Title: Till 'A the Seas Gang Dry

Author: Squibstress

Rating: MA

Warnings: Explicit sexual content

Genre: Romance,Erotica,Travel

Published: 17/06/01

Disclaimer: All characters, settings and other elements from the Harry Potter franchise belong to J. K. Rowling.


6. Venice: Murano & Burano

The dream, in the beginning, was benign, even pleasant.

She and Albus were at her cottage playing chess. At some point the scene had melted seamlessly into one of her old dormitory in Gryffindor Tower, although she sensed that she remained her current age. The chessboard had gone, somehow, and he was touching her the way he often did, his fingers dancing teasingly over her breasts, her arms, her neck, then sliding down and under her knickers.

Her climax was near when she felt through the hazy pleasure that his fingers had turned cold, almost painful. She tried to move and found she couldn’t.

Albus was holding her down with one arm across her chest and the other hand stroking her cheek, and as she struggled to tell him to stop, she realised that the fingers that touched her below were someone else’s. She looked down to see the unnaturally smooth face of Tom Riddle, his dark eyes peering into hers. He leant in to kiss her.

She wanted to scream, to push him away, but she couldn’t move, couldn’t speak as he pressed his lips to hers. Albus held her, seemingly gently, but it was as if she were wrapped in Devil’s Snare, or perhaps Petrified.

The horror of Riddle’s mouth on her, his fingers in her, as Albus held and caressed her, engulfed Minerva in panic, making her temples throb and her throat ache with cries that wouldn’t come out.

Albus released her, though she still couldn’t move. He went to the ledge of what she recognised now as the Astronomy Tower. As she watched, voiceless with dread, he kissed his fingers and held them out to her, as if in benediction, then let himself drop backwards into the sky.

Minerva woke with a gasp, fingers curling out into emptiness, her strangled scream making a hard lump in her throat.

Something stirred next to her, then there was the gentle press of a hand on her hip.

She made a mewling sound, unable to speak, unable even to breathe.

“Minerva?”

Albus’s sleepy voice.

Her chest hitched, and sweet air filled her lungs.

Through the desert in her mouth, she managed to croak out, “A nightmare.”

The bed creaked and his arm came around her waist.

He held her as her heart stopped trying to beat its way out of her ribcage and her breathing became steadier.

“Better?” he asked.

“Much. Sorry I woke you.”

“It’s fine. Do you need anything?”

“No. Go back to sleep.”

He tugged her closer, and his warm breath caressed her cheek.

Within minutes, he was snoring softly, and she lay there, keeping as quiet as possible, still on the knife’s edge, unable to fall back to sleep.

Even her worst dreams were usually anodyne—quotidian worries amplified to ridiculousness by her subconscious—but this one had been terrifying and so very real.

What had brought it on?

It had been a lovely day. Several lovely days, in fact. And besides, Tom Riddle was gone. Buggered off, Merlin knew where. She suspected that Albus had done something to him to make him retreat, tail between his legs, but she hadn’t pressed Albus on the subject, not wanting to give up a moment’s more thought to her erstwhile tormentor other than to hope he had gone for good.

Yet here Tom was, haunting her dreams.

She sighed, now more annoyed than frightened, and rolled over. It was some time before she was able to sleep.

~oOo~

When she woke the next morning, the quiet outside told her that the rain had stopped. She didn’t want to disturb Albus, but eventually her bladder forced her from the bed.

He stirred when she returned, and he drew up against her, pressing his lips to the back of her neck.

“Are you all right?” he said, his words nearly lost in the cloud of her hair.

“Fine.”

“You don’t usually have nightmares.”

She made a noncommittal sound.

“Do you want to tell me about it?” he asked.

“I barely remember it.” It was a lie, but she didn’t want to discuss her dream.

“You were restless all night.”

“I’m sorry if I kept you up.”

“No, but when my dreams disturb my sleep, I sometimes write them down. Get them out of my head. Otherwise, I find the worst ones tend to come back. Esmeralda recommended it.”

Minerva disengaged herself from his arms and turned over to look at him.

“You talk to Esmeralda about your dreams?”

Minerva had a hard time picturing Albus discussing anything personal with Hogwarts’s Divination mistress. She only ever saw Esmeralda Alliette at staff meetings, and the young woman rarely said a word to anyone, although she’d stared oddly at Minerva when Albus had introduced her as the new Transfiguration teacher at the first meeting after her hiring.

“Not the ones where I’m standing naked in front of the entire school, nor anything as obvious as that,” Albus said, smiling. “But I do consult her when I have more troublesome dreams that recur. She’s very gifted with oneiromancy.”

Minerva’s brows rose, and he continued, “Dream interpretation is difficult to get right, of course, and it’s developed a rather bad reputation thanks to all the crank practitioners, but a true oneiromancer can help clear away the cobwebs, so to speak, so one can glean valuable insights from one’s dreams.”

In her student days, Minerva’s few Divination classes on dream interpretation, taught by old Professor Chopra, had planted a firm scepticism in her that hadn’t been pruned by her infrequent brushes with the Seers occasionally employed by the Ministry to assist the Auror Department in their bigger enquiries.

“You really think dreams can predict the future?” she asked.

“That’s what the more unscrupulous of self-professed Seers would have you believe, but it’s a vast oversimplification of a complex art,” Albus told her. “Real oneiromancers don’t contend that dreams are literal prophecy. But some dreams contain a germ of what may be. The difficulty lies in separating the banal strands, the emotional detritus, if you will, that comprises most of our dreams from those elements that hold universal truth and thus show us a path that may lead in a particular direction.”

