Disclaimer: I do not own anything that JK Rowling has created. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's notes: As a number of people know, my favourite character is Minerva McGonagall and whilst I used to detest ADMM, I do admit that it has grown on me in recent months. I only hope that all of the ADMM fans like it!
Please review; it is always a pleasure to hear what people think.
Also, a huge thank you to my amazing beta's; McGonagallsGirl and dianahawthorne. You guys are brilliant.
Summary: The war with Grindlewald is raging, and with it comes responsibility that many aren't sure if they can cope with. Minerva McGonagall is one of them.
Chapter 1: The Turning of the Seasons
Minerva McGonagall rose unsteadily to her feet, clutching her side as she fought for breath. Surrounding her, others were rising from the ground, all in various states of injury – though, some would undoubtedly be dead, we haven't sifted through the debris yet – she thought bitterly. Her chest rose and fell rapidly but her sharp eyes scanned the street, searching for those who may be alive yet not able to call out. They fell on a familiar figure and she ran toward them, yelling for a mediwizard. Alastor Moody smiled, or rather tried to smile, at her and shook his head as she removed her cloak and pressed it hard against a savage wound on his chest.
"Minerva," he rasped, trying to sit up. "There's no need ..."
"Shut up," she hissed, taking his pulse and finding it weak and far too rapid.
The young man, her own age at twenty-years, fixed her with a glare that was far less potent than usual. "Don't fuss, woman!" he hoarsely.
He winced and clutched his stomach and Minerva patted his hand as unease flooded through her body. "I NEED SOMEONE OVER HERE!" she yelled desperately as Alastor's eyes drooped and his chin fell onto his chest. "NOW!"
No one came and she grabbed one of Alastor's hands and held it tightly as tears began to brim in her eyes. Do not cry, Minerva, he's strong, he get through this.
"Oh, god," she said desperately as she noticed that blood was dripping from his mouth. "Don't you dare die, Alastor," she said, holding his hand so hard that her knuckles went white. "Don't you dare!"
A tall figure bent forward casting a shadow over the two of them and she looked up in relief. Albus Dumbledore's eyes were narrowed as he assessed her best friend's injuries and he began whispering words Minerva couldn't understand. Alastor's eyelids flickered but didn't open and Albus sat back on his heels and looked over Alastor's still body. Whilst not as close as Minerva and Alastor, Albus had nevertheless become well-acquainted with the ambitious Auror and such, it was no surprise that he looked shell-shocked and, like Minerva, astounded that Alastor Moody, Alastor Moody, had been overcome. He had graduated at the top of the class, with Minerva a close second, and his duelling ability was astounding. Sure, she had beaten him on more than one occasion, but he possessed the extraordinary quality of being able to think like the enemy. Something Minerva lacked.
"You're too good," he'd said as she'd pointed this out over breakfast a mere five days ago. "Too Gryffindor."
She supposed he was right; Minerva could never bring herself to kill, though if the war continued in this vein, she'd be sorely tempted. Finally, a Healer arrived, interrupting her thoughts, and both she and Albus stepped back as the woman bustled about, removing items from a leather bag she carried. Her eyes snapped to Albus's.
"He needs to get to Saint Mungos," she said shortly. "I can't deal with this here."
She had disapparated without further word, taking Alastor with her and Minerva was preparing to follow when Albus reached out quickly and curled his fingers around her wrist. She struggled but he gripped more tightly and she stopped trying to escape his grasp enough to fix him with a glare.
"They'll tell us how he's doing," he said softly but firmly. "It will take far more to kill Alastor Moody."
Minerva's throat constricted as Albus's words; though he had tried to inject some humour into his words, his underlying concern was more than obvious and did nothing to appease the young witch.
"I want to be there," she said shortly, throwing Albus's hand away.
He reacted so quickly his hand appeared a blur as he again caught her wrist between her fingers. "Minerva, we'll just get in the way. Let the Healers do their job."
Minerva shot him a glare but her brain kicked into gear and she nodded reluctantly; the veracity of his words was undoubtable but she ... she wanted to be there. Alastor had looked so ill... and she had never been able to be dispassionate about her friends, nor did she ever want to be. It was unthinkable, a completely foreign thought that she wished had never crossed her mind at all.
"Minerva?" Albus pressed.
