Chapter 1 : The Summer Before
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Minerva scribbled hastily, before pausing and looking over the piece of parchment in her hand angrily. She tossed it aside and started again.
Do you remember I told you about Peter?
Then she stopped a second time and allowed her quill to rest on the wood of her desk for a while. She wasn’t sure why she was writing to Francesca, who was so disillusioned from the war that she couldn’t bring herself to care how it ended. Her parents were wizards too and found little need to follow the food and clothing rations that were imposed upon them by their muggle neighbours. Yes, Francesca’s house was the site next to the street’s air raid centre, but now that the skies had fallen silent she used it as a place to practice spells and potions away from the eyes of her parents (even though she was over six months too young). Surely Jane, who lived in the centre of London and had returned home at Easter to find that most of the street had disappeared whilst she’d been at Hogwarts, would understand more how scared Minerva was about the idea of the war imposing itself on her life.
Except the war was further away from her now than it had ever been previously. Her parent’s decision to move from the town and back into the heart of Scotland hadn’t been one she'd agreed with, but she had understood their reasoning enough: the neighbours had now become so hostile towards them that it was impossible for the McGonagall’s to maintain their ordinary lives. The whole street had united against them; insults were yelled after them as they crossed the street and their milk bottles were taken from the doorsteps every morning without fail. These things weren’t particularly inconvenient for the McGonagalls. Both of them were adept enough at magic to source their milk elsewhere, but were beginning to cut through their thick skin and make living in the city uncomfortable.
Of course their neighbours had all the reasons in the world to hate the McGonagalls. Despite Minerva’s insistence they had almost always ignored the black outs and the calls to the air raid centres; they continually seemed to have as much food and new clothes as they desired and, as far as the neighbours were concerned, the McGonagalls had no job. Mr. McGonagall’s excuse for not going to fight was a ‘bad leg’ but his limp seemed to disappear and reappear on a different leg ever so often. Some of the more imaginative neighbours had half convinced themselves that the McGonagalls were spies, after all – they always had been a funny lot.
Minerva herself had always received a better reception from her neighbours, mostly because of her close friendship with the Anderson family. It was due to the Andersons that Minerva was greeted, if not warmly, but without the icy glares and insults by the others from the city. Still, she could hardly call her presence there as welcome but she’d never cared all that much and had been more than happy to spend her summers in the Anderson’s garden, or sitting with Peter in the park. In fact, she lived for those hours in which she sat on the wall outside her house talking with Peter about her world, with the Anderson’s cat weaving itself between her legs.
Last summer had been different. Thinking about it, she could envision herself sitting bent over her muggle wireless, desperately trying to master the muggle technology and receive a signal from one of the radio stations. She’d have it on quiet so that her parents could not hear and listen intently for news of the war; from Russia, France and Bulgaria. When the air raid sirens exploded into life Minerva would black out the windows and reprimand her parents for their use of wand light, she’d slip her own wand into her pocket (although she doubted any magic she could do would have any effect against a muggle bomb, she still felt safer with it at hand) and sternly tell her parents that they should be coming, too. Then, she’d walk down to the Anderson shelter at the Anderson’s (which still never ceased to cause someone to make some joke or other, nearly two years since it had been placed there) and take her seat. She’d inform the others, in the most disapproving manner she could muster, that yet again her parents were refusing to join them.
The Anderson’s themselves had always been the last ones to make it to the shelter, despite having the shortest distance to walk. Jimmy would slip in and sit next to Minerva greeting her with a ‘Hi Minnie’ that would make her face flush because she never could stand such a patronising nickname. He would have, without a doubt, scooped the cat up and brought him down in the shelter too. Mrs. Anderson would tell her son off for being ridiculous and Minerva would cup the cat’s face between her palms and find solace in its warmth.
After she could not hold in the question any longer Minerva would ask how Peter was, asking about Mr. Anderson as an afterthought to be polite – although she was hardly interested in Mr. Anderson at all. Jimmy would then go over the general content of Peter’s last letter before Mrs. Anderson would swoop in with the particular’s until Minerva knew exactly how Peter had signed his last letter and how Mrs. Anderson saw the lack of change in his cursive as a positive sign that being a solider would have no lasting effect on Peter’s wellbeing.
Of course, Mrs Anderson had been wrong about that. After a long tiresome summer of longing for Peter to be home so she could sit and talk to him about Hogwarts some more (because she had told him just after her eleventh birthday that she was a witch, she hadn’t been able to repress the urge for a long length of time), he had returned just as she was moving far away into the depths of Scotland.
Do you remember that I told you he lied about his age so that he could become a soldier in the war? He has been hurt. His leg is badly damaged and he has had to return home again. Despite this, I have only seen him once.
Jimmy had caught her as she had been going out to buy some more milk. He had told her that Peter was home and that she had better come to see him quickly. Minerva had practically begged him to elaborate, but he had shaken his head and led her to the house. Peter was seated inside. It was clear that he’d aged greatly since she’d last seen him, but what she really saw was the expression of pain that was etched across his features. He was ghostly white but seemed to regain life when he saw her figure in the doorway. “Minnie!” He’d exclaimed, and at that moment Minerva couldn’t have cared less whether he decided to call her Minnie or darling or sugarplum (all of which made her cringe internally), because she was so genuinely happy to see him.
