It's starting out a bit slow, but once Minerva enters Faerie the adventures will begin. I hope this chapter wasn't too confusing or tedious. Enjoy and review!
Garinion means granddaughter, and the title of the prologue, fado fado, means once upon a time.
Who are they? "Fallen angels who were not good enough to be saved, nor bad enough to be lost," say the peasantry. "The gods of the earth," says the Book of Armagh. "The gods of pagan Ireland," say the Irish antiquarians, "the Tuatha De Danan, who, when no longer worshiped and fed with offerings, dwindled away in the popular imagination, and now are only a few spans high."
Who are they? "Fallen angels who were not good enough to be saved, nor bad enough to be lost," say the peasantry. "The gods of the earth," says the Book of Armagh. "The gods of pagan Ireland," say the Irish antiquarians, "the Tuatha De Danan, who, when no longer worshiped and fed with offerings, dwindled away in the popular imagination, and now are only a few spans high."-Irish Fairy & Folk Tales, W.B. Yeats
Fairytales don't always have a happy ending, do they?
And I foresee the dark ahead
-"Big Girls Don't Cry," Fergie
Minerva sat hunched over a stack of parchments and forms, her quill scrawling out information, pausing its scratching every once in a while as she considered her options. She sighed, leaning back in her chair at last and stretching her aching back. No longer struggling desperately to organize and complete the forms needed to keep Hogwarts running, she invariably thought of why she needed to do it. Her throat ached as she swallowed past a lump brought on by suppressed tears.
Albus was in St. Mungo's. Had been for nearly a fortnight, since Septimus had found him. He was in a coma, and the Healers were helpless to know why. All they could do was keep him comfortable and hope he came out of it soon.
A choked laugh escaped her as she recalled the reactions of those who had seen him before the Healers had arrived, completely hysterical and shouting about Dementors. Idiot purebloods, she thought, perhaps unkindly. Coma had been her first guess. It came of having had a Muggle nurse for a mother, perhaps.
Everything was a mess now. It helped that Albus had been so up to date on papers that needed his signature, but July deadlines were quickly approaching, and then August would arrive soon enough. To make matters worse, no one could get hold of the Deputy, who had just retired, and no one knew who Dumbledore had meant to replace him with. As one of the few professors who spent the majority of the summer in the castle, and the one who knew the Headmaster best, Minerva had taken over, and the others had done their best to assist. Nevertheless, there had been times where she needed to search his office for the missing files.
What concerned her most was the inability to find the Book of Names. The letters to incoming students needed to be sent out in a month, and only two people knew where it was and how to use it were incapacitated or absent. Not even the portraits could help her.
Minerva pushed back her chair and stood, wincing as she tried to loosen the stiff muscles in her neck. She had been at this for part of the morning and most of the afternoon, and she simply couldn't stand to look at another parchment without screaming. It was about time she stopped by to see Albus anyway, and getting beyond the anti-Apparition wards would give her a chance to stretch her legs.
The heat swelled around her the moment she stepped outside of the empty stone castle, and Minerva was grateful for the slight breeze that tugged at her thin summer robes. The walk to the gates was peaceful, the world around her quiet with the lazy indolence of the summer months. Listening to the rustle of the trees and birdsong, she might have fooled herself into thinking that everything was fine.
Double checking that the gate had closed behind her, the young witch turned on the spot as she pictured the St. Mungo's lobby.
Minerva paid no attention to the greeting witch and the people milling around. She simply swept by without a glance in what Albus had called Auror-form. He lay in a private room, rife with protections as befitted a wizard of his stature and popularity. Minerva submitted to the safety precautions without complaint, quite used to them by now. A few of the security personnel recognized and greeted her. She nodded in return. Not a chatty person by nature, she spoke even less on occasions such as this.
The room Minerva stepped into was larger than most hospital rooms, though the cards, flowers, and candy stocked on all available surfaces and pushed against the walls made it seem smaller than it actually was. She knew that even more gifts had been stored in at least one other unused room, and felt rather sympathetic for the staff who had to sort through everything.
