A/N: This story was my entry in the recent "Samhain_Smut" fest on LJ. The prompt I claimed was this one: "Minerva McGonagall has her ghosts. As Hallowe'en approaches, the ghosts come calling."
Ever since JKR posted on Pottermore her backstory for Minerva, I've been wanting to rewrite it. I don't know what it is with Rowling and this silly emo notion that otherwise reasonable, intelligent adults are going to spend their lives alone because they can't stop pining over a long-ago teenage love affair. But that's the story she's given Severus, Albus, and now Minerva. I don't buy it, frankly. So here's my version.
- - / / - -
Watches of a Samhain Night
By Kelly Chambliss
- - / / - -
Minerva McGonagall would be the first to tell you that the dark is not always Dark.
Of course, anything can be turned Dark by those with evil in their hearts, but the ordinary dark is nothing to be feared. It is merely the other side of light, one half of a whole. The light of Beltane gives way to the dark of Samhain just as the night follows from the day - - a natural cycle, nothing more or less. After all, it is the dark, quiet cocoon of winter that breeds the coming summer.
Death, too, is just one half of a whole. Minerva would tell you that as well. Death is simply the other side of life, and sometimes, as at Samhain, the two sides merge. Life and death become words without meaning, for on that night, our dead can return to us.
- - / / - -
Not all of Minerva McGonagall's dead visit her at Samhain, of course, nor does she want them to. She has lost so many, you see, and they did not all part from her on the best of terms.
Her father, for instance. . .she had loved him, and he her, but the Reverend Mr. Robert McGonagall had loved his God, too, and he had gone to his grave believing that his daughter's pagan soul was lost for eternity. Minerva does not think she could bear to look upon his disappointed face again.
She would like to see her mother, however. But although Minerva lays out oatcakes, apples, and ale on every Hallows' Eve, her mother has never appeared to her, either in body or in spirit. It was her mother who taught Minerva how to appease and entice the dead with food and drink at Samhain, but now that she is behind the Veil herself, she doesn't heed her own lessons.
Minerva isn't surprised. She'd tell you - - if she were the sort of woman who talked about herself to strangers - - that she's even a wee bit pleased. In life, the firmly-independent Isobel McGonagall refused to be at anyone's beck and call, and Minerva finds herself rather glad to know that nothing has changed now that her mother is gone.
Still, even though Isobel stays resolutely behind the Veil, Minerva's offerings of cakes and ale have not gone unappreciated by everyone.
Minerva would never tell you this, of course, but often on Samhain Night, after she has gone to the far side of the lake to light a small bonfire. . .
after she has set out the cool ale and the freshly-baked oatcakes, rich with brown sugar and butter. . .
after she has whispered the lightest of laceration charms over her finger-tip, so that a single drop of living blood falls into the ale jug. . .
after she has done all these things, a few of her dead sometimes come to her.
- - / / - -
They are a very select few indeed: they are her lovers.
Over the course of her long life, Minerva McGonagall has shared her bed and her body with three people. She cared about two of them. She was deeply in love with the third.
But they left her, one by one, taken away by accident and circumstance and war, and now she is alone.
She will hex you, though, if you dare to pity her. These days, she is alone by choice and doesn't need or want your sympathy.
Why would she, when she has Samhain?
Each year, she leaves the elemental offerings of her living world: fire and food and blood. Each year, she returns to her chamber in its high tower and waits in the dark. And each year, one of her lovers comes to take her to bed.
Sometimes they come in spirit, sometimes in body. Always they come just for her.
So you see, Minerva McGonagall is the last person in the world to need anyone's pity. She has her castle and her students and her beloved school, run now the way she wishes it to be. She has people who respect and perhaps even love her as Headmistress of Hogwarts.
And she has three people who she likes to believe might love her for herself.
Amelia. Elphie. Severus.
- - / / - -
As you have probably already surmised, Minerva's uptight exterior - - prim-lipped, tight-bunned, straight-backed - - is just that: an exterior. There's a great deal of passion in Minerva McGonagall, and there have been times in her life when she has been quite, quite wild with it.
Like the years she spent in London, working at the Ministry and being desperately in love with Amelia Bones.
Minerva is enough of her father's daughter to have been shocked, at first, at the idea that she could be in love with another woman. Like her father, she values rules and tradition, sees them as the backbone of social order, not to be lightly dismissed. Her father would have tried not to judge the people who loved their own sex, but he would have sorrowed over their bad choices and feared for their souls. He would have prayed for their deliverance from their affliction, and Minerva, too, had thought for a desolate time that her desires marked her as sick.
