Professor Minerva McGonagall watched the hordes of Hogwarts students descend upon their Halloween feast, a few stopping to admire the handiwork of decorations she had coordinated. As deputy headmistress, she tried hard not to show favorites, but the smile that twitched at the corners of her eyes was telling as she watched Hermione Granger's cinnamon head bounce from one historically accurate decoration to another. Hermione was describing the intricate details for her friends (and anyone else within earshot of her loud exclamations). This simply endeared the girl to Minerva's heart all the more. Quite likely, none of the other students would pick up on how each of the twelve large displays accurately reflected the beliefs of a different culture's death celebrations, as obvious as she had tried to make it. Minerva sighed in contentment, watching as Ron Weasley tried to be discreet as he sniffed Hermione's hair with a silly grin on his face. His best friend Harry Potter was close enough to notice, but was a bit too wrapped up in the hair of Ron's little sister, Ginny, who was walking a few feet away and holding the hand of Dean Thomas. Ginny's hair was busy itself, picking up the firelight from the Chinese Ghost Money Peeves was gleefully tossing everywhere. Thank goodness for Filius and his Proximity Extinguishing Charm he'd put on the paper without Peeves noticing – it was obviously making Filch's year to see Peeves trying so hard to make mayhem and failing to catch even a tablecloth on fire.
"Ah, to be young again, eh, Albus?" Minerva said to her good friend, noticing that he was watching similar interactions between various students.
"I wouldn't trade this age for anything, Minerva. The full spectrum of the beauty of life is ours to observe and partake in, now that we're old enough to recognise the difference between hormones and emotions. Take a look over there at Sir Nicolas and his Grey Lady. Courtly love lives on after death, and we are privileged enough to catch a glimpse."
At that moment, Nearly Headless Nick was floating up to the Grey Lady on bent knee, a large bouquet of dried roses in one arm as the other flourished in his bow. His lady giggled like a schoolgirl and held out her hand to be kissed, accepting the roses, and the two ghosts strode off arm-in-arm, through the ceiling, their soft voices and laughter drown out by the boisterous students. Minerva smiled after them, quietly twisting the thin gold band on her finger, a single tear threatening to sneak out of the corner of her eye. She quickly turned her attention to the Mexican Day of the Dead display to her far left.
Eventually, the students found their seats. Ron sat close to Hermione and kept trying to steal food from her plate. Harry sat so close to Ginny that, from the staff table, they appeared as one being with masses of red hair and black glasses. Minerva turned to her own plate, heaped with culinary treats from around the globe, and selected a bit of sweet and sour broccoli, wondering how long it would take the famed Gryffindor courage to sort out the love lives of those four particular students.
The feast continued in high gear for well over an hour, with various ghosts and magical creatures providing marvelous entertainment exactly as rehearsed, but Minerva couldn't seem to keep her mind on what was in front of her.
"Minerva, you're not much use as a chaperone tonight, why don't you go back to your quarters? I'll make sure the Gryffindors don't get themselves into too much trouble, and take the festivities back to their common room in a timely manner."
"Oh, thank you Albus," she said distractedly, getting up from the table and making her way out a door hidden behind the left side of the staff table. Tears were beginning to come to her eyes uncontrollably by this time and she needed to be away from the students.
Once in the hallways, Minerva transfigured herself to her cat form, to walk the cold hallways more discreetly. At least cats don't shed tears, she thought to herself. She wound her way through the passages, finally coming to the entrance of her quarters, directly under the Gryffindor common room. Stretching up on her hind legs as if she was about to claw a dingy tapestry of wildflowers, she tapped a smooth brick with her paw and the wall slid open, revealing her own spartan sitting room. She could hear the sounds of her young charges returning to their common room through the ceiling, many of the feet heading directly up the stairs to their dormitories.
Still in cat form, Minerva hopped up into the chair behind her desk as the fire lit itself to a merry blaze. She circled herself into her own tail and began comfort-grooming, but stopped with her tongue still sticking out as the room suddenly dropped several degrees in temperature.
Standing to her right, with his paws on the arm of her chair, was the silvery ghost form of a fox. The cat let out a gasp and transformed back into Minerva McGonagall as the fox underwent a similar transformation into that of a man of medium height and stocky build.
"Fearghas," Minerva whispered, unbelieving.
"Yes, Minerva, my love, it's me," the ghost whispered back, moving closer to her.
"Why, Fearghas? Why now, why do you come to me now, why have you not appeared to me in all these fifteen years?" she sobbed, anger creeping into her voice. "Why did you leave me alone all this time, no explanations, no words of comfort. All I got was your Order of Merlin, First Class, after you gave your life without thought for me, for us." The façade of the stern teacher known throughout Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry fell away, revealing the heartbroken woman hiding underneath.
The ghost of Fearghas McGonagall became more solid, his silver hair taking on more of the look of the flames that no longer shown through him. He stepped forward and took his wife into his arms, "I'm sorry, love, I'm sorry. There wasn't time. I couldn't stop to consider. I received the intelligence that the Longbottoms were about to be attacked, and I had to go. I'm so sorry…"
"And all for naught! Those poor people left their little son, they lost their minds, and I lost you!"
"They're alive, Minerva, and their son knows the sound of his parents voices even if they don't know him. That's more than anyone was able to do for other families. My interrupting their torture may have cost me my life, but it gave that boy living parents."
