A/N – The title comes from the Sarah McLachlan song of the same name. Part Two will be up in the next few days. I hope you enjoy Part One!
Disclaimer – What part of "It's all J.K. Rowling's" don't you understand?
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Albus Dumbledore pulled the door to the Potters' house closed behind him and set off down the drive, Minerva McGonagall beside him. They had just come from visiting Lily and James and their young son, Harry. Sirius Black's voice drifted unintelligibly through the open window.
"I'm so happy for them," said Minerva after a few moments of walking in silence. "Though I am perhaps a bit envious. I've always wanted . . . " She trailed off. Albus put an arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. They walked on in silence again along the dark road.
A few minutes later, Albus said, not necessarily to his companion, "It's a pity that Harry has to begin his life under the threat of Voldemort."
"Mmm," said Minerva, lost in her own thoughts. They lapsed back into amicable silence for the rest of the way.
Minerva sat in her study the next day, reading, when an owl flew in through the open window and dropped a letter on her head. Startled, she dropped her book. The owl screeched disapprovingly.
"Sorry," she muttered, digging into her pocket. She tipped the owl, shooed it away, and opened the letter. She read it through once, then again. In a sudden movement filled with rage, she stepped across to her desk and slammed her fist down on her viewing crystal.
"Albus!" she barked, and his face flickered into view.
"Yes, Minerva?" he inquired.
"Albus, Voldemort has killed the McKinnons."
Albus came straight down to Minerva's study. By the time he got there, the rage had left her, leaving her shaking with grief.
"Andrew and Christa, Albus! They were my friends years ago. They were two of the best wizards of modern times! He's picking off the most powerful witches and wizards – first the Bones, now the McKinnons, who next?"
Albus pulled her into a comforting embrace.
"I'm sorry, Minerva. But we're still alive, there is that."
Minerva wiped at her tears. "I almost wish I were dead."
Albus stiffened, and held her away from him, gripping her shoulders hard. "Don't say that, Minerva," he said forcefully. "Never say that."
With an effort, Minerva swallowed past the lump in her throat. "I didn't mean it. It's just that everything is so unstable these days – I never know, when I say goodbye to a person, if I'll ever see them alive again . . .
"Albus, I want you to know that, whatever happens, you'll always be my best friend. No one could ever, in this lifetime, take your place."
Albus allowed himself a small smile. "Minerva, I am a firm disbeliever in 'til death do us part.'"
Minerva finally smiled a bit. "Thank you, Albus. I feel a bit better now. But not completely."
"You'll never feel quite the same again. Once Voldemort is gone, nothing will be the same. There will be parts of us missing forever. Hopefully not literally," he added lightly.
"What makes you think Voldemort will go away?" Minerva said bitterly.
Albus let go of her and began to pace the length of her study, his hands clasped behind his back.
"There is a prophecy," he started, with the air of beginning a long speech. "Which foretells the coming of a great Dark Lord, who will cast his shadow over England for many years. The prophecy says that many will fall before him, it is assumed both literally, in death, and figuratively, once good people joining forces with him. I'm afraid we've seen too much of both in these last years.
"At any rate, the prophecy tells us that the Dark Lord will reign for many years before his downfall – "
"That's encouraging," Minerva said dryly.
"Yes, well, as you know, no prophecy is carved in stone. The future is changeable. And I see no reason why we shouldn't change it."
"Albus, are you saying – "
"Perhaps . . . " he mused. "But I do not know. I admit I do not know what to do. The prophecy tells of a sacrifice on the side of the Light, which will bring down the Dark, but -"
"Albus, you're not thinking – "
"Yes, " he said slowly. "Yes, perhaps I am."
The weeks passed, and more members of the wizarding community fell before Lord Voldemort. Albus was growing restless, sitting at Hogwarts and watching the Dark Lord wreak havoc on the rest of the wizarding world. Minerva had never seen him like this before. She watched him dubiously as he paced like a caged lion.
"Albus!" she said sharply. He drew up sharp and met her eyes with his glittering, intense blue ones. "Albus, what is bothering you so much?"
"What is bothering me, Minerva?" He resumed his pacing. "Only the fact that Voldemort is taking over the wizarding world while I sit here and do nothing."
"You are not doing nothing. You are protecting innocent lives, Albus! Do you remember that? Does that not matter anymore?"
