Of Warriors, Medicine and Wisdom
Minerva was the daughter of Jupiter. She was considered to be the virgin goddess of warriors, poetry, medicine, wisdom … and the inventor of music.
-From the Wikipedia Article on the Roman Goddess Minerva
You're getting too old for this. The voice was brisk and stern inside her head, and Minerva sighed, rubbing her back as she straightened up, knowing it was right. Her eyes took in the commotion all around her, groups of students laughing together, crying together, holding onto each other with gratitude and horror both spelled out in their faces. They were starting to rebuild the castle already, of their own accord, no less: a few Hufflepuffs, lead by Susan Bones, were examining the wounds of various house-elves and the damage done to the kitchen windows; while a group of chattering Ravenclaws was doing their utmost to repair the scorched library books, telescopes and suits of armor. With a grim smile, her eyes fell on Parvarti Patil and Sybil, both with red-rimmed eyes, sweeping up the remaining crystal balls. Poppy had said that Lavender Brown's wounds were even worse than Bill Weasley's has been, but that had been hours ago. She wasn't even sure if the girl –an airhead for sure, but never unpleasant, and quite bright- was still alive.
With a sick feeling to her stomach, she walked outside and sank down on one of the courtyard walls, the evening sun flooding her face pleasantly. Earlier, a sudden shower had drenched the grounds, and now the smell of wet earth, of life, was almost obscene. It was quieter than inside the castle, but she could hear the calls of a few students –was that Daphne Greengrass?!- as they attempted to clear out the mess of rubble and wood. She rubbed her temples, suddenly feeling the tiredness and the ache of every bone in her body.
"Professor McGonagall?" She glanced up and there was Hagrid, badly beaten up but smiling down at her. She felt a rush of gratitude not unlike the ones students around her must be feeling as they flooded back from the Hog's Head and found their older siblings, friends, prefects to be alive.
"Hello, Hagrid." She looked up at him. "Those cuts look rather nasty, you should let Poppy have a look at them."
"'M all right," he shrugged, good-naturedly. "I brought yer this, if yeh don't mind-" he shyly held out an enormous steaming mug. She wrapped her hands around it, took in the warm, comforting smell of herbs and tea and something else. Her eyebrows shot up as she looked at Hagrid, who crumpled immediately. "Just a bit o'brandy, I thought…" He looked decidedly uncomfortable.
"Thank you, Hagrid, that was very kind of you," she half-smiled at him as she sipped the drink. It burned pleasantly in her throat, and after a few gulps, she felt a tingling as the feeling returned to her cold, stiff fingers. She stretched, and for a second, the similarity with a cat was uncanny. He seemed to be thinking along the same lines, his smile widened as he gently –for his standards, which still made her cough up her tea- patted her on the back. "I can't believe it's all over," he said, thoughtfully. "He's gone- odd, innit? But I s'pose that was always the way it was going to be. And Harry finished him off. Always knew he would. Haven't seen him since this morning, yer know where he is?"
"Asleep in his dormitory, I think." She smiled wryly at the way Hagrid had just put some of her thoughts into words.
"Ah, well," he stretched. "Couple o'creatures need tending, we got a few Thestrals with cuts an' the like. Good day, Professor."
"Thank you, Hagrid." They exchanged a smile and she watched him lumber off. As she watched him cross the courtyard, she noticed one of her first-years, Kathleen Summersby, standing white as a ghost and stiff as a board while the rest of her friends ran around. Then she realized that one of the fallen had been Will Summersby, Hufflepuff seeker and little Kathleen's older brother. With a shudder and a sign, she called: "Miss Summersby?"
The girl walked over, looking as though she was in a kind of horrible trance, staring at her with wide eyes: "Professor McGonagall?"
"Miss Summersby, has someone…did you hear…" Suddenly, she felt not at all like a venerable Hogwarts professor and soon-to-be Headmistress, but not unlike Neville Longbottom must have felt like when she was giving him extra homework. "Do you know about your brother?"
