Written for minerva_fest on LiveJournal. My prompt was:

Minerva has no children; Molly has seven. Minerva led a busy and successful career; Molly was a busy and successful wife and mother. The two of them muse on why they each made these choices, and how they feel about them now.

I took this prompt and ran with it! The more I wrote, the more fascinated I became with Minerva and Molly's alternate universes. Minerva's draws heavily from the Pottermore canon, while Molly's is purely from my own imagination. I pulled ages from the Harry Potter wiki information, which places Minerva's birth year in 1943 and Molly's in 1949. For those interested in timelines, the AU scenes fall in this way:

Minerva 1: Summer 1961, Minerva is 18
Minerva 2: Summer 1966, Minerva is 23
Minerva 3: Summer 1973, Minerva is 30
Minerva 4: September 1982, Minerva is 39
Molly 1: Summer 1966, Molly is 17
Molly 2: Fall 1970, Molly is 21
Molly 3: Summer 1981, Molly is 32
Molly 4: November 1981, Molly is 32

Enjoy!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Harry Potter won. Harry Potter won, Voldemort was killed, the Death Eaters had mostly surrendered and the ones who hadn't were being tracked down, and the war was over. It was the victory everyone had been striving toward for years. It was a moment to be celebrated.

And the world was celebrating. Minerva McGonagall watched them. She watched her colleagues and students and friends converge on Harry Potter, embrace one another, laugh in relief as tears streamed down their faces, bask in the joy that came from having survived. She watched them. But she did not join them.

Surrounded by the ruin and carnage and destruction of so much she held dear, Minerva McGonagall could not feel victorious or celebratory. In fact, hard as she tried, she couldn't manage to feel anything more than numb.

But she was nothing if not professional. Hogwarts was her school, and she had a job to do. She would make sure the school was ready to open again come September if it was the last thing she did. Her students had lost enough. They wouldn't lose their school, too. She wouldn't let them.

That mentality served her well for the first few hours after the battle as she made sure that all the dead were found and identified, that the bodies of Death Eaters were stored out of sight of the bodies of their own, that fighters and family and students who needed to stay had a safe place in the castle to spend the night. Being in charge kept her busy, kept her focused, and almost kept her from dwelling on the staggering amount of loss surrounding her.

Almost. But then she'd catch a glimpse, just a glimpse, of Molly Weasley out of the corner of her eye, a mother sitting vigil at the deathbed of her child, refusing to leave, refusing to let him out of her sight. And every time Minerva caught a glimpse of that, her mask slipped for just a moment.

I will never know that pain.

The thought slipped unbidden into her mind, and she did her best to banish it because the wave of emotion it brought sweeping over her was ridiculous and nonsensical and entirely beneath her. A mother had lost her child, a young person's life had been cut off before its time in the most awful way, for Minerva to feel longing and regret over that . . .

But it was true. She would never know the pain that Molly Weasley was suffering. She was not a mother, and never would be. It had never been a conscious decision, to not be a mother. Not really. It had just . . . never happened. And that fact had never bothered her before, but now, for some reason, in the midst of all the upheaval, she found herself thinking about when and how and why that had become true.

.::.

Two roads diverged:

Eighteen-year-old Minerva McGonagall had never imagined herself the kind of person to fall madly in love. She had never imagined herself to be the kind of person who 'madly' did anything. But that had been before she met Dougal.

This whole summer had been a whirlwind, a mess of emotions. Minerva had fallen, and fallen hard. Dougal had turned her into another person – less stiff, less reserved, more inclined to laughter and blushes. When he'd asked if she would be able to meet him that night after dark, she knew it would mean sneaking out of the house. But she didn't hesitate before saying yes.

And tonight . . . She'd expected that he just wanted to stroll in the moonlight, kiss her under the stars. It was the sort of romantic thing he'd do, the sort of thing he'd done before with her this summer. But tonight had been much, much different. And coming home, she couldn't seem to keep the smile off her face as she relived the moment he'd knelt on one knee before her . . .

Giddy with happiness, she crept back in through the back door she'd left unlatched, holding close to her heart their moonlit stroll, the way his hand fit hers, the perfect words of his proposal. She had never before dreamed of love like this, but now that she had it, she knew she had to hold onto it no matter what.

She'd said yes. Of course she'd said yes. How could she not, with a love like theirs? She knew what marrying Dougal meant. She knew what she'd be giving up. And yes, the enormity of it gave her pause. But how could she doubt that the life she'd have with Dougal was worth it? She'd lived as a Muggle longer than she'd lived as a witch. She could go back. Nevertheless, she'd made up her mind on the walk back home not to tell her parents tonight, to wait until morning and keep the night's events just for her, just for a few precious hours.

But when she slipped into her room, her mother was waiting for her. Minerva didn't see her at first, because she closed the door and rested her forehead against it, grinning. But then her mother spoke.

"So he's asked you then," her mother said, her voice heavy with disappointment and disapproval, and it startled Minerva, who spun to face her, heart pounding. "And you think you're going to accept him."

It was the tone of voice that sparked Minerva's anger.

"I have accepted him," she told her mother fiercely.

"I'm not going to watch you throw your life away, Minerva." The words were like darts, each one thrown with precision, aimed to wound, to sting, to hurt. Minerva deflected them with words of her own.

"I love him! And he loves me, and you aren't going to stand in the way of that!"

"You are prepared, then, to give up everything?" Isobel demanded, her voice choked as she reached out for a daughter who moved pointedly away. "Your magic, your heritage, your family? All the possibilities available to you? You are a protegee, Minerva, you could be something great!"

She shut her eyes and turned away, shaking her head against the sound of her own doubts given voice. She knew this, she'd debated this, she'd made her decision. She wouldn't listen. She wouldn't.

"I won't see you throw your life away, I won't let you make my mistakes!"

Minerva had long suspected her mother felt this way, but she had never heard those feelings voiced, and she filled with fury bordering on hatred to hear them voiced now.

"Is that what we are to you?" she demanded. "A mistake?" Isobel blanched.

