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2. A WEDDINGMr. and Mrs. Dugald Donaldbane Macmillan.
She laid a gentle hand on his arm. "You're sure you're wanting to do this now?"
"What? Of course I do." Dug chuckled and dropped his voice. "Let me go now, dearie, er the lads'll think me a slunken jo."
Minerva gave him a rough buss on the cheek and moved out of his way, melting into the crowd who had come to the Keep to watch. Hoots and guffaws erupted from the young men about her.
Of course, she wasn't worried, not much anyway. After the fire, Dugald had come back stronger than ever. Now he looked fit indeed in the morning mist, clad only in a kilt and sturdy boots. He shouldered a basket of stones on his broad shoulders, pointed his wand at another, and Levitated it over his head. Then he turned his back on them all and stumped, head high, down the path towards the village.
The 'creeling of the bridegroom,' as it was called, was originally a Muggle tradition. It allowed a man to demonstrate to his intended's kin that he was capable of bearing the heavy responsibilities of home and family. With one slight modification, it served the same purpose for Scots wizards.
Dugald would have to circle the glen keeping both baskets aloft, one by magic, the other by main force, as villagers lined the route, their Crups and doggies barking, their Kneazles and cats twining themselves about his feet. Then he would return to the Keep hoping for a welcoming kiss and a pint. If his dearie came out to greet him, he could stop then and there; if not, he would make the trek again and again until she appeared.
It was part of the tradition that family and friends should attempt to keep the bride inside by main force at least the first time round, to make the poor young man suffer a second circuit of the village, but Minerva was having none of it. As soon as Dug was out of sight, she pulled out her own wand and fixed the rowdy throng with her trademark beady-eyed stare, daring any of them to lay so much as a Jelly-Legs on her. Then she invited them all inside for refreshments.
An hour later, Magnus MacDonald came dashing into the parlor from his post in the northwest tower and proclaimed, "Minerva, yer lord and master approacheth." She dashed out before anyone could think to Bind her and met him at the bottom of the steps, a glass of Brose in her hand, a flame in her eye.
He looked as if he'd hardly broken a sweat, although the day was muggy. She murmured with a hint of a smile, "If I'd known it was going to be so easy for you, I might have let you take a few more turns."
"I wouldna mind it," he answered, "except that I'd have to wait the longer to see that dimple." With that he heaved up the basket he was carrying. It collided with the one he had Levitated, and the rocks all started to fall. She trusted his power so staunchly that she did not even think to take out her wand as he pulled her close and conjured a standard Shield over them. The rocks crashed harmlessly off it as he gave her a lingering kiss. He felt both solid and importunate, and she gave in readily.
Their friends, who had stayed on the steps to avoid the rockfall, now swarmed about them, cheering. Then they all went back into the Keep to continue their celebration of the love of Minerva and Dug, who, as the article on The Owl society page had proclaimed only that morning, would soon have the honor to be called:
There was no 'bridal shower' planned, as the two would not be setting up a household for some years to come. Dug was determined to live in the Australian outback, learning the ways of the Aurors, those zealots of magical protection, and, in two years, would be back permanently to settle down with his 'Missus'. For now, Minerva would take a job in London, save her Galleons, and tryst with him when and where she could. In lieu of gifts, guests were urged to make contributions to the couple's Gringotts account, and these were many and generous.
She did receive one anonymous present by owl post, the day after the creeling. It was a book--about cats, oddly enough--and the giver had inscribed on the flyleaf:
To one so feline in beauty, agility, curiosity, and intelligence.
From an admirer.
She did not show it to Dug. The hint of ardor in the dedication, and the fact that the giver did not leave a name, would surely start the wheels of suspicion turning in his brain. She remembered how he had reacted to that late-night meeting she once had with Professor Dumbledore.... Yes, she would not even mention it. It would, in fact, be best not to include it in their household belongings. She would leave it in her father's library at Connghaill.
But she would be daft not to enjoy its contents. After all, there was so much she didn't know about her Creature. So she took it to bed that night and read herself to sleep with stories of cats through the ages, from their being honored as gods in Egypt to their value as exterminators, par excellence, to their persecution by medieval witch hunters. As she dropped off, she found herself wondering if the gift might have come from someone on the Animagus Panel. Perhaps that young man--what was his name? But it was likely just coincidence; Her 'admirer' might not know of her secret side at all....
