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Chapter 7 : A Christmas Carol: Verse IV
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The Christmas of 1943 marked the end of an era. In the year that was to come, Grindelwald would be beaten back, if not yet defeated; Minerva McGonagall would graduate from Hogwarts. These are facts set in stone, histories recorded by many. But there remain so much more, personal histories that, before this endeavor, I was unaware of, memories that have only now been added to the archives on the death of the possessors.
At what price did these events come at? What was the final straw that gave Dumbledore the impetus to face his old friend? Whose death brought it about?
While all these men and women are long dead, I have grown so attached to them over this project that I cannot bear that they, like so many others I knew, be cut down in the flower of their youth by a war of blood status.
Another pressing question is this: why, if Caradoc Dearborn was the love of Minerva McGonagall’s life, is there no record of their marriage, or of any of their descendants?
stunning chapter images by lotrfan185@tda
Extracts from the correspondences of Caradoc Dearborn in his Sixth year
I have made up my mind, and I am sticking to it. I will not back down, and Father not speaking to me is something I grew accustomed to over the holidays. School is as usual.
Your loving son,
My dear Mother,
If I had known he didn’t want you in contact with me, I would have never answered your first letter. Until he cools down, he won’t listen to reason, he’s stubborn as pig and prouder than a Gryffindor. It’s not worth the risk. I am remaining at Hogwarts for Christmas to prove my point, but I promise to come home for summer.
Oh, and for the love of Salazar, please stop trying to arrange my betrothal!
Your loving son,
It has been too long. I can’t forgive myself for losing contact. I am absolutely devastated by your news. If there’s anything I can do – anything at all - I can’t imagine what you are going through. May I be so bold as to ask when the funeral is? No force on the earth will keep me away.
No, of course. I’m not offended. I understand completely. I’m sure Diana would have wanted just the family as well. I’m so sorry we fell out of contact – for my father – and I won’t repeat his mistakes. On Minerva -you have my word of honour.
Yours, with deepest sympathy,
Verse IV: Christmas with the McGonagall(s)
Minerva kept smiling persistently as she pushed her friends out of the dorm.
“Really, just go! I am happy to stay at Hogwarts,” she insisted. “I have so much studying to do before the NEWTS, I need the quiet, the peace, no distractions!.”
“You need a break!” Juliet argued.
“I have a library and study in my house,” pointed out Amelia.
Minerva shook her head briskly. “Can’t afford to take a break, I need to perfect scores to get a scholarship into college, and I want to be able to consult Dumbledore personally on the more advanced Transfiguration questions.”
“So send him an owl from my house!”
“Not this year Amy,” Minerva said firmly. “Now go, you’ll miss the train!”
She kept her bright smile in place while they hugged her, hurriedly gathered their bags and left her in the dorm. As soon as she was alone, it slid off her face, and she flopped onto her bed to stare sightlessly at the golden canopy.
She had not heard a word from her father. Not a line, a note, a coded postcard. She dared not make enquiries for fear of inadvertently exposing him to danger. After her mother’s death, she and her father had withdrawn from their social circle, it was possible many of her father’s friends had no idea he had even left the country.
Christmas was a time for family. Few would remain at school, but she could not have borne going to Amy’s and pretending to be happy and carefree. As it was, her friends were nearly onto her. They knew something was wrong, and it was only a matter of time before they found out.
She tried to stay at Hogwarts. She really did. She had made a detailed study plan to keep her busy and ensure her top marks in every subject, but after three days she was bored beyond belief, after five she was going mad with pent up emotion.
Since there were less than twenty staff and students remaining at Hogwarts, they ate their meals together in a smaller chamber, and even this was too much for her. She felt as if Dumbledore’s piercing stare could see right through her, knew exactly why she was so animated and brilliant every time there was someone to look at her. Instead of her usual hero worship of her idol, she turned for dinner conversation to Tom Riddle, the only other student near her age. In the past she had been disgusted by the girls who swarmed after him, their passion only flamed by his universal indifference, but he was undeniably a competent prefect and a brilliant student. He proved to be a stimulating conversationalist on everything from obscure arithmantic theory to controversial milestones in wizarding history, and she could detect none of the cold coiled threat she had always felt hovering about him in the past.