“And how do oneiromancers do that?”

“They’re more Intuitives than Seers, I think. The gift is in being able to find deep connections with other people rather than in Divination.”

“I doubt Esmeralda would find much universal truth in my dreams,” Minerva said. “Only nonsense. So I don’t think I’ll be consulting her about them.”

“I didn’t suggest you should. But if you have one that particularly disturbs your sleep or lingers after you’ve woken, writing it down can help banish it, I find. You needn’t share it with anyone if you don’t like.”

“Well, if the dream recurs, I’ll consider it,” Minerva said. But she was quite sure she would never commit this dream to parchment.

They lazed about in bed for a while longer, talking of other things, then rose, dressed, and had a light breakfast at the hotel.

The day was warmer, and the storm had washed away much of the mist and fog that had hung over the city for the past days, so they decided to make the trip out to the lagoon islands to see Murano’s famous glassworks and the lacemaking on its sister island, Burano.

The vaporetto deposited the couple on Murano near the glass museum, which stood just beside the canal. Albus paid the entry fee of 1,200 lire, and they went inside.

The first room was dominated by three large, intricate glass chandeliers hanging from a magnificent frescoed ceiling. The cold winter light from the windows overlooking the canal glinted from the clear glass, making the chandeliers look like the most delicate of ice sculpture.

Albus and Minerva circled the room looking at various pieces, stopping to admire a cobalt-blue cup decorated with scenes of Renaissance ladies on horseback and visiting a fountain, and a young couple bathing in another fountain. Medallions of a man and woman graced each side.

Albus pulled his spectacles from his jacket pocket and read the placard on the exhibit case.

“The Coppa Barovier by Angelo Barovier, circa 1470. It was a wedding gift, apparently, to the couple depicted on the glass.”

They both leant closer to examine the enamelled figures.

Albus continued to read, “The fountains represent Love and Youth, allegories of ideal marriage.”

“Love, yes, but why Youth?”

“Perhaps because youth lends a certain vigour to love,” he said.

“But it isn’t a prerequisite,” she said. “As you’ve clearly demonstrated.”

Her returned her grin.

In the next room, the largest display was a centrepiece depicting a formal garden with arches, fountains, arbours, and flowers, all fashioned of glass. They circled it, taking it in from all sides. It was its own little fantasy world, Minerva thought, made of light.

They made their way around the small museum, seeing milky pieces from ancient Rome through the elaborate eighteenth-century fantasies of delicately wrought clear glass, and came out to find the winter sun shining.

The short walk to the next item on their itinerary, the Church of Santa Maria e San Donato, was chilly but pleasant, the lazy clouds passing overhead making intermittent shadows on the stone walk. They rounded a corner into the charming square that housed the church and its bell tower, the canal bordering it to the east. The campanile and the side of the church on the campo were of reddish-brown brick, the church rising to several storeys in austere Romanesque style. When Albus and Minerva came about to the eastern side, however, Minerva was delighted by the colonnade that faced the canal—a lovely surprise on this otherwise dour-looking edifice.

What would otherwise have been a gloomy church interior was brightened by light walls and the golden-backed mosaic of the Virgin Mary that graced the domed apse, reflecting sunlight from two small windows just below.

Albus and Minerva wandered the aisle, then the transepts, stopping several times to examine the Byzantine marble mosaics that illustrated the church’s floor. They were laid in large geometric shapes of black, white, and umber-coloured marble, with accents of jewel tones to draw the eye. Although the tiles were damaged in places, it was easy to imagine how beautiful they would have been in their prime.

Scattered between the shapes were scenes depicting animals. In one, a pair of peacocks drank a golden potion from a chalice; in another, a bird of prey held a doe in its claws, the doe’s face turned upwards at its tormentor. Still another reversed the theme, showing two roosters carrying a captive fox.

“Look at this,” Albus said, directing Minerva’s eyes downwards to a section of floor.

She bent to have a closer look at the mosaic bird. The fiery hue and distinctive pattern of its feathers were muted but visible under the patina of dirt and age coating the stone.

“Is that a …?” she said.

He brought his mouth close to her ear to whisper, “A phoenix. Although the Muggle guidebooks call it an eagle.”

In another section off the aisle, under a worn chair, were a couple of what were clearly Hippogriffs.

“It seems there were wizards involved in building this church,” Minerva whispered.

“And that’s not all,” Albus said. Mischief twinkled in his eyes as he took her elbow and led her to the altar. She was puzzled when he ignored the ornate polyptych of the Death of the Virgin and the marble sarcophagus supposedly containing the relics of Saint Donatus of Arezzo and guided her around behind the altarpiece.

“Look up there, on the wall,” he told her.

Above them hung three long, curved rib bones, far too large to be from any mundane animal.

“Dragon bones,” Albus said. “Even the Muggles know that’s what they are.”

Minerva’s eyes widened in surprise.

“How did there come to be dragon bones in a Muggle church?” she asked.

“I wondered that myself when I first saw them, so I did a little sleuthing. According to a life of St Donatus by one Severinus, a bishop of Arezzo, Donatus performed a series of miracles, including slaying a dragon. These are its bones, brought to Venice from Greece by …” Albus, tapped a finger against his temple, trying to recall. “Some doge or other.”

“And the Muggles are aware of this?”

“Oh, yes. Although many of them now say the bones are from a prehistoric beast rather than a dragon.”

