This book is the first of a series titled
Before the Beginning. It is set in JK Rowling's magical universe, my favorite off-hours hangout. It could never have seen the light of day without the meticulous and enlightening criticism of Ewan Munro and the gentle encouragement and cogent recommendations of PirateQueen. They are much more than beta readers. They are apt teachers and lovers of the unique Potter world and the craft of writing. Thanks, Ewan, for making me research the setting--Scotland--not only to give readers an accurate picture of Minerva's childhood haunts, but also to make me long to visit the place myself. Thanks, PQ, for reminding me that SQ is still the most nurturing place to 'publish'.
"Score!" The pitch erupted in cheers. And curses.
"Barley! Try that again, lass, and I'll have to hurt you!"
"Cork your hole, MacMillstone, you haven't stopped a Quaffle all day."
Dugald MacMillan’s face turned a brilliant Fwooper pink. The scorer stuck out her tongue at him and made off around the edge of their makeshift pitch, a gorsy glen ringed by pine forest, whooping and punching the air on a broomstick that matched her own slender frame. It was a muggy July afternoon, so her triumphal fly-over served to both cool her off and mock the competition. As soon as she was as far from the goal as it was possible to get without leaving the playing area altogether, the big Keeper made his move. No sense giving the wench an advantage. She’d already scored three times.
"Man your sweeps. Here it comes!"
Dugald hurled a scabby leather ball out into a scrum of kids of all ages, shapes and weights. They rode everything from the latest in Cleansweeps to an antique Moontrimmer held together with Spellotape. They battled fiercely for possession, blagging and blurting, cobbing with elbows, kicking out with dusty bare feet, clawing with dirty, eager fingernails. This was free-for-all Quidditch, Highlands style. Every kid his own team, every score a singular super-human effort of one against many, though only one of them had penetrated the goal today—the sassy waif on the withy-wand broomstick.
The ball bounced from hand to eager hand, but no one could gain more than a few seconds’ control. Suddenly a blur of motion on that impossibly slender broom collided with the scrum, blasted it apart and came up with the contested Quaffle. Kids shouted, whined, cursed the interloper. Only the quickest eyes could pick out her features: wiry frame, intense brown eyes, short dark hair, pert freckled nose, mouth set, but they all knew who it was without looking.
"Nerva, you Quaff-hog!"
"Get your own ball, McGonagall!"
The dark-haired urchin grinned and brandished her prize. Steering with knees alone, she turned and raced back to the far end of the glen. Her ploy drew the pack away from the goal. Just short of the forest wall, she did a vertical loop, passed all her pursuers, and roared back towards the burly red-head guarding the goal. He outweighed her by some three stone, and came at her, arms flailing and ululating a war cry that would have stopped a Viking invasion.
They met about ten yards from the goal. She’d aimed the head of her stick at his privates in the time-honored Celtic tradition, but he managed to sweep it aside with one meaty paw and grab her about the midriff with the other. Her speed being thrice his, their combined momentum spun them crazily towards the goal. At the last second Dugald realized that the enemy still had the Quaffle and that she would carry it, and him, into the great basket of knotgrass netting which was their makeshift goal.
More cheering and cursing, and now laughter, as the other kids found the pair trussed up together in the netting hardly able to move—but hissing and spitting like a pair of kneazles in a trap.
“Gerroff me, Dugald! I’ll tell my Da you groped me!”
“I never touched you, you scrawny wench!”
The other fliers bore down on them now with hearty hoots and guffaws.
“Lookit, Dugald’s got a girlfriend!”
“When’s the wedding, sweet face?”
“Look out, fellas, Minerva’s getting’ all red.”
“Maybe she’s gonna blub.”
“Naw, naw she’s just blooshing.”
“Arr, the blooshing bride.”
“Am not! You’re all just mad because the score’s McGonagall, four, the rest of you ninnies, nil.”
“Isn’t four. That last score didna count. No one but the Keeper’s allowed in the goal. That’s haversacking, that is.”
“It was never my fault. Dugald carried me in, the great lug!”
“Your stick was aiming fer my crotch. I had to defend myself.”
But the argument didn’t last long. It was coming on towards evening. Only time enough for a few more good scrums. But they needed to rescue the Quaffle, which was caught in the mess as well. Oh yes, and release the wench and their Keeper.
“Anyone know a good charm for this?” asked a chubby boy with long blond locks, spawn of the local thane by his display of the Macnair tartan and his state-of-the-art Comet 160.
“I could cut it but I canna get at my knife,” This from Dugald, who was thrashing about trying to reach his sporran. It had shifted round in the affray and was now squashed neatly between a goal post and his left buttock.
“Over my bed doddy!” cried Giggie Gwynn.
“What’d she say?”
“She means ‘dead body’, Raymie.”
“Oh. Right. Well then, over my dead body too!”
That sentiment was echoed all around. It was bad enough having to play Quidditch with an uncharmed Quaffle. They didn’t want to damage the net that they’d labored so hard on--the net that kept the ball from getting lost in the forest. Nobody in their right mind would want to hunt for it down there it with the Devil’s Snare and Creeping Coldwort rampant in the undergrowth.
