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From the Diaries of Minerva McGonagall: 1947-1991

The whole of it.

December 10, 1947

Dear Diary,

Today was my first Transfiguration exam: turning a mouse into a snuff box. Professor Dumbledore gave us all three tries, and I was worried that I wouldn’t pass on my first go. You still pass, even if it takes you three times, but I didn’t want to make any mistakes. Not with Professor Dumbledore watching me.

I got it right the first time, and the mouse squared its body into corners and sat still. What must it be like, to be a snuff box? Does it retain any memory of its mouse-ness? Can it hear me when I say the spell to turn it back? I wanted to open the lid, to see what was inside. What if I had seen mouse eyes staring at me? Or fur?

Everybody’s snuff box was different—everybody who passed, anyway. Some students’ boxes looked very ordinary. Mine had gold embedded into the lid, a pattern of roses with one little mouse poking its head from behind a petal. Professor Dumbledore smiled when he saw that.

I felt sad when we had to turn our mice back in after class. Where do they go? I suppose Professor Kettleburn must take care of them, since he is responsible for Care of Magical Creatures. Are mice magical? Are there Muggle mice? It’s funny how there’s so much to think about that I never considered before.

Only one of my fellow Gryffindor first-years is half-Muggle, like me. She knows what it means when I say that my father is a Presbyterian minister, and for us the word “transfiguration” means something entirely different, though it still describes the power to change someone’s form. It makes me wonder whether my father’s faith is also like magic; if, between my Muggle father and my witch mother, I got a double dose of transfiguration talent.

Professor Dumbledore says I am the most talented transfiguration student he has ever seen. I feel glad about that but also embarrassed, because I have often been told that I am the best at things, and it doesn’t seem fair. With spells you have to say the words properly, in the right order, and you have to move your wand in the right way. Why does my snuff box come out with gold leaf on it, and someone else’s come out just plain wood? We both said the same words.

It makes me wonder if magic is particular to people. If the world already has Muggles and wizards, it makes sense that magic might like some wizards more than others. It also makes me wonder if the students that magic doesn’t like as much can be taught to be just as good as the students like myself, who do their spells naturally.

I wonder if the other Gryffindors would like to set up a Transfiguration practice session, next term. I could ask Professor Dumbledore about using the room. We might need supervision, but it wouldn’t be much; he could read, if he wanted, and we could work on our spells. Even the students who aren’t especially set on pursuing Transfiguration for the O.W.L.S. have to see that the world is bigger than exams, and there must be a greater purpose for honing our skills if we were given that aptitude to begin with.

My friends are coming back from their afternoon exam, so I will close this diary entry and ask them how they did—and see if they are interested in forming a practice team next term!

Yours faithfully,


July 21, 1948

Dear Diary,

I wish we were allowed to practice magic over the summer. It seems unfair that I could do as much magic as I wanted as a child, as long as I kept it secret from the other Muggles, and now I have to put away my wand and mind my younger brothers. Malcolm insists on levitating the cat, although he knows she doesn’t like it.

But there is no restriction on WRITING about magic, which means I can spend as many pages as I want thinking about how it works. If Malcolm doesn’t have a wand, and doesn’t know the words wingardium leviosa, how is it that Tabitha rises into the air anyway? It makes me think there must be another way to do magic, without wands. After all, I did magic without wands for years.

When I sit alone like this, Tabby always comes to sit next to me, nudging her nose under my arm. I feel like she knows what I’m thinking sometimes, the same way I know that when Malcolm or Robert tease her, she understands that they’re just children. When I was very young I thought I was a cat, because the only other people I knew were Mum and Dad and Tabitha. Even now I wrote “people” instead of “two people and one cat,” because Tabby’s as complicated and interesting as any person I know.

If you can transfigure a mouse into a snuff-box, or a match into a needle, can you transfigure a person into a cat? Maybe the two items have to be the same size to transfigure properly. Perhaps my mother transfigured me into a cat when I was a baby, and that’s why I understand Tabitha so well.

I heard some of the second-year students discussing Polyjuice Potion, which they use to take on the appearance of another person. Could that be used to take on the appearance of a cat? If it worked, would you be a cat, or would you simply look like one?

I feel like I ought to ask Tabitha. “Tabby, if it were possible for me to become a proper cat, not just a human shaped like a cat, please tap this diary with your paw three times.” It feels ridiculous—

… and she just tapped this page three times.

I want to write Professor Dumbledore and tell him what just happened. It would be rude to bother him on his summer holidays, though, especially because he must already know about how humans can transform into cats. He knows everything. Someday I’d love to know as much as he does.

I’ll tell him as soon as I get back to Hogwarts. I’ll ask Mum to send me a Howler so I remember. I wish we were all going back tomorrow. I miss my friends and I miss Transfiguration Club and most of all I miss being able to do magic.

Tabitha just nuzzled at me, as if to say “be patient.” It’s funny that I understand exactly what she means.

Yours faithfully,


October 30, 1949

Dear Diary,

Tomorrow I begin Animagi study with Professor Dumbledore. I was the only one of our third-year class who elected to do it, after he gave the lecture explaining what was involved. His face got very stern as he warned us all that the process was both long and difficult; that it involved hours of hard work beyond what we were putting into our studies, and that there were many ways for us to permanently harm ourselves if we made even the slightest error along the way.

And then he looked at me, and his eyes twinkled.

I have already gone to the library to read about the process of becoming a registered Animagus. The part that seems the most difficult is the month where you have to hold a mandrake leaf in your mouth—it cannot fall out as you eat or sleep, and you cannot use spells to keep it in place. I want to ask Professor Dumbledore if I can still play Quidditch as I train to become an Animagus. I could tie a piece of cloth over my mouth, to ensure it stayed closed.

The mandrake is very interesting, as a plant. All of its primary magical uses seem to involve transformation. We made a Mandrake Restorative Draught in Herbology last year, so that we could restore people and animals who had been petrified. (We only practiced on animals. Mice, of course. Hogwarts is overrun by mice willing to volunteer themselves for student experiments. If I am able to successfully become an Animagus and transform myself into a cat, I hope I won’t develop a taste for them.)

And yet the mandrake by itself, when not turned into a draught or used to become an Animagus, will kill you. We spent most of our second year Herbology class wearing protective earmuffs, so that we would not hear its deadly cry.

It makes me wonder if death is not also another type of transformation. Certainly the Hogwarts ghosts, or the headmaster portraits in Professor Dumbledore’s office, are not dead in the same way that the people buried under the stones in my father’s parish are dead. Do wizards get to choose if they become a ghost? Is it the sort of thing you’d want to choose? The Hogwarts ghosts seem perfectly happy, but whenever I think about the concept of eternal ghosthood my mind boggles. One of the books I read said that ghosts split their souls, leaving the shallow, shadow parts of themselves on earth. But how can you split a soul? It seems irreducible. You cannot split who you are and still remain yourself.

If the happy parts of the ghosts’ souls remain at Hogwarts, where do the rest of them live? Is the other half of their soul in pain? I’m sorry—I’m thinking a lot about ghosts lately because it is almost Hallowe’en. All month we’ve been practicing the Riddikulus spell in Defense Against the Dark Arts, splitting our fears as if they were ghosts, keeping the ridiculous and sending the terror away. So many of our fears are laughable, when you think about it. Being afraid of getting a bad mark, or spilling soup on your robe, or finding a spider in your bed.

And yet spilling soup on your robe feels like the shallow shadow of a true fear, the kind we are not yet brave enough to say out loud in class. I asked Professor Dumbledore if there was a spell for those fears, and he said there was, and that only the bravest and strongest wizards could manage it.

I said that did not make sense, the idea that only the bravest wizards would be able to make their fears go away, and he said that was the point. “Facing the fear is what matters. If you cannot do that, you will never be able to defeat it.”

I suppose if I want to become an Animagus I will have to face the fear that I could fail in the process. Right now the idea that I could permanently injure myself seems less real than the idea that I might have to give up Quidditch for a month. I could ask Professor Dumbledore about all of the terrible things that might happen to me if I get the spells wrong, but I don’t want to. I feel like it will be easier not to know.

Does that mean I will never be truly brave? If I avoid looking at what frightens me, then maybe I am only putting my happy ghost self out into the world. It’s easy to be happy now, when my life is Hallowe’en parties and Riddikulus spells and Quidditch practice, but someday that could change, and when it does I want to be able to cast that spell that can defeat fear.

I will ask Professor Dumbledore about all of this tomorrow.

Yours faithfully,


April 21, 1950

Dear Diary,

Today I turned into a cat.

It might be more accurate to say that I became a cat. There’s no other way to describe it. I had wondered if it would feel strange to inhabit an animal’s body, but the truth is that it felt so natural it took me a moment to realize it had even happened. Professor Dumbledore had to pick me up and carry me over to the mirror so I could see what I was.

“You’re a cat!” he said, which had always been a joke between us because he kept warning me that wizards couldn’t choose their animal forms, and I kept saying “I understand that, but I’ll still become a cat. You’ll see.”

I feel like I ought to write down what it felt like to be a cat, but the truth is that it didn’t feel any different from being me. I mean, it was different, but it didn’t feel different.

You know how, when something itches, you reach out your hand to scratch without having to think about it? Or when your hair falls into your eyes, you tuck it behind your ear? It was like that. My paws and nose already knew what to do. It was like I had lived in this cat body for my entire life. I started grooming my fur while Professor Dumbledore was talking but I didn’t feel embarrassed about it—no more than I would have been by wiping a smudge off my glasses.

Also! My glasses! My cat form has these markings around the eyes that are almost exactly like my glasses. Professor Dumbledore said afterwards that our animal forms often reflect the more unique aspects of our appearance. I asked him if my cat’s markings would change if I took off my glasses before becoming a cat, and he said they would not. For better or worse, my cat form is set; she will grow older, as I will, but she’ll always have square spectacle markings.

It makes me think they should warn wizards, before they become Animagi; maybe give them the chance to tidy up a bit or something. What if I had been in a hurry that morning, and skipped brushing my hair; would my cat have wild hair my entire life?

