I hadn't originally thought to write this story, but after the end of Epithalamium, I wanted to write something specifically for my friend Fishy, who has been such a wonderful support and cheerleader for me during the writing of this series. She she something cheerful, and I thought a honeymoon trip for her favourite couple would be just the ticket.
Some of the story is based on experiences I had during my first trip to Venice with my own beloved, and I've enjoyed revisiting the sites with Minerva and Albus. Several months before we arrived, the city's magnificent Teatro La Fenice had, sadly, been burned to ashes (for the second time in its history) in an act of arson apparently intended to obscure the fact that the company hired to repair the building's electrical system was running behind schedule. So I had to rely on old photos and written accounts of the previous theatre to fill out the details for this story.
A few bits in the story were inspired by David Lean's 1955 film Summertime, which features perennial "spinster" Katharine Hepburn in a torrid affair with a far-too-handsome Rossano Brazzi, but the real star of the show is Venice herself. See the film (and the city) if you can.
I've taken some liberties with the itinerary of the Simplon-Orient Express, which has had a colourful history and run several different routes since its inaugural journey in 1883. According to my research, the route Minerva and Albus enjoy began service in 1919, starting from the Gare de l'Est in Paris, taking riders on a pleasant traversal of the Swiss and Italian Alps via Zürich, Innsbruck, and through the scenic Brenner Pass, to Verona, and finally to the Santa Lucia station in Venice. It's unclear if this route was in operation in 1957, when this story takes place. To me, it seemed the most romantic of journeys, so I used it.
I took great pleasure in imagining a wizarding history for Venice, the most magical of Muggle cities, and placing its version of Diagon Alley beneath the Jewish Ghetto seemed right, given the persecution of both the Jews and anyone accused of sorcery by the religious and political powers of various ages. I beg the reader's forgiveness for any factual errors I may have committed in describing the rich history of the ghetto, one of the oldest in Europe, and its people.
When I visited Venice, it was late springtime, and the beginning of the tourist season. I can only imagine with envy what the city must have been like in the off-season of 1957, without the omnipresent crowds and the tourism industry that can make today's Venice seem more like a quaint Italian offshoot of Disneyland than a living city.
Fortunately, steps are now being taken to preserve Venice from the twin threats of overtourism and climate change. There is an active international effort to preserve and protect the city and its artistic heritage, and in 2021, the Italian government finally enacted a long-overdue ban on cruise ships—those bloated wedding-cake hulks that for years clogged the Giudecca Canal–docking at the city centre.
While these monstrosities will continue to disgorge hordes of eager tourists into a medieval town not built to accommodate what are essentially cities' worth of people, now they will come via the mainland port of Marghera rather than directly from the ecologically delicate Venetian lagoon. Progress, I suppose.
In addition, the city now imposes a daily cap and an access fee in varying amounts on day-trippers, to discourage visitors from converging on the city at the same peak times and to encourage them to spend the night–and money—in the city.
Despite the crowds, if you have never visited La Serenissima, I highly recommend a trip. It really is one of the most beautiful and romantic places in the world.
Just ask Minerva and Albus.
Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.
Robert Burns ~ "A Red, Red Rose"Playlist
"My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose" - John McDermott
"Comin' Thro' the Rye" - Marie McLaughlin
"How Long Has This Been Going On?" - Ella Fitzgerald
"When I Fall in Love" - Nat King Cole
"Love Letters in the Sand" - Pat Boone
"All the Way" - Frank Sinatra
"Tu pur lo sai che giudice" - from Giuseppe Verdi's I due Foscari - Leyla Gencer
"Stardust" - Billy Ward & the Dominoes
"Great Balls of Fire" - Jerry Lee Lewis
"That'll Be the Day" - The Crickets
"Love Me Tender" - Elvis Presley
1. Caithness: After the Wedding
As soon as the door was shut behind him, Albus asked, "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
Minerva sat on the edge of the bed and pushed off her shoes with a sigh. "No. It was quite nice, actually. Well, other than Filius's singing . . . that I could have done without."
"You can hardly blame him, after all that wine. He normally has quite a fine tenor."
"I hope he gets back to Hogwarts safely."
"I asked Amelia to take him via Side-Along," said Albus. "She'll make certain he gets back into the castle in one piece. And Horace is holding the wards in my absence; he can hold them for another few hours until Filius gets his hands on a Hangover Potion."
Minerva stood looking at her new husband for a few moments.
She'd loved him for thirteen years—longer, if she counted the love of a child for a favourite adult—sometimes with great joy, sometimes despairing, and, up until recently, secretly.