Perhaps she had been too quick too judge. Either way, his biting wit and razor sharp observations proved a distraction; a change from the mundane routine that was becoming her life, at least for a time.
“You’re not happy,” Riddle said one night, his eyes; as green as her own, tracing the contours of her face, marked by long sleepless nights.
“Of course I am,” she replied automatically, reeling from this abrupt diversion from a discussion of the exact relationship between a witch and her familiar.
He shook his head, his shining black hair falling into his eyes.
“Minerva, you could be one of the greats,” he said so softly she had to lean closer to hear him. “You could never be happy with a normal life.”
She felt suddenly cold as she looked up into his pale handsome face and drew back, striving for lightness.
“Tom, you flatter me. It is you, after all they already expect to be Minister of Magic one day,” she teased, steering the conversation away from herself. His words however lingered in her mind, endlessly recurring in the swirling currents of her thoughts. She was far from happy, and staying at school was only going to make things worse.
Before the second week of holidays had started, Minerva had packed her bags and headed home. She was regretting the impulsive action before she had finished Disapparating from Hogsmeade, and it was with shaking fingers that she fumbled for her key on the doorstep of the large white house with faded blue shutters and a dark red roof.
The house was empty of course. They had never bothered with a house elf, and it appeared as if the housekeeper was long let go. All three levels were filling with dust and cobwebs, doxies were rampant in the drapery, snifflers running amok in the garden. Her mother would be turning over in her grave, but Minerva only smiled.
She would at least have something to do, at any rate.
Perhaps with magic, she could have cleaned the house in minutes; one of the advantages of being both prodigiously talented and of age, but she took a masochistic satisfaction in the grueling hard work of cleaning by hand. Sweeping, mopping, digging in the garden, hurling gnomes to next year, she pushed herself day in, day out until late in the night when she would collapse from near exhaustion and dream the deep sleep of the bone weary.
She knew her father would not be able to return for Christmas, but she still felt comforted by the idea that if he did, the house was ready for him. After her cleaning frenzy subsided and she whiled away the days in study, she could not help, despite her best efforts, looking out of the window at the just-visible mansion cluttering her horizon. She considered, for one wild moment, setting aside the last few years of estrangement and wandering down to the Dearborn’s. She had spent more than one Christmas there. After nearly a week on her own, she was longing for some company, even one with all the mixed emotions and complications a simple conversation with Caradoc ensured.
She was throwing off the restraint of seven years, slipping on a green coat and running a comb through her hair when the invitation came. The messenger was a familiar eagle owl. There had been a time when that owl had carried handwritten notes just for her; invitations to tea, to impromptu Quidditch games and garden parties and cricket. Today, she received a gold edged, impeccably elegant invitation to the McGonagall family from the Dearborns. Scanning its contents she dropped it like a hot coal on the library floor and left it there, unable to look it any longer, though its message was engraved into the back of her eyes.
This particular invitation was not a mark of the esteem his family had once held hers. Lady Dearborn would have sent this out to every pureblood in Britain. She had always expected this to happen someday, but the physical pain seeing the words on paper caused stunned her.
She took off her coat and went to rummage around the kitchen, refusing to think about it any longer. She didn’t care in the slightest what he chose to do with his life. They had been friends once, and were now merely acquaintances. She was indifferent. Far too much had passed for her to have any feeling left for the playmate of her youth. But he might have told her himself.
In a fit of impulsiveness she dared not analyze, she had arranged for a housewife to bring over a full turkey roast, with potatoes, pumpkins and cranberry sauce on Christmas Eve. She noted the matronly woman’s worried stare as she took in the big house, far off the main road and cluttered with peculiar objects, and mustered a reassuring smile from somewhere.