Now that I am an Animagus, Professor Dumbledore says I must register with the Ministry of Magic. He said that if I do not register, they could put me in Azkaban. It’s Friday now and we have to wait until Monday to do the registration. I know they won’t put me in Azkaban for being an unregistered Animagus for three days, but I still feel anxious. I had to promise Professor Dumbledore that I wouldn’t turn into a cat again until I was well and truly registered, and I already feel like I’m missing part of myself. Like she’s inside of me, where she’s always been, waiting for me to cast the spell that allows me to become her.

Yours faithfully,


September 17, 1952

Dear Diary—

There’s a new student who I want to help. Her name is Pomona Sprout.

My role as a prefect requires that I greet and assist first-year students when they arrive at Hogwarts. This is the second year I’ve been a prefect, and it is one of my favourite parts of the job. I love watching all of those delighted and giddy faces as the young students walk into the Great Hall for the first time. They look so young! I never felt like I looked that young, when I was eleven. I felt very grown up, and I suppose they must as well.

They all got Sorted, of course, but there was one girl who, after she was sorted into Hufflepuff, looked like she was going to cry. She started to walk towards the Hufflepuff table, and then she paused and walked towards me instead.

She asked me how to find the lavatory. She was quite sniffly at this point, so I led her out of the Great Hall and walked with her, to make sure she found it. I learned that her name was Pomona Sprout, and then I asked if she wanted to talk about why she was crying.

“I don’t want to be a Hufflepuff,” she said. “I want to be clever and brave.”

“You can be clever and brave,” I told her. “Plenty of Hufflepuffs are.”

“Sure they are,” she said. “But the cleverest go to Ravenclaw and the bravest go to Gryffindor, and Hufflepuff takes what’s left over.”

“Nonsense,” I said. “Hufflepuffs are loyal friends and hard workers.”

“They have to work twice as hard because they can’t get it right the first time,” Pomona cried. “That’s what my dad says.”

I hadn’t thought until then about how lucky I was to have a Muggle father, and to have grown up in the Muggle world. To me, everything about Hogwarts was magic. I didn’t know what Hufflepuff or Gryffindor meant. I could just as easily have grown up in a family that told me what to expect and who they wanted me to become.

“I’m going to tell you something,” I said. “I’m a Gryffindor. But I’m also one of the cleverest witches of my year. I’m the only registered Animagus in my year, and I won the Transfiguration Today Most Promising Newcomer award.”

“Why’d you get sorted into Gryffindor, then?” Pomona asked.

“Sorting isn’t about what you’re not,” I explained. “It’s about what you are. I didn’t get sorted into Gryffindor because I wasn’t clever enough to be in Ravenclaw. I got sorted into Gryffindor because I was clever—and maybe because I was the only witch in my year brave enough to hold a mandrake leaf in my mouth for an entire month.”

“Oh, I love mandrakes,” Pomona said. “They’re so cute when they smile.”

“I’ve never seen a mandrake smile,” I said. “Only scream.”

“You have to talk to them the right way,” she said. “Like calming a baby.”

“If you can calm a mandrake you’re the cleverest and bravest witch in your year already,” I said.

Then I told Pomona that if she had any trouble with her schoolwork, she could ask me for help. I didn’t want her to feel like she had to work twice as hard, not when there could be an easier way to learn the material. 

Pomona agreed, and after she dried her eyes and washed her face, I led her back to the Great Hall and she joined the Hufflepuff table. I’m going to watch out for her, this year. I hope she knows that she can come to me at any time—and that she sees me not only as a tutor, but also as a friend.

Yours faithfully,


May 2, 1954

Dear Diary,

They say “pride goeth before a fall,” but in this case it was cheating, a foul foul that has confined me, during the last weeks of my final Hogwarts term, to a hospital bed.

Everyone else is preparing for final exams and graduation parties and I am stuck here because those Slytherins deliberately fouled me on the Quidditch pitch. I’m going to miss out on everything—the banquet for the prefects where they should be toasting me as Head Girl; the Seventh Year Skip Day; the dinner where my friends and I planned to take Polyjuice Potion and attend as each other, to see if anybody noticed.

Plus the Slytherins won the Quidditch Cup! It is unfair, but the rules of Quidditch can be unnervingly unfair. When Brutus fouled me he only got a time out, but I was taken out of the game permanently, with a set of broken ribs and a concussion.

I have to assume that they did it on purpose. It’s such a Slytherin thing to do: to calculate the value of one player being temporarily removed from the game versus an opposing player being permanently removed from the game. It wasn’t even like Brutus was their Seeker. They played chess instead of Quidditch and sacrificed a pawn to take down a queen!

This is the worst thing to have ever happened to me. When I said that to Professor Dumbledore, he laughed and told me that meant I was a very fortunate person, but I don’t feel fortunate. I’ll miss the entire end of term, everything I’ve worked for, all of the fun, and we lost the Quidditch Cup! My friends are planning a camping holiday after graduation, and I might not even be well enough for that.

Everyone’s been very kind and they’ve all come to visit me; Alina from the Gryffindor dormitory comes in every day and asks if I need anything from my trunk, and Pomona brought me a vase of flowers that she charmed so they would never wilt. Professor Dumbledore automatically passed me on all of my final exams, since I won’t be able to take them—but even that feels a little disappointing, because now I won’t ever know whether I could have gotten perfect scores.

When I’m out of the hospital, we’ll all be adults instead of Hogwarts students. I don’t feel like an adult. I like being a student, and I’m sad to miss my last few weeks of student-hood. So I will do a very un-adult thing and vow revenge on Slytherin. Someday, in the future, I will ensure that they lose a Quidditch Cup, and that Gryffindor wins.

Yours faithfully,


June 28, 1954

Dear Diary,

Dougal McGregor walked me to town again. I’ve stopped telling him I don’t need walking.

He’s an interesting young man—and a Muggle, which means I can only tell him a small part of what my life has been like at that “boarding school” my parents sent me to. A few pranks, a few stories about winning prizes, never clarifying that the prizes were for transfiguring a chandelier into a snowfall.

He has stories, too. I never really thought about what Muggle children must have done, during those years when I was learning arithmancy and transfiguration, but of course he also went to school, and he was also top of his class. He won a prize for mathematics, and another one for memorizing poetry. I don’t have a single poem memorized, and he has more than I can count. He recited one for me, about comparing a person to a summer day. The language felt like magic. It made me sad that I had missed learning all of that at Hogwarts. That I missed learning everything he knew.

Dougal is going to stay in the village and work on his father’s farm. He cares so much about his crops and his livestock, the ground and the sun and the water and all of it. (It’s one more thing that he’s studied and I don’t understand.) I’d love for him to meet Pomona; I think they’d be good friends. But he never can. She doesn’t know the Muggle world at all, and can’t pretend she lives in it.

When I talk to Muggles it is like I am transforming into someone else; I have to remember what Muggles do, and how they think. I have to remember that they walk towards objects and turn on lights and must do every little bit of work themselves, from stirring pots to scrubbing floors. Dougal doesn’t even notice how much work he does every day, his tanned, freckled arms constantly lifting and moving and carrying. I notice, though. I feel like I notice everything he does. I wonder how much he notices about me.

He knows that I am leaving at the end of the summer to take a job in London. He teases me about it, tells me I’ll become posh. I won’t, though. Wizards are rarely posh. But I know—because I’ve come to know him—that Dougal is really saying that he’s worried I’ll change. That we won’t be able to be friends anymore, if I’m a city girl and he’s a village boy.

But he doesn’t know that I’m already different. I don’t think of myself as a village girl. I didn’t think of the village at all when I was at Hogwarts. I thought of my family, I wrote them letters, but I never thought of the place I was born as somewhere I belonged. I was always meant to go to Hogwarts, and now I’m meant to be a part of the magical world.

I wish I could tell Dougal everything about me. I want him to know me, not just the Muggle part of me that he thinks he likes. I wonder if he would like all of me, if he knew who I really was. I already know I like him. I think I like him more than anyone I’ve ever met.

Yours faithfully,


August 20, 1954

Dear Diary,

Dougal has asked me to marry him.

It happened just hours ago; I had gone to visit him on his father’s farm so I could return the book of poetry he lent me. (T.S. Eliot, who must have known about the magical world, otherwise he couldn’t have written what he did about cats and mermaids.)

He took the book, but I could tell he was nervous about something because he bent the paper covers back and forth between his hands as he spoke to me. He looked agitated—excited—brilliant—handsome. I wanted to kiss him, so I asked him if I could, and then I did.

This was a different kind of kiss than the ones we had shared all summer. There was sadness in it, and hope. Then Dougal asked me if I would walk with him. I followed him out to his freshly ploughed field, the smell of the earth around us and the blue sky above, and Dougal said he wanted to ask me something “on the land that we might someday share.”

He asked me to marry him.

He had a ring in his pocket that had once belonged to his grandmother. He tucked the T.S. Eliot under his arm and held the ring towards me, bare and sparkling in the center of his palm. It was like he was holding out his heart.

And I knew, because he knew me, that he thought I might say no.

I said yes.

Later, when I was walking home, I slipped the ring off my finger and into my pocket, casting a Sticking Charm to ensure it would stay there. I suddenly realized that I didn’t know what I would tell my parents—that I would be giving up my job at the Ministry of Magic to remain in the village and marry Dougal? That I would be giving up my magic, everything I had loved for the past seven years, to stay?

So I didn’t tell them. I helped my mother with the cooking and the washing up—all done without magic, of course—and then I went upstairs to think, and now I am here.

I love Dougal. We could have a very happy life together.

But I also love magic. Which makes me think our life wouldn’t be all that happy, not over time; I would have to constantly pretend I was less than I was, knew less than I did, to fit into his world. He teases me about not knowing poetry or how to plant asparagus, but I cannot tease him about not knowing how Quidditch is played, or how to identify which gillyweed sprig will let you breathe underwater the longest. He asks me to read about cats and mermaids when I can become them.

But under it all Dougal knows me, which is why there was both love and surprise in his eyes when I accepted him. I think he knows what the real answer should be. I think I know.

