Attention: As of 25 October 2011, this has been updated for Pottermore spoilers! :) So just beware.
21 June 2006
Minerva McGonagall squinted out the window of the headmaster's—no, her office. Was she really still thinking of it as his? Gracious.
The summer light poured in, illuminating the flecks of dust that floated through the air, and the headmistress sighed, then winced, placing a hand on her chest. She frowned and looked back to the letter she was composing.
The ache between Minerva's collarbones wasn't only physical, although that was certainly a large part of it. Ten years ago—plus a day or two—she was struck down by four Stunning spells, fired at her by some of her former, best students. At the time, she hadn't known which hurt more. I lived to tell the tale to that horrible old toad, though, she thought, with a slight twitch of her lips.
But the root of what pained her, what caused her to retreat into her office on June the twenty-first every single year, was more than the residual sting of a spell. It was far deeper, past even her emotions, into her very core. Nine years ago—to the day exactly, in this case—she had lost the best friend she had ever known. Worse yet, thirty years ago…she had lost her husband, another anniversary she dreaded in this horrible week of late June.
The longest day of the year was a cruel time for Minerva, when she became acutely aware both of her loneliness, and of how old she was becoming. The loss of Elphinstone, of Albus, and the anniversaries of the two injuries she received that had changed her permanently—both the attack on the lawn and the fall from her broom that had ended her Quidditch career at Hogwarts—weighed on her every June, until finally, by the twenty-first, she could not even bring herself to leave her office.
Minerva sighed and rubbed her forehead, removing her old square-framed glasses to pinch the bridge of her nose before replacing them. She looked all around the office, trying to think of something other than the pains in her chest, and her back, and—yes, foolish as it was—her heart.
For all the physical pain and the longing for Elphinstone, on today of all days, it was Albus that filled Minerva's mind. He had been her last holdout, her last confidant, and even Pomona—who was growing old enough that it was difficult for her to always be by Minerva's side—could not quite sympathize with the horrible pain that filled Minerva's heart at every memory of Albus.
Minerva sighed and winced involuntarily. Her eyes lingered on the glass-fronted bookcase nearest her desk, and decided that the office wasn't so different from the way it had looked when she first walked in to accept her teaching post, some fifty years—Merlin'sbeard—before.
She hadn't appreciated it at the time, but during his headmastership, Severus never truly altered a thing about the wide, round room, not even to remove the tables bearing the assortment of odd trinkets and machines. Maybe he had never thought of it as his own, either.
Certainly, there were even more books now. More tartan. But for the most part, the room was the same. Even the many silver instruments were still there, neatly arranged on their tables, which had been moved closer to the walls.
The dull pain in her chest throbbed, and she closed her eyes, leaning back in the chair. Perhaps she would see if Poppy could give her something later; for now, she would survive. It was rare for Minerva to feel old, but on today of all days, the feeling hit her hard. She got up, slowly, a little stiffly, to pour herself a cup of tea.
As she did so, she caught sight of her faint reflection in the glass of the window. Her hair was turning silvery at her temples now, but was still very long, pinned neatly into her customary bun. There were more lines around her eyes and mouth. She looked tired, Minerva decided. And sad, though she attributed that to the day. She wondered vaguely if Robert and Malcolm saw as much of their mother in Minerva's aging features as she herself did.
Suddenly hearing the dim echo of Isobel McGonagall's voice, Minerva pulled her shoulders back and stood up straight, staring haughtily at her reflection. For goodness' sake, Minerva, if you're going to commit to moping about all day, do it with a little backbone.
The corner of her thin mouth lifted slightly, and she turned away from the window, quietly moving to look up at the portrait that hung above her desk. He was sleeping, or at least pretending to. For that she was grateful. Right now, it was simply too difficult to have him be so close, and yet so far away.
Minerva sat down again, swirling her tea around in the cup. Nine years…it was hard to believe that she—any of them—had lasted that long. She had spent so much time looking to him for guidance and advice…she'd even had something of a crush on him, for a short while in school, when he'd been her professor. Perhaps a little longer.
