Author's Note: I extend my deepest apologies for delay. Please blame writer's block and school (and AIM for not being able to retrieve my email for a while). This also turned out to be a longer chapter than I anticipated. Once again, I owe a debt of gratitude to lullabymoon for her editing and to my reviewers for their encouragement.
True to Albus' expectations, Minerva convinced the Healers' of St. Mungo's to release her by Friday despite their best efforts to persuade her to remain in their care for at least a few days longer. However, Minerva refused, desiring to appear in the Wizengamot and finish the trial without further delay.
"Minerva, are you sure this is a good idea?" Jonathan apparently disagreed with her. "You are not fully healed." In the antechamber of the Wizengamot, the pair waited to be called into the courtroom. At Minerva's raised brow, he reconsidered, "Never mind. Silly question. I should know better than to expect you to change your mind at this point."
"Yes, you probably should," replied Minerva. "I have no desire to allow this business to be held over until next week. This must be settled officially as soon as possible."
"I'm glad that at least Healer Chevalier insisted upon postponing the trial until midmorning and your use of a walking stick." The advocate gestured at the cane, black walnut with a simple gold knob, resting against the side of Minerva's chair. Fortunately the curses had not caused extensive physical damage, but Minerva's body remained weakened and her reserves of strength were depleted. According to Chevalier, the curses resembled massive electrical shocks which had caused the severe localized burns as well as disrupting her nervous system and heart. Once the Healers had managed to stabilize her normal functions, the burns proved relatively easy to treat. Had this not been the case, Minerva would not have been permitted to even entertain the idea of leaving St. Mungo's. Chevalier had mandated the use of a cane to assist her which Minerva accepted without complaint, a clear indication of its necessity.
"Professor McGonagall? If you are ready?" Shacklebolt's polite invitation came from the doorway. Minerva nodded, grasped the cane, and rose to her feet. With Jonathan on her right and Kingsley on her left, she approached the courtroom, the sharp tap of the cane resounding off the marble floor. At the entrance, Kingsley stepped forward and drew the door open.
Pausing as she walked, Minerva said quietly, "Thank you, Kingsley." She caught and held his gaze for a brief time, ensuring that he understood that her gratitude extended to all his actions over the previous days. In response, Kingsley offered her a slight, but distinct bow.
"An honor, as always, Professor," he avowed. A smile touched Minerva's features and was echoed on the Auror's. With a deep breath, Minerva refocused her attention on the courtroom revealed before her. She strode forward, her pacing steady and measured.
The crowd roared at her entrance. Leaping to their feet, stomping, clapping ecstatically, the air vibrated with the cheers and shouts of the mass of witches and wizards in the rows above. It was, simply put, deafening. On every side, gold and scarlet blazed forth from hats, scarves, gloves, robes, buttons, jewelry, and any other possible accessory or article of clothing that could be charmed to display Gryffindor colors. Minerva saw that even those belonging to Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff or who had never attended Hogwarts at all wore some trinket of gold or ribbon of scarlet. Minerva glanced at Ministry officials – Bones was quite obviously endeavoring not to smile, Percy Weasley twitched whenever his gaze flitted to his family and to her, and the Minister looked distinctly pale, mopping his forehead and looking as if he was about to be sick. In the Hogwarts' section, the students, and parents, showed no signs of ceasing their vociferous greeting anytime soon. Pomona, Filius, and the rest of the staff waved to her while Severus inclined his head when her eyes swept over the professors. Near to them and to a convenient stairway down to the floor, the Chevaliers kept company with Moody and Lupin, Jacques watching her carefully. Finally, she found Dumbledore, once again utterly mundane and hidden in the shadows. He beamed at her.
As Minerva took the scene in, she was unable to restrain a smile from gracing her features. She strode forward until she stood in the center of the room, noting the absence of the chain encumbered chair and its replacement by a cushioned seat with a supportive back and armrests. However, Minerva decided to remain standing with Ashford slightly behind her.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the room quieted as she spoke, "I thank you for your welcome, but I ask that you now allow the court to proceed without interruptions. Madam Bones?"
Rising, Bones announced, "I hereby reconvene the Wizengamot in the case of Minerva McGonagall and the charge of treason laid against her. Professor McGonagall, I believe you wish to make a final statement before the jury votes?"
"I do, Madam Bones." The Department Head nodded and sat down, tacitly giving Minerva the floor. Silence reigned in the courtroom for a moment before she began to speak, her voice decisive and clear, yet not without a ringing passion behind the words.
"When I discovered the appointment of Dolores Umbridge to the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts, I was concerned to say the least. I had doubts as to her suitability for the position and moreover, I felt that her character was in question as well as her motivations for taking the post. Professor Flitwick expressed it well when he said that for myself, and my fellow staff members, teaching is a calling – not an occupation or a job or an employment, but a calling in the truest sense of the term. My duty is first and foremost to my students, to educate, to protect, and to guide them to the best of my abilities. For almost forty years, I have dedicated my life to this purpose, believing that children represent our best hope to create a better community for us all."
" Now, I have been accused of treason against the Ministry. It has been said that I desire to undermine the foundations of this community, to cause unrest and chaos, to champion a madman and a war which does not exist. I deny this completely. I would not betray my students or my community by such actions. I would not betray myself. In one matter only do I believe that I have failed – I allowed Dolores Umbridge to inflict harm upon my students. I stood aside in the hope that, as long as I remained, I could somehow keep her in check. If I had objected openly, I would have been dismissed immediately, leaving the students in an even more vulnerable position of which Umbridge would have taken full advantage. My intentions were good perhaps, but I still could not prevent her from hurting my students. For that, I am sorry, deeply sorry that I could not protect them as I should have." Minerva paused, her eyes alighting upon Harry and then each of the students who had been targeted by Umbridge in turn. Forgive me, she thought. Drawing a deep breath, she turned to face Madam Bones and the Minister.
"Whatever I have done, I have done to protect my students – nothing more or less. I am not a traitor. Witches and wizards of the jury, I ask that you weigh the evidence and testimony which has been presented in your mind and vote as your judgment dictates. That is all." Minerva seated herself, rested her hands on the pommel of her cane, and focused her gaze upon Madam Bones. The Department Head rose, directing her attention, and the attention of the entire court, upon the jury seated to her right.
"Witches and wizards of the jury, you have heard the evidence against Professor McGonagall. On the charge of treason against the Ministry, those who find Professor McGonagall guilty as charged please rise." None of the assembled jurors budged. No longer bothering to hide her smile, Bones asked, "Those in favor of finding Professor McGonagall innocent?" Most of the jurors leapt to their feet with a thunderous "aye!" The few who did not, Minerva noted, were those who had formerly supported Umbridge and Fudge. Apparently their sense of self-preservation prevented them from voting either way.