But I don’t have to decide today. I don’t have to be in London until the first of September. I could carry this ring next to me a while longer.

As Eliot writes:
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

Even if I lose Dougal I will always have poetry. I only wish that he could also have magic.

Yours faithfully,


August 24, 1954

Dear Diary,

I am on the train to London. I may never see Dougal again—or worse, and more likely, I’ll see him every time I visit my family.

I keep thinking of his face, when I said I could not marry him. I knocked on his door and I could tell he knew, the minute he saw me, but I still had to say it, I still had to take the ring off my finger, and I still had to put the ring into his hand because he would not take it from mine.

Before I walked to his father’s farm I wanted to put a charm on the ring, so that he would always stay safe. Then I thought I should put a love charm on the ring, so that whomever he marries will love him as much as I do. But Professor Dumbledore taught us that love charms always fail; love is something bigger than magic, and cannot be controlled by it.

But I gave up love for magic.

The hardest part is that I could not tell him why I had changed my mind. He said “I knew you didn’t really want to, I always knew,” and I wanted to tell him that I was doing this so I did not have to keep the truth of who I was a secret, but of course I could not tell him because I have to keep the truth of who I am a secret.

It’s a snake eating its own tail, and here’s its twin: if I told Dougal that I was going to work for the Ministry of Magic, I’d lose my job at the Ministry of Magic. So instead I let him think that I was fickle and callous and then I left for London early. I did not tell anyone beside my family I was going, but I have no doubt that when I arrive, someone from the Ministry will be there to meet me. They know everything. They may already know about Dougal and the ring. It will be a relief if I never have to tell them.

Now I must begin my new life, and treat it like the life I always wanted. Which would have been true, before this summer. Which still is true—even though it breaks my heart to think of it.

I hope Dougal will think of me fondly, once his own heartbreak has healed.

Yours faithfully,


October 12, 1954

Dear Diary,

Having to go to work every day seems like a great unfairness. How do so many adults manage it? I suppose I am also an adult now, although I do not feel like it—and I do not think the other adults feel like it either.

I can tell by the way my coworkers look at me that they think I am young and foolish and inexperienced. They ask me to do the most mind-numbing tasks, and when I suggested I could use an accio spell to retrieve files from the enormous halls of cabinets instead of running up and down the halls myself, they said no. Turning down a perfectly good idea just because I am a member of the junior staff! 

(Someone told me later that the files might get damaged as they flew through the air, and that I needed to carry them by hand to ensure their security. I wanted to argue that I could get it to work, maybe by adding a modifier to the spell, but they’re not interested in my thoughts. They’re only interested in my ability to fetch and carry.)

When I took the job at the Ministry I thought I would be able to help make the wizarding world a better place for its inhabitants. I thought I would be taking on challenging tasks and working side-by-side with the brightest witches and wizards in London. Instead I spend my days walking from room to room handing out files and collecting documents, or sitting quietly in meetings making note of who said what. Sometimes they even ask me to run out and come back with tea and scones, because they know I can pretend to be a Muggle—and because I always carry Muggle money, which means I am literally paying to do my own job. They pay me back, of course, though not always in a timely fashion, and not at what I would consider the correct exchange rate.

Not everybody at the Ministry likes Muggles, which I find disappointing. Many of the senior staff are openly prejudiced against Muggles, and I feel like they are constantly watching me for mistakes, so they can blame it on the half of me that is not like them. Some of the senior officers are kind and wise, but others rose to power years ago and still support out-of-date ideas. The world would be so much better if young people were allowed to be in charge!

I still think of Dougal every day. Some days I think of him every minute. I have so little else to think about, as I walk up and down the file cabinets or sort letters for the Ministry’s owl post. (Their owlery is twice as large as the one at Hogwarts.) I wonder how often he thinks of me. If the Ministry did not hate Muggles so much, if just one person changed just one law, I could write a letter to Dougal and an owl would fly to his farm and land on his front porch, right where we stood the last time we were together. 

It is unfair—and I am still too young to do anything about it.

Yours faithfully, 


January 8, 1955

Dear Diary,

I thought I would hate going back to London after the holidays but I found myself missing it more than I anticipated. I loved seeing my family again, but it felt a bit like a favourite jumper gone small in the wash; still beloved even though it doesn’t quite fit at the shoulders. If it were a real jumper I could stretch it with magic, but a family is different. We have to stretch each other with love, I suppose.

It feels strange not to know where my home is. When I was at home, it was home; when I was at Hogwarts, it was both Hogwarts and home, back and forth over the terms and holidays. After I arrived in London I was certain I’d never feel at home there, but I became homesick for it the minute I went away.

I think it’s because I’ve finally made a friend. I haven’t written much about Elphinstone Urquart yet because at first I didn’t realize he was a friend; he was my boss, and bosses and junior staff aren’t supposed to be friends. But I walked into his office one day and he smiled, and the next day he asked if I would have a cup of tea with him, and then we became friends. (Not immediately after the first cup of tea. Possibly after the third one.)

He’s still my boss, of course, but he doesn’t treat me like the other bosses. He listens to me. He says I’ve got a brilliant mind, which I’m honestly kind of used to by now, but he also laughs at the jokes I make, which nobody ever does. Dougal would never laugh at anything. He was so serious and romantic.

I can’t believe I just wrote about Dougal like that—calling him romantic as if it were ridiculous. I used to think he was the best person in the world. I almost thought I’d marry him! But I still carry thoughts in my mind for Dougal; stories from the Ministry I wish I could tell him, bits of sunset from my window I wish he could see. I have conversations with him in my head, imagining how he would respond.

I mentioned Dougal to Elphinstone. Not the part about the ring, just the part about how I’d how I’d made this Muggle friend, and how it was unfair that I couldn’t tell him who I really was. Elphinstone doesn’t have much experience with Muggles—his family have been witches and wizards for years and years—but he doesn’t dislike them the way other people do. He asked me if I would really want to know that other people had talents I would never possess, and I said I already knew that. Everybody’s got different talents. I’ll never be able to calm a screaming mandrake the way Pomona does, or give a sermon like my father. I’ll never be a headmaster like Professor Dumbledore.

He said it was different, though. He asked me to think of Squibs, and how sad they always seemed to be. I said it was because we didn’t let Squibs be part of the magical world, not really; we always told them they were less capable than the rest of us, instead of asking them what their talents were. I also said it was a mistake to think that Squibs were always sad, or to equate mental state with lack of ability; in fact, I could name half-a-dozen wizards who were perpetually dismal even though their magic was perfectly capable!

Elphinstone laughed, after that, and he told me I was right. I wish there was a way to make it right for everybody, though. Maybe working at the Ministry is the best way to start. Maybe that’s why I’m starting to feel like London is my home.

Yours faithfully,


July 14, 1955

Dear Diary,

You’ll never guess who I saw today: Professor Dumbledore!

He came into the Ministry to take a meeting with somebody. Elphinstone says they want Professor Dumbledore to be Minister of Magic someday. I like that idea; it would be lovely to work under him. He’d probably give me more important tasks to do, since he knows my considerable talent first-hand.

(They still send me after files, even though I’ve been working at the Ministry for almost a year. How many scrolls does one person have to move before they prove themselves ready for bigger responsibilities?)

Professor Dumbledore stopped by Elphinstone’s office after his meeting. I didn’t realize Professor Dumbledore and Elphinstone were friends, but there they were, the Professor in the soft chair we keep for guests and Elphinstone sitting on his desk—and me allowed to sit on the wooden chair next to Elphinstone’s desk, because Professor Dumbledore asked me to stay.

“I’m very interested in how your career is going,” he told me. “I understand you almost took an interest in agriculture.”

Elphinstone didn’t get the joke and I didn’t explain it. I still haven’t told him about Dougal. I haven’t told Professor Dumbledore, either, but he seems to know everything. Perhaps he is an Animagus, and he flies across the country keeping watch over his former students. I should look his name up on the Registry, the next time I am sent into the basement to alphabetize files.

Professor Dumbledore asked how my Animagi work was going, and I had to admit that it had been months since I last became my cat form. “I don’t know what to do with it, anymore,” I said. “I learned this skill and now there’s no place to use it.”

Professor Dumbledore looked disappointed in me. “Your Animagus ability is not a skill that you use,” he said. “It is part of who you are.”

When I left work—and this is the strangest thing—it was as if Professor Dumbledore appeared out of the London crowd. I was going to write “as if by magic,” and then I remembered that was probably how he did it.

“May I walk with you?” he asked, and we walked together, and he told me not to let the Ministry change who I was. “They’re always worried about results, and numbers, and plans—and I know you’ve always enjoyed a good plan, but you are more than that. You are a young woman with an observant eye and a thoughtful heart and a brave spirit. Don’t let the Ministry make you think of yourself in terms of skills and results.”

I thanked him, and asked him how he was doing at Hogwarts, and we talked for a bit about students and professors we both knew, and it made me feel—well, it made me feel more like myself again. Like the first thing I was going to do, when I got home, was take a quick ride on my broom and then become a cat for the rest of the evening.

But Professor Dumbledore said one more thing before he left. “You know Elphinstone Urquart is sweet on you.”

“No, I didn’t,” I said, but Professor Dumbledore was gone. Disapparated into thin air.

I can’t believe it. I didn’t realize it at all! I thought Elphinstone was just being a friend. He’s older than I am, too. Not old old, but we never went to Hogwarts together, so he must be at least seven years older than me, and he’s my boss, and this is all so confusing, and I’m not sure what I’ll do when I see him at work tomorrow.

I think I will take that broom ride.

Yours faithfully,


August 28, 1955

Dear Diary,

How does a person know if they’ve chosen the right career? Over the past month, I’ve been more and more certain that I’ve made a mistake—and it’s the kind of mistake you have to visit every day, and dress up for, and be nice to when it asks if you enjoyed your weekend.

My father always knew that he wanted to be a minister. Dougal always knew that he wanted to be a farmer. My mother always said, “there weren’t as many opportunities for women when I was your age,” which makes me feel sad. She says she has the life that she wanted, but she gave up so much of herself for it. She put her wand in a box under the bed and kept it there for years.

