A/N: I know, right? One update and a story, all at once? What can I say, it's summer vacation, and inspiration hit me!
Summary: Some said that being a teacher was almost like being a parent. Not Minerva McGonagall. She believed in being professional.
There were some who said that being a teacher at a boarding school was almost like being a parent. Minerva McGonagall wasn't one of them. She believed in being professional, strict, a role model. A teacher. Not a parent. That was what the students needed her to be. It didn't matter what she needed. She was there for them. And in seven years, they would be gone, moving on with their lives. And she would still be there.
There were times, however, when she had broken her own rules of detachment. Not in front of the students, obviously, but to herself. She'd let herself care too much. That was why she had been standing here the whole day, on this awful Muggle street, just to find out beyond a shadow of a doubt what had really happened to them. That was why, when she was safely locked in her chambers, she cried that whole night. She vowed never to let herself care that much about any student again, but at the same time felt her heart aching over their boy, their poor boy, who would be left to those horrible people, and wishing, wishing, it didn't have to be like that. She could have loved him. But she shook herself. It was too late. She was too old, and she should have locked away that dream years ago. She'd thought she had, the day she arrived at Hogwarts.
This meant giving up. She knew that. But she couldn't show that. To everyone else, it looked like she had just got an amazing opportunity, possibly because of Dumbledore's partiality for her. Possibly, she didn't even deserve it. Therefore, she could not be seen appearing anything but pleased and grateful. So, she smiled. She talked about always having a dream of teaching, an interest in Transfiguration, a love for Hogwarts. Which wasn't untrue. It just wasn't the reason she was here. And here wasn't where she had wanted to be.
"I'll have at least 20 kids when I grow up!" she had announced when she was 5, determined, because she had already started to feel the loneliness of being an only child. By the time she was 10, she'd limited herself to 7. As she grew slightly older, she decided that 4 was a good number. She'd never questioned that it would happen. It was just the way you lived. You grew up, you went to Hogwarts, you got married, you had children. The question was how soon, or how many, or even with who. Not if.
At school, there had been Daniel. He had been everything she thought she wanted. They were friends first, for years, until he finally crossed the line and kissed her in sixth year. She had been wanting him to since third year. He was kind, smart, and ready to take care of her.
But after seventh year, things changed. She met a more wide range of people, she saw her friends fall in love, and started to doubt. She loved Daniel, yes, but was she in love with him? It was the hardest decision of her life, one she still is not sure about, to break his heart.
After Daniel came a series of shorter relationships. It was usually she who ended them. At night, she wondered if the problem was with her. Why was no one right for her? Did she think she was that special, so that no man could ever be good enough? Should she not have settled for Daniel when she had the chance, instead of losing both her best friend and the only man who had ever truly loved her, all at once?
Then she met Henry. He was nothing like what she'd pictured for herself, but he was thrilling and exciting and he made her more thrilling and exciting along with him. She found herself enjoying letting go of her need for control, being spontaneous – she, who usually had every minute of every day planned out weeks in advance.
Somehow, the rush of Henry was still exciting after two years, and even if there was turmoil and disagreements too, they were happy. And when she asked him if he wanted to have a baby, he said yes. They weren't married, and her parents would never have approved, but she was with him and nothing else mattered. She loved him and she would love their baby.
Still, she never worried. She could feel guilty sometimes, about not being married and doing it properly, about what her parents would say, about what everyone would say. But she needn't have worried about that.
After three years, it was over. He left, but she had already left him in spirit and heart and everything else. She barely spoke to him. He had tried sometimes, to make her smile again, but all she could see when she looked at him were her lost dreams, the family they should have been.
A month later, she wrote a letter to her old favourite teacher, asking for a job. Really, she was asking for a new life.
Most of the times, she was fairly content with her life. She did enjoy teaching, and she did have a fascination for Transfiguration. She had always loved Hogwarts as a teen. She had just never imagined staying there, forever. You were only supposed to have seven years. Then you were supposed to move on, get a life of your own, look back at the fond memories.
Sometimes, she got so jealous of the students. Because what wouldn't she give to love someone so furiously as James Potter? To be as loved as Lily Evans? She even found herself envying Severus Snape at times, because at least he loved someone. He would surely find someone else to love, once he had got over the infatuation with his childhood sweetheart. There was still hope for him.