Minerva, however, quickly found this observation overwhelmed by the ruckus breaking out in the stands. Shouts and cheers rocked the courtroom along with hearty whoops and whistles. Conjuring trumpets from thin air, the Weasley twins joined Lee Jordan in an impromptu and very poor rendition of the school song. A few stray sparklers, shot off by other members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, zoomed around the heads of the spectators, whizzing so close to Cornelius Fudge that they caught his top hat. It exploded into a shower of confetti that drifted down in a flurry of gold and red flakes.
A loud bang from Madam Bones' wand interrupted the celebrations. "Please contain your enthusiasm until the court is concluded. After that, feel free to continue the festivities, although perhaps in a more appropriate location. Professor McGonagall, the Ministry offers you its sincere apology for this entire affair. In light of recent discoveries, the Educational Decrees are being reviewed and are therefore temporarily suspended. I suspect that they will be repealed shortly. Once again, Professor, you have our apologies. The Wizengamot is dismissed."
Amidst the reignited victory commotion, the courtroom gradually emptied of occupants, the exuberant noise of the assembled witches and wizards echoed off the walls of the hallway. Most of them stopped to congratulate Minerva and Jonathan although the Minister, Percy, and his few remaining supporters tried to slip out as unobtrusively as possible. Select Gryffindors made this attempt impossible, sticking out their legs in an unrepentant manner and then presenting smiling 'who me' expressions to their foes. Minerva considered saying something, but then reminded herself that the school term was over. It is not as if I could deduct points in any case. Besides, if I were that young…youth does have the excuse of immaturity when one follows one's secret wish to trip your enemy.
"Minerva!" exclaimed Filius when the staff reached her. With the exception of Severus, all of them looked ready to join in the impromptu jig the Weasley twins had begun a few steps away. Merry grins enlivened their faces as they gathered around the Deputy Headmistress and her advocate. "That was marvelous, absolutely marvelous. What a pity Dolores wasn't here to witness it."
"That is a pity, Filius, but I imagine our former," Pomona savored the word, her expression strikingly similar to that which a child wears upon receiving every gift on her Christmas list, "colleague is enjoying the comforts of Azkaban prison. I should send her something as a cell warming gift – a cutting of Urtica Dioica would be very appropriate, I think."
"What is it?" queried Aurora. "Herbology was never one of my strong suits."
"Stinging nettle." Laughter ensued, the professors chuckling and giggling at the prospect. Minerva and Severus exchanged raised eyebrows at the antics of their fellow teachers, Minerva biting the inside her cheek to keep from losing her composure.
"Send one from each of us, Pomona, we'll fill the cell with it," suggested Hooch. "Label them 'From your former staff – have a nice stay!'"
"Couldn't we include a box of chocolate to go along with that?" asked Aurora. The others stared at her until she clarified. "We could stick some of those little pills the Weasleys developed inside each piece or Severus could provide a few suitable potions – maybe one that causes her hair to fall out?"
"Or one that makes her sprout tentacles?" Jonathan proposed, earning approving looks from the rest. Severus restrained himself from rolling his eyes.
"Well, we can decide what we want to do later," said Filius. "Mr. Ashford, thank you for your service." He shook hands with the advocate, before turning to Minerva. The Gryffindor stepped aside a little, and the pair waited until Pomona and Severus had joined them. Then Filius continued, "It is wonderful to see you so recovered Minerva. However, I thought the Healers wanted to keep you abed for another day or two?"
"They did. I objected." Noticing that none of the three seemed pleased by this, Minerva stated firmly, "I am fine. Healer Chevalier would have not permitted me to leave St. Mungo's if I were not."
"And if I were to ask the Healer?" Severus glanced in Jacques' direction. "Would he say you are 'fine'?"
"I am well enough to finish this trial and return to Hogwarts. That is what matters, Severus." While the words were ostensibly intended for the Slytherin, her tone told the Heads she would not discuss it further.
"You will be coming back to Hogwarts tonight, I assume?" solicited Filius.
"I thought you would," voiced Pomona. "I asked the house-elves to freshen your quarters and put a vase of summer flowers in your sitting room to brighten things up a bit."
"Thank you, Pomona." Out of the corner of her eye, Minerva saw Remus, Moody, and the Weasleys approaching along with the Grangers and Harry. "I will see you later today when I return. I would like to speak with all of you tomorrow to assess the situation."
"I'll arrange it," Filius said. Collecting the rest of the professors, they bid her goodbye and left.
"Mrs. Granger," Minerva addressed Hermione's mother, "How are you?"
"Well, Professor. And how are you? Hermione mentioned that you were hurt?" Her husband came to stand beside Mrs. Granger.
"I was injured, but it is already quite healed," Minerva assured her. "I appreciate your presence here during the trial."
"We felt that we must be here, Professor," declared Mr. Granger. "You have supported our daughter and helped us to accept the Wizarding world. This is the least we could do in return."
"Thank you nonetheless."
"You're welcome," said Mrs. Granger. "Unfortunately, we have to be going. We're meeting my cousin and her daughter for lunch and I have already rescheduled once." She called out to Hermione, informing her that it was time for them to leave.
"Thank you for taking care of me, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione said. "Tell Snuffles I said thank you to him too, Harry."
"Sure. Bye Hermione," answered Harry.
"See you in September," said Ron. Biding the rest of the group goodbye, Hermione walked over to her parents and McGonagall.
"Ready to go?" asked her father, receiving a nod in response. "Goodbye, Professor."
"Yes, Miss Granger?"
"I'm very glad you are okay, Professor." Hermione's voice was quiet, but earnest. Catching her student's gaze, Minerva smiled, a gentle curling of her lips that softened her features. Hermione smiled back and then dashed off to rejoin her parents at the courtroom doorway.
"Congratulations, Professor," Arthur exclaimed as he and Molly approached her. Molly seconded him after scolding Fred for making a rude gesture in direction of Cornelius Fudge who had yet to escape the parents demanding answers about Umbridge.
"Thank you, Arthur, Molly," replied Minerva.
"Are you going straight back to Hogwarts?" asked Arthur.
"That was my intention. I'm afraid I have work waiting for me and I need to speak with a certain member of the staff."
"Come by the house first, Professor," Molly suggested. "Some of the Order members are coming for a late lunch and I'm sure they would like to see you. I'm making a berry pie and we can make it a bit of celebration. The work can wait for a bit longer, can't it?" What Molly thought, but refrained from saying, was that McGonagall had only just been released from the hospital and shouldn't be throwing herself back into her work quite yet.
"I think it's a wonderful idea," added Remus, who appeared next to Molly. "Please, Professor?" Caught between him and Molly's well-developed mothering, Minerva decided it was best to concede gracefully.
"What time should I come by?"
