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Write about something that has lasted a long time.

She played an interesting game with no rules; Minerva always held a winning hand, and this made her acutely aware she always enjoyed an unfair advantage. Well, if there were rules, none of them mattered in this room. It held nothing special: a bed, bedside cabinets, an armoire, and a table with chairs. She drew a seven of diamonds and tapped her cards on the table, noticing her mistake too late.

An ace of spades lay on the discard pile. Elphinstone, hesitant long enough to savor his win, snatched it and showed her the card as he laid down his hand and scribbled down points on a notepad. They played cards, they enjoyed lengthy conversations, and they did other things. Minerva, content, understood they enjoyed a similar game for many years. It revolved around a simple question.

Elphinstone tapped her cards with a quill as he rearranged her sets and runs. "Twenty-two is less than forty-five."

"Losing is losing," said Minerva, not at all surprised he threw her a save and took this gracefully, "and it wouldn't matter it I had twenty and you nineteen. What's five points? This two of hearts is nothing."

"Oh?" Elphinstone smiled as she fished the king of hearts out of the deck and set it down; the face card forever reminded her of a suicidal man; it appeared as though the king stabbed himself. They had a couple hours left before she needed to head back to the school. "Whatever shall we do? A walk?"

"It's raining," she said, getting up and sitting on his lap.

They kissed, getting lost in each other as the storm rattled against the windows. He slipped a hand between her legs and Minerva sighed deeply. He'd been with other women, she knew, and made he himself at home. Although she once held a burning torch for Dougal McGregor, Minerva knew the flame was going out and she enjoyed the company of her old friend, as she slowly softened to them moving from friends to lovers.

"Stay with me," he breathed seductively in her ear. "Marry me."

"You are unfair, sir," said Minerva.

She stopped short of calling him Mr. Urquart and took his face in her hands and kissing him goodbye. Elphinstone kissed her back, asking her to stay again, but he already had this answer to this, too. Minerva got up, pulled her emerald green traveling cloak off the back of a wooden chair and draped it over her shoulders. Elphinstone took the ornament from a black box and flattened it to the cloak he'd purchased in France six years ago.

"Thirty-six." He stepped back. They didn't celebrate her birthday on the day, yet he left London whenever he could and made the day a memorable one with small touches. "There's going to be a point when you stop celebrating these."

"I don't like them already," she said. There were nineteen years between them. Elphinstone brushed her dark hair aside with his handand buried himself in her neck. "This isn't winning me over."

"No?" Changing his mind, though he had others plans all along, he unhooked the brooch. The traveling cloak fell to the floor as he led her over to the bed. Minerva laid from down, smiling as she got comfortable again. He sighed and placed his hands on her hips as they fell into a familiar rhythm. The students would be headed up to the school before dinner after their Hogsmeade visit. "You don't even feel the least bit guilty about this anymore?"

Minerva shook her head, her clothes still on, and sighed as euphoria rushed through her. Like fine wine, though she would never dare tell him this, Elphinstone got better with age, and her thoughts wondered back to him more often than Minerva liked to admit. Elphinstone turned her over, making her gasp, and sped things up. Out of breath, he wrapped his strong arms around her. She thanked him, making him laugh as he fixed his clothes.

Minerva draped the cloak over her arm. She stopped at the door after fixing her hair in its usual tight bun and rested her hand on the locked door.

"Your argument against the burning of the Talbot estate? It was well said." Minerva only heard about the courts through word of mouth. She was a law student, Elphinstone's student for a few years before she'd started teaching at Hogwarts.

"Hmmm." Elphinstone lost the case Friday afternoon. The man didn't lose very often, so he got irked whenever his conviction rate got knocked down a few notches. "Heard about that already, have you? The transcript isn't yet finalized."

"Jeremiah Talbot chose a good man," she said, opening the door. "There are things of us, including Mr. Fenwick and Mr. Talbot, who would rather die than leave your side. Crouch's father won by a mere technicality … tell Jeremiah he's not alone."

