A/N: Much gratitude to everyone who has reviewed so far: Auri, auroraziazan, Bebop Valentine, Ice, Iniga, kateydidn't, LaurelRose, lelegurl9, Moonrose, R. Laurentiis, SugarCrazedFish (also Saerelle), Trinity Day, and Zetta. I'm really glad to know that you've all enjoyed and even more grateful for the tips, suggestions, criticism, etc., and also the opinions and insights into the canon and characterisations themselves.

I went through this chapter with a much more fine-toothed comb than I usually do (although I assure you that, despite my apparent load of mistakes, I do proofread through at least twice). However, if anyone has free time on your hands, feel free to take another chapter and beta the thing. You can copy and paste it directly or email me and I'll send you an rtx file, either-or, and it would be much appreciated.

In the last announcement, I've had some sketchy ideas for a sequel, probably entitled (not-so-originally) 'N.E.W.T.s'. Three guesses what it's about. And the discussion of Remus's parents during this fic led to a few more plotbunnies. (Bonnie, if you found 'Tacitus' so worthy of a groan, wait until you hear Mr Lupin's name.) So this little universe isn't quite dead yet.

Cheers and thanks again.


V - Potter, James; Wednesday, 1:30


To make no mistake about it, Minerva hardly hated James Potter quite as much as her sternness was about to suggest. She liked the boy. Everyone did. It was almost physically impossible not to, even for the students who had been on the receiving end of one of his hexes on a bad day. There was a small number of students who thought him too arrogant and bigheaded to live, let alone tolerate, and they were appalled that the staff, who had seen enough adolescences to know that boys like Potter often grew out of it to be respectable and constructive adults, didn't share their view. In fact, somehow, his childish silliness made him all the more endearing. Potter was hardly perfect. But he was certainly like - well, loveable.

There was also an element of pity involved. Potter's family had already suffered casualties in the war - in plural, no less, all of three attacks that killed eight Potters, and the Potters had never been actively involved in the war, especially not then.

His parents were sensible people, but they adored their last son and were as much under his spell as anyone. Perhaps they were a bit indulgent with him.

Minerva didn't intend to spoil him any more than he had already been. She congratulated herself on being impartial, even with him. But it was very difficult sometimes not to smile at some remark or prank - he had an extraordinary sense of humour. And it was even more difficult to dislike someone with such an aptitude for Transfiguration - no one in the year came close to matching him, no one in recent years, either.

Potter was destined to grow out of the curse of adolescence; the war, if nothing else, would ensure that.

Some of her rather harsh attitude toward him that day possibly also stemmed from her talk with Thornton. Minerva had always been vaguely aware of a rivalry between James Potter and Severus Snape, but she wasn't aware how serious it had been. She had watched Potter and Black carefully during their class that day, and realised that, indeed, the two of them spent an inordinate amount of time fantasising more ways to torment the Slytherin. Almost certainly Snape returned it for all it was worth, but it was certainly an uneven match.

And, well, Snivellus?

Potter was very nearly on time, erring just a bit on the side of tardiness, and perfectly unconcerned. He alone of all the students who had come to see her that year looked as though he cared not a whit how it went.

But then, that was the image Potter presented. Free-and-easy. He did walk rather arrogantly; perhaps there was a swagger in there. It was hard to tell, since, of course, he was toning it down when alone with a teacher. All his features rested very nicely on his face. His hair resembled nothing more than a dragon's nest - always untidy and windswept, something Potter, far from trying to suppress, seemed to encourage. It worked with the girls, after all. To Minerva it made him look like nothing more so than a clown - quite likely that was the allure of it, however.

''Afternoon, my dearest Professor McGonagall,' he said winningly.

'Good afternoon,' Minerva said immovably. 'Why don't you find a seat, Potter.'

Potter's eyes swept the space in front of her. 'You sure do give us a lot of choice in the matter, don't you!' he exclaimed. 'One seat. I'm offended.'

'Oh, I forgot,' Minerva said tartly. 'I'll find one for your ego, too, shall I?'

He looked rather taken aback. Certainly Minerva hadn't been falling over him the past four and a half years, but rarely did she speak this way - unless, of course, he had already done something, and he hadn't just yet.

