine has a good man to make her happy and keep her out of too much trouble.' Aeneas coughed suddenly, and Minerva made towards him in concern, but he shook his head ever so slightly. 'Don't worry about me, my dear. I'm just a bit out of practice phonating.'
For not the first time that day, Minerva brushed a tear from where it trickled over her smile.
'Everyone will be so excited,' she sniffed. 'No doubt Moody'll want to come see you at some point, once he hears.'
Aeneas shut his eyes.
'Ah, Moody. Well, if you can find some way to distract him for a few days before he comes barrelling in here, I'd appreciate it, Minerva. Merlin knows, he's one of the best men I have the pleasure of calling my friend, but he's about as relaxing as a hornet at a picnic.'
'Do you think…?' She paused. 'You know, Amelia Bones, Dad?'
'Of course I know Amelia. How is she doing?'
'You remember she'd survived, then.'
'My dear, you have to realise that I've understood everything being said around me for the past year, even if I couldn't reply to a simple yes-or-no question. Most frustrating year of my life, I must say, to hear your mum tell me all about the horrors occurring at Hogwarts, and not even be able to express my own outrage or concern or sympathy.'
'Oh, Dad.' Minerva reached out to take her father's hand before remembering that he wouldn't feel it if she did.
'Well, it's all over now, thank goodness. But of course I would remember anything you'd told me about Amelia,' Aeneas continued, a pained expression skittering over his face. 'The first few weeks after I'd regained consciousness, I kept reliving that battle in my head over and over, without being able to move or say anything about it to other people. When I heard that Moody and Bones had survived and were doing fine… well, it brought quite a lot of consolation, I have to say. Do you see her around the office much?'
'Yes, she teaches my Concealment and Disguise course.' Minerva thought about Amelia Bones, who barely said anything to anyone anymore outside of class, diligently doing her work and listening to requests without looking directly at the speaker. When she left the office, if she saw Minerva watching, she would shoot her a small smile, but she never stopped to chat with colleagues on her way out. According to Donaghy and Boot, Moody had long since given up on trying to make her tell him what was wrong. 'She seems very lonely.'
Aeneas raised his eyebrows.
'Bones, lonely? She used to be one of the most talkative people at the Ministry.'
'It's almost as if the attack damaged her psychologically, Dad, worse than we can understand. And you know how Moody is not one for, er, discussions that belie any sort of emotional vulnerability.'
'Indeed,' snorted Aeneas.
'I don't know if it'd be too soon, but do you think you could talk to her?' Minerva asked. 'I think she wants to talk about it, but the only person who could understand her won't.'
'How very astute of you, Minerva.' Aeneas smiled with pride at his daughter. 'Yes, please do send her my regards and let her know I'd gladly have a word with her, if she'd be willing.'
'Excuse me,' said a young Healer, poking her head around the door frame, 'Mrs McGonagall to see you.'
'That'll be Mum,' said Minerva, leaping to her feet. 'I'll let you two have a moment alone; I told my flatmate I'd be back soon, anyway.'
'Thank you so much for coming to see me, Minerva.' Her father's voice cracked a bit for a reason seemingly unrelated to his recent recovery. 'I… can't say how much it's meant to me. That you came even when I could only move my eyes, you know, and talked to me like I was a regular human being.'
Minerva held back a sob.
'You were and are a regular human being, Dad,' she said stubbornly. 'I'll be back some time next week, all right?'
Outside the room, Alexia rose to her feet as Minerva dashed into the hallway in tears.
'Minerva, dear, are you all right?' she asked, putting a tentative hand on her daughter's arm.
'Yes,' gasped Minerva. 'Yes, I'm fine, Mum. It's just so nice to hear him speak again, that's all.'
'I know.' Alexia wrapped Minerva in a tight hug for a long moment, then let her go. 'I know. I'd better go in. But you're doing well?'
'Oh, well enough. A bit under the weather lately, but I'm hoping it'll pass.'
'Hm.' Alexia scrutinized Minerva carefully. 'Well, take care of yourself, dear. Merlin knows, I'm glad you're not allowed to tell me what sorts of insane things Alastor's been making you do at work – I'm sure I don't want to know. I'll be back in town next weekend; do you think you'll be able to spare an hour for lunch?'
'Absolutely.' Minerva tried to sound cheerful, although she was beginning to feel a bit queasy for at least the third time that week; she resolved to herself to go home and rest, no matter what exploratory plans Akemi had for the day.
