Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant.

~ Emily Dickinson, "1129"

Chapter 1

14 April 1944

Minerva McGonagall clutched the parchment in her hand as if it were an amulet, which, in a way, it was.

The word most observers would have used to describe the girl was "icy". She accepted that, although she would have preferred "calm", which was the effect she always hoped to project. There was no sense, she thought, in appearing upset about things one couldn't change, whatever one actually felt about them. If people sensed your distress, they could use it against you.

So she was at pains to appear calm during the meeting, calm as she put her quill to the parchment, calm as she grasped her father's arm to Apparate back to their home, calm as she excused herself to finish revising.

Above all, Minerva Maighread McGonagall was calm. Or "icy" if one preferred, which some did.

When she reached the relative sanctity of her bedroom and unrolled the parchment, she silently cursed the hand that belied her calm appearance with its shaking. As much to stop it as to smooth the parchment, she ran her palms firmly over the magically copied document as she spread it out over her small desk. She reread the words on the page, every single one of them, although they were already etched into her mind and had been since her father had read them aloud to her and her mother two days before.


Whereas Gerald Findlach Macnair of Aberdeen, being of sound mind and lawful age, son of Kenneth Robert Macnair and Heloise Marie Rookwood Macnair, has promised to take in marriage Minerva Maighread McGonagall of Moray, of sound mind and lawful age, daughter of Magnus Malmuire McGonagall and Glenna Beathag Selwyn McGonagall,


Whereas Gerald Findlach Macnair has pledged to provide home and financial support to Minerva Maighread McGonagall for the duration of her lifetime, and to any offspring of their marriage,


Whereas Minerva Maighread McGonagall has pledged to remain faithful to Gerald Findlach Macnair and to provide at least one (1) male heir to the marriage, provided she is physically capable of conceiving and bearing children,


Whereas Kenneth Robert Macnair has pledged to provide to Gerald Findlach Macnair the sum of ten thousand Galleons (G10,000),


Whereas Kenneth Robert Macnair has pledged to provide Magnus Malmuire McGonagall with a bride price of two thousand five hundred Galleons (G2,500) and the lease of one hundred (100) years' term on the property adjacent to that known as "McGonagall Manor", located near Upper Dallachy, Moray, for the sum of one Galleon (G1) per annum,


Whereas Gerald Findlach Macnair has pledged to provide full tuition pursuant to the acquisition of a Mastery of Transfiguration by Minerva Maighread McGonagall,


Whereas Gerald Findlach Macnair has pledged to permit Minerva Maighread McGonagall a period of two (2) years in which to pursue a Mastery of Transfiguration, during which time he shall not prohibit or otherwise prevent Minerva Maighread McGonagall from attending tutorials or completing coursework pursuant thereto, and whereof the term shall be prorated to exclude time away from coursework due to confinement and childbirth,


Whereas Gerald Findlach Macnair and Minerva Maighread McGonagall pledge that any offspring, male or female, of the marriage shall be educated at an accredited school of magic (or equivalent Muggle institution, should any offspring of the marriage prove not to possess magical powers),


Whereas both parties to the marriage shall have the usual and customary duties of marriage including, but not limited to, the following:

Mutual society;

Mutual rearing of children;

Sexual congress at any time upon the request of either party, with the following exceptions:

During illness, or at any time during which sexual intercourse would be harmful to the health of one or both parties;

During menstruation;

During pregnancy, nursing, and for six weeks following childbirth;


Whereas the following activities or behaviours shall be considered violations of the marriage contract:

Adultery: defined as sexual intercourse with any individual or individuals outside the marriage contract;

Abortion: defined as the deliberate termination by any means, magical or Muggle, of the life of a foetus after fertilisation;

Assault against a party or child of this marriage: defined to be injurious or potentially injurious physical contact;

Criminal behaviour;


Whereas the violation of any of the terms of this contract shall be subject to adjudication and remedy by a panel of legal experts selected by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement,


Whereas all terms of this contract shall take effect and shall become Magically Binding immediately upon the marriage between Gerald Findlach Macnair and Minerva Maighread McGonagall; should the marriage not be executed by the thirty-first day of July, nineteen forty-four (31 July 1944), all terms and conditions herein shall be rendered null and void, without prejudice to any party,

I, Reginald P. Menzies, notary and registrar of the Department of Wizengamot Administration Services, by the authority granted by the Ministry of Magic, do pronounce and declare Gerald Findlach Macnair and Minerva Maighread McGonagall Betrothed, notarised this day, the fourteenth of April, nineteen forty-four (14 April 1944), Edinburgh, Scotland.