"Minerva," she said in a whisper, but Minerva just strode to her door and threw it open.

"I won't be making your mistakes," she snarled. "I'm stronger than you are. And I've made my choice. Now get out."

She hesitated, but Isobel went, leaving Minerva filled with a fiery certainty. She would prove her mother wrong. She would live the life her mother thought she'd never be able to bear. And she'd be happy in it.

.::.

Molly Weasley took root in Minerva's mind and wouldn't leave, but Minerva couldn't bring herself to go over to the other woman. What could she possibly say? She'd known Molly in so many capacities – peer, then student, then student's parent, then friend – and yet, Molly had never firmly fit into any of those categories.

Only six years younger than Minerva, Molly had been a first year when Minerva was Head Girl, and she'd still been in school when Minerva had returned two years later to take up the Transfiguration post. She'd been Molly's Head Girl, walking the young child through nightmares and first year nerves, and then she'd been Molly's teacher, grading her essays and perfecting her spellwork and docking points when she'd caught her and Arthur out after curfew. She'd watched Molly Prewett stand on the cusp of adulthood, any number of possibilities laid out before her, and Minerva couldn't help but wonder, seeing her after the battle, how Molly's own life might have turned out differently, had she chosen a different path.

.::.

Two roads diverged:

The three redheads sat in a cluster at one side of the long, elevated platform, tense and taut as they waited with nervous energy for the final ruling. The two older boys each clasped one of the sweaty younger girl's hands, all three pairs of eyes locked on the scoreboard as they waited for the all-important numbers to be magicked up on display.

"Molly Prewett versus Emerson Malone," a voice rang out, echoing throughout the arena. The redheaded girl started chewing her bottom lip as her eyes darted back and forth, reading the scores appearing overhead. Beside her, one young man muttered the numbers out loud while the other dropped her hand to scribble them down on a pad of paper.

"Form . . . 6; Defensive Technique . . . 6; Offensive Technique . . . 9; Reflexes . . . 8; Originality . . . 9; plus a 15 point bonus for the kill shot . . . c'mon, c'mon, c'mon . . ."

"Duel victor . . . Molly Prewett!"

"YES!"

The arena exploded in sound as all three redheads rocketed off their seats in jubilation. Fists high in the air, seventeen-year-old Molly Prewett let her brothers engulf her in celebratory victory.

"That's my girl!"Gideon yelled happily, spinning her around. "I have never seen your Avis so strong!"

"But your Shield Charm needs work," Fabian said sternly. "He should not have been able to shatter it with a simple Entomorphis. I'm going to get the full score breakdown from the judges in a minute, but I know you lost points there."

"C'mon, Fay," Molly said with a roll of her eyes. "The spell didn't hit me."

"No, you dodged it, but you were damn lucky, Molls. Can't count on luck."

"You want to give her maybe five minutes to celebrate her victory before you start your critiquing?" Gideon asked with a laugh, shoving his brother playfully but pointedly.

"She shouldn't get complacent," Fabian argued.

"She got nines in Originality and Offense!" Gideon argued back.

"Yes," Fabian responded with infinite patience. "And sixes in Defense and Form. Sixes, Gideon. Malone bested or met her in all but two categories; getting the kill is almost all that won her this duel. How you play counts. Catching the Snitch doesn't always win you the game."

"You gonna start taking that clipboard to her Quidditch matches, too?"

"If her form's as sloppy there as it is here, I might."

"You two know I'm standing right here, yeah?" Molly said with a huff, crossing her arms.

"Yes," Fabian said to her. "And I also know that you need to stop neglecting your defense."

"She needs to stop leaving her left side open to attack, as well. I hope that was on your list of notes, Fabian Prewett."

Molly spun on her heel, an angry retort on her lips, but a swift and sudden pressure on her shoulder from Gideon silenced her.

"Yes, Auror Moody," Fabian said with deference, and Molly coloured. Auror Moody was a legend – and he knew what he was talking about. She may have bristled at the critique, but it was critique worth hearing.

The Auror ignored Fabian, and Gideon too. He kept his eyes fixed on Molly, and looked her up and down. She stood a little straighter.

"You're a good little fighter," Auror Moody said, and though Molly bristled at the term 'little,' she held her tongue. "How old are you, girl?" he barked suddenly.

"Seventeen, sir," she said.

"Still at Hogwarts?"

"I start my final year this fall, sir." Auror Moody continued his assessment, then gave a sharp nod.

"Application deadline for the Auror Program is 31 May. I except to see your name in the pile. Until then, keep practicing. And guard that left side! Sloppy form will get you killed – remember that!" And he turned and left, leaving Molly staring, breathless, after him.

"What – what just happened?" she asked after a moment.

"I think the Head of the Auror Department just ordered you to join his force," Gideon said.

"Yeah," Molly said weakly. "That's what I heard, too."

.::.

The second day of the rest of their lives was something like a nightmare for Minerva. A list of the dead in front of her, she began the ponderous and heartbreaking task of informing mothers of their loss, the ones who didn't already know, hadn't already guessed. Kingsley had offered to make the calls, but Minerva refused. This was her duty, as Headmistress, and she would do it.

The countless ways that mothers broke would be imprinted on her heart forever.

She led those who arrived at the castle to the Great Hall to see their son or daughter laid out with as much dignity as could be mustered, and she could offer condolences, could speak of what she knew of each child, could commemorate the way they'd fought and given so selflessly, but she couldn't speak to a mother's grief. She left that job to Molly Weasley, and wished she could do more.

.::.

The road not taken:

She was expecting another well-wisher when she opened the door. Little Gavin had been born just one month before, and her home had been filled with neighbors and friends coming to bring food and help clean and coo over the baby ever since.

What she got was a man she hadn't seen in almost half a decade. She had to hand it to him – he had mastered the art so many adult wizards seemed to struggle with. Dressed impeccably in a blue pinstripe suit and tie, there was nothing about Albus Dumbledore to raise suspicion in this Muggle village — save, perhaps, the length of his beard and graying auburn hair.