Her happiness was not to last however, because Peter’s leg wound sapped most of it away. He reluctantly told her the vague details of the circumstances of his injury, but finished off optimistically by adding that at least they could spend the summer together before she returned to school.
Then the last of her happiness was gone as she admitted that she was being dragged to Scotland by her parents. She thought she would almost have been happier if Peter was still at war but healthy, than hurt and living so far away.
And so they wrote letters. Long, long letters which filled in the missing two years of their friendship. She could only write to him at night when no one would notice her owl flying back and forwards. She became nearly nocturnal, but Minerva didn’t care all that much. Summers were meant for staying up late and not doing anything.
I suppose it is beautiful here in Scotland, but it is also empty and lonely. I will be glad when school starts again soon. I miss you and Jane greatly.
She wasn’t altogether sure if that was true. She was so preoccupied with following the war and filling in the gaps where she’d been held ignorant at Hogwarts, relying only on the back page of the Daily Prophet which sometimes had a column about muggle news. Even then it only concerned itself with the English muggle news, that she’d barely had time to think about her friends. She’d collected newspapers and tried to piece together all of Hitler’s actions with a horrific fascination that she didn’t think she would be able to shake for as long as Peter Anderson was suffering due to the war.
All my love,
She read back over the letter and realised how short it was. Considering the amount of thought there was behind each line she was altogether rather surprised that it had only turned out as half the length of her piece of parchment. She re- read it a second time and decided against sending it. She could almost feel Francesca reading it beside her and reading far too much into every single mention of Peter, and the knowing smile she might give Minerva as if she understood how worried she was about his safety. Anyway, Minerva couldn’t send the letter because her owl still hadn’t returned with Peter’s latest reply, even though dawn was slowly rising over the Scottish hills.
Minerva frowned and took the muggle wireless from underneath her bed once more. She found herself twisting buttons and knobs without reason and being rewarded with nothing but static. She frowned and shook the machine in frustration. She was half tempted to pull her wand out of her pocket and trap the stupid thing, but she was still two months too young.
She gave up eventually. She had only managed to tune into the muggle radio station twice since she arrived here five weeks ago and both times she had merely caught the end of a song before the signal had dwindled to nothing. Minerva was as disinterested in Muggle music as she was in Wizarding music, and had found that even more frustrating than achieving nothing from her efforts.
She walked the half mile to the shop most days to pick up a muggle newspaper and then spent the following hour or so reading every single detail until she knew it by heart, then sometimes she’d try the wireless again or help her mum cook dinner. Then she’d spend the rest of the day wandering around Scotland wishing that time would go faster, or pouring over her school books wishing that she was allowed to do magic and could practice. She could have practiced anywhere she liked now; there was nobody around to watch her except a couple of forlorn sheep and seas of purple heather, and she was sure neither party would be particularly shocked if she fancied practicing some charms or transfiguration (unless she practiced on the sheep, in which case she expected they would probably be very shocked indeed).
The truth was that Minerva was unquestionably bored. Maybe next summer, when she and her friends had learnt to apparate, she’d be able to enjoy the long hot months of freedom and be able to enjoy herself. Normally, she had Peter and Jimmy and the Anderson’s to fill her days, and she’d tell Peter about all the spells she’d learnt and all the magic she’d seen. Peter would tell her about science and the bible and politics. They’d talk for hours sitting on some crumbling city wall, or take pointless walks to the corner shop to buy milk and eggs.
Minerva knew that if her parents hadn’t been so uncooperative about the war, then they might still be there. Things would be different. Long walks would be out of question, but she could sit in the Anderson’s front room and they’d still be able to talk. The frustration of her boredom was gradually turning into resentment towards her parents. If only they had more respect for muggles.
Now, neither of her parents were particularly bothered about blood purity. Her mother was a muggleborn and her father was a half blood, but both had forgotten what it was like to be a muggle and couldn’t be bothered with their way of life. They couldn’t understand just how they managed to live without the convenience of magic and could think of no reason why muggle affairs should have an effect on their own lives.
What annoyed Minerva most was their lack of concern about the war, an indifference that was reflected by most of the witches and wizards she knew. Jane’s parents were both muggles and, out of Minerva’s friends, she was the only one who’d listen when she started off on one of her rants.
The sun was now nearly fully risen and a glance at the bluish collection of clouds told Minerva that it was probably going to rain, although rain was so regular in Scotland that she could usually tell that without even bothering with the glance. Mostly, it rained for at least part of the day every day. It could be beautifully sunny one minute, and raining the next, and Minerva wasn’t quite sure she liked how temperamental Scotland was.
There was a soft tap from the other window which indicated that her owl had decided to hunt before delivering her letter, or else she would have come from the other direction. She sighed and muttered her unenthusiastic disagreement with her owl’s priorities, and pointed out that she could very well hunt whenever she wanted.