The girl nodded, and burst into tears.
"There, there," she said, completely lost for words, "Sit down." She gestured at the wall she was sitting on, but the girl, instead of sitting down next to her, climbed upon the wall and buried her face in her teacher's shoulders.
"Oh, Miss Summersby, I'm so sorry" Minerva said, a little uncomfortable. While certainly not heartless by anyone's definition, open displays of well, emotion, never failed to make her squeamish. Amelia had always credited this to "that statue hall of a family you grew up in." For a second, she saw her best friend's face clearly before her, the incredulous grin- 'Nerva, are you bonding with a student? Something in her stomach contracted painfully, and she shifted her arms a little, allowing the girl to move closer. "Now, Miss Summerby…" The girl looked up, and under her pain there was a hint of mischief, of annoyance. "It's Katie," she sniffed, pointedly. "That's what he always called me." At which point she burst out sobbing again.
"Er…Katie," she said. "All right." She patted the girl gingerly on the back, who buried her face more deeply in her shoulders. "There, there," she repeated, feeling distinctly foolish.
She considered telling the girl that her brother had died a hero's death, that he had died fighting evil and defending her, defending the ideal of a world he wanted her to grow up, but decided against it. She had learned that lesson from Andromeda Tonks earlier today, who had arrived at the scene with her perfectly placid grandson in her arms and looking so much like her older sister that several people had screamed. "Get out of my way," she had hissed at the gaggle of onlookers, "and if anyone of you dares breathe as much as a word about a hero's death on me, I swear I will hex you into a million pieces!" With the grace of an Empress that did not suit the slightly clumsy, foot-in-mouth girl Minerva had protected from her bloodthirsty older sister at Hogwarts whenever she could, she'd strode across the Great Hall and crouched down next to the bodies of her daughter and son-in-law. Carefully balancing the baby in one arm, making sure he had a clear view of his parents, unmarked and so peaceful they might be sleeping, holding hands, she reached out and gently stroked her daughter's cheek. She shuddered heavily and a low, keeling sound like an animal in pain escaped her for a second, before she stood up, shoulders squared and jaw set, and again the resemblance with Bellatrix was acute. Holding Teddy Lupin closely to her chest, she crossed the hall to where the Weasleys were still mourning Fred. "Molly, Arthur," she said, her voice on the brink of breaking, "I am so sorry about your loss. All of you."
"Thank…thank you," Arthur said, frowning at her. "And you."
"Yes. Thank you." There was an awkward pause, and then she said, all in one breath. "If you see Harry Potter, will you tell him that while I know he's Teddy's godfather, I really think he should stay with me for now, as he's used to me and it's really not a good idea to take a baby out of it's familiar surroundings-" As Minerva watched, the resemblance with her sister faded, and she was the insecure fourteen-year-old again, with deep gashes in her cheeks from where her sister had cursed her, trying to understand why she felt so utterly alone in the world.
"We'll tell him." Molly spoke this time, tearing her eyes from the body of her son for the first time in what felt like hours. Her eyes widened and something stirred in them as she took in the baby boy, and his grandmother, so clearing teetering on the edge of panic and despair. Minerva thought fleetingly that it did not seem to be a good idea to leave this woman in charge of a baby, not right now, and Molly seemed to be agreeing with her: "But, Andromeda, if you want, we can take him just for a few days, just until…"
"That…well…" She faltered. Minerva thought she saw the arm holding her grandson close tighten.
"It would just be for a few days, of course," Molly affirmed, and Minerva was, for the umpteenth time in the course of the year, filled with new respect for the woman. She could not imagine what it must feel like to be mourning your child, and yet here she was, opening her house to another lost baby, even if it only was for a few days. For someone who had very nearly failed her Transfiguration OWL, she was really quite extraordinary. "Just until we've all…sorted… well. We have eleven –ten-," she corrected herself, eyes filling with tears, "in any case, we'll be able to take care of him, and you can…"
"If you would, that would be…" Andromeda's voice really broke this time and a few tears escaped her, before she pulled herself together visibly. "That sounds… if it's no trouble, that would be…"
"It's no trouble," Ginny Weasley, standing up from where she was crouching next to George, assured her. She approached the older woman with caution, holding out her arms. "Really, we'd be… we'll miss them so much, too."
