M. F. McG

by Kelly Chambliss

- / - / -

"McGonagall's retiring!"

Harry looked up as he spoke, waving the parchment that a large tawny owl had just delivered to "Potters and Weasleys, Kitchen, the Burrow." "That's what it says here."

"Retiring?" Ron Weasley repeated, a bit blankly. "I know she's getting up there, but - - "

"But it's hard to imagine Hogwarts without her," finished his mother from the stove as she waved her wand. Eggs began to crack themselves over the skillet.

The entire Weasley and Potter clans had come to the Burrow for Christmas; Harry and George had had bewitch the kitchen to get it to accommodate everyone. But most of them had gone home now; only Ron and Harry and their families remained, gathered for one last breakfast before their appointment with a portkey.

Harry's wife Ginny turned from the window, where she had been watching their children chase gnomes in the garden. "How old is McGonagall. . .80?" she asked.

"Oh, older, dear. But she's from strong wizarding stock," replied her mother.

"Live longer than Muggles, as you know," said Ginny's father. As he had nearly every day since his own retirement, Arthur Weasley sat at a side table surrounded by dismantled Muggle small appliances. "Minerva didn't seem to be slowing down too much last time I saw her; I wouldn't be surprised to see her get to Dumbledore's age at least."

"Well, no one can say Minerva McGonagall hasn't earned a good rest," said Mrs Weasley, levitating scrambled eggs onto plates. "No head of Hogwarts will ever match Dumbledore, but McGonagall is close. Call the children, Ginny dear. Breakfast is ready. And where's Hermione?"

"Yeah, she's been there, what, sixty years or so?" said Ron.

"Sixty years? I haven't been out of this kitchen more than twenty minutes!" Hermione came through the door in mock dudgeon. She led an abashed-looking Hugo by the hand. "Ron, your son has been trying to change Pigwidgeon into a chocolate frog again."

Ron grinned, but at a look from Hermione, rearranged his face into a stern grimace. "Hugo, what have we told you?"

"What's this about sixty years?" asked Hermione, giving Hugo one more warning glare before sitting down.

"It's McGonagall. She's retiring." Harry handed Hermione the parchment. "We're invited to her retirement party."

"Along with every other Hogwarts old boy and girl, no doubt, "said Hermione as she read. "They'll have to make the Great Hall five times its normal size."

"Well, maybe now she'll be able to have some sort of personal life," said Ginny. "I love Hogwarts, but I wouldn't want to spend my whole life living in two rooms of it, dealing with endless first-years and constant O.W.L. prep."

"Oh, I don't know. . ." Hermione had a far-away look in her eyes. "You could do worse than be a Hogwarts professor."

"What does that mean? Do you think you've done worse?" demanded Ron.

"Oh, don't be silly, Ron, of course not," said Hermione, patting his hand absently. "But an academic life. . .it's appealing."

"No family, though," said Ron, as though determined to make sure that Hermione wouldn't start to regret that she hadn't become a teacher at Hogwarts. "Like Ginny says, no personal life. Nobody to lo-o-o-o-v-e you. . ." He batted his eyes at his wife.

Farther down the table, Molly Weasley made a sound halfway between a laugh and a groan. "You children!" she said with fond exasperation, as if they all weren't at least 30. "Do you really believe that the Hogwarts professors have no personal lives? Do you think Minerva McGonagall has spent over half a century alone, with nothing but the Quidditch Cup to rouse her passions?"

"Well, er," said Harry. If truth were told, he hadn't really thought about it at all, and he wasn't sure he wanted to start now.

"Are you serious, Mum?" Ron asked incredulously. "McGonagall has passions? No, don't tell me; I don't wanna know."

"I do," said Ginny.

"So do I," Hermione agreed.

But Mrs Weasley was looking flustered. "No, I just. . .well, they are human, the teachers. . .children never realise that. . .that's all I meant. . ."

"No, that's not all," said Ginny, giving her mother a shrewd glance. "You know something specific about McGonagall, don't you, Mum?"

"Oh, I. . ."

"Go ahead, Molly, tell them," said Mr Weasley. He was attacking an electric mixer with the new pliers Harry had given him for Christmas, oblivious to the cord dragging through the eggy remains on his plate.