“You’re not alone here, Miss?,” the good woman dared to ask, as she directed her daughter to place the turkey on the kitchen table.
“No, my father will be along shortly,” Min said without thinking, watching the woman’s face clear. She chivvied her children out of the house, departing with a fat bill in her plump paw and leaving Min disturbed by her own folly.
She had pulled decorations out of the cellars and made the house more festive than she had ever seen it, and when she placed the steaming roast between two candelabra in the dining room, she sighed in satisfaction.
It would be a perfect Christmas. If either parent remained with her, of course.
Unable to look any longer at the visible proof of her slipping hold on sanity, Min cast a quick spell to preserve the room as it was and escaped to her bedroom. It was here, after had slipped into her nightgown and was braiding her long hair, that she heard the knock on her door.
For a long minute, Min was paralyzed. Her thoughts whirled, her heart raced. Barely allowing herself to hope, she stumbled out the door, unable to walk in a straight line and holding onto the walls as a guide. She opened the door with trembling fingers, practically aglow with anticipation – and she plunged from the dizzying heights she had soared when she saw before her, not her father, but Caradoc Dearborn.
“What are you doing, Dearborn?” she snapped, swallowing her disappointment.
“Can I come in?” he asked quietly. It was snowing – it would be a white Christmas after all – and his soaked dress robes clung to him wetly. He deserved the cold he would get; he was an idiot to be out in the snow in such thin fabric. Tearing her eyes away from him – when had he grown so tall? She marched inside, leaving him to follow silently. When she pushed open the door to the library and knelt before the remnants of the fire she had lit earlier, he was next to her. She fumbled for her wand, he beat her to it, and the flames which sprang up in the grate were mingled red and green.
“Merry Christmas,” she said, settling on her heels and deliberately ignoring the other significance of the colouring. She still wasn’t sure why she hadn’t slammed the door in his face. She had been sorely tempted. It would have been the easier option. It would have prevented the awkwardness of years of separation that wrapped itself around them like a scratchy blanket. It would have meant Caradoc was not sprawled out on a worn brown rug as if breaking their unwritten code of avoidance was something he did regularly.
“Where’s Ben?” he asked abruptly, breaking the silence. She looked up to find his gaze fixed on hers, and for a moment she lost the ability to think.
“He’s not back yet,” she replied, wrapping her dressing gown more tightly around herself and staring into the flames. It was the truth. He just didn’t realize that Ben might not be back yet by New Year’s, by Easter, by graduation. But he would come home. He had to.
She should throw Caradoc out before he discovered the truth. She should have never let him in. But it was in very room they had spent half their lifetime poring over story and spell books or playing childish games and hiding from chores. To have him beside her felt, despite their adult figures, right. She was eight again, waiting with him for her father to come home and tell them a story.
And the strength of that feeling gave her the courage to form the words she had not yet spoken aloud. The words seemed to speak themselves, breaking the comfortable silence they had managed to share despite everything that had gone before.
“He’s in Germany. Tracking Grindelwald.” There, she had said it. It was real, all too real.
He jumped to his feet in shock.
“Germany!,” he repeated flatly.
“You heard me,” she said as calmly as she could.
“Tell me this is some sick joke and you aren’t alone in this house,”he demanded.
“I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself, Caradoc,” she snapped, getting to her own feet. She was almost tall enough to meet his eyes at level, at the moment; she wished she wasn’t, as they were narrowed furiously.
“Do you have any idea how dangerous this is?” he snarled.
“I’m a pureblood, Caradoc. Maybe I don’t belong to your little Slytherin coterie, but I’m as safe from the blood fanatics as you!”
“Are you insane? Your father is tailing a Merlin-damned Dark wizard, and you think it’s a good idea to make yourself an easy hostage? Why don’t you just write ‘blood traitor’ on your forehead and parade around Vienna?”
“Why do you even care?” she shot back at him.
“I don’t know,” he said more quietly. She blinked, surprised as well as hurt, and he continued as if unable to stop.