Gerald Findlach Macnair

Minerva Maighread McGonagall

Witnessed by:

Kenneth Robert Macnair

Magnus Malmuire McGonagall

Reginald P. Menzies, Registrar

Minerva quelled the panic that threatened to engulf her by focusing on the eighty-eight words that would be her salvation—the words for which she had fought harder than she had ever fought in her eighteen years of life.

In three months' time, she would become an apprentice to one of the greatest mistresses of Transfiguration in Europe. In exchange, she would also become the wife of a man she barely knew but about whom she had heard quite enough to suspect just how high the price of her education would be.

24 April 1944

"You wanted to see me, Professor?"

"Ah, yes, Minerva. Please come in," said Dumbledore, rising from his desk and walking around it towards the young woman standing in the doorway.

"Is there an issue with my coursework, sir?"

"No, no, not at all. What I wanted to discuss with you was a more personal matter. In fact, I would be pleased if you would join me for a spot of tea in my sitting room."

He turned to the large portrait of Hieronymus Gamp at the back of the office and said, "Sloe gin fizz."

The painted Gamp nodded, and the portrait slid aside to reveal the door to the Transfiguration master's private quarters.

Minerva quirked a questioning eyebrow at him as she stepped through, and he said, "Muggle drink. Quite nice," as if that explained everything.

On his invitation, she sat by the fireplace as he prepared the tea. She was composed as always and didn't enquire further about the subject of Dumbledore's summons. It troubled her mentor and Head of House from time to time that she never seemed to betray much emotion, and this, he suspected, would be one such occasion.

While he poured the tea and doctored his with milk and two lumps of sugar, he watched her out of the corner of his eye. She sat sipping her tea—black—with no sign of curiosity as to what he wanted to discuss with her.

After taking a sip from his steaming cup, Albus broached the subject that was on his mind. "My dear, I read in the Prophet this week that you are betrothed."

"Yes." She didn't even blink.

"To Gerald Macnair."


He searched her face for a moment and saw nothing there to betray her feelings on the matter. For a fleeting moment, he considered using Legilimency to suss them out, but he discarded the idea as an abuse of his power, and one for which he suspected she might never forgive him.

"Then I suppose congratulations are in order."

"Thank you, sir."

There was a pause during which he considered his next move.

Careful, man. Start with the obvious. Don't frighten the girl unnecessarily.

"Forgive me my dear, but it was my impression that you hoped to take up an apprenticeship with Madam Marchbanks after your graduation."

"Yes. I'll begin working with her just after the honeymoon."

"I am very glad to hear it, but I must admit that it perplexes me."

When she didn't speak, he continued. "Again, forgive me, but I am surprised your fiancé has agreed to such an arrangement. The Macnairs are known to be somewhat . . . old-fashioned in their outlook, particularly with regard to girls—women—and their education. I don't believe we've had a Macnair witch at Hogwarts in many decades; as I recall, most of them have been sent to magical finishing schools on the Continent."

"Yes," she said.

"So am I to take it that young Gerald is more enlightened in his opinions than is his family?"

He saw the ghost of a smile cross her features.

"No. However, he has no choice in this matter. My apprenticeship is part of the marriage contract."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"It's quite simple, Professor: I agreed to the marriage only with the stipulation that I be allowed to pursue my apprenticeship and that it be fully funded by my husband as part of my bride price. He has also agreed that we will send our children to proper school, even if they have the misfortune to be girls."

"Well, that's . . ." began Dumbledore, flabbergasted.

For the first time since their meeting began, Minerva betrayed a glimmer of uncertainty.



"Astounding that I managed the stipulations, or astounding that I agreed to the marriage?"

"Both. But why? Why did you agree, Minerva?"

It pained him to know that the brightest student he had ever had was to be pawned off as a prize in what was most likely a business arrangement between two clans. And to that family! Aside from what Albus knew to be fact, there were troubling rumours about some of the family's more personal habits.

He regretted his judgemental tone when she spoke angrily.

"I had little choice, Professor. My father insists that I marry, and that I marry a pure-blood, otherwise he'll cut me off entirely. I could manage—find some kind of work after leaving school, I suppose—but I could never pay for my apprenticeship on my own, at least not for some time. I don't want to lose the opportunity to work with Madam Marchbanks. Once I've attained my own mastery . . ."