"No, Arthur. . ."

"What harm can it do? The children aren't gossips. And you're right. . .Minerva is much more than just a teacher. Why shouldn't they know her a little better?"

"Well, I. . ." Molly looked over at her grandchildren, and Ginny, taking the hint, shepherded them back into the garden. "Okay, the coast is clear," she said as she shut the door. "So spill it, Mum. Or you tell us, Dad."

Mr Weasley cleared his throat. "It was the start of our sixth year, wasn't it, Molly? Or was it the fifth? I'm not sure. . ."

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Arthur. It was our sixth year; I'll never forget it. We'd gone to Diagon Alley for our supplies, and we . . .um, well, we found ourselves in Knockturn Alley. . ."

"Knockturn Alley? You?" Harry was amazed; Mrs Weasley had always insisted that Knockturn Alley be shunned at all costs.

"Well, that was my fault, I'm afraid," said Mr Weasley. "I just. . .thought Molly should see. . ."

"Oh, he was showing off for me, dears, trying to make me think he was as tough as the Slytherin boys. Weren't you, love?"

Mr Weasley turned red and went at the mixer with renewed vigour. "We all do silly things when. . ."

"When we're young and in love," said Mrs Weasley. "And when we're not so young, come to that. Well, anyway, your father and I walked a little way down the alley, and right away I could feel that it was different. The Dark Arts. . .as you know very well. . .they have their own smell, and. . ."

"And we probably would have left after a minute or two," continued Mr Weasley, "except. . .oh, let's just show them, Molly. I know I won't be able to explain it. They need to see for themselves."

Mrs Weasley raised her eyes to her husband, but Harry could tell that she wasn't really seeing him; she was turned inward, looking at the past. "Yes, all right," she said slowly. "It was moving, their feelings. . .all right." Standing, she went to a cupboard in the corner and began rummaging, emerging with a bowl that looked very much like. . .

"A pensieve?" said Harry, surprised. Scarce and expensive, a pensieve didn't seem a likely possession for the Weasleys, who were always rather strapped for funds.

"We got it during. . .during the dark time," said Mrs Weasley. She paused; they none of them talked much about those Voldemort years. "We thought there might be essential memories we'd have to view; Dumbledore said as much, and after he died, well. . .it might have been the only way to find what he knew. Memories last, you know, if they've been extracted before. . .Of course," she went on hurriedly, "this pensieve's not nearly as good a quality as Dumbledore's, but it serves the purpose. Here. . ." She put her wand to her temple, preparing to draw out the memory.

Harry and Ron exchanged horrified glances. "Stop!" said Ron. Everyone looked at him. "Er, Mum, I. . ." He trailed off and then tried again. "Are we going to have to watch McGonagall. . .like, snog some old git? Because I really don't want. . ."

"Dumbledore, maybe?" said Ginny, with a significant glance at Hermione.

"Dumbledore?" Mr Weasley looked as startled as Harry felt. "Why would you think. . .?"

"That's what everybody thought," said Ginny. "That McGonagall and Dumbledore were. . .you know. . ."

"Everybody? I never thought any such thing!" gasped Ron.

"Me, neither," said Harry.

"Well, all the Gryffindor girls certainly did," said Hermione. "Except Parvati: she always thought McGonagall and Snape. . ."

"Snape!" Harry couldn't believe his ears.

"You mean you boys never speculated about that?" asked Hermione. "About which professor might have a thing with another?"

"No!" said Ron and Harry together.

Ginny laughed. "It's like we're fifteen again, isn't it? Are we really so immature that we can't handle the idea of two professors having it off?"

"No, it's not that, it's just. . ." said Harry. "Well, I don't want to watch, okay?"

"Mercy, Harry, do you really think Arthur and I would ask you to watch something that private?" asked Mrs Weasley. "That WE would have watched Minerva actually. . .? No, this is. . ." She looked at Mr Weasley rather helplessly. "I don't know, Arthur. Maybe this is just as invasive."

Mr Weasley put down his Muggle paraphernalia, all trace of embarrassment gone. "What we saw was touching, and I've always thought more highly of both of them because of it." He looked over at Ron and Harry. "Ginny's right, you know. You aren't sniggering schoolboys anymore. Minerva McGonagall risked her life for both of you, one way or another. You should know her as a grown-up."