"Of course it matters, Minerva; I didn't mean to imply that it didn't. But someone else could run Hogwarts, and protect those innocent lives while – "
"Not just anyone could keep Hogwarts safe," Minerva interrupted.
Minerva shook her head. "No. You are the only person Voldemort fears, Albus. Without you Hogwarts is as good as gone."
It was Albus' turn to shake his head. "Not true, Minerva. There are enough enchantments on Hogwarts to keep it safe under the guidance of a powerful witch or wizard."
"And what would you do?"
Albus sighed. "I am not sure. I already have a network of spies; we certainly don't need another. But I've been thinking of that prophecy, and of another I read, about a duel between proponents of the Light and the Dark."
Cold fingers of fear crept down Minerva's spine.
"No," she whispered.
Albus stopped and looked at her.
"Albus, don't. Please don't."
"I have to, Minerva. Even if I am killed in the process, I have to do this."
Minerva sank into a chair and drew her knees up close to her body, wrapping her arms around them. "I just don't want to lose you," she whispered.
"Rest assured, Minerva, that I have no desire for you to lose me."
Minerva smiled, then sighed. "You do have a remarkable talent for making one smile in the most unlikely circumstances."
Then next day they began planning their course of action. It was decided that Minerva would go out into the world to gather information, and Albus would track down Voldemort and run him to ground, challenging him or driving him from England if all else failed. This was discussed with various members of their spy network, the remaining Hogwarts teachers, Madam Pomfrey's husband Peter, who was a Hit Wizard for the Ministry, and several Aurors including Albus' close friend and Minerva's former romantic attachment, Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody. The plan was, at last, agreed to, but unfortunately there seemed to be a leak of information, and Minerva was worried that Voldemort would attack Hogwarts before Albus could go after him. Albus tried to put her fears to rest, and moved the time of his departure to the very next day.
Late the night before they were scheduled to leave, Minerva and Albus sat in Albus' bedroom. They had been having a very serious discussion about the possibility of having a traitor in their midst. The conversation had not taken them very far. They had both intimated suspicions of various people, had argued and given reasons and attempted to explain hunches, and had not come to an agreement.
"There's just not enough evidence," Albus had finally said wearily. Minerva nodded disconsolately and sighed, dropping her head into her hands.
"I'm frightened, Albus," she whispered. "I think he might come tonight. I don't know why, but I do." She felt Albus move closer to her, and next second, he wrapped his arms around her, and held her until her trembling faded. She sat, safe, and listened to the beating of his heart until the candles guttered out and left them in darkness.
"Albus, can I stay here tonight?"
He released her, and she relit the candles. The two of them studied each other in the low light.
"Get some sleep," Albus said gently. "I'll stay up and keep watch."
"Albus - You need it more than I do."
But he insisted, and she was exhausted, so, after making him promise that he would wake her in four hours, she crawled fully clothed under his blankets, setting her glasses on his bedside table.
"Don't worry," Albus said softly. "Sleep well."
She was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
She slept the deep sleep of the truly exhausted, but it was not too deep for dreams. Dream-images floated through her mind; images of what life might be like after the downfall of the Dark Lord. Some were terrifying, others pleasing. The images dissolved as Minerva slipped into a sleep too deep for dreams, a realm where nothing but vague shapes, sounds and colours could haunt her.
Albus sat next to the bed, watching her sleep. His mind wandered over various topics, none of them pleasant. He wondered what might happen if Voldemort did attack the school that night. He looked at Minerva again and felt real fear for one of the first times in his life.
She turned over in her sleep, now dreaming of a time before the Dark Lord's reign; a time before he had threatened everyone she had ever loved, everything she had ever known. . .
"Minerva," Albus whispered, shaking her gently. "Minerva, wake up."
She sat upright, and the both the blankets and his hand fell away.
"Has it been four hours?" she said thickly.
"Would I have woken you otherwise?"
"Thank you for waking me, Albus. Now it's your turn to sleep."
He gratefully took her place between the sheets. She put her glasses back on, removed his from his nose, and pulled the blankets up around his shoulders. The tips of her fingers ran through his hair, and he sighed, relaxing under her touch. She stroked his hair, to calm herself as much as him, and he was asleep within five minutes.
Minerva let her fingers come to rest against the side of his head, and looked down at the face of her dearest friend. In the absence of all other noise, the sound of his breathing seemed to fill the room. What would life be like without Albus? Minerva wondered. Oh, God, if I lose him . . .
