4 October 2027
It was a cold, windy day in early October, but the tiny cottage was cozy and warm inside. A fire crackled in the grate below a mantle sparsely decorated with a few photographs; a dark-haired young witch in scarlet robes, clutching a broomstick; the same witch, being embraced tightly by two boys who looked very like her; a beautiful woman in a very old Muggle photograph, holding the hand of a man in minister's garb; the witch, older, laughing as she stood with her arm around a white-haired, jovial-looking man; and, in the very front, a picture of the witch with two small red-haired children, a boy and a girl, who were giggling madly.
The small sitting room was also sparingly, but comfortably decorated. Simple, green-upholstered furniture; a small sofa, a coffee table, two armchairs, and a rocker, draped here and there with tartan blankets—not many trinkets other than the occasional framed photograph of Minerva's father or mother, her brothers, or her nieces and nephews.
"Oh, to hell with it!"
Minerva herself stood at the stove in the kitchen, which opened onto the sitting room. She was scowling at her cauldron, which was smoking faintly. She narrowed her eyes and squinted through her spectacles at the instructions for brewing a Pepper-Up Potion. Considering she was a Transfiguration teacher at heart, she had done fairly well—that is, until she reached the bit about clockwise versus anti-clockwise stirring.
"Should be the easiest part of the entire—damned nuisance," she grumbled. She paused, closing her eyes—and sneezed.
"Lovely," she muttered grouchily to herself, reaching onto the counter for her handkerchief and dabbing at her nose. She cleared her throat and looked back to her cauldron, which was still simmering on the stove. She threw it one last nasty look and picked up her walking stick, limping out into the sitting room and standing before the lace-curtained window, where she could see the browned leaves fluttering on the trees in her yard. She tugged her mother's old shawl over her shoulders a bit more. Despite her rather nasty cold, she thought, it was a perfectly lovely day.
There was a knock at the door. Minerva frowned, peering through the curtain, but couldn't see the front stoop. She limped to the front door of the cottage.
"Who is it?" she called.
"The birthday fairy," called a familiar voice.
Minerva chuckled and opened the door, dabbing at her nose with her handkerchief. "Rose, it's freezing out here," she said. "You're supposed to be at work."
"And you're supposed to be celebrating your birthday," Rose said, hurrying inside and smiling at her. "Happy birthday," she said, hugging Minerva, who truly was thrilled to see her goddaughter.
"Come in, come in, I'll put on some tea." Minerva limped into the kitchen as Rose dropped her bag and removed her scarf and cloak, admiring the cozy little cottage.
"It's even prettier here than you said," she told Minerva, leaning in the doorway and beaming at her. "You're happy."
"I am," Minerva nodded, flicking her wand and filling the teakettle with water before sending it to the stove. "I do miss the castle, now and then." She sniffed and held up one hand, feeling another sneeze coming on.
"Are you sick?" Rose asked, hurrying forward as Minerva sneezed audibly into her handkerchief. Then she caught sight of the abandoned cauldron and potion book.
"Just a cold," Minerva told her. "Hardly even notice."
Rose gave her a sharp stare. "Go sit down. I'll make tea." She leaned over the Pepper-Up failure. "And I'll fix whatever you've done to this poor potion."
"Oh, really, Rose—"
Rose lifted her chin and narrowed her eyes, fixing her with a stern look.
"Well, my goodness, where did you learn to do that?" Minerva laughed incredulously.
"Where do you think I learned it?" Rose asked, smiling. "Mum, and she got it from you."
Minerva shrugged and nodded. "That explains why you and your brother are so well-behaved."
"Ha," Rose laughed hollowly, as Minerva left the kitchen and lowered herself onto the sofa in the sitting room. "Not that well-behaved. None of us have heard from Hugo all week. He's still off in Greece with Lysander Scamander, and he's about to have a surprise visitor if he doesn't send Mum an owl soon."
"If anything was wrong, you would have heard," Minerva called as she waved her wand and straightened a few of the copies of Transfiguration Today lying on the coffee table. She could hear Rose opening cupboards and setting a tea tray. A moment later, she appeared, laying the tray on the table and sitting down on the couch beside Minerva, who sneezed again.
"I fixed the Pepper-Up and put some in your cup," Rose said. "You need it, or that cold won't go away."
