Disclaimer: Minerva McGonagall is the intellectual property of JK Rowling.
The idea for the battle between the giants and Aurors (with a few changes) came from Matt Quinn's The Wrath of the Half-Blood Prince.
A/N: The idea for this story was suggested during the PotterFicWeekly podcast's discussion of my story, The Accidental Animagus, and it was so funny that I just had to write it. Thanks to Aaron, Scott, and Sue for their idea.
To those following my other stories, don't worry. My regular updates will continue, and I haven't given up on Petrification Proliferation, either. I just need time to catch up on everything.
When Minerva McGonagall graduated from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, she had never expected to be returning there in less than three years' time. But that was before she got caught up in a love triangle with her boss at the Ministry and a muggle from her hometown (even though she wasn't actually dating either of them). She knew she was being silly; there were plenty of successful mixed marriages in the magical world. But like her mother, she just didn't think she could bear to break the truth about magic to her husband on her wedding night.
Then, she heard the news that Headmaster Dippet had died suddenly, and her mentor, Albus Dumbledore, was to take over immediately as interim Headmaster. Dumbledore needed someone right away to help him finish up his classes for the rest of the school year and to replace him as Professor of Transfiguration next year. According to his letter, she was the first person he'd thought of, and so, she was going back to school as an assistant professor. It wasn't a very Gryffindor thing, perhaps, running away from her problems like that, but hey, working in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement wasn't as glamorous as she'd hoped, anyway.
Albus, as he insisted on being called in private, though that still felt very uncomfortable, had been very supportive of her as she made her sudden transition, having her sit in on his classes before Christmas in preparation to take over the first two years afterwards and giving her a fast course on the operation of the school from the teachers' point of view. Minerva had been a tutor when she was a student, so she wasn't completely new to teaching, but it was nerve-wracking to be doing it for a living now, and to be primarily responsible for young children's education. At age twenty-one. With no formal experience. You couldn't do that in the muggle world; she remembered that much.
But it wasn't just teaching. There were all the other little things that went into the operation of the school. Albus had given her a whole booklet of material to learn—everything from how to submit grades to what to do with a student with dragon pox and even (parts of it were a little out of date) what to do if a German air raid targeted the castle. There was paperwork, procedures, and a whole litany of spells. There were spells to use if something went wrong with the house elves sending food up to the Great Hall, a spell to link a Sonorous Charm to the castle wards to create what muggles called a public address system, and a spell to make those annoying moving staircases behave when you needed to get somewhere fast, just to name a few.
Unfortunately, she didn't get a chance to try a lot of the spells herself; many of them were only for emergencies or other special circumstances, which was a shame because some of the special teachers' spell looked pretty cool.
"Excuse me, Prof—er, I mean Albus," she asked one day as she was settling in.
"Yes, Minerva?" Albus replied.
"I was looking over these special spells from the booklet you gave me, and there's this one to animate all of the statues and suits of armour in the castle, and I was just wondering, has that ever been tested?"
"Tested?" Albus stroked his beard. "No, I don't believe so. At least not since before I was a student."
"Perhaps we should try it out, then," she said hopefully. "We wouldn't want it to fail in an emergency, after all."
"No, Minerva, I think that would make rather a large mess," he replied. "And I'm sure that someone as gifted in transfiguration as yourself could deal with any problems as they arise."
Minerva opened her mouth and closed it again. Damn, she thought. Albus was so whimsical and child-like half the time that she thought he'd go for that idea. Instead, she just managed to say, "Er, thank you for the vote of confidence, then," and walked away.
Someday, she thought. Someday.
"Horace, what's going on?" Minerva said frantically.
"The dungeons are clear," the large man said, huffing and puffing as he came up the stairs. "I've got my snakes barricaded in their dorms. Unless Evermonde's Imperiused the Merpeople to attack, they should be alright."
"I wouldn't put it past him at this point," she said.
Suddenly, there was a sound of thunder, and Horace and Minerva saw a lone man run from around a corner on a wooden leg.
"Run away! Run away!" Sylvanus Kettleburn shouted.
"From what?" Minerva said, staring at the empty corridor.
"Thestrals!" Horace yelled. He was already in motion.
Minerva's eyes widened, and she turned and ran from the invisible stampede.
"He set the whole herd loose in the castle!" Sylvanus yelled.
"Up the stairs!" Minerva ordered. "Merlin, I never thought I'd ever want to be able to see thestrals. Where's Hagrid?"
"In the lake," Horace said. "Something spooked the Giant Squid."
Minerva usually thought Hagrid could handle himself, but she was worried he was in over his head this time—literally. But she had to see to herself and her students first. The three professors ran up the stairs, hoping to avoid being trampled by the rampaging thestrals, only to run into Jean Hopkins, the elderly Charms Mistress, running down from above.
"Jean, watch out! Thestrals!" Minerva cried.
"I can see them."
"Keep your head down! Their airborne!" Kettleburn said.
"Dammit, I'm getting too old for this," Jean muttered.
"Where's Albus?" Minerva demanded.
"Still trying to get into the classroom!"
"What's taking him so long?" Horace said. "He's Albus!"