My wand is on the bed next to me and I still feel like there’s something of me that’s stuffed inside a box, and I can’t figure out what it is. I do everything I’m supposed to. I go to work. I do my job. After work I read, or tidy my flat, or play a game of pick-up Quidditch with some of the other Ministry workers. Sometimes I become a cat and go exploring.

The Ministry’s even taken me off filing—after a year—and now I’m doing more interesting research and analysis. I have the job I wanted, I’m moving up, they’ve got me writing summaries of ancient Wizarding documents for higher-level Ministry staff… and yet I feel, every day, that it isn’t right.

I should love this. It’s reading, and writing, and helping to shape Wizarding policy, and playing Quidditch in the evenings. It’s everything I thought I wanted.

Things have changed with Elphinstone as well. I never told him what Professor Dumbledore told me, but he knew instantly. Our friendship is gone. He is polite and I am polite and neither of us admit what we both know, which is that he fancies himself in love with me—ridiculous! impossible! he’s my boss!—and because of that we can no longer say anything besides what everyone else says at work. Weekends and weather.

There are only a few Sunday hours left before it’s time to cook myself dinner and put myself to bed and get myself up so I can go to this job again. Sunday is like taking breaths of ever-thinning air. It’s worse than Monday even because on Monday I know exactly what I have to do, and on Sunday I have everything I want to do all at once and I can only pick two or three things, and one of them has to be cleaning or shopping.

Maybe I need a holiday, but I don’t know where to go. I’ve been to three places in my life: here, and home, and Hogwarts. I’d love to spend some time exploring Scotland. I should ask Elphinstone if I can take a week to travel. I haven’t a holiday yet, except a few days at Christmas—and I should think he’d be glad for a week without me.

Yours faithfully,


September 20, 1955

Dear Diary,

I am on the train back from my holiday in Scotland. Trains are always good spots for diary-writing; they put me in a contemplative mood that is only spoiled if I’m stuck with a chatty compartment-mate. Today I am across from an elderly couple who are busy falling asleep while sharing sections of the newspaper, so I have plenty of space for my own thoughts.

I’m thinking about the Hogwarts Express, and how it used to feel like this passage I took from the person I used to be to the person I wanted to become. We would always start the trip loud, everyone saying hello and sharing the sweets we purchased from the cart, but we’d get quieter as the sun set and we got closer to Hogwarts, and I remember staring out the window and seeing my own reflection in front of the dark sky, imagining all the wonderful things that could happen this year and how I would get to learn Transfiguration or play Quidditch or do something new.

I feel a bit like that now; like this train could be taking me towards a new and better Minerva, one who knows for certain whether working at the Ministry is the right career—and if it isn’t, what she is going to do instead—and who knows how to talk to her boss without both of them staring awkwardly at the floor between them. (I have learned, in the past month, that Elphinstone’s office is not swept as often as it should be. I wonder if it is my job to speak to the elves about that.)

But I also wonder how often we get these opportunities, as adults, to change; do we lock ourselves into our personalities the way an Animagus can in theory become any animal in the world until the actual moment of transformation? I will be a cat until the end of my days, and I will also be Minerva—but I assume Minerva will become someone cleverer and wiser at some point, simply because I always have, every year, until now.

I want to tell you about the school, though. While I was in Scotland, I met a woman who was two years above me at Hogwarts and who now teaches at the local school. She has a Muggle father, like I do, and she explained that a lot of children in the village have both Muggle and wizarding parents, which means a lot of owls circle their houses. Even the children with two Muggle parents may still get owls on their eleventh birthdays, because some great-aunt or grandfather went to Hogwarts.

So she teaches Muggle and magical children when they are young, and is there both for the students who receive their Hogwarts letters and the ones who are left behind. She told me that every year, students ask why they were chosen and why they were not chosen, and she always tells them that there’s something special about each of them, something that only they can do—and some of them can only do it if they go to this school that’s far away, and others of them can only do it if they stay in the village and continue learning.

I said, “You don’t really think that every person has something that only they can do?” and she said, “Of course I do!” It’s funny because she and I were never friends, at school—she was always of those chatty compartment-mates, and so I never sat with her—but now I find myself both liking and respecting her, and in many ways envying her. She seems to have found the one thing that only she can do. She also seems happy.

I wonder if I should teach. I always used to enjoy tutoring. I thought that I’d want to do something “important” instead, but that’s clearly a thought from a younger version of Minerva who is less clever and wise than the current one! Teaching is important. It’s certainly more important than half the work I do at the Ministry.

But what part of teaching is the part that only I can do? I don’t know. Perhaps if I stare out of this train window a bit longer, it will come to me.

Yours faithfully,


October 13, 1955

Dear Diary,

You will not believe what happened today.

I can scarcely believe it.

It began this morning, when Elphinstone asked me to meet him in his office. I must admit I’d been avoiding his office of late—passing him documents in the hallway, taking a week-long trip to Scotland—and so I was nervous about what he might say to me. Suppose he professed his love!

But he didn’t. Instead, he called me into his office to offer me a promotion.

I realized, right away, that this promotion would both improve my life at the Ministry and solve many of my problems. I would no longer be working directly under Elphinstone, I would be taking charge of a few local civic improvement projects, and of course my salary would increase.

But my first thought, as soon as I heard the words, was “NO.”

Elphinstone was clearly excited about the idea of my leading a group tasked with reviewing the existing Floo Network and deciding where to add additional entries and exit points. I was not. It’s hard to say why I wasn’t, but it was almost the same thought I had when I told Dougal I couldn’t marry him: if I take this path, I’ll be turning away from what I was meant to do.

I thanked Elphinstone, and told him that he’d have my decision by the end of the week. He said that wasn’t how the Ministry worked. “You don’t choose whether you move up. You take the opportunities offered to you or you leave.”

I said “Fine, you’ll have my answer by the end of the day, then,” and I left. I caught his eyes before I closed the office door; he looked sad, and hurt, and like he wanted to say so much more—but I didn’t let him. I walked out of the Ministry, in the middle of the day, and took the Floo Network to an owlery in Diagon Alley.

I bought a scroll and wrote a letter to Professor Dumbledore, asking if there were any open teaching positions at Hogwarts.

The owl returned as I was walking back to the Ministry. A tiny piece of scroll was attached to its leg, with a single sentence written:

I thought you’d never ask.

The scroll was also a Portkey.

Yes, dear diary, I am writing you from inside my new chambers in the Hogwarts faculty dormitory. (They’re much nicer than the ones for students.) The scroll took me to Professor Dumbledore’s office, where he explained that he had been expecting this request for weeks and had gone as far as announcing my appointment in his welcome speech to the students and faculty!

“I told them you were going to teach First-Year Transfiguration, but your arrival would be just a bit delayed and I would be leading class sessions until you made your appearance.”

Then he winked at me. “I suggest you make that appearance memorable.”

I asked him what would happen to my things—transported, of course, to my new room—and what I should tell Elphinstone. “I’ve sent him an owl explaining your new position,” Professor Dumbledore said. “Perhaps I should not have told you about his deep admiration and love for you. It pushed the two of you apart when I hoped it would bring you closer together. It’s a mistake I’ve made before, in love.”

Tomorrow I will write my own letter to Elphinstone, thanking him for his friendship and for being an excellent mentor when I needed one. I would not like him to think I left without saying goodbye.

Then, I’ll make my dramatic entrance into the first-year Transfiguration classroom. I already know how I’m going to do it.

Yours faithfully,


December 15, 1955

Dear Diary,

I just finished marking all of my students’ written exams. They have the practical exam tomorrow, and I suspect most of them will pass it. I hope they will, anyway. If they don’t, it would be my fault as much as theirs!

There are two students whom I worry about; one of them doesn’t seem to try, which is bad enough, but the other one does, which is worse. Not everyone has to be good at transfiguration, of course, it’s not the kind of skill one uses in everyday life, but it seems a shame to be invited to Hogwarts and not want to learn everything about witchcraft and wizardry.

But I think my student who doesn’t try—the one who sits in the back and halfheartedly waves his wand, delighted if his transfiguration efforts result in a snuffbox with one wiggling mouse leg—doesn’t see it that way. To him, Hogwarts is not a surprise or an honor or even an invitation. It’s something that happened because he turned eleven.

I wonder if I would have approached Hogwarts differently if I had always known it existed. To me the magical world was a daily discovery of possibility. If I had grown up watching my parents call out accio commands or transfigure small items, would I have been so eager to learn them myself? I’d like to think I would, but then I remind myself that in all my years of watching my father preach weekly sermons, I never tried to write one of my own.

Then there’s the student who does try, but can’t manage it. I’ve gone over the steps with him so many times, and I’ve always made sure he’s paired off with a more capable student (even though I see the looks they give me, thinking I’m passing my teaching burden onto them). There must be a reason why he can’t successfully transfigure his snuffbox. Maybe he doesn’t have the right wand. I know some of the students get sent over with hand-me-down wands from siblings, the parents not minding that it’ll make everything they do harder. I don’t know why you wouldn’t buy your child a new wand. Those parents must also see Hogwarts as “something you do when you turn eleven,” not the chance to get an education that will change the rest of your life.

Maybe I should tell my students that, at the beginning of next term. We teach transfiguration because we can use these spells to transform objects, but we also teach it because, through the discipline of learning the spells, we can transform ourselves.

Also I’ll do the cat thing again. They always like to see that. I’ll have to begin every term from now on as a cat, sitting on the desk before leaping off into my human form.

It seems funny to think of “every term from now on,” as if I will teach this class until I am as old as Professor Dumbledore! But I don’t ever want to do anything else. If Hogwarts lets me stay, I’ll be the best teacher I can be.

No—I’ll be the best teacher it’s ever had.

Yours faithfully,


June 9, 1956

Dear Diary,

My first year as a Hogwarts teacher is over! All of my second-term Transfiguration passed their exams, some better than others, but all of them well enough that I can feel confident in both my abilities and theirs.