The next morning, Goodie Gudgeon, her old nanny and current Keeper of the Keys at Connghaill, met her at breakfast in some agitation. The family solicitor, an ancient, respected warlock named Crone, was in the parlor waiting for her on an urgent matter. Fearing some catastrophe, Minerva hurried to meet him and left her favorite porridge and 'toad in the hole' to congeal on the kitchen table.
When she saw his wizened brown face, she remembered him. He hadn't changed a whit from the times he visited her father in his study. Once he'd patted her on the head and given her a sweet as her father sent her out of the room. She had not seen him in many years.
They sat. He declined an offer of refreshment and got right to the point. He had long since retired from the practice of law, but, having read in The Owl of her impending nuptials, he realized that a most important part of Minerva's heritage had never been explained to her.
"You see," he said apologetically, "the item said that you would be Mrs. Macmillan... and that you would be taking up residence in London. Well, I had to ask... it is... well, was... my duty, you know. I mean, perhaps the clerk got it wrong. They do, so often...."
"No, the article was quite correct. That is my husband-to-be's name." Her voice rose. This old gnome was starting to worry her. "Is there something wrong with my marrying Dugald?"
"No, not at all. It is not your choice of a spouse that is the problem. I mean your father, the Laird should have told you... and he would have, no doubt, had it not been for his untimely demise... that is... I'm sorry... this is rather difficult... I should have known... should have come to you... sooner...but it was not my place...."
Minerva curbed her impatience. Why could old people never come to the point? But at least he wasn't here to tell her that the marriage could not be allowed. Not that she would have listened to such nonsense anyway. "Please, Archmagus Crone," she trilled as politely as she could manage, "what was it my father should have told me?"
"Have you ever visited the Crypt of your ancestors, Lady McGonagall?" he quavered.
She frowned at that pompous term of address, but let it pass. "Aye. it was there I received my wand."
He nodded. "Do you remember seeing a stone stela at its center?"
"Aye." Minerva remembered it, a squared column of polished, black obsidian that stretched to the top of the cavern and dominated it. She and her father had found her friend Petey Macnair curled about its base once, frightened half to death by the ghost of Auld Fearghas. "How is that important?"
"There is a charm carved into that stela, cast by your ancestor, Fearghas mac Bearach sech clenni Conn’ghaill."
Minerva looked at him sharply. She had seen the stela very close up. "But there's nothing on it, I'm sure," she opined. "It's smooth as the surface of Loch Tay on a summer's morn."
"Only a witch or wizard who has been educated to read the runes may perceive them."
"Oh. What kind of charm is it?"
"It is a Beneficence Charm. It protects the fiefdom of Connghaill from harm."
"Well, that's a good thing, isn't it?"
"Yes and no. It protects--so long as a McGonagall mage holds the reins of power."
"My office has guided many generations of clan McGonagall in legal matters. Though I handed the practice over to my son Rory after your father died, I assure you--I know your family history by heart, Lady McGonagall. In studying that history, I have come to believe that this particular charm is greatly enhanced, if not sustained outright, by primogeniture.
"Primo--what is that?"
"The right and duty of a Scots wizard to pass his property on to his first-born wizard son, and, if there are no male heirs, to the oldest surviving daughter-witch."
"Does that mean... I have to take on the lairdship?"
"It is an important question. Let me say that in your family's history, every time a person who is not in direct line for the inheritance takes over, the fief suffers."
"In what way?"
"Fire, famine, pestilence...."
"Yes, in the time of the fourth laird, when an interloper seized the property and slaughtered as many of the family as he could find, the land simple closed itself up and refused to yield anything but thistles and scrub. The udders of the kye dried up; the sheep and goats died. Stands of healthy trees withered down to their very roots. it's all there, in the annals of clan McGonagall."
Minerva sat stunned.
"When do I have to take over?"
"On your majority."
"The day I turn seventeen?"
"But that's been over a year ago."
"Really? Are you sure? Dear me, I must have counted wrong."
"And nothing bad's happened to Connghaill as yet."
He thought a moment. "Your Aunt Donald runs the estate for you, does she not?"
"Do you visit the farm regularly?"
"Every holiday. And I've always come home over the summer--except for my second year."
"Perhaps that is sufficient. But I still think you should be named to the Lairdship officially. And proclaim your aunt the official steward. Yes, there is precedent for that. The sixth laird became quite mad in his old age--they say he took Billiwig stings like snuff--and his younger sister ran the place for him. But you'll have to keep the name McGonagall."