Alexia held Minerva at arm's length for a long moment, then smiled.
'You really have grown up, haven't you. All right, I'll see you in a few days, then, dear.'
Akemi, curled in an armchair by the window, was writing a letter when Minerva appeared back in the Bloomsbury house.
'There you are!' the American witch exclaimed, tossing her letter aside onto the coffee table. 'I was just about to go for a walk in Regent's Park, and I thought I would at least wait until you came back to see if you wanted to come with…'
'I really shouldn't,' sighed Minerva, sitting down. 'I've been feeling nauseous all morning.'
'Should you get that checked out? It's not really flu season, but god knows you can get a stomach virus or food poisoning any time of year…'
'I have no idea what you're talking about,' grumbled Minerva.
'Why does the wizarding community know nothing about grade school-level science?' Akemi sighed impatiently. 'Here, go to bed and I'll bring you a cup of tea.'
By the time Akemi returned from her walk, smelling of fresh breeze and cut grass, Minerva was out of bed and skimming through her Strategic History notes.
'Minerva,' scolded Akemi as she pulled off her shoes.
'I feel fine now!' Minerva argued back. 'Really, I do, Akemi. Stop worrying about me.'
'If you really are sick, you're not going to make a full recovery unless you rest an adequate amount!' Akemi pointed out.
'I don't even know if I am sick!' retorted Minerva. 'Don't people sometimes react strangely to seasonal changes?'
'Are many Londoners subject to hay fever at the waning of an average summer?'
Minerva scowled and turned a page with such unnecessary vigour that she tore the edge slightly. Akemi folded her arms and regarded Minerva for a long moment.
'Well, it's technically none of my business,' she said finally, 'but you don't think you might be expecting, do you?'
'What?' said Minerva, straightening up suddenly in her chair and staring at Akemi.
'Again, it's not my business, and I'm not saying you are…'
'Of – of course I'm not,' sputtered Minerva. 'That's impossible.'
Akemi raised an unconvinced eyebrow.
'Impossible?' she asked. 'Or, excuse the pun, inconceivable?'
Immediately Akemi regretted what she'd said, as Minerva, who normally would have rolled her eyes at Akemi's terrible sense of humour, instead flinched slightly.
'Oh, Minerva,' she sighed, walking over to stand next to Minerva's desk. 'I'm not saying that's what's going on; it's probably just some bug that you'll get over in a few days.'
'Yes,' said Minerva in a tight voice, staring straight ahead. 'If you'll excuse me for a moment…'
And without another word, she dashed from the room. Akemi considered following after her for a moment, decided against it, and retreated back to the armchair by the window. She did not look up from her letter until she heard the creak of the floorboards as Minerva returned to the drawing room.
'What would I do, Akemi?' she said dully, settling down in a chair opposite as Akemi put her letter aside again. 'It would completely change everything I've been planning for the next decade or so.'
'Minerva, calm down,' said Akemi firmly. 'I'm sorry I started speculating aloud. Look, if that is what's going on, talk to Jeff about it and figure out if you're ready to settle down together; but the odds are equally good that you're just sick and need to spend a weekend genuinely relaxing.'
'But, but what about my exams?' stammered Minerva, unconsciously placing a hand over her abdomen as she stared at her flatmate. 'What about my whole career at the Ministry…?'
'Oh, Moody would let you stay on as an analyst, at the very least,' scoffed Akemi, waving a hand impatiently. 'For the first few years, I'm sure. He values your brain too much to not keep you on in some capacity or another, even if he probably wouldn't let you go careening about Europe with an infant at home.'
'Merlin,' sighed Minerva, sinking into a chair near the fireplace and gazing at the stones where flames would normally be. 'All this studying for a desk job. Not exactly the glamorous life I had in mind, going into this.'
Akemi reached over and squeezed Minerva's arm.
'Hey,' she said comfortingly. 'Don't count your chickens before they're hatched, right? Really, rest up this weekend and see if you feel better next week. If it's nothing, it's nothing, and if it's not… well, you'll figure that out when the time comes.'
'Are you serious?'
Minerva was on the verge of bursting into tears, but she willed herself not to.
'Yes, I am,' she said quietly, squeezing Jeff's hand.