"I don't know," she admitted. "As I'm sure you've surmised, the Macnairs insisted on a binding marriage. I suppose I'm hoping that after I've fulfilled my part of the bargain, Gerald won't care what I do as long as I don't dishonour him or the Macnair name."

"Your part of the bargain? What is 'your part' other than marrying a man you obviously do not love?" Dumbledore asked, trying and failing to mask his growing anger at the situation in which his favourite student had been placed.

"Come now, Professor. Surely you can guess?"

"Of course," he said, nodding. "And how many heirs are you required to produce?"

"Just one. As long as it's a boy."

Her flat demeanour was beginning to grate on him. Surely the girl had some feelings on the subject?

"Minerva, I cannot quite comprehend how you could agree to this. You must know what it means—" he started, but she interrupted.

"Yes, Professor, I am quite aware of what this agreement makes of me. But at least I get something out of it for myself. You see, my father was quite content to whore me out to the highest bidder, and as he's a piss-poor businessman, I had to look to my own opportunity. It was a difficult fight to get even this much, believe me."

"But surely you could have refused to marry at all."

"Oh, yes. Knutless girls with good pedigrees and no qualifications may not have much chance at decent positions in the Ministry or in respectable business, but I understand they're quite in demand in the brothels of Knockturn Alley. As it is, I've simply traded up: a bedroom in the Macnair-family manse instead of a doxy-infested bedsit in the Alley."

He was glad of her outburst; it showed she allowed herself at least a little emotion about the topic.

They were both quiet for a minute. Then she asked softly, "Do you think less of me?"

"No. I think you are even more extraordinary than I ever knew."

She rewarded him with a small but genuine smile.

"Minerva, if you wished, I could provide you with some money. Both for your apprenticeship and to live on. I would—"

"That's very kind, Professor, but no, thank you. I think I'd much rather be a whore than a debtor."

"Oh, Minerva. You are most certainly not a whore."

"A broodmare, then."

"Not that, either."

"Well, whatever I am, I am not going to be destitute, nor am I going to be at the mercy of rich old men all my life. I'm going to finish my education, and then we'll see what I will become."

'Rich old men'. Touché.

Minerva might not show much feeling, but she certainly knew how to cut to the quick of others' emotions, he thought with grudging admiration. He had to admit it was a useful skill.

They sat in silence, finishing their tea, before Dumbledore turned the conversation to the thing that had been particularly troubling him since he had first read the banns with an increasing sense of alarm that Sunday.

"I vaguely remember Gerald Macnair from his time here, although I didn't know him well."

"No, you wouldn't have done. He only did two N.E.W.T.s, and neither was in Transfiguration."

"Do you think he will make a decent husband?"

She stifled her laugh. "He's not a terrible sort, but he's a Macnair. I don't know him that well myself, but from what I've seen and heard, he's rather dull-witted, likes his Abraxans, and believes my name and his money will entitle him to the good opinion of all and sundry."

"His father is not a pleasant fellow, that much I do know," said Dumbledore, his brow furrowing. "He's known to be sympathetic to Grindelwald's cause. I hope Gerald doesn't take after him in that respect."

"I don't know as Gerald has any true political sympathies," she said. "He's far more interested in who'll win the next Pegasus Cup than in who leads the wizarding world."

"I suppose that's just as well. But I'd hate to see you get pulled into those circles. Whatever else you may accuse your own father of, I've never heard a whisper that he supports the Dark forces."

"No. He doesn't support them, but he does sympathise with their philosophy. He just doesn't care much for their methods."

After another few moments of awkward silence, she said, "My father isn't a bad man, Professor Dumbledore. He's just . . . old-fashioned, as you put it, and terrified of poverty. Even of the genteel sort. I think he really thinks this marriage is what is best for me, that Gerald will take care of me, even if he can't. Our property and what little is left of the family money will go to settle his debts. My father just wants to see me settled and secure."

She added, without discernible bitterness, "Of course, it helps that he gets twenty-five hundred Galleons and some very favourable lease terms from the deal. That will be enough to remove the lien from our property."

Dumbledore heaved a deep sigh. "Well, my dear, it seems your mind is made up."

"It is."

"I suppose all I can do, then, is to offer you my support. You know you can come to me at any time, even after you leave school—after you're married—if you need anything. I hope you will consider me a friend."

He was surprised to see tears welling in her eyes. "I do, thank you, Professor." She hesitated a moment, then embraced him stiffly. He placed a brief kiss to the top of her head and released her.

"Thank you for the tea, Professor. And the talk," she said as she moved towards the door.

He gave a brief nod of his greying head, then she slipped out the door and was gone.