“I should hate you. Every attempt I ever made in the last seven years you threw back in my face. Your rebuffed every move I ever made to fix us.”
“I rebuffed you?” she cried, incensed. “You turned your back on me to play pureblood high society with your new pals-”
“I still wanted-”
“I don’t have secret friendships Caradoc. I’m not afraid of what people think!”
“I wasn’t afraid, I was trying to survive, woman!”
“I won’t hide who I am from anybody.”
“Gryffindors and their bloody pride! I never asked you to!”
“Yes you did! You wanted me to pretend we weren’t close in public. For your Slytherin reputation.”
“I was eleven!” he yelled in frustration, actually throwing his hands in the air.
“So was I! What will it be next, that I pretend I don’t associate with Muggleborns?”
“How did we even get onto this? Ben is somewhere in Germany, and we’re fighting over first year!”
“Because we’ve never talked about it,” she screamed, balling her hands into fists.“Caradoc, since school started, despite the fact we have been living in the same castle for over six years, we have never really discussed anything important!”
“I wrote to you for years” he shouted.
“You used letters as another way of avoiding the real problem,” she rasped, realizing anew the truth of her statement. “Writing me letters could never be enough – and never solved anything!”
At last she broke down, the tears she had dammed up for months and years breaking free in a final triumph, racking sobs convulsing her thin body. He had never seen her like this. No one had. She had never been pushed so far, stretched so thin by such unimaginable terrors. He was still not completely dry from the snow, but he moved forward instinctively and wrapped his arms around her.
She was the one crying, but of the two of them, he felt the most vulnerable. His whole life he had felt drawn to her, around her, he didn’t think about who he was or his family name, he just acted. Her head fit perfectly onto his shoulder, he found himself smoothing back her hair, whispering assurances that all would somehow be well, he led her to the nearest sofa and allowed her to cry until she was spent, and lay quiescent in his embrace.
Even when they were children, she had always been his pillar, the strength he relied on, to have that situation reversed was terrifying.
“Cad," she managed, the old childhood nickname bubbling to her lips as if had not been repressed for years.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said gently. "I'm sorry. For everything.”
"Don't you dare feel guilty - it’s not so much you, as Ben, and everything,” she managed. She could still read as many of his thoughts as he could hers, and this, despite everything, gave him hope.
“It’s the first Christmas Mother is gone, and – it’s hard.”
He tightened his grip around her, and she moved her head to rest more comfortably on his shoulder.
‘I’ve ruined your Christmas,” she said, attempting to regain some composure. He chuckled and she could feel his rumbling laughter shake his chest. She instantly split into three people: the Min who was ready to melt into a gooey weak kneed mess, the Minerva who noted that they were yet to resolve any of their problems, and the girl somewhere in between who wanted to run from such intimacy with any living being.
“You’ve made it,” he said sincerely, playing with loose strands of her hair. Min won out over the others and curved her mouth into a slow smile and relaxed.
They sat in the perfectly companionable silence only possible with old and dear friends so in tune with each other that the spoken word is superfluous, each savoring the richness of a moment together for once not marred by strife or hurt. The passage of six years could not be turned back, but they had years ahead of them, of lives to be lived, dreams to be chased, and moments to be cherished. And then Caradoc pressed his lips to her hair and sighed against her head in contentment.
“This is much better than the stuffy pureblood party Mother is throwing.”
She stiffened immediately as his words sank in.
How could she have forgotten?
Minerva took over, breaking free of his hold and forcing them to remember to breathe.
“What’s wrong?” he asked worriedly. He reached out and cupped her face in his hand, forcing her to meet his eyes, she turned away and he let his hand drop.
“Get out,” she said suddenly, sounding bone weary.
Caradoc gaped at her, stunned. “I’m sorry if I offended you – I thought-”
“Just go Caradoc,” she said retreating to the other side of the fireplace. When he didn’t budge, she turned on him, her emerald eyes furious. “Your fiancée will be missing you,” she spat.