This evening, they'd publicly—well, semi-publicly—declared their feelings for one another as if they were a matter of importance to anyone else. He'd even kissed her in front of everyone … and she'd sung to him!
He'd been surprised by that, she thought, smiling to herself. The McGonagalls were a musical family, and song was a regular part of their private celebrations, but she'd never sung a note in front of anyone but family. But after her brother's rather maudlin rendition of "My Luv is Like a Red, Red Rose" had made her father weep, she'd thought the atmosphere needed lifting. So she'd made Einar accompany her on the piano while she sang "Comin' Thro' the Rye". An odd choice for a wedding, perhaps, but it was jaunty and suited her voice well, and it was fitting somehow, with its verse about the anonymous swain.
Not so anonymous now, she thought as she regarded him.
He was just standing there looking back at her, making no move to get ready for bed.
She began to take down her hair, saying, "There's room in the wardrobe if you want to hang up your robes."
She took the pins from her hair by hand rather than by magic, unwove the flowers, and set them on the dressing table with the pins. Sitting back on the bed, she bent to rub her feet for a moment. When she looked up, he was still just standing there, looking at her.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I just want to remember what you looked like on our wedding day."
She smiled. "Edgar took some photos."
"That was good of him."
He knelt down in front of her, resting his hands on her knees.
"Thank you," he said.
"For wanting to be with me."
She stroked his cheek and leant down to kiss him.
"I still can't believe it," she said.
"That this is happening … that we're together and nothing's going to stop it. It's like a dream."
Reaching up to brush a strand of hair from her face, he said,
"My love is now awake out of her dreames,
And her fayre eyes like stars that dimmed were
With darksome cloud, now shew theyr goodly beames
More bright then Hesperus his head doth rere."
"Spenser," Minerva said.
"You know it?" he asked, surprised.
"My father was very fond of Elizabethan verse. I had to memorise large parts of The Faerie Queene and Epithalamion."
Albus chuckled. "So did I. Aberforth and I were made to memorise a poem a week. I'm afraid I was a bit of a show-off and did all of Epithalamion one week and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner the next. I was going to be quite shocking the following week with Don Juan, but Aberforth made it clear that there was to be no more epic poetry."
"And how did he do that?"
"A creative variation on the Tongue-Tying Jinx. Every time I opened my mouth, I came out with the most embarrassing confessions. Some of them were even true."
"Fifty points to Aberforth," said Minerva, laughing. "Was he a Ravenclaw?"
Minerva's brows rose. She'd never have guessed that that gentle House could have produced such an unpleasant character.
Albus seemed to know what she was thinking, because he said, "He was an extremely loving, devoted child. I sometimes think if he'd been less so, what happened later wouldn't have affected him as deeply."
He removed the sash from his outer robe and laid it over the back of a chair. "I was surprised to see him today."
"I gave him a Portkey," said Minerva. "I hope you don't mind. I thought your brother should be here."
"Of course I don't mind. I had asked him myself, but you can imagine how that conversation went. You are obviously far more persuasive."
She snorted her scepticism on that point.
"You interest him, I think," said Albus. "He enjoys a good argument with a worthy opponent."
"I've barely ever spoken with him."
"Well, it was good of you to ask him."
"I hope he wasn't too uncomfortable."
"I don't think so, but he's never been at ease in company. He's used to keeping to himself, even in the bar. But that's enough about my brother for the moment, I think."
Perhaps it was the unaccustomed dress or just the fact that they were finally alone after hours of being the centre of attention, but she suddenly felt self-conscious under his gaze.
"Aren't you going to get ready for bed?" she asked.
He shook his head slightly, as if clearing it, and looked around to locate his bag. Taking a nightshirt and a small toiletry kit from it, he said, "I'll just be a few moments," and disappeared into the tiny bathroom.
Minerva changed into her nightdress, casting very gentle cleansing and smoothing charms on the wedding dress before hanging it carefully in the wardrobe. She'd ask her house-elf, Glynnie, to pack it away tomorrow. Minerva knew she would never have a daughter to pass it on to, but perhaps her niece would want to use it one day.
Albus came out of the bathroom in his dressing gown, and Minerva went in to clean her teeth and wash her face. He was already in bed when she emerged.
She got in beside him and put out the candles.
"Good night, my love," he said, kissing her lips quickly.
Here they were in the same bed … and it was their wedding night …
Minerva had an idea of what the trouble might be. Perhaps the best approach would be not to mention it.
