Warning/s: Explicit sexual situations; character death
Disclaimer: All characters, settings and other elements from the Harry Potter franchise belong to J. K. Rowling.
Minerva returned to teaching in the first week of December. She left breakfast early to prepare her classroom, and when she reached it, she hesitated a few moments before opening the door. The last time she’d gone through it, she’d been nearly six months pregnant, with nothing but petty troubles, it now seemed to her.
Now she was . . . what?
Funny, she thought, they have a word for a woman who’s lost a husband, but there’s no word for a woman who’s lost a child.
Maybe there wasn’t any language adequate to describe that sort of misery.
She went to her desk, careful to step over the stain that was still barely visible on the stone floor. As she sat, she found her eyes drawn back to the dark patch where she had fallen . . . where her son had first begun to die inside her.
The pain that would never fully disappear washed over her, and she panicked. She would never be able to teach like this, not with the agony of her grief clutching at her chest and making her breath come in fast, shallow sobs. She tried emptying her mind, to no avail. In desperation, she transformed. In her feline form, her emotions were blunted, and physical sensation came to the fore. Extending her claws, she dug them into the wood of the desk, kneading at it almost viciously. She focussed on the resistance of the mahogany, the satisfying give when her claws sank into it, and the tug at the ungual crests of her claws when she retracted them. It hurt and felt good at the same time, and the combination of the rhythmic motion and the sensation soothed her. When she felt more in control of herself, she changed back and withdrew her wand to cast a Disillusionment spell on the stained patch of floor. The mark would still be visible to anyone sitting close to it, but it no longer drew her eye, and she was able to turn her attention to looking over the notes Albus had left her.
The students began to arrive, but she didn’t speak and continued to review her notes as they came in and got settled. Suddenly aware of the unnatural quiet, she looked up. Seven young faces were looking at her. No one was fidgeting, no one was giggling, no one was passing a note . . . there was complete silence. It was unnerving.
What were they expecting to see?
Then a quiet voice piped up—Molly Prewett’s—saying, “Welcome back, Professor.”
Minerva opened her mouth to thank Molly when the other students began to applaud. Overwhelmed at the display of affection from her students, Minerva couldn’t speak. When she found her voice, she said, “Thank you. It’s very good to be here.”
She stood but didn’t come around from behind her desk as she normally did.
She said, “I understand Professor Dumbledore has taken you through the rudiments of inter-species Transfiguration, but you will need to master it if you hope to pass your N.E.W.T., so please take out your wands and prepare to show me that you can change a black beetle to a common ladybird.”
By the end of the class period, four of the students had managed it, and the other three had made progress.
After the students filed out, Minerva went to each desk, carefully stepping around the Disillusioned spot, to collect the insects and Transfigure them back to their original form. She had dropped the last one into her basket when she saw Molly standing in the doorway, clutching her books to her chest.
“Yes, Miss Prewett, did you forget something?”
“No, Professor. I just wanted to say I’m glad you’re all right. I mean, I knew you would be, but …” After a moment’s hesitation, she drew a deep breath and said, “I’m very sorry. About what happened.”
“Thank you, Molly.”
The girl seemed to want to say something else, but Minerva averted it, saying, “You’d better be getting on. Professor Flitwick won’t appreciate your coming in late and interrupting his lesson.”
“Yes, Professor. I wish … well … as long as you’re all right …”
“I am fine, as you see.”
Molly flushed and nodded. Then she left.
Minerva went to the door and shut it.
She returned to her desk and sat, retrieving her notes to review for a minute or two before her next class arrived.
To the empty room, she said again, “I’m fine.”
She wondered how long it would take before it wasn’t a lie.
They met in the Leaky Cauldron, and Amelia pulled Minerva into a tight hug, saying, “You look better than I expected, McGonagall.”
“Thank you, I think,” Minerva replied.
“Come on. Let’s get out of this place. Too many damn people in here,” Amelia said, grasping Minerva’s hand and pulling her to the door.