“I could get a new owl, you know,” she said as she detached the letter and allowed her owl to rest on her shoulder and nibble at her ear affectionately, “a faster one that delivers my letters immediately. It’s too light to reply now, that’s your fault, you know.”
Her owl hooted in an unapologetic way that made Minerva smile. She supposed one good thing about Scotland was that her owl no longer had to be confined to her cage for a large proportion of the time; instead, she could do whatever she fancied and hunt whenever she felt like it.
Then Minerva ignored her owl completely and began to devour the letter.
Scottish Girl (because you say that you hate Minnie so much and because nowadays you spend the whole year hidden away in Scotland),
I expect that when you come to visit me next summer, you will have a Scottish brogue and you will say ‘och’ after every sentence because you are so very Scottish. I assume that you have taken up wearing tartan immediately and are slowly building up a tartan wardrobe. To help you with this I have included a tartan ribbon so that even your hair can be Scottish.
Minerva picked up the ribbon, running it through her fingers with a smile.
It is a sad business to lose you to Scotland, and as much as I try and envision you running gracefully through fields of heather I still think you would be better off at home. We all miss you. Mother has been asking after you daily (I assume she knows that we are writing to each other) and I told her that you were bored and had started studying your school books for next year to give yourself something to do. She seemed to think it was tragic that a young girl like you should be driven to studying in the summer.
Jimmy saw your owl this morning. He woke up early and came into my room just as I received your last letter, so the delay in writing this letter was from me trying to explain why I had an owl in the room. I hope you don’t mind that I told him the truth, because I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I think he’s still slightly convinced that I’m making fun of him, but he can’t think of any other good reason why I would be getting letters delivered by owls anyway. I think you should probably demonstrate some magic to both of us when you visit next summer to assure us both that this is not some long and elaborate joke (not that I believe that).
The cat has possibly missed you more than anyone. He has been walking up to your house daily and pawing at the letterbox. Jimmy had to break into the house twice to extract him from the kitchen. Mother seems to think this is horribly embarrassing, but everyone else thinks it’s funny.
No, the house hasn’t been sold yet. A few people have looked around but that’s all I know about it. Jimmy has watched all the families who have considered it and said that none of them looked as nice as you, but I don’t think there’s much of a chance of finding someone worthy to replace you here.
We haven’t heard from Dad either, although from my experience that is probably a good thing. Usually I wrote letters home when I was feeling particularly lonely or desperate. When I wrote those letters it felt like I was talking directly to mother and Jimmy. I used to imagine their responses and see their faces in my head. It’s the same with writing letters to you – I’m imagining you’re sitting at my desk (wearing all tartan, of course) and I can almost see your facial expressions. I never understood why people find letters so comforting before now.
You were right when you said I never said much of what it was like to fight. I hope you'll never understand what it’s like to fight in a war, what it’s like to see people die and how it feels to shoot someone. It’s bloodier than I could have imagined. But, Minnie, I don’t really want to think about the war any more than I have to already. Please don’t ask me for the details I know you’re longing for, because the memories already haunt me even though some of the details have blurred in the back of my memory. Those memories don’t need to be sharpened by the retelling, and fleshed out by my words of choice. No, I don’t want to write about the war.
My leg is no better. Dr Barker has come around every morning prodding and poking my flesh as though things are going to change. I am still unable to walk at present and he says that I will probably end up walking with a limp for the rest of my life unless the wound magically heels itself soon –
The word ‘magic’ jarred in Minerva’s head. There was a sudden frightening possibility blooming in the back of her mind. Magic. There were potions that could heal a wounds like Peter’s and spells that could lessen the pain.
What if she could help Peter? What if she could actually do something? Peter was her childhood companion who had filled up her days with pretend games and more conversations than she could count. She remembered sitting on the wall outside her house before her legs were long enough to touch the ground, with the Anderson’s cat purring in her lap, sternly telling Peter off for playing near the railway line. She remembered how excited she had been to come home after her first year of Hogwarts and tell Peter about every single spell she had learnt. She remembered, all too clearly, trying to convince Peter not to join his peers by claiming to be eighteen eight months prematurely so that he could fight, and that mixture of pride, frustration and worry burned at the back of her mind all over again.
She simply could not stand by and let Peter potentially lose his ability to walk when she, herself, could perform magic.
At Hogwarts, she would have access to a whole host of ingredients to brew potions that could heal Peter. Even if she couldn’t manage to brew them herself, there were a countless number of potions stored away in the infirmary. If Peter’s wound was healed, then maybe he could come visit her as soon as Christmas.
It simply meant that Minerva was going to have to do something she really hated doing – she was going to have to break the rules.
New story number 3480987203812901. If anyone wishes to apply for the job to rein me in, feel free to try (although those who have found it futile). This story is written for the Buckbeak4life's impossible challenge and leannemariesnape's depth of Character challenge - both of which required me to right about good ol' Minnie here. That’s my excuse. Its fate. Please don't hate me for my new-story-addiction.
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Edit: this chapter has now been beta'd by the wonderful Miriel :)