FIC: "Come Back to Haunt You" for therealsnape Recipient: TheRealSnape Author/Artist: ??? Title: Come Back to Haunt You Rating: Teen Pairings: Moaning Myrtle/Minerva McGonagall, background Minerva McGonagall/Amelia Bones Word Count: 4000 Medium: Fic Warnings/Content Information (Highlight to View): *Grief; one character is dealing with the death of another. Also, an apparent May-December romance, although I believe the characters feel themselves to be of the same age.*. Summary: Nothing about love makes sense. Author's/Artist's Notes: In my universe, for a number of reasons you probably don’t need to hear about at length, Pottermore never existed. What you do need to know here is that your gentle author never adjusted her initial assessment of Minerva McGonagall’s age. The Minerva McGonagall of “Come Back to Haunt You” is a contemporary of Tom Riddle, as is the ghost known as Moaning Myrtle. Thank you to my accidental beta S and to for accepting the torch.
You have never been to a wizarding funeral have you, my dear reader? It has a very different character from the Muggle. It takes an extraordinary faith in these modern, secular times for a Muggle to watch a loved one pass from this world to the next and believe—truly believe—that the parting is only temporary. Witches and wizards know better. We have known ghosts, who can speak of the other side. We vanish from one place to appear in the next; we transform from one being to another and back again. Why should the step from this world to the next be any more mysterious or troubling or final than taking firm hold of a Portkey or feeling the shiver of approaching Transformation? Muggles speak of death as a passage from one life to the next, but witches and wizards are sure of it.
All of which is to explain why I had returned to my rooms at Hogwarts dry-eyed the night of Amelia’s funeral. Why should I have been upset? The event had been well-attended and respectful. The Minister had spoken at length about Amelia’s sense of justice, her devotion to the law, and her valiant final attempts at defending herself. I sat with the family and held her mother’s trembling hand as members of the Wizengamot offered their recollections. Griselda even produced a monocle to read her remarks, and the crowd—as it does at the best wizarding funerals—had a chance to laugh. Amelia had been honored and wished well as she began her journey.
I returned to my rooms exhausted that night; Apparition seemed to require more energy every year. I closed and locked the door behind me, breathing a sigh of relief at the blessed silence that always reigned in my quarters. Throughout the day, I had been wearing a set of white wool robes reserved specifically for honoring the dead—although the wizarding world has come to model itself on the Muggle in so many ways over the past century, that particular tradition has remained firm—and now I took them off and folded them carefully, minding the creases and smoothing the expensive fabric, which was so delicate it caught on the dry skin on the tips of my fingers. When I had reduced the costume to a compact package, I placed it upon the highest shelf in the armoire.
Underneath, I wore a simple shift, which I exchanged for a light cotton nightgown befitting the warm night. I unpinned and brushed my hair—one hundred strokes, every night, regardless—and washed my face and began to clean my teeth.
That was when I heard it: a familiar gurgle rising from the pipes beneath the sink.
Part of Myrtle’s head appeared, distorted by the squeeze of the pipe so that I saw only one eye behind a thick lens, inspecting me curiously.
Out of courtesy I spat in the drain the bathtub and rinsed my toothbrush. “Please come up if you intended to do so, Myrtle. I’m a bit tired. I want to go to bed soon.”
Myrtle rose up from the sink in a tight spiral, unwinding slowly to cross her arms and look at me with an expression of pure suspicion.
I had little energy for Myrtle’s dramatics right then. “Yes?”
“You’re back from the funeral,” she said.
“Yes,” I replied. “And a very proper one it was.”
She leaned closer, so that her nose came within an inch of my own. I could feel the slight chill that always emanated from her.
“You’re not crying, Minnie.”
“Your eyes aren’t even red!”
I looked at the mirror above the sink, where I saw my familiar lined face, framed by frizzy black hair: nothing less, nothing more.
“They’ve been green for seventy two years,” I said. “Five longer than yours, I dare say.”
Myrtle drew back, assessing me, lips tightened. “Do you know what they’re saying about you in the Prefects’ Bathroom?”