On impulse, or perhaps in desperation, she got down on her knees beside the bed and turned her face to the ceiling, her eyes closed.
"I've never prayed before, but here goes . . . "
Please God, if you're out there, please hear this. Please be with Albus tomorrow and forever, and keep him safe even when he faces the Dark Lord. I don't think I could stand it if I lost him, too.
She opened her eyes abruptly; she thought she had heard something. Fear crowding her brain, she got up off her knees. Wrapping her arms around herself, she sat down on the edge of the bed and watched Albus'chest rise and fall in a steady rhythm as he slept. Her ears were tuned to the smallest noise, the slightest sign that Hogwarts was under attack.
But all was quiet except for the soft hooting of an owl outside. Presently even that faded away, and Minerva thought.
She thought about how Albus would need every ounce of his considerable powers to face Voldemort. She thought about how she would feel if she lost him who was her best friend in all the world. She wished he did not have to face Voldemort alone; Voldemort was bound to have his supporters around him for protection, while Albus would be entirely alone.
But did he have to be?
The words of an incantation were floating through her mind. Her boyfriend had taught it to her in their seventh year as students at Hogwarts. It was used to transfer magical powers from one person to another. Minerva's boyfriend had wanted her to relinquish her powers to him. But that's another story.
Would she use it to help Albus in his quest against Voldemort? Several years back she had read up on the spell and discovered a variation to it that could be used to only transfer a portion of the donor's magical powers. It was a difficult question that was really no question at all.
Minerva took a deep breath. She rolled up her sleeves and placed her hands gently on Albus' forehead. He did not stir.
"Ego ipse largiri meus valere ad aliquis," she said.
Instantly she felt a strange sensation, both terrible and wonderful, of energy flowing out of her hands into Albus. It seemed to last for an eternity. Minerva felt herself growing weaker and weaker, and finally all her strength left her, and she collapsed forward onto the bed as she lost consciousness.
She woke shortly before dawn. Albus was still asleep. Minerva got up and tested her legs carefully. Everything seemed to be in working order, so why did she feel so weak? She remembered with a start and snatched up her wand, panic clutching at her.
What have I done?
She soon found that while she could turn a book into a pair of glasses, she could not manage her Animagi transformation or conjure large items from thin air.
"Oh, what have I done?" she cried, and lay down on the edge of the bed, tears leaking out onto the blanket.
Albus woke to the sound of her sobs. He opened his eyes, staring up at the ceiling for a moment, then sat up. Minerva lay beside him in tears. He laid a hand on her shoulder and helped her to a sitting position.
"Minerva! What is it?"
She could only shake her head, scattering salty tears.
"What's wrong? Tell me," Albus commanded.
"Oh, Albus, it's nothing," she lied. "Just stress, and I'm so frightened."
"What happened?" Albus demanded.
"Nothing," she lied again. "I - I thought I heard something, and then I starting thinking about what life would be like if I lost you, and that got me thinking about all my friends who have been killed."
Looking not entirely convinced, Albus nodded. "There was no sign of Voldemort?"
"None at all."
He sighed. "We'd best get moving, then."
They were to part at King's Cross Station. Albus was continuing on the train, and Minerva was staying in London in order to attend a meeting with the Minister of Magic. They stood on Platform Eight a few minutes before Albus' train left.
"I'd better go get a seat," he said softly.
Minerva turned to face him.
"Albus, don't go," she said suddenly. "Come with me to the meeting, and then we'll go together."
He shook his head. "Don't make this harder for me, Minerva."
She started to say something else, but stopped.
"Well, good luck, Albus," she said after a moment of poignant silence. "I'll be thinking of you."
"And I you." She nodded, and he leant forward to kiss her on the cheek. She closed her eyes, and he was gone.
"Godspeed, Albus," she whispered, opening her eyes and watching his train puff away around the bend.
Minerva had most of the day to simply hang around London. She spent a good deal of it at the library in Diagon Alley, reading up on the Dark Arts. Towards closing time, she came across the spell she had used the previous night. Reading avidly, she found that in time some of the powers she had given to Albus would return, but she would never be at full power again, unless . . .
There was a way her powers could be returned to her, the book said. If the person who had received the power kissed the donor with real love, the donor's powers would be returned. Otherwise there was no chance of full replenishment; not even phoenix tears would have much of an effect.
It was worth it, she told herself firmly, and set off for her meeting with the Ministry.
Edgar Prewett greeted her with bad news.