"Dora spoke so highly of all of you. And she was right, of course." And with that, she handed Ginny the baby boy, who was looking politely curious at this turn of events, a look so distinctly like his father's. "Thank you," she said, simply, squeezing Molly's hand. The two women exchanged a look of deep understanding, before Andromeda breathed a gentle kiss on her grandson's tiny head and turned, crossing the Great Hall and directing her steps towards the gates of the Hogwarts' ground. Minerva watched her go, wondering if she would ever find peace of mind, now that she had lost what was left of her family.
A few hours later, Katie Summerby was still crying into her transfiguration teacher's robes. Casting her sharp eyes around the darkening courtyard, her eyes fell on a lone figure with silvery-blonde hair, standing stiff as a statue, looking over the courtyard wall. For a second she thought it might be Fleur Weasley, but then the figure half-turned, and she realized, with a shock of understanding, who it must be. She thought of Andromeda and the devastated look on her face, thought of the silver-haired boy she'd seen crumpled in a corner of the Great Hall, watching the comings and goings with a blank look on his face. Summoning the remaining Gryffindor courage she had left in her, she detached Katie Summerby from her shoulder. "Miss… Katie, that's enough, now. Come," she handed her a handkerchief and helped her wipe her cheeks, "calm down. Your bother surely wouldn't have wanted you to cry over him for the rest of your life, would he?" She peered down at the girl. "Now, why don't you see if you can help inside? In the hospital wing, perhaps- you can tell Madam Pomfrey I sent you."
The girl sniffed loudly and nodded. "I've got to be a Gryffindor, don't I, Professor?"
She cringed at this, but nodded. "Good girl." The girl scrambled off the wall, wiping her eyes and straightening her tiny shoulders as she went. For a second, the unfairness of it all threatened to overwhelm her, but then she remembered the task at hand.
Cautiously, she slid off the wall herself, her bones protesting meekly, before crossing the courtyard to where the lone figure was still standing.
Narcissa Malfoy swung round and stared at her. Up close, she looked dreadful- circles under her red-rimmed eyes, and wearing a simple, blue dress under what were very obviously ripped Death Eater's robes. Trying her utmost to keep her facial expression completely straight, she stood next to her.
"Professor McGonagall… it's Mrs. Malfoy now, actually. It's been for," she twisted the small silver band on her ring finger, "almost nineteen years, now."
"Yes, of course," Minerva answered, resisting the strong impulse to scream in frustration. "My apologies. I had been thinking about you all as students." She paused. "Mrs. Malfoy, this may seem inappropriate, but are you aware that your sister…"
"…is dead? Yes, I am aware," the other answered coolly. Minerva stood in silence for a moment. She had only a vague recollection of the girl at Hogwarts, hiding her considerable brains because she was fine with being the beautiful, if vapid, of the Black girls. Clearly, she was more of a piece of work than she thought.
"I meant your other sister. Though I suppose if you are mourning Bellatrix-"
"I did not say I was mourning Bellatrix, nor will you ever hear me say such a thing." The frostiness in her voice had not changed, but she did seem to be clenching what remained of her black robes a little too forcefully. "She was long gone into insanity- what that Weasley…woman did to her can be called putting her out of her misery at best."
Steady, Minerva intoned to herself, longing dearly to make the other pay for her slur at Molly. "Be that as it may," she said, grimly pleased to note that her voice was almost steady. "Though I would appreciate it if you kept your views about the Weasleys to yourself from now on. You see, you have just lost a battle." So much for keeping her temper. But honestly, could anyone blame her?