"Minerva," he said warmly, those familiar blue eyes twinkling gaily as ever.

"Come in, Professor," she said belatedly, ushering him into the small house.

"Is your husband home?" Professor Dumbledore asked as he took a seat in the parlor. Minerva hurriedly put a kettle on.

"No," she said, distracted by his presence and what on earth could have brought him there. "It's shearing season."

She felt flustered, for no reason, and masked it by bustling around the kitchen, laying a tray. The moment her hands were full, of course, little Callum, almost two, starting fussing in his playpen. But before she could set the tray down, Professor Dumbledore was with the child, looking to Minerva for permission.

"May I?" he asked, and Minerva nodded. Cal quieted instantly in the older man's arms.

He would, devil child, she thought wryly but with affection for her oldest son, then returned to the business of tea, confident that her child was in good hands.

"So, Minerva," her old teacher said when she brought the tray in, skillfully accepting a cup of tea while continuing to bounce Cal on his knee. "How have you been?"

He asked so genuinely that a ball of tension Minerva hadn't even known she was carrying loosened a little bit.

"I've been all right," she answered honestly. "But this village is very small. And very isolated."

"You don't have to tell me," Dumbledore said with a laugh and a twinkle. "I'm the one who had to track you down! But truly, Minerva. How are you faring here?"

Had the question come from any other wizard, Minerva would have bristled at it, convinced it was commentary or judgment on her choice. But she knew Professor Dumbledore was too valiant for so backhanded a tactic. She was so used to having to pretend that her life was perfect whenever anyone from her family was around that it was unexpectedly relieving to be able to speak an unaltered truth.

"The adjustment has been harder than I thought it would be," she admitted softly.

"You haven't told your husband?" Again, the question held no judgment. When Minerva shook her head, he said, gently, "The Statute of Secrecy has an exception clause for spouses. The Ministry allows, in fact encourages, Muggle spouses to be told of the reality of our world, particularly when —"

"Children are present in the marriage, yes, I know," Minerva finished with him. "Fear of the law is not why I have kept the secret."

"May I ask, then, what the reason is?"

Minerva remained silent for a long while, grateful to him for how he had phrased the request. "The boys are only one quarter magical," she said finally, aware that it was not really an answer. "So there's every chance that —"

"Their names have been recorded, Minerva," he interrupted gently. "Callum Dougal McGregor and, very recently, Gavin Robert McGregor. They will be wizards and they will receive letters to Hogwarts."

Minerva closed her eyes against the words. She had half-hoped . . . but it had been a foolish hope, and beneath her. "Then," she said heavily, drawing out the word, "I will tell him when he needs to know. But for now, I will preserve our simple and straightforward life as long as I can."

"You do not fear his reaction?"

Minerva smiled. "No. He's a Highland Scot, he already half believes in magic. I do not fear being left or feared or hated. But the reality of what I am, what the boys will be . . . it complicates things. I lived complicated. Preserving simple is a worthy goal. Dougal trusts me, and I him. He will understand why I waited when I do have to tell him."

She caught Dumbledore looking at her, appraising her, and felt suddenly self-conscious. "What?" she asked.

"This life suits you," he said with a smile. "I wasn't sure if it would."

"I wasn't sure it would, either," she admitted softly with an inward smile of her own. "But difficult as it has been, I am happy."

Dumbledore nodded and then, as if something had been decided, he stood. "That, I believe, is my cue," he said cryptically. Minerva frowned up at him.

"You're going?" she asked, standing herself as he replaced a now-sleeping Callum in his playpen. "But you haven't even said why you came."

"The reason no longer exists," he said, then kissed her cheek and headed for the door. She stopped him with her voice.

"Professor Dumbledore."

The question was unspoken, but she knew he heard it. He sighed. "I came to add a complication," was all he said. "But I have been persuaded to think better of it. Best of luck to you, Minerva. Your boys are beautiful. They do you credit."

"Thank you," she said, still confused, baffled really. With one last smile and a tip of his hat, he was gone.

It wasn't until she received a letter from her brother two days later informing her that Professor Dumbledore had been named the new Headmaster of Hogwarts that she realized he had come in search of a Transfiguration instructor to replace him.

When she put it all together and realized what he had done, she raged and railed and screamed at him silently in her mind.

You should have told me! she shouted at an imagined version of him. You should have let me choose!

But in the next moment, as she sank onto the edge of her bed and watched little Callum toddle toward her, his awkward waddle winning a smile from her the way it always did, the anger seeped away. She knew why he had done it. He had been trying to spare her from having to make an impossible choice. She knew that. And she would be grateful to him for it, very soon. But just for a moment, in the privacy of her heart, she let herself regret what could have been.

.::.

The longer Minerva avoided talking to Molly Weasley, the guiltier she felt. She wasn't a woman used to feeling guilty, so the experience was very off-putting. She knew she should speak to her. Molly was a friend, a friend who had suffered the worst possible loss. And it wasn't as if that loss was intangible to Minerva. Minerva had written more letters to Molly about Fred than she had written about any other student to any other parent in her career, yes, even George. So it wasn't that Minerva couldn't conceive the loss. It was that Minerva couldn't decipher the words to say. Nothing she could devise even seemed to come close. Fred Weasley not being in the world was as inconceivable to her as Molly not being Molly Weasley. She just didn't know what to say about such an impossibility, least of all to the mother of the man in question.

.::.

The road not taken:

Arthur was planning on proposing. Again. Molly was sure of it. After three previous proposals, she could almost smell them coming. And the knowledge that it was coming again filled her with dread.

It wasn't that she didn't want him to propose, exactly. She loved him, and there was no one in the world she'd rather marry, but . . . the timing just didn't feel right. They were only 21 – what was the rush?

She wasn't avoiding him. She was just conveniently arranging assignments and missions to fall in such a way that someone from the Auror office had to keep calling Arthur to cancel dinner plans. It honestly wasn't deliberate, but she couldn't deny that she'd gotten very good at guessing which assignments would stretch into overtime.