"He's staying with me after he gets out of prison," said Elphinstone, sitting up. He got to his feet. He'd made this choice long ago, Minerva guessed, and she apparently studied him for a moment too long because he noticed. Doubt leaked through his confidence. "You don't think he should stay on Napier Street? We'll never see each other."

"No. That's kind of you. Always taking care of your people," she said, opening the door and kissing him one last time before she stepped out into the corridor. "I love you."

"I love you, dearie, forever and always," said Elphinstone, stroking her cheek. Minerva closed her eyes at his touch. He sighed. "You've never said it before. It's nice to hear. Happy birthday."

"My birthday was weeks ago, Elphinstone. I always tell you not to bother with these gifts. But thank you."

Minerva left after the man nodded. Elphinstone stood there, but Minerva heard the bedroom door close softly as he retreated back into the place he referred to as his home away from home. The barmaid greeted her with a knowing smile and offered her a drink, but Minerva turned her down and waited for Rosmerta's grandfather to edge out of the cellar. Rosmerta knew enough to keep her mouth shut about the comings and goings of this place; a warm and gentile environment, the Three Broomsticks invited all sorts, yet people returned for the Burkes.

Elphinstone helped with the start-up costs whenever Mitchel Burke bought out the place a long, long time ago. Mitchel, a kind faced man gone slightly to seed, greeted her with a crinkly-eyed smile as he edged out of the back room with his ample backside and reeled off orders to Rosmerta. A talker, one worthy of talking a person's ear off so it had to be reattached by magic, Mitchel grabbed two bottles of beer and convinced her to take a walk.

"In the rain?" Minerva conjured a large black umbrella when they stepped outside and handed it over.

"In the rain. What're you gonna do? Grade papers? That's boring, isn't it? You're on your way to catching cold." Grunting, Mitchel took the traveling cloak and shook it out before he helped her put it on. "If you're going to be his person, and you clearly share more than his bed, you deal with me. Have you even been to the house on Napier Street?"

"Yes."

"I refer you back to the bit about sharing a bed. I bet he wears you out, for there are benefits to having a young wife," he stopped, stroking his fair-haired trimmed beard and pulling out a pipe to enjoy a smoke. He lit the pipe with the end of his wand and stowed the wand within his robes. Mitchel fingered the brooch. "Pretty thing. You know, you'd make an expensive whore…"

"You go too far, Mr. Burke," said Minerva, her beady eyes flashing dangerously behind her rectangular spectacles. Mitchel waved his hand at her as the umbrella got blown away by the wind; she waved her wand almost lazily and the umbrella zoomed back into her hand. Minerva had stayed the night before talking to Elphinstone in the early morning hours after slipping away from the school. "You heard us when you came upstairs."

"I spied you on the landing, really," he admitted sheepishly, for they'd gone up to bed after last call. Minerva tried to remember the night before. It passed in hazy memories of love making and swapping stories. "A divorced man has nothing compared to a lover. He's like a teenager trying to recapture his youth, though he used to be married once too. Is that enough? You're his whore, essentially, his paramour, his whatever…"

"Good afternoon, Mitchel." Deciding she had enough, Minerva started towards the castle and halted when he asked her to wait. She fired back at him. "Why should I?"

"He loves you." Mitchel, his robes soaked through as he marched after her, didn't drop it and followed her into the castle like a drowned rat. "What the hell is so wrong with you that you can't just let him?"

She helped herself to one of the beers, usually hating this stuff because it tasted like dirty water. This one went down surprisingly smooth. "I love him."

"Not enough." Stubborn and loyal, the man fixed his old Hufflepuff scarf and warmed his arthritic hands by rubbing them together against the autumnal change. "He could've married and had children. And yet he waits for you for some reason nobody else understands… he watches for you! You are, forgive me, a reverend's daughter. Why are you doing this? You get real close, and you yank hope away like a cat playing with a mouse? Is this it? Sex and comfort? Is that enough?"