But she is also enough of her mother's daughter to be willing to risk the world's disapproval when she feels herself justified. "You have a good heart and a good head, Minerva Ross McGonagall, just like the gran I named you for," her mother often told her. "Use them. Do what's right when you know what it is, and don't let the lackwits tell you nay."
So Minerva used her head and listened to her heart and finally was convinced: her love for Amelia brought them both happiness and harmed no one and was therefore neither wrong nor sick.
You'll understand, though, why the two of them kept their relationship a secret at the Ministry; they both had their careers to think of. At peace with their own love they might be, but neither was foolish enough to believe that the rest of wizarding world would agree.
In fact, the wizarding world took one look at Amelia, with her short-cropped hair and her monocle and her biceps and her (rumoured) trousers worn under her Auror robes, and decided for itself that she was a sexual deviant. "I don't care what kind of pervert you are, Bones," Dearborn, the head of Magical Law Enforcement, had snapped. "As long as you don't bring it to the Job, you understand?"
"And he probably thought he was being broad-minded," Amelia had said bitterly as she recounted the episode to Minerva later that evening.
Minerva, ever the realist, hadn't tried to argue otherwise. She'd merely reached up to unpin her hair, her way of reminding Amelia that their secrecy, however problematic, was not without its benefits.
"Let's go to bed," she'd said.
And for a while, it had been enough - - love, and sex, and each other. But then Amelia, always so expansive and full of life, had grown restive and impatient under Minerva's constant caution, her constant restraint. Minerva, feeling judged, had responded with waspish sarcasm - - well, you can probably imagine what she was like.
In the end, Amelia left Minerva. She was honourable about it, of course - - she didn't sleep with other women while she was still with Minerva, nor did she try to argue that all the problems were Minerva's fault. She simply concluded that the relationship was beyond fixing and stuck to her decision with a steadfastness of purpose that Minerva could have admired if she hadn't been losing Amelia because of it.
But lose Amelia she did. And if the loss made Minerva feel as if all the breath had left her body and all the light had left the world, she didn't let the darkened, airless world know. Instead, with typical McGonagall fortitude, she told herself it was for the best - - she wouldn't have wanted to keep Amelia with her if Amelia didn't want to be kept.
She refused to let herself repine, for such was not her way; you know that Minerva has never been the sort to think that her own sorrows are any worse or less-deserved than anyone else's. She came to terms and moved on, of course she did. But she couldn't stay at the Ministry; she went to teach at Hogwarts instead.
Minerva's close friends (and there aren't many; she doesn't make such commitments lightly or easily) might believe that she never stopped loving Amelia Bones, but you'll have to decide that for yourself. It's certainly not something Minerva will ever discuss with you.
- - / / - -
Whatever her continued feelings for Madam Bones, it's safe to say that Minerva never expected to marry Elphinstone Urquart.
When she'd worked at the Ministry, she'd appreciated him as a pleasant boss. After the breakup with Amelia, she'd come to care for him as a sympathetic friend, though she hadn't explained to him the real reason for her sadness. (She'd dredged up the story of Dougal McGregor, a lad with whom she'd fancied herself in love as a girl, and dear Mr Urquart, bless him, had had no trouble believing that even a woman as pragmatic as Minerva could pine for a decade over a teenage romance.) Still, even if she found Mr Urquart to be a bit credulous, she always respected him.
But she was never in love with him, not for a moment.
Yet she'd married him anyway, and even though she would agree that he seemed happy during the three years they lived together, she has never felt easy about having accepted him.
It's never set well with Minerva that she let herself marry someone for what she sees as purely selfish reasons. She knew that she would never love Elphinstone in the way he wished her to, but she had also known that he wouldn't make demands on her heart that she couldn't meet. He would ask little of her and yet would be a comfort, a buffer against a world that seemed determined to marry off every woman in it. Ironically, she realised that by marrying Elphinstone Urquart, she could be more independent and self-contained than when she was single, for the world would now leave her alone.
And she'd never again have to risk a broken heart, for how could he hurt her if she didn't love him?
So she had married Elphinstone because he was safe, because he was undemanding - - and because he loved her. Loved her enough not to interfere with her work or her name. Loved her enough to pursue her even in the face of her discouragement. Loved her as Amelia, in the end, had not.
He had loved her, and she'd very much needed to believe that someone could.
That her marriage was selfish and wrong and unfair to Elphinstone, she now has no doubt. That her marriage was unfair even to herself, she quickly came to understand; it was very difficult, she found, to live every day with someone from whom she had to hide so much about herself.
So, yes. Her marriage had been a mistake.