She almost felt guilty, but it was easy to justify – since she'd joined the Force, they'd had an understanding that all evening plans were soft. Her work was unpredictable and things happened suddenly. Arthur had learned to take it in stride.

But four dinner cancellations in a week and a half was probably pushing the limits of her plausible deniability, especially when she'd assured him so definitively that she'd be there tonight.

So she returned home after her very long shift, exhausted and guilty and vowing to make it up to him soon, but at the same time hoping that he'd give up his latest proposal plan as a bad job before she had to refuse him again.

But luck was not with her. When she opened the door, she found him waiting for her in her kitchen, a take-out supper from their favorite restaurant warm and waiting on the table. Inwardly, she cursed, momentarily regretting her choice to give him a key.

"I brought supper," he said with a smile, but was there a reservation behind it, or was she imagining it out of her own guilt? "I figured you hadn't had a chance to eat yet. You tend to forget about sustenance when you run overtime. So if you couldn't come to supper, I thought supper should come to you."

The gesture was so well-intentioned and generous that Molly felt guilty all over again. "I, uh, I'm actually fighting a headache," she mumbled to the floor. "I don't have much of an appetite, Arthur, I'm sorry."

She couldn't look at him and lie to him, and damn it, he knew her too well, he knew that. She was a open book to him and she hated it.

She heard him set something down, though she couldn't see what it was, and then he was in front of her, and she had to look at him. "Molly," he said softly, "do we need to talk?"

"I–I–" she stammered, her shaking voice betraying her. "Talk about what?"

"Molly," he said again, taking her hands, his words a gentle admonishment. "You know I trust you, you know I love you. But I feel like I've barely seen you in two weeks, and that's because I've barely seen you in two weeks."

"You know how it is, Arthur," she said in a voice no louder than a whisper. "I've been busy."

"Yes," he said patiently. "I know how it is. But I also know that I talked to Alastor about this dinner last week to make sure I knew your schedule before I made reservations. And that was the first time. Four attempts later, here we are, in your kitchen because I've been stood up every time I try to get you into a restaurant with me."

Molly pulled her hands from his and walked away. "If you're accusing me of something," she said with a bite, her back to him, "then do it straight out and don't dance around it. If you have something you want to ask me, then ask me."

There was a longer pause than she expected, then, an edge in his own voice, he said, "Okay, then. Will you marry me?"

They were not the words she had been expecting. Well, they were, but she hadn't expected them in that moment. She turned.

"Not as romantic as your first three," she said, trying to play it off as a joke, but he had never looked more serious.

"Molly, you don't want to dance around? Then let's stop dancing. Will you marry me?"

Panic was threatening to overwhelm her, as it had been for the past two weeks. "I–I don't–"

"No," he said, speaking over her attempts to head him off. "No more hedging, no more prevaricating, no more 'not yet' or 'eventually' or 'when the time feels right,' I want a firm answer. I want yes or no. Will you?"

"I don't know why you're in such a rush to get an answer!" she finally got out, louder and harsher than she'd intended, the snapping tone of a wildcat backed into a corner and lashing out in desperation. Her words struck him, and he fell silent and fell back, turning away from her, and she continued to fill with panic and with dread.

"I've been waiting for an answer for three years, Molly," he said in a soft, barely audible voice, but Molly caught every syllable. "We've been dating for eight. I've asked once a year since we left school because you've never said no, you've just said not yet, and every time you've said that, I've been understanding. I haven't pushed or set deadlines or asked why. What part of that, exactly, reads to you as rushing to get an answer?"

"What was 'no hedging, no prevaricating,' then?" she challenged. "What was 'I want a firm answer'?"

But the words were a defensive attack, meant for him to swing at wildly, and he knew it. He knew how to deflect it. "Molly," he said, his voice still perfectly level and calm and quiet. "Why don't you want to marry me?"

The words were like a curse to the stomach. "I do," she said, choked. "I do want to marry you, Arthur."

"Then why won't you?"

His words undid her, and she could no sooner stop the truth from coming out now than she could give up her wand and live as a Muggle.

"Because it won't stop there!" she said, anguished and heartbroken. "It won't just be marrying you, Arthur, it will be everything that follows! It will be marriage and then a house in the country and then one kid, then two, then a whole brood, and pretty soon I will have given up everything that I want my life to be about to give you the family that you've always dreamed of having, and I can't do that, Arthur, I can't give up the Force and my career, no matter how much I love you, no matter how badly you want me to, I can't!"

When she finally could look up and meet his eyes, he was looking at her as if he'd never seen her before, as if she'd just attacked him. He looked so pained and hurt that she couldn't shake the feeling that something irreparable had just gone to pieces. "Arthur," she whispered, desperate to fix the damage she'd just done, even though she didn't know exactly what it was, but he stopped her with one raised hand.

"How can you believe I would ever ask that of you?"

The words were barely above a whisper, and so anguished and stunned that they brought tears to her eyes. "Arthur, I–" She reached for him, but he stepped away, still staring at her in disbelief.

"No. Molly — how can we have drifted so far apart than you honestly believe that I would ever—"

Those words struck fear into Molly for the first time. They'd had arguments before, every couple did, but they'd always come through it, they'd always weathered it —

"Molly, I think you and I . . ."

No, she whispered to herself, desperately.

"I think you and I might need to take a break."

Molly went numb. All she could hear was her own heartbeat. All she could feel was the trembling in her hands. "What—" Her voice didn't work; the word wouldn't come out. She tried again. "What do you mean?"

The words were a whisper, and Arthur looked heartbroken. He reached out for her, then stopped himself and drew the hand back. "I think," he said, and there was a waver in his voice, "I think that we've spent so long being MollyandArthur that we've lost sight of being Molly, and Arthur. Molly, I love you, and I want to marry you. I have for eight years now. I want to marry you because I want to officially declare that the future will be something that we navigate together, but for the first time since I asked you three years ago, I think you're right. I think we can't get married now. Not with you believing that I would ever ask you to give up anything that you love, that defines you. Not with you believing that marriage to me has to equal all that you just said."