They spent two and a half hours on their shopping until Amelia declared herself exhausted, which Minerva didn’t believe for a second. Amelia was no doubt under orders not to allow Minerva to tire herself out, but Minerva couldn’t bring herself to object. She acquiesced to a cup of tea at Amelia’s flat, both because she was very tired and because she wanted to talk with her friend privately.
She was surprised to find that Amelia’s partner, Marlene McKinnon, was there. Marlene came out of the kitchen carrying a tray of biscuits, and Minerva had the distinct feeling that she’d been set up. Albus seemed to think that she needed to “get out and see people,” as he put it. As if people were a potion that could cure what ailed her, when they really were a burden, what with their curiosity and their pity. At least Amelia wouldn’t inflict much of either on her, which was the primary reason she’d agreed to the outing.
“Minerva,” Marlene said, stepping forwards to embrace her and kiss her on both cheeks. “It’s nice to see you up and about. I’m so very sorry about the baby.”
Minerva gave her a tight smile and sat across from Amelia, who was pouring out the tea.
“Thank you, Marlene.”
“How are you feeling?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t visit you at Mungo’s, but I was away when you were admitted. I didn’t even hear about it until we got Albus’s note.”
“It’s all right. I wasn’t fit company for visitors, in any event,” said Minerva.
“Even so,” said Marlene, “I’m sorry I wasn’t there. Not that I could have done much—it’s not my area. But you were in very good hands; Pye is one of the more talented of the youngsters, and Cressida Burgess is probably the smartest Healer we’ve got. She takes all the most difficult cases of magical illness.”
The name felt like a kick in the belly. She hadn’t ever seen the woman during her stay at St Mungo’s, but she remembered the name well enough. Cressida Burgess been Albus’s date to a Ministry ball long ago, and the cause of the worst jealousy Minerva had ever experienced. She remembered reading in the Daily Prophet’s report of the ball that “Albus Dumbledore’s beautiful companion” was also a well-known Healer. Much later, Albus had admitted to Minerva that he and Madam Burgess had been lovers long ago.
“Yes, she did your sur—” Marlene stopped herself, glancing at Amelia.
“It’s all right, you can speak in front of Amelia,” said Minerva, who was still reeling from the discovery that Albus’s former paramour had treated her while she lay unconscious.
“Lena hasn’t told me anything, Minerva,” said Amelia. “She wouldn’t.”
“I imagine you have other ways of finding things out if you want to,” said Minerva.
“Yeah, but I didn’t,” said Amelia. “I thought I’d let you decide how much to tell me.”
Minerva nodded her gratitude, a lump constricting her throat. Amelia knew her very well indeed.
Marlene jumped in. “I hope you don’t think I was prying, Minerva. I heard the case being discussed, but I had no idea it was you until Amelia told me about what happened and I put two and two together. I just wanted to make certain you were all right.”
“I imagine some of what you heard was troubling,” said Minerva.
“Well, unusual,” said Marlene.
“Unusual how?” asked Amelia.
Minerva then told her the story of the surgery and the blood transfusion.
Amelia’s brow wrinkled, and she turned to Marlene, asking, “And is that normal?”
“I wouldn’t say normal, but hysterectomy—removing the womb—is occasionally done in cases when they can’t stop the bleeding. You don’t hear about it often because not many Healers know how to do it properly. Sometimes they have to transfer the patient to a Muggle hospital, if there’s time. I understand Cressida’s done it before, though. It was lucky she was there.”
“Yes, but the other—giving someone else’s blood—that isn’t regular, is it?” asked Amelia.
“What’s regular is that the patient dies,” said Marlene, her cheeks growing pink with emotion. “I see it with bite wounds too bloody often; some gormless git has his arm off after messing about with a dragon, and we pour half a gallon of Blood Replenishing Potion into him, but we can’t save him because the potion can’t replace it fast enough, and he’s hypovolemic as hell. I think it’s brilliant that Minerva’s mediwitch came up with the idea of the transfer or whatever it’s called.”
“Poppy was the one who thought to use it for me,” said Minerva, “but it was really her friend that gave her the idea. He’s a Healer, and he’d seen it done in Muggles.”