"I'm too mean for a cold to stay long," Minerva told her, picking up her teacup and taking a sip. Rose shook her head. "I am," Minerva insisted. "I'm a grouchy old woman who likes spending her birthdays alone."
She ruined the effect of this statement with the faintest twitch of a smile.
"How are your parents?" she asked Rose, setting down her cup. "I haven't heard from your mother in a while—well, anybody, really, but I've been terrible at keeping up."
"They're fine," Rose said lightly. "Dad and Uncle Harry had to leave for America yesterday on an assignment. Mum's going a little spare, she doesn't like him going so far," she added.
Minerva sat back, folding her hands, and smiled. "Oh, they'll both be fine and home before she knows it. What else?"
Rose shrugged. "Let's see…Gran and Granddad are the same as ever. They'll outlive us all," she added, laughing.
"How is Scorpius?" Minerva asked delicately, sipping her tea. The Pepper-Up was doing its duty; she felt much more clearheaded now.
Rose blushed bright red. "He's fine," she said quietly.
"And have you spoken to your parents about his…question?" Minerva asked shrewdly.
Rose reached up and ran a hand through her long, wavy red hair and sat back against the sofa. "No," she said rather defensively. "Not yet at least."
"Not yet," Minerva repeated, nodding.
Rose looked nervous. "What do I say to Mum and Dad, anyway?" she asked. "'Hey, Dad, look, I know you hate his family and everything they stand for, and you practically cursed him into a pile of ash when I told you we were dating, but now he wants to propose.' That would go remarkably well."
Minerva pursed her lips and patted Rose's hand. "Do you really think your father would let you go because of the person you fell in love with?" she asked.
"No," Rose said slowly.
Minerva nodded. "Exactly. He just needs time to process the idea. He's very understanding, when you give him the chance."
Rose nodded. "It's just hard," she said at last.
"I know, Rose," Minerva told her. "And you have my confidence as long as you need it."
Rose smiled and squeezed her fingers. "Thanks," she said. "Oh, Merlin, what else is going on?" she said, fishing for a new topic. "Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny are fine, everyone's all right…oh, that's right—Lily had another round of treatment done on her throat, because her voice kept giving out, remember? She's still in St. Mungo's, but she was talking when I visited yesterday, and her voice already sounds better. She's still got that scar, though."
"Poor girl," Minerva said, wincing. She shook her head. "I can't believe any of us thought it was a good idea to play that tournament again. It wouldn't have surprised me if Harry and Ginny refused to speak to me again for maiming their daughter."
"You didn't maim her, a graphorn did," Rose told her. "Lily's just fine, though. She'd be furious if she knew we were sitting here talking about her like this."
Minerva chuckled and nodded. "You're probably right."
Silence fell for several minutes. Minerva picked up her teacup and drained it, feeling the Pepper-Up give her a warm flood of comfort through her stomach.
"How are you feeling?" Rose asked.
"I'm very glad you took your Potions N.E.W.T.," Minerva said, lifting her cup before setting it on the table.
"No," Rose said. "I meant—just in general. You're all right?"
Minerva frowned. "Of course," she said. "Why?"
"Just want to be sure," Rose said. "You're a bit quiet."
"I'm always quiet," Minerva told her, and Rose snorted. Minerva reached over to pat her hand. "I've just been thinking a lot. You'll know when you get as old as I am. I like having time to myself to think."
"You're not that old," Rose said, and Minerva was startled to see her eyes fill with tears.
"Rose," she said, sitting forward. "I—what's wrong? My goodness, what—"
"Nothing," Rose said quickly, pulling her hand from Minerva's and standing. "I'm fine." She strode over to the mantel, and Minerva frowned, watching Rose as she examined the photographs.
"That's lovely," Rose said softly after a few moments, pointing to the only non-wizarding photograph, of Minerva's mother and father on their wedding day.
"My parents," Minerva said, feeling a small twinge of unwelcome vulnerability.
"Were they Muggles?" Rose asked, and Minerva laughed at her instant curiosity; sometimes she truly was exactly like her mother. "I'm sorry," Rose said. "That was rude of me."
Minerva shook her head. "My father was a Muggle. My mother was a witch," she said. Rose nodded and smiled. "Rose, what—"
But Rose turned quickly back to the pictures, and Minerva sighed. For as long as Minerva had known her, Rose had avoided speaking up when something bothered her deeply. And something was very wrong. It was just a question of what, and if Minerva could help.
