A/N: Because, really, I just had to. Y'all can understand that, right? Right? And anyway, it's such a convenient way to end the year...
Intermission 1: Survival
Minerva still had the dreams. It was maddening – a taunt to her healed nerves and body. The sensation of sweat on her skin each morning seemed to carry a sibilant whisper, insidious enough that she often worried (irrationally, she knew. Spells weren't made for this) that he'd left something on her to drive her mad. Something adaptable, that would change with her and dance by her side, just out of the corner of her eye – something she would always be looking for, and fearing though it remained unseen.
It was a rather romantic notion, and she hated it with every fibre of her being. Minerva knew she was given to those, oh yes. Not many people knew that, but she'd always held that it was wise to know oneself, so one could know what mistakes to watch for. And, straightening her bun with an impatient tug, Minerva knew that she'd watched well, taking care to let her notions flower freely – but privately, where people could not use them to hurt her.
But the problem with that was that it gave no barrier to her darker thoughts. Minerva remembered how long she'd made do without them, out of necessity, just to function and still think to use eyes and hands and wand when all had seen and taken part in horrors. Somehow, she had forgotten to do it before wading down into the murk to put a stop to something, an effort she'd known might kill her.
Well, she was paying. Oh, to erase the first sight of Hagrid's mutilated dog from her memory! And oh, to forget that moment of fear, fear, fear, when she'd finally realised just whose presence she'd been following, just whose presence she would be up against. Minerva shuddered now, uncontrollably, and tried not to begrudge herself the need. Why couldn't she shudder, when she'd faced Voldemort more times than she dared remember?
For, more than anyone, she knew why Albus had been so determined, so relentless, during the war. She knew why sometimes, when he seriously faltered, an almost mad look had passed across his face. For once she'd seen Riddle transformed, once she'd seen the red, waxy death etched into his features on his second-to-last return to Hogwarts, she'd felt some hope for the wizarding world's survival die away in her, to join that which had been falling by the wayside once she'd become a teacher.
Thing was, he'd had so much – so much potential. To see that staggering potential so profoundly channelled into the means and ways of destruction had been frightening. To fight against it had been even worse.
For Minerva had never faltered against Tom, despite her fear. And what was left of Tom, now – no, then imposed upon Quirrell like some useless shadow, had remembered. Quirrell had screamed as his mind was subverted, subsumed, and for a brief moment, Minerva had thought he was dying…only to feel, and remember, and wonder that she had even dared to come here after hearing Severus' frightened suggestion.
Minerva grimaced to think of her scorn, despite the fact that she knew they had all been deceived, that Albus, Albus had been deceived. She could simply not imagine herself boldly cleansing that corridor now, not even see or feel the memory of the tight lines her face had set into as she'd moved Hagrid's pet (only a gift to their struggle, and so useless in the end) aside and stepped into the gaping trapdoor.
She could only sympathise with how her outrage and how her determination had slowly dwindled to fear on discovering the traces of Tom's magic waving languidly on the regenerated components of her own protective gift. By the time she'd faced Quirrell's doomed frame, Minerva had only fear behind her insubstantial-feeling staff, and that had been before the fight had begun.
Minerva smiled, in shame. It had not really been a fight, to tell the truth. She'd reacted from the first moment, and had gone on reacting until they'd battled their way into the final chamber. As soon as she'd realised that, she'd abandoned self-defence and destroyed the mirror, knowing the Stone would be safe if she did.
Minerva closed her eyes. And then, indeed.
Tom had...been angry. Severus had visited her least, but his presence had counted most – he, at least, knew what she'd gone through. Had some idea of the sheer, staggering amount of pain Tom Riddle could cause a body. Severus hadn't bothered to say much, or even to express sympathy. All he'd done was ask a few short questions and send up a tincture that had worked what felt like wonders, and after that, he'd never really spoken about it again.
Minerva sighed again – she'd expected that, but still. She always hoped, all the same. Sometimes it did some good, and sometimes it did not – witness to that were the Tom Riddles of the world. Of course, to balance them, there were the Severus Snapes.
And, as Minerva was increasingly beginning to think, the Antares Blacks. Minerva pursed her lips now, remembering that she'd never asked what the boy had been doing out and about at that late hour. Even now, she felt no real inclination to, easy as it was to puzzle out a number of possible excuses for Black's wayward behaviour.
Especially not when it had saved them all. For Minerva had no illusions as to whether the Mirror of Erised, the final and most powerful protection on the Stone, would have lasted the night under assault from Quirrell, bound as he'd been to Tom. Oh no, Tom would have begun trying to decipher the message across the top, or would even have driven Quirrell to find and constrain someone else to look into the mirror for them – Tom would have found a way, under all their noses, and then –
But really, what was the use of all this?
Minerva sighed again. That was, indeed, the question. Was there any point in worrying on about Tom and wherever he'd gone? There was no safe way to scry for him, of course – so that just left them, all of them, to keep an eye out.
Biting her lip, Minerva finally stood, carefully, a bitter smile on her face. Nothing new, that.
A/N: And that's it for this year, folks. A tad dramatic, yes, but hey, I had fun overall. Did you?
Please to be visiting my LJ for more info on the next story's title, as well as other things I'm planning to do before I start work on second year. Otherwise, see you soon, and hope you enjoyed it all!