"The charm very specifically states that its power comes through the McGonagall name. Yes, you can't ever be a Macmillan, I'm afraid."
"But I can marry Dug."
"Yes, of course."
"What about my children?"
"If you wish one of them to inherit the estate, they will have to have 'McGonagall' in their names."
"I don't know what my intended will say to that."
"Shall I tell him for you?"
"Certainly not!" she snapped, then softened immediately as she saw alarm whiten the old warlock's face. She stood up. "I thank you so much for your timely information, Magus Crone," she crooned.
"I am only doing my duty, Lady McGonagall, and am happy to serve you." He rose and took her hand, bowing over it. For a horrified moment, she thought he might kiss it, but he only gave it a little pat.
She walked him out the parlor the door. "Will you be able to come to the wedding?" she asked to make conversation.
"I hope so. Ahem, I didn't see in the article on your wedding any mention of Laird Macnair."
"Heavens no. Why should you expect to?"
"It's customary for the current Wizard Thane to perform the marriage ceremony--for the upper classes at least. And families like it to be known--for the--erm--prestige."
"Not this family," she muttered.
"Aren't ypou afraid it might offend him?"
"He and Lady Macnair are invited to the wedding. That should be enough for them," Minerva said flatly.
The old solicitor 'tsked' at that. "I'm not sure it will be."
"Why do you say that?"
"That person I told you about earlier, the interloper who killed the fourth Laird of Connghaill and tried to destroy his family?"
"What about him?"
"He was a Macnair."
"Yes, Duncan Macnair's great-great-great-great grandfather. As such, I'd be wary of getting on his bad side."
Minerva 'humphed' at that, but not until after she saw the old fellow out. His visit clarified things quite a bit, but now she had to break the news to Dugald that she couldn't become Minerva Macmillan. She wondered how he'd feel being married to 'Lady' McGonagall. She didn't know what he'd say to that. But at least she wouldn't have to rule the estate. Such an arrangement would have been quite ridiculous and impractical in the extreme. She did not have the expertise and love of the land that Donnie did and could not even think of ending her aunt's stewardship.
That very day, she went to Dugald and told him she needed to maintain the McGonagall name in order to ensure that the land would continue under Auld Fearghas' powerful protection. She thought that he would object, but, after taking time to study the clan annals and wizarding laws pertinent to the matter, readily supplied by Archmagus Crone, he gave it as his opinion, that, not only was it their duty to ensure the estate's continued magical protection, but also, if a child of theirs should ever wish to take up the reins at Connghaill, the legalities would be more readily accommodated if he or she was already officially a "McGonagall."
"I wouldn't want to deprive my son or daughter of that great honor," he admitted.
Minerva was touched by his humility, and was going to say so, but then, he added,"But don't think I'll be callin' you "Lady McGonagall, my girl--at least not in public."
She grinned at that, though she still wished she could share his name. She pressed the solicitor about the possibilities, and he admitted, at the last, that he could see no harm in her adding a hyphen to her current surname.
So it was decided that Minerva and Dug both would take "Macmillan-McGonagall" as their last name, and Minerva would continue to visit the Keep once a year in order to keep her great ancestor's blessing intact.
The wedding was thoroughly traditional. In the morning, Minerva and her mother visited her father's tomb and laid a raft of roses there. At noon, the bride was dressed by her friends, Giggie Crouch and Suze Yorke, in a long, cream satin gown. It was Gig's creation: scoop-necked, with lightly padded shoulders, long-sleeved and form-fitting down to the hips, then flaring out smoothly to the floor with no pleats or plackets. Her short veil was studded with tiny hand-made red rosettes. Dugald, of course, wore full-dress kilt and plaid, the red and gold of the Macmillan sett, a brooch of beaten pewter, anchoring his sash. It was a gift of his new mother-in-law, a replica of one her husband gave her on their wedding day. It contained the motto of her great ancestor, William the Liberator: Pro Libertate, augmented with the words …et Amore. "For liberty and love."
They met Dug's parents and Minerva's mother and her aunt Donnie at the entrance to the Keep courtyard where the ceremony was to take place. Under the beech tree, they said their vows in Gaelic before their closest friends and kin, then joined other friends: teachers, schoolmates, farm hands, and all the glen it seemed, in the magically expanded Great Hall for dining, drinking, and dancing into the night to the tune of fiddle and whistle and the insistent rhythm of the bodhran.