It was a lazy afternoon in early October; wind ruffled the hats and scarves of the Londoners riding on the tops of buses in Piccadilly, and children took advantage of what remaining sunlight was left to them after school to throw breadcrumbs at the swans on the Serpentine before the afternoons became too dark and chilly. Jeff had arrived in London several weeks earlier, but his training had begun immediately and with such intensity that he and Minerva had only seen each other only a handful of times in London. Minerva, for her part, was exhausted from the end of her exams, and her bouts of morning nausea had only intensified, no matter how much rest she allowed herself to have; but she had insisted that Jeff meet her that quiet afternoon at the Leaky Cauldron for an early dinner.
'God.' Jeff leaned back in his chair, stunned. 'Well, that was not news I was expecting to hear today.'
'I thought I should tell you sooner rather than later,' began Minerva defensively, but Jeff quickly smiled and squeezed her hands back.
'And I'm glad you did,' he reassured her. 'Really, I am. It's just taking a moment to sink in.'
Minerva laughed raggedly.
'I know. It's going to change a lot for me.'
'For us,' Jeff insisted firmly, and Minerva smiled at him through her exhaustion. 'We're absolutely in this together, Minerva, come what may. No doubt this will affect your work, though… have you told Moody yet?'
'No,' admitted Minerva. 'I don't think I will until it's evident.'
'But don't you think he has the right to know…?'
'It's my life, Jeff, and my body, too,' snapped Minerva, pulling her hands away abruptly. 'I want to prove to him that I can do my share of the work so that he'll agree to keep me on ultimately, even if I won't be able to do any field work until much later on, once… once our child is off at school.' Minerva had thought about it before, but she had never voiced those particular words, and they wrenched her emotionally more than she had expected. 'Just… just let me deal with it all on my own terms. I need to show him that I can match any task he wants to give me, until I'm physically incapable of doing so.'
Jeff still looked somewhat shocked, but his face softened into a smile.
'Our child,' he repeated after her, leaning back pensively. 'Merlin, it's incredible to hear you say that. Pity there's no practical training in parenting… it seems like it'd be a thousand times more useful than Healing, at the moment.'
Minerva laughed shakily. Jeff paid for both their meals, and the two exited the pub into Diagon Alley, arm in arm.
'But really, don't let Moody do anything too drastic to you,' warned Jeff as they strode along the cobblestone street, looking into shop windows without taking much in. 'Dumbledore's alluded to some of the mad things he has students do in combat training, and I don't want either of you getting hurt. Plenty of time for that later.'
'At least I'll have you to patch me up if I get into any serious scrapes, won't I?' Minerva pointed out, but Jeff shook his head.
'I'm serious, Minerva. I know you like to push yourself to your limits, but you've got to think about the baby, too.'
'Yes…' Minerva snuggled closer to Jeff as a gust of chilly air riffled down Diagon Alley.
'And I'm sure Moody knows what you're worth, by now,' Jeff added. 'Not that I've met the man, but I hear he's anything but an idiot, which must mean he'd rather lose an eye than your abilities, at this point. I don't think you need to worry about a few years off work.'
'I know,' sighed Minerva. 'But that's part of what's going to make this so hard, is that I'm so fond of everyone at the Auror Office by now. I'll miss them.'
'You won't be gone for very long,' Jeff reassured her. 'And you'll still be just as valuable in analysis. Plus, on a purely selfish level, I won't lose sleep worrying about you risking your life out there as much, what with the war going on and all.'
'Oh, you'll be busy enough with your years of Healer training,' laughed Minerva.
'No reasonable man is ever too busy to worry about his wife,' said Jeff seriously, and Minerva stopped laughing. 'I know I asked you once before, Minerva, but…'
'And my answer is still yes,' replied Minerva. Her attempt at her customary matter-of-fact demeanour nearly succeeded, except that a radiant smile lit up her face as she turned to face her fiancé. 'And it always will be yes, and I'd have thought you'd have known that.'
Jeff kissed her, beaming, then kissed her again, and they both laughed.
'So maybe the timing is a bit sooner than either of us had expected, but it's what I've dreamt of,' he said as they continued down the alleyway in the autumn sunlight. 'To live together, and to raise a family, and to never be separated till death do us part.'
Minerva knew she was being unfair to Moody in not telling him about her impending hiatus, but she never seemed able to find the right moment, for all Akemi's gentle hints. (Sorry as she was to be leaving the comfortable Bloomsbury flat, whenever Jeff found a place for them to live, Minerva knew she would not miss her friend's infuriating demand for Minerva to at least handle things responsibly.) But finally, in mid-November, the day came when one of Moody's ridiculous eccentricities got the better of the whole situation.