It might even become her job soon, Minerva realized with a resigned sigh. But she could put up with it if that's what it took. Dumbledore would be moved to Hogwarts, as there was nothing else St. Mungo's could do to help him. Poppy Pomfrey, though young, had the training to care for the aged wizard, and it was to be hoped that familiar surroundings would somehow help him.
"Hello again Albus," she whispered as she took a seat next to the bed. Her throat ached as it usually did; he seemed only to be sleeping. His facial features looked strange without his half-moon spectacles, but the rise and fall of his chest was reassuring. Sunlight spilled over the still form, warming the auburn-turned-gray hair that spread over the pillow, as well as his growing beard.
Minerva took his weathered hand in hers and squeezed lightly, hoping for a response she never received. "Wake up," she pleaded quietly, but he never did anymore. "Please," she said and bowed her head, keeping a silent vigil. Minerva did not know how long she sat, lost in thought, when she realized there was another presence in the room. How she knew was a mystery, as she heard nothing, but it might have been a foreign feeling resonating in the air. Regardless, she reached slowly for her wand.
The moment her fingers touched the wood she leapt to her feet and spun around. Something flashed in her eyes (perfection? light?) and she blinked away temporary blindness.
A woman stood before her; skin flawless, pale to the point of whiteness but never sickly; hands and waist dainty, fingers long and slender; hair a waterfall the black of a raven's wing; long lashes framing deep blue eyes that glowed with age and wisdom. The woman's gown was strange, of a style that was several centuries old, and the colors shifted so that Minerva could not tell what color it truly was.
Minerva, while hardly vain, keenly felt her shortcomings.
"Greetings to you, Minerva Caitriona McGonagall," the stranger said in a melodic voice.
"Who are you?" Minerva queried, voice not shaking through great force of will. "Why are you here?"
The faery-woman – what else could she be? – laughed, her laughter like the tinkling of bells, and she moved with an unearthly grace, stopping just short of Minerva's outstretched wand. "I am Rhiannon of the moon," she said. "My blood, though much diluted, runs through your veins."
Minerva gazed at her in astonishment. This was one of the Celtic goddesses, first among the Tuatha de Danaan.
"Through the women in your family, you are my many times great-granddaughter," she continued, and then looked beyond her to the wizard lying in the bed.
Minerva's breath caught in her throat as a thought occurred to her. "Can you heal him?" Hope fluttered in her chest, and then died at the sorrowful expression.
"However you, Garinion, may be able to save him," she said. "His soul, tormented and weighted with sorrow, has lost himself in Faerieland. If you can find him within a week and a day, then he shall live. If you fail, his body will die as the sun sets."
She furrowed her brow, pondering the significance of the deadline. "The summer solstice."
Rhiannon inclined her head.
"But why me?" Minerva?" Minerva asked, feeling inadequate faced with the enormity of the task. "Surely there is someone more qualified."
The faery-woman shook her head. "Considering your grandmother and your childhood, there are few mortals so prepared for such a quest.
"But that is only a very small part of a reason. Your future and his are tied together. You are bound – how, none can yet tell – but that is your wyrd."
What her ancestor said was true. Minerva recalled how well she and Albus had gotten along, even as student and teacher. They felt at east with each other, as if each had known the other all their life. Recently, until the coma, they had almost seemed to know what the other was thinking. A bond of strong friendship, then, Minerva assumed. He was her true-friend.
"Why are you doing this?" she asked at last. However altruistic a faery's offer seemed, seanamhair Findabhair had taught her that they always had a reason for what they did. It was not that they were bad or evil, though some could be. It was simply their nature. They were fickle creatures, assured that they were, in a very real way, more important than mere mortals. Dreams sprang forth from Faerieland, and it was the responsibility of mortals to protect it. Always, it had been a mortal to save Faerieland.
Too, faeries could not relate to humans. While in some ways more fragile than mortals, they did not truly understand death, nor the true depths of suffering. It was why they were thought of as fickle, even arrogant at times. Perhaps her great-grandmother truly did want to help, but she likely had her own motives as well.
