The snow danced and whirled outside the windows, sending dappled shadows spiraling across the floors in the corridors. The fires crackled and spit merrily in their grates. For a cold December night, it felt cozy and snug inside Hogwarts castle. Warmth radiated throughout each room, pressing against the frozen window panes and keeping the icy winds from poking their nose where they didn’t belong. The castle snuggled drowsily under its blanket of white, and everywhere contented hearts dreamt of Christmas. Everywhere, that is, but in Minerva McGonagall’s chambers.
Christmas Eve found the deputy headmistress alone in her bedroom. Most of her students had gone home, with the exception of a few stray boys and girls. Albus was “traveling”, whatever that meant. Pomona had left early that afternoon to visit her brother in London, and Filius always retired early each Christmas Eve in order to rise in the wee hours of the morning and travel to see his aged mother. She had no idea, nor any desire to know, what Severus did during the holiday break. Albus believed in the man, but she didn’t trust him as far as she could throw the creepy bastard. So, on the night before Christmas, Minerva sat in solitude, wishing for some distraction to keep maudlin thoughts at bay.
Instead, she reached under her tartan covered bed and retrieved the box. Not to open it, of course. That would be childish. Reading yellowed love letters that were over forty years old was folly, and Minerva was not one for foolish emotional drivel. She simply told herself she wanted to admire the box her father had made for her so many Christmases ago. There certainly wasn’t any harm in that was there? As for Dougal’s letters encased within the wooden container, she wouldn’t even open them.
She set the beautiful box on the corner of her writing desk, and turned toward the small cabinets under her window. Opening the very bottom drawer, she pulled out a bottle of scotch. Another gift from her father, but this one not quite as old as the box. It had been one of the last gifts he’d given her, and it had shocked Minerva to receive alcohol from her minister father. He’d laughed, and told her no good Scotsman would ever turn down a drop of good scotch on happy occasions. A smile crossed her lips as she recalled that Christmas. Robert McGonagall had presented her with the bottle to celebrate her new position as a professor at Hogwarts. He hadn’t understood a thing about the school or his daughter’s strange life there, but he’d known it made her happy. And happiness had been a rare thing for her in those years...
Pouring herself a glass of the amber liquid, Minerva raised a toast to her father’s memory. He’d worked hard to reconcile the magical realm with his own Muggle world. That was something Minerva had never been able to do. After all, her parents had not been very successful with it. She often wondered, though, if she’d given Dougal the chance, how he’d have fared. Would she have children? Grandchildren? A warm hand to hold on these cold Christmas Eves? The thought of all she’d given up made her shudder, and she downed the contents of her glass in a large, throat-burning gulp.
She refilled her glass, uncharacteristically surpassing her usual one drink limit. Ghosts of Christmas Past swam in her head, and she wanted to put them to bed more than anything in the world. After several sips of her second drink, however, she began eying the wooden box. Those letters contained the last professions of love a man had ever made to her. At one time, she’d hoped Albus would return her affections, but that was not to be. Just as she and Dougal were not to be. Sighing, she took another large swallow and hiccupped softly before reaching for the letters she hadn’t read in decades.
She wasn’t going to read them. Not at all. Minerva only wanted to hold them, run her fingers over the fading words on the yellowing parchment, and pretend she was seventeen again for just a few moments. She took a sip of her drink, enjoying the warmth sliding down her throat, and pulled the stack of envelopes from their hiding place. Without thought, she found her favorite. The last letter Dougal wrote before she broke off their engagement sat on the top of the pile, wrinkled and dog-eared from all the readings it had endured through the years.
“Oh, Dougal. You were such a lovesick sap,” Minerva giggled as she read his professions of undying love that had seemed so romantic to her teenaged heart. Now she recognized them as the plagiarized lines of various sonnets, but the emotion behind them had been real. She’d almost memorized the contents of the letter, but that didn’t stop her from reading its entirety. Dougal’s words blurred on the page as tears filled her eyes. She wondered, for the millionth time, where he was now.