"I love him," she said fiercely.

"Ask him to tell you about Katharine."

"What? What nonsense!" She thought he made something up to stir up dregs of anger and get the good bits at the bottom. Minerva didn't speak about Elphinstone to anyone else, save Albus, and even then she felt reserved. Her words caught in her throat. "I love him so much, it hurts, it physically hurts me to be without him. Don't you think I wanted those things for him?"

"Say yes. If you hate each other after the marriage, get an annulment and go back to being bed fellows in peace," he suggested, catching her sharp look and shrugging it off unapologetically."You forget I know you. At that school, you might be whoever you are …but you can't leave that man. Oh, you'll try. You love him, you hate him, you despise him …."

"Mitchel." She warned him, pacing in circles now.

"What? Is the truth too harsh for you, Professor McGonagall? You'll replay this scene over, and over, and over! Why? For nine years now! He waits for you … that man's every breath is for you, and yet you wait for some stranger who isn't there. Katharine." Mitchel caught her by the arm, and Minerva yanked it from his grasp, and breathed sharply through her nose as she stalked off.

XxX


What did he know? Minerva strode up to the school, furious. She went into her office as Dougal McGregor's face, clear as it was half a lifetime ago, swam into her head. How was she supposed to let him go even though he was married, happily married according to whatever her mother said in her letters, and she still wanted him? She imagined the weathered farmer walking through the door and taking her into his arms. It was never going to happen.

Elphinstone was strong, too, and they fit together so well.

She stopped and the door opened. Elphinstone stood there for a moment, drenched in rain. He'd been a sickly child, the only son of a quiet family who didn't follow the pure blood mainstream. He muttered something about speaking with Mitchel Burke and strode across the small office in confident strides.

"Katharine. Who is she?" Minerva paced the room and turned to face him. Elphinstone stopped dead, and Minerva shifted away the dregs of a lingering active imagination and returned to reality. The Dougal she'd known with his dark eyes and his tanned skin was nothing more than a conjured image. Minerva never would have believed this talltale, yet it wasn't because she was naive. Elphinstone, a respected figure at the Ministry lived by the law. He'd always done the right thing because it was the right thing. Worst case scenarios, horrible imaginings filled her head. Why would he deliberately lie to her unless he had something to hide? "Oh, my God, you're married."

"No. No, Minerva, listen to me!"

"'Marry, me, marry me,' he says, 'because I love only you.'" Reciting his old love spill back to him, Minerva shoved him as she passed by him and tossed the fine cloak at him. "We always meet at Hogsmeade. The gifts. What was I thinking? You made me fall in love with you, and all the while … I said 'I love you.' Like some idiot girl!"

"You don't understand," said Elphinstone, raising his voice with hers, although he was much slower to anger. Minerva placed her hand on the wall dividing her office from her bedroom and finished a series of pearls and earrings from a jewelry box. She marched back and placed these in his hand. Elphinstone, uncharacteristically lost for words because he was a successful lawyer with an impressive conviction rate, simply stood there. He found a few "I…I love you."

"Katharine," she breathed, her nostrils flaring. Minerva tapped her foot impatiently. It was her decision to fall in love with him or not. There were twenty-hours within the day, and the way Minerva saw it, most things were within her control, so she'd willingly fallen into another trap. "You can start speaking, Mr. Urquart, or you may leave. It's your choice. Is she your wife?"

"Yes. No. I'm no longer married. I was married to Katharine Abbott for nine years; we divorced when I was thirty. We had a daughter, Mary, stillborn. You've heard of her."

Elphinstone nodded with Minerva, apparently relieved she no longer threw things. And then he mentioned his son, Fraser. Minerva had always assumed Mary and Fraser came from relationships with with other women. Fraser, Deaf and fiercely independent, was thirty-nine, and resembled his father with his curly blonde locks and deep blue eyes. A wizard who struggled with the magical community at a young age, Fraser chose to masquerade as a Squib and attended school in London; Elphinstone supported him every step of the way. Since he'd turned twenty-four, Fraser had worked as a counselor and a schoolteacher.

