Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all canon characters and concepts contained herein are property J. K. Rowling.
Notes/Warnings: This story contains a professor/student relationship of a romantic nature; all those opposed to such subject matter would do well to hit the 'Back' button now, although I do intend to keep things as tasteful as I am able to.
Dedication: For Alchemine, one of the finest McGonagall writers in the fandom, who unwittingly planted this idea in my brain. I only hope she doesn't mind the result. ;)

For the Hearts You Break

I get all numb when she sings it's over,
Such a strange numb, and it brings my knees to the earth;
And God bless you all for the song you saved us.

You're the same numb when you sing it's over,
Such a strange numb, it could bring back peace to the earth;
So God bless you all for the song you saved us, oh,
For the hearts you break, every time you moan.

I get all numb, we're the same numb, and it brings our knees to the earth;
So God bless you all for the song you saved us, oh,
For the hearts you break, every time you moan, and God bless you all on the earth.

--The Deftones, "Minerva"

At times of war, we're all the losers;
There's no victory.
We shoot to kill and kill your lover;
Fine by me.
War child, victim of political pride;
Plant the seed, territorial greed;
Mind the war child.

The world was awash in grey, the silver clouds bleeding into the dark, mossy slate of the moors. Although early July, the weather held the chill of an overcast sky -- it was unseasonably cold, but quite seasonably Scottish.

Minerva McGonagall dried her hands on an old tartan tea towel as she peered out her kitchen window. In the distance, upon the hill nearest the bailey, a slouching figure of red and stone-washed blue trudged northwest toward a small field of heather. Her eyes softened, and the corners of her mouth tightened in a slight frown. It appeared that summer's sluggish routine forgot to snare no one in its loop. The boy had been here for a mere four days, and had spent each afternoon since his arrival walking the same path to the same spot amongst the heather, just to the left of the field's centre. There he would pause and stare for a few moments at his surroundings, lost, before dropping to his knees as if having decided to wait for someone to find him.

Today was no different.

He didn't, she supposed, actually want to be found -- at least, not yet. She had tried on the first day, with a gentle hand on his shoulder and an idle inquiry as to his want for a jumper or -- and she'd had an inkling of the question's hopelessness before she'd asked it -- to talk. He had politely declined both offers, of course, and as he always returned inside at dusk when she called him to supper, she tried to force herself not to worry overmuch. Even if he did only push his food around his plate in a respectful, albeit feigned, show of interest in eating.

She couldn't blame him. She felt almost guilty to urge him to please eat something, and had nearly swallowed her tongue along with the words at every meal. Still, if he didn't improve within the next day or two . . .

With any luck, she would be able to coax him inside a little earlier today. The scones were nearly done, a surreptitious encouragement on her part: a sweeter, smaller meal that would perhaps be more to his liking. And, she admitted to herself, a test of sorts, of whether or not he would take note of the extra effort she was making, and thus betray his awareness of the world around him. He would sit with her out of respect; if he recognised she had gone to such trouble, he would eat with her out of obligation.

He already has more than his share of 'obligations', she inwardly scolded herself, but the other half of her mind countered quickly, Then what's one more? And besides, it's to his own health; he would possess it regardless of . . . of other circumstances.

Replacing the tea towel neatly on its rack, Minerva staunchly derailed that particular train of thought from winding through her head. She couldn't think about such things, couldn't dwell too much on the irony of them. That road was lined with too many questions, all of which she knew from personal experience that even a half-century's searching couldn't answer.

Shaking her head to physically strengthen her resolve, with a gesture she floated a tray of slightly too-browned scones out of the oven.

"Oh, blast it," she muttered under her breath upon seeing their colour. Nor could a half-century of searching reveal to her the elusive 'perfect timing' required for most baked goods. Oh well. Grief tasted like ash and apathy; it seemed only fitting that her scones do the same.

Minerva faltered as she retrieved two small plates from the china closet. Ash . . . yes, that had been an especially bad joke.

She set down the plates with a great deal more noise than was necessary and again picked up the tea towel, telling herself that her eyes were stinging from the stirred dust alone as she fanned away as much of the burnt smell emanating from the oven as she could.

Her gaze flicked back to the window. He hadn't moved other than to open a bottle of butterbeer, one from the case young Mr Malfoy had had sent over the second he had learned where Potter was to be spending the summer holidays. "To keep you warm when the cold seeps in," the note accompanying the case had read. It might have been touching, had he not followed it with, "because it's pretty bloody obvious you don't spend your money on proper clothes, you stupid sod." But, Minerva knew, actions spoke louder than words. It was a very Gryffindor trait. No wonder Malfoy had neutralised it as best he could with a good dash of insult.