Minerva nodded. “Of course, this church was built long before the International Statute of Secrecy was enacted. Muggles and wizards mixed much more freely then, for better or worse. I suppose a dragon would hardly have been a surprise back then, before they were driven almost to extinction.”

“Our forebears were a little overzealous in their dragon hunting,” Albus agreed. “Although I hear there are efforts afoot to introduce a breeding program for several species. Do you know Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank?”

“Not personally, but Einar’s wife worked with her for a time. They were studying Kelpies, I think.”

“Yes, she’s a magizoologist. A friend of Silvanus’s,” Albus said. “She’s filled in for him on occasion when he’s been out with one of his many injuries. In any event, she’s been involved in setting up dragon preserves. There was a bit of a dust-up in the Wizengamot when she tried to get one approved for the North York Moors.”

“Let me guess: the answer was ‘no thank you.’”

“Correct as always, my dear.”

Minerva shook her head. “You Sassenachs have an unreasonable fear of dragons.”

“Well, we did take St George for our patron. I’m sure there was a good reason.”

Minerva ignored his wink. “Gran says there was a small herd of Hebridean Blacks that lived quite peacefully on Mingulay and used to fly over Mull occasionally, but it never fashed the inhabitants.”

“The Scots seem to take many things in stride that would strike terror into the heart of the doughtiest Englishman. Haggis springs to mind,” he said, wrinkling his nose.

She elbowed him gently in the ribs. “You really should try it sometime. It’s delicious when it’s made well.”

“I’ll take your word for it and continue to enjoy my kippers and toast.”

“Coward.”

They left the church and strolled along the canal until they came to the Ponte Longo, stopping at the top of the bridge to admire the view of the medieval and Renaissance houses that fronted the canal. Blue-green water churned and swirled beneath them as gaily painted boats filled with people wrapped in wool coats and mufflers glided along under the bridge.

The wind gusting along the canal and blew their cheeks pink and threatened to sweep Albus’s homburg from his head.

“I forgot the Sticking Charm,” he said sheepishly as he held the hat in place with one hand. The other crept into his coat, where Minerva knew his wand was hidden in an inner pocket. A few mumbled words and the hat was firmly Stuck in place.

“Now you’ll have to undo it when we get inside,” Minerva reminded him.

“I think I can manage a wandless and wordless Finite,” he said.

“Just don’t forget,” Minerva said, “or you’ll be tugging at it with all the Muggles staring and wondering why your hat won’t come off.”

“They’ll just think I’m barmy.”

After taking their fill of the view from the bridge, they walked along the Fondamenta da Mula to the Fondamenta dei Vetrai, the glassmakers’ street, admiring the wares on display in the storefront windows.

The artistry of some pieces was astonishing, from the sparkling chandeliers dripping with delicate clear glass like icicles, to brilliantly coloured vases that would put the most extravagant blossom to shame, to abstract shapes that refracted the light in rainbows that spilled across the pavement and over their feet.

One of the shops had a fornace—a glass factory—attached that was open to visitors. Albus and Minerva stepped inside and were greeted by a welcome blast of warmth from the enormous ovens that sat at the back of the large room. As lovely as it felt on Minerva’s wind-frozen cheeks, she realised that it must be unbearably hot during the warmer months. She felt sorry for the Muggle glassblowers, having to ply their trade in the heat of an Italian summer without the benefit of Cooling Charms.

A small group of tourists had gathered, and a man with an extravagant black moustache beckoned them forwards. He spoke to them in Italian and English, explaining the methods of glassblowing that Murano’s glassmakers had used since the fear of fire had banished them to the Lagoon island in the thirteenth century.

As he spoke, a burly older man in shirtsleeves and a leather apron pulled a long metal pole from the furnace. On the end was a blob of molten glass, glowing orange with heat.

Millequattrocento gradi … 1,400 degrees!” the moustachioed man said, gesturing at the blob, and the group gave a communal gasp.

The glassblower blew into the pipe, inflating the blob into a teardrop shape. He then rolled it back and forth against a small iron plate. As it cooled, the blob turned from bright orange to sapphire blue as it started to take the shape of a vase.

The blower worked at it with metal tongs, pulling and pressing and coaxing the cooling glass into the precise shape he wanted, occasionally popping it back into the oven to soften again when it began to resist his efforts.

Another young man, no older than sixteen or seventeen, brought over a pipe and dribbled a thin strip of molten glass around the neck of the vase as the first man spun it. The blower then took a small pair of tongs and twisted and crimped the strip into tiny dots, working his way around the vase with impressive speed. As they cooled, the dots turned a brilliant vermillion, contrasting with the blue of the vase’s body.

A minute later, the young man approached again and deposited another blob onto the side of the vase. The first glassblower stretched and shaped it into a handle, using a small blowtorch to fuse it to the vase. The pair repeated the action on the other side until the vase was adorned by a pair of delicate, amber-coloured handles, which appeared, amazingly, completely symmetrical.

The glassblower then drizzled water from a vat next to him on the vase where it connected to the pipe. Steam rose as the water sizzled and evaporated. Laying the pipe against the iron plate, the man gave the pipe a quick tap with the side of his tongs. The vase broke off the pipe at the neck where the water had been and dropped into the waiting, gloved hands of the second man, who ferried it to another oven, where, the guide told them, it would be allowed to slowly cool and settle into its shape.

After the demonstration, Albus and Minerva left the fornace and found a little restaurant for lunch, chatting about the glassblowing.