"As soon as you are done here," answered Molly. With Minerva's acceptance secured, she proceeded to gather up her charges while Arthur said their goodbyes. Remus' eyes lingered on the family as they left the courtroom.
Noticing Minerva's regard of him, Remus said softly, "Aside from the hair, Harry fits right into the family. I'm glad that he has them, Hermione as well." For a moment, his tone slipped into a childlike wistfulness, tinged with sorrow.
"As am I, Remus." Minerva would have liked to offer more, but the public space prevented it. Before either of them could change the subject, the Chevaliers finished speaking with Jonathan and stepped over to Minerva and Remus.
"Congratulations, Minerva," declared Celeste. "Although, I must admit that I am not surprised."
"How are you feeling?" her husband asked, having noticed Minerva leaning a bit more heavily on her support than she had earlier.
Unconvinced, the Healer replied, "Keep using the cane and remember to try to rest as much as possible over the next few weeks. I have already spoken with your Madame Pomfrey about further treatment and limitations."
"I will do my best to follow your directives as much as possible."
"Yes, as much as possible…that merely means you will persist in your usual habit of considering everyone else first, and yourself last. That is not conducive to your health as you will take no time for healing and will push yourself. If I could, I would like to stay here and make sure you take the time needed. Unfortunately, Celeste and I must return to France within a day or two."
"I would like to spend some time with you before we leave. May we come to Hogwarts tomorrow?" Celeste enquired. "We need to discuss You-Know-Who's return and what that means for France."
"Would four o'clock be convenient?"
"Four o'clock then." After the pair departed, Minerva, Remus and Jonathan were the only people left in the courtroom. Remus and Jonathan fell into a discussion of civil rights as they made their way along the corridor, up the staircase, and into the lift. Exiting the lift, they passed into the Atrium.
"Well, this is my stop," said Jonathan. He had paused in front of one of the fireplaces.
"Thank you, Jonathan, for everything you have done."
"It was a privilege, Minerva." He grinned with a wink. "Besides, the look on that Toad's face was priceless. I'll send you an owl sometime soon." He grasped a pinch of powder from the stand beside the fireplace. Throwing it on the flames, he murmured to Minerva, "In the coming war, if you need me, in any capacity…"
"I will not hesitate to ask, Jonathan."
Jonathan nodded sharply, stepped into the fireplace, and shouted, "Ashford Law Offices, Edinburgh!" and whipped out of sight. When the flames had reclaimed their normal colors, Minerva strode, with Remus in her wake, to the visitors' entrance and ascended to the street level. Once outside, she continued until out of sight of the phone booth.
"Professor? If you would allow me?" Remus extended his arm. Her left hand settled upon his forearm, Remus apparated them to the dingy stretch of pavement in front of Grimmauld Place. Minerva landed slightly off balance. Instinctively, he reached to steady her, but Minerva regained her footing with an adroitness of a feline Animagus. Remus aborted the movement quickly.
Entering the house and descending into the kitchen, Arthur escorted Minerva to the seat at the head of the table while Remus was called upon to arbitrate an argument between Sirius and the twins as to which was the superior Quidditch team, the Wimbourne Wasps or the Ballycastle Bats. Tonks, her hair a vivid scarlet with gold streaks, abandoned her conversation with Alastor to join in the debate.
"Alastor, has any progress been made in determining the motives behind my attack?"
"Nothing solid. Kingsley managed to be present during the interrogations, but they claim not to remember the attack. They could be lying or have been placed under the Imperious Curse." Moody growled, "Snape hasn't heard anything and since the blasted fools won't let Dumbledore near the Ministry…I'm sorry, Minerva."
Minerva accepted this with a small nod, pondering the possibilities and deciding to try to speak with Kingsley personally at the first opportunity. While convalescing in St. Mungo's, she had seen him along with other members of the Order, but had been unable to talk openly. Her visitors had also apparently believed that discussing the attack would somehow distress her and refrained from even approaching the topic obliquely. Minerva had been unable to dissuade them of them of this opinion.
"Mum, when's lunch going to be ready?" Ron shouted across the room.
"Don't yell, Ronald. Lunch will be ready in a minute. You and Harry can get plates and start setting the table. Fred, glasses and George, there's pitchers of lemonade, pumpkin juice, and ice water in the cooler." Per Molly's directions, the younger Weasleys scuttled about the kitchen while Molly plated stacks of sandwiches and put two bowls of salad on the table with bottles of homemade dressings. As if summoned, Emmeline Vance and Mundungus Fletch appeared in time to secure spots at the table. Emmeline placed herself next to Tonks, opposite Remus, and Mundungus chose to avoid Molly, unwittingly provoking her irritation nonetheless by sitting himself next to twins at the other end of the table. Lunch commenced and attention was devoted to the food rather than conversation.
After the promised berry pies, one strawberry and one blackberry, had been brought forth and first helpings had been consumed, the group as a whole began discussing the events of the day albeit in very different manners. The more mature members considered the possible ramifications of the trial while those with a little less maturity, including Mundungus, Sirius, and Tonks, simply reveled in the defeat of the Toad.
"What will happen to Fudge, now?" Molly asked. "Will he be removed from office?"
"I don't think so, Molly," Remus answered her. "He can claim he knew nothing about Umbridge's crimes and the public will probably believe him, or at least, convince themselves that they do."
"Amelia Bones is investigating Umbridge fully. I'm sure that if there is any evidence the Minister knew what Umbridge is doing, she won't let it slide," Arthur pronounced.
"If Bones hasn't been comprised," muttered Moody, his false eye rotating to face the back of his skull. While Remus and Arthur endeavored to convince Mad-eye of Bones' trustworthiness, Molly kept her eyes focused on the twins who were huddled around Mundungus. Her hands twisted the napkin in her lap.
"Molly?" Minerva's query startled her. Smoothing out the napkin and laying on the table, Molly avoided the Professor's gaze. Minerva waited until Molly had folded the napkin several times into a small square and had still not replied. "You object to Mundungus associating with your children?"
"I know he's a member of the Order, Professor, and he is useful and Dumbledore says...but I don't think he's a good influence on them. He's a thief and I don't know where he learned his sense of right and wrong, because it's not what I would call acceptable."
"Your concern is understandable, but they are of age, Molly."
"I know that. I just want to protect them and after…" Trailing off, Molly fell silent, rose, seized a plate, and hurried over to the sink. Minerva gestured Arthur, who had stood up to follow her, to sit back down and went over to Molly.
"After Percy?" Her blunt statement caused Molly to drop the plate into the sink. Slowly, the Weasley matron turned to face the elder witch. Adjusting her position so the rest of the room could not see exactly what was going on, Minerva continued, "Is that what you meant to say?"