Molly couldn't breathe. "Arthur," she said, the word half a sob. "Arthur, please, I didn't mean it, it's just – I'm tired, and I'm stressed—"

"And I'm the cause of that," he interrupted gently. Molly shook her head. She couldn't seem to stop.

"No," she whispered.

"This is," he said with certainty. "Us. This has been causing you anxiety for how long now, Molls? For weeks now?" She couldn't deny it. She had to look away. "I can't live with myself, knowing that I've added to your anxiety. Knowing that you couldn't even come to me, that you couldn't talk to me about the fact that this has been troubling you—"

"Arthur—"

"Molly." There were tears in her eyes, and there were tears in his, too, and he cupped her face in his hands and forced her to look at him. "I love you. I do. And I want to marry you, someday. But right now, I think you need to redefine who Molly Prewett is, and you need to do it without me in the definition. Because I've been part of your definition since we were fourteen. You do that for me, Molly, okay? You take the time to do the things you haven't done because I've been holding you back. And when you're ready, you find me. Because I will be waiting for you."

He kissed her once, let his hand linger briefly on her face, and was gone, leaving behind only two steaming plates of food and an engagement ring in a velvet box to show he'd been there at all.

.::.

The third day of the rest of their lives brought the first funerals. Minerva had made it clear that ceremonies could absolutely be held at Hogwarts, and she pushed through the night to be able to fulfill that promise. The first thing she restored was Dumbledore's tomb, and she did it personally. And it was against that majestic white monument that those who had given their lives were honored.

Minerva attended every funeral held at Hogwarts, but it was the ones that weren't held there that ate away at her. Mr. and Mrs. Creevey had refused to come to Hogwarts, refused to set foot in the world that had killed their oldest son. They insisted that Colin be sent home with Dennis, and Minerva seethed inwardly at what they were forcing a thirteen-year-old boy to bear when he'd already borne so much.

It stung much more than she could put into words to see Colin and Dennis's parents withdrawn so, to see such division exist not in the midst of what they'd fought for, but actually born out of what they'd fought for. It broke her heart, that the magical and Muggle world still remained so clearly divided. It broke her heart, but she did not let it show.

.::.

The road not taken:

As soon as Callum turned ten, Minerva began looking for an opportunity to tell Dougal about the wizarding world. She was determined that the conversation happen on her terms, rather than forced to happen after some explosion of underage magic too big to ignore.

When she discovered her next-to-youngest son Iain could shut off all the lights in the house when he didn't think five-year-olds should have to take naps, she knew the time had come. She wasn't dreading the conversation, but she was apprehensive. She knew her husband so well, but she couldn't predict how he would take this news.

She waited until he had kissed the boys goodnight and they were in the privacy of their own bedroom, waited for his routine, "And how are you tonight, my fine lass?"

She looked him in the eye, took a deep, steeling breath, and said, "There's something I have to tell you, Dougal."

He looked immediately concerned. "Min, what's wrong?" he asked, taking her hands, which were suddenly shaking. "Has something happened?"

"No, nothing like that," she said softly. "But there is . . . something I've kept from you. I hope, when I tell you, you'll understand why." She took a deep breath; the time had come. "Dougal, do you believe in magic?"

In the end, he took it better than anyone could have expected. He listened carefully to all she had to say, and when she was done, he asked calm and intelligent questions about the Statute of Secrecy, the dominant propensities of the magical gene, and the frequency of Muggle-born magicians. He asked about Minerva's mother and what young wizards were trained in and whether or not Minerva ever had trouble controlling her magic.

They spoke long into the night, and Dougal made it clear that though he wished she'd felt able to confide in him before, he did understand why she'd kept the silence, and he bore her no ill will for it. Confident though she'd been that this would be the case, hearing him say so a weight lifted from her shoulders.

"Do you miss it?" he whispered, so late in the conversation that it was closer to dawn than midnight. "Do you ever think about who you might have been if you'd listened to your mother that night? Do you ever regret giving it all up?"

Minerva was silent for a long moment before she answered.

"I do miss it, sometimes," she answered honestly. "And I do think about who I might have been, what kind of life I'd be leading. But I don't regret for a moment the choice I made, Dougal. And I wouldn't give up what I've had with you and our boys for anything. I'm not asking to rejoin the magical world. I made my choice, and I don't regret it. But I told you because the boys have to go to Hogwarts. They have to learn how to use and control their magic, and then make the choice for themselves."

"Min," Dougal said with a frown, "I don't like that this has to be one or the other. That you and the boys have to be either magical or Muggle. That you can't live your Muggle life and still have your magic in the privacy of your own home. You shouldn't have to deny an inherent part of yourself to follow your heart and be with the person you love."

Minerva smiled at her husband. "You are an extraordinary man," she said gently. "And wiser, I think, than about half the wizards in the world. Maybe by the time the boys are grown, we'll have gotten better. But for me, right now, I'm accustomed to this life. If it's all the same to you, I'll go on living it."

She was proud to say that she meant it.

.::.

She almost spoke to Molly at Fred's funeral. She came so close. But those in the receiving line ahead of her said the same things she had planned, and her words suddenly sounded so empty.

She visited the grave later, though no one knew, the newly engraved tombstone with Fred Weasley written on it alongside dates that were far too close together, as all of them were. She stood in front of that stone for a long time, not speaking, not knowing what to say to this young man who had been the bane of her existence for so many years, of whom she had been unspeakably proud.

There were two other stones by Fred's, stones that raised memories of two young men who had been so like their nephew so recently buried. Minerva couldn't help but see them; she walked right past them, and from the fresh flowers laid upon the graves, it was clear that she wasn't the only one remembering Fabian and Gideon Prewett.

.::.

The road not taken:

The only reason why Molly Prewett wasn't dead alongside her brothers was because the Auror force had appeared in time to prevent it.