When Elphinstone had died, Albus alone had known how badly shaken Minerva had become. Only Albus had been able to understand her grief fully, and he was the dearest thing in her world. He was occasionally silly, sometimes impractical, but steadfast, loving, and loyal. And he was her deepest confidant. She gave him all she had: her trust.
She was never bitter that he didn't share some of the finer details of his plans involving Harry. She understood: introduce more than one person, and the variables, the dangers, increased. He had given her something even more important in leaving her to care for the school and more importantly, the students. He knew what she would face, and he knew that she could withstand it.
Minerva adjusted herself, wincing a little. She expected that she would probably hear from Harry today; he remembered the day as clearly as she did, and always sent a note along. Perhaps he would include a photograph of the babies this time—he'd had his second son, Albus (of all the names! Minerva thought) at Hogwarts barely six weeks ago.
Hermione Granger—Weasley, Minerva told herself—no doubt, would write as well; their twice-monthly practice of meeting for tea was on a hiatus. She and Ron Weasley were expecting their first child, after only a year and a half of marriage, and Apparition was inadvisable and inconvenient so late in Hermione's pregnancy.
Besides, Minerva thought, anything that they did send along would undoubtedly sit unopened for several days; she knew what the notes would say, and she had no desire to be sympathized with.
She supposed this wasn't entirely clear to everyone, even after all these years. Poppy and Pomona, as well as a few others, Filius, Rolanda, Septima...they, too, always tried to "take care of her" in late June, and especially on the twenty-first. Though Minerva cared very much for each of them, it was so much easier to retreat into herself for just one day than to try and be among people.
She didn't feel that this was too much to ask. Was it so bad to just take a day to be alone with her thoughts?
Now slightly annoyed, Minerva looked at her still-unfinished letter. She supposed that it was not going to be completed, so she picked up the parchment and slipped it into a desk drawer, then sat back and rested a hand on her breastbone.
Then, impatiently, she stood—a little too quickly, she realized, laying her hands on the desk for a moment—and moved over to the bookcase on the wall. Perhaps there was something that Minerva could take back to her rooms, rather than just sit pointlessly in the office.
She frowned at the shelves, running her fingers along the spines of the many books, and stopped at a book that she herself had given him: Apricot to Zucchini: An Illustrated History of the Every-Flavored Bean by Bonnie Bott. The book, not unlike others in this case, wanted dusting. She wondered how long it had been since she had moved anything on this shelf. After all, it mostly contained his books.
Feeling oddly whimsical and nostalgic, Minerva reached for the candy book, and was surprised when something fell out of it, fluttering to the floor. She bent uncomfortably to pick up the piece of parchment and nearly dropped it again when she caught a glimpse of his handwriting.
Her hands trembling, she left the book lying on a table and found her way back to the desk, sinking down into her seat. She stared at the folded parchment. Clearly printed on the outside was her name:Minerva. The slanted, loopy writing was unmistakable. The ink was his customary emerald green, but it was faded and slightly dusty.
Slowly, Minerva unfolded it and began to read.
My dearest Minerva,
I do hope this letter finds you well. I don't know how much longer after I have died you will discover it, but if you have, then yes, my dear, I am gone. First, let me tell you what a pleasure it has been to be your friend and colleague these many years. You are, without question, one of the greatest witches, and even greater friends, that I shall ever be honored to know.
If you are reading this not long after my death, then you will undoubtedly have a great deal of questions; be patient, soon everything will be explained. However, if you are reading this long after I've gone because you have never moved my things in this office, then your questions have already been answered, and the shelves are probably in need of dusting.
Minerva, just as I know how I would feel if you disappeared from my life, I believe I know how you must feel, regardless of what date it is whilst you read this. Do not shut yourself away; you are far too good at that, and I do not want you to be alone. There are people all around you who love you. If there is one thing that can be known from everything our world has been through, it is that love is the most powerful magic there can be.
Please, my dearest friend, reach for others, especially when you are in pain. I know how you grieve, and I know that you need your friends in those times more than ever. They long to be with you and your beautiful heart as much as you long to be with them. You have so much wisdom and so many gifts to share that to waste them would be as foolish as completely giving up Bertie Bott's deliciously dangerous treats after a single bad experience; nothing should stop you from trying again.