"You love Fraser," said Minerva. Elphinstone smiled, giving her a boyish grin he no doubt used on people in his youth, yet it failed to sway her an inch today. She pointed her wand at the fireplace and rubbed her hands over the flames. "What I don't understand is why you didn't tell me about this woman, Elphinstone, you tell me everything! I know what you ate for breakfast this morning. Fraser's named after you because you're called Elphinstone Francis, yet you didn't want to land him with a girl's name. So … Fraser William."

"Fraser William," he repeated, signing the name in quick sign language. Elphinstone, and presumably his ex-wife Katharine, hit the ground running to master sign language the moment it became apparent his newborn son would live in a world of silence. He waited for her to continue. "Why does the idea of Fraser bother you? You're friends."

Minerva always needed Elphinstone or Mitchel around to act as the bridge between her and Fraser. Fraser read lips at a slow pace, but she spoke quickly and often forgot he got lost. She was six years older than Fraser, who would celebrate his thirtieth birthday soon.

"It's not Fraser," she snapped, peering at Elphinstone. "You know this! If I had been married to Dougal McGregor, wouldn't you have liked to know? You had children with that woman."

"If you had married the farmer from Caithness, I would never have met you and you probably would've had four or five bairns of your own by now. Farmers have large families." Elphinstone shrugged, going with the truth. "What's the point?"

Minerva lifted a finger in warning. "That's unfair."

"What's unfair is your woman is in love with a memory," replied Elphinstone, sitting down in the chair across from her desk. It took her time, a long time, yet Minerva eventually told him everything about Dougal McGregor.

"Your woman? What? Am I your property?" Minerva stared him down. Elphinstone, who had half-risen to get out of his chair and get out of the line of fire, sat down and crossed his legs. Minerva walked around her desk and sat down. "I told you everything! And what makes either of you better than the other? He's a stupid Scottish country boy and you're a learned scholar from Stirling? Does that make you feel better?"

"No, Minerva, I didn't mean …" said Elphinstone, interrupting her.

"Because you're not! What are you always saying to Fraser? No man is better than another. Are your words just words, Mr. Urquart?" Minerva, satisfied, raised her eyebrows when Elphinstone closed his mouth, opened it to say something, changed his mind, and closed it again. He got comfortable in the chair. "I thought not."

"I'm sorry. I ought to have mentioned Katharine."

"Why didn't you?" Minerva, undeterred, demanded an answer to her question. "I have never heard of a Katherine Abbot."

"I don't know." Elphinstone cleared his throat. "Yeah, well, you wouldn't as she's on her fifth or sixth husband now. Probably searching for the seventh. I spotted her with Mr. Zabini."

"Oh. Your Katharine is that Katharine?" Minerva nodded, understanding why Elphinstone kept this under wraps. "You would fall for her, Mr. Romantic. Didn't she rob her husbands? You got burned."

"I was young… younger. I was foolish and I wanted a mother for my young son." Elphinstone scratched his chin, thinking. He snorted. "Some mother! I found her in my bed with Mitchel."

Minerva took off her spectacles, set them on the polished desk, and buried her face in her hands. She with laughter. "I'm sorry…it's … it's not funny. It's … Mitchel!"

"Uh huh. I deserved that. And thanks for this display of empathy. This is truly heartfelt." Elphinstone switched to sarcasm and waited for her to recover. Mitchel went through women like other people changed clothes. Minerva reached out and squeezed his hand.

"I-I'm sorry," she said, still struggling to properly convey condolences. Elphinstone burst out laughing, too. They finally stopped and fell into a content silence.

"Aren't you going to ask me why I stayed with Mitchel?"

"He's your brother," said Minerva, reciting what she assumed was his given line. Elphinstone nodded. They weren't biological brothers. Mitchel Burke and Elphinstone Urquart shared an unbreakable bond. "Fraser is a gift. A worthy souvenir. You're lucky."