“That was astonishing,” Minerva said between bites of her polenta e schie. “That they could create something so lovely from a ball of molten goo.”

Albus chuckled.

“What?” Minerva asked, putting down her fork.

“It’s charming, your being so impressed with someone changing something into another something.”

Minerva smiled back at him. “It is a bit like Transfiguration, isn’t it? It was as if the shape of the vase was hidden in that little blob of sand the whole time, and the man just had to coax it out. Only, instead of a wand and magic, he used tongs, a pipe, and craft. Muggles really are a wonder.”

“Indeed. The man who made this anchovy sauce is definitely a genius,” Albus said, and popped the last bit of pasta into his mouth.

After lunch, Minerva wanted to see the lacemaking on the neighbouring island of Burano, but Albus suggested a detour.

“Where?” Minerva asked.

“Trust me,” Albus said, taking her arm.

He drew her through several side streets and into a tiny alleyway—she could almost touch the buildings on either side if she stretched out her arms. They stopped in front of an unassuming storefront with a sign hanging in front featuring a carved image of a ball. The sign read: Fornace Bonaventura, dal 1245.

They entered the shop, which was run-down to the point of looking abandoned. Floorboards stuck up in several places, and the wallpaper was grey with age and curling at the corners. But the dinginess of the shop belied the beauty of the objects in the display cases. Small glass sculptures of every colour sparkled and glinted, drawing the eye hither and thither from case to case. In one, glass horses ridden by tiny glass jockeys in jewel-toned “silks” raced around a track of amber, each vying to be first across a finish line that didn’t exist. In another, a crystal fountain gushed the tiniest clear glass beads while turquoise-blue glass birds fluttered around it. Another case featured a glass magician in multi-hued patchwork clothes and a battered-looking top hat doing tricks with miniature glass cards.

One small case in the corner held crystal balls of different sizes sitting on dusty black velvet. Most of the crystals were clear as Alpine water, but inside a few swirled torrents of colour, like miniscule storms. Minerva bent down to examine them. In one, the colours almost seemed to hint at a recognisable shape, but it evaporated almost as soon as she’d seen it. She straightened up and blinked several times, unsure of what she’d almost seen, or if she’d seen anything at all. Her eyes cleared, and she looked around the room.

A wide variety of frames, from gilded confections to plain, rough-hewn wood, lined the walls. Black draping obscured the contents of the frames.

“Are they portraits?” Minerva asked.

“Mirrors, I believe.”

“But why are they covered?”

Before Albus could answer, a musical baritone voice from behind startled them both.

Ah, che bella signora! E che distinto signore! Benvenuti nel nostro umile fornace. Cosa desiderate oggi?

Minerva looked around, but she could see no one else.

Qui, signori …

The voice was coming from a single uncovered mirror they hadn’t noticed near the shop’s entrance.

“Yes, hello,” Albus said, approaching the mirror. “Is Signor Bonaventura about?

Sì, signore.

“Please tell him Albus Dumbledore is calling.”

“Just a moment. I shall fetch ’im,” the mirror said in heavily accented English.

“Enchanted mirrors,” Minerva said, understanding now why they were covered. “My grandmother had one. She said it was the most dreadful nuisance.”

“I do beg your pardon, madam,” came a rather stuffy female voice from under one of the covered mirrors. “Perhaps your grandmother didn’t care to hear the truth about her appearance. Many of you expect only flattery from us mirrors.”

Minerva stifled a laugh. “I’m sure that’s true. My apologies. I’ve never had an enchanted mirror, so I may have spoken out of turn.”

“Quite,” sniffed the mirror.

Albus was grinning at her, and she could barely contain her own amusement.

“Dumbledore!”

A man, wizened and stooped with age, had come out of the shop’s back room. Leaning on a cane, he made his way to the couple and took Albus’s hand in his, shaking it vigorously.

“Signor Bonaventura, such a pleasure to see you again after all this time,” Albus said. “Please meet my friend and colleague, Minerva McGonagall.”

“Charmed, signora, charmed,” Bonaventura said. “Welcome to my little shop.”

“Thank you. The glass is wonderful. Did you make all these yourself?” Minerva asked, gesturing around to the various objects on display.

“Most, most. A few of them are pieces from my father and his father, or even before, that I couldn’t bear to part with. Including Aroldo.”

“Aroldo?”

“The mirror who greeted you. He has been in my family since 1660. My great-great-grandfather created him.”

“Signor Bonaventura’s family has been in the enchanted glass business since the thirteenth century,” Albus said.

“Before that, Signor Dumbledore, before that!” Bonaventura exclaimed. “It was only then that we came to Venice.”

“Thank you for taking the time to see us,” Albus said. “I hope we haven’t interrupted anything important.”

“Ah, it is my pleasure. It is all too seldom I have visitors nowadays,” Bonaventura said sadly. “Enchanted glass has gone out of fashion.”

Minerva said, “Your work is very beautiful. I gather you create crystal balls as well as enchanted mirrors and decorative pieces. Are you a Seer?”

“Oh, no, no. I am merely unservitore del vetro, a servant of the glass,” he said with a modest bow of the head. “Would you like to visit my workshop?”

“Yes, if it isn’t too much trouble,” Albus said.

“Not at all! Come.”

With a gnarled hand, he beckoned for them to follow him into the back.

In contrast to the shop, the workroom was clean and bright, lit from above by an enormous skylight. Two large furnaces stood near the back of the room, their heat pleasant rather than oppressive, thanks, Minerva supposed, to Cooling Charms.