"Don't you think I know that?" The voice was low, almost a hiss, dripping with contempt, but also full of wild panic, and as Minerva turned to face her in surprise, she saw for the second time the deranged glare of Bellatrix in one of her sister's eyes. "How dare you even think that I don't know that I am completely alone in the world, that everyone hates us and-"
"My, my," Minerva remarked, dryly. "I expect you'll be asking for pity next?"
"So typical, to come over here after winning the noble fight and rubbing in the-"
"I beg your pardon?" This in a tone that would have made the collective student body of Hogwarts run in the opposite direction as though Fiendfyre was behind them. "I beg your pardon?!"
But Narcissa Malfoy simply glared back at her. "If you knew," she hissed. "If you knew what I've done, you wouldn't…" she checked herself. "If you didn't come over here to gloat, why did you?"
"I believe this conversation is over. Forget I ever approached you, Mrs. Malfoy." She spit put the last two words contemptuously, turning away.
"I know what you were going to ask me." She'd already taken a few steps in direction of the castle, but on hearing the younger woman speak again, she turned. Narcissa walked up to her, and said, slowly: "You were going to tell me to reconcile with Andromeda. You were going to tell me that she has no-one left, and neither do I, and surely we can mend our disagreement over that. You were going to send me to her, like you send your students into detention." Minerva raised her eyebrows at her, but before she could open her mouth, the other continued: "You have no idea what it was like. You don't know a single thing." She pointed a bruised hand into the direction of the lake. A young man was sitting alone under a tree, staring at his reflection, his pale hair shining in the gathering darkness. Narcissa Malfoy looked at her son with a desperate sort of hunger in her eyes, before repeating, "You don't know a single thing."
"Yes, well. There are things I chose not to educate myself about."
"Ever the loyal admirer of Dumbledore," Narcissa sneered. "Tell me, would he have known a way for me to get my son back? To get my life back?"
"Doubtlessly he would have," Minerva replied, seething. "And he surely could have told you all about it had you not been involved in the plot to murder him."
"How dare you?"
Minerva raised her eyebrows at her. "Well, as I said, we did just win a battle, so I suppose the only thing stopping us from having you, and your husband and son thrown into Azkaban for Death Eater activity is…" Her voice trailed away delicately. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I was up all night defending Hogwarts from your former Lord and his bloodthirsty cronies, I think I need an early rest."
There was a pause, because she did not immediately turn, did not immediately leave, something that, in retrospect, greatly weakened the brilliance of her last sentence.
But she could not help herself- something in her, the part that sworn to herself around this time last year that she would keep Albus Dumbledore's memory alive even when nobody else did, that part was waiting for something.
Narcissa Malfoy threw her a last, appraising look. "What are you waiting for?"
"A miracle, I suppose." She turned to leave. "Goodbye, Mrs. Malfoy."
She crossed the courtyard, the Great Hall. Katie Summerby was handing out essence of Murtlap to all who needed it; Parvarti and Sibyl were sitting side by side on the stairs of the entrance hall, and as she watched, Poppy hurried down to them and said something, and their pale, scared faces lit up. A few steps on, Dean Thomas was bending over a few slashed portraits, trying to see where the damage could be repaired. Luna Lovegood was helping Hagrid bind the Thestral's wounds, together with an unhappy looking Theodore Nott. In a corner of the Great Hall, she spotted Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger amicably bickering over whose turn it was to hold little Teddy, and further on, Harry holding Ginny as she fell into an uneasy sleep. Molly and George Weasley were still sitting at Fred's side, both of them looking hollow. On she walked, past students sinking down where they stood to cry tears of grief and of relief, until she reached the headmaster's office. She stood before it unsurely for a moment, but then, she walked past the gargoyle, which had fallen asleep leaving the door open. She climbed up the staircase, and was not particularly surprised to find even this office in complete disarray. She looked up, and there was Dumbledore's portrait, sleeping lightly. With a smile, she transformed into a cat and jumped upon the chair behind the headmistress's desk, curled up and fell into a deep sleep.