The combativeness of her voice startled me. “Usually I don’t much care to know,” I said. “You know that.” One could lose hours to gossip with Myrtle.
“You’d like to know this.”
“I’m not so sure, Myrtle.”
“They’re saying you were Amelia’s—“
My stomach dropped in premonition.
For the first time that day, I felt something out of the ordinary: a sudden wave of nausea, a shiver, a sudden narrowing of my field of vision. I heard a ringing in my ears so strong and disorienting it caused me first to grasp the edge of the sink and then to retreat to my sitting room, where I sank down onto the couch and tried to clear my head.
Myrtle followed—less out of concern for me, I suspected, than a sense that the topic wasn’t yet finished. “Minnie! How could you keep a secret like this from me, for all this time?”
The tears were about to come, I could sense it. “Myrtle.”
“After all these years! I thought you were my friend!”
“I am, Myrtle.”
“You never tell me anything!
“Myrtle, be sensible.”
“No one ever tells me anything!” Myrtle began to wail. “I might as well be dead, for all anyone cares!”
The ringing was becoming louder. I pressed my fingers in my ears and squeezed my eyes shut.
“Out, Myrtle,” I said, my voice strange to my own ears. “Now.”
Fifty-three years ago, my dear reader, in a dark hour following the death of a student, our former Headmaster Dippet summoned his Head Girl to his office.
It was past bedtime, and the castle was silent as I walked its halls. I was anxious despite the certain knowledge that I had done nothing to warrant reprimand; I had never been summoned to the Headmaster’s office before, and the late hour did not inspire optimism about the situation.
“Miss McGonagall. So glad you could come.” Headmaster Dippet was seated behind his desk, looking for all the world as if he typically dealt with his administrative duties until midnight. (Which was never the case, my dear reader; few headmasters adhered to a goblin’s schedule more faithfully than Dippet.) The only clues to his state of mind were a glass of Firewhiskey and the rank smell of home-brewed Pepper-Up potion. “I need to tell you: she hasn’t moved on.” He spoke slowly, as if searching for the words.
“Who?” Surely I had been summoned to the wrong meeting.
I must have been starting at him blankly, because he leaned in, catching my eye. “To the other side.” He cocked an eyebrow. “Beyond?”
“She’s a ghost, you mean?” I asked, but at the word “ghost” the Headmaster winced.
“It’s not been confirmed yet,” he said. “But one of the teachers saw her in the east wing earlier this evening.” He sighed. “Children almost never linger,” he said. “I just don’t understand.”
I frowned, because while Myrtle was no adult, she was hardly a child. Indeed, half her problem had been the development of a full figure during her second year.
“Children have not had time to attach themselves to this world,” the Headmaster mused. “Their relationships are rarely so conflicted—“
I didn’t see any point in philosophical speculation. “She’s quite taken with Olive Hornby, Headmaster. It’s common knowledge.”
The Headmaster looked at me, startled.
“Ravenclaw? Fourth year? With a long brown plait?”
A shadow of recognition, very faint, passed over the Headmaster’s face. “Quite a plain child, if I remember her correctly. Right. Well. It may turn out that Myrtle’s relationship with her parents was fraught, and she may leave Hogwarts and chose to haunt their house, instead. But for now we need to assume that she will make the school her home and act accordingly.”
I had not yet banished the sense that I was at the wrong meeting. “What do you need me to do, Headmaster?”
“Just—be her friend. It seems she had none before her death. Help her adjust to her new, er, life. I worry that she’ll become unmanageable, left to her own in the castle. One can always remind a student of his or her place if the need arises, but ghosts can become…difficult, shall we say?”
At the time it seemed like a modest request, since I had only a few months at Hogwarts left. But who was to guess that within a few years Myrtle would pursue Olive Hornby to the point of Ministry intervention? Or that, worse yet, the Ministry would find itself unable to deal with her and would plan an exorcism, as if we were all Muggles who terrified of witches and ghosts and the unknown? Or that I would eventually return to the school myself, as friendless as Myrtle had been a decade and a half earlier and ready to meet her again, on new terms?