Her eyes snapped to his, flashing slightly but she found herself nodding again. "Of course," she said, snatching her cap from her head and running a hand through her tangled hair as his voice brought her out of her ruminations. "Of course, you're right."
Albus said nothing but tightened his hold on her wrist and disapparated them both to the headquarters where they were stationed. The quarters were simple, almost stark, but they were comfortable and Minerva felt herself sigh in deep relief as she caught sight of the dark green door with 'McGonagall' written on the small clipboard pinned to the wood in her neat script. Albus released his tight hold but placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"Will you be all right?" he asked.
Now they had left the battle, he had dropped some of the facade he had been wearing and his brow was knotted in worry. Worry for what, Minerva didn't even both trying to count. How many were dead? How many were injured? The questions had to be answered and as Leader of the Light-side, it was Albus's duty to answer them; a duty Minerva was grateful she didn't have to perform.
"Yes," she said as she reached for the door handle. "Goodbye, Albus."
The Deputy Headmaster of Hogwarts nodded and walked slowly in the direction of his own room, three doors down from her own, though his step lacked its usual jaunty spring. Minerva entered her rooms and leant against the now-closed door, throwing her filthy cap to the corner of the room. She looked at the ceiling and closed her eyes, willing herself to forget the battle that had just occurred. The contingent of Aurors she and Alastor led had been eating lunch when the call came that Grindlewald had attacked Diagon Alley and all had left immediately. The battle had been fast and furious and whilst she did not know the number of casualties, she was certain it would be high, far higher than others she had taken part in.
And Alastor... she asked herself, what about Alastor? He has to be all right.
"Oh, gods," she said, sliding down onto the floor and resting her head against the door.
The adrenalin that had been surging through her veins had begun to abate and with it came an almost unfathomable exhaustion. She wanted nothing more than to curl up go to bed, but a quick glance at the clock on the other side of the room revealed it to be four o'clock in the afternoon. Far too early for sleep, she thought bitterly as she rose to her feet, noticing how a number of her joints and muscles screamed in protest. Her right leg buckled beneath her, nearly knocking her over, and she lunged for one of the armchairs and held herself up as she looked down at her skirt. My knee ... With difficulty she crossed the room to the small kitchen and sat on one of the wooden chairs, pulling back her stockings. A mass of cuts greeted her and she gingerly pressed her palm against her knee, wincing at the pain this action brought. She reached for her wand and flicked it quickly. A bowl of water and a tea towel flew toward her and rested themselves on the table. She acted quickly and washed away the blood and grime. It was not as bad as she'd first thought, more swelling and bruising rather than anything else and she bandaged it tightly.
Shower, I need a shower. I need to get all of this, this reminder of the battle...
Rising once more, she stepped forward gingerly, gauging the level of pain. It was tolerable and she crossed the room to the small bathroom. Her clothes fell in a puddle at her feet and she stepped into the shower, relishing how the warm water ran down her back, and with it washed away the physical remnants of the battle. She arched her neck and allowed the water to run down her front. At some point her hair had escaped from the constraints of the Ministry-prescribed hairnet that all women officers were ordered to wear and black tresses fell down her back to below her shoulder blades. The hairnet lay forgotten on the tiled floor as she reached for a bar of soap and began to scrub at her skin. She glanced down as she washed her leg and her eyes fell immediately on the thin scar that ran across the full length of her thigh. The scar was a permanent reminder of her first battle where she had come damn near to death when three of Grindlewald's most loyal followers had isolated her away from the rest of her team. If Alastor hadn't come to her aid then she held no doubt she would have been killed. Alastor ... her thoughts immediately flew back to Alastor's terrible injuries and she leant against the wall. The two had been friends through school and though fiercely competitive, a mutual respect had sprung between the two that evolved into a strong friendship. He has to be all right, she told herself, pushing a strand of hair from her face, it will take a lot more to kill Alastor Moody ...
The water ran cold, jolting her back to the present and she jumped from the shower and hurriedly dried herself. One of the downsides of the make-shift quarters was the faulty hot-water system and she had been caught many-a-time. Minerva slipped into a towelling robe and tied the sash tightly as she re-entered the living room. She pointed her wand at the fireplace.