There was a silence, during which Mrs Weasley returned her wand to her temple and drew out a shining silver filament that she stirred into the Pensieve. "Go ahead, watch."

One by one, Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Hermione put their faces into the silver swirl and fell into Mrs Weasley's memory.

- / - / -

They were in Knockturn Alley on a hot, sunny day. As Molly had remembered, the smell of the Dark Arts was strong; it made Harry cough as he tried to shut out his own dark memories.

"Look, there they are," whispered Ron, pointing to the entrance of the alley. A teenaged Arthur Weasley, a determined expression plastered on his face, was leading a scared-looking Molly Prewett by the hand. They seemed just slightly blurry; Harry saw what Molly had meant about this pensieve's quality.

"It's all right, Molly; I've been here dozens of times," Arthur said. Ron snorted.

Molly stopped and sniffed. "Can't you smell it, Arthur? The dark magic? Oh, I don't like this, let's go."

Arthur tugged her a little further along. "We'll just peek in a shop window or two, all right? We won't go in or anything." He put his arm around her, accompanied by another snort from his son.

Molly hesitated and leaned closer to him. "Just a couple of minutes, then," she said.

But they had taken only a few steps when a strong voice rang out behind them. "If you would just wait one minute, Minerva. . ."

"It's McGonagall!" bleated Molly in terror.

"Great Merlin!" muttered Arthur. "In here, Molly, quick. . ." And he dragged her into a narrow dark passage between two rickety buildings. Harry and the others found themselves wedged in the space, too, just in time to see a much younger Minerva McGonagall stalk past the opening, her back rigid with anger.

"Damn it, Mins, will you wait. . .Impedimenta!" A jet of red light stopped McGonagall in mid-step.

Into the brightness outside the dark passage strode a stocky witch with frizzy brown hair, a stern jaw, and a pipe sticking out of the side of her mouth.

"Professor Grubbly-Plank?" Harry could tell that Ginny was just as astounded as he was.

"Blimey!" breathed Ron. "She's McGonagall's passion?"

Grubbly-Plank stepped in front of McGonagall and waved her wand to remove the Impediment spell, but not before she'd taken a firm hold on the other woman's arm, to stop her storming off again.

"Can't we talk about this, Minerva?"

McGonagall jerked free of Grubbly-Plank's grasp, but she didn't try to walk away. "Talk about what? Your leaving me? What could we possibly have to say after that?"

"I am not leaving you!"

"The hell you aren't! You said - - "

"I said I was going to leave Hogwarts. Never said anything about leaving you. Now if you stay at the school, we obviously won't have much chance to set up cosy housekeeping together, but why can't you. . ."

"I don't give a damn about cosy housekeeping," McGonagall snarled. "I don't care if we have to spend the rest of our lives sneaking in and out of each other's rooms like pitiful first-years. I don't care if we have to sit in the staff room acting as if we barely know each other. I just want you near me. . ." She closed her eyes, and when she spoke again, it was with the strangled voice of someone trying not to cry. "Do we have to have this conversation in the middle of Knockturn Alley?"

Grubbly-Plank looked around, and for a horrifying moment, it seemed as if she were staring right at the crowd of them in the cramped wall nook. But it was evidently just the dark and quiet she noticed. "In here," she said, echoing Arthur.

Molly squeaked. She and Arthur squeezed themselves deeper into the tiny alley, ducking behind some dustbins. Their feet weren't silent on the cobbles, but the women were too engrossed in themselves to hear. They stopped just inside the passageway.

"Listen, Mins," Grubbly-Plank was saying. She'd put away her pipe and was holding McGonagall's hands in her own. "Think. At Hogwarts, we're always hiding. If I leave, well. . .it won't really be that much different, will it? We'll be together plenty often. Summers and breaks and evenings in Hogsmeade. . .Rosmerta rents rooms upstairs. . ."

"Oh, yes, now there's an excellent idea," snapped McGonagall, sounding just as she did in class. "By all means, let's meet for a quickie at Rosmerta's. I usually have ten minutes between classes."