"Evermonde's got eight boggarts guarding his classroom inside and out, including the windows," Jean said. "He must have been collecting them all year. We can't banish all of them at once. Plus there's some old Egyptian-looking curse on the door. I can't make head or tail of it."
"He'll need help!" Minerva said. "Let's go!"
The Defence Professor this year had seemed a little strange from the start, but that wasn't too different from the past couple years. But he had become odder and odder as the year went on. In October, he demanded to have his classroom moved to the most remote part of the sixth floor. Around Christmas, he had burned all the mistletoe in the castle for fear of "nargles", being apparently the one person in the country who took The Quibbler seriously. In March, he shouted at anyone who would listen that Nobby Leach was trying to turn Britain into a muggle-born-ruled dictatorship. And in the past month, he had become increasingly paranoid that all manner of bad actors were trying to assassinate him until he finally snapped and took his first-year Gryffindor-Hufflepuff class hostage, demanding safe passage to (Merlin knew why) the Ottoman Empire.
Based on his age and symptoms, Minerva was pretty certain he was suffering from schizophrenia, but that didn't change the fact that he was holding thirty-five children at wandpoint.
They ran back up to the sixth floor, where they found Albus standing outside the door of the Defence classroom, trying to fend off multiple iterations of a young girl. She might have been a fourth-year, but she wasn't in uniform, and Minerva had never seen her before. Some of the copies looked sickly, some dying or dead, and one even appeared to be an Inferius. Minerva didn't know the meaning of Albus's fear, but she knew the girls for boggarts, and she jumped in front of the nearest one and saw…
Herself. Except it was a ruin of herself—fifty years older, broken and alone, ring finger conspicuously bare—too traumatised by her parents' failure to cope to seek out love for herself.
"Riddikulus!" she cried, and the boggart turned into a fuzzy kitten and scampered off. She'd worry about the implications later.
"That won't keep it away for long!" Sylvanus called as he dealt with a boggart that took a form that looked like Venomous Tentacula. "Not with all its friends here."
"We need more manpower! Albus, can you get through the door?"
"If I have few minutes unmolested."
"We may not have that much time!" Horace said. Horace's boggart seemed to be himself wearing only a barrel.
"Albus, what happens if we just blast our way through?" Minerva demanded. Her boggart came back, and she banished it again almost as soon as it took shape.
"We can't use magic," he warned. "The seal will reflect our spells."
"And without magic?"
"It might work, but we don't have the strength to do it on our own."
"I know where we can get it, Albus," she said, taking only a moment to register her excitement. She hadn't thought she would ever have cause to do this. "Piertotum—"
She paused, her wand raised, as the door knob turned from the inside. There was a thud against the door, and then, with a second thud, it was forced open.
The Egyptian seal broke with a flash of light, which caused all the boggarts to flee to the dark corners of the castle. There was a loud neighing and flapping of wings below as the thestrals tried to get out of the unfamiliar building. And a roar from outside sounded an awful lot like Hagrid being thrown from the Lake by the Giant Squid. Minerva brought her wand to bear, but to her surprise, Professor Evermonde wasn't standing at the door trying to curse her (or her first years) into oblivion. Instead, he was tied up and gagged at the back of the classroom with several older students standing guard over him. All the first years were hiding under their desks.
"What—What happened?" she said in shock, feeling far too relieved to be disappointed.
"Hmm…" Albus surveyed the scene. "Based on what I can see, I believe the Prewett Twins teamed up with the elder Weasley brothers to mount an assault on the classroom via broomsticks," Albus said calmly.
"Yes, sir, Professor," said Bilius Weasley.
"—with the boggarts flying around," said Fabian and Gideon Prewett.
"But we did it," they finished in unison.
Minerva supposed she shouldn't be surprised. Molly Prewett and Arthur Weasley were two of the first years trapped in that classroom, and little Molly's older brothers were the biggest troublemakers in the castle. It was about time they did something constructive.
"Excellent work, all of you," Albus told them. "In fact, one hundred points to Gryffindor for your quick thinking. Unfortunately, I fear I will have to find a new professor yet again this year."
"You'll have to find two, Albus," Jean said. "I'm done with this crap. I hear Filius Flitwick is leaving the duelling circuit. Maybe he'll do it. I'm getting out of this madhouse."
Albus sighed: "I understand, Jean. Though we will be sorry to see you go."
"I'm getting worried, Albus," Minerva said. "That's the fifth Defence Professor in a row who's had something bad happen to them before the end of the year. If I didn't know better, I'd think we've been cursed."
Albus suddenly became subdued.
"Albus?" she said nervously.
"I wouldn't be so sure we haven't, Minerva," he said. "Do you remember Tom Riddle?"
"The name sounds familiar."
"He applied for the Defence position the summer after you started teaching here, but it was his other activities that worried me. Even as a young boy, he displayed far too much affinity for the Dark Arts for my liking, and he now bears all the marks of a dark lord in the making. He was most unhappy where I turned him down."
"But to curse Hogwarts, Albus?" Minerva said. "Not just anyone could do that. How is that possible?"
"I am not certain, but if anyone could do it, it is Tom Riddle. I fear we have not seen the last of him."
"HAPPY NEW YEAR!"