Flames sprung upward and she made to sit down when there was a knock on the door. She hurried to the door and opened it slightly. Albus Dumbledore looked at her, one hand against the doorframe and gave her a tired smile.
"I'm sorry to intrude," he said, and there was a note of ... one could almost call it desperation. "May I?" he continued, shaking himself slightly as he gestured inside her quarters.
Minerva nodded and held the door open as he passed her and entered her small abode. She quickly led him to the living room and after waving at the two arm chairs and sofa, hurried to her bedroom and changed into more suitable attire. Now clad in a blouse and calf-length skirt, she went back to find Albus sitting in one of the armchairs, drumming his fingers lightly against the armrest.
"A drink?" Minerva asked by way of introduction, walking to the mantle where a bottle of single-malt whiskey rested with two glasses.
Albus smiled briefly but shook his head. "No, I'm fine." Minerva raised a sceptical eyebrow and he laughed humourlessly and gave a rueful grin. "Well, in a manner of speaking."
She nodded and he looked away and at the kitchen bench. Minerva simply waited for him to speak again. Albus Dumbledore did not come knocking at your door for no reason.
"Twenty-five," he said suddenly, making her start as she turned his head to look at her.
"Sorry?" she said, puzzled at his words.
"We lost twenty-five," he said, swallowing.
Minerva took a deep breath and poured herself a generous shot of whiskey to which she added conjured ice.
"I'm sorry to just land on your doorstep," Albus said suddenly. "I just ..." his voice trailed off as he struggled to find words. "I just needed to see someone," he finished lamely.
"I understand," Minerva said softly. "I hate being alone after something like this. Alastor and I ..."
She blinked rapidly as tears threatened to surface and Albus looked down at the floor again, apparently unsure what to say. Minerva took a deep sip of whiskey and turned toward the mantle. Her position as an Auror meant she could keep her feeling buried beneath a composed appearance though, as Alastor had said in a moment of bitter reflection, it also made you want to scream. The ice in her glass chinked together as she took another sip. Her hands were shaking slightly and she stepped from near the fire and crossed to the other side of the room. Outside the sun was still high and she could see right up to the muggle village which resided far down the road from them.
"Has there been any word from Saint Mungos?" Minerva said, breaking the silence between them.
Albus shook his head as she turned to face him and leant against the windowsill. "Not that I'm aware of," he said, his voice cracking slightly. "Though Alastor ... Alastor didn't look well. Not at all ..." his voice trailed off and he looked down at the timber floor.
The silence that ensued between the two was not uncomfortable as it would have been with another. She and Albus were not overly close - though she had a sneaking suspicion that as Gindlewald continued to cause such havoc, she would be liaising with him far more often – but they had known each other since Minerva's school days where she was his top student and since her graduation the two comforts had become indistinguishable. Minerva took another sip of scotch, relishing the way that the amber liquid sent her into a dull state of being. The man before her looked as she felt; battered and bruised, his robes were torn and there were grazes scattered over his body. He looks so ... lost ... Minerva approached the Deputy Headmaster of Hogwarts and withdrew a handkerchief from her pocket. She leant on the arm rest of the chair as she reached forward and held the 'kerchief against his cheek, stemming the blood which dripped from a particularly deep gash. Albus's hand wrapped around her wrist and he made as if to throw her hand away, but instead intertwined his fingers with hers and closed his eyes.
"Minerva, this war ..." he said softly, not opening his eyes. "It's taking its toll on people; I sometimes fear they'll change allegiance ..."
"Some will," Minerva conceded. "The cowards will; and if this does happen then it is their loss. I have no doubts at all that the Light side will win."
Albus opened his eyes and smiled bitterly. "No doubts?" he said, raising his eyebrows. "Well, I wish I shared your sentiment, Minerva, I really do."
The young witch blinked, both startled and slow at the time. "You're being defeatist," she said eventually, going for a casual tone in the hope it would jolt him out of his depressive state. "That's not like you."
Albus shrugged his shoulders and rose of his feet. "Thank you for your hospitality, Minerva," he said shortly, crossing the room to the door. "It is most appreciated."