I have been Myrtle’s friend and ally for more than five decades now. What began as a responsibility has transformed slowly over the years into a long-standing friendship—perhaps my most significant. I have had rich, rewarding, emotionally intimate relationships with others—not just Amelia, but Rolanda and more recently Pomona—but Myrtle has been there at every junction of my life, for as long as I can remember.
I ran the water in the bath, as I so often do in a crisis, large or small. I have an unusually comfortable bathroom—spacious, well-furnished, with a deep, claw-foot tub, heated towel racks, and small black and white titles that march in geometric formation across the floor. Years ago I stationed a plush old armchair at the foot of the tub, so that I could relax and soak my feet while Myrtle chatted and splashed. I have never been one to indulge, but if a few bath salts made Myrtle happy, who was I to begrudge her?
I relaxed with my feet in the bath, and Myrtle returned quickly enough, peering out of the sink curiously at first, waiting to see if she was welcome. Her mood had turned quickly, as it often did, and all signs of tears were gone. She then joined my feet in the bath, where she happily submerged herself in the water two or three times, head first, like a bird bathing in a puddle, before settling down at the far of the tub and blowing at the bubbles atop the water’s surface.
“Can we talk about her?”
Why not? I nodded.
“What was she like?” Myrtle asked. “I never knew her. She had left Hogwarts before I arrived.”
Where to start? “Tenacious,” I said. “Opinionated. Unable to stop telling the truth, once she began. Passionate about fairness and justice. She knew she was interested in the Wizengamot, even while she was still at school.”
“Popular?” Myrtle understood the school’s social hierarchies, even if she was unable to navigate them herself.
“Well-liked, I’d say. Which continued to be case, even after she left. She always had a large circle of friends and admirers.”
“Was she pretty?”
That made me smile. “She had a very distinct look. Stern features and a serious expression, not unlike her niece Susan, currently in Hufflepuff.”
“But not as pretty as you.”
I must have blushed; no one had offered me a compliment like that in years. “I thought she was beautiful.”
Myrtle glanced at me coyly. “Did you have sex while you were still at school?”
The question took me aback. “I don’t see how—“
“Olive and I did, you know,” Myrtle said, carrying along as if I’d never spoken. “We’d started about six weeks before I died, after lights-out.”
“We would wait till the others were asleep and then she’d join me in my bed. Just touching my breast got her all wet between her legs, and she’d climb on top of me and rub against my thigh until she got tired.”
My dear reader, I didn’t know what to say.
Myrtle watched me, warming to her topic, clearly enjoying my evident shock. “I wouldn’t have said it was sex, not really, but Madam Hooch said it was, and she should know.”
“When did you talk to Madam Hooch about this?”
“A few years ago, when I caught her and Griselda Marchbanks in the prefects’ bath one night during exams,” Myrtle said. “She said Olive should have been more attentive to me.”
“What?” I exclaimed, unable to help myself. (So very like Rolanda, though; despite the unexpected nature of the confession, it rang true.)
“You didn’t know that, did you?” Myrtle asked.
“No, I did not.”
“See what you’ve been missing!” Myrtle cried gleefully. “Now you’re sorry you never said anything, aren’t you?”
“Myrtle,” I began, rubbing my temples in an attempt to head off an approaching headache. “Slow down.”
Forty-seven years ago, my dear reader, I stood at a juncture. After a few years of work as a junior researcher at the Ministry—during which period my promise to the Headmaster had been almost completely forgotten, I’m afraid to say—Myrtle’s persecution at the hands of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement had brought her back into my life. Myrtle had indeed spent excessive time and effort attempting to catch Olive Hornby’s attention, I won’t deny it, but the prospect of an exorcism had drawn attention to her case. Such a heavy-handed, fundamentally unfair solution to a simple haunting! Would a living witch or wizard have been treated so summarily? I think not.
At first her situation appeared hopeless, but then her story was published in some detail in the Prophet, and an anonymous editorial advocated instead for a simple trial at the Wizangamot for breach of privacy. Rolanda was jubilant.
“We need to get Amelia involved,” she declared, looking at me shrewdly.
I wasn’t so certain. “Surely her own position at MLE—“
“No one better,” Roland insisted. “And you should be the one to ask her. It shouldn’t be difficult; Amelia will fight to the death for what’s right.”