"Minerva," Rose said.
"Yes?" Minerva was pouring herself a fresh cup of tea. She sat back and flicked her wand, Summoning a tin of Ginger Newts, from which she took a few biscuits before setting it on the table.
"Who is this?"
Minerva looked up, and her heart clenched. Rose held up the photograph from some forty-odd years ago, of Minerva herself with her arm around a white-haired, laughing man. In her months of living here alone, she had somehow forgotten that she might have visitors. Visitors who would not know about—
"Elphinstone," Minerva said. "Elphinstone Urquart."
Rose blinked. "The—his picture hangs in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. It's near Albus's desk."
"Does it?" Minerva asked. "I'd forgotten." She looked away and sipped her tea, wishing desperately that this would be the end of the conversation. But she could feel Rose's eyes on her, and looked up. "I worked in his office before I ever taught at Hogwarts. We were good friends," said Minerva, though the lie was like a knife in her stomach.
Rose looked down again at the photograph, then slowly set it on the mantel. She faced Minerva, her expression unreadable. "I don't believe you," she said gently.
Minerva gave an exhalation of annoyance. "I'm afraid that's not your business," she said, and she regretted the sharp words immediately.
Instead of being hurt, however, Rose simply nodded. She came back and sat down beside Minerva, taking a sip of tea.
"My grandmother's not well," she said quietly after a few minutes.
Minerva started, looking at her in surprise. "M-Molly? You just said—"
"Not Molly," Rose said. "Jean."
"Oh," Minerva said, and suddenly, the reason for Hermione's lack of communication became clear.
"Pop—er, her husband—he died last year, but her memory's gotten so bad, I—I think it's just hit her now. Mum and Dad and I've been at the Muggle nursing home every day for a week. That's why we're so worried about being able to reach Hugo."
"Oh, Rose," Minerva groaned. "Why aren't you there now? I thoroughly enjoy our visits, but you shouldn't be with me," she said.
Rose looked up to the ceiling as more tears came to her eyes. "I tried to go with Mum," she said. "Honestly, I did, but I couldn't. I'm not strong enough. I'm just—I'm terrified that—that if I go, and—and it happens—" She buried her face in her hands, sobbing quietly, her shoulders shaking. "I'm a—a h-horrible p-p-person," she said.
Minerva closed her eyes and sighed. "You're not, Rose," she said gently. "I…oh, goodness…come here, dear." She opened her arms and sat back against the sofa, allowing Rose to embrace her tightly as she continued to sob. Minerva smoothed Rose's hair gently.
"You know, Rose," she said, "You're a very, very lucky young woman." Rose sat up a bit, but didn't release her. "Your parents—and I—we went through a period where it felt as though people we loved were dying one after the other, with no end in sight. And the only thing worse than losing our friends, and our family, was the horrible feeling that it was almost commonplace."
Rose's lip trembled.
"You've never lost people the way your parents had to, or how—how I had to," Minerva told her. "That's a rare gift. But it makes it hard for you to imagine the possibility of death when it does come around. I can understand that, too," she said. "Really, I can."
Rose was quiet for a moment, wiping her cheeks with the back of her hand. Finally, she looked up at Minerva and spoke. "When did Elphinstone die?" she asked, and Minerva closed her eyes, looking away. "I—I'm sorry—"
Minerva sighed. "He died…just when we thought everything was finally safe again," she said honestly. Then she shook her head. "And it—it wasn't even the—the kind of death he deserved."
"You were married."
It was a statement, and one of awe. Minerva looked at Rose, and saw so much of both Ron's understanding and Hermione's intelligence in her face at that one moment that she could have laughed, had she not been fighting so hard not to cry.
"I wrote you something," she said at last. "I meant to give it to you on your seventeenth birthday, and I never did."
"You wrote me something?" Rose asked, plainly confused.
"Rose," Minerva said, starting to get up and reaching for her cane, "The day you were born was one of the hardest days of my entire life. I lost my best friend, nine years before you came along. Purely by coincidence, it is also the day that I agreed to marry Elphinstone, forty-five years ago." She straightened and limped to her bedroom, going to her desk. From one of the drawers she withdrew a large, yellowed stack of parchment, tied with a piece of string and bearing a note. She came back to the living room and held it out to Rose.