"I think so," said Elphinstone proudly. "There's a play at the Silent sisters Deaf Theatre in the city. Would you like to go with me? Here. I'll teach you."

He demonstrated the signs for "applause", "please", and "intermission".

"Will Fraser be there?" Minerva rested her hand on her chin and replaced her spectacles.

Elphinstone said Fraser would be delighted to see a familiar face. He threw out Minerva's sign, one Fraser had assigned her; it was the letter M, followed by the sign for "magic". Whenever a member of the Deaf community assigned another person a sign, they were initiated into the inner circle.

"You miss him, too," said Elphinstone, coaxing a smile out of her. "Yeah, see there?"

XxX


Minerva missed Dougal McGregor. She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep late that afternoon. As the dream started, Elphinstone followed her into the bedroom, which was a strange thing because she never let him past the barrier into her sparse bedroom because this crossed a line. He made love to her, strong and steady, yet it didn't seem real because he reminded her of a much younger man. As she looked upon his face, it shifted and his hair shifted to a darker shade. There were callouses under his hands from manual labor. She stared back into hazel eyes and arched her back as Dougal came.

"I love you," she said, her voice distant and far away. She'd played this game many times before, yet it felt like the first time. The lay in a bed with a quilt in a room with different sparse surroundings. She heard a knock on the door. "What's that?"

"George or Catherine."

"Katharine?" Minerva's thoughts wondered vaguely back to the conversation she'd had either that day. She shifted through her foggy mind, feeling as she took some potion or remedy.

Dougal, grinning, spelled the name. "Catherine. Your daughter? The one you like? Well, you have three. Remember them and the two boys?"

"Boys and girls? I haven't any children."

"You sound proper. Like your father. We've been married for sixteen years." Dougal laughed as the unseen child ran away giggling. Minerva wanted to catch a glimpse of the child just to see Dougal in miniature, yet something in the back of her mind told her this wasn't right. Dougal moved his hips as she groaned.

"You're not real," she said, waiting him more.

"Give me another son," said Dougal, picking up where they left off. He leaned over her and whispered into her ear, speaking in Elphinstone's Urquart's familiar tone. There was another knock, but there were no small feet running away. "You need to wake up, Professor McGonagall, or you'll sleep the day away."

Minerva opened her eyes and rolled out of the bed before she hit the back of her head on the stone floor. She felt the knot on the back of her head and lay on her back staring at the ceiling. "Katharine."

Elphinstone nocked on the wall tentatively as laughter leaked through his tone. "Are you all right, Minerva?"

Minerva, back in her bedroom, slipped on her watch and reached up to pull herself to her feet. She put on her spectacles and groped her way over to the dressing table. Why had she fallen asleep in the late afternoon dressed in a plain Muggle dress? She studied the lines on her faces and cast a Color Changing Charm on her dark hair to hide any hints of grey. She opened a blue container and rubbed on this facial cream; a sheer mask washed over her face and the magical effects disappeared. Minerva rubbed the expensive wedding band on her finger. Another sapphire.

She put her spectacles back on. The wedding ceremony, if anyone could even call it that, was a quick run to the courthouse. They signed this, they said this, they signed their lives away, and they'd sealed it was a kiss. Minerva fixed her hair, picked up a small book, and went on her way. She placed her hand on the wall and got distracted by Elphinstone as he pulled her into the office.

"We're married now," she said, impatient to see their new home. Elphinstone had went behind her back to make this as smooth as possible as they moved into the Hogsmeade cottage. Elphinstone rented his house on Napier Street to his son. "Can I see it?"

"Libby has your key," said Elphinstone, tutting and shaking a finger at her. Oh, sure, thought Minerva, the house-elf gets access. He kissed her passionately. "I can't wait to show you the bedroom. I had a bed made for you."