Flanking the room were several tables strewn with jars, boxes, and pieces of glass of varying colours and sizes. Four worktables stood in a circle in the middle of the room, and Minerva was surprised to see several wands lying on them.

Bonaventura followed her eyes.

“Yes, you see, I use different wands for different purposes.” He picked up a wand from the nearest table. “This one is of ebony and Thestral-tail hair. I use it to draw out more complex shapes from the glass.”

“This one,” he said, picking up another wand, “is for simple charm work—making my little horses gallop, for example, or making the rain fall in the glass meadow.”

“Which wand do you use to Charm your mirrors?” Albus asked.

“Oh, for that I use my elm and Veela-hair wand. Where…” he looked around. “Ah, there she is, my beauty.” He limped over to another worktable and picked up the wand. “A little cappricciosa … how you say … temperamental, but very good at Reflection Charms.”

“What sort of charms do you use?” Albus asked.

“It depends on the client’s wishes,” said Bonaventura. “Most clients prefer a mirror that is complimentary. If that is the case, I use a combination of Revealing and Flattery Charms as I work the silica. A little more strongly with the Flattery Charms …

“If the client would like a mirror that tells the absolute truth, that is more fun,” he said, his grin displaying a missing front tooth. “For this, I use Revealing spells on the glass and Veritaserum. I infuse the potion into the mercury before I Charm the backing onto the glass.”

“And are there other charms you can use? For example, how could one create a mirror that reflects one’s deepest desires?” Albus asked.

Bonaventura frowned. “I have heard of this, but I have never made one.”

“I ask because, as it happens, there is one at Hogwarts.”

Bonaventura’s mouth hung open for a moment. “You have a Specchio delle Emarb at Hogwarts?”

Albus seemed taken aback by Bonaventura’s shock.

Er … yes. I ran across it when we were searching the castle a few years ago. It was in a hidden room in the dungeons. At first we didn’t know what it was, but it soon became clear.”

Bonaventura grabbed Albus’s arm. “You must guard it carefully, Dumbledore. It is very valuable. And very dangerous.”

“Dangerous?” Minerva said.

He let go of Albus’s arm, smoothing the sleeve where he’d wrinkled it, and turned to Minerva.

“Yes, signora. You see, for some, it is too great a temptation. They become lost in the fantasies it spins for them. My grandfather spoke of one owned by Doge Pietro Lando. He spent his final years gazing into it, seeing himself taking back Monemvasia from Suleiman rather than leading Venice."

“I shall take your advice and keep it hidden,” Albus said.

“Good, good.” Bonaventura’s voice turned sunny again. “If I were a younger man, I should like to study your mirror. The secrets of creating such things died with the makers in the sixteenth century. So many things … gone … gone …” His eyes grew watery.

To change the subject, Minerva said, “And what about the crystal balls? Do you make them here as well?”

“Oh, yes. My family has been making sfere di cristallo for centuries. Of course, there isn’t much demand for them anymore, but I like to keep my skills fresh.”

“How do you make them?”

A half smile crossed Bonaventura’s face. “Ah, Signora McGonagall, that, I’m afraid, is a complicated question. And a trade secret.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

Bonaventura winked at her. “I am only joking, signora. I am very happy that you are curious about it. But it is quite complex. Are you familiar with stareomancy? Divination involving the elements?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“It is difficult to explain, then, but I shall try.”

He led them to a corner that was enclosed by a black velvet drape. He disappeared behind it and emerged with another wand.

“This, I use only for creating sfere di cristallo.”

He held out an exceptionally thick wand of light wood.

“It is of linden and contains four cores: centaur-tail hair, fairy wing, phoenix feather, and mermaid scale.”

“I’ve never heard of a wand with more than one core,” Minerva said.

“It is very unusual, but I’ve seen a few,” Albus said. “They aren’t practical for most wizards, as they are unsuited for regular magic. But useful for special applications. Is that right, Signor Bonaventura?”

“Quite right. This one was handed down from my great-grandfather, to my grandfather, to my father, and finally to me, and we have only used it for making sfere. Each of the cores channels one of the four elements: earth, wind, fire, or water. I use the wand to … come si dice ‘impregnare’? Imbue … yes, that is the word in English, I think … I use it to imbue the glass with elemental magic as I form the sfera. It must be done in complete darkness with total concentration, or it will not work. Each sfera is different, with unique balances of the elements. Like a wand, the sfera chooses the Seer. It must be in sympathy with the Seer’s particular magic, you see, or it works not at all.”

Minerva had never believed in scrying or crystal balls, but Bonaventura was clearly serious about his craft, and she was beginning to suspect there was more to Divination than she had seen in her year of classes with Professor Chopra.

“Fascinating,” Albus said.

“Of course, I find it so,” Bonaventura said, a smile crinkling his eyes until they almost disappeared.

He gestured to a workbench. “Alas, I cannot show you crystal-making, but would you like to see a little dimostrazione of my other workings?”

Minerva and Albus looked at one another.

“Very much, if you have the time,” Albus said.

Bonaventura patted Albus’s arm. “At my age, one has no way of knowing how much time one has, so one must do as one pleases. If you will stand a few steps back …”

He picked up the ebony wand, went to one of the furnaces, and used the wand to Levitate a glowing ball of molten glass from the heat. He brought it over and laid it on a metal plate on one of the worktables, moving the wand to twirl the ball several times until it elongated into a cylinder. He pointed the wand at the cylinder, as if about to cast, then put the wand down again. As he peered at the cylinder in deep contemplation, his fingers rubbed his chin. Taking up the wand again, he whispered a spell, waving the wand around the cylinder. It started to ripple, and Bonaventura’s eyes glinted with satisfaction.