'Oh wounds, splinters of pain, shooting through mysen like a swallowed broken wand!' Potter exclaimed dramatically, collapsing into the seat to match his theatrics. 'All from the tongue of a witch, sharpened to inconquerable wisdom and painful wit by age - '

'As impressed as I am by your quoting of Juviper, incorrectly, I might add,' Minerva interrupted, 'let's cast matters of my wise and witty tongue, not to mention my age, aside.'

He grinned at her as if to say, oh yes, it was a good one, Professor Mac, a really good one. 'Don't you like Juviper, Professor Mac? Everyone loves Ju - '

'That is Professor McGonagall,' Minerva said, trying to keep her voice even. 'Your career, Potter. What have you in mind?'

Potter rolled his eyes. 'Let's face it, Professor ma'am, there's a madman on the loose that likes to target outspoken, talented, not to mention handsome, Gryffindors. I'm going to die by the time I'm twenty.'

So there's where Pettigrew had gotten it from. 'He tends to only worry about Gryffindors who actively fight against him.'

'All right. I'm morbid and masochistic, why don't I actively fight against him?'

He was taking this entirely too flippantly. 'Why don't you tell me what you most want to do? There's very little you can't get into directly after Hogwarts, if your marks keep up, which I have little doubt they will, and thereon you can achieve just about anything. It's a matter of you choosing.'

Potter sniffled dramatically, holding a hand to his heart. 'I'm touched, Professor, honestly. However, if you remain coldhearted and cruel - '

'Potter,' she warned.

' - and continue to withdraw your hand - '

' - I truly have no desire to take points from Gryffindor - '

' - from me, I've decided the best route is to attempt to win your admiration, if not your affections, by honourably fighting the worst menace to the wizarding world, and if I perish bravely in the task, so much the better and more peaceful for my soul, mourning and deprived from the lack of your reciprocated love.' Finished with this bit - Potter, not Juviper - he looked up at her with soulful hazel eyes. Then he stage-whispered conspiratorially: 'Don't worry, Professor Mac - if you take away points, I'll win them back double for us.'

'You win witches from Quidditch, Potter. Fighting in the war' - there she went again! Her own students had added to her vocabulary - 'is not a dating service - or a way to win honour and glory - and if you die and have a body left for your family to weep over, then you're more fortunate than most of those who make the sacrifice.' She surveyed him. Potter had grown a little pale, but he was serious now, at least, and didn't seem wholly surprised to hear this. 'So what had you in mind, Potter? Auror, I suppose?'

He shook his head. 'Too much involvement with the Ministry, and the training's rather rigorous.'

'You could do it, I'm certain - '

But he cut in before she could refer to his records. 'Oh, probably, if I had the patience to wait three years. No, I've looked into something else - kite flyers.'

'Kite flyers,' she repeated. It figured, that Potter would find a way to combine his passion for flying with his natural chivalry. But it was an extremely dangerous occupation, which explained the constant need for people to deliver messages by flight, who would die before letting their message be intercepted. 'It's - quite precarious.' She found her throat was tight.

It figures, she fumed mentally. Thank goodness for Lily Evans! It seems all my other students of this year who had any noticeable amount of intellect won't be putting it to much use!

In truth, however, she merely hated the thought of seeing the boy in front of her subjected to the same horrendous curses a kite flyer just six months ago had been subjected to. The mercy of death had come very slowly, and the flyer had been in excruciating pain for three days until then.

'Most who volunteer only manage a few missions,' he said coolly, as if reading her mind. 'They aren't overly talented with a wand or a broom. I am. I think I'd last rather longer than them and would do some good that way.'

He did have a point, in spite of the utter lack of humility.

'Kite flyers are also aligned with the Ministry.'

'If I did the training - it's only two months - perhaps I could be of some use to Dumbledore.'

Minerva had to raise an eyebrow. 'This sounds familiar.'

Potter shrugged. 'We all want to do something - who in their right mind wouldn't?' Oh, you'd be surprised, Potter. 'And, well, I trust Dumbledore more than the Ministry. That probably sounds familiar too - Sirius and Remus were talking about it one day and that came up. They said pretty much the same thing.' He gave another of those young and cocky grins. 'I was studying, Professor. Couldn't join in the little chat. Transfiguration was ever so much more important.'

