4 October 2035
Minerva had never been what one might call a 'birthday person.' It wasn't that she disliked or dreaded growing older—quite the contrary; she had always enjoyed marking the passing of another year, and certainly she had many very happy memories of birthdays spent with her mother and father and brothers, holed up in the little manse in Caithness. In the Hogwarts days, and after, Pomona had never once forgotten any staff member's birthday, but she always made a great fuss over Minerva's. Even at the end of her life, some years ago now, Pomona had sent an enormous chocolate cake via owl post, directly to the headmistress's office.
No, there was no bitterness or unpleasantness that Minerva experienced when her birthday approached. Nonetheless—and perhaps it was simply a habit she had picked up at Hogwarts, when the first month of school would be devoted to frantic settling-in, and the fourth of October would catch her by surprise—she avoided excessive celebration; she did not host dinner parties, she did not seek out particular company, and her family and friends followed her lead. A quiet tea with Hermione, Ron, and one or more of her godchildren; an invitation to dinner with either Malcolm and Kate or Robbie and Meg, which would often turn into an impromptu little celebration; or, sometimes, and particularly in recent years, she would sit very much alone in her little cottage with a cup of tea and an advance copy of Transfiguration Today in need of editing, and just enjoy a little quiet time away from committee meetings and instructional panels and all the many things that she had signed up for (and had been invited to be a part of) in what was meant to be her quiet retirement. At any rate, Minerva generally preferred very little fuss, and that was the way she had always liked it.
That is, until today. She had not forgotten that this particular birthday was approaching.
Perhaps it was because she didn't count a great number of people in among her closest friends, but she hadn't known too many people who reached one hundred years old without any acknowledgement whatsoever. Well, that might be excessive; she'd had letters and cards from the usual group—her family, several friends of the Weasley-Potter-Granger variety, and a small number of people she'd known for more of her hundred years than almost anyone.
She thought she was being rather childish; at her age, she supposed they all thought that if she wanted to, she would throw herself a party. At any point in the last few weeks, if she had wanted to, she might have said something to her niece Isobel, or Hermione, and arranged a dinner of some kind; but they certainly wouldn't disturb her if she didn't wish to be disturbed.
"No," she mumbled to herself, running her fingers under her chin as she frowned down at the manuscript that sat open on her crossed knees. "No, you've got them all trained, haven't you? Well done, Minerva." She gave a snort and glanced up at the carriage clock—her father's, from his study—on the mantel. It was ten past five. Hermione had been going to drop by around two o'clock to meet Minerva and bring her round for dinner (using the Floo did not agree with Minerva's bad back any longer, not that Side-Along Apparition was any more enjoyable), but had written to say that she would be late, and might have to reschedule for tomorrow.
Even when she was at her busiest, Hermione wasn't the forgetful sort, nor did she often keep Minerva waiting, but she had not given the slightest indication of what time Minerva ought to expect her, if at all.
Something soft pushed up against Minerva's ankle, and she reached down and scratched Phoebe's ears. The skinny little calico gave a disproportionately loud meow and butted Minerva's fingertips with her head.
"I suppose we ought to fend for ourselves. What do you think?" said Minerva, and Phoebe meowed again. Minerva marked her place in the manuscript, set it aside, and, with some difficulty and much grumbling for Phoebe's benefit, Minerva got her cane in one hand and pushed herself up out of her armchair with the other.
"Oh, get out of it," Minerva muttered grumpily, as Phoebe scampered ahead of her, trying catch hold of the tip of the cane as Minerva made her way through to the kitchen. She hung the cane on a tea towel hook on the wall, moving between cupboards and tapping things with her wand as she went—tea things began to assemble themselves on a tray, the kettle hopped onto its hook above the kitchen fireplace, a can of cat food opened and emptied itself into a little flowered dish on the counter.
Phoebe leapt up at once and began eating before Minerva could take the dish and set it on the floor.
"Of course you're the only one who I haven't got trained around here," she said, leaning close and stroking the cat's back. "Do try not to make a mess this time," she sighed, straightening up stiffly and walking over to check the kettle.
Phoebe sneezed into her bowl.
Minerva nearly dropped the kettle. "It's bad manners to turn up unannounced," she barked in the direction of the living room. "I'm an old woman. You might have given me a heart attack."
"Your heart is fine as it ever was, and you'll outlive us all. You ought to run for Minister of Magic," Hermione replied smartly, appearing in the kitchen doorway. Her glasses were perched on top of her brown-and-white hair, which was gathered in a knot on top of her head. She was wearing blue robes and smiling radiantly.
"Hmf," Minerva grumbled, arching an eyebrow and turning back to her teapot.