Minerva trippled and fell into the punch bowl as the castle was shaken by a fireworks display the likes of which she had never seen before. She rushed to the window to see explosions going off all around the castle. She was about to start casting the emergency spells to raise the wards before she realised that wouldn't work if the attackers were already inside the castle.
She ran from the fairly quiet party in the staff room, quickly followed by the other professors, trying to get a handle on where the enemy was. The students who were there over winter break should all be in their dorms, but probably awake, and at least a few would probably be foolish to come out to see what was happening. She could think of four in particular.
A quick look around the Grand Staircase made it clear that the explosions were happening all over the school, especially in the four directions of the dorms. Minerva barely even registered that they looked rather like ordinary magical fireworks. She was too distracted by visions of dark wizards and flashes of green light.
"My God, they're everywhere!" she cried. "We need reinforcements! Piertotum—"
But her spell was cut off by a loud laugh and a magically amplified voice booming throughout the castle: "HAPPY NEW YEAR! THIS HAS BEEN A MARAUDERS PRODUCTION!"
At that, there was a loud bang, and hundreds of sparklers went off, raining down showers of light on the whole school. Minerva had no idea how those boys had pulled off something that big, even with the Potters' Sleakeazy money.
But however they did it, they were going to get it.
"POTTER! BLACK! LUPIN! PETTIGREW!" she screamed at the terrible foursome in front of all of their housemates. "Do you have ANY idea how reckless that was?! I very nearly set the suits of armour on you!"
"Nearly set the suits of armour on us?" James Potter said in surprise. Peter Pettigrew was hiding behind him. Only Remus Lupin looked properly ashamed.
"We're moving up the world, aren't we?" said Sirius Black with a grin that made the silly teenage girls swoon.
"Moving up in the world?" Minerva shouted."You're lucky the Headmaster banned corporal punishment, or I'd take you over my knee here and now, Sirius Black! You can't do things like that with a war on! We thought the castle was under attack!" Minerva stopped and took a deep breath. Was she being too harsh with them? No, they definitely deserved it. But truth be told, a little too much of her rage was anger at being stopped from casting that spell. She'd didn't get many chances.
"We're sorry, Professor," Potter said contritely. "We didn't really think about that. We just wanted to liven things up around here. Everyone's been so depressed the last couple of years."
"Hmph." She forced her voice to remain calm. "Next time, have a potion-induced dance-off, like last time," she said. "Two weeks' detention and a hundred points from Gryffindor! And I will be speaking with each of your parents."
The other three boys looked worried, but Black looked unusually fearful—especially for a boy who never seemed afraid of anything.
"'Salright, Sirius," Potter whispered. "My folks said you can stay with us this summer."
Well, that was something else she had to worry about—in more ways than one.
The War, still in its milder phases the last time Minerva had almost used that spell had grown much worse in the ensuing five years. Order members were dying left and right—good people, many of whom she had taught. Four of their best were in hiding with their baby boys. She'd also lost too many of her older friends when that Dragon Pox epidemic swept through two years ago, aggravated by the hard times. The killings continued unabated. People weren't sure if the Ministry would last the year. And it wasn't a half-joke anymore when she said Albus looked old.
Hogwarts was more than a school, now; it was a sanctuary. Albus had seen to that. Imperfect though it was (no one seriously doubted there were marked Death Eaters roaming the halls among the seventh-years), Hogwarts Castle was the one place the students could feel safe from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named when all the rest of Britain was falling around them.
Which is what made it all the more jarring when the war came to its gates.
The school was in the middle of dinner when they beheld an unexpected sight. Sibyll Trelawney, the new Divination teacher, ran into the Great Hall in a breathless panic. "Headmaster!" she cried. "I saw—I saw—"
"Breathe, Sibyll," Albus said calmly, rising to his feet. "What did you See?"
"Giants! Giants—on the grounds!"
Nervous whispers fill the Hall, and Albus frowned. "Giants? Did you See any clue as to when they will be coming?"
"Not with my Inner Eye, Headmaster!" she gasped. "I saw them from the tower! They're out there right now!"
Pandemonium! The younger children screamed in fear. The older ones rose from their seats to run—though Merlin knew where to. Control was lost in seconds.
"SILENCE!" Albus roared. "Everyone will please not panic. Students, you will stay here in the Great Hall with Professor Trelawney and Professor Quirrell. Hagrid, guard the doors to the best of your ability. The rest of the teachers will proceed with me to the battlements to defend the castle."
Despite his age, Albus could still move like a young man when he needed to. Minerva had a hard time keeping up with him as he took the stairs two at a time and raced out onto the battlements.
There were nine of them—five male and four female—probably half of the adults of the last giant tribe in Britain, which, despite Albus's best efforts, had gone to the enemy's side. All of them were armed, but also loaded for a journey, plodding along slowly, following the river down from the mountains. Their path would lead them straight to the castle walls unless they turned aside to go around the Lake.
"Merlin's beard!" Horace exclaimed. Minerva shared his sentiments. She'd never had more than a glimpse of full-blooded giants before and had certainly never seen so many in one place. The sight chilled her more than a great many of the things she had seen in this bloody war.
"I've alerted the Ministry," Albus said and he began activating the castle's defences, "but I don't know if they can spare the manpower."