Sì? Ti ho trovato?” he murmured to himself, still moving the wand in elegant arcs and long flourishes. As he waved it in ever more complex patterns around the cylinder, the glass began to stretch and pull.

Sì! Come quello … attento, attento…” Bonaventura’s wand danced faster and faster through the air, as if conducting an orchestra of magic. When he finished, beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and swiped at it.

Eccola.

Sitting on the metal plate was a glass cat, sleek and silvery-grey, with dark-grey tabby stipes and black markings around the muzzle and eyes.

Minerva gasped in astonishment.

Bonaventura looked over at her, and his face fell.

“What is the matter? You do not like?”

“No, no, it’s beautiful! I’m just …. awestruck at such skill.”

Bonaventura’s face lifted again. “Excellent. Then I must finish it.”

He went to the other workbench and retrieved the elm wand. He tapped it absently on his chin, and Minerva had to hold her tongue to keep from warning him not to light his short beard on fire.

“What would you like to do today, gattina?” Bonaventura said to the cat. “Ah, I know.”

He exchanged the elm wand for the ebony and withdrew another, smaller blob of glass from the oven. With a few waves of the wand, three butterflies emerged from the blob.

“We must wait for them to cool a little,” Bonaventura said.

As the butterflies went from glowing orange to deep blue, Bonaventura grabbed the elm wand again.

This time, he whipped the wand through the air in staccato swishes and flicks. The butterflies began to flitter around the glass cat, who chased them in a circle and biffed at them with her paws.

Minerva laughed in delight.

Bonaventura’s face lit up in a smile. “So you like it?”

“I love it.”

“Then you must have it.”

“Oh, no, I couldn’t …”

“Please, signora. It is only a little gift in thanks for paying such kind attention to an old man’s tricks.”

She glanced at Albus, who gave a small nod.

“Well, I … thank you, Signor Bonaventura. I shall treasure it.”

“I am very glad you like it, signora. Now, it must cure for several hours in a cool oven or it could crack. When do you return home?”

“In a few days,” Albus said.

“Splendid. I shall send it by special owl post so it will not break. May I send it to Hogwarts?”

“Yes, that would be fine, thank you,” said Albus. “I’ll make sure Minerva receives it.”

“Wonderful!”

The talked a little more about the glass, and Albus passed on greetings from their mutual friend, Nicolas Flamel, to Bonaventura before they took their leave.

When they left the shop, Minerva said, “I feel strange accepting a gift. Are you sure it was all right?”

“Oh, yes. He would have been disappointed if you had refused. It obviously was made for you.”

“Yes, that was odd,” Minerva said. “The cat looks exactly like my Animagus form. How did he know?”

“I suspect there’s a bit of Seer in him, despite his denials. There must be, I think, for him to be able to make crystal balls. As he says, not many people want them nowadays, but he is one of only a few glass enchanters that can do it, or so I’m told.”

“Thank you for bringing me. It was fascinating,” Minerva said. “How do you know him?”

“Nicolas introduced us when we were in Venice some years ago. He’s known the family for hundreds of years.”

“Nicolas must know lots of interesting people.”

“A fair few,” Albus said. “Over his long life, he’s seen the best and the worst of humanity, but he manages to keep finding new things to discover.”

They emerged from a side street into the Fondamenta dei Vetrai. The sky had started to darken with the low afternoon sun.

“Do we still have time to see the lacemaking?” Minerva said.

“I think so.”

He consulted a pocket map and determined that they could get a vaporetto to Burano from Murano’s Faro ferry stop.

“What was that about the mirror at Hogwarts?” Minerva asked as they walked.

“It was the oddest thing,” Albus said. “It was during the Chamber of Secrets business in ’forty-three. As you may imagine, Armando, Galatea, and I searched the castle from top to bottom looking for the supposed chamber or the monster. We didn’t find them, of course, but I did find a locked door, warded with very unusual protective enchantments. We managed to get the room open, but all we found was an old mirror. Neither of us was certain why a mirror was hidden away, so we both did some tests to see if it was cursed. It didn’t seem to be, but in the course of testing it, we discovered its true function.”

“You said something about it reflecting one’s greatest desires.”

“Yes. You see, there was an inscription. At first, it seemed like a language neither of us knew, but Galatea, I’m ashamed to say, worked it out before I did. It said, ‘I show not your face but your heart’s desire,’ written in English, backwards.”

“How very strange.”

“It was. And we soon realised something even stranger about it. Galatea and I each saw something different reflected in it when we stood in front of it.”

“What did you see?”

He hesitated, and she said, “You don’t need to tell me.”

“I saw my family. Whole. Alive. Well.” His voice was quiet, almost ashamed.

“Oh, Albus …” She put her arms around him, heedless of the crowd on the narrow street and the people that looked at them as they passed.

“It’s all right, my dear,” he murmured. “That desire can never be, but I have since found happiness that I never could have imagined.”

She kissed his lips, and they held one another for a minute.

When they got to the waterbus stop, which was overlooked by a white lighthouse, the wind had picked up. Minerva wrapped her coat more closely around herself as they waited.