"Yes." Mrs. Weasley's voice was low, barely above a whisper. "How could he do it? How could he turn his back on his family? He didn't even, didn't even come to the hospital when Arthur was hurt? Didn't we teach him better than that?"
"You cannot blame yourself, Molly."
"But – "
"Listen to me, Molly. You did the best you could. You tried to show by example that family and character matter more than position or wealth or prestige. You have six, I would venture to say seven, children who have absorbed those lessons well."
"Percy made his choice. Eventually, I believe he will recognize the wrongness of that choice. In the meantime, and if he does not, I strongly suggest that you do not burden yourself with misplaced guilt. The ultimate decision of how to conduct their lives rests in their hands, not ours."
"Do you really believe that, Professor? Maybe if I had taken more time, paid more attention – "
"I must believe it Molly." Tilting her head, Minerva watched Sirius ruffle Harry's hair as the boy tried futilely to flatten it into obedience. "We can teach them as best we can, but the choice is theirs. Not ours. I would not worry about the twins too much. Despite their antics, I am proud to have them in my house. They will never conform to the standard mold, but that does not mean they are deficient in character."
"I'll try, Professor." With a tight smile, Molly bustled off to order the table cleared. Seeing the others all absorbed, Minerva retrieved her cane from where it rested against her chair. Slipping out the door, she mounted the stairs. Even with the assistance of the cane and a hand on the wall to steady her, Minerva's muscles ached and trembled a little by the time she reached the library. She collapsed rather ungracefully into a worn leather armchair. Faintly, through the cracked doorway, she could hear the mumble of voices from the kitchen and based on the volume, she surmised that the Quidditch debate had resumed.
"Prof – Minerva?" Hovering in the doorway, Remus seemed uncertain of his reception. "I brought you a cup of tea. Molly thought you might like one."
"Thank you, Remus." Remus placed the cup, green with a silver base and handle, on the table at her side.
"You could return to Hogwarts," he said.
"Since I suspect Albus will request an Order meeting tonight, I thought it would be more expedient to simply remain here. Please tell Molly I said thank you for the tea." When he had left, after retrieving the hidden cache of Order papers at her request, Minerva let her head fall back against the creased leather. She closed her eyes, drawing a deep breath and then, opening her eyes, tapped the lamp beside her. Beginning with the reports concerning the incursion at the Ministry of Magic the day after her arrest, Minerva read, filling in the gaps in the fragmentary accounts she had received of the Order's activities since that time. She created duplicates in order to make notations here and there.
A trill interrupted her work. Fawkes swooped towards her, taking possession of an armrest. Folding his wings with a flutter of gold and scarlet, the phoenix crooned at her.
"Hello, Fawkes. Good afternoon, Albus," she directed her attention to the Headmaster whom Fawkes had abandoned to greet her. Rising, she remarked, "I see you have restored yourself to your usual unconventional appearance and wardrobe. I did not realize you owned robes in any shade of brown, let alone without decorations." The mundane outfit had he worn earlier as a disguise had been replaced by a sky blue robe that winked with silver embroidery even in the soft light of the library. Albus smiled, a chuckle escaping him.
"It's good to see you too, Minerva." He closed the short distance between them in two long strides. "I thought you knew it was me."
"Yes and you took an unnecessary risk by coming."
"I judged the benefits outweighed the risk."
"My dear, did you think I would deny myself the pleasure of watching you, and Mr. Ashford, pare Dolores and Cornelius down to size?" He gave her a repentant look. "I confess, the temptation was too great for me to resist."
"Evidently." After a moment of feigning disapproval, Minerva allowed a smile to trace her features. "And, may I ask, how you enjoyed the show?"
"Very much, my dear. It was the highlight of the season." The levity in his voice and manner fell away a little as he guided her to a seat on the couch. "How are you, my dear?" With a nod at the parchments she had laid aside, he said, "I have called an Order meeting for six o'clock tonight, but I don't believe there will be anything of interest discussed. You could return to Hogwarts."
She waited until he had sat down next to her before replying. "I am hardly an invalid, Albus. Besides, I have already missed far more than I anticipated. I will stay."
"Is there any possibility I could convince you otherwise?"
"I think you know me better than that."
"I do. However, I had to try. I don't want you to exhaust yourself."
"I will be fine, Albus. How is Hogwarts?" Shifting the subject, Minerva directed the conversation towards the school and recent Order activities. The afternoon waned as they discussed the reports from Tonks and Kingsley concerning the break-in at the Ministry, the whereabouts and activities of known Death Eaters and their sympathizers, and contingency plans for a full scale attack on any number of targets including Hogwarts, the Ministry, Diagon Alley, and St. Mungo's among other matters. Finally, as the clock ticked closer to six o'clock, Minerva broached the question of Harry Potter.
"I assume Mr. Potter will be returning to his aunt and uncle tomorrow?"
"He must." Abrupt and to the point, Albus' response sounded resigned, but determined. "It is for his protection. He will be safer there than anywhere else with the possible exception of Hogwarts." His gaze caught hers, unwavering and intense. Minerva's curled lip and clenched jaw line made her distaste for this idea perfectly clear. "I do not relish the thought of leaving him with them any more than you do. There is simply no other option. In a week or two, when certain arrangements are in place, he will be able to go to the Burrow or even perhaps return here."
"Either would be preferable to the Dursleys." With a slight shake of her head, Minerva declared, "I understand your reasoning, Albus, but that does not mean that I will ever completely agree with you on this subject. If it were not for the protection offered by blood magic, I would insist that he never go back to that house."
"As would I." In the silence that followed, Albus rose. He drifted away from Minerva, idly examining the dark tomes filling the shelves, encased in a layer of dust and cobwebs. Presently, he came across a blank shelf. "There are a few missing, it seems."
"Molly and Remus thought it best to remove certain volumes from library when it became clear that children would be living in this house. He provided me with a list in case one of them could be useful later and has kept them in his possession. Most of them deal with various aspects of the Dark Arts."
"'A little learning is a dangerous thing,'" Albus quoted softly. At Minerva's sharp glare, he admitted, "I have not told him."
"About the prophecy?" Minerva pushed herself to her feet, crossing the room to stand in front of him. "Why not?"
"It has not been necessary. I see no reason to burden him further at this point." Before Minerva could respond, the clock clanged six beats. "We should go down." He offered her his arm.
"This discussion is not finished, Albus, merely postponed," stated Minerva as she laid her hand on his forearm. She flicked her other wrist, summoning and shrinking the cane which was then slid into a hidden pocket of her robes. She glanced at Albus and was surprised to find a smile lingering on his face.
"It is wonderful to have you back, my dear. No one else challenges me the way you do. I felt quite lost without your wise guidance these past few months." Albus covered the hand resting on his arm with his opposite hand. "If you would be so kind as to avoid life threatening situations in the future, I would be most grateful."
"I will do my best."