This was bad. One giant was easily a match for a dozen wizards, even without magic—unless you used the Killing Curse, which most wizards couldn't. Nine of them were a real threat to the school, one that the teachers couldn't handle on their own.
"Albus, we need reinforcements," Minerva said. "What about the statues? They're stone, and they're big enough to have a fighting chance."
"I quite agree, Minerva," he said. "Would you do the honours?"
"Of course." She raised her wand eagerly and said, "Piertotum—"
"Look!" the sharp-eyed Filius cried.
Coming from over the mountains were no fewer than two dozen airborne dots, moving fast, their brown robes whipping behind them: Aurors on broomsticks. Fast ones. Nimbus 1500s, by the look of them—only the best. They caught the giants from behind, and flashes of spellfire shot forth. Using their speed and agility, they made their attack runs in vicious sideswipes, staying mostly out of the giants' range. Even so, a couple of the Aurors fell, spiralling down to the ground. Still, staying on one side of them, they forced the giants to veer west, around the Lake and away from the castle.
They had dodged a very dangerous enemy this time. Minerva slumped and sighed with relief, even though a jealous part of her was still thinking, Dammit.
Then, one of the giants fell over, bloody and clutching its head.
"What are they doing?" Filius said in horror.
It was then that Minerva noticed the colours of the spellfire: brilliant blues, sickly yellows, deep purple slashes—dark curses. True, a Stunner or even a dozen Stunners wouldn't do much to a giant, but these Aurors were casting to kill.
The giants broke into a run, swinging back blindly as they reached the lake shore. The intensity of the spellfire increased, and one by one, the giants fell, each more gruesomely than the last. The Aurors continued to pursue them, even as they reached the outer wall and ran out of the school grounds.
"Albus, how can they do this?" Minerva asked in horror. "Giants need to be controlled, yes, but this is a massacre!"
"War makes people hard, Minerva," the old man said wearily. "And even harder towards those who are different. However, I will be sure to speak to Barty Crouch about this. I fear this will do more harm than good in the long run."
Only two of the nine giants made it to their getaway boat at the sea.
Minerva sighed as she enchanted the last chessman. It wasn't that spell, but it was close. Probably the closest she would ever come to casting it.
The War had been over for ten blissful years—ten years in which Minerva McGonagall was finally married and then was tragically widowed at what for a witch was a young age. Unlucky at love till the end, she was. Nonetheless, in those ten years, she had managed to get her life back to normal…at least until Fred and George Weasley came to the castle. There was always something.
Through the rose-tinted lens of memory, she could be a little bit disappointed that she had never been a proper soldier, duelling dark wizards and slinging powerful spells like Albus had done in his youth. She was a Gryffindor, after all. But no, she was a teacher. She had done her duty of keeping her students safe to the best of her all too limited ability, and she had prepared them to fight when she could not.
She still felt like a failure about too many of them.
But there were always more children coming. Harry Potter would be here this year. And Neville Longbottom. She was eager to see them after all this time. She could only hope that they would grow up to a better lot than their parents.
She silently vowed to do everything she could to make that happen.
Minerva was having perhaps the worst day of her long teaching career. She had faced horrors in her job, but they had always found a way out. But this time was different. Little Ginny Weasley had been taken by the Heir of Slytherin into the Chamber of Secrets and was presumed dead.
The attacks on muggle-borns had been bad enough, but now the Heir was attacking purebloods and had stepped up from petrifications to killings. No one knew who he was; he could attack from no one knew where; he could petrify his victims, and no one knew how, not even Albus. And she was lucky to even have Albus around at all. Lucius Malfoy had conspired to remove him from the school weeks ago.
And then, on top of all that, Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley and "Professor" Lockhart had gone missing, and that made no sense. With as much trouble as those two boys got into, she'd bet good money that they had somehow found their way into the Chamber, too, which would be even more disastrous. But Lockhart? She'd had every expectation that he would do a runner, but then they found his wand on the ground outside his office window. He had been taken, too? Had he actually found the Chamber like he said and been attacked by the Heir because of it? Had Potter and Weasley overpowered him and taken him with them without his wand? Clearly, she was missing something.
Now, she had a distraught Arthur and Molly Weasley in her office while she was trying to find her missing students, make sure no one else went missing, doo damage control with the Ministry and the Board of Governors, try to keep the press out of it, and figure out how to get everyone out of the castle without anyone else being killed or petrified when she didn't know how it was being done in the first place. Not to mention they wouldn't be able to wake up the students who were already petrified until tomorrow morning.
Suffice it to say she was not in a good mood.
"I'm afraid there is nothing we can do, Minerva," Albus said reluctantly. "We have no leads. Every Headmaster of Hogwarts has spent some time searching for the Chamber of Secrets, including Phineas Black. We have done intensive searches in 1943 and this year. We are no closer to finding it that we were when Slytherin left the castle, and without that knowledge, we cannot protect the remaining students."
Molly sobbed again at his words.
"What will happen to Hogwarts, then?" Minerva asked. It wasn't exactly the most important thing, but it what something she could actually do something about, so she didn't feel completely helpless.