The vaporetto came after a few minutes, and it was a twenty-minute ride to the island of Burano. When they stepped off the waterbus, they were greeted with the sight of the island’s famous coloured houses—simple buildings fronting the canal, each one painted a different hue. The colours ranged from bright, acid green to faded yellow, with blues, pinks, oranges, and reds besides, in shades from pale to eye-blistering. The overall effect was as if a town from a children’s picture book had been brought to life.

“If I remember my old Baedeker’s correctly, the houses were painted like that so that fishermen could find their homes when they returned from the sea,” Albus said.

“Clever,” said Minerva. “I could have used that trick when I lived in Oxford. The fronts of the flats on my street all looked alike, and for the first week or so, I had a terrible time remembering which one was mine.”

“Where did you live?”

“In the Marlborough Road, not far from St Matthew’s. It was tiny and dark, but it was close to the lab.”

“Was the bust of Wolsey still in the old library guarding the entrance to Mallory College when you were there?”

“It was.”

“And did you have to tweak his nose to get into the lab?”

Minerva laughed. “Yes. Someone’s idea of a joke, but Griselda always swore it wasn’t her.”

“Yes, that’s what she told me, too. I’m not sure I believe her.”

“Nor I.”

It took only five minutes to get to the island’s main square, the Piazza Galupi. It boasted a church, San Martino, with a campanile that leaned about fifteen degrees to one side.

“Unfortunate,” Minerva said, making Albus snort a laugh.

“We could fix it for them,” he said.

“They’d appreciate that, I don’t think.”

They walked the streets off the square, looking into the lace shops that dotted them, until they found one in which a young woman sat in a chair, needle weaving in and out of a fabric pattern, the round piece of delicate lace she was working on half finished. With her foot, she rocked a wooden cradle in which an infant slept.

They didn’t want to bother the woman—or wake the baby—so after watching for a few minutes, they left and strolled down the street and into another little shop, looking at crisp, white tablecloths with lace corners and delicate, snowflake-like doilies that were heaped on the tables.

In one corner, they stopped to admire a dressmaker’s dummy wearing wedding dress with a train of lace and a matching lace veil.

“I can’t imagine how long that must have taken to make,” Minerva said.

“Six month!” said the plump old woman who had been watching them since they had entered the shop. She manoeuvred around the tables piled with goods and went over to Minerva and Albus.

“This dress take my t’ree daughters and two more merlettaie six month to make,” she told them.”

“Five people, my word!” Albus exclaimed.

“Each one make a different piece. Is for the sister of the Marchesa Giustiniani,” the woman said proudly.

“It’s lovely,” Albus said.

“My daughters, they can make for you. You have daughter who wan’ get married soon?” She looked Minerva up and down.

“Sadly, no,” Albus said. “But if I did, I would certainly want her to have something as beautiful as this.”

“Maybe someday, eh? You not too old for more children.” She gave him a conspiratorial wink.

“Oh, well …” Albus said, clearly at a loss for what to say.

Minerva took pity on him. “Those are pretty,” she said, pointing at framed bits of lace on the wall. How much are they?”

“Which one you like?”

Minerva stepped closer and examined the pieces. Each was a tiny work of art. A round scene featuring an intricate pattern of leaves and flowers caught her eye.

“This one?” she said.

“Seven t’ousand lire.

Minerva did some quick calculations in her head. Seven thousand lire was almost three Galleons. She sighed.

“For you, six t’ousand,” the woman said, eager to make a sale on a slow winter’s day.

“All right,” Minerva said. As she fished in her purse for her money, Albus put a hand on her arm.

“I’ve got it,” he said, pulling a Muggle billfold from his inner jacket pocket. He counted out twelve five-hundred-lire notes and gave them to the woman, who stashed them down her ample bosom. She took the framed lace piece from the wall, wrapped it in tissue, put it in a box, and tied it up with string. Albus took it under his arm.

Grazie, signore,” she said as they left.

Grazie, signora,” Albus said.

When they were outside, Minerva said, “You didn’t have to pay for that. It’s a gift for Gran.”

“Technically speaking, we both paid for it. We now have joint matrimonial assets, at least according to British Wizarding law.” He frowned. “I’m not sure about Muggle law.”

A strange feeling came over Minerva. She hadn’t really considered how the marriage would affect their finances, and they had never discussed it. She supposed she should have asked before the wedding, but it hadn’t been something that occurred to her, given that they continued to maintain separate households.

Her thoughts must have showed on her face, because he said, “You needn’t worry about it, you know.”

She looked at him. “About what?”

“Money. I have no intention of trying to share in what belongs to you.”

“Don’t be absurd. Of course you’ll share it. What little there is of it.”

“I meant your inheritance—if there is one.”

“There is,” she said. “I mean, there will be. A long time from now, I hope.”

“As do I,” Albus said, and she was reminded that he was only two years younger than her father. Although, given his power, Albus was likely to have a long lifespan, even for a wizard, she thought, reassuring herself.

Her father had told her that she would get more than half his considerable wealth when he died. By longstanding tradition, ownership of the McGonagall family home, Castle Isleif, would pass to Einar—which was fine with Minerva—but their father had “evened things up a bit,” as he’d put it, in his will. She didn’t think about it much; Thorfinn had gifted both her and her brother a small sum after they’d each finished Hogwarts, and she’d used some of it to supplement her stipend during her Auror training. She’d never been a spendthrift, so it had been plenty, and once she’d joined the Auror corps, her wages had always covered whatever she needed, with some to spare. When she’d left the Aurors for Oxford, she’d lived cheaply and had had little opportunity to spend her meagre salary, in any case. By the time she’d taken the job at Hogwarts, she’d had enough to purchase the cottage in Hogsmeade, but it had taken a large bite from her savings.