'Now, I know this is highly illegal, McGonagall, but you should know how it feels,' growled Moody sternly in one of Minerva's private coachings, as he rolled up the sleeves of his robes. 'Especially in times like these, you never know when you might face the Cruciatus Curse, and I want you to understand exactly what it's all about before you come across it unexpectedly. I promise this will be extremely short and… well, I can't say painless, exactly, but it will be very, very brief, and not long enough to inflict any lasting…'
'Moody, I can't,' Minerva burst out before her instructor said any more.
Moody blinked, accustomed to Minerva gritting her teeth and getting work of any sort done.
'I know it doesn't sound all that appealing,' he said, in what was obviously an attempt at a soothing tone of voice, 'but I'd rather you get your first dose of that level of pain from someone who you know isn't actually going to hurt you…'
'I've been hit by the curse before, Moody. I know what it feels like. And I'm sorry, but I just can't deal with it right now.' Minerva sat down with her arms wrapped protectively around her middle, not looking at her instructor.
Moody stared for a moment, then put his wand into his back pocket and knelt down next to the distraught witch.
'You've been hit by the Cruciatus Curse before?' he said in a low voice laced with concern. 'Who?'
'I don't feel like going into details,' snarled Minerva, seething with fury as Tom Riddle's jeering laugh rang in her ears.
'Bloody hell,' muttered Moody, who hated to see McGonagall looking so vulnerable and upset. 'Well, I'm sorry to hear that, McGonagall, I really am. If you're feeling unduly under pressure right now, we can stop now, and you can go home…'
'I appreciate it, Moody, but I haven't been perfectly straight with you.' Minerva sighed deeply, still unable to look her instructor in the face. 'I'm going to have to… er, take a short break from my training soon.'
'What?' barked Moody, more in alarm than in anger. 'You're not seriously ill, are you, McGonagall? I'd have thought that Yukawa would have reined you in from stressing yourself to that level, damn it. Don't forget, your health comes first, at all times, unless London is under direct attack! Constant vigilance, McGonagall, constant vigilance!'
'I'm fine, Moody,' Minerva said loudly over the anxious Auror. 'I've just… run into an unexpected circumstance. And I won't be able to take any direct hits from hexes for the next nine months or so.'
Minerva knew she was overestimating, but that precise time interval got the point across to Moody, who paused, stared at her with his jaw slightly agape, and then raised his eyebrows in amazement.
'Well, I never,' she heard him mumble under his breath as he scratched at one grizzled temple. 'Do your parents know?'
'Not yet, but they know him,' Minerva retorted, irritated that Moody was treating her like the schoolgirl she had not been for the past several months. 'Let me deal with my parents, Moody.'
'I had no intention of saying anything to them,' said Moody defensively, raising his hands and still visibly annoyed.
'Look, Moody, I wasn't expecting this,' she said. 'Believe me, this is not the timing I would have chosen, either, but what's done is done.'
'I can see that,' grumbled Moody. 'Listen, what you do is your own business, McGonagall, and I'm not going to scold you for some youthful indiscretions, Merlin knows. But you have to understand, I'd been counting on you being there if anything went really awry at the Ministry, and now I'll have to rethink everything having to do with our national security for the next year or so…'
'Boot and Donaghy and…'
'I don't need you to remind me of the personnel I have on hand, McGonagall,' snapped Moody. 'The bare truth of the matter is that the boys are all very competent lads, but they don't come near you and Yukawa in terms of instinct, and as much as I trust Yukawa, I'd much rather have you around, too.'
'Moody, I will be around, if you'll let me!' Minerva shouted, hoping she didn't sound too desperate. 'Give me a desk job doing analysis; I'll finish all but my practical training now, and I'll be just as useful to you here as I would be abroad, I promise you…'
'You can't just bring a baby in a perambulator into the Auror Office, McGonagall!' Moody shouted back at her. 'Christ, if the Ministry were attacked again, what would you do?'
There was a ringing silence as the two Aurors glared at each other across the office, both fuming. Then a polite knock at the door eased the tension infinitesimally.
'Come in,' growled Moody through gritted teeth.
And into the office, to Minerva's shock, swept Albus Dumbledore.
'Good afternoon, Alastor,' said the lavender-clad newcomer serenely, closing the door behind him. 'Minerva, what an unexpected pleasure! I hope you've been well?'