Ron laughed aloud. "Good one, Mins," he said.

"All right, then." Grubbly-Plank sounded as if she were trying hard to be patient. "You want a better plan? Because I've got one."

"What is it?" asked McGonagall.

"Leave Hogwarts with me. We'll be together all the time. No sneaking, no pretending. Plenty of other fulfilling careers in the world besides teaching, Mins! Teaching is the only option I have at Hogwarts. Smothers me. But you wouldn't be tied down to any one thing if you left. You could be anything. Anything you wanted!" She stopped and took a deep breath. "Please," she said quietly. "I'm begging you, Minerva. Resign, and come with me."

"I can't."

"You mean you don't want to."

McGonagall stood silently for a minute and then looked Grubbly-Plank straight in the eyes.

"You're right, Wilhelmina," she said. "I don't want to. I don't want to give up teaching; I don't want to leave Hogwarts. I'm staying. Without you, since that's what it's come down to."

Grubbly-Plank looked as if she'd been Stunned.

"So you're leaving me, then. Well, fuck you, McGonagall," she said. To Harry's ears, not even Snape had ever sounded colder.

But to his surprise, McGonagall laughed softly. "Yes, please do," she said. "Only later, if you don't mind. Make-up sex is no good in an alley. Trust me." She pulled Grubbly-Plank to her and kissed her, hard.

"Criminy," whispered Ron.

"'No good in an alley, trust me'?" muttered Hermione to Harry. "How does she know?"

Grubbly-Plank was confused. "Wha. . .?"

"I'm not leaving you," said McGonagall. "But you're right again. As usual. You can't stay at Hogwarts; I. . .I think I've always known that. But somehow I convinced myself that when the time came, I could persuade you not to go. I thought I could make you be something you aren't, just for my sake. It was arrogant of me. . .I'm sorry. Still, I can't leave any more than you can stay. But it's all right, my love. There's still Plan A. We'll have summers. Breaks. And" - - with something close to a grin - - "We can always have a quick one at Rosmerta's."

Grubbly-Plank snorted. "Pretty sure of me, aren't you?" she grumbled. But she didn't sound angry.

McGonagall looked down at her, smiling. "Oh, my dear Willa," she whispered, drawing the backs of her fingers gently down the other woman's cheek. Their kiss this time was soft and deep, and only when they finally turned to leave the little passage did Harry realize that he had been holding Ginny's hand to his own lips.

- / - / -

They all tumbled back into the kitchen of the Burrow. Mrs Weasley was knitting; Mr Weasley looking baffled, was staring at the magnet from an electric can opener. Molly smiled at them.

"All right, dears?" she asked, her needles flashing on their own through maroon wool.

"Very," sniffled Hermione, conjuring a handkerchief to her nose.

Ron nodded. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, it was. . ." He searched for the right word but finally just settled for echoing Hermione. "It was all right. Very all right."

- / - / -

Later, in their own bedroom, Ginny looked at Harry curiously as he climbed into bed. "Are you sorry, Harry? That we watched Mum and Dad's memory?"

"No, I'm not," Harry replied, setting himself back on the pillows. "It was. . .I'm glad we saw it. But I have to say, I really expected to hate it - - I thought I would feel like a sniggering fifth-year again. I mean, come on, Gin - - McGonagall, of all people. How can you think of her and sex in the same sentence?"

"What do you mean, 'of all people'? McGonagall's not such a stretch, not at all. It's a lot harder to imagine Filch. . .or the Fat Lady. . .or wait. . .how about Umbridge. . .?"

"Arrghh! Stop!" Harry pulled the pillow over his ears. "Don't make me use a silencing charm!"

As they laughed and wanded off the lights, Harry was glad Ginny hadn't returned to the question of he couldn't think of sex and McGonagall, "of all people." He didn't know if he could explain. It wasn't her age or her stern demeanor, or the bun and the tartan dressing gown. . .not exactly. . .it was just. . .well, no matter what Mrs Weasley said, McGonagall wasn't really human. She was like Dumbledore. . . they were both something else entirely. . .and he didn't know what that was. . .what. . .they were. . .

Harry slept.