She was right. Amelia was easily recruited, and she brought a sense of direction to our campaign that we had previously been lacking. Her enthusiasm was remarkable. A passion for justice lit up Amelia’s face when she spoke; her eyes widened, and her breath came more quickly, and her index finger would rise, punctuating her words. She would lean forward, catching her companion’s eye, drawing that companion in—drawing me in—as if our conversation were suspended there precariously, midair, between the two of us, a fragile thing that only we could sense or share! The old Head Girl Amelia had impressed me, my dear reader—competent, responsible witches always did—but the adult Amelia was a thing of intelligence and fire. I was entranced.
We three spent many a late evening at Amelia’s flat, charting out Myrtle’s defense in anticipation of a trial. The problem was simple, or it should have been, according to Amelia: it all came down a question of standing. Were the spirits moving among us as friends and neighbors (if occasionally awkward or annoying) not to be accorded the same legal rights as living wizards and witches? We spent hours pouring over transcripts of previous trials and studying the latest research on the physical, psychological, intellectual, and moral differences between the living and those without life. We found finding little substantial divergence apart from immortality, the obvious lack of flesh, and a tendency—so clearly embodied in Myrtle—to fixate. What about this parallel state deprived a magical being of due process?
One evening, when Rolanda was away with the Harpies, Amelia abandoned her work and turned to me.
“This task would be so much easier if we could simply explain to the Wizengamot why Myrtle is such a bloody pain in the arse when it comes to Olive Hornby.”
To someone who at that point had never experienced Myrtle as anything but a pain in the arse, someone who in fact was quickly coming to understand the spiritual world as one filled with a passion and persistence I couldn’t quite understand, Amelia’s comment was puzzling. “Her obsession, you mean? She’s always been that way, so far as I’m aware.”
Amelia eyed me, an odd expression on her face. “The poor thing is in love, Minerva, isn’t it obvious?”
My dear reader, it hadn’t been obvious to me, not at all—though now that Amelia put it that way, I began to understand so much: the endless back-and-forth, the teasing, the tears, Myrtle’s sheer inability to leave Olive alone. I must have appeared flustered, because Amelia leaned across the small table where we were working and grasped my hand. Her fingers were warm, and their gentle pressure was distracting.
“Minerva, I haven’t shocked you, have I?”
“No,” I said, “Of course not.” I had known Rolanda for years, and so the concept of romantic attachments between witches was not foreign to me. But I was still struggling with the idea that a witch who had been offered the opportunity to move on to the next world might turn it down to remain by the side of a classmate who teased her—indeed, who hounded her and mocked her, belittled her, and ultimately appealed to the Ministry in an effort to banish her from her life altogether. Where was the sense in that, I ask you?
Nothing in my life had prepared me to understand Myrtle’s situation, my dear reader. And perhaps, knowing that, you will sympathize with me and excuse the fact that I had failed to notice that Rolanda had begun excusing herself from our meetings, citing travel or practice. Or that I had made nothing of the ease and intimacy that Amelia and I discovered so quickly as we got to know one another. I hadn’t thought about the fact that she laughed often when we were together. I had noticed that she never hesitated to touch my hand, or my back, or even my hair, on the ridiculous pretense that Floo powder was still lodged it, but the meaning of these gestures eluded me.
I was at a juncture, and I did not know it. Amelia released my hands; we went back to work. The moment had passed. On the strength of Amelia’s appeal, a deal was struck with the Ministry to relocate Myrtle to Hogwarts, and shortly afterward I began a course of study in advanced Transfiguration that led me, ultimately, to join her there. Within a few months, I was involved in my first relationship—with Rolanda, a happy if short chapter in both our personal histories—and Amelia had found a companion of her own who did not leave her side for forty-one years.
The moment had passed, my dear reader, and I had never kissed Amelia.
I have led a happy life, you know. I have enjoyed the support and affection of dozens of friends, family members, colleagues, and students. I have several companions over the years, each of whom touched my life in some meaningful way. I have lived my life on my terms and never looked back. I could not, should not, ask for more.