Relief broke through him like a wave. “I’m not engaged,” he said firmly. “I’m only seventeen, it’s crazy!”
She shrugged. “So are you, if you think you can get out of it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he demanded, striding over to her and matching her glare for glower.
“I received an invitation earlier. For your ‘stuffy party’. Only your mother has made it sound like an engagement party. As if you're going to announce your bride at the ball."
”What is this, Cinderella?" he asked distractedly, running his hands through his hair. It was getting long, she noticed detachedly.
"What, you read muggle fairytales now? Dearborn, your housemates are going to have something to say about that......"
"Don't call me Dearborn. Not you. And it was you, you stubborn, annoying, messed up wench that made me read it, remember?" he muttered grudgingly, meeting her eyes forcefully.
She had not forgotten - she had not forgotten any of those early golden years, but she had needed him to say the words, to confirm in her mind that they were real, to strengthen the refuge she was clinging to rather than face the ugliness of reality. It had to be faced, though, for it would not go away. She was a Gryffindor, she would look it in the eye. He was not Prince Charming, and she would save herself from the cinders.
"You're changing the topic," she said quietly, and she Summoned the invitation from where it lay, still crumpled on the floor, and tossed it his way. He scanned it for a second and then threw it in the fire. He seized her cold hands and did not allow her to squirm away.
"Minerva, I am of age. I don’t have to get married." He cringed visibly at the word, his lip curling in disgust. She wondered where he had got the scar on his cheek, that was one event she had not been there for. He shook her hands warningly as he felt her attention drift from his words.
"My parents can drop all the hints they can, parade all the eligible matches of this season, or the next, but I will not marry until I am ready. And I’m not ready.”
"Caradoc, it is your duty as the last Dearborn to marry well and ensure another heir. In the war, its natural your parents are trying to hurry it along a little."
"There's nothing natural about it, and I won't be party to it. As you said, I'm the last Dearborn, so it's not as if they could disown or disinherit me," he said arrogantly.
She sighed in frustration and disentangled her calloused hands from his warm grip.
"Cad.. you have never let your parents down. Ever, in your entire life. I certainly doubt you will start now and embarrass them in front of the wizarding world”
“Tell me that I have a reason to,” he said softly, taking another step towards her.
“Doesn’t matter now,” she said, striving for an indifferent tone. “It’s announced in public. You know what you are supposed to do, and it isn’t to be here! It's been long understood - she knows as well as you do that you can’t cry off, and she won’t. She missed out on Orion, she won’t let you get away as well.”
“Why can’t she marry Alphard?” he grumbled, frowning
“Caradoc, just go back to your family, and back to your world. Announce your engagement and let me be!”
“Tell me not to,” he pressed her, looking intently into her eyes, too close for her comfort.
She met his gaze squarely, drained past the point of tears.“You need to make these decisions for yourself, Cad. On your own, and for the sake of your own future. I won’t be the excuse you use, for this, or for anything”
“We don’t have all the time in the world. There is a war.”
“All the more reason for you to grow up” she said, and there was an air of finality in her statement that chilled her, as if it was the omen of some impending doom. He felt it also – she could tell by the way his court mask slipped into place, his eyes become unreadable, even for her, and without another word he turned and swept out of the room, leaving her there, unable even to cry.
His dramatic exit was ruined, however, by his glimpse of the dining room on his way out. As he passed it, he saw it was decorated within an inch of its life, the table set with all its glory; roast, lace tablecloth, candles still burning. Three places set.
The head of the table; where Diana had always been laughingly chivied by her husband, the place on her immediate right, where a happier, brighter Min perched, and the foot of the table, where the Chief Auror mockingly placed himself.
Biting his lip, he took out his wand and before Disapparating performed a single spell.
Thankyou as always to all who reviewed! I own nothing you recognise!
Do let me know what you thought of this chapter - was the romance a bit too soon? You asked for Cad/Min, and you did get it :)
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