“I hope he’s going to write it up. Because if he doesn’t, Cressida will, you can be sure,” said Marlene.
Minerva made a mental note to mention it to Poppy. She didn’t want Cressida Burgess to take the credit for the idea that saved her life.
She sipped her tea for a few moments, debating whether to bring up the subject she wanted to discuss. Minerva liked and trusted Marlene, but she wasn’t as close to her as she was to Amelia, and the topic of the peculiar side-effect to the blood transfusion felt terribly personal and intimate. Then again, as a Healer, Marlene might know something of the effects of blood magic, although her specialty was in creature-induced injuries.
Minerva asked, “What do you—either of you—know about blood magic?”
She noticed the way Amelia’s eyes darted over to her partner and back again.
“You probably know as much as I do about it,” said Amelia. “We’ve had a few people accused of using it, of course, but I wasn’t directly involved in those cases. We do a unit on it during Auror training now. Dumbledore’s friend—that blind bloke you introduced me to—put the materials together when we rewrote the curriculum on Dark Magic. Most of the focus was on recognising it.”
“What kinds of things do you look for?”
Amelia shrugged. “Mostly unexplained changes to someone’s magical power. People make all kinds of claims, but it’s hard to suss out what’s an accident and what might be the result of a Dark attack, so our materials focus on the forensics—identifying a Dark source of a magical drain. One thing we look for is signs of ritual bloodletting. There are sometimes marks on the body, and they may take certain patterns—Healers can usually tell us if someone’s been cut in a major vessel, even if the signs of it have been covered.”
“And what kinds of things does the victim experience?” asked Minerva.
“Difficulty with their magic. It’s pretty broad. I remember one case—this was about eight years ago—the wizard couldn’t cast in the presence of another mage. It was excruciatingly painful, he said. Turned out he’d been trying to set blood wards to keep his wife from leaving the house. Thought she was cheating on him. So he tried to use his blood and hers to lock her in—keep her from Apparating out or letting anyone else in without him. He must have screwed up the spells, because it ended up draining almost all his wife’s magic, and he was left with that strange affliction. Too much magic, or something. His thaumaturgical system got overwhelmed and rejected it. At least, that was the theory, according to the Healer who worked the case for us.”
Minerva’s mouth went dry. She took another sip of her tea before asking, “What happened to him?”
“We didn’t prosecute him. I thought we should have, but Clearwater said since he was good as a Squib, he wasn’t a danger to anyone anymore, so there was no point.” Amelia snorted. “As if the only way to harm anyone is with magic.”
“So he never regained the ability to do magic in front of other wizards or witches?” asked Minerva.
“Not as far as I know.”
“What happened to his wife? Did she ever get her magic back?”
“Not while I was paying attention to the case,” said Amelia. “She left the bastard after that and disappeared. That’s as much as I heard.”
After a moment, Amelia said, “Are you going to tell me why you’re interested, or are we going to keep dancing around it?”
Minerva paused before speaking.
“If I tell you, you need to swear to me that you won’t mention it to anyone.”
“Do you want us to take a Fidelius Oath?” asked Amelia.
“No, of course not. I trust you. Both of you.”
Marlene gave a small smile. “I appreciate that, Minerva, but if you’d rather speak to Amelia alone, I can make myself scarce for a bit.”
“That isn’t necessary. In fact, I’d like to get your opinion as a Healer,” said Minerva.
“Is something wrong with your magic?”
“No, not exactly,” said Minerva. She explained about the strange connection between herself and Albus, and when she was done, she was disheartened to see the frown that creased Amelia’s brow.
Marlene, however, wore a thoughtful expression, as if she were trying to work out a puzzle.
“What do you think?” Minerva asked her.
“It’s not really my area of expertise—a spell-damage specialist could probably tell you more—but in my area we do see trait drift from bites sometimes.”
“Trait drift?” said Amelia.
“When the victim appears to take on some traits of the attacking organism. Everyone knows about werewolves and vampires, but it happens with other creatures too, to a lesser degree. You see it with Vipertooth bites … Erklings … It’s thought to be related to reverse genetic transcription—RNA from the Erkling or whatever copies itself into the victim’s DNA—but we don’t really know. I’m sure I’m not explaining it quite right; actually, it’s probably your line more than it is mine,” she said, looking at Minerva.