She turned to him and put a hand on his chest. Snuggling closer, she slipped the hand up under his nightshirt and ran it across his chest, moving lower to stroke his soft belly.
"I love you very much," she said.
He kissed the top of her head. "And I you."
Still, he made no move to touch her, so she let her hand wander lower, and she was pleased when her arm grazed the tip of his cock, firm and straining upward in response to what she was doing.
She let her arm brush against it several times as she caressed his lower belly and along the sides of his hips. Still, he didn't move, so she finally ran a finger gently up the length of his penis, feeling it twitch.
"Oh, Minerva …" he said with a sigh. "We should get some sleep."
"Are you too tired?" she asked, although she knew the answer. No matter how busy he was, he was never too tired to make love to her. They rarely had enough time together to waste it sleeping.
"Aren't you?" he asked.
"Not too tired for this," she said, grasping his erection and running it firmly through her palm. "After all, don't I deserve some compensation for enduring a wedding?"
"We have a busy day tomorrow," he said.
"Yes, but you said we don't have to be at Dover until after noon. We can have a lovely lie-in. I don't imagine anyone will come bursting in to wake us up the morning after our wedding."
She emphasised her point by pressing herself against him and adding a second hand to her work, cradling his testicles as she stroked him.
Still, he didn't move.
She released him and lay back against the pillow. "I'm sorry," she said. "It's been more than a week, and I just want you so much."
This time, he turned to face her. "I'm very glad," he said. "And I want you too. But don't you think we should wait until we're somewhere else?"
"Your father is right down the hall."
"Surely you're familiar with Silencing Charms?"
"Yes, but it feels odd to be doing this right under his nose."
"We're hardly 'right under his nose'."
"Yes, but I don't want him thinking I'm … well … abusing his daughter under his roof."
She was glad he couldn't see her amused smile. "You don't plan to abuse me, do you, Albus?" she asked. "Besides, I have a bit of news for you: it's our wedding night. He's going to assume we're doing it whether or not we actually make love."
"That is hardly a comforting thought," said Albus. "I do have to be able to look the man in the eye at breakfast in the morning."
She couldn't help a short bark of laughter escaping her.
"What is it?" he asked, sounding slightly annoyed.
"Oh, I'm not laughing at you, my darling, honestly. I just couldn't help thinking about my ancestors."
"What about them?"
"Legend has it that members of the wedding party were required to witness the consummation of the marriage. Or at least to stand outside the door as it happened."
Albus snorted a laugh of his own.
"I must say, I'm very glad that tradition has died out," he said. "I'm quite certain I would be unable to perform with an audience."
"I would have to do something to help you along, then," she said, taking hold of his cock once again and running her hand up and down, her thumb brushing over the tip, making it twitch.
She heard him sigh, but he didn't stop her. After a minute, he Summoned his wand and cast a Silencing Charm.
He sent his wand back to sit on the dresser and turned to her, putting a hand behind her head and bringing his lips down on hers. His tongue began to play teasingly along the inside of her lower lip, and she moaned in encouragement.
His hands found her breasts, kneading them and playing his fingers over her taut nipples through the silk of her gown. She pulled his head down to hers and buried her face in his neck, moving his beard out of the way. Her lips moved over his skin, kissing, sucking, and nipping lightly, as her hands stroked him below.
"If you don't stop, we won't have the chance to consummate this marriage," he whispered. "I'm going to come right in your hands."
"That wouldn't be the end of the world."
"No, but I want to be inside you," he said, rolling on top of her with one swift motion, supporting his weight on his elbows. She Banished their clothes and opened her legs to him. His eyes never left hers as he pushed himself into her and began to rock his hips against hers.
Her legs came up to wrap around him, and her hands travelled over his back, her nails playing lightly over his skin, then to his arse, which she kneaded and pressed, urging him deeper.
He moaned and let his upper body sink down on hers, and she relished the feeling of his broad, hard chest pressing into her breasts. Her eyes closed as she concentrated on the feeling of his cock filling her and his pubic bone pressing into her centre with each thrust.
She came suddenly and powerfully a minute later, a single cry escaping her as she was flung into the blissful oblivion of her orgasm, her fingers digging into the soft flesh of his buttocks.
When she recovered her breath, she opened her eyes and tried to look up at him, but his head was thrown back and his beard fell across her face. She moved it aside and ran her hands through his hair, pulling him down, and his mouth met her eyelids in whisper-soft kisses. She tilted her head upwards, and their lips met, barely touching, barely moving.