Gideon and Fabian had been ambushed, and Gideon had managed to get a Patronus to Molly, but not in time for her to be of any use. She'd arrived just in time to see her brothers cut down by a band of five Death Eaters, and she had obeyed no protocol, made no call for backup, and thought of nothing but avenging the only family she had left in the world as she advanced, wand blazing, nothing in her mind but the shrieking, howling grief that demands blood and retribution.

She took two of them out, killing them with frightening ease, before a third put a curse in her shoulder that brought her to her knees. It didn't stop her, though, and she continued to fire curse after curse, heedless of the damage and the danger, only stopping when forced to, courtesy of a Petrificus aimed at her from behind.

As the Aurors overwhelmed her, and the remaining Death Eaters Disapparated, Molly fought the jinx holding her still with everything inside her. She was angry enough that it almost worked.

"Alastor, she's fighting it," a voice called. Moments later, her mentor's face entered her line of sight.

"Molly, I'm really very sorry about this," he said, and he looked it, but it didn't stop him from Stunning her. "Dawlish, Savage!" he barked. "Clean this place up, cast whatever Obliviators you need to. Proudfoot, Williamson! See if you can't track those three down. Longbottom! Do we have any identities?"

"Dolohov got away for sure," Frank Longbottom said. "And I want to say I recognized one of the Lestrange brothers. Looks like Molly got Rowle and Nott, though."

"Take the bodies to Mungo's, would you? I'm heading there now with Molly."

The curse in Molly's shoulder was a nasty one, made worse by her complete inattention to it. Given all that had just happened to her, the Healers at Mungo's thought it best to treat her while she was stilled Stunned, and revive her, immobilized from the neck down, after they had finished.

For Molly, it was as if no time had passed. The moment she came to, she startled screaming and crying and hurling obscenities at the Death Eaters, the Healers, and Alastor Moody, who took her abuse without flinching or shrinking."I want them dead!" she shrieked. "They killed my brothers! I want their blood! Let me go, let me go!"

"Why?" Moody said harshly, cutting through her wild struggles. "So you can go dispense more vigilante retribution, ignoring everything about the oath you took when you joined the Force? Molly, you killed two men in cold blood—"

"They weren't men, they were rats, and you're damn right I did!" Molly screamed.

"Molly, you're off the Force."

The words froze her in place. Breathless, stunned, she stared up at her mentor as if he'd just slapped her.

"What?"

"For a year," Moody clarified while he had silence in which to do so. "You're damn lucky that curse didn't take your arm, and I won't have you doing further damage to yourself. You need time to heal —"

"You can't do this to me! They're out there, right now, they're killing people, and you're benching me? You need me—"

"I have no use for a soldier who ignores orders," Moody said coldly. "And you aren't going to be any use any time soon, the shape that arm is in." Quieter, gentler, he said, "Molly, this isn't something we can negotiate. Under the circumstances, the higher-ups are willing to overlook your actions, but this is the price. One year."

The fight fled from her, and she sagged, exhausted, tears leaking out of her eyes and down her cheeks. "My brothers," she whispered, and the whisper turned into a sob, heartbroken and heartbreaking.

She cried for a long while, then calmed enough to ask, "What am I supposed to do for a year?"

"Teach."

The reply came from a new source, one Molly hadn't even noticed in the room. Albus Dumbledore approached the bed, a sympathetic smile on his face.

"Teach?" she repeated dumbly.

"You need occupation, and I need a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher for the coming year. By the time September begins, your arm will have healed enough for teaching purposes, and by the time the school year ends, so too will your probation. So what do you say? Will you join us?"

It was all too much, too overwhelming, and Molly was too exhausted and spent to do anything more than nod her acquiescence.

.::.

After five days of silence, Minerva told herself that enough was enough. The time had come to talk to Molly.

Though the school had been closed until it could be cleaned up and restored, and the students had therefore been sent home, myriad wizards and witches had stayed to help with the clean-up and restoration. Molly and the rest of the Weasleys were, of course, among their number. Molly had spent her time helping keep the work crews fed and watered so that the remaining House Elves could use their strengths in helping with the restoration work, where their brand of magic was best utilized.

The crews had taken to eating in the Hogwarts kitchen for convenience, and that afternoon, after lunch was finished, Minerva hung back. She'd put a fresh kettle on to boil, and she'd kept back some of the food because if there was something she'd noticed in the past five days, it was that Molly kept forgetting that she, too, needed to eat.

Molly was at the sink, washing dishes and lost in her own thoughts when Minerva approached; it took a tap on the shoulder for her to notice Minerva's presence.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" she apologized quickly, wiping her hands dry on her apron, hastily wiping her cheek as surreptitiously as she could. Minerva pretended not to see.

"I thought perhaps you could use a break," she said, gesturing to the tray of tea of biscuits now being laid out on a nearby table. Molly hesitated.

"I don't want to take you away from something—"

"Not at all," Minerva said firmly. "The truth is, I ought to have—" She took a deep breath; the conversation was harder to start than she'd imagine. "Molly, I – I'm so sorry for — I hardly know what to say."

Molly looked down quickly. Without another word, Minerva guided her to a seat and handed her a cup of tea.

"Thank you," Molly said softly, and Minerva couldn't tell if it was for the tea or the sentiment. Likely both.

"It shouldn't have taken me so long."

Molly shook her head. "You've been busy."

"I've made myself busy," Minerva corrected. "The truth is, well, the truth is just what I said. I haven't known what to say. I still don't. Every expression of condolence I think of sounds empty and disingenuous. I can't fathom your loss. I can't even begin to. And I suppose, I didn't feel it was my place to try."

The admission was not easy. It put Minerva on very uncertain footing. But what Molly had to say in response would throw her off balance even more.

"Minerva, Fred respected you more than any other professor he had here." The words were softly spoken, but steady. "I know it may not have always seemed like it, but he did."

Minerva swallowed a lump in her throat. "How do you . . . ?"