"In the immediate term," he said slowly, "the Ministry will provide alternate accommodations to give O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. exams. Beyond that, I do not know. I fear the chances that Hogwarts will reopen next autumn, if at all, are slim. Perhaps a dedicated term of Cursebreakers and Unspeakables will be able to find the Chamber this summer during the likely search for the missing students. But more likely, the castle will simply be sealed. Even demolished."
"No!" Minerva gasped.
Albus nodded sadly: "If the worst happens, and Harry Potter is lost to the Chamber, there may be sufficient will to tear down the castle stone by stone to recover him. Regardless, the Ministry will have to put up a makeshift facility for next year while a new school building is built—perhaps at the planned Quidditch World Cup facilities."
A horrible thought struck her: "Albus, what about the Heir? We still don't know who he is. If the petrified students can't tell us, he could escape and follow the students to the new school."
"I'm sure Aurors will be posted for protection if necessary."
"Aurors?! We haven't had Aurors around Hogwarts since the war. What will it say if we can't protect our own students from each other?"
"It will be that or suspend school entirely for a year. We must do the best we can."
"But Dumbledore, what do we do now?" Arthur interrupted.
"Tomorrow morning, we will evacuate the students and send them home on the Hogwarts Express. The school term will be ended early."
"And the Heir? What if he comes out again?"
"I have requested Aurors to escort the students out, and I will enlist all of the teachers and the ghosts to help."
"Albus, we could activate the statues," Minerva suggested. "They can guard the students as we remove them from the castle. They're made of stone already, so they can't be petrified, and they'll slow down the Heir if he tries to…to kill again."
"An excellent idea, Minerva. That would give us a definite advantage." He sighed and looked around him. "I will be sad to say goodbye to this place. This is a tragedy in so many ways…"
"Very much so," Minerva agreed. "We should start planning the evacuation, then."
Albus nodded his agreement, but they didn't even have time to get started when, to their surprise the door opened, and Minerva was struck speechless.
There was Harry Potter, covered in muck, grime, and blood. He had the Sorting Hat—the Sorting Hat—and a sword, of all things, tucked into his belt. Above him flapped Fawkes, who swooped back to Albus's arm. At Potter's side was an equally dirty Ronald Weasley, who was leading Lockhart by the arm, who had a dazed look in his eyes and a disturbing grin on his face. And at Potter's other side was Ginny Weasley, crying, drenched in filth, but alive and well.
It was official. Harry Potter got into more trouble than his father ever did. Merlin help them all.
"So what do you have to say for yourself, Mr. Longbottom?" Minerva demanded in a voice so stern it could etch glass.
Neville Longbottom was shaking in his shoes, and for good reason. His abysmal foolishness had allowed the mass murderer Sirius Black to get into the castle again. Honestly, writing down the passwords? Ronald Weasley had narrowly escaped being murdered in his bed, not to mention the real target, Harry Potter, had been not ten feet away.
"W-w-well, P-Professor," Longbottom stammered. "Sir Cadogan was doing two passwords a day, and—"
"Don't pass this off on Sir Cadogan. I'll deal with him separately, believe me. I want to know what could have possibly possessed you to write those passwords down."
"Did it not occur to you that those passwords could possibly fall into the wrong hands?
"And that we already had strong evidence that the only thing standing between Sirius Black and the dormitories was the portrait guardian?"
"And that Sir Cadogan is a complete and total imbecile?"
Longbottom was too frightened to laugh. "I don't get where they could've gone, ma'am—" he managed.
"Well, perhaps it was your legendary forgetfulness, Mr. Longbottom," Minerva snapped.
"But I kept them in my pocket, Professor!" he whimpered. "It's not like I ever set them down anywhere outside the dorms. Why would I?"
"I don't know. Perhaps they fell out somewhere. It doesn't matter. Passwords are not meant to be written down for a reason, you idiot boy! That will be one week's detention, and fifty points from Gryffindor. Additionally, since you are so utterly incompetent at remembering passwords, you won't have to worry about them in the future. Your housemates will be instructed not to give them to you until Black is caught. You will wait outside the Tower for someone to let you in if you are on your own. And…" She struggled to find a harsh enough punishment. "…and you are hereby banned from all future Hogsmeade visits this year."
By the end of that rant, Longbottom looked like he was about to cry, but Minerva was too angry to care just now. If she was lucky, it would actually teach him some common sense. He ran like a scared rabbit when she dismissed him. By now, she would have very much liked to go back to her quarters and sit back with a glass of Firewhiskey from her secret stash, but no, she was needed to help search the castle for Black, even though he was almost certainly long gone. Again.
"I should have expelled him when I had the chance," she muttered to herself.
The next morning, after a sleepless night and a fruitless search, one more insult was added to her injury. Thanks to a rush delivery from the Ministry, they now had a team of four trained security trolls on the seventh floor. They had half-decent hygiene, and they could speak a few words of English, but still—trolls!
"This is ridiculous, Albus," she complained as soon as she found out they were arriving. "We should activate the statues to guard Gryffindor Tower. They aren't susceptible to the Killing Curse, and we have more of them, anyway. Filius can make sure they recognise Black." Plus, it's a perfect opportunity, she thought, but she didn't say it.
Albus looked sympathetic, but it didn't change his decision. "I know. That would quite probably be a superior security measure, Minerva," he said. "However, this was the only solution that satisfied everyone involved."