Charles, the student for whom I bought a new wand, did wonderfully. He’s grown so much now that he has a wand that understands him. I’ve been setting aside part of my salary every month to help students like him in the future.

I asked Professor Dumbledore if there were a way for Hogwarts to provide some kind of scholarship to help students who can’t afford robes or books or wands. He smiled and said “it looks like you’ve already started one,” but that isn’t quite the same thing. Hogwarts should provide help as an institution, if it wants its students to become the best witches and wizards they can be.

I don’t think Professor Dumbledore shares that sentiment, though. I don’t know much about his childhood—he never talks about his family, although we all know about Aberforth, every first-year student hears those rumors whispered up and down the dormitories like jokes—but I am sure he didn’t grow up in a family like Charles’s, or even in a family like mine. (We were never poor, of course, but my father did not join the clergy for the money.)

But I will have all of next term to talk with Professor Dumbledore about ways to help our incoming students. I am delighted at how well my first year has gone. Gryffindor won the House Cup, all of my students passed, and we are about to begin a glorious summer—the first summer I will ever spend on the Hogwarts grounds.

I am so happy. I am already looking forward to years of doing exactly this, and better every time.

Yours faithfully,


September 12, 1970

Dear Diary,

It’s the end of the first week of term, and the beginning of my fifteenth year as a Hogwarts teacher. I’ll turn thirty-five in less than a month. I don’t feel old at all, but I do feel older, especially when I look at my students. It was hard to realize that I was growing apart from them, culturally; that their childhoods are now so different from mine that I could no longer address them from a place of shared experience.

Some parts of wizarding culture, like The Tales of Beedle the Bard, will always be part of wizard childhoods, but my students now come into the classroom having read books I’ve never heard of and listened to musicians whose names I don’t know. Plus television, of course, if they’re students from Muggle families. We didn’t own a television when I was growing up; almost nobody did. Now everybody does, and my students from Muggle families talk constantly about Doctor Who.

They also talk about this mysterious person—or group of people, I’m not quite sure—who keeps killing Muggles. The students from wizarding families have read about it in the papers, and the students from Muggle families have read about it in their papers, and the talk in the Great Hall at dinner is that it must be the same person. Or group of people. They leave a sign behind them; a skull on top of a snake.

Some of the students are frightened, especially the younger ones. They want to know if the murderer can get inside Hogwarts, or—if they have Muggle parents—if their families will be safe while they’re away. I came across a fifth-year Slytherin trying to scare a first-year Ravenclaw, telling some story about the murderer being a former Hogwarts student who wants revenge, and I found myself standing up very straight in my robes, looking strictly down on the older student, and declaring that no murderer could get through Hogwarts’ protective spells. The older student flinched, ashamed at having been caught by a teacher. I deducted ten points from Slytherin as punishment, and gave five points to the Ravenclaw student for being brave. He wasn’t being particularly brave at the moment, but I’ve learned that if you tell students they can be brave—or clever, or talented—they’ll believe it of themselves as well.

So yes, most of the talk this first week of term has been about these unusual murders. Professor Dumbledore has asked me if I would join him at a meeting tonight to discuss this situation in more detail. I’m imagining he’s going to tell the faculty how to address students’ fears, or how to reassure their parents that they’ll be safe at Hogwarts. I hope the people behind all of this will be caught soon, so that life can go back to normal.

Yours faithfully,


September 13, 1970

Dear Diary,

Yesterday I told you that Professor Dumbledore had invited me to a meeting. I assumed it would be a gathering of faculty to discuss how to handle the rumors going around, the ones about the recent Muggle murders. I thought we might discuss how to prevent the older students from frightening the younger ones, how to respond when students asked us questions, and so on.

It was not that kind of meeting at all.

When I arrived at Professor Dumbledore’s office, he asked me to take his hand while we apparated to a location he told me not to reveal to anybody—so I won’t even write it. Not that I’m entirely sure where we went, but when we arrived there was already a large group of people there. Maybe fifteen, and at least three of them from the Ministry. Also Rubeus Hagrid, the half-giant who works as Hogwarts gamekeeper. I’ve rarely spoken to him; they told all kinds of stories about Hagrid when I went to school, including the part where he got expelled from Hogwarts and had his wand broken, and now that I’ve become a teacher our paths seldom cross.

But it was Hagrid who was at the center of our meeting, which was—as I suspected—about the murders and who might be behind it. Hagrid and Professor Dumbledore are certain it’s someone they know, a former Hogwarts student. They spent much of the meeting discussing this person with the representatives of the Ministry, comparing notes and trying to ascertain whether this student might be our prime suspect.

I didn’t know why I was there, honestly. Certainly Professor Dumbledore needed to be there, and the people from the Ministry, and Hagrid because he apparently knew this student when they were both at school. I thought at first that they might have been friends, but as I listened to Hagrid speak about his former classmate I am fairly sure that they were not.

But this student caused a lot of trouble when he was at Hogwarts, and Hagrid got involved in some of it somehow, and now he and Professor Dumbledore are trying to convince the Ministry that they should stop this person before he murders any more innocent people. That seemed to be the purpose of the meeting, as far as I understood it—but why the secret location? Why did nobody say this student’s name?

I asked Professor Dumbledore, when we were back in his office, why he had asked me to join the meeting.

“Because I trust you,” he said. Then he looked at me, his eyes careful and sad. “Because I may need your help, someday.”

“But the Ministry is going to apprehend this person, aren’t they?” I asked. “Now that you and Hagrid have told them whom you think it is.”

“I have no doubt that the Ministry will do the best they can,” Professor Dumbledore said. “But they may need additional assistance.”

I know from experience that the Ministry is not the fastest at solving problems, but certainly they’d want to put all of their effort into stopping a murderer! I cannot write any more because I must prepare for tomorrow’s classes. I hope this all gets resolved soon.

Yours faithfully,


November 21, 1972

One of my second-year students asked me today how a person becomes an Animagus. I like to amuse my first-year students, on the first day of class, by entering the room as a cat and only revealing myself to be their Transfiguration professor after giving them ample time to wonder about my whereabouts; this left a lasting impression on one James Potter, apparently, and now he wants to know how to do the trick himself.

The trouble is, I’m not sure I believe him. He said all the right things, to be sure, the whole bit about my appearance as a cat being “the most astonishing thing I had ever seen” and “it opened my mind to what a wizard could do,” but he said it like he knew they were the right things to say; as if, provided he could spout the right combination of compliments, he would unlock whatever secret I was keeping from him about Animagi transformation.

James is one of those students who is too bright for his own good, unfortunately; he does well in class without trying, so I fear he’s never learned how to try. Everything has come easily to him, so far—friendships, sports, even adolescence, which so often makes children awkward. Mr. James Potter carries himself as if he were already a grown man, well past caring about schoolboy trifles, because everything he’s had to do so far has been trifling and quickly accomplished.

But becoming an Animagus is a difficult task, and very few students can handle it—and certainly not a second-year, who hasn’t even learned how to transfigure a looking-glass into a glass of water. I told James that the prerequisites for Animagi study began in the fourth year, and only one out of every fifty students might be able to pass on to the next level and begin the lengthy training process. 

“But what if I were just curious?” James asked. “How it worked, the spells involved, and so on. You’ve always said that learning how a spell is done is just as important as learning how to do it yourself.”

This is the kind of question that I would love to receive, if it came from a student who was beginning to master first-level transfiguration spells and had realized that learning the vocabulary of magic can help you form more complicated sentences, so to speak. But I sensed that something about James was not quite sincere. He did want to learn how to become an Animagus; that much was obvious. But he absolutely did not care how a spell was done. He never has, since he’s always been able to just do them. 

I told him that he could find all of the information he needed in the library. I can’t imagine him actually going—and if he does, it’ll be good for him.

Yours faithfully,


September 19, 1975

Dear Diary,

Every year James Potter and his friends attempt some new way of confounding me and every year I resolve to remain unconfounded. When they were third-years, the four of them all took Polyjuice potion and came to class as each other. They did not, however, go so far as to act like each other, and I knew almost immediately that it was actually shy Peter Pettigrew wearing the form of the more outgoing Sirius Black. (James, of course, was Peter—the best of the four at impersonation, although slightly cruel in the way he mimicked Peter’s unfortunate stammer.)

It took me two weeks to discover what they were up to this year, and I almost didn’t notice—until I realized that James Potter, usually eager to show off what he views as his extensive knowledge of transfiguration, hadn’t yet volunteered to answer a single question. Peter and Sirius have been equally taciturn. Their classwork and scrolls are receiving the usual high marks, but their lips remain sealed.

Remus, who tends to go along with whatever James suggests, does not appear to have signed on for this spell of silence. I would understand, perhaps, if he had a falling out with James—who can be fairly exclusive about whom he lets into his inner circle—but I can’t imagine him having fallen out with Sirius. Those two are as close as any friends I’ve ever seen.

I thought I would ask James about it after class today, but he disappeared before I could speak to him. I know I’m getting older, but I’d almost swear he vanished right in front of my eyes, as I was walking towards his desk. Of course, by the time I turned around, Sirius and Peter were gone as well. I will have to wait until next week to uncover why these boys have chosen silence as this year’s disruptive element.

Their self-enforced quiet does have the unintended effect of making class somewhat more peaceful than usual, though. Maybe it would be more beneficial to the rest of the students to let Potter and his friends keep at whatever game they’re playing. They’ll have to speak at some point. The longest I ever went without talking was a full month, and that’s because I was holding a mandrake leaf in my mouth as part of my Animagus training. They won’t be able to last half as long.

Yours faithfully,


November 2, 1977

Dear Diary,

I try to observe my students’ romances with as much professional detachment as possible—and if they did not make their forays into first love so completely obvious, I would not have to observe them at all.

However, I am beginning to worry about Severus Snape.

It would be inappropriate for me to confirm any of this with the students involved, but I can make an educated guess, after having seen these students interact for nearly seven years: Severus Snape was in love with Lily Evans, but Lily only ever gave Severus her friendship—though Severus, unaccustomed to either friendship or romance, overwhelmingly misinterpreted her intentions—and Lily’s new attachment to James Potter has forced Severus to confront a reality he was not formerly willing to acknowledge.