I am gone, and yet I still ask a great deal of you. Minerva, it is time for you to share even more of your brilliance and your light with the whole world. They deserve to know you as well as I have.
Your dear friend—
Minerva closed her eyes and she felt tears spill down her cheeks. Then she leaned back in her chair, holding one hand over her chest as she tried not to sob. For almost ten minutes she let the tears flow, fighting the pain in her core. Then she opened her eyes, dabbing them with her old tartan handkerchief.
She took a deep breath that lanced through her and picked up a quill, tugging a stack of parchment to the center of her desk. Still sniffling and wiping her eyes with the hanky, Minerva shakily began to write.
It was nearly eleven o'clock when Minerva finally looked up. She had not noticed, but the pain in her chest had evaporated. She felt somehow lighter than she had in many years. She stared at the stack of parchment before her, looking dazed, but pleased. Then her expression clouded. Who does this belong to? After thinking for several minutes, she decided that she wasn't sure she knew.
Minerva conjured a thin piece of twine with her wand and knotted it securely around the stack of parchment. She glanced over her shoulder and thought she might have seen the portrait's eyes quickly shut. At any rate, a trace of the old smile lifted the corners of his mouth. She picked up the parchment and placed it in a drawer on her left. Then she pulled out her pocket watch, Elphinstone's only bequest.
With a jolt, Minerva realized that it was ten minutes past eleven. She looked out of the high windows at the glittering stars. The grounds were probably glowing tonight…she was struck with a sudden idea.
As quickly as she could move, Minerva got up, her back protesting painfully after hours of sitting still. She pressed her hand to the wooden paneling on the wall, where a hidden door clicked open, revealing a hook that held a tartan cloak and a walking stick. Minerva wrapped the cloak about her and made for the door.
She made her way through the castle. It was quiet, just like it had been that night nine years ago. She mentally shook herself. Nothing was happening now. She reached the bottom of the stairs in a matter of minutes and stood for a while, looking up. Then Minerva began to climb. Near the top she leaned on her cane a bit, but made it all the way up nonetheless.
As she laid a hand on the handle of the door, Minerva froze. A muffled voice spoke on the other side. She frowned, ready to catch some students who were out of bed, and flung the door open.
Poppy, Rolanda, Pomona, Filius, and Septima stood against the battlements of the Astronomy Tower, gazing up at the night sky. They each started at the sight of Minerva, who looked utterly astonished to find half her teaching staff atop the tower. There were several long moments of silence.
"Minerva," Poppy said quietly, amazedly.
Minerva smiled a little, suddenly overwhelmed with affection. "That's me," she said, stepping closer.
"We were just talking about you," Rolanda told her, arching an eyebrow with a shrewd look.
"We thought you might be here," Filius added gently. "We—" he broke off and looked at the others.
Pomona smiled. "We come up here every year." Septima nodded.
"Do you really?" Minerva tapped her stick on the ground. They were all quiet for a few moments. Then—
"May I?" asked Minerva, gesturing over the battlements to indicate that she would like to look out. The others made room for her. She stepped close to the wall and gazed out over the grounds. Her friends turned to face outwards alongside her.
Looking down near the edge of the forest, Minerva saw a light flickering in Hagrid's window. With a stab of guilt, she realized the vantage point that her students had had the night she almost died on the lawn. Then she turned to look in the other direction. The white tomb glistened in the moonlight, brighter than the surface of the lake in its opalescent glow.
Minerva closed her eyes and took a deep breath of the summery night air. She felt someone's arm go around her, and opened her eyes to see Pomona at her side. She smiled at Pomona, who leaned her head on Minerva's shoulder. Feeling her eyes water, Minerva embraced her back; Pomona was getting on in years, now, and would retire in just a few days, now that Neville Longbottom had a year of teaching done.