With those final words he strode into the hall, not looking behind him. Minerva waved her wand and the door slammed shut. Now alone, she sat in the other armchair and rested her now-empty glass on the small table to the side. Albus's attitude was strange to say the least; usually it was he who was persuading them that their efforts weren't in vain. Even when it seemed impossible and Grindlewald's forces outnumbered them, sometimes by five-to-one he managed to inspire to fight. To hear him speak in such a fashion was disconcerting to say the least. She rested one elbow on the armrest and cupped her chin with her hand.
What a pitiful state the wizarding world was in if Albus Dumbledore was beginning to lose faith.
She had obviously fallen asleep for when she awoke the outside the sun was rising and she was still curled up in the chair. Her body was stiff and sore, both from the battle and from her less-than-comfortable sleeping position and she arched her back and stretched her arms out, cracking the vertebrae. The sound echoed around the empty room and she grinned to herself as she remembered the looks of revulsion on her family members' faces whenever she did this. Minerva rose to her feet, gingerly testing how much her knee like the idea of holding her bodyweight; finding the pain manageable she padded to the kitchen with the idea of making herself a cup of tea. The sun rose as she bustled around the kitchen and she soon sat back in the living room. The first sip of tea was like a hot bath after a quidditch match and she sank into the armchair, revelling in the manner that the hot liquid seemed to awaken the rest of her body.
There is a god ...
She held the mug tightly between her hands as she looked out the window. The air was thick with mist and whirls of white travelled through the air, billowing and swirling in a pattern of its own. Rays of sunlight pierced the fog and she caught a glimpse of snowy ground, the first snowfall of winter. She curled her legs beneath herself and closed her eyes.
She glared in the direction where the voice was coming from and reluctantly rose to open the door. Albus looked at her and she raised her eyebrows at him. He looked far better than last night, though his eyes looked tired, as if he hadn't slept. He smiled as he saw her.
"Good morning," he said.
She yawned in response and his smile widened.
"I just wanted to apologise," he continued. "For everything I said last night. I was tired and ..."
Minerva held her hand up and he fell silent. "It's fine. I think we all get like that."
Albus nodded softly and inclined his head toward her. "I'm glad you saw it that way," he said sincerely. "Join me for breakfast?"
Minerva smiled and shut the door behind her. Her clothes were crumpled from her sleep on the armchair and she had forgotten to put on shoes so it was not a surprise when many turned their heads and looked at her curiously. Normally she wasn't seen out of her Auror uniform, not to mention she was also without her chaperone...
"Alastor!" she said suddenly, turning to Albus. "How is he?" Albus cleared his throat and Minerva felt her stomach twist, as if it had coiled into a Celtic knot. "Albus?" she asked again.
"He's conscious, but I'm afraid that he will be bed-bound for a week-or-so. The injuries to his chest were quite severe ..."
Minerva's hand flew to her mouth and she gasped in horror. "I have to go and see him," she said urgently. "I'm sorry; I won't be joining you for breakfast."
Albus opened his mouth to speak but she had already apparated, landing neatly in the waiting room of Saint Mungos. She dashed through the halls of the hospital, passing Healers and relatives who were forced to duck out of the way as she passed. Finally, she turned the corner which led to the make-shift ward the Ministry had built for wounded soldiers. Normally she came to give fellow Aurors their possessions, or to speak to relatives, but she had never fully appreciated just how awful it was to enter that sterile room, not knowing how the condition of a loved one, friend or family. The object of her search was at the end of the bed and he turned away from her as she rushed toward him.
"Alastor!" Minerva breathed, sitting down on the bedside chair. "Oh, thank god. I was so worried ..."
She reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing it so tightly that he winced.
"McGonagall ..." he protested, though she could tell he was touched by her concern. "There is no need to fuss .." He tried to sit upright but clutched his stomach in pain and fell back into the pile of cushions. Minerva raised her eyebrows and he gave a resigned sigh. "All right," he said reluctantly. "The bastards got me across the chest and damn near severed some of my ribs. The Healers are worried that the wounds will re-open and thus I am stuck here, bored out of my brain."
Minerva laughed and squeezed his hand again. "I'll stay for a bit. Did you want me to call anyone ...?" Alastor suddenly became absorbed with the white sheet and refused to look at her as he mumbled a name so softly she couldn't hear. "Sorry," she asked, raising an amused eyebrow as her friend's cheeks became a violent shade of red.