"Does it matter?" Rhiannon asked patiently.
Minerva looked upon Albus' comatose form once again. "No." It didn't matter. She couldn't picture life without him. She would do whatever it took to save him. "What must I do?"
"Prepare yourself. Pack a bag, and at sunrise tomorrow morning walk into the forest. Your sacrifice is this: you must leave your wand behind."
"Because of the rowan?" Minerva asked, swallowing hard. Her wand was made from the rowan tree. A powerful wood, it warded against faeries and their mischief.
"And your type of magic is not only uncomfortable, it acts as a beacon for all sidhe. It is one of the reasons your wizards and witches do not enter Faerieland," Rhiannon replied. She placed her hand upon Minerva's cheek. "Good fortune, Garinion."
Her skin tingled where her ancestor touched, and her eyes involuntarily closed as her awareness blurred and faded away. She tried to say "thank you" but it was a struggle to even speak.
When her eyes opened at last, Minerva found that she was slumped in her chair, as if she had fallen asleep. She was alone but for Albus.
Anyone else would have thought the visitation a dream, but Minerva knew better.
"I'll find you, Albus," she promised, voice strong as it pierced the heavy silence.
The moment she returned to Hogwarts, Minerva's mind was busy planning her absence. She needed to let the remaining staff know that she would be gone for a week. Perhaps she could claim a family emergency. She was fairly sure only Albus knew she had no family left. It shouldn't be too much of a disaster, as the remaining paperwork could keep for a week or so.
Her room quickly became something of a mess. It had been a few years since she had left the Aurors for a teaching position, and her supplies from her former duty in the field had been a bit difficult to locate. Still, Minerva was confident she remembered her training.
Her bag was standard field-Auror issue during the war. Made of a sturdy brown material, the inside was much larger than the outside, lightweight charms ensured it would not grow too heavy, and runes picked out in Demiguise hair ensured that it would be overlooked by enemies and civilians.
Minerva paused in her packing, lost in thought, wondering at her reasons for choosing to become an Auror. She had not been so idealistic or naïve as to believe it her solemn duty to combat the forces of evil that threatened, had she? They needed to be stopped, of course, but her individual actions would probably not have changed the course of the war.
Was it revenge? A way to get back at those who had taken both mother and father from her? There was anger, certainly, but not the cold rage she thought denoted a thirst for vengeance.
Had she wished to complete the work of her parents, in a way?
Had it been a combination of those thoughts, or something else altogether?
Whatever her reasons, Minerva believed she had done the right thing when she joined the Aurors right out of school. Despite her formidable intelligence and ability to learn quickly, she likely would have been stationed in the UK with the other new Aurors to "keep the peace" had she not been an unregistered Animagus. Animagi were invaluable in reconnaissance and gathering intelligence, Minerva's form doubly so. For one, there were very few places a cat would seem out of place in. Their night vision was excellent and their movements were near silent.
A little over a month later, following intense daily training, she had been assigned to a team in the field. All of her teammates were older than her and had years more experience, but she had earned their respect. It was neither simple nor easy, but it hadn't taken long to become used to the lifestyle – after all, she had grown up in the Scottish Highlands – and by the end of the war Minerva could hold her own with the best of them. The team had been somewhere in Poland when news of the defeat of Grindelwald had reached them.
The Aurors had been rounding up the last of the Knights of Walpurgis when she had received an invitation from the new Headmaster, Dumbledore, to become the Transfiguration professor at Hogwarts. The war was over and they didn't truly need her any longer. In addition, a career as a professor would suit her better, Minerva thought. Her purpose had changed.
And so, she had retired from the Aurors after only a few years, her name surprisingly well-known for such a short period with them, and hadn't looked back.
In spite of a few bumps in the beginning, Minerva found she loved teaching, and a few Auror tricks kept the students quiet and respectful at least.
Not it was time to see whether lessons in the field had stuck.