"Thank you. Shall we?" He removed his hand from hers, gesturing towards the door. At her nod, he escorted her downstairs and the meeting commenced with their arrival.
In the western sky, soft tendrils of gold escaped from beneath the horizon, illuminating the few dusky indigo clouds and the façade of Hogwarts castle. The rapidly fading light traced the intricate swirls and spirals engraved upon the wooden doors, glinted off the windows, and caressed the grey stones of the parapets and towers. Home at last! Minerva breathed out a quiet sigh and breathed in the familiar aroma of Hogwarts in the summertime, the clean crisp scent of the lake mixing with the perfume of the new grass and wildflowers and blooming greenhouses. Faintly, through the soles of her shoes, the pathway radiated the memory of the summer sun. Her eyes slipped closed. Even more than the physical sensations, the magic that infused the entire atmosphere told her that she was home. A gentle hum of power flowed through her body, gathering and intertwining with her own magic.
"Welcome home, my dear." Minerva smiled, opening her eyes to see his answering grin. Fawkes swooped around them before soaring off in direction of the Headmaster's Tower.
"It is good to be home." After her hand reclaimed its spot on his arm, the pair strolled towards the steps. As they mounted the broad stairs, the doors swung open to receive them at Albus' unspoken command. They passed into the Entrance Hall where Minerva caught sight of the hourglasses. None of them held jewels in the lower half as the school year had officially ended and they had been reset for the next year.
"How many points did Gryffindor have left by the end of term? When I left, I remember that we had only a few rubies remaining with Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw not far behind. Dolores seemed to be attempting to set a record for the lowest number of points for a House in history and plunge Gryffindor into the negative values."
"She tried," Albus chuckled, "however, the rest of the staff, excepting Severus of course, decided to prevent it purely to spite her. They began to award points for any reason they could contrive. Pomona and Charity gave out ten points each time a student said please or thank you. Filius, Aurora, and Septima awarded points to any student who came to class on time and then gave out an additional fifteen or twenty points if the student brought his book to class. Correct answers were suddenly valued at fifty to seventy-five points apiece. I believe Miss Granger earned over five hundred points in a single day. Many students merited points because they 'contributed to the wellbeing of the student body through humor' according to Madame Pomfrey. As it happened, some of the largest point awards were bestowed on students who may or may not have contributed to Dolores'…problems although that might be purely coincidental. In the end, the total point score for Gryffindor was around three hundred and fifty with the other Houses in the same range. Given the irregular point system this year, I felt it would be unfair to award the House Cup unless more accurate totals can be calculated."
"Severus must be disappointed. I think he was anticipating a Slytherin victory, especially after losing the Quidditch cup." Minerva didn't quite manage to hide the tiny smirk of satisfaction from the recollection of her rival Head's expression when Ginny Weasley had snatched the Snitch, securing a Gryffindor victory. For a moment, Severus had blinked, appearing rather dazed before he had snapped his mouth shut and claimed Gryffindor had only won on luck, not talent.
"Yes, I heard that it was a spectacular game," commented Albus.
"It was. The team played well despite the loss of Potter and the Weasley twins. Miss Johnson proved to be a sound choice to replace Wood and the younger Weasleys seem to following in their older siblings' footsteps." As they talked, they climbed the staircase to the first floor, traversing the corridor and continuing upwards on another staircase. With each step, Minerva's hand weighed a little heavier on Albus' arm and her breathing became more labored. Her mouth tightened as her feet slowed.
"Will you choose Harry for captain next year?" Albus asked. Minerva nodded, one hand unconsciously pressing against her side. They reached the third floor landing and Albus pulled her aside. "I think I shall apparate us the rest of the way. I should have done so in the first place, except that I thought you might enjoy seeing the grounds and the sunset. I thought it would be a better homecoming than simply appearing in the corridor."
"I can manage. There is no need –" Minerva started to protest, but Albus prevented her from finishing her assertion that she did not require any help.
"Minerva, please allow me to do this." His entreaty caused Minerva's determination to make it on her own to waver. If he had argued about her strength or her health, she could have refused him, but the tone in his voice… Perhaps this once, Minerva thought. It has been a very long day and I am tired. Once she admitted this fact to herself, an increased awareness of her aching muscles and constricted feeling in her chest depleted the last of her stubborn objections.
"Very well, you win," she conceded. In a moment, they were standing in the middle of her living room.
"Filius arranged for a Heads of House meeting at ten. Would you care to have breakfast in my office around nine?" asked Albus.
"Nine is rather late."
"I was hoping you might be take advantage of it and sleep in a little."
Minerva shot him a glare, his mother hen tactics becoming rather annoying, but realized he would probably refuse to change the time. "Nine o'clock, if you insist."
"I do. Goodnight, Minerva. Pleasant dreams."
"Goodnight, Albus." After the portrait had thudded shut behind him, Minerva retired to her bedroom and quickly readied for bed. Reyna had apparently retrieved the prescribed potion from Poppy and placed it on her dresser. Minerva poured out the indicated dosage, drank it, and washed it down with a glass of water. Within a few seconds of settling into bed, she fell sound asleep.
The sound of her name woke her. Dimly recognizing the voice, her hand stumbled onto the bedside table, searching for her glasses. Sitting up, Minerva shoved the spectacles into place and the figure of Dumbledore, standing in the open doorway, became identifiable.
"Albus, what is it?" she demanded as her feet slid to the ground and her fingers retrieved a robe from its hook on a bedpost. Being the gentleman that he was, Albus politely kept his gaze focused away from her, although Minerva had long ago learned to sleep in outfits that were suited for all types of midnight emergencies. When the tie was fastened, he looked directly at her.
"There has been a double attack. Dementors struck Elsfield, outside Oxford first. Once the main force of Aurors was dispatched, Voldemort assaulted the Ministry. Tonks was ordered to remain behind at the Ministry and managed to send word. The Order is assembling now to assist. I am joining them at the Ministry."
"Then go. If they attempt a three-pronged attack, I can hold Hogwarts."
"If the situation worsens or she believes Grimmauld Place to be unsafe, I have instructed Molly to bring the children here."
"Understood. I will watch for them." As Fawkes flamed into existence, alighting on Albus' shoulder, Minerva repeated, "Go." Albus grasped her hand, transferring the wards to her with a rush of power. Strictly speaking, a physical connection was not required, but the brief contact was heartening as their magics and the wards resonated together.
"If something happens to me –"
"Don't be dramatic, Albus." Despite the graveness of the situation, that induced an upwards quirk of his lips. Minerva ignored this, instead, tilting her head as if to ask why he was still there.
"Fawkes," Albus murmured and the phoenix hopped down to his wrist. "I will see you in a few hours."