"Our life, Fearghas, what about our life? What about the life of our child, who would have grown up without a father?"
"Our child, who might have been born if you hadn't foolishly tried to follow me in your condition. Minerva, why did you do that? If only you hadn't been listening to the wireless…"
"How could I not?" she sobbed. "How could I let the father of my unborn child rush into danger alone? But I was too late, by the time I arrived, you were already dying, the light fading from your eyes, and not a word for me… then to get hit in the back with the Cruciatus Curse… we never did find out what knocked out that Death Eater."
"I did. I didn't have enough form yet to be seen, but enough will to deliver a decent punch. I couldn't watch you suffer, Minerva, especially after watching you lose our child so violently. That's why I haven't come to you before. I couldn't bear your tears; I never was a Gryffindor."
Minerva smiled ruefully. "So I guess it serves me right for marrying a Hufflepuff, eh? Loyal to the world to the end; did you have to be such a great example of your House?"
"Would you have loved me any other way?" Fearghas asked, gently touching her chin and eliciting a start from her in response.
"Fearghas, why isn't the room cold anymore? How can I feel your hand?"
"It's Samhain, my love, the veil between our worlds is thin… I've missed you for so long, but by waiting and saving up my energy, I'll be able to maintain a solid form for the night… " He reached up and trailed his fingers from her temple down along her jaw-line, sending tingles up her spine as a playful glint formed in his sparkling blue eyes.
With no flicker of the restraint she exhibited to the rest of the world, Minerva McGonagall threw both arms around her husband, pulling him into a hungry kiss. His lips were to her like a feast to a starving woman, filling every lonely cell of her body with a warmth that had been almost forgotten. She began to feel the stirrings of a need within her that had been silent for over a decade, but still she broke the kiss.
"Not here, Fearghas, not in this cold abode of mine, so unlike the home we knew. Come on, " she said, and grabbed his hand, turning toward the doorway.
They found themselves in the hallway, glancing around furtively like a couple of students out-of-bounds. With a mischievous smile, Minerva half-dragged Fearghas through winding hallways and staircases, to a very dusty hallway with a handful of doors on rusty hinges.
"What are we doing in the Healer Training hallway?"
"Hogwarts hasn't offered Healer Training as a specialization since Voldemort fell, seeing as the need hasn't been as great and most of the information can be covered in the core classes, especially with the current lull in enrollment. Students have transformed these unused classrooms a bit over the years and the staff has quite a time keeping them out. For that matter, stay behind this suit of armor for a moment."
Minerva transformed back into a cat and sniffed the floor near each of the doors, then transformed back, opened the third door down and called into it, "Mr. Creevy! Miss McDonald! Back to Gryffindor on the double!" The stern professor-scowl returned. Third years! My, how quickly they grow up these days!
Dennis Creevy and Natalie McDonald emerged from the doorway, robes rumpled and hair tousled, but otherwise decent, though obviously disgruntled. Dennis picked a piece of lint off of Natalie's robe before taking her hand, muttering, "How does she do that?!?"
Out of the corner of her mouth, Natalie whispered back, "Don't question good luck – she hasn't deducted points or assigned detention yet, let's just get out of here." And the two of them strode quickly out of the corridor.
Minerva smiled and peeked into the dimly lit classroom, then turned to check the other classrooms. She stopped as she heard footsteps behind her and turned to see Argus Filch stroll into the hallway. Filch was obviously startled, himself, and a bit of dust next to him announced Mrs. Norris' presence as she darted behind him.
"Good evening, Argus. Just doing rounds before bed," Minerva said, watching as Mrs. Norris sniffed around the edge of the armor Fearghas was hiding behind. Her fur rose along her back, then she slowly backed up into Filch's leg.
"My thoughts exactly, Professor McGonagall. I'm sure it's all clear if you're already here. Well, then… I'll be off. Nighty-night," Filch said, looking down at his cat as she inched her way out of the hallway.
Minerva watched the retreating forms disappear around a corner before going to retrieve her husband.
"All clear," she said, in a seductive voice no other being but the one in front of her could ever believe her capable of speaking in. She grabbed his hands and led him into the nearest classroom.
Once inside, she lit the fireplace to a cheery blaze and then looked at her beloved, leaning against the closed door. Both pairs of eyes sparkled in the firelight as she reached up behind her head and drew out her hair stick, releasing cascades of raven hair down her shoulders and back. Fearghas reached up and removed her glasses from her nose, brushing his thumb gently down her cheek.
He chuckled, his own fiery red hair glinting in the firelight. "Ah… there's the Roman goddess I married, not the dreary, strict schoolmarm of Hogwarts."
Minerva smiled up at him, eyes shining. "What do you say we celebrate the Beltaine rites six months early?"
The lovers sank down onto a cushiony rug in front of the fire and no more words were exchanged between them that night.
A/N: this was originally written for a Fanfic Challenge on GryffindorTower.net back in, I believe, mid-October 2002. This is the first piece of fanfiction I ever wrote. Heck, it was the first piece of fiction I'd written in years at that point. Now, in July 2005, I'm finally working on the series this started once again (two canon books later – sheesh!) and felt the need to revise this to be HPB-compliant. If it looks familiar, but from another author, it's because I used to publish under a different name.
Thanks to AllieKiwi for the quick re-beta on this, and catching the lost little words that went wandering in my reordering sentences.