It had surprised no one more than themselves (with the exclusion, maybe, of everyone who wasn't Albus, though Minerva had her suspicions that the twinkle in his eye when she had commented upon it had in fact been shock or, at the very least, mild surprise) when they'd realised that, over the course of six years and innumerable snide remarks, dastardly hexes and general immaturity, Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy had become friends. Not best friends, no, certainly not; to say they were close friends was even stretching it a little. The revelation hadn't happened cut-and-dry out of the blue. It had taken a good portion of their sixth year at Hogwarts for them to finally resolve most of their differences. Malfoy's father had played a large role in that, Minerva was certain, although how . . .

One thing she did know: a person never left Azkaban prison the same as they'd gone in, even with the absence of the Dementors. Lucius Malfoy had changed. In what ways, she didn't know, nor did she care to know, but that he had was an unavoidable fact, and whatever he had changed into it must not have sat well with Draco. For that, Minerva was sorry. Draco Malfoy was a snotty little . . . lad, but she didn't begrudge him the loss of his father. Approved of it, yes, emphatically, but there was a difference between wishful thinking and thinking something for the best. It was for the best that Draco had at last opened up to influences outside those of his family, and of those his family tyrannised into agreeing with them. It was amazing, what spite could accomplish. There were times it seemed to cross more boundaries than love.

But not sorrow. Spite could be an afterthought of sorrow, a discant, a byproduct, but never could it transcend into sorrow having previously existed. Love with sorrow remained love, but spite with sorrow morphed into regret.

The hatefulness between Potter and Malfoy had morphed with the death of Ginevra Weasley.

History was quite possibly the most witless entity Minerva had ever come across. It never learned from its mistakes. Her contempt for it had begun during her own time as a student at Hogwarts -- the subject had nearly cost her becoming Head Girl, and had been the most difficult NEWT she had ever earned. Her mind was warped, she used to pun, due to her natural aptitude for Transfiguration. How was she meant to excel in a subject of such limitless monotony when everything within her required evolution, change? Despite all priggish pretences that seemed part and parcel with a penchant for academia, it was the chaos of the world that she thrived upon. Anyone who had ever met her on the Quidditch pitch some fifty-odd years ago could have attested that her name denoted warrior as much as it did wisdom -- her right arm was still a fair bit stronger than her left, despite it having been decades since she had last picked up a Beater's bat.

While the heavy historical tomes to be found in the school library told of many wars, their transcribers bore witness to the fact that there had been little growth in wisdom throughout the ages. Generals utilised the same stratagems over and over again, learning not the devices of peace but retaining only the ideas and 'advancements' that ensured each successive battle would be bloodier and more horrific than the last. No, Minerva McGonagall possessed a definite lack of respect for history; she couldn't bring herself to take a thorough interest in something that couldn't even respect itself.

She couldn't bring herself to do much more than loathe it as, out in the heather field, a sixteen-year-old veteran nursed his bottle of childish drink, his eyes downcast as he relived for the thousandth time the most recent moments in which history had repeated itself, in which the only knowledge he had come away with had been how to lose.

Even that, in a way, was a mere reiteration of time. He'd been practicing loss since he'd been aged one.

For the second time, Harry Potter had found himself pitted against his enemy alone, save the wounded company of his best friend's younger sister. For the second time, after two had vanished only one had returned alive and, true to every redheaded cliché, her hair had gleamed like fire, with fire, until her chapter in this second war had tapered from present-tense into past. Potter had yet to discuss in full detail what had happened beyond the veil, where he had followed his ladylove and his nemesis, but this time . . . this time he had not brought back a body.

Nothing, in any case, that could be considered a body.

He had been inconsolable for many hours, wandering the halls between hysteria and catatonia. Occasionally one could make out a word woven into the wails. "Pyre," in a vibrato, with a furious shake of his head; "Ginny," "no," and "don't!" as he buried his face in his scorched hands, curled up foetal in his bed at St Mungo's. His shoulders would tremble, and Albus had mentioned with great sadness that he wasn't entirely sure the boy had been crying. Minerva remembered Sirius Black, and the witnesses to his capture's reports of his maniacal laughter, the madness of factual innocence and personal guilt. And when it had stopped, when they had put him in that place ("In his place," Severus had grimly quipped). . .