This reality is interrupting the academic reality I would prefer Severus to be focusing on right now: N.E.W.T. exams are coming up, and a student’s results can either open up career possibilities or close them off. Severus is an outstanding student, and I would hate to see him perform below his potential simply because he had been temporarily thwarted in love.

But I cannot say that. I cannot tell him that I have also known heartbreak, and how it feels like a transfiguration of the spirit. I changed, when I lost Dougal—and it took me a long time to feel like I had become myself again. I worry that Severus will change too; his tongue has already become sharper and he only speaks to bully or dismiss his classmates. Severus can bully expertly, having spent most of his life the subject of bullies, and he appears to see this as the silver lining under the dark emotions that hang on him like secondhand robes.

I want to help Severus get through this. All I can do is help him with his seventh-year transfiguration spells, and he doesn’t need any help with those.

What should a teacher do?

Yours faithfully,


June 20, 1978

Dear Diary,

The end of term tends to bring with it a feeling of relief; no matter how many Quidditch games were won or how many house points were scored, you can begin your summer holidays knowing that you did your best—or, if the back of your mind is occupied with a rankling sensation that you perhaps did not do the best work you could, at least you can do no more.

But this year there is no relief, and no holidays. It’s as if I am living two lives at once: first, the experienced professor handing out exam grades and congratulating eager and apt young wizards, many of whom have very little idea of what is happening at Hogwarts after hours. Second, the inexperienced student learning new spells alongside other members of the newly-formed Order of the Phoenix.

Some of these members are my former students—James Potter, Lily Evans, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew—and I have taken to cramming, like I did when I was their age, to keep up. Others are wizards I’ve never met before. One is a former thief; another is a Squib. But Professor Dumbledore knows and trusts them all, and so we spend our free time practicing together and preparing for what may come.

And what will it be, when it happens? The Dark Lord Voldemort continues to gain power, and there are rumors that he plans not only to conquer the magical world but also defeat death, which seems absurd. Yet his followers believe him—or say they do, because they are afraid of what might happen if they don’t.

So we have become the Order of the Phoenix; a well-chosen name, as it turns out, because the Phoenix accepts death. Which… is that what Professor Dumbledore is preparing us for? We have moved beyond defensive spells and are now learning how to fight, which makes me worry that there will be casualties. On both sides.

Part of me wishes that we could all just sit down together and talk. If we had a conversation, couldn’t we come to some kind of agreement? Both sides want to protect the wizarding world. Voldemort’s side believes that means removing all people of Muggle ancestry, and surely if we just had a discussion we could make them see why that would hurt the wizarding world more than they mistakenly assume it would help. If we could just talk, we could help Voldemort’s followers—because I doubt we’ll convince the Dark Lord himself—understand that they are holding false and dangerous beliefs that could fracture our community.

Instead, we are preparing for a war. One that we hope will never happen, but that we must ready ourselves for regardless.

There will be no summer holidays this year. Just work, and preparation, and hope that somehow Voldemort will be stopped before we have to stop him ourselves.

Yours faithfully,


December 30, 1978

Dear Diary,

It is the penultimate day of the year, and I have just returned from James and Lily Potter’s wedding.

Sirius Black, who has grown up surprisingly since graduation—but then again, it seems we all have—was Best Man, and gave a speech that I do not think I will soon forget. He was speaking to James and Lily, of course, but also to all of us in attendance: We do not know what will happen in the New Year, so take your joy where you can. Seek moments of happiness when you can. Share your love as much as you can, because love is the one thing that cannot be taken from us.

I wonder if I will ever be married. I used to assume I would; then I assumed I would not. I know you do not need a marriage to love, or to be loved—we all saw, in Sirius’s eyes, how much he loves his friends, and how much they love him in return. But I also saw something in Lily that reminded me of my own face in a mirror, when I was her age and in love with Dougal McGregor. It made me want to feel that kind of love again.

I can take heart in Sirius’s speech: we do not know what will happen in the New Year! Marriage may still be in my future. But I also know what he meant; 1979 will be a year of struggle, of resistance, of fighting for and fighting back. There will be love in everything we do, but it will not be the kind of love story that ends with a wedding.

Which is why James and Lily had their wedding now. James’ parents were in attendance; Lily’s were not. “My family doesn’t approve,” she told me. “From the day I got my Hogwarts letter, they’ve been trying to put things back the way they were.” I never knew that, and I’ve known Lily Potter since she was eleven years old.

Also not in attendance: Severus Snape. He did send a gift, though; an owl passed overhead, wings shadowing the cake, dropping a small package into Lily’s lap and then perching on the back of her chair to claim payment for the delivery. No one saw what inside the package, save Lily and James; she hid both what it was and what she felt about it. James hid nothing, made a joke about Snivellus Snape striking again, and the party went on.

So will we all go on, no matter what comes. We will fight, we will dance, we will toast, and we will love—and I will teach, the students come back from Christmas holidays in a week, and I cannot forget that to them, I must provide stability and structure. Inside these walls I hope their greatest concern is whether they can finish their assignments on time. Outside, well… as Sirius said, we do not know what may happen.

Yours faithfully,


January 22, 1979

Dear Diary,

I don’t know how we can keep going, amidst so much uncertainty—and yet we keep going.

Professor Dumbledore has told all the faculty that we must neither lose hope nor focus. “The worst thing we could do,” he said, “would be to give our students less of ourselves at the time when they need us the most.” He’s referring not only to the material we teach in class but also to the way we present ourselves outside of it: steadfast, optimistic, ready to set a good example.

The students are starting to separate themselves into factions. Regulus Black, previously known as Sirius Black’s quiet younger brother, has announced that he will be joining the Death Eaters after graduation. It’s the most I’ve ever heard him say, but he has a Dark Mark tattooed on his forearm, and it seems to have given him confidence. We’ve been advised to deduct five points from Slytherin should we discover Regulus frightening first-years by rolling up his sleeves, but neither he nor his fellow housemates mind. “Lose the cup and win the war,” I heard Regulus say.

The students are already assuming we’re at war. I suppose that’s what we’re calling it now, even though there have been no proper battles; no deaths, even, since the Bones were killed. What did I think—that the Order of the Phoenix would line up and march towards the Death Eaters, wands raised? War must mean a different thing, in modern times.

To me it means having to pretend that nothing is wrong—at the same time that I must constantly ask myself what I would do if something went very wrong. If Regulus Black attacks a faculty member whom he knows to be in the Order, for example. (He’s got some plan going on, I can tell.) Or if Lord Voldemort pays another visit to Hogwarts with another list of demands.

Since I’ve joined the Order, I’ve become friends with Alice Longbottom, who was younger than me at Hogwarts but not so young that she was ever my student, thank goodness. She and I met for a cup of tea at Hogsmeade, when I took the third-years out on Saturday. We sat at a table and pretended that nothing was wrong, that we hadn’t spent the previous night on broomsticks, practicing our casting aim while flying over the darkened Quidditch pitch. She told me that she and Frank were going to try for a baby. I thought she was joking, at first—or perhaps lying, for the benefit of eavesdroppers. But she wasn’t.

“Professor Dumbledore told me that we should live our lives, not wait for a better time that might not come,” she said. “And the baby will have its gran to take care of it, if we need to be taking care of something else.”

Then she smiled. “Professor Dumbledore also said it was a good thing, to bring more love into the world.”

I wouldn’t want to have a child right now. I would be afraid I couldn’t protect it, just like I am afraid that I won’t be able to protect my students, should the Death Eaters arrive at Hogwarts. That’s the real fear that keeps me up at night, after the Order has finished its practice and put its brooms and wands away.

I just hope this war, or whatever it is, is over before their baby is born.

Yours faithfully,


August 3, 1980

Dear Diary,

I got to meet baby Neville today. The Longbottoms have taken him home from the hospital, and Alice invited me to visit.

I’d forgotten how perfect a new baby can be; they’re entirely themselves, experiencing life for the first time, being passed from one loving set of arms to another. (Frank’s mother was staying at the house, which meant that Neville was most often in the arms of his doting and domineering grandmother, and Alice kept sending me mirthful and apologetic looks. It seems Neville’s gran already knows everything about how he should be raised.)

It’s strange to think that, if all goes well, I will be teaching Neville introductory transfiguration in eleven years. If all goes poorly, I suppose Hogwarts will no longer exist—but I’d rather not think about that. Today, I am not going to write about the war. I am going to write about the delight of meeting a child during his very first days on this earth, and watching his parents marvel at how wonderful he is.

Alice and Frank have become dear friends, and I’m touched that they want me to be a part of Neville’s life. I was surprised to feel nervous when I first held the baby, as if I’d drop him or hurt him in some way. I held my brothers, when they were babies, but I was barely older than they were. I didn’t realize how great a responsibility it was to hold a child—or to raise a child. Alice and Frank are going to teach this boy how to live; how to be strong and brave and kind. They’ve asked me to help them with that, and I hope I do my job well. I’ve already promised to come by next Sunday. (I should bring something. Maybe a meat pie.)

It’s hard not to think of another family, right now, and another baby. This child was not born in a hospital, and no one knows where he is—well, one person does. I trust that he is just as perfect, and that his parents are smiling at him the way Alice and Frank smile at Neville, but I don’t know. None of us do.

To save this baby’s life, we will have to treat him as if he were never born. He and his family will be hidden away for as long as the war goes on. Someday I will meet Harry Potter, but I have no idea when that day may be.

Yours faithfully,


February 23, 1981

Dear Diary,

Some days I think I’ll avoid reading the news until the evening. I tell myself that I need to teach, I need to be present for my students, I need to be what they need right now.

But copies of the Daily Prophet are everywhere, updated constantly via Protean Charm, and even if I don’t know whether to believe what’s printed in the paper, I am compelled to look—because at breakfast, my hair still damp at the bottom of its braid, my thoughts still shaking themselves from my dreams, someone will ask: “Did you read what happened?”