"Good luck," replied Minerva, already unbinding her hair from its braid to rework it into a more practical bun. Albus disappeared, her final words following him into the ether. "Be careful." Minerva cast a glance at the empty space, placed the last pin in her hair, and proceeded to change into robes. Tugging on a pair of boots, Minerva straightened. Halfway across her living room, a sudden spike of pain forced her to return to her bedroom for the cane. Jacques will not be pleased, she thought. Less than twenty-four hours out of the hospital and I am already involved in a crisis. However much she disliked the prop, her body was vigorously protesting the insufficient amount of rest and the stress being placed upon her injuries. Minerva pushed the discomfort aside – she had more important matters to address. Filius, Pomona, Severus, Poppy, Charity left after the trial, Aurora and Septima were already gone, Sybil – not that she would be of any use, Hagrid. Fortunately, Albus had informed her of who remained in the castle that afternoon. Exiting her quarters, Minerva headed towards the Headmaster's Office.
"Ginger newts," she called to the gargoyle as she approached. It sprang sideways and Minerva stepped onto the moving staircase. When it deposited her at the top, she entered, the portraits hailing her.
"Good evening," Minerva responded. "Please send for the rest of the staff and ask them to wait here when they arrive. I also would like to speak with the ghosts if you could locate them. Thank you." Several Heads walked out of their portraits to perform these tasks and Minerva turned to face the wall of bookshelves at her right. Taking out her wand, she traced the outline of a miniature Hogwarts crest carved into the broad edge of the shelf upon which the sorting hat rested. The crest quartered and parted, the animals glowing with their House colour allowing her to place her hand in the open space between them. With a hiss, the snake wrapped itself around her wrist, fangs poised to bite. The other animals bared their claws and teeth, leaping upon the back of her hand.
"Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress and Head of Gryffindor," she declared. The animals dissolved into a shimmer of sparks which faded to reveal a darkened passageway in place of the bookcase. At her touch, crystal orbs flared and steadied, illuminating the narrow corridor. Steadying herself with one hand against the wall, seamless and smooth, Minerva advanced. After a sharp twist, the passageway opened into a domed chamber. Four standards hung from iron rods, one at each point of the compass: Gryffindor to the south, Slytherin to the north, Ravenclaw to the west, and Hufflepuff to the east. On the dome above, a projection of the night sky glimmered, spelled to show the stars even in the midst of thunderstorm. Underneath the apex, a circular stone table cradled a model of Hogwarts and the grounds. Minerva approached the table, examining the runes etched along the rim. She nodded, satisfied, and regarded the model itself. Created by the Founders, the model reflected not only the physical construction, but the magical aspects of Hogwarts as well. A gold line encircled the castle to designate the boundary of the grounds and wards. If the wards were weakened or breached, the vibrant gold would fade to a pale yellow or disappear entirely. At the moment, the gold held steady and strong. Minerva tapped one of the runes with her wand, causing an intricate lattice of various colors to appear in the air before her and settle over the castle. The Apparition wards, a spiraling turquoise strand, pulsed robustly. Meticulously, Minerva checked several more strands including the grays of the magic supporting the structure itself and the crimsons for the security measures.
Finished and finding everything in order, Minerva stepped back from the table. The lattice dissipated and she left the chamber, emerging from the passageway to find Filius, Pomona, and Severus awaiting her. As soon as she had cleared the doorway, the aperture vanished, an ordinary bookcase once again.
"Minerva, what is happening?" asked Filius. "The portraits told us that Dumbledore received a message about an attack." A rap of on the door and a muffled booming voice announced Hagrid's arrival before Minerva could respond.
"Come in," she called. Hagrid entered, followed by Poppy. Materializing through the door a few seconds later, Sir Nicholas glided into the room.
"Professor McGonagall, the ghosts have been assembled downstairs."
"Thank you, Sir Nicholas." Minerva positioned herself behind Albus' desk, allowing her to see everyone at once. "Voldemort has launched two attacks. The first target was Elsfield, a Muggle town outside Oxford. When the majority of the Aurors had been deployed, the Ministry was assaulted. Dumbledore has gone to support the Ministry. We need to prepare to defend Hogwarts if necessary."
"Is an attack likely?" questioned Pomona, sinking onto a chair.
"No." Heads twisted to focus on the Slytherin, but Severus said nothing more.
"Severus is correct." Attention returned to Minerva. "It is doubtful that Voldemort has the resources to attempt three simultaneous attacks at once, even if one or more are diversionary. Nonetheless, we cannot afford to be careless. The ghosts will patrol the corridors. Sir Nicholas, please direct them to keep a close eye on all entry points. Hagrid, you will be on the grounds with Fang. Poppy, make sure the infirmary is ready on the remote chance it is needed. Filius, Pomona, please station yourselves in the antechamber off the Entrance Hall. Severus and I will be moving about the castle. Communicate by Patronuses if the message is urgent, or the ghosts and portraits if it is not."
"Right, Professor," acknowledged Hagrid. He and Poppy left quickly, the matron reciting a list of preparations to be made in the infirmary. Sir Nicholas bowed to her and departed as well.
"Are the wards in order?" Filius enquired.
"Yes, I detected no irregularities or weaknesses."
"That's good," Pomona said, rising and walking with Filius to the door. "You will tell us if you hear anything from Dumbledore?"
"Of course." When the door had thudded shut behind them, Severus approached Minerva.
"If I am summoned…"
"Inform me before you leave. Did you have any indication that this was planned?"
"The Dark Lord intended to attack the Ministry again eventually, but nothing suggested another assault was imminent." Scowling, Severus commented, "However, the meetings have become more treacherous. He has been punishing infractions and failures very harshly."
"It appears then that his patience has run out."
"So it appears," replied the Slytherin as the pair exited the office. Minerva directed Severus to complete an inspection of the ground floor, leaving her to check the more covert means of entry into the school.
Minerva paused on the stairs leading up to the first floor from the Entrance Hall. Flashing across the flagstones, Tonk's chameleon scampered up the banister to her.
"Sirius is injured, potentially fatal. Molly and children are evacuating Grimmauld Place." As the chameleon evaporated, a tabby replaced it, swishing her tail back and forth. Minerva instructed her Patronus to order Hagrid to head to the gates. Without Albus, the wards could not be lifted to allow Molly and her charges to transport directly into the castle. Slowly, Minerva turned and descended the stairs, calling to Filius and Pomona who emerged from a side chamber when she reached the bottom. Her grave expression caused the pair to falter momentarily when they saw her.
"Minerva, what is it?" Pomona hustled over to her with Filius striding quickly to keep up. "What's wrong? Are we under attack?"
