DISCLAIMER: Harry Potter, all the characters, and the world they inhabit are the property of J.K. Rowling.

Carefully she placed her wand in its pine box, and began to disrobe, her tartan cape falling from her shoulders and then rising into the air to settle itself onto a marble bust in the corner of her sitting room. Her severe schoolteacher robe and shoes, once discarded, similarly flew through the air to arrange themselves neatly in her wardrobe. Even as she reached behind her bedroom door for her dressing gown her hair was unraveling itself from its tight bun to fall softly around her shoulders. She was too tired tonight to observe any of the usual proprieties about using 'household' magic - she just wanted a cup of tea, and then to fall straight into bed. Potter and that wretched Marietta child had been safely seen to their dorms, and there was nothing else she could do tonight - even though her mind was screaming for action.

Drat. The house elves had found it and had taken it away to be cleaned. She never understood why the creatures bothered - it took her only a moment's thought to have the robe as clean as on the day her mother had made it. Albus had often laughed at her - gently - that she refused to buy another robe, but he never knew that it was the last gift her mother had given her.

Albus. She thumped down onto her bed, all thoughts of tea and dressing gowns forgotten. He was gone, she didn't know where, or when she would see him, or how to help him; for the first time in their decades-long partnership, she truly felt alone. And scared. She now had a school to run, students to protect, and she was - well, she was no Albus Dumbledore. A very good witch, yes, certainly that, highly skilled and highly capable, but in these times, Hogwarts needed much more.

"Minerva?"

She almost thought she had imagined his voice, but it only took a fraction of a second before she realised that he was truly there, and her body was moving towards the sitting room well before that.

He was standing in the middle of the room, gazing gently at the absurd kitten figurine that he had given her for last Halloween. She hated the thing - it was a ridiculously sentimentalised version of a feline, and she had always felt that cats deserved to be treated with much more dignity.

He replaced it carefully back in the middle of her coffee table, turned to face her - and stopped. "My dear, I can wait a few minutes more, should you care to change."

She quickly realised what he meant and dashed back into her bedroom with an involuntary yelp. Quickly grabbing the first item of clothing she could find - a deep green robe that she hadn't worn in years - she pulled it quickly over her head. She was still tying the belt as she walked back into the sitting room.

Dumbledore had seated himself on one of the overstuffed chairs and in the fireplace the kettle was beginning to steam.

"Albus, what are we going to do?" she burst out. She waved her hand and behind her the tea things began to clatter. "That Umbridge woman has destroyed everything we've worked for here at Hogwarts. You've been banished, and Fudge, through her, will ensure that no student here will survive what is coming." She fell into the chair opposite.

"She's already destroyed the Dark Arts curriculum; she's taken any semblance of authority away from the teachers, and soon she'll be dictating what we teach as well. As soon as she and Fudge can come up with 'acceptable' replacements, we shall all be dismissed, not just Trelawney and Hagrid, but all of us! And then what of the students? What will be taught to them? Who will protect them when He-Who - when Voldemort begins his work?"

There was no twinkle in Dumbledore's eyes as she finished her tirade. He reached over and gently patted her knee. She surprised both of them when she grabbed his hand and held it tightly. His fingers curled around hers for a moment, then both let go.

"All I can promise you, Minerva, is that it will not be for long. You forget one thing; Cornelius Fudge is not a bad man."

She snorted.

He smiled gently. "He is not, Minerva. He simply does not wish to believe that Voldemort is truly back among us. As soon as Voldemort makes his first public move, that protective disbelief will be forced to vanish. At that point, I will be called back to Hogwarts."

She could not fault his reasoning.

"And it will be soon, Minerva. All the signs point to it." He sighed, and one of the teacups flew across the room to his hand, not spilling a drop. A second cup quickly drifted towards McGonagall, hovering invitingly near her. "It is not as bad as it all seems right now, my dear. What happened tonight was unexpected, but it could be for the best."

"How so?" she snapped. "Those children, forming 'Dumbledore's Army'! Of all the half-witted ideas to come up with. I thought Potter had more sense! As for Miss Granger being part of it, well."

"And you love them all the more for it." She looked sharply at him, ready to rebut the accusation, but the familiar twinkle had returned, and she found she could not say anything that would threaten to take it away. It had been so rarely seen in his eyes ever since the Triwizard Tournament. She took a sip of the tea instead.

"I will be able to move around with impunity; something I could not do as the Headmaster of Hogwarts. I will be able to gain far more information about what Voldemort is doing then I currently have through intermediaries. This situation is not what I hoped for, but I think it could prove extremely useful for the Order."

"Where will you live?"

"I have a few hidey-holes that Fawkes has helped me find through the years - and, luckily, phoenix magic is of a higher order than any we can teach here." He drained his cup and it levitated back to the table. "Rest assured, my dear, I will be safe - and able to check up on things with Hogwarts while my 'banishment' lasts." He rose.

Her stomach fell as she realised he was preparing to leave. She stood, and walked with him to the window.

"Minerva, I must ask you - to let the Umbridge woman do as she will here at Hogwarts."

"What? I will not!"

Now it was his turn to grab her hand. He drew her close to him. "The school must have one of us here to keep the students safe. Dolores Umbridge is only a sideshow to the greater issues we face. I would not ask you to go against your conscience in dealing with her, but do not attack her. I cannot have you banished as well."

She gave a grudging nod.

"I will not ask you to keep Harry and his friends safe, because there is no need for me to ask."

"They will all be safe, Albus. Ask it or not, I promise it." As their hands were still clasped, she squeezed his in confirmation.

He gave a soft laugh. "Always ready to war for your children, o fiery Scottish witch." His free hand came up and gently touched her loose hair. Stunned at the action, she spoke without thinking.

"And for you."

For a moment they stood there motionless, while the words swirled around them. Then they dropped their hands and she stepped back as he flung open the window. Fawkes flew in, and Dumbledore reached for the phoenix's tail - and vanished.

Minerva McGonagall closed her window, closed her eyes, and did something she had not done since she was a child just starting at Hogwarts - she silently prayed for all of them.