“Yes, but what does that have to do with what’s happening to Minerva?” Amelia asked.
“Maybe nothing. But with most creature bites, there’s no intention to transfer traits—usually, there’s no magical intent involved at all. It’s just the creature doing what it does to protect itself or to feed. There is arguably intent with vampires and werewolves, so that may be why the effects are so profound with those bites. And with blood magic—if I understand it at all—there’s magical intent to effect a change on one or both participants, or maybe on their environment.”
“And?” said Amelia.
“And it seems like there was no intent here,” said Marlene. “Other than an intense desire to save Minerva’s life. So any other effects—in the DNA or not—are apt to be random, as they are with lesser creature bites, and probably minor, or even transitory.”
“But how will it affect our magic?” asked Minerva.
“I don’t know. It may be that the shared sensation is all there is. Or there may be a change in power. But if it were significant, I think you’d have noticed it by now.”
“I haven’t done much intensive magic since … since my illness,” said Minerva.
“I don’t know. Not that I’m aware of,” said Minerva.
“Do you think the transfer or whatever could have drained some of Minerva’s magic?” asked Amelia.
“I’m not sure,” said Marlene, “It’s possible. But I think it’s equally likely that she took on some of Albus’s power. She received his blood, but he didn’t get any of hers.”
Minerva asked, “Why would he be feeling the effects, then?”
“It’s possible that magical sensitisation had already happened in other ways. The transfer might simply have potentiated it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Not to get too personal, but you and Albus have each been exposed to the other’s bodily fluids. If that included blood—even a tiny amount you weren’t aware of—there’s a small chance that—”
“He was sensitised to my magic via my blood,” said Minerva. “And the act of giving me his blood to save my life worked like magical intent, even without a spell.”
“Right,” said Marlene. “It made the existing physical and thaumaturgical connection between you stronger. Strong enough that you can feel it in your magic. That’s my guess, anyway.”
The three witches sat without speaking for a few moments.
“Are we bound now, do you think?” asked Minerva.
“You mean like a marriage bond?” said Marlene.
“I have no idea. I’m afraid I’ve exhausted my knowledge of blood magic. And I’ve engaged in far too much speculation.” Marlene gave a nervous laugh.
“You could test it,” Amelia said to Minerva. “See if you’re bound that way.”
“Well, I doubt you’d want to challenge the fidelity aspect of it, but you could try hexing one another. Don’t most of the magical bindings prevent one partner’s magic from being used against the other?”
“I think so,” said Minerva.
“If it’s an accidental binding, it might not be that strong, though,” said Marlene. “A hex might not work, but a curse could. But you’re not going to curse Albus.”
“No,” said Minerva. “I’m not.”
She returned to the castle with her thoughts roiling. Part of her was anxious about the extent of the binding, if that’s what it was. Not that she planned to be unfaithful to Albus, or to curse him, but the idea that she couldn’t—that perhaps neither of them could—was disturbing. And who knew what other effects there might be?
Another part of her was intrigued. If there really was an unintentional transfer of magical power through their blood, it would make a fascinating case study. Not Transfiguration per se, but related. Most of Minerva’s research had examined the molecular and genetic effects of Transfiguration on animals. If Marlene’s explanation of the hypothesis about genetic transposition occurring in creature bites was accurate, it might be applicable … and the ramifications for the understanding of magical genetics were significant. If she could prove that such an effect had taken place without the use of a spell to direct and focus the intent, it might pave the way for research that could unravel the mysteries of magical power and how it passed from one generation to another—maybe even solve the question of where Muggle-born mages and Squibs came from.
You’re getting ahead of yourself, she thought.
But for the first time since her illness, a flicker of interest in something outside herself lit in her breast, and when she saw Albus at dinner that evening, he remarked on how much better she looked for having gone out.
“I told you seeing some friends would do you good,” he said, squeezing her knee under the table.
“Indeed,” she said, and cut into her roast beef.
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