Well, I wasn't going to post this story for quite some time, but the prologue just wrote itself and I couldn't resist. I will apologize in advance, as it will probably be a long time before I update. I'm still doing some research and haven't quite planned out Minerva's journey, except for the ending, in any detail. I hope you enjoy. In between quotes are from A Little Princess as well.
Note: Si Scealta is Gaelic for fairytale and seanamhair means grandmother. There will be Gaelic words scattered throughout this fic, and as I don't speak the language, they will probably be in different dialects. I apologize in advance.
"…I have short black hair and green eyes; besides which, I am a thin child and not fair in the least. I am one of the ugliest children I ever saw. She is beginning by telling a story."
She was mistaken, however, in thinking she was an ugly child. She was not in the least like Isobel Grange, who had been the beauty of the regiment, but she had an odd charm of her own. She was a slim, supple creature, rather tall for her age, and had an intense, attractive little face. Her hair was heavy and quite black and only curled at the tips; her eyes were greenish gray, it is true, but they were big, wonderful eyes with long, black lashes….
-Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess
As a child Minerva McGonagall ran wild over the moors and fields of heather and broom in the Scottish Highlands. Fearless, she climbed cliff and tree alike, reading, napping, learning, and wandering the twists and turns of her imagination. Dark-haired and dark-eyed with a fierce, stubborn spirit, she might have been a girl of the Celtic tribes, in those times past when Scotland had been Alba. She was a study in contrasts, a logical sensibility mixed with an open-minded faith in the existence of Faerie. It was an attitude she had inherited from her grandmother.
Many residents of the small town in which she lived, most notably the superstitious, suspected the blood of the Daoine Sidhe, the Fairy Host, ran through her veins. They believed that her nature was so fae as to be otherworldly, and they kept their distance.
The entire McGonagall family, Minerva, her parents, and especially her grandmother, were treated with caution. Minerva knew her grandmother, seanamhair Findabhair, her mother's mother, was a fairy doctress. She was too young to understand exactly what that meant, but she watched silently as individuals, townsfolk, awkwardly and secretively came to her seanamhair for help. Poultices, herbs, charms, wisdom, Minerva soaked it in, watching in her strange, solemn way.
Her parents spent most days in town half an hour away, leaving her in her seanamhair's care. Malcolm McGonagall owned a small grocery store, and Shannon worked as a nurse at the small, rural hospital. It was a lonely existence at times, being an only child and lacking friends, but Minerva didn't let it bother her. She developed the independence McGonagalls were known for, and anyway, she had not yet learned to tolerate those who struck her as idiots.
Minerva had always been a precocious child.
Much as she loved her freedom in the Highlands, explorations with and without her seanamhair, Minerva loved evenings best, when the sky grew dark and her parents were home. Sitting in front of the fireplace, her mother and father would tell stories of mortal dealings with the land of Faerie, of quests and tithes and lovers. On special occasions her seanamhair would speak, recounting a story of her own experience with the Sidhe, each one new and breathtaking.
And so Minerva grew, learning of the magic in and around the human world, until she turned eleven and learned of an entirely different sort of magic. She wished her seanamhair were still alive to see it. Findabhair had passed away in her sleep when Minerva was seven.
Had anyone in the Wizarding World cared enough to pay attention, they might have been surprised by how quickly the Muggle parents and their witch daughter adapted.
"I love your queer eyes," said Ermengarde, looking into them with affectionate admiration. "They always look as if they saw such a long way. I love them – and I love them to be green – though they look black generally."
"They are cat's eyes," laughed Sara; "but I can't see in the dark with them – because I have tried, and I couldn't – I wish I could."
In Minerva McGonagall's third year at Hogwarts she saved her best friend, Poppy, from stepping into a fairy ring. They had been walking along the edge of the Forbidden Forest when her sharp eyes had caught sight of the circle of toadstools and she abruptly yanked the Ravenclaw away.
"What?" Poppy asked, giving her a strange look.
The truth was on the tip of her tongue. But she had so few friends, and she remembered the mocking laughter when she had first arrived, new to the Wizarding World. Instead, she shrugged and smiled half-heartedly, leading the girl in a new direction without looking back.
"I find it strange how close-minded the Wizarding World can be," Minerva mused later that night. "With magic nearly anything is possible. And yet, anything that hasn't been discovered or proven simply doesn't exist. As if, because they have the gift of magic, they know everything about it."
Professor Dumbledore surveyed his unique Gryffindor student over his half-moon glasses, firelight highlighting his auburn hair. "You are very wise. But what is it that has you so pensive this evening, Miss McGonagall?" he asked fondly.
"I watch them laugh at the Muggle students from the country, the ones who still believe in the old ways and the Good Neighbors. They scorn them for their foolish, Muggle superstitions until they hide those beliefs. They hide it so well that it is forgotten, and once forgotten becomes disbelief." There was pain in her voice, at the loss of faith and the dimming of dreams.
"It is a shame. I am not sure what I believe or disbelieve," Dumbledore said with uncharacteristic honesty, "but I would never profess to beat down the beliefs of others." He hesitated before asking, "And you?"
Her lips curled into a helpless half-smile, and she studied him with her dark eyes, but she made no reply. Not yet.
She drew her breath in so sharply that it made a funny, sad little sound, and then she shut her lips and held them tightly closed, as if she was determined either to do or not to do something. Ermengarde had an idea that if she had been like any other little girl, she might have suddenly burst out sobbing and crying. But she did not.
In Minerva's seventh year she spent her first Christmas holiday at the castle. It was not a happy Christmas. Her father had been enlisted to fight in the war against Hitler and the Axis Powers, she wasn't sure where. Although word had not yet reached her, she knew in her soul that he was dead. Her mother had followed as a nurse, and a week ago had been killed by a stray bomb. She'd broken down only once after receiving the news, alone at night in her Head Girl's chambers.
Professor Dumbledore came upon her well after curfew in the middle of an empty corridor. It was the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. The faint strains of unearthly music reached her ears. She had never been able to see the fairies as her grandmother could, but every solstice she had heard them. It was the sound of fairy revelry, and never before had she been so tempted to follow. To lose herself and never come back.
Dumbledore watched his student for a moment from the shadows of the dark hallway. She sat on a windowsill hugging her knees to her chest and leaning her forehead against the pane of glass. Her breath fogged the window and the light of the full moon highlighted her sharp features and spilled over her long black hair. She must have been freezing in her thin school uniform, but she showed no sign of feeling the cold.
She was heartbreakingly beautiful.
"Miss McGonagall," the Transfiguration Professor said softly as he came to stand beside her.
Minerva didn't jump at his sudden appearance, and her gaze never wavered from the forest.
"What are you doing out so late?" he continued when it became apparent that she wouldn't speak.
"Listening," she murmured.
"To what, my dear?" Dumbledore asked.
"The midwinter revels." She turned her head so that her eerie green eyes regarded his warm, concerned blue, and softly sang:
"Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than
you can understand"
Underneath the song Dumbledore imagined he could almost hear an unearthly melody echoing in the silent air.
"Minerva," he said, and the rare use of her first name seemed to call her back from wherever her mind had been. "Come, and join me for a mug of hot cocoa." Albus did not understand what was happening, but he felt that, should he leave her be, she might disappear forever from his life, from this world.
Minerva regarded his outstretched hand for a long moment. At last she took it, sliding off her seat to stand before the auburn-haired wizard. "Thank you, Professor," she said quietly, and with one last glance across the bare snow-covered grounds, Minerva turned away to follow him wherever he would lead.