She didn’t know much about Albus’s financial situation, but she assumed he wasn’t wealthy. She doubted he had inherited much, if anything, from his family, and though she had no idea what the Headmaster’s salary was, she imagined it was considerably higher than hers, which was adequate to her needs but not large. He probably held patents on several of the uses of dragon’s blood he’d discovered, but she had no idea what they were worth.

Albus’s voice brought her out of her musings.

“We can discuss it when we get home, but since our marriage isn’t registered with the Ministry, we should keep our accounts separate and continue to pay our taxes separately. I will of course ensure that you have access to my Gringotts vault, should the need arise.”

“That isn’t necessary.”

“Nevertheless. I will be more at ease if I know you will be taken care of should anything happen to me.”

The memory of the previous evening’s dream flashed through Minerva’s mind: Albus falling from the Astronomy Tower …

Without intending to, she put a hand to her head, as if she could press the image from her brain.

“What is it?” Albus asked, and Minerva dropped her hand.

“Nothing. Just a moment’s dizziness. I think I need something to eat.”

“Of course. Shall we find a place?”

“Perhaps a snack. I can wait for dinner until we’re back in the city.”

Albus took her arm, and they walked back to the main square, where they found a pasticceria. He ordered them two espressos and a plate of bussolai, buttery, ring-shaped biscuits that were a Burano speciality.

“Will this do, or do you need something more substantial?” he asked, bringing the food to the tiny table where he’d insisted Minerva have a seat.

“This is fine,” she answered.

Albus coaxed her to have two of the biscuits, which were delicious—reminiscent of shortbread, Minerva thought—and complemented the bitter coffee.

“That was an excellent restorative,” she said when they’d finished.

“Ready to head back to the city?”

“I am.”

The sun was starting to set, and the temperature was beginning to drop.

The waterbus back to Venice proper took half an hour, and by the time they arrived at the Rialto stop, it was dark and the air had turned frigid.

Once in their hotel room, Minerva cast a Warming Charm and waited for her fingers and nose to thaw.

As she pulled off her gloves, Albus’s arms came around her and his lips brushed the space behind her left ear, raising goosebumps in her flesh that had nothing to do with the cold.

She tossed the gloves onto the bed and leant back against him.

“Do you want dinner now, or can it wait?” he murmured between planting kisses on her earlobe.

“Why? Did you have something else in mind?”

“I thought I could spend the next hour making love to you, then take you out for a sumptuous meal.”

He moved his hands to her breasts and attacked her neck with his lips.

“Only an hour?” She covered his hands with hers and drew one up to her mouth to lick and suck playfully at his index finger.

“You seem to need sustenance,” he said, pressing his erection against her bottom.

“Right now, I only need one thing.” She turned in his arms, took his face between her palms, and kissed him deeply, drawing his tongue into her mouth.

When they broke, he said, “Is my proposal acceptable?”

She answered by loosening his tie and unbuttoning his shirt with a flick of her wand.

Albus was as good as his word. He spent the next hour lavishing attention on Minerva, playing her body as she quivered, writhed, and arched under his hands and mouth.

When the hour was up, she’d thought she was spent, but her seventh orgasm took her by surprise as soon as he entered her with a fast, smooth stroke, and it seemed an eternity until she was able to draw breath again.

He moaned with every thrust, and when he came, he gasped her name and collapsed on top of her, breathing heavily. She wrapped her legs around his hips and scratched affectionate circles on his damp back with her nails while he returned to himself.

He rolled off her with a groan.

“All right?” she asked.

“Never better,” he said.

She put a hand on his chest and leant over him. “Good. Because you promised me dinner, and I’m hungry.”

“Such a demanding wife,” he said. “Do I have time for a wash, or should we just use a Cleaning Charm?”

“A quick bath for each of us, I think,” Minerva said.

After their baths, they braved the icy night to find a restaurant Nicolas had recommended. After a ten-minute walk, they were rewarded with a table in a secluded corner and a warming bottle of Amarone della Valpolicella, which they sipped while they perused the menu.

They both started with baccalà mantecato, mashed salt cod and olive oil, served with a slice of fried polenta. Albus followed with a plate of ravioli stuffed with burrata cheese in a lobster sauce, while Minerva selected a decadent red-wine risotto with oysters.

After a much-needed pause, they enjoyed a main course of mailino arrosto, roast suckling pig, carved at the table and served with braised radicchio and potatoes stewed with cloves and tomatoes.

Rather than a pudding, they opted for a cheese course for dessert, enjoying nutty Parmesano Reggiano, herbaceous Peccorino Istriano, and tangy-sweet Gorgonzola with the last of their Amarone.

By the end of it all, Minerva thought she might explode. She was sure she’d never eaten so much—or so well—at a single sitting. They’d more than made up for the dinner they’d skipped the previous night, she decided. She excused herself to the ladies’ toilet and performed an Expanding Charm on the waist of her skirt, which had been pinching since halfway through her main course.

She scarcely noticed the cold on the walk back to the hotel, thanks, she supposed, to the half bottle of wine she’d consumed with the meal.

After cleaning her teeth, she burrowed under the bedclothes while Albus took care of his evening ablutions. She was sleeping when he emerged. She didn’t feel him get into bed and wrap and arm around her.

If she dreamed, she wasn’t aware of it.


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