- / - / -

"Oh, my," said an awed Molly Weasley, looking around the Great Hall on the night of Minerva McGonagall's retirement party. "They've outdone themselves, Arthur, honestly. Are we even in the same place?"

A scarlet-and-gold Aurora Borealis sparkled in the star-spangled sky, and tiny fairies in all the Hogwarts house colors glittered in the air. There was a large dance floor and dozens of snowy-draped tables, each holding an exotic fresh flower from Neville's greenhouses.

Ron touched the navy-blue petals of a perfect placidus plant, its calming scent already filling the air. "And they used to say Longbottom was inept," he said, shaking his head.

The Weasleys and Potters had outdone themselves, too, Harry thought, looking at them in their elegant dress robes. Ron looked positively dashing; no one would ever believe that he'd once owned used, crushed-velvet dress robes with raggedy lace cuffs. The Great Hall was packed with former Hogwarts students of all ages, with Ministry of Magic toffs, and with any number of important-looking people that Harry didn't know. The only person he didn't see was McGonagall herself.

"She didn't want this party, you know. Professor McGonagall, that is. Well, former Professor McGonagall, I should say." Percy Weasley had bustled up to Harry's side. "We - - the Ministry, that is - - had to convince her it was her duty. Her absolute duty. Morale, you know," he finished obscurely. "Morale."

"Um, right," said Harry, wishing Ginny would come back from greeting old classmates. He never felt quite at ease with Percy. "Where is McGonagall, anyway?"

"Oh, er, with the Minister, no doubt. No doubt at all," said Percy. "That is. . ."

"That is, you don't know," said Harry, hiding a grin.

"Well, no. Not at the moment. But she'll be here, Harry. She'll be here. Her duty, you know."

"Right," said Harry again. "Well, see you, Percy." He wandered out toward the marble staircase, intent only on putting some distance between himself and Percy. But before he got past the nearest suit of armour, he saw them - - McGonagall and Grubbly-Plank, the former resplendent in tartan dress robes shot through with gold threads; the latter white-haired now but, judging from the grip she had on McGonagall's wrist, still quite strong. They were talking too intently to notice Harry.

Unwilling to interrupt and feeling as if he were back in Knockturn Alley, Harry ducked behind the armour to wait for them to pass. But as luck would have it, they stopped directly in front of him.

"If you don't want to go, don't go, Mins!" Grubbly-Plank was saying. "Gave your whole life to this place. Do what you want for once. You're Minerva fucking McGonagall, for Merlin's sake. The most influential headmistress since Rowena Ravenclaw. And you're retiring. What could they possibly do to you now?"

McGonagall laughed. "It's all right, Wilhelmina, truly. I've fought off Death Eaters; I can manage one last Hogwarts party. And after this. . .just think. . .no more recalcitrant students. No more political tapdancing with the Ministry. No more bickering faculty. No more illiterate parchments to mark, no more cackling poltergeists. . ."

Grubbly-Plank put an arm around McGonagall's waist and touched her hair, still streaked with black in its tight bun. "And you'll miss it all, won't you, dear?"

"Madly," McGonagall whispered. "Oh, I'll miss it madly, Willa." She leaned into Grubbly-Plank's embrace but almost immediately stood straight again. "Enough!" she said, wiping her eyes with one hand and holding out the other. "Come, my love."

"You don't have to do this, you know, Mins. I'm happy to stay in the background. You've always said your personal life was no one's busi. . . "

"Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank!" McGonagall's voice cut like a lash, and Harry was instantly back in Transfiguration, weak with relief that she wasn't talking to him. "We've been together over fifty years, and I want you with me at last!"

They stared at each other, and then McGonagall, now barely audible, said, "Please?"

Grubbly-Plank grinned, bowed low, kissed McGonagall's hand, and tucked the other woman's arm through hers. "Lead on, McG," she said. Arm in arm, the two old women started toward the Great Hall.

Harry waited, scarcely breathing. As McGonagall passed, she looked directly at him and nodded. "Potter," she said crisply. And swept on.

Vaguely aware that his mouth was gaping idiotically, Harry followed, his mind focused on only one thought: He knew. He knew now what she was.

She was Gryffindor House. She was Hogwarts. She was as much a part of him as his scar.

She was Minerva Fucking McGonagall.