But Minerva has never been one to wallow in regret. Though she believes she wronged Elphie, she tried to atone. She tried to be a good wife to him. She tried not to take too much advantage of him. You might not know this, but she never allowed Elphinstone to support her financially. To Minerva, taking a man's money without giving him her love would be have been tantamount to whoring, and she would never have cheated either Elphie or herself in such a way.
So she continued to teach, and she kept her own name, and if she didn't give Elphinstone her love, you can't say that she didn't give him what she could: her body, her company, her sympathy. She may not have had romantic feelings for him, but she always valued him as a kind, good man. She did her best not to hurt him, and she was genuinely grieved when he died.
If you wanted to call that a form of love, feel free.
- - / / - -
Not that Minerva often lets herself be distracted by this sort of philosophising. She has far too much to occupy her mind, what with all the issues and crises and decisions that face the Headmistress of Hogwarts. Even when she was just the Deputy Head, she did most of the daily running of the school herself. Her job didn't leave a lot of time for worrying about love.
In fact, after Elphinstone died (from a senseless accident with a Venomous Tentacula; you'd better believe that Minerva is extra-vigilant about plant safety in the Hogwarts greenhouses), she decided to put all those thoughts - - of love and sex and romance - - behind her. She had her work and her friends and her family and her Transfiguration research, and she firmly believed that she needed nothing more, no one else.
Yes, of course you're smiling to yourself and muttering about "best-laid schemes o' mice and men." Minerva should have thought of that, too - - who better to know her Rabbie Burns than a true daughter of Scotland? But no, she went ahead and made her plans to live a fulfilling, work-centered life. A celibate life.
Enter Severus Snape.
Admittedly, Snape is not the first person who might spring to your mind when you're trying to imagine compelling sexual partners. He was pale, greasy, surly, and seemed like the last person who would be interested in giving pleasure to anyone.
You certainly wouldn't think that he'd want to give pleasure to Minerva, and even less would you think that she'd be willing to accept it from him. He'd been her student, after all, and was decades younger than she, and had been a Death Eater to boot. He had supported (only briefly, true, but supported all the same) the megalomaniac to whom Minerva devoted much of her adult life to overthrowing - - the very man who was eventually personally responsible for the murder of Amelia Bones.
Yet it had been Severus Snape to whom Minerva had turned for comfort when the news of Amelia's death reached her. It had been Severus who had held her (albeit stiffly) as she wept out her grief, had awkwardly stroked her hair and who had known that he need say nothing, because there was nothing to be said.
None of Minerva's other friends - - not Poppy, not Pomona, not Albus - - has ever quite understood her the way Severus did. Minerva and Severus were more alike than the world usually recognised: both cared more deeply about things than their brittle surfaces would suggest; both understood sacrifice better than they might have wished to; both shared a vein of cynicism and a sharp wit that could cut as deep as any Sectumsempra when they let it.
And both had known bitter rejection.
Their sense of comfort in each other had not developed smoothly, of course; they'd both been too prickly and emotionally-shielded to have trusted each other quickly or without conflict. There had been arguments and set-backs, each of them hiding their fear of intimacy behind sneers or tart rebukes. Gradually, however, unspoken truces had been declared, and eventually Minerva realised that her evenings of talk and drink with Severus had turned into the highlight of her life.
They became lovers a few months after Severus's thirtieth birthday, and neither of them was ever sure (or so they said) who made the first move. It had been summer, and hot, and they had been alone in the castle except for the elves and the ghosts. They had dined, just the two of them, at the table in the staff room; they'd talked, perhaps more seriously than before, and they had both read loneliness between the lines of the other's speech.
In the end, they had taken each other to bed. No strings, they said. It means nothing, they said. It's just a bit of comfort, they said. It's not about love.
They said all these things that first night - - and on the many nights thereafter that they came together to share their not-love.
Then Albus died, and Severus fled, and once he returned as headmaster, he and Minerva never touched each other again.
She never truly believed, though, that he had returned to the Dark Lord's service, and she had been angry with him because he apparently did not trust her enough to tell her so.
She'd called him a "coward" for that, and she is sorry, now.
- - / / - -
For the past decade, they have come to her, these three lovers, on Samhain night. Oh, not all together, of course - - can you really imagine someone as private and reserved as Minerva McGonagall being interested in sex as any sort of public display?
Only one of them comes each year, and Minerva never knows which one it will be.
For the first year, it was Elphinstone. He'd come in spirit only, not body, yet she'd felt his presence - - well, at least a presence - - as soon as he entered her bedchamber. There had been a thickening of the air, the moonlight had wavered, and she had known without doubt that she was no longer alone.
"Mother?" she'd asked, more sharply than she should have, perhaps, but then, you have to admit, even if you were a person used to ghosts, it would be unsettling to have an invisible, anonymous consciousness sharing your room.
