For the 2012 Hogwarts Games: Women's Football. Assigned pairing: Minerva McGonagall/Elphinstone Urquart

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It isn't love at first sight. He may be a bit of a hopeless romantic, but even he wouldn't go that far.

Yet there is something about Minerva McGonagall that catches his attention from the start. Her features are generally unremarkable – but there is something in her eyes that shows a fierce sort of cleverness, and he respects that.

His impressions quickly prove correct, too. She excels within the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, proving to be a quick learner and overall an efficient employee.

But he can tell that she is discontent.

She performs her tasks with a cool efficiency, but there is no heart to them. She does things because she is supposed to, not because she enjoys them.

He isn't remotely surprised when, two years into her employment, she turns down a much-desired promotion and then, hours later, turns in her two weeks notice.

He wishes her luck and watches her walk away, but he finds that he cannot let her go entirely. He cannot let go of the memory of her quick wit and clever eyes.

It doesn't take long for him to figure out that her cleverness translates into writing, and they converse by owl frequently. That, along with the occasional visit by one or the other, is enough for him for a very long time.

And then he almost loses her, and he realises that he is and has been head over heels for her, and that he doesn't ever want to live without her.

.

"What happened, Min?" he asks her, staring down at her frame on the hospital bed.

She smiles wearily at him. "Had to," she murmurs. "Had to break it up."

"You have the worst luck, you know that? Who else would wind up in the hospital after trying to break up a simple schoolboy duel?"

"Spells react sometimes." Her voice has a note of raspiness to it, as though her vocal cords are scraped raw.

He kisses her forehead softly, and then he takes her hand.

"You scared me, Min." She smiles a half-smile, but there's a question in her eyes, and it's this, more than anything, that makes him say the words that he's just figured out himself. "I love you."

Her face goes blank as her eyes take on a note of panic.

"Elphie…"

He just shakes his head. "You don't have to, Min. I don't need you to love me, not now, anyway. I just need you to know."

That's the problem for her, though. She does love him. She's just not sure that's enough.

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Nine months later, Elphinstone proposes to her for the first time. It's a beautiful summer day, and he's visiting her in Hogsmeade. He takes her to Madam Puddifoot's – it's sappy, he knows, but he cannot resist a bit of romanticism. He kneels, has a ring, everything, but he can't say he's truly surprised when she says no.

He knows her almost as well as he knows himself by now, and he can see that something is holding her back from him. Something is stopping her, and she won't tell him what it is. He doesn't push her. She'll tell him when she wants to, or she won't. That's her decision.

Still, supposing that she'll say no and hearing it are two entirely different things, and he cannot deny that it hurts.

A year later, to the day, he proposes again. He chooses the Hogwarts grounds this time – still full on, ring, kneeling, speech – and she says no once more.

Every year, he asks her to marry him. Every year, she says no.

He cannot claim to understand her. She says that she loves him, and he believes her. Still, something is holding her back. Something keeps her saying no to him.

.

The thirty-forth time he says, "Will you marry me?" is the time that her response finally changes.

Still, it isn't a yes.

"Can I explain something to you, Elphie?"

He furrows his eyebrows in surprise, but he nods quickly.

"His name," she says softly, "was Dougal McGregor."

Elphinstone blinks in surprise, but she is staring determinedly at the floor, because she knows that if she looks up, she will see his face and stop, and she will never start again.

"I loved him. With all of my heart. But he was a Muggle, and I saw what it did to my mother. She had to hide who she was for love. And I saw what it did to my father. He had to lie to everyone he knew, for her. They hated each other in the end, for the resentment magic created between them. And I didn't want to live that way – I couldn't live that way.

"He asked me to marry him, and I said yes. But then I said no. I told him that I could not marry him, and I could not explain why without violating the Statue of Secrecy. So instead I walked away." Her voice breaks, but she continues.

"I let him believe that I didn't love him. I let him believe that he didn't matter, and that is the part that hurts the worst, because he was my world. I don't want to do that to you. I never wanted to hurt you, and that is why I would not marry you. Because I could not bear to condemn you to living forever with only half of my heart. If I were to tie you to me, I needed to love you completely, and I couldn't."

He thinks she's finished, so he opens his mouth to speak – say what, he does not know – but she beats him to it. "He passed away in an accident. Three months ago." She takes in a deep breath. "So I suppose what I'm saying is, yes. Yes, Elphie, I will marry you, if you'll still have me, knowing that my heart has all these years been held by another. Because I love you – totally and completely."

Without a word, he stands up and wraps his arms around her shoulders. He hadn't noticed how tense she was until she melts into his embrace. "Of course I'll still have you, Min. I love you."

"I don't deserve you," she whispers, but he shakes his head firmly, not letting her go.

"Love isn't about who deserves it, my dear. And I think you quite have that backwards."

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A year later, he marries her in the summer sun, and he knows with absolute certainty that he is the luckiest man alive.