The whereabouts of their bed chamber was a closely kept secret between Minerva and Goodie Gudgeon. The old housekeeper was failing in some respects, but she knew the kinds of mischief a newly wedded couple's Brose-besotted friends could perpetrate if they had an idea of where the two would be sharing their first intimacies.
They selected a long-abandoned shepherd's cottage in the mountains, not far from the Connghaill Crypt, and Goodie prepared it with all her knowledge of the ancient traditions of Druidic lore, if not memories of her own wedding night, which were mostly hidden now in the mists of old age. She thought to expand it, but Minerva said she preferred it small, and only spent a little time protecting the walls and roof against wind and water. "A Silencio wud be a guid thing tae ha," grumbled her nurse, but Minerva disagreed. Whatever happened in the cottage that night, she wanted all the spirits of the air to wake and glow at the sound of it.
Late in the evening, a ring dance led by the bride and her father-in-law formed the men and women into two concentric circles. Couples danced a set series of steps, then each woman advanced one man to the left so that everyone got to dance with everyone else. After about ten minutes, however, the circle was broken as the groom entered, dressed in traveling clothes. He seized his girl like a highwayman, encircled her in a thick cloak of Macmillan plaid, lifted her into his arms, and carried her to a broom waiting outside on the steps of the Keep. Everyone else pretended shock and rushed out after them, wands raised in mock defense.
Raymie Sykes and some of the other lads Accio-ed their own brooms to follow them and do a little mischief, but found Magnus and Robbie MacDonald's wands in their faces. So they laughed it off and joined the crowd shooting green sparks of well-wishing after the newlyweds, then returned to the Great Hall for more toasting and bawdy stories.
"Bank left, dearie, and follow the Bull and the Maiden," Minerva murmured into her spouse's collar. She was clinging to his waist because she was a wee bit tipsy from the evening's toasts which required answer with a healthy gulp of whatever alcoholic beverage happened to be nearest. Her family and friends were generous in their well-wishing and her husband's prone to excessive praise. After she'd heard for the dozenth time how lucky she was to have Dugald for a mate, she'd started wishing for a corner she could curl up in.
Now they were almost home—their first together, and for too short a time, as he'd be leaving in a scant three days. She'd thought a long time about this night, what it would be like and had received no end of advice from her dorm mates, especially Suze, not to mention hints at the personal experiences of Gig, Goodie, her aunt Gerry, and, of all people, Belda Filch, the foreman's wife. This knowledge proved contradictory and bewildering, and, on the day before the wedding, when she saw her mother coming towards her with a knowing look in her eye, she cringed inwardly.
Her advice proved the best, however, as it was no advice at all.
"Are you afraid?" was all she had asked.
"No, but curious and—well, yes, I am afraid, a little."
"I want it to be just right… "
"And he does too."
"… but I've no experience to go by."
'You'll find your way together, as you have in other things."
"Ma! This isn't some prefects' meeting we're talking about."
"I'm sorry. You were expecting perhaps a manual?"
"Of course not. You're right. Erm… does it hurt? The first time?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Something I read… "
"Not if you go about it in the right way. You know Dugald. He won't force you to do anything you're not ready for. Think of it as the first of many adventures with your lover and friend, no one of which will succeed perfectly, but in all of which you can expect to learn a great deal about each other."
"Oh. Anything else?"
"Go slowly--if that's possible. Enjoy the setbacks as well as the triumphs. And don't neglect to see the humor in each."
He guided their sweep to the door of the cottage. It looked mysterious in the starlight, rustic and unpretentious—but, somehow, threatening as well.
"Och, I dinna remember this place," he said as he helped her to stand.
"It hasn't been used in a long time. But it's clean and comfy inside."
"Feels like home," he mumbled as he Alohomora-ed the door.
She commanded the lanterns to light themselves, the window over the dry sink to swing ajar, and a small turf fire to start in the hearth. There was just enough light to see a table for two, cupboards, a sofa and a door to the bed chamber. They busied themselves unpacking, and Dugald went into the other room.
"A feather bed. I'm impressed."
"Aye, Goodie plucked the birds herself. Nothin's too good for her bairnie girl."
"I'm not tired yet."
"Me neither," Minerva lied. "Are you hungry?"
"M-m-m, just a little."
"She brought out some butter and bread, fruit, small ale, and a haggis she'd made the day before. "I can heat it over the fire," she offered.
"I'll take it cold," he said, sitting at the table. "Would ye join me—wife?"
"I'm not hungry actually." She remembered she was still wearing her wedding dress. "I think I'd better change."