Moody let out a bitter 'ha!' of laughter.
'I'll let her explain all that herself,' he snarled, stomping toward the door to his office. 'Albus, I need to get some fresh air; come along, if you want to watch me growl at the ducks at St James's Park.'
'Actually, I'd only just arrived and was hoping to get a bite to eat,' said Dumbledore pleasantly. 'I, for one, try not to make a habit out of growling at hapless waterfowl, and when I become too famished, I often find myself doing just that. Shall I meet you back here in an hour, then?'
Moody nodded jerkily and slammed the door behind him. Minerva stared after him, her lips pressed tightly together and angry red blotches still blazing on her cheeks.
'Dear me, Alastor's acting like you've managed to cross some Rubicon or another,' said Dumbledore, smiling down at Minerva in an avuncular fashion. 'I hope you haven't just handed in your resignation?'
'Nearly as bad,' muttered Minerva, rising from her chair finally. 'Although I suppose it's a good sign that he hasn't outright sacked me yet.'
Dumbledore laughed and held the door open for Minerva.
'Good heavens, I shouldn't think so… not the way he goes on about your progress whenever he thinks to send me an owl. Give him an hour to cool off, I'm sure things will be fine. Have you had lunch yet?'
Within a quarter hour, Minerva found herself seated with Dumbledore at a local pub, robes temporarily Transfigured to a sensible black dress and a rather flamboyant lavender suit. Minerva was shocked at how instinctively she revealed details about her personal life to her former professor, but Dumbledore listened with the greatest attentiveness and only sat back pensively when Minerva had finished talking.
'Hmm,' he hummed with a tranquil smile. Minerva noticed that the older wizard's auburn beard was more streaked with gray than she had remembered it. 'Well, I suppose first things first – my most sincere congratulations to you both, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.'
'Thank you,' said Minerva, who hadn't realised how much she needed Dumbledore's gracious smile of support until he had given it.
'And have you told your parents about it yet?'
'Not yet, no. I don't know if I should tell them before or after the wedding.'
'You don't expect them to be angry, do you?' Dumbledore said as he took a sip of water.
'I know they like Jeff, and I don't think either of them had any grand plans to marry me off to the scion of some wealthy, established wizarding family. But I can't help but imagine they might think I'm acting impulsively, what with the war raging on and all…'
'And why should the war make your impulses any more foolish?' said Dumbledore quietly. 'Isn't it all the more reasonable to be with those you love, when the probability of death is that much higher?'
'I suppose so.' Minerva sighed. 'Then do I have permission to back my case by telling them that you don't think it's a foolish idea to get married and start a family in the midst of all this?'
'I'm flattered you'd consider me such a moral authority,' said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling. 'And indeed, I have to admit that, especially in times like these, I'm glad to know there's just a little more love in the world.'
Against the gloomy gray November light filtering through the dirty pub window, professor and student smiled at each other in tacit solidarity.
'But, for what an aging wizard's humble opinion is worth,' Dumbledore added, 'I think you should tell your parents before the wedding. I was planning on paying your father a visit, if I can make it to St. Mungo's before I return to Hogwarts, but I think he'd prefer to hear about all this from you than from me.'
Just then, the disgruntled form of Moody stormed around the corner opposite and, espying Minerva and Dumbledore in the window of the pub, made towards it. Minerva recoiled a bit in apprehension, but Dumbledore continued to look as calm as ever.
'Ah, you've found us,' said Dumbledore jovially as Moody stomped into the pub to the tinkle of the bell tied to the door handle.
'Yeah, well, you weren't doing much to hide.' Moody offered a lopsided smile and turned to Minerva, who was staring resolutely at the table top. 'Look, McGonagall, I'm sorry I exploded like I did back there. Of course I'd want to have you around, if you're willing to stay on as an analyst. Merlin knows, I could have used you in the field, but…' Moody exhaled slowly, as if to will himself not to erupt again. 'Well, life goes on. So that's settled, then?'
'Yes, sir,' said Minerva quietly, still looking at the table top as her heart lifted considerably.
'For the last time, McGonagall, don't you dare "sir" me!' growled Moody. 'Now, get back to the office; I need to have a private word here with Dumbledore.'
As Minerva rose from her seat and Moody took her place, she saw Dumbledore give her a tiny wink, which she returned with a grin before exiting out into the cold.
'Don't be silly, Minerva; of course I'll miss having you around!'