Then Minerva had felt a tapping on her shoulder from behind, like a gentle finger asking for her attention, followed by the sensation of something sliding around her waist. She'd looked down and had seen only her white nightgown - - but the fabric was compressed against her skin, as if an arm held it there.
She's closed her eyes, and suddenly the arm had felt real.
"Elphie?" she breathed. "Is that you?"
For it was what he'd always done when he'd wanted to take her to bed - - tapped her shoulder and encircled her waist and asked, "Do you mind, my dear?" Followed invariably by, "I'm sorry to impose."
She'd tried in vain to assure him that it was no imposition, that she didn't mind at all, that she was his wife, that of course she wanted to be with him. But he had come from a different generation, one that believed that "good" women submitted to their husbands' sexual demands only out of a sense of duty; he never quite believed her protestations to the contrary.
And if she were totally honest with herself - - which, being Minerva McGonagall, she tries always to be - - she could never escape the niggling fear that he knew she often did find sex with him to be merely a duty. He was too reverent, too tentative, too committed to the missionary position. He hadn't quite been able to conceal his shock the first time she'd removed all her clothes, and when she finally made him understand that she, too, hoped for an orgasm, he was so visibly scandalised that she took pity on him and hadn't mentioned it again.
She thereafter handled her needs herself, and you'll forgive her, surely, when you hear that she thought more often of Amelia than of Elphinstone as she did so.
As time went on, Elphinstone wanted sex less and less often, and during the last year of their marriage, he ceased to want it altogether. The one time she'd asked him, he'd obliged, but with such an air of doing his duty that she'd never repeated the request.
Yet on the night of her first Samhain visitation, it seemed to be Elphinstone who had come to her, and it seemed to be sex that he desired.
"Elphie?" she'd asked again, and an invisible hand had stroked her cheek.
She'd wanted to look upon him again, to see his face, but before she could utter the request, she felt him, from inside her mind, tell her "no" - - not in actual words, but in some way that nonetheless left her filled with certainty, just as if a voice had spoken.
Then the certainty filled her once more - - he wanted to make love to her, she could feel that he did.
And she found herself not unwilling to be close to him again. As she grew older, she came more and more to appreciate what Elphinstone had offered her in life - - here was a chance to tell him so, to show him, to make amends.
"Yes," she said, or intended to say, but she wasn't sure whether she spoke the word or simply thought it.
The invisible hands began to undress her, but not in a conventional way - - instead of unfastening her gown or maneuvering her arms out of the sleeves, the hands simply wafted the garments off of her. The fabric whispered away from her skin, and the pins floated from her hair, and Minerva had stood naked in the moonlight, yearning for more of the ghostly touches.
There had been nothing tentative or reverent about Elphinstone that night. He - - or his spirit - - had been bold and purposeful as he'd kept one arm around her waist and trailed his other hand softly down her thigh. She could feel the heat of his body behind her even though she had always vaguely assumed that the dead would have lost such traits. She could feel his erection, too, hard against her back, another indication of how much had changed, for in life, he always taken some time to rouse and usually couldn't sustain himself for long.
The bizarre surreality of the situation momentarily threatened to overwhelm Minerva. She felt a flash of fear and would have pushed away from the unseen arms, except that immediately, she found herself suffused with a aura of safety, of peace, as if the spirit who was holding her had sensed her discomfort and had consoled her.
She understood, suddenly, that he didn't blame her. Even in death, she realised, Elphinstone was not sorry he had married her.
"My dear," she said aloud, and sought his dead hand with her living one.
Then the warmth of his embrace became indistinguishable from her arousal, from her conviction of well-being, and soon she was shuddering with something that might have been an orgasm, might have been tears - - but was unmistakably joy.
- - / / - -
After that night, she never again feared her Samhain visitors, although Elphinstone came to her but rarely.
It is Amelia who is her most frequent visitor, and she always comes in full body and full voice.
Minerva hears Amelia before she sees her - - hears the rich, deep chuckle that is so distinctively Amelia, that epitomises what Minerva loved about her in life: the fulsome delight that she took in everything - - in food and friends, in firelight and foggy days. In law and love-making and lewd jokes. In magic and music and (at least for a while) in Minerva.
This exuberance, this Amelia-abundance, was something that Minerva, her life defined by reserve and restraint, could not even covet; she could only watch it from afar, and love the possessor of it.
On Samhain, the chuckle comes first, and then the shadows near the window swirl and darken, forming themselves into the smiling face and sturdy, compact body that Minerva had loved so well in life.