He looked at her. "You're beautiful, you know."
"Aye, any dress by Madam Gillian would make a girl look nice."
"Naw, I mean, all the time." He reached for her hand and drew her to him.
She pushed a lock of his hair out off his forehead. "Eat your supper, husband. I'll be decent in a few ticks."
"He murmured something as he took a bite of bread. she thought it sounded like, "Not too decent, I hope."
Alone in the bed chamber, she removed her dress carefully and wiped off the lipstick and rouge Gig had applied to her face, expertly—if a little over-generously. She looked at herself in her shift in the cheval glass Goodie had Accio-ed from her room at the Keep. She was not pretty, never had been, but her face was pleasant, though a bit too long, and her figure just rounded enough in what Raymie Sykes called 'the right places'.
She sank down on the bed. She felt exhausted now, with drink and dancing and spent euphoria, and a little uneasy. What was it, eating away at the back of her mind? That cat book… Last night, excited and unable to sleep, she had read the final chapters. One was on the sexual proclivities of the feline race. A graphic description of the way a male cat impregnated a female had left her shocked and disgusted. It said that the male organ was studded with barbs, so that when it pulled out of the female, it made her howl in agony. Pain was supposed to induce ovulation, and a female could have kittens by any number of males in one litter, depending on how many managed to mount her.
She collapsed onto a pillow and drew her feet up to her stomach. She was too tired to fight sleep, and her human side receded into a drunken dream. Images of toms pursuing a lone female in heat invaded her brain and raced about it. She felt claws at her back, a furry, sweating form clinging to her, soft tissues nudged apart. Pain, stabbing pain inside her. And some viscous moisture—blood, she thought, running down her legs. She felt suddenly sick to her stomach, as the Change came over her.
She padded softly to the other door, and smelled human smells behind it, a strong male smell. She scrabbled back to the bed and hid under it, in the darkest corner, waiting.
The human entered; he was so very large, his feet made the flooring shudder. He spoke.
"Dearie, where are you?"
There was a catch in the voice, fear, or anger. She watched the heavy boots move around the bed, heard closet and cupboard doors open and shut, and a whiff of fresh air from the small window high in the wall. He sat down on the bed, and it creaked under his weight. She felt a thrill of fear. He was huge; he could crush her, beast-like, if he caught her.
Now she saw his head hanging upside-down in the crevice between frame and floor; he was looking straight at her.
"Minerva? Is that you? You've Changed. Why—"
He reached his hand under the bed. It looked like a snake, stalking, darting at her eyes. She batted at it with an open paw, drawing blood. The hand withdrew.
"Damn, that hurts! What are you about, you little—"
She ran for the door, scrambled up onto the dry sink, leaped onto the sill and out the open window.
She bounded up the mountain slope, fur riffling in the breeze created by her lightning speed. She was free now, and safe, but to do what? She was not hungry, not yet. She came to the crest of the rise and slowed to a trot as she stared down the other side, sniffing the air. There were no signs of predators or prey, just the usual furzy and heathery perfumes. Off to her left was a copse of low-hanging trees. She made for this, to hide herself in yet deeper shadows of this dark night, lit only by stars. Overhead there came the cry of a bird, an owl perhaps, trolling for its supper. She had learned in past nightly forays that their eyes were not particularly keen, but their hearing was remarkable. She stopped and huddled down in the grass. She was not small herself, but she had once observed a cony larger than her, snatched up by an erne from the sea. She restrained herself from licking a paw, whose fur felt slightly askew, and sat perfectly still, with only her ears pricking and swiveling above the grass.
Whack! Something hit her between the shoulder blades and sent her sprawling. She started to run downslope, forgetting the welcoming dark of the copse. Something was beating the air directly above her, drawing closer, closer until sharp claws alit, bit, and held to the rippling muscles of her back. In self-defense, she rolled over, claws out, raking the air, sending up a cloud of grass and midges. A bird it was—though too small for an owl or eagle. It did not come at her again, but hovered overhead, cawing and keening, its beating wings holding it in an unnatural, upright posture. It had a curved beak and huge black eyes.
Now, scrabbling about on her back, she rolled over a rocky outcrop and found herself wedged between a pair of scissor-like stones. She was caught, but good. She lashed and rowled, trying to wriggle free, but to no avail. The last thing she remembered before going limp with exhaustion was the bird diving at her eyes, and one last swipe of her paw to its mottled chest…