There were bars behind Potter's dulled green eyes, an internal Azkaban warded by dementia. Some things could swallow a person's soul without aid of a kiss, although Minerva was quite certain Ginny Weasley's lips had branded the boy's fate to hurt that much deeper before he'd ever dived to save her. He'd been raised with humiliation, humility, but perhaps his sin of choice was pride -- he seemed to do so many things in vain.

She arranged the scones on a plate bordered with hand-painted forget-me-nots.

It had been Alastor Moody, strangely enough, who had suggested Potter spend his summer holidays with Hogwarts' Transfiguration mistress. The decision had been made in a roundabout fashion that had left Minerva barely realising what she had agreed to before the arrangements had been all but set in stone. It was inconceivable that the boy be made to spend even one minute in the company of his atrocious Muggle relatives while in his current frame of mind, and the Weasleys were too much in mourning themselves to do anything more than hinder what healing could be got, despite Molly and Arthur's lachrymose volunteering of their home. No, the Burrow would be far too thick with unpleasant and possibly violent emotions. The Weasleys had lost a daughter, a sister, and no matter the amount of charity they had shown Potter in the past, the surrogate family they had attempted to be for him, Ginny's death threw into stark relief the fact that he was not one of their own, to speak nothing of the guilt Potter himself would surely drown in, surrounded day after day by those who loved the girl most. It would be too taxing for all involved.

Alastor had, naturally, offered his own house, but that idea had been rebuked almost as quickly as the Weasleys' had. The aging Auror's definition of 'safety' rarely coincided with that of 'stability', and paranoia, Albus had gently pointed out to his old friend, was not the direction in which they wanted to push the boy. Albus himself, as much as he dearly wished to help the child in any way he could, could not in good conscience take him in. Potter needed somebody who could be there to protect him, which, Albus admitted with a lowered gaze, he had shown more than once in the past that he could not always do.

No one had mentioned Remus Lupin's name.

"So," said Moody gruffly, ticking off requirements with his gnarled fingers, "we need someone strong enough to stand a chance against a Dark wizard, someone the boy knows well enough to take comfort in his or her presence, and whose summer months can be for the most part spent at home, without the anxiety of professional obligations."

The assembled members of the Order had all been staring at her before Alastor had even concluded his list. Automatically Minerva had opened her mouth to protest, but only a small, choked sound found its way past her throat. There was no arguing her qualifications. She was a skilled witch, a teacher accustomed to dealing with children, Potter's Head of House, and with nothing and no one placing constraints on her time outside of Hogwarts and the Order, which had apparently just delivered her assignment for the next two months. The boy had fought for his life for the fifth time, had lost a close friend, was injured, in shock -- how could she possibly deny him anything, let alone in the name of her own privacy and comparitive leisure? She could not be so selfish.

After a beat, she had agreed.

Potter hadn't seemed to mind, when Albus informed him.

Rather, he hadn't seemed to care, not until he had actually set foot within McGonagall Màrrach. Then, at least, he'd recognised who he was staying with, and what that might entail. His knowing precisely where he was was fairly inconsequential, as there were only a handful of souls who could know. Albus had seen to that. The modest castle -- more akin to a glorified keep, really -- nestled just outside of Dundee had never been so thoroughly and formidably guarded in all the centuries of its existence. It had always been Unplottable, as the majority of wizarding homes tended to be, but now to say it was repellant would have been an understatement of the highest degree. Both the lonely stone structure and its grounds were all but suffocated in wards and charms, a vicious briar of magic whose knots were so dense and tightly wound they were nearly tangles.

Albus Dumbledore had been an old man when she had first known him, when he had held her current position at Hogwarts and Minerva herself had been his pupil, but even she had had no idea that his years could reach so far. Magic flows along a different current in time than that of human life; Dumbledore, having lived so long as to be able to dip his fingertips into that second stream and not be swept away, could beckon forth a wisp of something ancient. He had not cast these wards; he had grown them. The ethereal thorns that now guarded Minerva's ancestral home had sprung up from the very earth without aid of wand or words, and coiled around her castle like ropes strung up to fell a colossus. It was the stuff of fairytales -- myths that, stripped of their romantic lies, were frightening, raw. A reminder that legend is not legend, not respected, without cause.

