Author's Notes: Written for Round Three of The Writer Competition on the HPFC forum.
Character- Minerva McGongall
Endless, endless thanks to my mentor for the competition, VivusEtIterum.
Minerva liked her father's church.
Her brothers, her mother, even her father said that the building was "spooky" or "not right". They didn't go into it except when they had to – on Sunday mornings to listen to her father's sermon.
Minerva was different. She enjoyed the darkness, the old musty smell, the light of the white taper candles, and most of all, the fact that it was almost always empty. The solitude was pleasant to her, growing up as she did in a household with two younger brothers.
One late Sunday afternoon, when she had stayed up in the church after the service, she saw a boy sitting in the back. His head was bowed, his hands folded in his lap, and a small frown creased his face.
"Do you live around here?" Minerva spoke up. "I don't recognize you."
The boy looked up quickly, his eyes – pale, pale grey eyes, so light they almost matched the whites – falling upon her.
"Oh… yes," he said. His voice was quite refined, and Minerva was suddenly very conscious of the burr in her own.
"I never saw you here before…"
"We must have been missing each other," he said, still frowning slightly. "I've been coming to this church for years and years."
"My father is the Minister of the church," Minerva informed him. "What does your father do?"
"My father was the headmaster of a school," he said. "He's not anymore. He's dead now."
"Oh… I'm sorry…" Minerva didn't know what to say to that. She had never met anyone with a dead parent before.
"Don't be. We didn't get on very well."
"Why not?" Minerva asked, sitting down on the pew beside him.
"We just… don't see eye-to-eye about some things. Best not to talk about it too much." He stood up quickly. "I should go. I'll speak to you another time, Minerva."
Before Minerva could say another word, he had practically fled the church. She followed him to the door, but by the time she got to it and looked outside, he was nowhere to be seen. Heavy fog was rolling in, and Minerva started down to her house and thought little more about the boy.
Or, at least, she thought little more about him until she was lying in bed that night and realized she was quite sure that she had not told him her name.
The thought was preposterous and unnerved her. It couldn't be right. Of course she had told him – he couldn't have known otherwise. She had just forgotten.
She convinced herself that so she could fall asleep.
All week, Minerva went up to the church – even more than usual – hoping to see him again. She sat in the sanctuary and tried to think of what to say when she did see him, she walked around the building and practiced her politest smile, she sat cross-legged, leaning back on the pulpit and practiced lighting candles by magic until she could get them to flicker to out and light back up again with ease, and still she did not see him.
Not until Sunday, when she spotted him at the end of the service, sitting just where he had been last time, hands folded and head bowed once again, looking exactly as he had one week ago.
As the other churchgoers – including Minerva's family – filtered out, she marched straight up to him and met his eyes.
"What's your name?"
His head lifted slowly and he looked at her with vague confusion before comprehension dawned. "Oh… it's Phineas…"
"Do you only come here on Sundays?"
"No. I'm here most all the time."
"I've been here all week and I haven't seen you."
"You must have been missing me," Phineas said vaguely.
Minerva frowned. The idea that she had been here alone all week and someone else had been in the same building without her knowledge was frightening – or, rather, it would have been if she had not been positive that Phineas had not been there. But she let the matter slide – perhaps he only meant that he had been nearby, not actually in the church.
"Sit," Phineas told her, indicating the pew beside her. "Tell me about yourself."
"Why?" Minerva asked suspiciously. People who had asked her to "tell them about herself" in the past usually thought there was something wrong with her and wanted to know if she had an explanation, and they were usually Muggles from whom she had to hide any inklings of her magic from.
"I like hearing you talk."
That startled Minerva. She had never heard anything like that – certainly nothing like that from a boy who couldn't have been more than seventeen. True, he was a lot older than her, but that was something even the kindliest of adults didn't say.
But Minerva pushed her qualms aside, sat down with him, and started talking.
He was a good listener – a remarkable one, in fact. He paid careful attention to every word that came out of her mouth, nodding seriously and asking questions and looking more interested in Minerva than anyone else ever had. It was wonderful to have a conversation with someone who didn't talk down to her – who, in fact, at times, seemed to act as though she was just as clever as him. Someone who, when she saw him again, the next Sunday, he seemed genuinely pleased to see her. Someone who sometimes said that she was the loveliest person he had ever known – and once, that she might save him.
Minerva didn't understand what he meant by that, but she could only take it as a compliment.
Months passed, and Sundays with Phineas grew to be the highlight of Minerva's week. She counted down the days and hours until the next Sunday service so she could see him.
Then, one week, he wasn't there.
She was disappointed, but dismissed his absence as illness. But when he was not in church the week after that, Minerva began to worry. If his illness had lasted more than a week, it could be serious. And if he was not ill, then why was he gone?
Over dinner on Sunday night, four weeks after Minerva had last seen Phineas, she put down her fork and said, "Do you know if Phineas is all right?"
Her mother looked at her quizzically and set down her spoon. "Who?"
"Phineas," Minerva repeated. "He used to go to the church but he hasn't been there for weeks. Is he ill?"
"I don't know anyone named Phineas," Isobel said, looking to her husband. "Do you?"
Robert shook his head. "There is no one named Phineas in our congregation."
"Yes, there is," Minerva insisted. "He's been there for weeks and weeks. I've been talking to him after the services. You must have seen him."
"But you don't talk to anyone after the services," Isobel said. Her expression was that of utter confusion. "You go and sit in the back pew, alone… don't you?"
"No…" Minerva swallowed hard, he stomach churning a little.
"There used to be a Phineas who went to the church," Robert said suddenly, setting down his own spoon. "Phineas Black. He was a good young. But…"
"But what?" Minerva asked. "He might be coming back, mightn't he?"
"No," said Robert.
"Because," Robert said, fixing his daughter with a serious stare, "fifty years ago, he ran away from home. He came to the church to ask for forgiveness, and I told him God wanted him to do the right thing, not the thing his parents wanted."
"And his father caught him."
"And murdered him," Robert said quietly. "He's dead. He has been for fifty years."