"Because I know my son," she said, lifting her eyes to meet her friend's. "I won't make that past tense. I know him as well as I ever did. And he had an incredible amount of respect for you. You were his teacher, and you were just as responsible for the man he grew into as I was." Almost subconsciously, Minerva shook her head, looking away. Molly's eyes narrowed shrewdly. "You don't believe me? Minerva, we send our children to you when they are so young. From the ages of eleven to seventeen, they spend ten months of every year with you. Their teachers. You mould the adults they grow into as surely as we do. Have you been avoiding me because you honestly think you don't understand my loss because you were never a mother? Because you never bore a child? For that reason, you think you can't understand how we go on? Minerva, I don't understand how you're still standing and working and going though your day! I lost one son, and it hurts so much. But almost every person who died five days ago was your student. Almost every single one of the people laid out in that hall was someone you taught and nurtured and cared for. You don't have the words not because you don't understand what it feels like, but because you know firsthand that there are no words to express it. Of course you can fathom my loss. You can fathom fifty times my loss. And that makes you extraordinary. But of course, I've always known that."

Minerva found herself blinking back tears. She was unsuccessful, but it didn't seem to faze Molly in the slightest. Minerva had no idea what to say, but Molly didn't seem to need any spoken response. The younger woman just reached across the table and covered Minerva's hand with her own, and in silence, they mourned together.

Minerva regained her composure and cleared her throat and eyes as best she could. "Can I tell you, Molly, watching Ginny this past year, watching her in the fray . . . it was like looking thirty years into the past. Like watching Molly Prewett in the arena again."

Molly flushed brilliant red. "You never did," she said. Minerva arched an eyebrow.

"What, watched one of your amateur dueling matches? I certainly did. Fabian invited me. I remember he wanted you to become an Auror. Said Alastor invited you personally." Molly smiled softly at the memory.

"He did," she confirmed. "And for a while, it was my greatest wish."

"So what happened?"

"Arthur proposed," she said. "And everything was so uncertain. I knew if I became an Auror, I'd be right in the thick of it. Arthur offered me an escape from that terrifying notion, so I took it. And thirty years later, ended up right in the thick of it anyway."

"Do you ever regret it?"

The question hung in the air between them, this question that had been plaguing Minerva for five days.

Molly looked at Minerva shrewdly, and Minerva wasn't used to being under such close and searching scrutiny. "Do you?" Molly asked, turning the question back on her friend. "Do you regret the path your life has taken?"

Minerva took a deep breath, her gaze turning inward. "I was almost married once. Did you know that? Not to Elphinstone; before that. When I was young. I was eighteen, and we were so in love. He proposed the summer after I finished school. And I almost said yes."

"Why didn't you?"

Minerva's smile was sad as she remembered. "He was a Muggle," was her simple reply. "And I . . . I wasn't strong enough to give up everything for him. But I have thought, from time to time, what might my life have looked like, if I'd said yes? Married almost forty years now, certainly with children, probably with grandchildren. Not teaching here. Would have I known the war was happening? Would I have been compelled to join it? I have no way of knowing. It seems so foreign a possibility, but it is a possibility. Or it was."

She lost herself for a moment in the wondering. With a shake of her head, she pulled her focus back to the kitchen and the woman beside her. "I wonder, from time to time. But no. I don't regret what my life has been."

Molly nodded. "Nor I, mine," she said with gentle understanding. "And you know? I think we all end up where we're supposed to be, sooner or later. Surrounded by the people we're supposed to be with. That's my philosophy, at any rate."

Minerva found she had to agree.

When Minerva returned to Hogwarts after seeing the infant Harry Potter safely delivered to his aunt and uncle's, Molly Prewett was waiting for her, quite impatiently.

"Well?" she asked, her voice anxious, before Minerva had done more than cross the threshold of the Entrance Hall.

"It's done," she said heavily, removing her cloak. Molly shook her head, clearly upset.

"I can't believe there wasn't another way. Little Harry off to live with that . . . that woman? You heard Lily talk about her sister as often I as did. What are the chances he'll have anything like a happy childhood? How can we stand for this?"

"It isn't our decision," Minerva said firmly. "It's Dumbledore's. And he says this is the way it must be."

Molly didn't argue, but she wasn't happy with the answer by any stretch of the imagination. A thousand different possibilities flew through her mind, each equally impossible, but oh, how she ached for that little boy!

At least, she tried to tell herself, the war was over. The fighting could stop, and death no longer seemed like such a threat.

But true as those sentiments were, all Molly found herself able to focus on was the thought of that tiny boy, left with a woman who would never be able to love him. All she could think about was holding that small baby in her arms, trying to offer some comfort to this child who had lost his parents in the worst way, and would probably never remember them. And she remembered very clearly something Lily Potter had said to her once: You should grab hold at all the love you can in this world when it's offered. Because you never know when the chance might disappear.

Without thinking or planning it, she found herself inside the Muggle Studies classroom, just outside the door that led to the Muggle Studies professor's private quarters. Before she could lose her nerve, she knocked.

Moments later, a bleary-eyed Arthur Weasley stood in front of her, looking tired but concerned.

"Moll?" he asked. "Has something else happened?"

She shook her head, momentarily unable to speak. "No," she said quickly, embarrassed to feel tears prick her eyes. "Just . . . did you mean what you said, Arthur?"

He frowned. "What I said . . . when?"

Her nerve almost failed her, but she reminded herself that she had faced down Death Eaters and dementors and the darkest curses imaginable; she'd be damned if she would be cowed by a simple conversation.

"When you said that you'd be waiting for me." She saw hope light in his eyes, to be almost immediately suppressed as he nodded. "I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I've wasted so much time. But if you still want me, if there's any chance you still love me—"

The embrace he caught her in spoke more than words ever could. It spoke of coming home.

.::.

In the years since Minerva had told her husband the truth of her heritage, she had visited the magical world exactly once a year – to take her boys to Kings Cross to catch the train to Hogwarts. She made a day of it, allowing herself to visit the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley, to be around magic and wizards, to read The Daily Prophet, to catch up on the news.