"I'm sorry I'm late," said Hermione, a little more meekly. She came and put a hand at Minerva's back, standing on tiptoe to kiss her cheek.
"Were you at work?" Minerva asked.
Hermione pushed her fringe back, sighing as she leaned her back against the counter, and nodded. "We've got so much going on, I haven't had a moment's peace in weeks…" She watched as Minerva poured a healthy measure of Ogden's Old Firewhisky into her tea and asked, "Is your back bothering you? I wish you'd go to St. M—"
"It isn't bothering me any more than usual, and I'm not seeing a Healer," Minerva grouched. "I'm afraid I only made enough for one, dear, you'll have to help yourself." She lifted her cane from the hook on the wall and limped out to the living room, tea in hand.
She was settling herself in her armchair when Hermione appeared again, still beaming. "That's all right. You have yours, and we'll go home for dinner when you're done."
"Dinner?" Minerva asked, arching an eyebrow as Phoebe came and leapt delicately into her lap, hoping to be scratched.
"That was the plan, wasn't it? A nice little birthday dinner," Hermione said, her eyes wide. "You'd still like to come, wouldn't you?"
Minerva sipped her tea and said loftily, "I rather thought you were all busy this evening."
Hermione waved a hand. "Well, Ron might still be out, I'm not sure, but Rose said she might be able to drop by a little later. The two of us can have a celebration, certainly."
Minerva shifted in her seat and stroked Phoebe's ears.
"I really am sorry I was late, that was rude of me," Hermione added.
Minerva gave a little sigh and glanced sideways at her. "And you haven't wished me a happy birthday yet, either."
Hermione laughed. "Happy birthday, Minerva, and many more. Will you come over if I tell you I've got a present waiting for you at the house?"
"That could mollify me, I suppose," Minerva replied, and she smiled at last. "I'm being rather cantankerous today, forgive me. Poor Phoebe's had the worst of it. Haven't you?" she asked the cat, who was soundly asleep, lying upside down in her lap.
"Why?" Hermione asked, frowning. "That's no way to have a birthday."
"I'm an old lady and I can do what I like," Minerva said tartly. "I'm just thoughtful, I suppose. Isn't that what birthdays are for? Reflections and ruminations?"
Hermione snorted and said, laughing, "That depends on who you ask. My twenty-seven-year-old son would say they are exclusively for the purpose of forgetting your weekend."
Minerva winced. "Twenty-seven? When did that happen?"
"Just a few days shy of twenty-eight," Hermione nodded, with a tremendous sigh. She leaned back in her chair. "And as far as I can tell, sometime last week I was pregnant, and now here we are." She threw up both hands.
"Here we are indeed," Minerva replied, draining her cup of tea. With a little more dexterity this time, she chivvied Phoebe off her lap (the cat retreated to the kitchen, looking miffed), and got up again.
"Where are you going?" Hermione asked.
"I was promised dinner and a present," Minerva told her. "I hope you aren't counting on my mind going to help you skate by."
"Oh yes, of course," Hermione replied sarcastically.
Minerva laughed. "Let me get my cloak and lock up," she said, going to the rack by the front door.
"Those robes are lovely, are they new?" Hermione called as she went.
"They are," said Minerva. "My sister-in-law sent them last week, and I rather like them as well. Some new shop in Hogsmeade, I gather."
"That shade of green suits you," Hermione smiled, as they went out the front door together and Minerva rapped the lock on the door with her wand.
"Thank you," she smiled.
"Would you rather Side-Along, or not?" Hermione asked.
Minerva tucked her cane into the folds of her cloak and looked around at the windy, cool autumn evening. "Oh, why not," she shrugged, coming closer and placing her hand on Hermione's arm.
A few seconds' crushing, uncomfortable pressure, and then they were standing before the neatly manicured hedges that surrounded Hermione and Ron's front garden. Minerva took a moment to orientate herself, and Hermione pointed to the golden lights visible through the kitchen window.
"Oh, look, Ron is home," she beamed. Then, in a rather uncharacteristic move that surprised Minerva enough that she didn't comment, Hermione slipped her hand around Minerva's elbow and walked beside her up the garden path. She fumbled rather noisily with the doorknob for a moment before pushing it open and calling, "Hello! We're home!"
She let go of Minerva's arm and went inside; Minerva followed, distracted by her own feet as she crossed the threshold, and then shrugged out of her cloak, which she hung on the wall of the entry, smoothing her robes as she did. "Something smells delicious," Minerva said, turning to face Hermione—but Hermione was no longer there.
"Hermione?" she said curiously, looking around. She went in the direction of the kitchen—but it, too, was empty. Now a little bewildered, Minerva went to the other kitchen doorway, towards the darkened sitting room—Ron often sat in there, though why he would do so with the lights out was a bit of a mystery.
