An August sun was setting over Diagon Alley. The crowds bustling along with their shopping were illuminated by the glows reflecting from shop windows and the Gringotts facade; they seemed like ghostly statues of pure gold. Children were yelling, teenagers laughing, mothers arguing and fathers admonishing as families waded through the street, all buying their supplies for another year at Hogwarts.
Under a broad umbrella, quite sheltered from the crowds and the sunrays, two women were eating ice cream. One, thin and wiry, hair pulled back in a tight bun, was spooning up Ginger Spice Ice Cream and Combined Citrus Creation quickly and efficiently. Minerva McGonagall hated it when different ice cream flavors ran into each other, creating an indefinable mix of flavors, unsatisfying in both taste and texture. No, she ate her ice cream briskly and effectively, a spoonful of Ginger Spice, tangy and creamy, and another of Citrus Creation, sour, alert, refreshing.
Next to her, her best friend was taking her time to savor the combination of Caramel Nut Praline Delight and Original Belgian Chocolate. Thick, heavy slabs of dark chocolate ice cream, with the occasional swirl of caramel tickling the tongue, the nutty sweetness of caramel and hazelnuts, juxtaposed exquisitely with the tart rich taste of dark chocolate. Amelia Bones liked her ice cream like this: rich, definite favors complementing each other to broaden the taste, all flavors taken into consideration to blend to the perfect final product.
For awhile, they sat in silence, banqueting upon their respective flavors, each knowing the other’s tastes and quirks too well to take real note of them. Amelia, a trace of caramel dangling from the corner of her mouth, leaned back, smiling.
“Ah,” she said, softly. “I think I’ll miss this.”
“What on earth are you talking about? Florian isn’t closing the shop, I should think you could come here in every lunch break if you wanted to,” Minerva responded, dabbing at her lips with a cloth.
“No, that’s not what I mean. I liked going to lunch with you, ‘Nerva. I liked not having to say anything.”
They had, indeed, been spending the lunch hours of the past three years together, meeting in the Ministry Lobby, and popping over to Diagon Alley for shepherd’s pie at the Leaky Cauldron, a salad from Flora’s Magical Market Garden, sandwiches from the bakery next to Madam Malkin’s, or, of course, Florian’s ice cream. It had been a ritual, something they looked forward to as Amelia battled paperwork as newly appointed member of the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol, and Minerva tried to see the amusing side to working in the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad.
“Well,” Minerva remarked dryly, “I must be quite the conversationalist, then- I never knew.”
“You know what I mean.”
She did. She knew perfectly well what Amelia meant: the comforting silence of two people who understand each other wordlessly, who sit on a bench sharing a bag of curry-fried chickpeas from Eyelops’, never speaking, and yet feeling like they had the best conversation in the world. She, too, would miss these long, wordless dialogues, these islands of comfortable lack of conversation in midst of a world where people used their vocal cords far too often.
“I can’t believe you’re going back to Hogwarts. We were so glad to be gone, remember?”
Amelia sighed reminiscently. Two young girls, with legs too long for them to handle, stepping off Platform Nine and three-quarters, embracing the knowledge they were off, free, fully qualified witches with the freedom to do whatever they wanted to.
“You were glad.” Minerva reminded her sternly, frowning as she scooped up the last speck of Ginger Spice. “I was…a bit terrified. And I miss it. I’ve missed all these years, the castle and the lake, and the portraits, and Quidditch, and…”
“…Albus Dumbledore, of course,” Amelia finished the sentence for her, eyebrows raised in question. “Minerva I swore to myself I wouldn’t ask this, but…” She let her voice trail away, trusting they knew each other well enough to let the question remain silent.
“It’s not like that, Amelia. I know he’s about a hundred years older than me, and I promise you I have never seen him…romantically. If truth be told, I hardly see him as man: I see him as a figure. I look at Albus Dumbledore and I see all that is still good and brave and honest in this world, all in him. And all I ever wanted to do with my life was to serve what was honest, and brave, and good, you know that. So my place is at his side, not for who he is, but for what he stands for.”
“My feisty, fighting Gryffindor,” Amelia smiled.
“You’re as much a Gryffindor as I am!”
“No, ‘Nerva, never as much as you were. You lived and breathed in Scarlet and Gold, whereas I…”
“…whereas you have found yourself a new house,” Minerva smiled wryly, gesturing towards the Leaky Cauldron, the outside world, the Ministry.
“You could have made it there, you know.”
“Yes, perhaps. But I would have suffocated,” she said simply. “At Hogwarts, I could always breathe freely.” Two young girls, with legs long enough to reach the water, throwing rocks into the lake, taking in deep gusts of clean, living mountain air, dreaming of a future.
“They’re going to love you,” Amelia said. Suddenly, she was laughing. “They’re going to love you, and you’re going to love them, each of those pubescent, ungrateful brats: you’re going to love them. And they’re going to love their ridiculously strict and uptight Transfiguration teacher, and neither of you will ever admit it.” She was really laughing now, the full, deep laugh that always made Minerva think of Chicken broth, and her mother telling her the thunderstorm would be over soon. It had the same effect now: without knowing it –but of course she had known, Amelia would always know what she needed- she had been calmed down. Reassured, that she was doing the right thing, that the path she had taken was the right one, that she would be alright. A knot inside her burst, and she, too, started laughing. They looked at each other and laughed, laughed in the knowledge that they had each other, that they knew each other, that they finally had both found their ways in this world. Laughed, knowing that the Hogwarts professor and the Ministry worker might never again be as close as they were now, hardly a foot separating them as the sun set over Diagon Alley. They looked each other in the face, Minerva’s shrewd, crisp eyes, the stern mouth and high cheekbones, the square spectacles, the hair, so tight behind her back, and Amelia, the expressive brown eyes, sharply defined features, chestnut hair falling behind her shoulders, the dimples in her smile. They looked at each other, and for a moment, they felt it: this is the closest I will ever come to a love of my life.
The laughter died away as the last rays of golden sunlight slit back, behind the towering silhouette of the houses, the world beyond. Suddenly they sat in shadow, still looking at each other, the familiar features barely visible in the dimness.
“Have a heart,” Amelia whispered, gasping Minerva’s hand tightly as, without another word, without a cue, she got up, put out money for her ice cream, and turned to walk towards the Leaky Cauldron, and the world beyond. “Have a heart, ‘Nerva. Don’t be afraid of it.”
Without a word of farewell, she walked away. Minerva paid for her own ice-cream, pulled her cloak around her shoulders, and apparated into Hogsmeade.