Yet, she couldn't resent them. Not when James was in detention with her for having disrupted class with this week's grand gesture of asking Lily out. Because he looked so young and defeated, those few moments when he thought no one was looking. He didn't see it, like she did, the big picture, and that it was only a matter of time before Lily would grow out of her stubbornness enough to see what she could have, what he could be, what they could be, together. In those moments, she wanted desperately to say something to him, to be there, to cheer him up. But as soon as she looked up from her papers, his mask was back on, and he made some cheeky comment. He wouldn't let her in, even if she tried. She was his teacher, nothing more. She wasn't the one to help him through this. All she could do was sit there, and pretend not to care too much.
A couple of years later, however, he did come to her for advice. They were leaving school, soon. Which was hard enough every year, but with the world being what it was, she hated, hated, that they were letting these young people out of the safe cocoon that was Hogwarts.
She knew the moment he entered that it was about something more serious than Transfiguration NEWTs. "Professor? Can I talk to you?"
"Of course," she said, frowning back at the young man in front of her.
"I – I know we're not supposed to talk about it here, but you're in the Order, right?"
This took her by surprise. Students weren't even supposed to know the Order existed, let alone who was in it. Still, in less than a month, he would no longer be a student, and he was already of age. A true Gryffindor, of course he wanted to fight. She just wasn't sure Dumbledore should let him.
"Yes," she said simply, waiting for him to continue.
He looked relieved at her willingness to discuss this, and sat down, pulling his hand through his hair nervously. "We're joining, too."
She didn't have to ask to whom he was referring to. They were a foursome that had become a fivesome since he and Lily got together. Of course they'd be doing this together to.
"I – I just... do you think we have a chance? Against Him, I mean? Do you think we could win, not just get ourselves killed? I – I'm not scared, not really. Not for myself. But, Lily, Sirius, my friends... I mean, you're in it, so you must not think it's a suicide mission, right?"
She swallowed, choosing her words, but it was impossible. He was so young. It was easy for her to decide to fight. But she was already old, and had no one who'd miss her like that. He had so much ahead of him, they had their whole lives to live, and shouldn't be fighting an adults' war. Still, he was a Gryffindor, and she knew really that nothing she could say could make him flee and keep himself safe. What he needed, what he had come to her for, was a little hope.
"I believe we have every chance. Every day, a few more people realize that we are on the only right side of this. The more destruction You-Know-Who causes, the less people will be willing to follow him and be a part of it."
She wished it was that easy, but seeing James' worried lines shrink, she knew she had said the right thing.
A couple of years later, she hates herself for this, for not telling him to run, save himself, or, if he refused, lock him up, force him out of harm's way. All of them. And she knows she has failed, because a teacher doesn't feel responsible like this. A teacher doesn't hurt like this.
For many years, she closed herself off, and actually succeeded in remaining just a teacher. Nothing more. Then he arrived. Their son. And he was so small, so troubled, so full of life and questions and innocence and doom. And she didn't mean to, but it happened all over again. She remained professional, scolding him like anyone else when he misbehaved in her classroom. But, she felt true pride seeing him on the Quidditch pitch, cheering more enthusiastically than she had for many years, because she had helped him get there. And when everything started for him, she worried, she felt it, every time. And there was always something: dragons, Dementors, Death Eaters, Sirius Black. She saw his childhood being ripped away from him, saw him growing up so fast, too fast, to face responsibilities she never had had to deal with herself. And she cared. When she saw him dead at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, something broke in her, and she just cried out in agony. Because it couldn't be happening, not again.
Thankfully, it hadn't. He was alive and more than that, he saved them all. The little boy whose birth celebration she had attended. Now he was a man who held out his hand to shake hers when she reached him, after everything, and who looked a little surprised when she pulled him into a hard, but short embrace.
"Well done, Potter," she had then said, clearing her throat and blinking away something unprofessional.
"Thanks, Professor," he had said, with a small smile and a little pat on her back.
She was invited to the birth celebration of his son too. And his second son's. And his daughter's. Somehow, she was invited for the bigger events in his life, his wedding, his 30th birthday. Teachers shouldn't be. They were supposed to let go when the students were fully taught. She didn't. She broke her rules, but somehow couldn't bring herself to mind, because some things were more important.
Being a teacher isn't like being a parent. But maybe, just maybe, sometimes it can become something more than a job, too, something in between. Not like a grandmother, no, more like an old distant aunt? Who longs for the day when the next generation of Potters will come to her, and almost be hers, for those seven short years.