And then Dougal died. Finn was ten; his father's death was sudden and unexpected. Callum offered to take his mother in, to reintegrate her into the magical world, but Minerva declined. She preferred her Muggle life after all these years. And there was still Finn to think about.

But now, she mused as she wandered Diagon Alley, Finn was off to school. Her house was empty for the first time since she and Dougal had moved into it, the Dark wizard who had so threatened the world had been defeated the year before, and Minerva found herself running out of reasons to stay away.

She was so lost in her thoughts as she rounded the corner by Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor that she nearly tripped over two red-headed boys playing on the sidewalk.

"Fred! George!"

The two boys looked at each other at the sound of what Minerva could only presume were their names and grinned. Looking in the direction of the voice, Minerva saw an extremely harried-looking woman trying to wrangle an infant in a pram, a toddler in her lap, and two older boys, one who was content to read his book, but the other kept getting distracted by the prospect of ice cream. They all boasted the same flaming hair as the five-year-old twins, so Minerva could only assume the boys belonged to the woman as well.

"Fred! George!" the woman said again, hurrying over to the boys and pointing firmly to the table. "Did I or did I not tell you to wait at the table? I'm terribly sorry," she said to Minerva as the boys trotted over to their siblings. "I hope they weren't bothering you."

"Not at all," Minerva said with a smile, and she opened her mouth to say something more, but the woman's attention was diverted when the twins stole their older brother's book and started tossing it around.

"For the love of – boys! Stop! Give Percy his book, or no ice cream for either one of you. No, and you can just sit and watch your brothers eat theirs!" This was, of course, the moment that the baby decided to start crying, which set off the toddler, and Minerva took pity on the woman.

"Fred, George, are those your names?" she asked, coming over. "I wonder if you might be able to help me."

"With what?" one boy asked, wary.

"Well, with this puzzle I have," she answered, conjuring a book of picture riddles. "How old are you?"

"Five," the other boy piped up, and Minerva let her face fall.

"Oh," she said, sounding disappointed. "I thought you were older. I think these puzzles might be too hard for you. My boys couldn't solve them until they were seven."

"No, they won't be!" said the first twin, sounding indignant. "Me'n George, we're super smart!"

"Yeah, way smarter'n seven-year-olds!"

Hiding a smile, Minerva said, "Well, if you're sure," and offered the book to the boys, who immediately knelt together to pore over the puzzles. "May I?" she then asked their mother, gesturing to the still-crying toddler. The woman nodded in relief.

"By all means," she said, and Minerva scooped the young boy into her lap and bounced him on her knee. "I'm Molly, by the way, and that's Ronnie."

"Minerva," she said with a smile as young Ronnie quieted, reaching up to play with her earrings. She dodged his seeking hand with practiced ease and Conjured up some bubbles for him to grasp at instead.

"Not Minerva McGonagall?" Molly asked in recognition.

"Minerva McGregor now, but once upon a time, yes."

"You were Head Girl my first year," Molly clarified. "I was Molly Prewett back then."

"How long till your boys start school?"

"My oldest, Bill, just did. And what about you? Clearly," she said, indicating Ronnie and twins with one gesture, "you have experience. Boys of your own? I have an eye for these things." Minerva smiled.

"Four," she confirmed. "My youngest is a first year as well. Wouldn't it be something if Finn and Bill ended up being friends?"

They spent the most pleasant afternoon of Minerva's life since Dougal had passed chatting and catching up and talking of husbands and Hogwarts and children. Their conversation lasted as long as it took the twins to solve the puzzle book and present it smugly to Minerva as if they had shown her up.

When it was time for the two women to part ways, Molly to meet her husband, Minerva to meet her older sons, Ronnie returned to his mother with reluctance. "It's been a pleasure," Minerva told the other woman. "One I wouldn't mind repeating."

"Then why don't you?" Molly said. "If all you've told me is true, there's little to keep you in the Muggle world now, and no danger to prevent you from living a magical life."

"What would I do with myself?" Minerva asked hesitantly. "I don't want to just live off my sons. I hate being idle."

"Well, if what my husband hears is true, Vincent Englehart is retiring at the end of this year. Dumbledore will be in need of a new Transfiguration professor again. He wanted you thirty years ago. I imagine he'd offer the position to you again in a heartbeat."

"Me, a teacher." Minerva considered it while Molly smiled.

"Why not? If how you handled Fred and George is any indication, you're remarkably well suited for it. Who knows? Maybe this is what you've been heading for all your life."

"Maybe," Minerva said with a smile. They said their goodbyes, and she watched Molly and her brood move away toward the Ministry. "Maybe," she repeated, softer. She didn't know what the future would bring, but it seemed full of brand new possibilities.

.::.

Molly's words stayed with her for the rest of the day, and that night, alone in her rooms, she pulled out a dusty trunk on a sentimental whim. The trunk was full of tangible reminders of people and places and events she tried not to think about, such as Dougal's letters and Elphinstone's wedding ring and myriad others. But she went moved past those items to pull out what she had opened the trunk in search of.

It was a small book, clothbound, that her father had given her when she left for Hogwarts. Inside, he had copied poems and essays and passages of scripture that he thought might help her through the tough times. With little trouble, she found the page she was looking for.

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost

Minerva ran her hand over her father's familiar handwriting and drank in the words she'd memorized as a child.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood . . .
She could still hear her father's voice reading the poem aloud, explaining what it meant in a way a young girl could understand.

"It's not about one road being better than another, Minnie. It's about how we remember the choices we made in the past. You can't regret the paths you don't take; there will always be too many of them. All you can do is make the most of the path you're on. At the end of the day, that's what matters."

"All you can do is make the most of the path you're on," she whispered.

She allowed herself one more moment pondering the past and the diverging paths and the maze of might-have-beens, and then she stood, put the book and the trunk away, and strode back out into her school. As Molly had said, maybe they all ended up where they were meant to be in the end. This was where her path had led. And now, she had a job to do.