Let’s talk about a cat who spent a whole day waiting on a wall, while everyone else was celebrating, because she had heard something and she couldn’t believe it. Because people were laughing for the first time in years, and all she wanted to do was cry.
Let’s talk about a teacher who was strict and severe, but fair and caring. A woman who fought for her students until the very end, with her green robes and stern look, three silver cats flying out of her wand. And they fought for her too.
Let’s talk about Minerva McGonagall.
When Minerva McGonagall saw Harry for the first time, she didn’t see his mother living in his green eyes, like Severus would. She didn’t see James’ ghost in his shy smile, like Sirius; or a hero to be shaped by manipulative hands, like Albus. She didn’t even see an orphan, like the rest of the world did. She didn’t see the boy who lived. She just saw a boy, her student, and for her, that was enough.
Minerva McGonagall survived a war and all that came after. The funerals and the sorrow, but also the laughter that was back. She survived the ghosts and the mourning. She let her heart break over Lily’s death, her hands shaking because James would never make another joke; a sharp, disappointed pain over Sirius’ betrayal (they had been her students. They had been her children) and then she collected the pieces and moved on. It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, Albus said once. And she didn’t dwell on dreams. She was stone and she would not shatter.
She survived a war, and, when she had already buried the dead and forgotten the nightmares, another one came. And she survived it too. She was a rock, and rocks may be weathered, but they don’t break.
When Fred and George Weasley abandoned the school, leaving behind a trail of cheers, admirers and laughter, and a petition (give her hell for us, Peeves), Minerva saw Umbridge’s fury and Peeves’ bow, and hid a smile in the corner of her lips. When Neville Longbottom came to her office, asking for advice, with his clumsy hands and a respectful fear in his eyes, she offered him a biscuit and some tea, and she gave him reassurance with her stern frown and her steady voice.
When Remus Lupin became the DADA teacher, she invited him to her office. She offered him biscuits too, some chocolate this time. They talked for a long time, about old times and forgotten joys, about four friends and their mischiefs and pranks. They looked back on their bets and their antics, their hopes and their dreams. They didn’t talk about death, not that evening, and the Marauders came back to life in that room, their voices rising and stealing pieces of a future they hadn’t gotten to live. They also talked about their students, homework and assignments, because they were teachers after all, and that was something worth remembering.
She gave him a knitted jumper for Christmas. He gave her a box of chocolates. Years later, she would stand by his grave and leave a single flower on it. A flower for the boy she’d known and the man he’d become. The man who was kind and quiet and healing. The man she’d like to have gotten to know better.
Albus died then, a shout and a blaze of green light. A fall, and it was all over. It felt like the end of an age. “Are the rumours true?”, she had asked, once upon a time. Now she wanted to ask Harry the same thing, trying to keep her voice from shaking, because Albus Dumbledore couldn’t be dead, could he? But then again, James and Lily couldn’t have been, either, and yet they had been, they were.
When the Second Wizarding War began, she stayed at the school. She kept teaching, because she was a teacher and she would not let them take that from her. Because her students were there, and she wouldn’t leave them alone. She wouldn’t let them die, all those brave children, if she could do something to save them. She wasn’t like Albus, who had prepared himself to sacrifize a boy in the name of the greater good. A boy’s life for the sake of the world.
After the Battle of Hogwarts, there was a destroyed castle and ashes. Minerva stumbled when she saw George’s desperation and Fred’s frozen smile. She wanted to cry when she came across Lavender’s body. She finally collapsed to her knees, when she found Colin Creevey. She had seen him this still, once before. But there were no mandrake leaves to save him, not this time. He was too young. He shouldn’t have been fighting a war, the brave and naïve boy.
Pomona Sprout kneeled next to her then, and Minerva sobbed on her shoulder.
“A boy”, she cried. “He was a boy, he was a child. Children, they were children.”
Pomona let her weep, and then she said,
“There are children here still. They are alive, and they need you, and more will come, and you’ll be there. And you’ll be fine.”
And she was right. Minerva collected the pieces once again, and she moved on. She sent a box of chocolates to Dennis Creevey, as Remus would have done, because he was so much better at being kind than her. Than any of them, really. Dennis sent her a photograph, an old picture of Albus and her, the Weasley twins laughing in the background. She met Molly Weasley for tea, and they shared anecdotes. And she went back to Hogwarts and she kept teaching, because she was a teacher before anything else. She became the new headmaster. The best one of them all.
Some years later, Neville Longbottom knocked at her door, asking for a job. She remembered all the times he had come, asking for advice with his stammering voice. She remembered the way he had led the resistance, the way he had stood up and defied the ones who had made his parents lose their minds. The way he had worked hard and stubborn, never giving up. She offered him a biscuit and some tea. She had never felt so proud.
When he left, she went through some papers. She looked up and the portrait of Albus Dumbledore winked at her. She smiled and went back to work.
When Teddy Lupin arrived at Hogwarts for the first time, expectation in his eyes and bright colours in his hair, he was nothing like the other orphan who had stared at her once upon a time, the one who had had skinny elbows and broken glasses. Teddy Lupin wasn’t looking for a family, he already had one. But, as she had done before, she saw another student, and for her, that was enough.
She was a teacher. Students were her children. And she was their rock.