And, just as she came in the doorway—and a few crucial pieces of information clunked into place in her brain—the lights in the sitting room blazed to life. The sheer level of noise that greeted her was enough to really make Minerva stumble, this time, but someone was good enough to catch and steady her. She looked round to see Ron beaming at her.
"Happy birthday," he grinned.
"Surprise," said Hermione, a broad smile on her face as she stood before a crowd of at least seventy people that stood before Minerva. She saw her brothers, her sisters-in-law, her niece and nephews and all of their children; Kingsley and Hestia, Oliver and Alicia Wood; the Weasleys, Delacours, Potters, and their many progeny, including Hugo and a very pregnant Rose—and then she saw the others.
Standing in a line beside Ginny, Harry, and Hermione (Ron still had a steadying hand on Minerva's back, for which she was grateful) were Neville Longbottom, Seamus Finnigan, Dean Thomas, Lavender Brown, and Parvati Patil; each of them were surrounded by spouses, children—and, in at least a few cases, grandchildren.
Minerva put a hand to her chest, trying and failing to form words. For a moment, as they stood before her, they were all seventeen and whole again—all of them, in this room, just as she remembered them—but they were themselves, as well, scarred and middle-aged and gray-haired—and yet, still smiling at her in a way that made her throat ache.
"Hermione got in touch in September. We thought we'd make an evening of it," said Dean Thomas, flicking his wand once; a massive Gryffindor banner unfurled itself from the wall. Written in glittering golden script beneath the roaring lion were the words,
HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY,
There was a great deal of appreciative cheering, and all eyes were on Minerva again, who still had not recovered herself. She pressed her lips together; her chin was trembling traitorously.
"First time I've seen my sister speechless in a hundred years," Robbie called.
"Detention, McGonagall," Minerva snapped, and everyone burst into laughter.
All at once, they descended, even as Ron and Hermione brought her to a thronelike chair that sat in the middle of the room; Isobel, Neville, Kingsley, Rose, Lily Potter, Molly Weasley—one after the other, until Minerva was quite overcome and had to draw out her handkerchief to blow her nose.
Then a champagne flute was being placed in her hand by Neville's daughter, Alice; Minerva looked around and saw that they were being distributed around the room, and Hermione, who stood beside Isobel, was tapping her own glass with her wand.
"I just want to—before we eat, that is," she began, turning to face Minerva, "I want to take a moment to really toast our—our wonderful Professor McGonagall."
Minerva laughed and looked down at her lap, feeling her cheeks flush.
"None of us here tonight who wouldn't be who we are without you," said Hermione, and there was an appreciative murmur; Isobel was holding Minerva's gaze with tears in her eyes. "As a matter of fact, there are several of us here who wouldn't be alive, if it weren't for you."
Hermione's voice cracked, and she looked at Isobel, who patted her arm and smiled. "To Minerva McGonagall," she said in her gentle voice, lifting her glass.
Minerva's tears were falling fast now as she half-sobbed, half-laughed into her handkerchief. Seventy-five crystal glasses went into the air, sparkling gold and silver under the scarlet banner overhead.
"To Minerva McGonagall."
Ordinarily, you all know that I put these at the front of my stories, but I wanted to ramble a bit on this one, so I hope you'll read this, but you certainly don't have to. If you want the TL;DR version - thank you.
For those of you who are feeling that you'd like to read something a little more long-winded from me (bless you), here we go. I've hit my centennial, and I have five wonderful years, nearly one million words, and an overwhelming amount of love to show for it. There are only a few people in my real life who know about my little habit, on this website. There are only a few that I trust with this. If you are reading this, you are among those few.
Thank you for everything you have all given me in the last five years. I've been around long enough to make friends here, to find steadfast, honest reviewers, to see fellow writers come and go; I've been lucky enough to have readers flood my email with the kindest possible reviews; I've had some readers pass by without a single word - just a favorite or a follow, and that has been just as rewarding.
It's my dream to write. For a long time, I believed that that meant that silly side projects like this were just that - silly, meaningless. I said this in a speech that I gave at my high school, about nine months ago: "If you want to write, the first thing that needs to go out the window is your inhibition." To write is to write is to write; to be inspired is to be inspired is to be inspired. Nothing could ever change the fact that I am inspired daily, and in equal parts, by my visits to this site and by my own imagination - the fires of which are stoked by the books that have shaped me, including Harry Potter.
I have no more words to thank you. Know that if you are reading this - whenever you are reading this - your kindness and your generosity of spirit in doing so is what sustains me in my lifelong ambition. The kindness you give me, daily, reminds me that I will always have a safehaven.