"Not everyone. I'm not satisfied. I doubt Mr. Potter and his friends are satisfied, either. Do you recall that a certain trio of my Gryffindors were nearly killed by a troll two years ago? Has anyone been concerned that they might be traumatised by this? For Merlin's sake, they already have to live in a castle surrounded by dementors. They could at least be spared from facing their fears daily while they're inside the castle."
Albus sighed: "I understand your concerns, but the Fat Lady specifically demanded trolls, and no other portrait is willing to guard the Tower. The best we can do is to be there for any student who is distressed by the trolls. You know how stubborn portraits can be. Until Black is caught, I don't think we'll be able to make the Fat Lady listen to reason.
Minerva slumped back in her seat, stewing in her thoughts. It was Sunday, she was dead tired, she'd really rather just go to bed at this point, and she still didn't get a chance to cast that spell. And it was all Longbottom's fault, that idiot—"Oh, Morgana," she moaned as a late realisation hit her.
"What is it?"
"I called Neville Longbottom 'idiot boy' last night. I'm turning into Severus!"
Well, this was a fine kettle of shrakes.
After everything that had gone wrong this year, this was the last straw. That woman was now "Headmistress"—"by order of the Ministry of Magic." Of all the insults. The castle itself wasn't letting her into Dumbledore's office. That ought to teach her a thing or two, but Minerva knew it wouldn't. By the time Dolores Umbridge finally realised the error of her ways, she would probably be dead. That meddling Minister and his goose-stepping lackeys were ruining the school and ruining the country with no sign of stopping—Umbridge, Dawlish, Percy Weasley, of all people. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was back, and what did Fudge do? Why, go after the one man who could stand up to him!
Between the Inquisition, disbanding the clubs, banning "subversive" reading material, and exerting supreme control over punishments, Umbridge had systematically sucked all the joy out of the school. Thanks to the restrictions on teachers, interactions between teachers and students were sterile and generally unhelpful. Then, they went and ruined Defence class, leaving the students defenceless against Death Eaters—or, you know, any muggle with a cricket bat. Mr. Potter and Miss Granger had done an admirable job of starting a secret Defence Club to try to remedy this, but now, they'd been exposed and shut down, and twenty-seven students were lucky not to be expelled forthwith. Fudge had forced Albus out with the same stroke, removing their best defence at Hogwarts.
Miss Edgecombe was currently lying in the Hospital Wing with no memory of why, and Minerva knew it wouldn't be safe to restore her memory until after Umbridge was gone. She couldn't help but think the girl deserved it. She loathed a traitor.
Dumbledore's Army—oh, if only.
Say, there was an idea. The wards didn't recognise that woman as Headmistress. That meant, technically, Minerva herself was rightfully in charge. And that meant if she were to, say, animate the statues and throw Umbridge out on her arse, no one would be able to stop her.
But then, what would Fudge do? How long could the castle hold out against a siege by the Auror Corps. What would happen to the Order? What would He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named do in the meantime?
No, there were too many what-ifs. She could never do it. Not unless there was an emergency where there was clearly something to gain. She would just have to suffer through Umbridge's despotism with the rest of the school.
Nonetheless, it was a fantasy that brought a small smile to her face many times over the following weeks. And in the split second when she saw no fewer than four Stunning Spells flying towards her courtesy of overzealous Aurors, she really wished she had done it.
Minerva didn't put much stock in Divination, but she had a bad feeling about tonight. Albus was off on one of his mysterious missions that he still wasn't telling her about. He'd already nearly lost a hand on one of them, and he wouldn't tell anyone but Severus how or why. Just that it was one more piece of the plan—one more weapon against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named—or so she presumed. Sometimes, that man's tendency to keep secrets was infuriating. And worse, this time, he had taken Harry Potter with him—no explanation, just decreed it. The boy may be the Chosen One, but, Merlin help them, he was only sixteen. He wasn't qualified for a secret and dangerous mission.
But she trusted Albus, and if he said this was critical to winning the war, he was probably right. In the meantime, despite what Mr. Potter may think, Albus was concerned about shady goings on in the castle, which was why he brought in Bill Weasley, Remus Lupin, and Tonks to help her and Filius patrol the corridors on the night shift. Things were quiet so far, but Minerva was on high alert. Maybe it was her feline sixth sense showing through, or maybe it was just her nerves getting to her, but she had a feeling something very bad was about to happen at any minute.
The shoe dropped when three of her Gryffindors ran at her, Filius, and Remus, yelling, "Professor! Death Eaters!"
"In the castle!"
"The Room of Requirement," Ginny Weasley said more helpfully. "Harry told us to watch out for Malfoy there."
"Sounded like 'bout six of them," Longbottom added.
"They had Fred and George's Instant Darkness powder," Ronald said.
"Do you know where they went?" Remus asked.
"Sounded like the Astronomy Tower, maybe," Ronald answered.
"If there's no screaming down here yet, they're probably still up there," Ginny suggested.
"Right, I'll tell Bill and Tonks. Hurry," Remus told Minerva.
Minerva nodded and took off running, hoping it was the right direction. Unfortunately, her three students, two of whom were underage, ran right along with her. "I don't suppose you'd listen if I told you to stay out of this?" she said.