"A bed? Elphinstone, this is getting ridiculous." Minerva flashed the wedding band in his face. He wore a plain titanium one. "Do you see this? We could buy a small country after pawning this thing. Why are you grinning like some idiot?"

"I got what I wanted. But you keep talking, and I'll pretend to listen to you. Let's call it practice." He dodged when Minerva threw her shoe at him. She missed by a long shot and knocked over a biscuit tin. He walked over, picked it up, and slipped the shoe on her foot. Minerva, feeling strange with no care in the world, threw her arms around his neck and started toying with him, insistent and demanding. "Professor."

"Yes." A thousand times she'd answer yes. They'd been apart for months because even though he'd been retired, the Ministry needed him to help with the cleanup efforts. They'd tried this once before after returning from the Ministry, but Elphinstone had problems getting started. She placed her hand on the wall, revealing her bedroom again, and pushed him lightly onto the bed.

"I've had dreams about this." Elphinstone sighed as she took control. "Your hand. What kind of man can't get an election on his wedding night?"

"You're tired."

"I'm old." Elphinstone sighed, and Minerva took her time. "Really?"

"You're not old. Relax, my love." Minerva raised her eyebrows when he grew tired and shoved her aside as he fixed his clothes. Embarrassed, he avoided her gaze and shrank away at her touch, but she slapped a hand on his shoulder. "We'll try again. It's fine."

"Fine," he repeated scathingly. He left the bedroom and stormed out the office.

Minerva, taken aback by his anger, sat on the bed for a while. He wasn't angry with her, but age, it seemed, no matter how youthful his spirit, seemed to be catching up to Elphinstone Urquart. Minerva took a moment to gather herself, rather feeling like she cheated on her new husband with a dead man, and marched out of her office. She locked her door with a click and continued on her way, draping her black traveling cloak over her arm.

She found him wandering aimlessly outside in the courtyard. A few Ravenclaw students lingered there after dinner, but she found she didn't care at the moment. Let them talk. Minerva, raised to be a private person and keep her problems under lock and key, threw Elphinstone a save. Everyone at the school today knew Minerva McGonagall got married. The papers burned through a gossip column because she'd turned down an opportunity to take Elphinstone's name.

"I love you. No matter what." Minerva threw caution to the winds. She had the weekend off, but this display would be around the school when she returned on Monday. Elphinstone had fished a pipe out of his coat, stuck it between his teeth, and cursed when his wand tip wouldn't light.

"Leave us, please," said Elphinstone with a forced calm to the students. They headed back to the castle. Minerva kissed him, long and slow, and she felt him let go of his anger and disappointment. "They'll talk."

"You like a scandal. According to the papers, I'm a heartless harlot in this elaborate scheme to take your money." She'd been bothered by the ridiculous stories floating around. It faded away.

"Is this happily married you?" Elphinstone, smiling, forgot his problems.

"Oh, you gave me this ring, and I have nothing to offer you but an expensive coat and a stack of matchboxes for you collection." She smiled, watching a grin spread across Elphinstone's face; he lived for the simple things in life. She reached inside her traveling cloak and slapped a red cigarette lighter in his hand. She took it back, ignited it, and lit his pipe. Elphinstone closed his eyes, taking a long drag. He took the lighter and pocketed it. "This is from my father as a present."

He threw out a guess. "There are rules attached to this trinket?"

"Oh, my love," she said, pulling on her cloak and fastening the brooch. She placed her hand on his chest. "We spend our lives playing games. This marriage thing?"

Elphinstone cocked his head, interrupting her. "This marriage thing?"

Minerva nodded, biting her bottom lip and tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear the same way she had before he kissed her underneath the mistletoe during the Christmas party in 1956. She'd enjoyed on last hoorah before quitting London for Hogwarts. Elphinstone laughed, accidentally dropping the pipe. It extinguished itself as it clanged onto the ground and rolled off a short distance. Minerva stroked her husband's face, catching a whiff of tobacco as they leaned into each other.

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