Author note: I find the Albus-Minerva ship almost as bizarre as Severus-Hermione, Draco-Ginny, or Harry-Justin (don't ask!). In writing this story, I aimed to give readers a realistic perspective on this significant, but not necessarily romantic, ship.
J.K. Rowling once stated (in 2000, after the publication of Goblet of Fire) that Minerva McGonagall was "a sprightly seventy." The HP Lexicon takes that to mean that Minerva was 70 at the end of GoF, and consequently gives her birth date as c. 1925. I suspect that Rowling actually meant that Minerva was 70 at the beginning of the series, thus giving a birth date of either October 4, 1920 or October 4, 1921. (Explanation of my reasoning available upon request!) In this story, I have used that dating and have assumed that Minerva was at Hogwarts in 1932-39 or 1933-40.
The children have dirty minds, they really do, almost without exception.
They arrive pure and childish, most of them anyway, the most sheltered ones still ignorant of the facts of life, and they spend the first two years growing into hooliganism. The boys shoot up in spurts as rapid as if induced by Skele-Gro and get bad haircuts, of which they're inordinately proud, and the girls sprout breasts and lacquer their nails, and then they start the rumors.
Hooch is a lesbian, the fourth-years tell the third-years. (That's true, actually—although the part about her abortive elopement with the sixteen-year-old Seeker of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team is not.) Irma Pince lusts after Argus Filch. (All right, the children may have something there. She has wondered. Suffice it to say, she has wondered.) Flitwick frequents gay bars. (Where did that one come from? Do they assume that every short man is gay?) Snape has a secret wife, who is either a Muggle, or dead (he murdered her), or living in Iona, and he's got a secret daughter, too, who is the most powerful witch of her generation but totally uneducated because her father can't stand the sight of her and won't let her come to Hogwarts. (There are so many holes in that one that Minerva can't help but laugh. If the children only knew.) Hagrid practices bestiality, and he's partial to unicorns. (Some not-so-subtle homosexual allusions there, she thinks . . . how disappointed the children must have been when he met Olympe Maxime.) And the headmaster, well, the headmaster is having a raging affair with old McGonagall.
It's a compliment, she supposes. She tries to see it as a compliment. That they think she's still young enough, still attractive enough, for that sort of thing and that they pair her with someone they like. After all, they could have paired her name with Filch's, or with Snape's . . . which wouldn't be any more absurd. Severus Snape is forty years nearer her age than Albus Dumbledore.
Albus is a good friend, and a good man too, and she's fond of him, very fond. But being a grown woman does not suffice to make one lust after a man old enough to be one's grandfather. She looks at the children giggling in Transfiguration, whispering, passing notes, and she sees herself front left, just where Hermione Granger usually sits, her left elbow cupped over the edge of her notebook, quill working furiously under a curtain of brown hair. For she was thirteen once too, perky and restless and emotional, and much given to drawing hippogriffs in her notebook and reading library books under her arm in History of Magic, and Arithmancy, and Muggle Studies, and, well, most of her classes really, always excepting Transfiguration, because that was complex and dangerous magic, not the kind one could do with one's mind on one's dinner, and the new (though even then not exactly young) professor of Transfiguration was a fascinating, brilliant, and much-traveled wizard named Albus Dumbledore.
In those days his hair was auburn, and his robes were starched, and his beard didn't look like birds could nest in it. He was a marvelous teacher, perceptive, witty, discreet, with a cache of Acid Pops in his desk that students were allowed to eat once they had turned them into Ice Mice and back again. As the third-years licked their Acid Pops, Professor Dumbledore entertained them with tales of his alchemical research and with daring feats of transfiguration. The classroom became a forest glade and then a Muggle leisure park and then the same classroom 200 years before, as the students sat mesmerized in their seats, squinting at their limbs as if uncertain they were yet themselves. Professor Dumbledore delighted in doing things they had never seen before, even as he lectured them on the proper boundaries of magic. His eyes twinkled blue behind his spectacles, and he was known to have a scar in the shape of the London Underground above his knee, which had been the source of much speculation. Though his deportment was resolutely avuncular, the fascination he roused—not least in Minerva—was something more than filial. It swelled into passionate, fervid devotion.
She did not, however, wish to sleep with him. Indeed, the thought never crossed her mind—thank goodness!— until she came back to Hogwarts, some years after the Grindelwald War, and the children saw their friendship and started giggling.
Oh, the children.
Well, she had a boyfriend once at Hogwarts, when she was a fourth-year. He was the Keeper of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, and a good one too. She didn't sleep with him, because she was fifteen and she hadn't gotten around to wanting to sleep with boys yet, because all in all, truth be told, she was really more interested in Transfiguration and Potions then, but still she had a boyfriend for the duration of one full term, and things went rather farther than they should have, before she realized (thanks to a short but intriguing unit in Muggle Studies) that her I.Q. probably exceeded his by some thirty points or so, and her interest waned. It was the 1930s then, and eugenics had not yet been discredited. Keeper boy faded amiably into the distance as Minerva retreated to the back corner of the library to read the works of Sir Francis Galton, Lewis Terman, and Alfred Binet.
No one reads them now. They read the Kinsey Report instead. Yes, even Hermione Granger.
Minerva can't speak for Muggles, much less American Muggles, but she can speak confidently for the wizards of Britain. On the whole, there's less sex, and certainly less impulsive extramarital sex, in adult life than most thirteen-year-olds would believe. You can't tell them. She has tried.
There are also more essays to grade than any thirteen-year-old anticipates. Essays to grade, and Mandrakes to repot, and Flobberworms to sort, and detentions to supervise. That's what takes up the time meant for sex, or the time so designated in the ribald minds of thirteen-year-olds.
Well, fantasies are healthy. Let them have their fantasies.
Even as a young woman, fresh from Hogwarts, Minerva feared that celibacy would be her lot, for long stretches of her life if not forever—deserts of years. Even amid the tantalizingly violent roller coaster of excitement that was the Grindelwald War, the night flights and the swing bands and the stopovers in foreign ports, the moments of thinking, "He—" and "He—," she feared that none of her short consuming romances would survive the war. What men felt for her was friendship or passion or both, but never love.
No one ever proposed.
So she came back to Hogwarts, and she took Albus's place when he took Armando Dippet's, and it's been a good life on the whole, but not complete. In some ways she still feels twenty-two. It isn't so much the lack of sex she minds—occasional dark nights aside—as the lack of home and husband, the never coming first with anyone. She feels it more starkly now that her siblings are gone from her life, now that her parents are dead. Instead of a home, she has a castle; students instead of children; a cat life instead of a sex life; and in place of a husband, she has a mentor, a boss, well-loved, kindly, decent, and good, but a boss all the same, a mentor, not a peer, Albus Dumbledore.
Yes, she has pined, but not for him. And not for rugged old Mad-Eye, either, whatever the children say. She has pined for the man she never met, and the children she now knows she will not have. She has pined for the years the Time-Turner will not give back, and for a life in which she might have been Minerva first and last, instead living all her warmest, wisest, lovingest moments as Professor McGonagall.