"Not a chance, Professor," Longbottom said.
She didn't try any harder. It was hard to believe this was the same boy she'd had in class for six years. "Is Miss Granger about?"
"She and Luna are trying to find Snape."
"No, he won't open for students at this hour," Filius said. "I'll go fetch him."
He split off just as she converged on the Astronomy Tower along with Remus, Tonks, and Bill. Sure enough, there were seven figures there in black robes. One ran up the stairs of the tower while the other six scattered and took up defencive positions. Curses started flying before she could blink.
How the blazes did they get in here? Minerva thought furiously. "Reducto!" Worry about that later.
It was seven on six, but the three students were as much a liability as an asset, since the adults needed to protect them. The Death Eaters were firing dark curses, too—Unforgivables and other nasty things that she didn't want to know about. The small band from Hogwarts was immediately put on the defencive, fighting for their lives, ducking behind corners and alcoves in the wall, and struggling to fight back.
A huge blond man Minerva recognised at once at Thorfinn Rowle, even with the mask. She didn't know any other blond men that tall. He seemed to be the ringleader of this little operation. He was certainly the strongest dueller; that was clear within seconds.
The three students proved their private training last year had paid off, as they were hitting hard and fast with Auror staples—Stunners, Reductor Curses, Cutting Curses, Impediment Jinxes, and so on. Longbottom, she noticed, was playing cautious, but the two youngest Weasleys were practically sitting ducks, out in the open and still managing to have everything serious miss them.
"Ron! Ginny! What're you doing?!" Bill demanded. "Get back here!" they backed up, but still put more effort into fighting the enemy than protecting themselves. Yet even with their foolhardy enthusiasm, they were barely hanging on. For a moment, things were looking up when the Death Eater who had run up the Astronomy Tower reemerged at the same moment Remus ducked a Killing Curse from Rowle. It sailed over his head and struck the other Death Eater dead in the face. But then, a snarling, thickset Death Eater ripped off his mask to prove he wasn't a Death Eater at all. He was Fenrir Greyback. Minerva gasped as the werewolf charged forward, dodging curses with superhuman speed, and slammed into Bill.
"BILL!" his siblings yelled.
"NO!" Remus shouted, and he blasted Greyback away with a curse Minerva had never seen before, but Bill was down for the count, his face slashed to ribbons with perfectly human teeth and nails.
"Back up! Back up!" Minerva yelled, but it was lost in the fray. A brutal looking man hurled an Entrail-Expelling Curse at her amid a hail of lesser curses. She dodged that one and managed to shield the rest before attempting to transfigure his robes into a mummy's wrappings (a good opening move if they'd forgotten to block it), and when that failed, opted for a curse that made four parallel slashes like a lion's claws, to some effect.
Ginny Weasley was literally dancing between the curses and firing off her own with pinpoint accuracy. Minerva knew the girl wasn't that good. Either she and her brother had somehow become a lot better, or she was missing something. She tried once again to tell her and Ronald to be sensible, but they didn't seem to be listening.
Suddenly, Longbottom yelled, "Malfoy!". Minerva hadn't seen it, but she guessed Malfoy must have run up the stairs because that was where Longbottom went. However, when he reached the doorway, there was a flash of light, a sound like a gong, and Longbottom flew head over heels through the air to slam against the far wall where he slumped to the floor and lay still.
"Neville!" Ronald yelled.
"What was that?" said Ginny.
"Some kind of barrier," Remus said. "See if you can do anything with it. I'll cover you."
Remus and Minerva tried the limited cursebreaking techniques they knew, but none of them had any effect besides making a shimmering barrier light up at the entrance of the Tower. But evidently, it worried the Death Eaters because one of them hissed, "They're on to us! What's taking so long?" It was a female voice. Minerva couldn't place it, but to her surprise, it wasn't Bellatrix Lestrange.
"Go up and check!" Rowle growled. "DEPULSO!" Rowle fired one of the most powerful Banishing Charms Minerva had ever seen. Everyone was thrown back down the corridor. When they climbed to their feet and looked again, the hallway was empty. Evidently, the Death Eaters could pass through with no problem
"Hurry! They'll be cornered up there," Minerva said. They approached the stairs, but had to stop when curses flew at them from their left. Rowle was still there, hiding around the corner.
"Out of my way!"
Minerva felt a rush of relief. It was Severus. Finally, someone who could fight the Death Eaters on their level. "They've blocked the stairs!" she yelled. "Reducto—REDUCTO!"
But Severus didn't stop to fight. Rowle was momentarily forced back far enough to leave an opening for him to get to the Tower, and he weaved through the battle with the skill of a snake and ran up the stairs. Remus tried to follow at once. He approached the stairs, coming in low, unlike Longbottom, and muttering a countercurse as he went, just in case, all to no avail. He was blasted backwards, sliding along the floor.
"Dammit!" Tonks said. "You okay, Remus?"
Remus groaned, "Been better."
"What kind of spell is that?"
"I don't know, but we have to get through it," Minerva asserted. She tried a few of her own spells on it, and with only Rowle to defend it, so did the others, but nothing seemed to work.