Filius cleared his throat, and a sudden tension filled the air. Minerva instantly knew without looking that it was forty-six minutes past eleven, and that nine years ago on this night, at this instant, she had lost one of the most important relationships she had ever had. Minerva's old wound ached badly and she felt tears form in her eyes. Her friends gathered close and they all bowed their heads, silent.
It is time for you to share your light with the world…
"Lumos," Minerva whispered. Her wandtip ignited, casting a bright light. Minerva lifted the wand high over her head and stared at it, its sparkling tip joining the millions of stars above her. One by one, first Septima, then Poppy, Filius, and finally Pomona and Rolanda, did the same.
"You gave me your friendship and your trust," Minerva said softly. "I miss you. My dear friend, I don't think I will ever stop missing you."
"You gave me the greatest career I could ever hope for."
"You believed in me unconditionally."
"You gave me hope when I gave up."
"You gave me a second chance, even though I didn't deserve it."
"You gave me my first P, and I did deserve it."
They all laughed softly, gazing up at the lit wands, glittering among the stars. Then, very quietly, Filius lowered his and whispered, "Orchideous." A bouquet popped out of the tip of his wand. He handed a flower to each of the teachers, and then took his own and released it onto the breeze. With a graceful wave of his wand, the stem vanished, and petals began to drift lazily towards the tomb.
As they copied him, a stream of flower petals, bleached by moonlight, wove through the air to swoop around the white marble once, and soar off over the lake.
Minerva heard a sniffle over her shoulder and looked about. Pomona was crying, tears running down her cheeks, though her smile could not have been wider. Minerva lowered her wand and moved to hug the sweet little woman, who quickly pulled her in.
"We've missed you," Pomona told her, embracing Minerva tightly.
When Minerva walked into her office early the next morning, from her private quarters, a large gray owl sat on the windowsill waiting to be let in. She frowned. A letter that came before the regular post? She pointed her wand at the window, which opened. The owl fluttered inside and landed on her desk.
As Minerva got closer she saw that the creature had a St. Mungo's cuff on its leg. Her heart stopped for a moment as she loosened the scroll and the owl took off. She opened the scroll hesitantly, but breathed again when she recognized the writing as Ron Weasley's.
Hermione wanted to tell you right away, so here we are. A little before midnight last night, Hermione had the baby. She's doing really well, and so's our (here several words had been scribbled out, as though Ron couldn't quite figure out what he wanted to say, though Minerva could only think of a few possible word choices) daughter, Rose.
We've picked her first name, obviously, but the reason I'm writing is to tell you that her middle name is Minerva, and we'd like to ask you to be her godmother. I know it would mean a lot to Hermione, (there were more crossings-out) and personally, if my daughter turned out half as brave as you, I think she'd be able to take on anything.
Anyway, hoping you'll say yes,
and Rose Minerva Weasley
A wide smile broke across Minerva's face as she read. She felt tears form in her eyes, and she gave a sudden laugh that could have been a sob of joy. Rose Minerva Weasley, and she would be the most brilliant witch Hogwarts had ever seen. Minerva sat down and hastily composed a reply, slipping it into her robes to send off when she went to breakfast.
A sudden thought struck her. Share your light with the world… Minerva was not fond of the idea of the whole world, but perhaps, one small part of it. One tiny part, with the unmistakable red hair, the sharp brown eyes, or maybe the kind blue ones…that one part, she could pass herself on to.
She reached into her drawer and pulled out the pages she had written the day before. Seizing a scrap of parchment, Minerva wrote,
To be given to Rose Minerva Weasley, on the day of her seventeenth birthday: A remembering composed by her loving godmother on the day of her birth.
May the memories collected here serve not only as a reminder to honor the past and hope for a brighter future, but also, most importantly, to never lose track of the present. Find joy in friendship, take comfort in its arms, and always, always be ready to learn something new about yourself.
Break old habits, change old meanings, and become a better person for it.
Minerva tucked the scrap into the twine. June the twenty-first…it was not such a terrible day. She smiled to herself and placed the pages in her drawer once again.
"What do you think of that, Albus?" she asked the office at large. The sleeping portraits did not answer, but a flash of gold flickered past the window, almost indistinguishable from the rising sun reflecting through the glass.