Partial Anti-Apparation and Portkey spells were the least of the security measures taken. One could Apparate or Portkey out of the keep and its grounds, in the interest of expedient escape, and within them as one pleased, for evasion, but the only way to enter onto McGonagall property was the old fashioned way: by foot, and even then there was no guarantee that access could be gained without the appropriate charms and encryptions. The flues had been closed off from the Floo Network for all but communication purposes, which only a handful of other fireplaces had access to. Dumbledore had arranged for whatever necessities they required to be delivered by owl post. Potter himself had had the presence of mind enough to disallow the final precaution his elders had deliberated for some days before mentioning it to him: there would be no Fidelius Charm placed upon their whereabouts.

That, at least, seemed hopeful. That he was willing to bury himself only so deep, for only so long, showed a level of responsibility and bravery Minerva continually found herself taken aback by, that a teenaged boy could possess such strength of character. She reminded herself of the fact often. A shallow grave was far easier to climb out of than a proper one; Potter, for all his present dysphoria, did not intend himself to die. Considering all the boy had been through in his young life, that was admirable indeed. God knew she wouldn't have been able to handle the sorts of things he'd faced and survived at that age. She wasn't at all certain she could have handled them at sixty, let alone sixteen. Oh, the battles, she could have weathered those; battles were the simple part . . . but the aftermaths, the breaths drawn between the screams . . .

Shaking off her macabre reflections, Minerva pushed open the kitchen window before pointing her wand at her throat.

"Sonorus," she murmured, then spoke softly so that her voice projected as nothing more than a distant call along the wind, "Potter, tea."

The boy inclined his head toward the keep and, after a moment, nodded once, then got to his feet.


Minerva set the kitchen table.

Potter always paused when entering the tower as if he were stepping foot in it for the first time. His eyes would scan the room without criticism, but perhaps with a little surprise at the normalcy of it. Or the strangeness of it, considering his experience with homes of a magical nature was limited to the Burrow and Grimmauld Place, neither of which could really be labelled 'standard', even for wizarding folk. Not that owning one's own medieval castle was exactly normal, but outward appearances aside, it was far less ornate than the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black, and far more . . . far less cluttered than the Weasleys' Burrow. There were heirlooms, certainly, some worth a great deal of money -- Minerva herself was quite a few generations from poverty -- but the family had gone to no greater lengths to illustrate their wealth than a customary One Fine Thing per descendent, for posterity. The keep was simple. At times she thought to describe it as 'sophisticated' or, if one discounted the busy tartan of some of the furnishings, 'understated'. (Truth be told, if one discounted the busy tartan furnishings she would be forced to describe the place as 'destitute'. Clan pride was considered an entity beyond kitsch ornamentation, and none made that distinction so severe as the McGonagalls.)

It rose, an impressive hexagon of bastioned stone, out of a steep motte, at the base of which was a comparitively small outgrowth that had, in its day, served as a shelter for the Aethonans -- breeding the winged horses had been her cousin Nike's greatest passion.

The fortress's three high-ceilinged storeys contained nearly two dozen rooms, six of which were bedchambers each the size of a Gryffindor Tower dormitory. Minerva had delegated to Potter the room directly beneath her own in order to give him his privacy (and to preserve hers) as well as quick access to her own chambers; as every bedroom possessed its own fireplace, he could flue up to her room instantaneously, should an emergency deem it essential. He had settled in as easily as he might have anywhere else.

"They're a little overdone," Minerva apologised, as the boy slouched into one of the wooden chairs surrounding the round kitchen table, "but I've never claimed to be a chef."

"It's fine," said Potter quickly, and waited until Minerva had poured the tea and seated herself before he reached for one of the lighter-coloured scones. "Thank you."

She gave him a small smile and added a healthy shot of milk to her tea.

After a few (remarkably prolonged) moments of relative silence, she began to wish it had been whisky. She had never had patience to waste on awkwardness and, unfortunately, the characteristic tended to clash with her very acute sense of guilt.

"I spoke to Alastor Moody today," she ventured conversationally. "He said he might stop by this evening, time permitting."

Potter nodded, and worried at his lower lip in place of nibbling one half of his dry scone. Minerva surreptitiously pushed a pot of bilberry jam in his direction.

"I can make your excuses," she went on, "if you would prefer not to see him. The man can be . . . jarring, and not usually in the best of ways, as you know, Potter."

The boy's gaze darted back and forth across the table, as if looking for his own words to snare. Absently he yielded to her encouragement, and began to smear his scone with jam and a dollop of clotted cream.