"No, Pomona, we are not under attack. I have been informed that Molly Weasley will be bringing her children and Harry Potter here shortly. Hagrid has gone to meet them at the gates. Pomona, please alert the kitchens and request that the second floor guest suite to be prepared. Filius, if you could notify Severus and ask him to meet me in Dumbledore's office. Tell him to wait for me as I must attend Molly and her charges first." Perplexed glances shot her way, curious as what circumstances resulted in this turn of events, but neither bothered to demand an explanation. Instead, they agreed and left to carry out their assigned tasks. When their footsteps died away, the hall gathered the silence in the shadowy corners unlit by the torches. During the year, even in the middle of the night when the whole castle was supposed to be slumbering, the cavernous space never felt quite so still, quite so empty. Lost in thought, Minerva's fingers trailed across a nick in the globe surmounting the post at the end of the banister. The rough edge of the nick caught at her skin and at her memory.
"Stupefy!" Black dodged, laughing and the spell collided with the stone sphere with an explosion of dust. Raising his wand to respond, he suddenly cringed. Potter paled several shades as the rest of the students rapidly fled the scene of the crime. Minerva ignored the onlookers, her gaze pinned on the guilty parties.
"Black, Potter, explain yourselves!"
Glibly, Black said, "We were practicing for our Defense exams, Professor." He smiled at her, all innocence and charm. Unfortunately for him, he faced his Head of House and not a teenage girl. He withered underneath her glare while Potter shifted his weight from foot to foot.
"Ten points from Gryffindor apiece," Minerva declared. "Since you two seem to have such enthusiasm for the subject, both of you can spend Saturday assisting Professor Moore. She mentioned that her animal cages need a good scrubbing." They groaned. "Showing off is not considered practice. If this happens again, it will be detention for a week and fifty points from Gryffindor. Am I understood?"
"Yes, Professor," they grumbled before escaping out onto the grounds. As they ran down the steps, Minerva heard Black shout "I was winning, you know!" to which Potter replied indignantly "No, you weren't!"
Death had already claimed one. Treachery and Azkaban had twisted the other, robbed him of his vital spirit, leaving only the tattered remnants of the boy she had watched tackle his best friend on that May afternoon. Will I be forced to watch his funeral now? Will I stand beside another grave, another child consumed by war?
The screech of the hinges jolted her into the present. The stray thought of no one remembered to have them oiled while I was gone flitted across her mind as the right door swung open. She straightened, realizing she had been leaning against the banister. Outside, the stars glittered with no sign of the dawn. The dark silhouettes of Hagrid, Fang, Molly, and her students absorbed the light from the torches as they entered.
"Ere they are, Professor," Hagrid rumbled, "safe and sound." He clapped a hand on Harry's shoulder, causing stumble a little but he grinned tiredly up at the gamekeeper as Hagrid apologized.
"Thank you, Hagrid. If you could return to your patrol, I will handle things from here."
"Come on, Fang. Professor," he nodded at her before heading back outside, Fang at his heels.
"Molly, I've arranged for guest quarters for you and the children for as long as necessary. This way." The tap of her cane echoed in the dim corridors as Minerva lead them to a portrait of a Druid, blue whorls on his cheeks. "Confugo." After the portrait swung wide, the group passed into a living room. "There are four bedrooms and two bathrooms attached to this suite." Indicating first a door along the left wall and then a hanging twist of purple cord next to portrait hole, she continued, "They are located off the hallway through that door. If you need anything, pull this cord. I have alerted the house-elves. Molly, may I speak with you?"
Drawing Mrs. Weasley to one side, Minerva asked quietly, "What were you told?"
"Arthur sent a message that Sirius was very badly injured and might die. Dumbledore wanted us out of the house just in case." Molly wiped her hands on her apron, the fabric crumpled in places.
"I assume you have not told Mr. Potter yet?"
"No, I…I thought I should wait until we knew more. He is worried enough as it is and I didn't want to scare him when he can't do anything. Should I?"
"Not yet. The battle must be finishing if Tonks and Arthur could take the time to send us messages. Hopefully, it also means that Black has been attended to or transported to St. Mungo's. Dumbledore will contact us as soon as the assault is under control. Until then, we wait." Minerva glanced at the children, noting how the Weasleys had gathered around Harry. Returning her attention to Molly, she said, "I will most likely be in the Head's office if needed. The password is ginger newts. You should send a Patronus to Arthur to let him know that you have arrived safely." After Molly agreed, Minerva exited the suite and proceeded to the Head's Office, finding Severus already there.
"Black has been injured, I assume?" demanded Severus. Out of the corner of her eye, Minerva saw Phineas disappear at this pronouncement. "I see no other reason Dumbledore would order Potter and the Weasleys to evacuate Grimmauld Place."
"Yes. He must have refused to remain at Grimmauld Place or Albus needed every available wand, even Sirius' despite the risk."
With a sneer, Severus said, "The former is more likely. Black never wanted for idiocy or impulsiveness."
"Enough, Severus. Regardless of the bad blood between the two of you, you are both members of the Order. I expect you to show some common decency." Wisely, Snape kept the rest of his thoughts to himself. He could have pointed out that, had their positions been reversed, Black would have rejoiced at his misfortune. Indeed, in the past, Black had delighted in causing him pain and suffering. However, he held his tongue. Satisfied, Minerva moved over to Albus' desk and sat down, occupying herself with the paperwork lying upon it. Severus settled into the chair across from her, his gaze unfocused.
Suddenly, Severus gasped, his hand clamped around his left arm. "I've been summoned."
"I will inform Dumbledore," Minerva said. Rising, he strode towards the door, jaw clenched and face pale. "And Severus," he paused at her call, one hand on the handle to look back at her. "Be careful." The door shut without a reply as Minerva conjured her Patronus. When the tabby had departed, she attempted to concentrate on minor matters of Hogwarts. After her inability to prevent her thoughts from straying to the battle, Minerva capped the ink well and set the quill back in its holder. The chime of the clock taunted her, the uncertainties providing ample fuel for her imagination. If the assault exceeded their expectations…if Voldemort had more troops at his disposal…if the Ministry still refused to believe and turned against the Order…if Black died…if Severus was being called to his death…
How many times have I done this? Waited for the outcome of a battle? Waited to know who survived and who did not? Gripping her cane, Minerva stood, ignoring the pain and fatigue seizing her muscles. She moved over to the window and tied the curtains back. In the revealed sky, the moon rode closer to the western horizon, but no hint of dawn could be found to the east.
The wards shifted, humming with recognition. Albus. Making her way down to the Entrance Hall, Minerva caught the Headmaster as the doors opened to admit him. His steps were slower than normal, his shoulders a little bowed, and he failed to notice her at first.
"Welcome, home," her voice alerted him to her presence, standing at the foot of the stairs. Minerva waited until he drew even with her before asking, "How is Black?"