Alastor raised his head and glared at her. "Anna Fawcett," he growled, sounding far more like his usual self. "Can you tell her I'm here?"
Minerva had enough tact to not tease him mercilessly and grinned as she nodded. "Of course, I'll send her an owl. Not in one of those god-awful black Ministry owls though," she said, wrinkling her nose. "They're horrible things ... morbid if you ask me."
"No one has," Alastor retorted immediately and she slapped the back of his hand, earning himself a glare that soon morphed into a grin.
"All right, that was a good, one," she conceded, laughing as he jutted his chin forward proudly. He did not win their verbal sparring sessions often.
Alastor sunk back into the cushions as a formidable-looking Healer marched toward them, yielding the two vials of potion she held as if they were weapons.
"Are you a family member?" she snapped at Minerva as she leant over and wielded a vial at Alastor who obediently took and downed it like a shot, immediately making a face and dry retching.
"Well ... no," Minerva said. "But ..."
"Only family members allowed," the Healer said, rearing up and fixing Minerva with a look that clearly said 'get out of my ward, you're in the way.' Behind her, unnoticed, Alastor took the vial and vanished its contents with a tap of his wand as Minerva rose.
"Of course, ma'am," she said, inclining her head toward the woman. "May I see him tomorrow?"
"We'll see," she snapped. The woman looked away from Minerva, silently dismissing her and Minerva left his side and walked down the hall, away from Alastor. She turned at the doorway and he gave her a wave and small smile, which she returned before striding back to the waiting room and apparating back to the Auror quarters with a 'crack.'
Breakfast was in full swing when she entered the canteen, now clad appropriately in a crisply ironed uniform, regulation dragon-hide boots, and the prescribed cap and hairnet female officers wore. After she had got herself a tray of breakfast (toast and jam, she wasn't a huge fan of bacon and eggs.) She took a seat next to Maximillian Morgan (Max to his friends) who raised his tea mug in greeting.
"Did you hear about Juliette?" he asked after he'd swallowed his mouthful.
"No?" Minerva answered, her brow furrowing.
Max coughed softly and she saw his jaw clench. "She's dead."
"She was only sixteen."
Minerva's eyes widened and she shook her head. "Surely not; the Ministry checks the birthdates of everyone who joins."
"No," Max said bitterly. "They're meant to check; but I'd wager alot of money that they've let more than Juliette through; they're always complaining that we need more officers."
Minerva opened her mouth to say 'surely not' again, but found her tongue cleave to the roof of her mouth. Max was right, they were short on officers and some Ministry officials she knew would have no qualms about letting underage wizards and witches join. Poor Juliette ... She closed her eyes as the memory of her friend flooded through her mind. Juliette Tatou was a vivacious young woman - no girl as she'd just found out - full of life and courage. Half-French and half-English, she was smart and sailed through training, finishing top-of-the-class the year after Minerva had graduated. She was the youngest child of her family with two older brothers and one sister. She and Minerva had become fast friends over the past year and yet even she had not known her true age.
"Does her family know?" she asked heavily, pushing her breakfast away from her any appetite she may have had dissolving immediately.
"An owl was sent about twenty minutes ago," Max answered. "They live in France so it might take a while for it to get there."
Minerva nodded as she kneaded her temples with her eyes shut tightly. "God, can you imagine how it feels to see one of those owls and know ... know that ..." She blinked rapidly to stop the tears and rose to her feet and after apologising to Max, hurried down the halls to her room. She stopped in her tracks in front of Juliette's room and tears fell down her cheeks at the sight of 'Tatou' written in Juliette's unmistakeable cursive script. How could she not have known that Juliette was underage? Shaking her head, she walked the remaining distance to her room and stepped inside, throwing her cap to the floor, along with her jacket. She collapsed onto the sofa and hung her head in her hands, eyes closed shut tightly.
Alastor injured; Juliette dead. Damn you to hell-and-back, Grindlewald.
Four hours later found her at the kitchen table, parchment before her and quill in hand as she wrote the report her superior would undoubtedly expect. Three things are guaranteed in life - she thought snidely as she dotted an 'i' with more force than strictly necessary – Death, taxes and reports for O'Reilly. She sniffed as she pushed the parchment away from her and placed it atop the neat pile beside her. Minerva was, if anything, meticulous and contained within the pages was a detailed account of the battle yesterday, as well as the number of casualties and injuries which she had found by contacting Saint Mungos via floo. She stood, flicking her wand so a cord of string wrapped around the pile, preventing any pages from flying away and rested it against her hip as she crossed the room. She had sat on the sofa for some time after hearing of Juliette's death but finally had jolted herself back to the present; the present where she was to write reports of every battle.