"Do you . . . do you not like him, Professor?" he asked, and Minerva was glad for his inquisitiveness, so much so that she didn't mind his avoidance of her question.

"Oh, I like him well enough. There was a time I liked him a great deal more, but . . . he's a fine Auror, and a good man, if a touch drastic in his methods."

"A time when you liked him more?" Harry frowned slightly. "What happened?"

Minerva felt a flush creep up past her neck and into her cheeks, and if she hadn't known better she would have supposed Potter had lulled her into a false sense of vexation to further the chances of his gaining answers when he pried.

"We were at Hogwarts together, for a time," she explained into her teacup. "The folly of youth can bring on inexplicable bouts of insanity and blindness. Eat your scone, Potter."

He did -- only one bite, but it was a proper bite, and despite wishing that she hadn't been so abrupt with him Minerva was satisfied with the small progress.

"I think," said Harry once his cup was empty, "I think I'd rather go to bed early, if that's all right? I'm feeling very tired."

Minerva dabbed at her mouth with her napkin and withheld a sigh. His voice had taken on that tone again -- or more accurately, it was without tone altogether, that same retreating, hollow sound he had spoken with for the past two weeks. Inwardly she berated herself; she should not have been so abrupt with him . . .

One step forward and two steps back . . .

"Very well," she murmured. "If you need anything . . ."

He nodded again, and made to leave the room with a polite "Goodnight, Professor."

Don't let him just leave, you fool! Say something, reassure him--

"Potter!" Minerva started, just as he reached the threshold. Harry paused and turned around, his expression quizzical. The Head of Gryffindor studied him for a moment, her expansive vocabulary eluding her completely at the weary anticipation in her pupil's eyes.

". . . Call me Minerva."

He blinked once, somehow slowly and startled at the same time, and the corners of his mouth twitched in what might have been an attempt at a smile. He said nothing, however; merely turned and headed for his chambers, butterbeer in pocket.

"How's the boy?"

Minerva shot him a look that began sternly but found itself weighted by uncertainty, and her gaze settled on the floor.

"That good, eh?" The question was rhetorical, and she let it drop with the same heaviness as Moody himself, as he sat down upon the sofa in her lounge.

The silence that ensued between them was blessedly different than that which had hung pensively in the air between Potter and herself that afternoon, the long years they had known each other compensating for their lack of general communication. They were not particularly good friends, but they were old friends, and the two varying comforts had, over time, grown almost indistinguishable.

The ice in Minerva's glass clinked together as she sipped her scotch.

"Kingsley should be out of hospital in a couple of days," Alastor remarked in an offhand sort of manner that contradicted his underlying concern. "The Healers are being overly cautious, in my opinion; it'd take more than two Death Eaters to fell a wizard like Shacklebolt."

Minerva arched an eyebrow. "Alastor Moody believes someone to be acting overly cautious? I never thought I'd see the day."

The old Auror's good eye narrowed at her in a reprimanding scowl. The other swivelled wildly in offence.

"There's a difference," he maintained. "Too much coddling in the name of medicine will only make a person go soft. A bit of pain does a man good, keeps him alert! Constant--"

"Yes, Alastor, you've made your point," Minerva interrupted him, although she could have sworn she heard a gruff grumble of "Vigilance . . .!" in Moody's subsequent clearing of his throat. At least it wasn't "Hem, hem."

". . . Tonks is standing guard," he continued. "At his door day and night, it seems. At his bedside, too, when she thinks no one's watching. Humph."

"You disapprove?"

"Only of their timing," Moody groused, and fumbled around in his pockets for his flask. "Damn it, Minerva, there's a war on! Tonks is enough of a security issue as it is; add to that a silly, romantic distraction and the girl'll end up breaking her own neck before summer's end! She already falls over her own feet, I can't have her falling all over Shacklebolt as well! He's one of my best men, and--"

"And if they don't get it out of their systems now, just imagine their distraction when things finally take that last turn for the worst. Providing, of course, that either of them don't derail going round one of the sharp corners preceding it."

Alastor stared at her, flabbergasted. "Such a cynical sentiment doesn't sound like you at all, McGonagall. Whatever happened to your stiff upper lip?"

A clipped laugh escaped Minerva's lips. "I'm surprised you're not proud, Mad-Eye. Isn't that part of your doctrine: examine every angle of a situation?"

Alastor's stare deepened into a glower. "I think you've had enough scotch."