"At St. Mungo's. Emmeline is overseeing his treatment. He has not regained consciousness. However, he was most seriously injured. The Aurors and the rest of the Order suffered only minor injuries. "
"What about the Ministry?" she enquired, guiding him up the stairs towards the second floor guest suite. She assumed that Albus would wish to see their visitors, particularly Harry and Molly.
"Voldemort failed to penetrate the Hall of Prophecy, but needless to say, it convinced the Ministry to rethink its position." He offered nothing further and Minerva decided not to press him. Outside the guest suite, he paused. "I need to speak with Harry alone in my office. When I am finished, I must return to the Ministry."
"Will you tell him about the prophecy?'
"Yes. Confugo." After informing Molly and the students of the outcome of the assault, Albus and Harry left for his office. Molly stared at the portrait as it swung shut behind them.
"Why does Dumbledore want to talk with Harry alone? It has something to do with whatever is in the Department of Mysteries, doesn't it? He's a child, Professor, he shouldn't be involved." A glare warned the twins and Ron, who had crept closer to try to eavesdrop, to back away. Molly refocused her attention on Minerva, hands on her hips. "He is fifteen…he isn't old enough to be caught up in this war."
"He already is. Goodnight, Molly, children." Exiting the guestrooms quickly to avoid further pointless arguing with Molly, Minerva ascended the staircase to the seventh floor. She settled herself on a stone window seat near the Headmaster's Tower, close enough to hear Harry's eventual hurried departure, but out of sight. The heavy thuds of his footsteps faded as Minerva approached the gargoyle. Giving the password, she let the staircase carry her up and knocked on the door with three sharp raps.
"Come in." Minerva pushed the door open, sidestepping the cracked remnants of one of Albus' instruments. It lay crumpled in a heap of twisted wire and smashed glass. Carefully, Minerva avoided the debris, stopping when she stood in front of him. On the corner of his desk, the Pensieve swirled. Bent over the Pensieve, Albus peered into its depths. In the silver light, the only illumination in the room, the corners of his eyes glistened suspiciously.
"I told him."
"I know. He didn't take it well, I assume?"
"No." Minerva stilled, leaning against a chair for support. In the Pensieve, fragments of faces and silhouettes appeared – the Potters, Severus, Black – and were absorbed again into the mist. Finally, he raised his gaze to meet hers. "He blames me for Sirius' injury. He believes that I trapped Sirius in Grimmauld Place and that he would not have gone to the Ministry if he had been allowed to leave the house. He is also quite upset that I have withheld the prophecy from him for this long." Despite the blandness of the words, the heaviness in his voice betrayed the effect of Harry's accusations.
"Albus, his godfather is in St. Mungo's and he has just learned of a prophecy proclaiming him to be the only person capable of defeating the Dark Lord who murdered his parents. He is not thinking clearly – you must see that."
"I did not realize Sirius had accompanied us until we were already inside the Ministry. There was no time to send him back and Bellatrix targeted him particularly. In order to prevent Tom from reaching the Hall of Prophecy, I had to leave Sirius, Remus, and Alastor to deal with the Death Eaters. They were outnumbered. If I could have forced Tom to leave more quickly, Sirius might not have been –"
"Black made his choice. He knew the risks, Albus. You cannot take responsibility for the actions of others, either Black or the Death Eaters."
"I am responsible for every member of the Order as much as I am responsible for every student here at Hogwarts," he declared.
"There is a significant difference," Minerva stated bluntly, "the members of the Order are adults whereas our students are children. The Order members understand the importance of their work and have chosen to accept the risk." Changing track when he didn't reply, she inquired, "Will Harry and the Weasleys be remaining at Hogwarts?"
"No, I will take Harry to see Sirius tomorrow when I visit St. Mungo's and then return him to the Dursleys. Arthur will escort Molly and her children home to the Burrow once he can leave the Ministry."
"Perhaps you should let Harry spend some time with them here before you return him to the Dursleys in the afternoon rather than directly after visiting Black," Minerva suggested.
"That is a good idea, my dear, he should be among friends. Lumos." Flames flickered into life around the room, banishing the shadows. Albus straightened, meeting her gaze for the first time. "I must go back to the Ministry. While I am gone, you need to rest to regain your strength. And," he anticipated her protest, "don't pretend that you are not exhausted. Consider it an order, Minerva. Since the Ministry has accepted Tom's resurrection, you will be needed to administer Hogwarts while I deal with matters there."
"Very well. Should I consider our breakfast meeting canceled?"
"No, not unless I am unable to extricate myself from the Ministry in which case I will send word." He gave her a slight and halfhearted smile. After a glance around the room, he muttered, "Reparo." Avoiding the reassembling instruments, Albus took her arm, ushering her out of the office. Slowly, for Minerva's sake, he walked her back to her quarters.
"Goodnight, Minerva," he said softly as Queen Maeve bowed to the pair and opened the portrait hole.
"Goodnight, Albus. I will see you in the morning." As she stepped inside, she waved a hand at the candles on the mantle. In their flickering light, the glint off a framed picture caught her attention. Minerva touched the glass, the smiles of the Order members preserved for eternity beneath it. The frame bit into her hands as she grasped it. Memories flooded her – Lily beaming in her white dress with pink roses in her bouquet, Gideon plucking a coin from behind a first year's ear, Alice hiding her winces when Frank accidentally stepped on her toes, Caradoc slamming a Bludger away from his teammate, graven names on marble and the dull echoing thud of a coffin committed to the earth. How high will the price be this time? How many lives will be destroyed before this war is over?
"For once," the words barely escaped her lips, hushed and heavy, "I wish Albus had been wrong." There was no answer, the black and white figures beneath her fingertips continued to wave and grin and jostle each other good-naturedly, oblivious to the future. Gently, Minerva replaced the picture on the shelf.
"We will win this war." Whether this promise was made to herself or to the dead or to the living, she did not know. Turning, Minerva leaned on her cane as she moved towards her bedroom. Pain assaulted her at every step, exhaustion shaking her with fine tremors. There was little else she could accomplish tonight except sleep and restore some of strength which would doubtless be needed in the days to come. Tomorrow, tomorrow, the Wizarding world would be at open war.
Before sleep stole her away from reality, a half forgotten speech crept into her mind, emanating from the throes of another devastating war. "You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory; victory at all cost; victory in spite of all terror; victory, however long and hard the road may be."
The quote is from Winston Churchill from his first speech as Prime Minister in 1940.
We have reached the end of my story, dear readers. I may still add an epilogue or a oneshot, but otherwise this is the finale. With small adjustments (primarily that Sirius dies of his wounds), the story can now be reintegrated with Rowling's timeline if you so desire. If not, feel free to imagine your own continuation or, if the muse deigns to supply me with inspiration, keep me on your author alert.
I am most thankful for everyone who has followed this story and am especially gratefully to my reviewers. Without your kind words and support this endeavor would have never been completed.