I had never kissed Amelia, however, and I regretted it.
Myrtle, of course, jumped to the most sensational possible conclusion as she heard this story.
“You’ve never been kissed!” she squealed, eyes wide, wriggling in the water at her end of the bathtub.
“Not by Amelia, silly,” I replied, splashing some water in her direction. “Weren’t you listening to me at all?” I frowned. “Didn’t I tell you every awful detail of that disaster with Marlene McKinnon?”
“I’ve never been kissed,” Myrtle replied, as if that were a perfectly logical response. Her tears began to well up.
And then, with another of her lightening changes of mood, she spoke again. “You could kiss me, Minnie.”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“You might at least be polite about it,” Myrtle said crossly.
“In that case, no thank you,” I said. “How do I know I won’t wake at four in the morning to find you hovering over me, watching me sleep?”
“Oh, fine, throw that back at me.”
I raised an eyebrow at her.
Myrtle shrugged. “I was young. And Olive was so very, very lovely.” She smiled at the memory and wriggled in the sudsy bathwater.
“You stay at that end of the bathtub,” I said. “You’re far too cold for contact.”
Myrtle looked at me, first in surprise, then in dawning recognition.
“And close your eyes.” I closed mine.
Please don’t tell me I can’t kiss a ghost, my dear reader. I have heard it all over the years: that I was too young, or that I didn’t know my mind, or that I hadn’t yet experienced sex properly, or that adulthood accompanies only a very particular kind of physical contact. Ridiculous, I say. Love is about intimacy—nothing more, nothing less.
“Put your hand on my side, here, just under my breast—“
I opened one eye slightly to find Myrtle starting at me, entranced. “Do at least attempt to be a good kisser, Myrtle. Use your imagination. Both parties need to make an effort.”
Startled, she squeezed both eyes shut mightily, with an expression that approached pain.
“You’re awfully soft,” she said.
“A bit squishy,” I admitted.
“No,” she said. “Your nightgown, your skin, your….” She trailed off for a moment. “Your breast.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, or I might change my mind,” I said. “Lean in, tilt your head a bit, no, not that way, to the right, touch your lips to mine, ever so softly.”
“I can feel you breathing,” she said. And then: “You have a lovely smell about you, Minnie. Light. Fresh. I want to be closer.”
“I’ve parted my lips,” I said. “Do you want to go further? You part yours, as well.”
I waited. The water in the bath sloshed gently.
“I’m tracing the edge of your lips with my tongue, then pressing my tongue inside—“
“Oh!” Myrtle said with pleasure. “And now I’m pressing my tongue to yours—“
“Not too much tongue—“
“And you have your hand against me, as well, inside my shirt, aren’t my boobies nice? And we shift so we’re touching—“
With my eyes closed, with my mouth pressed against Myrtle’s, after a fashion, with the soft sounds of my breath coming regularly, the thoughts came, unbidden:
I miss you, Amelia.
I wasn’t ready for you to die. Not so soon.
I wish we had done this when we had the chance.
And there it was: a catch in my chest and a feeling of despair.
Oh, if I could just feel certain that you would be there, Amelia! Is there anything after this life? Do we ever get a second chance? How can we know, without having been there ourselves?
Myrtle’s voice brought me back. “You’re crying, Minnie.”
I sniffled and wiped the tears from my cheeks. “Not really.”
“Am I that bad?”
“No, it was me, not you.”
Myrtle sighed. “That’s what they always say.”
I splashed some more water in her direction. “You should give the students more privacy, Myrtle.”
Myrtle pulled a face. “I liked that, Minnie,” she said. “It made me feel warm inside, like I’m loved.”
I smiled at that. “You are.” Already Amelia’s presence was receding, leaving only a deep sense of love and longing and sadness in its wake. It felt good to be with Myrtle and not alone at the end of a long day.
In fact, I realized, it felt good to be with Myrtle almost always. I had missed my chance once. I didn’t want to do so again.
I leaned forward, whispering conspiratorially: “Want to hear something else?”
Myrtle nodded eagerly.
“Sometimes kissing makes you burn, like you’re being eaten alive from inside, and nothing helps until you can touch some more.”