Minerva had had no idea that packing all of her things would take so much time, but at long last all her belongings had been collected from the corners of the Bloomsbury flat and crammed into various suitcases and valises. Akemi stood in the middle of the sitting room, looking glumly around at the comparatively empty space.
'But I'll come visit,' Minerva promised sheepishly. 'And you'll have to come visit us in Stratford; it's not a very large house, but it'll be perfect for us, it's right near a Tube station, and once you've got your Apparition certification…'
'Well, don't count on that being any time soon,' laughed Akemi sadly. 'But I am excited for you, I really am.'
Minerva hadn't realised how attached she had grown to the Bedford Square house until tonight, her last residing within its walls. She and Akemi stayed up late talking by the fire as wintery winds whipped past the building's façade, until Akemi (who was much more of an early-to-bed sort than Minerva) could barely keep her eyes open and both witches retreated to their respective bedrooms.
Later, Minerva would recall that she had been dreaming about something that seemed highly important and relevant, when a shriek woke her the next morning. Heart racing, Minerva pulled on her tartan dressing gown and padded down the hall in her slippers.
Akemi was seated in a chair in the dining hall, her eyes wide and her hands shaking slightly so that the newspaper she held rattled.
'Are you all right?' Minerva asked, taking a hesitant step forward. 'Akemi?'
Akemi mutely handed Minerva the Muggle newspaper, where Minerva read that the Hawai'ian port of Pearl Harbour had been bombed by the Japanese.
'I need to get to a telephone,' said Akemi rising suddenly. 'I'm going out.'
'Wait, Akemi! What's going on?'
'My country's just been attacked, that's what's going on,' snapped Akemi, pulling on her coat and gloves. 'I need to find a telephone box and call my parents to make sure they're safe.'
'But… they're in California, aren't they?' ventured Minerva, confused.
'Along with decades of barely-contained anti-Japanese sentiment,' said Akemi bitterly as she buckled her shoes. 'I'll be right back.'
Minerva, bewildered, sat down to read the papers more thoroughly over a cup of tea. A few minutes later, she heard a knock on the door and opened it to let Jeff in out of the chilly air.
'How are you today?' he asked, giving her a quick kiss that left Minerva's nose cold where his had brushed it.
'Better than American morale, I'm sure,' said Minerva grimly, passing Jeff the paper, which he skimmed and then tossed onto the table with a muttered oath.
'Feels like life will never be simple again, will it?' he spat bitterly.
'I don't know if it ever was,' she replied, sitting down at the table as Jeff stormed over to the window and stood looking out of it with his arms crossed across his chest.
For a few moments, nothing could be heard but the steady ticking of the grandfather clock in the hallway.
'Where's Akemi?' asked Jeff finally.
'She went out to find a telephone, to call her family. Should you be getting in touch with any of your mum's family…?'
'Nah, other than a few distant cousins who wouldn't know me from Adam, we haven't got any family left there,' muttered Jeff distractedly. He paused, stricken, then ran his hand through his hair. 'I haven't got any family left there, I mean. Since, for all I know, my uncle and sister are dead somewhere back in Czechoslovakia…'
'You don't know if that's true,' said Minerva soothingly, standing and moving towards the window. 'Be reasonable about this, Jeff. I know people say it's best to assume the worst, but don't give up all hope yet.'
Jeff nodded stiffly, his back still turned to Minerva; then, in one motion, he turned and seized her in his arms, burying his nose in her hair.
'I don't know what I'd do without you,' he murmured. 'Really, I don't.'
They were still standing by the window when the door clicked open and Akemi stepped quietly back into the house.
'Is everything all right?' asked Minerva urgently, pulling herself away from Jeff gently and walking back towards the table.
'Yes,' sighed Akemi, greeting Jeff with a weary smile as she pulled off her coat and her shoes. 'Yes, nothing to worry about, for the moment. So, you'll be off, then? Do you need a hand with anything?'
Minerva glanced at Jeff, who shrugged.
'Are you sure you don't want me to stay here for a bit longer, Akemi?' asked Minerva cautiously. 'I mean, just because things have been…'
'No, no, it's fine,' said Akemi calmly. 'I'll be perfectly fine. Really.'
'Is there anything we can do?' Jeff asked helplessly.
Akemi laughed quietly as she sat down at the table, then looked up at Minerva and Jeff.
'Besides getting married as soon as possible, and cheering us all up? Not much.'