"My love … my love … my love … my love …" His words were hardly more than puffs of air in her mouth, and she felt almost as if he were attempting to breathe his life into her as he pumped and rocked against her, his hands coming up to cup her face.
The murmurs hardened into a kiss, lips parted, all teeth and tongue, and eventually Minerva had to tear her mouth from his, gasping as another wave of pleasure began to build in the pit of her belly.
Her lips met his hard shoulder, and she kissed and sucked at it, letting her tongue play over his salty skin. When she grazed it with her teeth and bit down suddenly, he pumped into her harder and faster, moving his right hand down to her thigh, pulling it up and opening her wider as her second orgasm took her.
His rhythm broke, his thrusts becoming wild and erratic, and she tightened around him, knowing it would tip him over the edge into ecstasy. He came shouting her name, as he almost always did, and when he finally stilled, breathing hard, she stroked the slick skin of his back and nestled her face into the crook of his neck, kissing and humming against it, "Albus, my love, my darling."
When his breath evened out again, he pushed up on his elbows and looked at her.
She smiled up at him, and he kissed her lips quickly three times.
"Thank Merlin for Silencing Charms," he said, and she laughed.
He moved off her, and she slid over closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder.
"I'd say this marriage has been well and truly consummated," he said, his hand coming to rest at her hip.
"Indeed it has. No annulment for you, I'm afraid, so I hope you're not having any second thoughts."
"None at all."
"Of course," said Minerva, "You could always complain to my father that I didn't come to our marriage bed a virgin. That was grounds for annulment according to clan law."
"That would be most hypocritical of me," Albus replied, "seeing as I was the man responsible for first leading you astray."
"I don't think it was you doing the leading. If you'll recall, Professor Dumbledore, it was I who seduced you. But I've made an honest wizard of you now, so I'll have no complaints."
"No complaints, Professor McGonagall. Certainly not," he said. "I have adored you since I met you, you know."
"When did you first fall in love with me?"
"Oh … when you were about seventeen, I suppose. It was very wicked of me."
"I fell in love with you at my first Transfiguration lesson."
"You were only eleven."
"I was precocious," she said, rubbing her hand over his chest. "I didn't start having impure thoughts about you until I was sixteen, though."
"I'd like to hear those thoughts someday," he said, the last word partially eclipsed by his yawn.
"Someday." She kissed his cheek and shifted over to her side of the bed. "Sleep now, my darling."
"Good night, my love."
When Minerva awoke, Albus was still breathing heavily and steadily next to her. She rolled carefully onto her side and propped her head up on her hand to look at his face. His hair was tangled around his head in an auburn halo. There were streaks of grey around his temples and in his beard, just under the centre of his lower lip. Fine lines radiated out from the corners of his eyes, with deeper ones etched horizontally across his forehead, but he didn't look his age, she thought, even for a wizard. Her father was only two years older than Albus, but he looked older. Of course, that might have been because Thorfinn McGonagall had gone a bit thick around the middle, while Albus's belly was still relatively flat—if soft—thanks to the many staircases at Hogwarts and walks about the grounds and into Hogsmeade, she supposed.
She saw his eyes moving under his lids and wondered what his dream was about. She hoped it was pleasant, whatever it was. The first time she'd heard him groan in his sleep, she'd been torn between waking him and letting him sleep through, eventually deciding not to wake him. When she'd asked him about it the next day, he said he didn't remember any nightmare, so she'd said no more about it, although it had happened occasionally since.
Now, however, he seemed peaceful in his dreams. His lips were parted and very inviting. She couldn't resist leaning over and kissing them gently. She repeated the action with a little more pressure and let her tongue lap gently just inside his upper lip. When she opened her eyes, his sea-blue ones were looking at her.
"Good morning," she said.
His answer was to reach an arm up around her neck and pull her down again for a lengthier kiss.
She reached under the covers and found his erection. "Is this my Christmas present?" she said, grinning at him.
"It's a start," he replied. "Would you like to test it out?"
"Indeed I would," she said, straddling him.
As she slid down on him, he Summoned his wand and cast a Silencing Charm.
"In case last night's have worn off. Oh, Minerva …" he gasped as she began to move up and down.
"Happy Christmas, Albus," she said as she rode him slowly and thoroughly.
By the time they had washed and dressed, it was after nine o'clock, and they found the dining room empty. The breakfast buffet was still laid out, however, and Minerva helped herself to some haggis and a scoop of porridge, while Albus selected a tatie scone, a fried egg, mushrooms, two sausages, and buttered toast slathered with the orange-and-Scotch-whisky marmalade that the McGonagall kitchen elves had been making for nearly two hundred years.