Food enough for a week; a flask that never ran out of water; two extra sets of clothes; a first-aid kit; rope. Minerva paused at the next item. A knife of steel. The touch of cold iron was painful – even deadly – to the sidhe. Did she dare to risk bringing such a blade within the realm of Faerie? Surely if she wrapped it in cloth, placed it in some sort of container, and buried it among her clothes it would not be sensed. And she would only draw it in an emergency. Would it be allowed? Or would it cause her to fail?
Minerva bit her lip. She also had a copper knife that had belonged to her grandmother. Findabhair had used it as in her duties as a fairy doctress.
Minerva hesitated, torn. Seanamhair, what should I do?
She made her decision. She probably wouldn't draw it in any case.
Her eyes darted around her quarters, looking for anything she had forgotten. At last she stuck a book of matches in the pocket of her heavy, dark green cloak and folded it on top. She knew from experience how chilly the weather could become at night, and the cloak could double as a blanket. In any case, who knew what the weather would be like in any part of Faerieland?
At last Minerva was satisfied with her preparations and headed for bed. She would need a good night's sleep.
A part of her chafed to be off immediately, searching for her closes friend. Logic, however, held that side of her in check. She would not want to wander the Forbidden Forest at night; the thought was terrifying. And Faerie was at least as dangerous and even less familiar. There were plenty of stories Minerva knew of wandering the wilderness at night, and few ended happily.
Not to mention, she would need her rest. She would do neither of them any good if she was exhausted.
Minerva changed quickly into her pajamas before pausing by her bedside table and gently picking up the picture that stood there. Her eyes traced the familiar features, a happy smile and twinkling blue eyes. It had been so rare to see Albus without either; now it was all too common.
Minerva had seen hints of a great sorrow within him. Impossible to know him as well as she did, and not. But he masked the troubling emotions so well that at times she wondered if she had imagined it. Albus had made it quite clear, in his own way, that he would not, could not, speak of it, and she had never dared to bring it up.
Would things be different now if she had? Or would he have simply pushed her away, shut her out, until she broke away painfully from him in a fit of rage? Minerva was aware of her faults, and knew very well that she had a temper. There was no telling what might have happened had she forced the issue.
It was no use thinking about 'what ifs'. She couldn't afford distractions. She would focus on finding Albus' soul, believe that she could do it, and maybe that would make it a reality.
Minerva turned off the lights, crawled into bed, and eventually fell asleep to memories of her childhood with her seanamhair.
In the gray light before dawn a house elf served Minerva a large breakfast, her last meal before she set out on her quest. She forced herself to eat despite a lack of appetite. She would need the energy.
When she finished at last she stood, composed as ever in spite of the flurry of butterflies that seemed to have taken up residence in her stomach.
She was dressed in an old, comfortable pair of faded jeans, a forest green shirt with sleeves that ended halfway down her forearms, and comfortable hiking boots. She had decided to plait her long, black hair, so that it was kept out of her face and would not get too tangled along her journey. She would not need to waste time fussing with it, as she doubted there would be much time for grooming.
At last she shouldered her satchel and reluctantly placed her wand on her bedside table. Minerva's apprehension doubled at the simple act and she fought the urge to grab it again. What was wrong with her? Minerva had grown up without a wand or witchcraft, and had felt completely safe. Had she spent so much time in the Wizarding World that she had become dependent on her wand? That she could not go anywhere without it?
Minerva frowned and deliberately turned away. She was a Muggleborn, and proud of her heritage. She would walk easily in both worlds.
Above all, she was a McGonagall. She was not dependent upon any one or thing.
It was a short walk from her rooms to the Entrance Hall, and it was too early for anyone else to be up, so she was not questioned.
This might be the last time I see the castle, she thought as she pushed open the doors. Fairytales favor tragedies just as much as they favor happy endings.
But Minerva did not look back as she crossed the mist-covered lawn.
"Follow the fire's path," a familiar echoing voice whispered from nowhere and everywhere. The last time Minerva would hear from her goddess ancestor.
The sun flashed over the horizon as the woman entered the forest.