"Have you heard the latest?" he asked her solemnly.
"No; what has he done?" Minerva dreaded what the answer might be, but when it came, it was not what she had expected.
"He's waylaid a train on its way to France. Engineer and crew all killed. We're not sure yet about the passengers. All Muggles; we think he was just trying to display his power."
Horror struck Minerva like a death knell. She wanted to scream the name of her friend into the night; she wanted to break down and sob like a child, but all she did was whisper, "No."
"What is it?" Edgar asked concernedly, but Minerva could not seem to answer him. He seized her shoulder.
"Minerva, what is wrong?" he said urgently. "If you tell me what it is, we can do our best to fix it! Tell me, Minerva!"
Minerva could barely hear him over the pounding in her ears. Her breath was coming in short, painful gasps.
"Albus," she gasped, "Albus is on that train. He was going after Voldemort – "
Edgar Prewett did not wait for her to finish. He gathered together a small band of Hit Wizards (including Peter Pomfrey) and Aurors as fast as he could, which basically meant calling on those who happened to be at the Ministry offices at the time, and they flew off on broomsticks.
Never in her life had Minerva more wished to Apparate, but it was impossible, because no one knew exactly where Voldemort and his gang of Dark wizards were, and at any rate, she had not the power to do it. So they flew. She knew that it could not be long until the reached the spot where Albus' train had been waylaid, because otherwise Edgar Prewett would not have had the news so soon. And sure enough, within the hour, they spotted the stopped train, off the tracks in a deserted stretch of woods.
Minerva pointed her broomstick down and dove, leaving the Ministry group behind. She hit the ground running and fairly flew over to the train. There were Muggles everywhere, held captive by agents of Lord Voldemort. As Minerva watched, a flash of green light from a Dark wizard's wand killed one man who was trying to escape. Children were screaming; the smoke drifting through the air stung her lungs. A group of Muggles was blocking her path, but she drew her wand and scattered them, screaming and crying, in all directions. She leapt off the train and ran into the forest. The Ministry wizards were nowhere to be seen. She thought she could hear vague noises, and she headed toward them. A moment later she paused to listen, and a familiar voice reached her ears.
"My dear Voldemort . . . necessary . . . all these Muggles . . . "
"Albus," she whispered, and stealthily crept closer. Finally she could see Albus. He was standing in a clearing surrounded by a small band of Dark wizards, facing off Voldemort. Before anyone could do anything, Minerva saw the Ministry agents approaching from above, Edgar Prewett in the lead, her friend Peter somewhere in the middle. From where they hovered, they could not see the Dark wizards gathered under him, ready to slay them if they landed, but Minerva could.
"No!" she screamed.
And all hell broke loose.
Albus shouted, "Minerva!" and lunged towards her; the Dark Lord took advantage of this and sent a deadly spell at him; he whirled and blocked it, countering with a spell of his own. Four Ministry agents were killed before they hit the ground, Edgar Prewett among them, and in turn the Ministry took out two of the Dark army. Minerva flung herself into the fray, battling for all she was worth, taking no heed of how much effort it took to cast every spell. Finally even a simple curse was too much for her, and she threw herself on the Dark wizard she was fighting, catching him by surprise. They tumbled to the hard ground, and Minerva felt his neck break.
In the midst of it all, Voldemort and Albus fought a battle as deadly as the one going on around them. But neither one gave an inch to the other, no matter how clever the gambit.
Together Minerva and Peter took out nearly as many Dark wizards as all the other Ministry agents combined. Several had fled. There were only a few left that were alive and conscious. Peter Stunned two of them, nearly sacrificing his life, and Minerva, with her last reserves of strength and some help from her friend, captured the last one. Gasping for breath, she turned to look for Peter. He was leaning against a tree, out of breath and holding his arm, which was bleeding profusely from somewhere above the elbow. Just then Albus, a few yards away, cast a spell at Voldemort. Voldemort doubled up, reeling away from the purple light that shot from Albus' wand. He straightened up, fury on his face, and said, "You've beaten me this time, Albus Dumbledore, but I know your greatest weakness now." And with that he disappeared before Albus could do anything.
Minerva collapsed to the ground as soon as he was gone. She could barely breathe, and hadn't the strength even to support her own weight. Albus dropped to his knees beside her.
"Minerva," he said hoarsely. "Are you injured?"
"No," she whispered. "You?"
"No, I'm fine, but – "
"Good," she said, and lost consciousness completely.