Minerva reached out and opened the door, heading immediately to O'Reilly's office. She passed the canteen and saw the man himself eating a hearty lunch of beef and steamed vegetables. Rolling her eyes, she entered and was half-way across the room when a body sprinted past her to O'Reilly and skidded to a halt.
"You, you let her in!" the woman shrieked, jabbing her finger in O'Reilly's chest and every head turned toward her. "My daughter was sixteen and you let her fight."
The woman (whose name Minerva remembered as Andrea) was obviously Juliette's mother; the two were almost identical in appearance though where Juliette's hair had fallen down her back in waves, her mother's was pulled back tightly and held with an elastic band. In her grief, however, strands of hair had escaped making her appear quite mad.
O'Reilly rose and shook his head slowly. "I am sorry for your loss, ma'am."
"Sorry?" Andrea shouted, her hands balled into fists at her side. "Sorry! That's all you can say to me?"
"Ma'am, I think you should calm down ..."
O'Reilly didn't finish his sentence as Andrea Tatou brought her hand hard across his face. His head whipped to the side, and she slapped him again, forcing it back the other way. Regaining his composure, O'Reilly reached down (he topped her by several inches) and grabbed her wrists as she tried to hit every inch of his broad chest, fighting him tooth and nail. O'Reilly was much stronger and she finally stopped struggling and looked up, tears streaming down her face.
"All you say is 'sorry'," she said in a choked voice. "My baby is dead and you say 'sorry'."
She dissolved into sobs and her shoulders shook violently as she looked up at the ceiling and screamed. The sound echoed around the room until it was as if ten mothers were lamenting the loss of their daughter. Minerva dropped the pile of parchment she was holding and approached the woman slowly and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. Mrs Tatou was looking fixedly at the floor and everyone in the canteen watched as she moved in front of the grieving woman, never removing her hand, and knelt down so she could look into her eyes.
"Mrs. Tatou," she said softly. "I knew your daughter."
Andrea's eyes flashed to hers and though red with tears, held an intensity that sent a shiver down Minerva's spine.
"I was a good friend of hers," Minerva continued. "I'm sure she wouldn't like to see you in this state ..."
"I've never been in this state before!" Andrea shrieked. "My daughter has never been dead before ..."
Mrs. Tatou fell to the floor sobbing and Minerva acted impulsively, dropping to her knees and placing her arms around her; Andrea tried to push her away but Minerva held her tighter and eventually she felt Mrs. Tatou's fingers curl into the fabric of her uniform whilst her shoulder became wet with tears.
"My baby," Juliette's mother kept repeating as Minerva rocked her slightly to-and-fro making 'shushing' noises in her ear. "My baby ..."
The others in the canteen filed out slowly, trying not to make any noise, leaving Minerva to deal with the mother who had just lost a child.
"Mrs Tatou," Minerva said softly after a handful of minutes she didn't care to count. "Do you think you can stand?"
Still crying intensely, Andrea nodded and Minerva helped her to her feet, placing one arm around her shoulder. She walked the woman to her chambers and sat her down on the sofa before conjuring a glass of water. Mrs Tatou took it gratefully and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "For ..."
Minerva held up a hand, silencing her and shook her head. "There is nothing to apologise for," she said softly, reaching for her hand and squeezing it gently. "Nothing at all."
"She was my baby," Andrea said, her voice scarce above a whisper. "My baby girl."
Minerva could say nothing and merely held the older woman's hand. Andrea worried at her bottom lip and looked to Minerva.
"What do I do about funeral arrangements?" she said, tears spilling over her cheeks again. "The letter didn't say."
Minerva 'shushed' her. "I'll help you," she promised. "With everything."
Andrea gave her a shaky smile and touched her hand briefly. "My daughter was lucky to have you as a friend. Very lucky indeed."
The younger witch didn't know how to respond to this and nodded shortly. "Thank you, ma'am."