Absently refilling her drink with the 100 year old scotch, she perused the rest of the letters. Each one filled her with an aching loneliness. She paused now and then to conjure another drink. It was Christmas. No one would begrudge her a few sips of scotch, would they? When the last letter had been sloppily refolded and stuffed back into its envelope, she stood, bracing herself against the edge of the desk. With a slight list in her step, she made her way to the door and meandered down the hallway, ghosts of the past and century-old alcohol clouding her vision. She felt the need to seek fresh air.
Halfway to the Great Hall, Minerva stumbled upon a figure leaning against a window frame, staring out at the whirling flakes of snow. Bumping into the boy, she caught herself lightly on his sleeve and looked up into concerned green eyes. When had this child grown so tall?
“Over the last six years, Professor,” Potter answered her apparently spoken thought. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. What are you doing out of bed?” she slurred slightly, and she noticed Potter’s gaze intensify as he studied his Transfiguration teacher.
“It’s only 8 o’clock, Professor. Are you certain you’re okay?” Potter gently grasped her arm, steadying her on her feet.
She smiled tremulously, the stern quality of her features slipping to show the woman beneath the facade she always offered her students.
“You’re a sweet boy, Harry. You deserve a better hand than you’ve been dealt. We both do,” she murmured, reaching a wrinkled hand to pat his cheek.
With a bemused grin crossing his features as he realized his teacher was completely snookered, Harry nodded. “Yes, I agree, Professor McGonagall. Where are you headed, by the way? I’d love to...escort you. You shouldn’t be wandering the corridors like this.”
Her head snapped up, and bit of the usual fire sparked in her eyes. “Like what, Potter?”
Feeling he’d stepped into dangerous territory, Potter stuttered a bit before recovering. “Alone, Professor. It’s Christmas Eve. You shouldn’t be walking the halls alone on Christmas. Could I walk you to your room?”
Sighing deeply and feeling the scotch dragging her drowsily toward sleep, she nodded. “You’re right, Potter. Nobody should be alone on Christmas. I’d be honoured for you to escort me.”
Potter offered his arm, and she gripped it to balance herself. Together, the two Gryffindors made their way down the corridor. As they walked, Minerva found herself watching the young man at her side. Her tongue, loosed by emotion and good liquor, slipped words she hadn’t planned on saying.
“We’re quite a pair, aren’t we, Potter? Both of us would rather be alone that put anyone out; put anyone in danger...we give up a lot, don’t we? You and I both, here with no family. Yes, we’re quite a pair.”
Harry nodded silently, caught off guard by her emotional words. She patted his hand as they walked. “I gave up Dougal, even though he loved me dearly, because I couldn’t bear to hold him back or endanger him because of who I am. You push your friends away, because you couldn’t bear something happening to them because of who you are. And so, we’re alone. On Christmas. Which I find to be complete bollocks! We deserve better! Don’t you think so, Harry? Isn’t it bloody ridiculous?”
They had reached Professor McGonagall’s door, and Potter looked decidedly uncomfortable. “Um...yes, Professor?” He agreed cautiously, as he pushed her door open. Glancing in the room, he took in the half-empty bottle and letters scattered across the desk. He began to piece things together in his mind as he aided her into the sparse living quarters.
“Of course it is,” she mumbled as she ambled over to her rocking chair beside the fireplace. She sat heavily, and stared into the dancing flames for a few moments. At a loss for what to do, Harry gratefully spied a tartan throw lying neatly folded across the back of the chair and gently draped it over her. The weight of the blanket brought her from her reverie, and she looked up at her caretaker with a tired smile. He bent to stoke the fire, and looked worriedly at her as she pulled the wool up around her.
“Will you be all right, Professor?” he asked quietly. She nodded slowly.
“You’re a good boy, Potter. Such a good boy.” She yawned, and her eyelids drooped as the warmth of the room and the pull of the scotch dragged her toward sleep. “Happy Christmas.”
“Happy Christmas, Professor,” Harry whispered as he slipped soundlessly from the room.
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