Today the questions are about whether Barty Crouch, Head of Magical Law Enforcement, actually signed an edict allowing Aurors to use Unforgivable Curses. The news proposes that he did. The Daily Prophet claims that Minister Bagnold approves.

But there are so many sources of news right now; the papers, the conversations, the parents who send owls asking Professor Dumbledore if he’s heard some rumor. Enough of the rumors turn out to be true that everyone has started to assume they’re all true, even the worst ones. Sometimes I wonder if we make the rumors true, just by behaving as if they were.

Are Aurors really going to use Unforgivable Curses? I must admit that part of me felt an instant surge of hope, as if the capacity to wield this particular power would finally end the war. An Unforgivable Curse stops someone, completely; enough curses, and the Death Eaters could be overcome.

But this is also a terrible thing to ask someone to do. It changes a person’s life. It changes our society. To know that certain members of the Ministry have been granted the ability to kill and destroy, to obliterate absolutely, well—it makes me wonder whether I should support this Ministry, though I haven’t really thought about what else I could do. Write a letter to the Daily Prophet? Apply for a teaching position at Beauxbatons? (They’d never take me; I don’t speak French.)

But what I could do, or what I should do, matters less than what I need to do, which is teach my transfiguration classes and work with the Order and be ready to take on everything that is asked of me.

If they ask me to use an Unforgivable Curse, though—I don’t know how I will respond.

Yours faithfully,


September 23, 1981

Dear Diary,

I need to list our successes, because at the moment the war seems full of failures.

First: Minister Bagnold has put several Death Eaters into Azkaban. This was the sort of thing people had been hoping would happen for months; why were the Death Eaters not being arrested, tried, convicted? Why were they allowed to continue behaving in ways that were both illegal and extralegal? If an ordinary wizard committed a single crime equivalent to the numerous crimes and corruptions demonstrated by the Death Eaters, that wizard would have faced consequences almost immediately.

Not that the Ministry hasn’t tried to prosecute Death Eaters, over the past few years; our previous minister, Harold Minchum, made a few attempts that were shut down by threats and—as the rumor goes—money. Minchum made a show of putting Dementors in Azkaban instead, claiming they were the real problem. (Minchum was the sort of politician who said the words “real problem” as loudly as possible, hoping he could make them true.)

So Minchum is out, Bagnold is in, and we are seeing victories.

Second: The Aurors have defeated the giants who were working with the Death Eaters. All of them, which none of us believed could happen. This wasn’t a clean victory, though; the Aurors used Unforgivable Curses to bring down the giants, and those that weren’t killed or captured fled Britain—whether they were allied with the Death Eaters or not.

We’ve gained a measure of peace, as the giants were both destructive and nearly unstoppable, but we’ve also removed an entire population, and we did it using measures that would have been seen as unacceptable—literally unforgivable—ten years before.

It’s at this point where I think “but the Death Eaters are killing wizards as well,” and start listing the names: Benjy Fenwick, Fabian and Gideon Prewett, Marlene McKinnon and her family. People I know—or knew.

Is it worth it to continue this fight, knowing what we have lost and will lose? Can’t it just end, somehow? Should we just let the Death Eaters take control, do what they want, because they already have control and maybe they’ll stop killing us?

Professor Dumbledore keeps telling us to carry on; to hope and fight and wait. Sometimes I think he knows something we do not; other times I think he looks tired, and sad, and ready for this to finally be over.

Yours faithfully,


November 2, 1981

Dear Diary,

I have had so many emotions in the past 48 hours that I don’t know how to write them in order—or how to feel them. They’ve all blended together into one giant lump around my heart: Hope. Grief. Fear. Sorrow. Anger. Trust.

I suppose I’ll start there, because we trusted Peter Pettigrew when we shouldn’t have, and because of that, James and Lily Potter are dead. But also: Lord Voldemort is dead. He aimed the Killing Curse at the infant child Harry and somehow Lord Voldemort was killed instead. I’m not sure how it happened. It’s never happened before.

Professor Dumbledore knew right away, the way he knows everything, and left Hogwarts in the middle of the night. The rest of us learned later. I got a letter from Alice Longbottom, flown in by owl, more eloquent than anything I can write tonight. Her joy. The war was over. She could raise her son in peace. She wrote, at the end of the letter, that she didn’t know who was taking care of Harry. That she could, since there weren’t any other Potters. That she would write Professor Dumbledore right away.

Except she didn’t. I don’t think the owl knew; his eyes looked calm, when he delivered my letter. But it must not have been long after he left when the Death Eaters arrived.

That’s the part I still don’t understand. They lost. Their leader was killed. But they took and tortured Frank and Alice just because they could. Because the war was only over when they said it was—or, as it turned out, when the Aurors arrived.

It seems as if our wars are like the Muggle ones after all; they’re settled not by a single spell but slowly, on paper and in the courts. The Death Eaters will go to trial. The Longbottoms are at St. Mungo’s, unlikely to recover. Their baby is with his grandmother. I do not know where Harry Potter is.

But Professor Dumbledore does, and we must trust him. He told me that someday I would know everything that happened at Godric’s Hollow—and, in time, meet Harry myself.

“You might have to do it as a cat, though,” he said, and then he smiled. As if there were enough space in his heart, amidst everything else he must have been feeling, to find room for a smile. I know there isn’t yet any space in mine.

Yours faithfully,


January 21, 1982

I got a letter from Elphinstone today. He writes that he wants to see me: “It is strange to think that we haven’t spoken since before the war.” I hadn’t thought it was all that strange; I suppose we could have spoken, but I was at Hogwarts and he was at the Ministry and—honestly, I feel like I’ve become a different person than the woman I was when I worked for him. That was thirty years ago.

I wonder what he’s like, now. The war must have aged him, like it has aged us all. I spent the holidays with my family, who understand my grief even if they do not understand its circumstance—I never told them I was in the Order, nor how close I was to so many people who were killed—and when I returned to Hogwarts I saw my face in the glass and realized how much I had changed. The lines on my forehead and around my eyes, matching the streaks of grey in my hair.

I feel as if I must go to London and meet with Elphinstone, though half of my mind is trying to think of ways to get out of it. How could we possibly sit together and talk about the old times? The thought that he once believed he was in love with me—and now to see each other again, and smile, and discuss everything but that.

Dougal is also dead. I hadn’t heard until I went home. They found him collapsed in his own fields. There’s a part of me that will always wonder if one of the Death Eaters was involved; someone who wanted to hurt me but couldn’t get through the protective wards of Hogwarts. But Dougal and I, to borrow Elphinstone’s phrase, hadn’t spoken since before the war. Since years before that. Long enough that it was hard to grieve him; that I forgot to write it down, in fact, until just now. Because I was thinking about Elphinstone, and love.

I was a girl when I loved Douglas; a young woman when I knew Elphinstone; now I am a middle-aged professor with greying hair pulled back into a bun, a woman who has lost her dearest friends. That’s why I’ll write him back and agree to meet. I know what it is like to be lonely, and to want someone to talk to—even if it’s someone to whom you haven’t spoken since before the war.

Yours faithfully,


February 3, 1982

Dear Diary,

Is it wrong to say that age has improved someone? I know that I am a stronger, kinder, and more compassionate person than I was in my youth—and, meeting Elphinstone for the first time in years, found him to be… it’s hard to say. Himself, of course. But different.

His smile, for example. It’s softer and at the same time more real. Not the wicked smirk he used to use when he and I would laugh about some Ministry colleague’s mistake.

He is also less quick to interrupt—which he used to do constantly—and I could feel him, as he looked at me from across the table, giving me the full benefit of his attention. Listening. Perhaps seeing me for the first time.

I only say that because it feels like I am seeing Elphinstone for the first time. We’re peers now. When I was younger I thought we were peers because we were both adults—but he was also my supervisor, which in retrospect made it an imbalanced relationship. I used to look at him and see a person I needed to please. Now I look at him and see a man I want to know.

The war has changed him, as it has changed us all. His hair is white to my grey, and the two of us made the usual jokes about getting older, aches and pains, as we sipped our tea and tried to decide whether we would talk about anything more serious. Which, in time, we did.

It is strange to tell someone your real aches and pains, especially when you hadn’t planned on it. I spoke about the Longbottoms, the sadness of going to visit them at St. Mungo’s and not being sure if they knew I was there. I think Alice squeezed my hand, but Frank’s mother, who is always present, said it didn’t mean anything. “Alice squeezes everybody’s hand.” She wouldn’t let me see the baby.

Elphinstone has also lost friends. We all have, and yet when we find each other and talk about our experiences it is like a discovery: You feel the same way I do. I did not realize anyone else could. I loved them so much.

He has asked if he can see me again. I had not thought I would say yes, but now I think I will.

Yours faithfully,


March 22, 1982

Dear Diary,

I want to keep this short because I want to write Elphinstone. I want to send him all my diaries, even the old ones where I was young and foolish, so he’ll know everything about me. Even the pages I wrote about him—what I thought when we met, what I thought he thought of me, how our thoughts mutually changed.

I got his most recent letter this morning, and I’ve been thinking all day about how I will respond, the sentences changing shape to accommodate new anecdotes, like the first-year who tried to hide her mistransfigured tinderbox’s wiggling tail by clamping her hand around the offending backside. (It didn’t work. It tickled.)

He wrote, in his letter, that poets compared women to flowers—so he would compare me to a sprig of heather, tall and straight and slim and able to take a strong wind. “Also,” he wrote, “the stem is like your green robe, and the pink flower your face. I fear I am not a poet, for I have not crafted my description in a way that increases either your or the heather’s beauty. Perhaps I could compare you to a well-written edict, the kind the Ministry only creates once in a generation.”

I used to imagine falling in love with the type of man who might write me poetry. I find myself liking Elphinstone’s prose much better. Our letters remind me of the conversations we used to have when we worked together, all fast and fun and me feeling like I never thought so carefully or cleverly in all my life. I don’t feel like I have to be careful around him now, though. I’m old enough—we both are—that I can just be myself.