"What're they doing up there?"
"Where are the other teachers?"
"We need more backup!"
"We need to get up those stairs!"
"Of course! The suits of armour!" Minerva exclaimed. They could help fight and maybe crack through that barrier. Damn, I should've done this at the start, she thought. "Piertotum—"
Minerva was cut off as Rowle shouted a curse that was followed immediately by a deafening crash as half the ceiling in the corridor caved in, the archway of the stairs falling with it. The barrier shimmered and vanished. By coincidence, a moment later, Severus emerged from the stairs, dragging Malfoy by the arm. The defenders let them through to safety. Three of the four Death Eaters who had gone up followed next, and running after them was a dazed, but furious Harry Potter. He stood blinking into the dust-filled corridor for a couple of seconds before he petrified Greyback with lightning-fast wandwork and started running again. He stumbled, threw another Death Eater head over heels, and kept going—
Minerva was distracted by the "woman" attacking her, and she unleashed a string of nonverbal hexes that set her running with her tail between her legs. "Take that!" she yelled after her. When she next looked, Potter had shot Rowle in the face and was halfway down the corridor. "Wait! Wait, come back, Potter!" she called, but he ran off, unheeding, after heaven only knew what. She wasn't sure she'd ever seen the boy look that angry before.
She fired another curse at the enemy, but the opposition seemed to have evaporated. The Death Eaters ran off in the same direction Severus and Potter had gone. What had happened? Had Albus turned the tide? She wanted very much to find out, but she had to tend to their own wounded first. But at least this awful night was nearly over.
Little did she know it was actually about to get much, much worse.
The funny thing about living in occupied territory was that it gave you plenty of time to think—that is when you weren't trying to protect eleven-year-old children from being Cruciated in their own school—or trying to actually teach. (Even under the Dark Lord's rule, many of her charges would eventually need jobs.) But still, Minerva McGonagall had time to think about important things—things like mortality, man's inhumanity to man, how future history would play out if the Dark Lord really and truly won, and whether there was any viable way out of this mess—ideally one that involved using that spell just once before she was Avada Kedavra-ed.
If she animated the statues and enlisted the other teachers to help, she was sure she could throw out the Terrible Twins (who sadly weren't the Weasleys this time), all of the junior Death Eaters, and that murdering, bastard son of a pureblood bigot who somehow managed to hack his way through the wards into Albus's offi—Breathe, Minerva, breathe! she chided herself. You can't afford to lose your cool.
It was Snape who had killed Albus—the person Albus trusted most unquestioningly, for reasons that he took to his grave—reasons that turned out to be unfounded. It was Snape who now ruled Hogwarts with an iron fist—or rather let the Carrows do most of the work. It was Snape who demanded the "Dark Lord" be referred to as such, and, God and Merlin help her, she had to work for him.
Could she really make a difference if she fought back? Minerva probably had more physical resources at her disposal against the Death Eaters than anyone else right now. But what good would it do? Even if Hogwarts could withstand an army, which she wasn't sure about, they couldn't hold up under siege forever. It would all be useless unless they found some way to get rid of the Dark Lord once and for all—and for that, she had only the vaguest notion that Harry Potter was out there doing something.
And what would happen if the Death Eaters won? It was a question that had kept her up at night. Certainly, the young muggle-borns would just be killed—maybe turned into servants if they were lucky, but more likely just sent cursed letters instead of acceptance letters. Half a dozen murders of small children per year? That was small change to the Death Eaters.
In the absolute worst case she could think of, the Dark Lord would rule for a very long time. Albus had told her he had some form of immortality, though she never learnt the details. If Harry Potter and the rest of the Order died—she hardly dared think it—he would be virtually unassailable. If he ran the country openly like one of those Third World muggle dictators, perhaps the ICW would even recognise his regime in a few years. And what then? She knew the Dark Lord wanted to bring the muggles under his heel. He could only do that if he controlled enough of the magical world that he could flout the Statute of Secrecy with impunity. It might take him a hundred years, but if was sufficiently slow and meticulous about it, and if he really was immortal like Albus said—Minerva shuddered. She couldn't bring herself to imagine that scenario.
And as for the castle? It was no good. Cut off the castle, throw out the Death Eaters, and then what? The Dark Lord would send reinforcements until it fell. She would have to keep giving her job her all for the sake of her students. She couldn't endanger them more than they were already. Maybe over Christmas or Easter when the castle was empty, she could do something—if the opportunity presented itself. But for now, all she could do was wait.
Voldemort was here—and dammit, she was going to use the name for once. He had an army such as had not been seen in the magical world since Grindelwald's War. There were hags, vampires, werewolves (thankfully untransformed), Death Eaters by the hundred, and worst of all, giants. Albus was dead a year, and the Ministry was fallen nearly as long. This was the last stand of the Light.
Minerva McGonagall knew what to do—finally!
One by one, the stone statues and suits of armour that lined the castle sprang to life and jumped down to the floors with a thunderous crash.
"Hogwarts is threatened! Man the boundaries, protect us! Do your duty to our school!"
As the statues stomped out into the courtyard, Molly Weasley couldn't help but wonder if Minerva had gone a bit mad when she almost giggled and said, "I've always wanted to use that spell."