More to pass onto Dumbledore, who probably didn't need the vote of confidence - but, on the other hand, it could hardly hurt.

'Let's put the war effort aside for a moment,' she said gently. 'Certainly you still need to look at a potential career.'

He shrugged. 'Not really. Unlike Sirius, I don't have any objections to actually using my inheritance, and when the war bit is over and done with, I'd like to try flying professionally is all.'

'And if that fails?' she persisted. He looked appalled, and she scowled at him. 'There's such a thing as injuries.'

'I'll find something,' he shrugged. 'People do get jobs they weren't looking at when they took their O.W.L.s. I'll just do well on the standardised tests is all.'

Minerva had to admit that he would, indeed, probably do exceedingly well without any encouragement (or study) at all, and that very little was going to be closed to him. 'What classes are you looking at for advancement? You'll probably be able to pick and choose.'

Potter shrugged. 'I'll pick and choose after the O.W.L.s.'

Irritated, she frowned. 'Yes, well, that's just you all over, now isn't it, Potter.'

'Hmm?' He seemed genuinely startled, possibly because he was very simple and calm in his sceptism.

'Put it all off till tomorrow, disregard anything you dislike, and an opinion of yourself higher than you could ever fly on your beloved broom,' she returned coolly.

'Hey, it's an opinion that's only encouraged.' He was totally aware and totally unrepentant.

'Even Black put more thought into all of this than you did.'

'Did he?' Potter feigned horror and disgust. 'I wouldn't expect it of him. Mr Black and I shall have to have a long chat on such seriousness. It's very unbecoming.'

'On the contrary, it's more that he's beginning to consider the idea of growing up, and you're not.'

He was mildly stunned. Like with Black, however, the hit didn't last for very long.

She wanted to say a great deal of things, including but far from limited to his bravado, Severus Snape, the real conditions of the war… and the bit with 'Professor Mac'. But as she looked at him, and he looked back at her, too spiritually young to be nervous or afraid, she knew he would absorb nothing - not just yet. When would he be in the condition to listen? In a few years. Perhaps as soon as next month. Perhaps long after he had left Hogwarts behind.

In any case, his ears were deaf.

She sighed. 'That concludes things, Potter.'

'All things?' he asked in horror. 'What of you - and me - and - and us?'

'Go bother girls your own age, Potter,' Minerva snapped, and then wondered how much of a can of Flobberworms she had just opened. No, she reasoned, he had been interested enough in that long ago, jokingly and not-so-jokingly.

He grinned wolfishly. 'If you say so, then I shall attempt to bend my broken heart.' Potter departed with a mock bow and flourish that made Minerva suddenly very tired and glad she only had to speak with one more Gryffindor before it was all over for the year.

*

Minerva had stopped talking a while ago, and Dumbledore had kept the room in silence for quite a while now, staring at Fawkes.

'Phoenix,' he came out with, quite abruptly, and Minerva, who had been far away by that point, was brought back to the reality (or semi-reality) of the headmaster's office with a bump.

'What's that?'

'Phoenixes, who die - as everything eventually does - and are born again from their own remains. That is what we are looking for. An Order that recognises that Voldemort' - she flinched - 'has killed their old life but is willing to be born again, drawing in who they are in their old life into a new, harsher one, in the hopes of that dying again and being reborn. That's why,' he concluded with decision, 'it shall be called the Order of the Phoenix.'

Fawkes approved.

The name didn't much matter to Minerva. 'How many are interested?'

'Adding in our five students, whom, from what you tell me, will probably accept, and you and I, that makes a round twenty.'

Twenty witches and wizards against the combined forces of evil. It seemed a bit uneven.

'There will be more,' Dumbledore said with quiet certainty, and Minerva wondered if she was really so transparent. 'I'm not even so certain if that's a blessing - but yes, there will be more.' He glanced up from his intent gaze on Fawkes, shifting it to Minerva. 'My dear Professor McGonagall, you look tired.'

'I am fine, thanks.'

'Gryffindors are by nature tiring. It's our charm.' He was smiling at little at this, able to be amused.

'I must say,' Minerva replied, agreeing with some reluctance, as a woman who never liked to have anyone getting the better of her, 'that, valuable though it was, I've never enjoyed a group of career consultations less.'

End: sequels are a possibility; canon is the continuation