Perhaps that’s how I’ll start the letter: “I used to imagine falling in love with a poet.” It’s a very clever way of putting it, because he’ll understand that I haven’t quite said that I love him; only that I used to imagine falling in love with someone who did well what he just did poorly. He’ll also understand that I am thinking about loving him. Perhaps even imagining it.

Or I could simply write that I’ve been wanting to write him all day, because I can’t teach a class or go to a meeting without my mind simultaneously working out how best to describe it to him. My first-year student kept her fingers as closely pressed together as her teeth, trying not to let the tail—or her laughter—escape.

I should just write it. I’ll write it all, however it comes out of my quill. There are shops in Hogsmeade that sell enchanted quills that will write love letters for you, no doubt with better poetry than Elphinstone’s. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to buy them, and lose the pleasure of writing their own.

Yours faithfully,


June 1, 1982

Dear Diary,

Elphinstone has asked me to marry him—and I have said yes.

Of course, you will know from my entries of late that this was not a surprise; we had been discussing, in between discussing everything else, what it might look like to build a life together.

A house in Hogsmeade, for example, which the newly-retired Elphinstone would manage during the day while I taught at Hogwarts. He wants to plant flowers, hang curtains, cook suppers. I told him I hadn’t needed to prepare a meal for myself since I began teaching, and then I told him I’d have to talk to Professor Dumbledore about giving all of us faculty the chance to practice our fry-ups, and he laughed.

I’ve been trained in giving instruction, in criticism; in defensive magic. I have not been trained in listening to a man I love laugh at something I’ve said. I do not know how to be married. I’ve told Elphinstone this. He says he will marry me anyway.

We’ll have a small wedding in just a few weeks; my family and his, and a few people from Hogwarts and the Ministry. There are too many people whom we would have invited—whom we wished we could invite—but who are no longer with us. So we’ll keep the day simple, and let my father lead the service after walking me down the aisle.

I will be an odd bride and Elphinstone will be an odd groom. We are too old and too independent. Too set in our mutual ways. And yet those ways seem to be coming together like two streams joining into a river—a metaphor which I thought would sound less like bad poetry before I wrote it down.

But to be a quiet river, one that curves calmly around a home and a school, and is filled with love… I wouldn’t mind that.

I will end this entry and write Elphinstone a dreadful poem about rivers, to honor our engagement day.

Yours faithfully,


June 30, 1982

Dear Minerva,

Thank you for sharing your diaries with me. I read them all, from the beginning—the earliest ones opened eagerly, as if they were excited to be read after so long. The ones written during your adolescence were more reluctant. One volume in particular was unwilling to open, so I set it aside and skipped that year. Later I turned around to see that it had opened on its own, the faded ribbon bookmark pointing towards your familiar handwriting on the first page.

I love you. I love that you have shared this part of yourself with me. There is always more of someone to know, even after you think you know them very well. Now I feel like I know your family, your friends—I wish I had been able to have a longer conversation with Pomona Sprout at our wedding, she is delightful—and your own good, honest, brave nature.

What a Gryffindor you are, my dear! They didn’t make you Head of House for nothing. I was never brave; only a little clever, and too witty for my own good. I see you writing that about me, when we first met all those years ago, and admire your perception. You saw in me what I did not see in myself—or what I could not see at the time. As you wisely noted, we both have changed.

I was embarrassed to read about my decades-old actions; ashamed that I had ever made you uncomfortable with my jokes or flirtations. I would claim it was not my fault, that I was being a man in imitation of the other men I knew, but that is dishonest. I was being who I was.

I don’t want to say I don’t know why I was flirting with you, back when we worked together at the Ministry. We are now married, after all. The why should be obvious. But it was also inappropriate, at the time, and I did not recognize that. You did. You were the one who took steps to change our relationship. You were the one, these years later, who took steps to change it again.

For that, my dear Minerva, I am eternally grateful. (Also, I cannot write as well as you—see, I have already fallen into cliche!)

What will we do, with the decades we have left to us? Travel the Floo Network from country to country, seeing how witches and wizards live on the other side of the globe? Invite my sister’s children to the cottage, and indulge them in sweets and games? Read our copies of the Daily Prophet side by side as we sip our tea? Sometimes I think there is still time left to invent something, or open a shop, or start a charity, or write a book. That used to be my dream—to have enough original thoughts to fill a full volume. But you, my love, have already filled dozens.

Your thoughts are as unique and and sharp and aptly perspective as you are. You teach transfiguration, but in these diaries you have transfigured ideas. You’ve changed the way I look at the world. (I’ve already told you that you’ve changed the way I look at myself.)

So. What shall we do next, you and I together? I believe a honeymoon is in order. I know that your teaching duties do not lend us the capacity to drop everything and live that luxurious life of constant travel, all misplaced luggage and drafty hotels, but if you’ve changed my view of the world then I want to view it all again, with you. Perhaps a week-long trip, to start. There’s a shop in Diagon Alley that sells Portkeys for Adventurers, a mystery destination in every package. Would you take that adventure with me?

I hope you do not mind that I have taken the liberty of writing this letter directly into your diary. I do not think you shall; the book did in fact nudge the quill in my direction, and then turn to a fresh page.

Yours always,


July 14, 1985

Dear Diary,

None of this was supposed to happen. It was unimaginable.


Time spins on while I stand still, stuck, lost.

Elphinstone has been dead for nine days now. I thought I would not write about it because I could not, how could I write about the great love of my life being dead, why is he dead, IT’S NOT FAIR, but the words keep forming themselves in my mind like screams and I have to put them somewhere.


He was bitten by a Venomous Tentacula, the sort of thing that is never supposed to happen, Pomona teaches children how to evade the Tentacula every year. You cast Diffindo, which he did, but it was too late.

They aren’t even supposed to bite humans. They eat insects, tiny chizpurfules, and when they do cause trouble for humans they trap them in their vines, and you cast Diffindo and the vines fall off and you’re fine.

Here is the worst part. We were on holiday and when it happened I apparated myself as close to Hogwarts I could get and then ran inside, searching for Professor Dumbledore. He met me on the stairs, as if he knew I was coming.

How much did he know? He gave me the Time-Turner when I asked for it. “If I refuse you,” he said, “you’ll always wonder what might have been—and so you may have it, to do with as you wish.”

When I returned to Elphinstone he was two hours dead. I held the Time-Turner in my hand and swore I would turn it, and then I had to think about what I would do after it was turned. How had it happened, and what events could I change? Elphinstone had gone ahead of me, stepped off the path, while I had stayed behind to look at a clump of aconite in full flower. I had wanted to take a photograph and show Pomona.

If I turned myself back three hours, I could hide near the venomous plant, close enough that I could hoot at him, perhaps, like an owl. I could not warn my past self to warn Elphinstone, nor allow her to see me, nor allow Elphinstone to see me. I could not cut down the Tentacula before Elphinstone found it. I could shout, put on a voice, possibly transfigure into a cat and climb a tree, find some nut that was about to detach from a branch and drop it onto Elphinstone’s head, anything to stop him from walking into the Venomous Tentacula’s arms.

But it might not work. I might be forced to watch him die again. If my past self saw my current self, heard me cry out as she also cried, we might find ourselves paradoxed into an eternal loop, the two of us watching each other watch Elphinstone die until the end of time.

I sat by his body with the Time-Turner in my hand and the night grew dark.

It’s not fair. I should have been clever enough, or brave enough, to save him. I’ve always been clever and brave enough for everything.

I’ve taken to wearing the Time-Turner around my neck, on a chain. Professor Dumbledore has not yet asked for its return, even though it is of no more use to me.

I feel like the world itself is no more use to me, although I carry on. There are students to teach, lives to be made better by my small influence.

Elphinstone is dead, but I cannot turn back time. I must keep moving forward.

I miss him so much.

Yours faithfully,


July 4, 1991

Dear Diary,

It is time for me to confess that I wrote something that is not true.

Many things, because to write the truth at the time was dangerous, and so I had to write down, in a book designed to be seen only by myself, a series of lies:

That I did not know where Harry Potter was.

That nobody did.

That, on the night after James and Lily Potters’ death and Lord Voldemort’s disappearance, I was at Hogwarts.

That I remained at Hogwarts over the following weeks, lost in grief.

That part was true. Partially. I got through the days with my tears tucked inside of me, the mouse transfigured into the snuffbox, invisible but not gone. At night I cried—but not every night. Not the nights I was a cat, and went to Number Four Privet Drive.

I told the truth as much as I could. I did receive a letter from Alice Longbottom in which she wrote that she hoped the infant Harry Potter was safe, and that she was ready to adopt him if he needed a family.

I did not write back and tell Alice that Harry Potter had a family—a family no child would want, but family nonetheless. I did not tell her that I had seen Harry, swaddled in Hagrid’s arms; that I could have held him myself but I was crying too hard.

I did not tell anyone. Not even Elphinstone—who did read my diaries, making my decision to write those lies an apt one.

I have known for eleven years that Harry Potter was alive. I’ve seen him. He’s a bright child; curious, kind, a little hesitant to trust or to let other people in, but it’s hard to blame him given his current circumstances. (His aunt and uncle make him live in a cupboard under the stairs.)

He needs a friend—probably a few good friends—but when he arrives at Hogwarts, after getting a letter that might constitute the greatest shock of his life, I will have to continue to lie. I cannot be his friend, except in secret. I cannot tell him that I have known him since he was born. He would ask, and well he should, why we did not rescue him from the Dursleys. Why he grew up a Muggle and not a wizard. Why he’s only finding out the truth about his parents—and about Lord Voldemort—right now.

It would be hard for him to understand that we did rescue him. It was not the most comfortable rescue, but better than sending him to Frank and Alice Longbottom would have been. (I must visit them again. I’ll go on Sunday.)

We didn’t just keep the truth from Harry Potter. We kept the truth from everybody.

Professor Dumbledore is sending the owl this morning. I can finally write the truth—and then close these diaries, clasp them tight around my schoolgirl excitements and my adult frustrations, my grief and my love, the war, the marriage, the deaths, all my discoveries and curiosities from childhood to what I must reluctantly admit is old age.

It is not my job to write about myself anymore. It is my job to help write the book of Harry Potter.

Yours faithfully,