A/N: I understand that the Harry Potter films are not the books and that translation from page to screen requires changes, deletions, and compressions. Thus I generally enjoy the HP movies despite disliking the fact that a) McGonagall is often presented as fey and fluttery instead of powerful and b) we don't even get much of fey/fluttery!Min. And I did like a lot about the most recent film (HBP), even if it contains quite a few bizarre moments (what's up with the Burrow fire? the weird Weasley wheat? the absence of "don't call me a coward?")

One of the bits I loved was the way Maggie Smith (and Gemma Jones aka Poppy Pomfrey) played the scene after Dumbledore's death, where the students and staff stand around AD's body in the courtyard of Hogwarts and raise their wands. Now, this scene could very, very easily have been cheesy in the extreme: it's trite enough to start with (a thousand points of light joining to vanquish the darkness? Were the screenwriters channelling George Bush I?), and over-acting would have killed it. But Maggie and Gemma save the day. McGonagall's two-second reaction shot of grief and determination makes up for a lot of other film foolishness.

I thought this scene had fanfic potential as soon as I saw it, and then lo! Over at the hbpchallenge community on LiveJournal, Woldy posted the following story prompt: "The scene with the lit wands raised to salute Dumbles, from Minerva's POV. I'd also love to hear if there is backstory to that gesture in the context of Minerva's life." This brief fic is my response.

Disclaimer: JKR is master of the HP Universe.

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by Kelly Chambliss

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The beam. It was the way they signaled one another in the other battles Minerva McGonagall has lived through, the other wars she's fought: just a thin point of wandlight shot upwards to touch the clouds, a brief, bright beacon sent to the stars.

How odd, she's always thought, that a simple stream of energy could say so many different things. She's used it to point out targets, to show a destination reached. To ask for help. To bring her cohort home.

She remembers the first time she sent it aloft in triumph, after a sortie in the war against Grindelwald; she'd been deployed in cat form to locate hostages held by some Dark agent or other. The exact details of the mission have faded from her mind: now all that remains is a fierce memory of the pride she'd felt as she raised her wand arm and proclaimed her victory to the heavens.

She had believed, then, that wars could be won, that enemies could be vanquished, that the many deaths were for the greater good.

She had been very young.

They'd used the signal beam in the first war against Voldemort, too. So many of the original Order members had been Grindelwald veterans that it had seemed natural to them, and the younger recruits had been happy to continue a tradition forged during that legendary War - the war that was going to make the wizarding world safe for good.

Except that it hadn't, of course, and all too soon they had found themselves back in the darkness once more.

She remembers standing in an overgrown field on the night the Prewett brothers died, the acrid, ozone aftermath of battle magic crackling around her as she lifted her wand to mark the night with her light. But there had been no pride that time, no victory: just a flare to show the position of the bodies.

She had been much older then, but she had still thought that the battles were worth fighting. As she'd stood there, with the drying blood of her fallen comrades stiffening her robes, she had believed that their sacrifices mattered.

Tonight, she stands again in war, in the Hogwarts courtyard-turned-battlefield, looking at the body of their leader Albus Dumbledore, now a heap of broken bones and beard and hopes surrounded by the children who will do most of the dying this time.

She doubts whether their sacrifices will have meaning to anyone except perhaps to those who love them. Doubts whether "victory," even if it comes, will do more than buy a few years of the quiet-that-passes-for-peace before the inevitable rise of the next dark lord.

But perhaps those gains will be enough. And in any case, she doesn't know what else to do but fight the fight again. Light the light again. Leave a mark.

With a soft rustle of robes, Minerva raises her wand to the sky.