"Oh, don't be ridiculous--"

"You shouldn't be imbibing any hard drink, not now -- Potter's life is in your hands! You can't very well protect him sozzled--"

"Sozzled?!" Minerva exclaimed, rising from her seat. "I am hardly sozzled! And if you spent day in and day out with no one but that -- that zombie of a child--" She broke short her own diatribe with a sharp gasp and clasped a hand over her mouth, her eyes wide with horror at her own words. "Oh, God, what am I saying . . ."

After a few brief, scrutinising seconds, Moody hefted himself up off the sofa and placed a pocked hand upon her arm. "Perhaps . . ." he said slowly, gently pushing her back down into her chair, "perhaps I made a mistake, in suggesting that Potter stay with you . . ."

Minerva's blue-grey gaze flashed up at him, clearing immediately as she quickly protested, "No!"

"You're too close to him, Minerva," Moody persisted. "You're too sympathetic to the boy's plight, it's not safe--"

"And where would he be safe?" she snapped. "With the Dursleys? You won't find more unsympathetic guardians. When the boy comes around -- and he is coming around, Alastor, he only needs time -- do you really think that time will ever come in the midst of people who are virtually strangers to him?"

The Auror didn't reply, although his crooked mouth was set in a thin, grim line.

Minerva exhaled at length and combed her fingers through her hair, effectively dishevelling her bun. "It is my closeness to Potter that will help him through this all the quicker, I am sure of it. I am his Head of House, I was his confidant for the Order throughout his fifth and sixth years at Hogwarts. You said it yourself. I can take care of him -- I am taking care of him . . ." She wished, upon reflection, that she had stated that last sentence with more conviction.

Alastor retained his judgmental quietness. Minerva raised her head to look levelly at him, the effect marred only slightly by the wisps of black hair that had been loosed around her sombre -- sober -- face.

"And I -- am not -- sozzled."

". . . All right," Moody at last conceded, rising and taking a step back. "All right, Minerva. But do try to keep the scotch to a nip per night."

The witch glared at him through eyebrows knitted perilously close together with warning.

"Goodnight, Alastor," she muttered, teeth clinched.

"I'll return on Friday."

"I can hardly wait."

"Goodnight, Professor." And then, his enchanted eye rotating to face the back of his skull, he added, "And goodnight to you as well, Mister Potter."

With a soft crack of air, Moody Disapparated, leaving Minerva struck dumb by and fixated upon the eavesdropping figure occupying the shadows of of the spiralling stone staircase that led from the lounge to the bedchambers.

"You--" Minerva stammered, righteous indignation and fresh anxiety warring within her head as the demand works itself free of her twisting tongue. "How long have you been sitting there, Potter?"

Harry shrugged and became engrossed in the shabby state of his slippers. "Long enough. I . . . I'm sorry."

Minerva opened her mouth to speak, but found herself at a loss for what to say. An order for him to return to bed danced on the tip of her tongue. A lecture on the impropriety and rudeness of listening in on the conversations of others queued just behind it. But she couldn't really blame Potter for his curiosity; he hadn't overheard anything so terribly important -- indeed, she liked to think she would know better than to speak of all truly significant matters without the protection of a Silencing Charm -- and he had apologised . . .

A strange tightness formed in her chest. What precisely had he apologised for: his own insolence, or did he feel ashamed, an undesired intruder in her private life?

No -- no, she had made it clear to Alastor that Potter was not only welcome in her home, but wanted. In point of fact, she had been rather taken aback by her own vehemence in defending her responsibility for the boy. It had been unexpected, but now that she had said it aloud she realised that she had meant every word of it. As she looked up at Harry Potter, the jaded wit and caustic chidings that were an integral part of any educator who had been teaching as long as she had dissolved in a wave of the utmost protectiveness -- in its intensity, one could almost label it 'possessiveness' -- that stemmed suddenly, seemingly, from the same source.

Her censures were muted against her palate before she had drawn the breath intended to voice them.

"It's all right, Potter. But," she managed, "don't make a habit of it."

Potter acquiesced with a nod, then stood and ascended the steps back toward his room. He was nearly out of sight when he bent low again.

"Minerva?" he asked.

Although she had given him leave to call her by her given name, to hear herself addressed by it in his voice caught her off guard.

"Yes, Potter?"

"Thank you."

Minerva gave him a small smile, and decided against pressing for specifics.

"You're welcome, Potter."

Once he had vanished and she was certain he would not reappear, Minerva reached again for her glass of scotch . . . only to find that it had vanished as well.

Damn you, Alastor Moody . . .