"I think that…maybe, if you read it now," Minerva said, "You'll find what I know you've always had, and be able to see your grandmother." She lowered herself onto the couch again, rubbing her hip. "You're very strong, Rose. You're as strong as both of your parents, even if it's never been tested. And that goes for what I've told you about Scorpius, as well."
"'Always be ready to learn something new about yourself,'" Rose murmured, touching the slightly dusty card. She looked up at Minerva, her eyes red and puffy, but dry. "You think I should go to Mum."
"I think you can go to her," Minerva said, sitting back. "There is a distinct difference."
Rose looked down at the papers in her lap, fingering the fraying knot. "Mum's going to need me," she said. "She's tough, but she needs me. I can be strong." She seemed to almost be murmuring to herself, rather than Minerva. She snapped her head up. "I love Scorpius."
Minerva blinked, very confused. "I—all right," she said.
Rose got up, clutching Minerva's parchment to her chest and running her other hand through her hair. "I—I need to go to Mum," she said. She spun and faced Minerva. "You—you're right. You lost him—I've never seen you that happy—" she gestured to the photograph on the mantel. "Dad lost his brother—Mum lost Pop—and you're all still here!" she cried.
Minerva was rather startled by the epiphany taking place in her living room, but she nodded.
"How could I ever—Merlin's beard," Rose said, sitting down in Minerva's rocking chair, still clinging to her stack of parchment. She held one hand over her mouth and was smiling faintly.
"You're as strong as any of us, Rose," Minerva told her.
Rose nodded dazedly.
"Go and prove me right," said Minerva.
Rose stared at her. "Oh!" she cried suddenly, hopping up and running across the room, looking for her cloak, bag, and scarf and starting to throw them on haphazardly. She slipped her stack of parchment in her bag as Minerva got up again, leaning on her stick, and walked to the door.
"I love you," Rose said, embracing Minerva tightly and nearly throwing her off-balance. "Thank you. Really, thank you, thank you, thank you," she said.
Minerva patted her back and smiled. "Your mother needs you," she said gently. "Make us both proud."
Rose nodded earnestly and released Minerva, hurrying down the front path. She paused at the gate and turned around to wave at her godmother.
"Happy birthday, Minerva!" she called.
Minerva chuckled and raised one hand to wave goodbye. She waited until Rose Disapparated before closing the door, and sighed happily. She drew her wand and went to the kitchen, thinking of dinner and an early night in bed.
Rose was kind enough to leave Minerva some spare Pepper-Up, which, hours later, she had mixed into a cup of tea. She was half awake, dozing in her rocker by the dying fire, and toying with the idea of getting to bed. She quickly finished her tea, felt a bit of steam puff out of her ears from the potion, and shook her head. Then she got to her feet, tugging her dressing gown straight and picking up her walking stick, heading for bed.
As she passed the front door, there came a knock.
Minerva groaned and turned to the door. "Who is it?"
Minerva opened the door, frowning, and she was very surprised to see Hermione standing on the stoop, looking pale and exhausted.
"I forgot your birthday," she said without preamble.
"Oh," Minerva said, with a rather bemused little laugh. "You didn't—well—Rose was here—you've all been busy, you don't need to remember—" She put a hand to her forehead and took a breath. "Your mother?" she asked.
Hermione nodded. "She's as well as she can be," she said, looking downcast. "That's not why I'm here—I just—whatever you said to Rose, Minerva? I don't know what it was, but…thank you," Hermione told her, eyes sparkling with tears. And she hurried forward to hug Minerva tightly. "I needed her today. With Ron gone, and until I hear from Hugo, she—Merlin—just, thank you."
Minerva sighed, smiling, and patted Hermione's back. "She needed a cup of tea. What are godmothers for?"
Hermione pulled back and gave a watery smile. "Happy birthday," she said.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, come inside," Minerva said, shaking her head. "Come along, you need a cup of tea, too." She stood aside and held the door for Hermione.
Hermione gave a little laugh as her tears spilled over. "I really do."
Minerva put an arm around her and guided her into the cottage, closing the door behind them.
A birthday story about my pennamesake. It's *long*. Jeebus. Hope it's not too rambly and bluhh. :) I'm kinda sleepy.
By the way, I've got three spaces left in the Clue Prank Competition. See my profile for the link!