“Petey, if you’re going to be showing off your charm-work, will you kindly start by Stunning this great oaf?” roared Minerva McGonagall in a voice twice her size. “He’s squirming about like a Re’em in rut. Every time he moves, he makes things worse.”
“I’d rather Stun you, lass, then I could have my way with you,” teased Petey Macnair,who had drawn his wand and was stroking it lightly.
“If I had my own wand, and I soon will, I’d make you eat those words, FAT-HAIR!!”
Now there was a flash of light which left everybody blinded for a few seconds, and something slipped through the netting and dropped to the ground. It was Minerva. Later, kids would argue that her screeching desperation had detonated a spate of wandless magic, which loosened her bonds enough to free her.
She reclaimed her sweep and flew up to the net to take stock of the situation. “Hmmm-- if we could just take this monstrous weight”—she indicated Dugald—“off the netting, we’d be able to fix it easily.”
“No problem,” said Petey, taking stage. “Wingardium leviosa!”
Dugald was now floating gravity-free in the netting. If any of the kids had had experience outside of the Magicosm, which, except for Petey, they didn’t, they’d have realized he looked like a great Muggle balloon, tethered and wallowing about in the updraft.
The wench was right. Petey’s Levitation Charm took the tension off the netting. Now it was easy to see what needed to be done. Several of the larger kids grabbed the edges and shook gently. Soon the Quaffle was released. Then others moved in and repaired some minor holes caused in the collision. But presently the spell wore off and Dugald came down in a patch of thistle and gorse.
His plight went unnoticed, as Raymie Sykes halted everyone and pointed west into the sun. “In the distance there, see? A great black creature. And it’s flying this way.”
His discovery inspired thrilled speculation. Was it not very like a Hebridean Black—the type of dragon that had carried off two Macnair hunting hounds last spring and scared the liver’n lights out of a beach full of Muggles at Ilfracombe only a few years before?
“Gwennog McFusty’s bung-full again,” opined Magnus MacDonald, flying up the tree line to get a better look. He was referring to the hard-drinking matriarch of clan McFusty, which had from time out of mind taken responsibility for keeping the Blacks in check. “But I ken the Ilfracombe dragon was a Welsh Green.”
Regardless of its ilk, most were now sure that the flapping hulk was indeed a dragon of some sort. Boys swooped up and down the glen, scouring for rocks and sticks to fend it off with. The smaller children started scouting out hiding places, and little Angus Flynt took off east for home, crying. Magnus and Petey got out their wands and pointed experimentally at the monster, gauging the distance.
“Reckon I could Stun it when it gets a bit closer,” boasted Petey with his usual exuberance. He was one of the few to master this charm in First Year Defensive, and he was eager to show it off to the younger kids, especially the McGonagall hag.
“Needs more than one Stunner to take it down,” grunted Magnus. “Professor Cavallo was pretty clear about that in Creature Care last year. And the bigger the drake, the more the firepower needed. Anyway, you know we’re not allowed. I’ll be surprised if you don’t get into trouble for doing that Lifting Charm on Dugald.”
“Don’t worry about that. One word from my dad and the Ministry looks the other way. Anyway, this is an emergency. They’ll be mighty grateful for us chasing off a rogue drake for them. We’ll probably get a medal.”
"Hold on there, you eejits,” yelled Dugald, who had finally gotten himself de-thistled and had flown up next to them. “That’s too small for even a wyvern. Looks more like Goodie Gudgeon, McGonagall’s nanny. She always flaps like that when she rides. Got no sense of balance, that one."
"Wheesht, MacMillstone!” Minerva was on the ground comforting some of the smaller children, among them Dugald’s sister Rhona, but she had an ear on their conversation. She flew up to them. “Don’t talk like that about my nursie. She’s just old is all. Time was, she could fly rings around the likes of you.” She waved her arms at the approaching figure. “What say, Gudgieeeeeeee?" she called.
The ‘dragon’ came within shouting distance, and was now seen to be no threat of any sort, just a fat old witch, clinging to a household broom she might have charmed herself in the need of the moment. "Lett--letter cam for ye, lass. Yer faither wants ye hame--swith!"
Cheers and jeers.
"Great game, Nerves! See you tomorrow."
"Ball hog's going home. Now we can play."
"Crate your choppers, Sykes,” Dugald growled. “You couldn't score if you had the Quaffle and four arms-- and the rest of us Stunned. You should get Jockie to play for you."
"Leave my sister out of it! And what about you, you great greasy git? You can't even block the bloody ball!"
Giggie Gwynn shouted over their argument: "'Bye, 'Nerva, hope it’s goon dews about your ma.”
"Thanks, Gig. 'Bye all. See you tomorrow." Minerva redirected her broom, again with knees alone, and shot into the sunset, leaving her aged nurse clutching her shawl and rocking breathlessly in her wake.