"What's the matter, my love? You look like you've seen a ghost," Amelia had laughed on her first Samhain visit, and ever after, she greets Minerva with these same words.
"Amelia!" Minerva had crossed to her that first night, had grasped the long-missed hands and had still, despite her experience with Elphie, been surprised to feel their warmth.
For a long time she'd stood silently, just holding Amelia, filled beyond words with the wonder of having her lover returned to her and the pain of knowing that she would soon have to leave again.
And then came the question. She'd not meant to ask it, but the words came out unbidden. "Amelia, please. You. . .the Veil. . .tell me what it's like. . ."
But Amelia hadn't answered, of course. . .well, you know she couldn't, and Minerva knew it, too.
"No, love," she'd said. "Don't ask. I'm here on this side for now. With you. That will have to be enough."
And it is. For Samhain night, it is enough.
Amelia threads her fingers through Minerva's hair as she had done on those nights so long ago, when they had been young and the world had held only promise. She joins their lips, her own as soft and warm as if the Veil had never intervened, as if she had never had her life's blood spilled by a madman.
And then they lie naked on the bed - - Minerva never quite knows how they get there - - and she feels the soft delightful weight of Amelia's breasts on her own, feels heat, and fingers, hers, Amelia's, entering, thrusting, and then the sharp shock of tongue, wet against her own wetness, stroking her to a spreading fire, sweet and hot and salt and all the flavours of the world. Then she feels her hips lift off the bed as she comes and maybe screams and knows that she's slipping away, out of this world, behind her own Veil of pleasure. . .
Of course, when she returns to herself and her moon-silvered, quiet room, Amelia is gone.
- - / / - -
Then there is Severus.
Like Amelia, he also appears in his physical form, or at least he has done so on those two occasions when he has deigned to come to Minerva at Samhain.
But unlike Amelia, he never speaks. He's made only three sounds in both his visits, and Minerva has come to accept his silence.
The first time he had crossed to her from the Veil, appearing abruptly in the center of her bedroom, he had already been fully corporeal, and he had strode towards her quickly, impatiently. She'd thought he was angry that she'd summoned him, and she'd begun, uncharacteristically, to apologise.
"Severus, I - - "
But he'd shaken his head violently and covered her mouth with his hand. His grip had been painful, far tighter than it needed to be, as if the Veil had given Severus a strength he didn't realise he had.
"Shhhhhhhh," he'd said, the sound unexpectedly soft, with none of the harshness she'd been expecting. He softened his hold, too, brushing his fingers lightly against her cheek, her jaw, her throat.
"Shhhhhhh." With the whisper came a breeze, zephyr-like, that circled the room, its coolness delicious against Minerva's suddenly-flushed skin. Then Severus's arms went around her, bringing her close to him, and she'd reached out to touch his so-familiar face.
From that moment on, there was nothing else was soft about the spirit of Severus at Samhain. He brought his mouth to hers in a kiss full of nipping teeth and thrusting tongue, pausing only once to stare at her with quizzical intensity, until she understood that he was asking whether she really wanted him.
In answer, she slipped her hands around his neck and drew him back to her. She didn't need words any more than he did.
But she does need him. She needs the hard truth that is Severus from behind the Veil; she needs the clarity he brings her, the sense of reality and presence that is ironically stronger now that he is dead than it had been while he lived.
Twice, so far, he has taken her body at Samhain, taken her fiercely, once in her bed, once on the hearthrug. And she has responded with equal ferocity, twisting her hands tight in his hair, pulling as he thrusts into her, watching his face as he comes, hearing him as he shouts aloud, his own body moving hard against her.
Minerva has seen his face contorted with the same passion he'd shown in life, but she has never seen the tokens of his death. She has not seen whether his body still bears the scars of the snake or the Mark of the Darkness, for now that he is dead, he will not show himself to her. Both times that he has visited, he has remained fully clothed even as he has stripped her bare and tantalised her until she gasps and pleads with desire.
Part of Minerva is shocked at her own wantonness; part of her welcomes it. And welcomes him.
- - / / - -
Once again, it is Samhain night.
Headmistress Minerva McGonagall waits until the Hogwarts students have had their Hallowe'en Feast, for she would not want you or anyone to think that she neglects their needs or their pleasures. Since the war, she has been only too strongly aware of how fragile their lives are, how fleeting their childhoods, and she will do nothing to deprive them of a single moment that is theirs.
But when the castle is quiet at last, she takes her basket of ale and apples and makes her way to the edge of the lake. There she lights her fire and leaves her offerings and then returns to her room.
To sit in the darkness, to watch, and to wait.
For Elphinstone. Amelia. Severus.
For it is Samhain night.
It is enough.