He merely smiled back at her raised eyebrows, asking, "May I fetch you a cuppa, my dear?"
"Yes, thank you."
Minerva's brother came in just as Albus popped the last bit of sausage into his mouth.
"We're gathering in the library for presies, if you're finished," said Einar.
"We'll be there in a moment."
The library was Minerva's favourite room in the house. The McGonagall family home was a large stone edifice—technically a castle, in fact—a bit worse for wear on the outside, but generally comfortable on the inside, if a bit draughty. Much of the house was closed off, and the library had long been the centre of family life. The walls were lined with bookshelves, and the room was well-lit by three large iron candelabras and warmed by a fireplace that the house-elves kept blazing on all but the warmest summer days. The stone floors had been overlaid with wood and were strewn with worn wool carpets. Two heavy oak tables stood at either side of the room, one of which was now covered with gaily wrapped packages. In the centre of the room, near the hearth, sat a collection of club chairs, the leather faded and discoloured with wear in many spots.
When Minerva and Albus entered, the chairs nearest the fire were occupied, so Minerva used her wand to Summon one from the table. She gestured for Albus to sit, and when he did, she sat down on the floor by his legs.
"Happy Christmas," Albus said to the group, which included Minerva's father, Thorfinn, her grandmother, Morna MacLaughlin, her brother, Einar, and his wife, Katherine. Baby Morrigan sat on her father's lap, struggling to get down.
"Oh, you want to see your Auntie Minerva, do you? All right, then, off you go," said Einar, and set his daughter on her feet. The child teetered on her chubby legs for a moment, then found her courage and let go her father's knees to toddle over to where Minerva was sitting.
"Well done, my lamb!" Minerva said. To Katherine, she said, "She's ever so much steadier on her feet."
"Yes, she is," said Katherine. "Thank goodness for Llyndie or I'd lose track of her every five minutes."
Morrigan let herself plop down on Minerva's legs. She immediately took up a bit of her aunt's skirt and started to gnaw on it.
"Let's see if we can get you something better to play with," said Morna. She Summoned one of the presents and set it in front of her great-granddaughter, who dropped Minerva's skirt and began patting her hands on the box, squealing.
Twenty minutes later, Morrigan was sitting on the floor in front of the hearth, having happily abandoned the new toys strewn around her in favour of putting one of the empty boxes on her head and playing peek-a-boo with her grandfather.
The adults took rather longer to open their gifts, despite their being fewer in number than Morrigan's, and there was soon an impressive pile of books sitting next to each person.
"I hope you like books, Albus," said Thorfinn, indicating the stack at his feet, "because that's what you're like to get every Christmas and birthday around here."
"Indeed," said Albus, laughing. "I'm delighted."
He'd given Minerva a rare copy of a sixteenth-century translation of Falco Aeslon's treatise on human-to-animal Transfiguration, and she'd given him a curious pair of green-covered paperback books entitled Lolita, Volume One and Lolita, Volume Two. She'd smirked at his obvious confusion and his struggle to find something to say about the gift, of which he could obviously make neither heads nor tails.
"Well, I have something that's not a book," said Katherine, dropping a square package in Minerva's lap. "It's really for both of you," she said to Albus, "but I think Minerva should open it."
Minerva looked at Albus, who nodded, and undid the ribbon and opened the box. When she withdrew the contents, she felt her face heat up.
"What is it?" asked her father, leaning over to see.
"I don't think you want to know, Da." She looked over at Albus, whose eyebrows had shot up at least two inches.
"Come on, what is it?" asked Einar.
Minerva sighed and held up the item for his inspection. It was a very sheer, black negligée with a deep slit on one side.
"It's for your honeymoon," said Katherine. "Einar and I quite enjoyed something like it on ours, so I thought I'd give you one."
Despite her embarrassment, Minerva laughed when she saw her brother's face fall into his hands. When she looked around the room, she saw that her father was shifting uncomfortably in his seat and Albus's face had taken on a distinctly pink hue. Her grandmother, however, got up and marched over, taking the item from Minerva's hands.
"There isn't much to it," said Morna, holding up the negligée, "but it looks a wee bit more comfortable than what I wore on my wedding night. My nightdress had a million tiny buttons. It took poor Jamie half an hour to get me out of the thing."
Minerva took the negligée from her grandmother's hands and put it back in the box. "Thank you," she said to Katherine, who winked at her and said, "I certainly hope it will get more use on your honeymoon than those books."
"Well," said Thorfinn, a little too loudly, "what time is your ferry?"