Juliette's mother held out the now-finished glass of water and said nothing as she turned her head toward the fire. Minerva walked to the kitchen and rested her hands against the bench, eyes closed as she hung her head downward. In front of her sat a woman whose daughter, her friend, had been killed; and she had been there and not even known until the following day. Yet, Andrea Tatou was in her rooms, the others too cowardly, or too reluctant, to take her into their chambers. She raised her head and opened her eyes to look at the woman who stared blankly into the fire.
Perhaps the others had known how impotent they'd feel in the same situation; how the weight of culpability increased tenfold on their shoulders, and last – but not least – how a part of them would always remember Mrs Tatou sitting in their rooms, trying to imagine a life without her youngest child.
The funeral, held five days later, was a simple affair and Minerva clenched her jaw as Juliette's coffin was lowered into the ground. All members of Juliette's brigade had come and stood around wearing their uniforms, heads bowed and holding their caps in their hands. Minerva, herself, was in her uniform, though hers held more stripes than most, indicating her higher position. Beside her, Andrea Tatou sobbed into her husband's shoulder. She took the flower she held in her hand and threw it above the coffin, many others following her lead until it was peppered with red and white roses. Andrea leant forward and took a handful of dirt from the large pile and threw it, the sound of it hitting the wooden coffin making Minerva flinch slightly.
Minerva bit her lip as the crowd dispersed, most walking a respectable distance away before disapparating. She looked to Andrea who let go of her husband and took hold of Minerva's hand, gripping it lightly.
"Thank you," she said hoarsely, dabbing her eyes with a tissue. "I don't think we could have done it without you."
Minerva shook her head and gave her a small half-smile. "There's no need to thank me."
Andrea nodded and released Minerva's hand and stepped back. She said nothing as she linked hands with her husband and walked away. Minerva lingered, looking back at Juliette's newly-dug grave, when she heard Andrea's voice ring out behind her.
The young woman raised a quizzical eyebrow.
"Keep in touch."
Minerva smiled again, a true smile and nodded. "Of course, Andrea."
Juliette's mother inclined her head towards Minerva and gave her a small wave before disapparating with a small 'crack.' Most had left and Minerva looked about her surroundings; the ground was thick with snow and she tucked her hands into her pockets and walked down the small dirt road. She heard the sound of a footstep behind her and whipped around, her wand out and poised for defence. Albus Dumbledore held his hands up and she lowered her wand and gave him a questioning look.
"I noticed you were alone and merely thought you might like company."
Minerva opened her mouth to say 'no, I don't' but shut it again and nodded. "That would be nice, Albus," she said.
The older man smiled and moved to her side and together they continued down the path. Albus walked with his hands behind his back, looking more at the road than at the spectacular scenery. Minerva, for her part, was too wrapped up in her own thoughts to notice anything and it was only when Albus pulled on her sleep that she was drawn from her relative trance.
"How close were the two of you?" he asked softly.
Minerva's eyes widened and she stepped back as tears threatened to fall for what felt like the thousandth time since she'd been informed of Juliette's death. "Very," she said eventually. "Yet not enough for her to tell me her real age," her voice trailed off and she looked down at the road and began to walk again.
Albus grabbed her wrist and pulled her toward him. "You would have made her go back home," he said gently. "She knew what you were like; how you would hate the idea of a young girl fighting, that's why she didn't tell you."
The young witch nodded as she looked upward. "And now she's dead," she said thickly. "Why didn't they check? They should have done their jobs! I do mine, why can't they do the same? The selfish bastards!"
She stared fixedly back at the ground and strode away from the auburn-haired wizard who ran after her, catching her elbow and swivelling her around to face him. She tried to fling him away but he was stronger than his thin frame suggested and pulled her to him tightly, his arms tight around her body. Minerva hesitated before raising her hands and resting them against his shoulder blades as she began to cry in earnest. She had spent the past five days keeping a composed front to people which she dealt with funeral arrangements and comforted others, whilst not taking time for herself. Albus removed her cap and placed a hand at the back of her neck, resting her forehead against his shoulder.
"Why are you doing this?" she asked through her tears.
"You helped me in my moment of need," he answered. "I'm returning the favour."
Minerva was puzzled briefly but then remembered how he had come to her chambers, forlorn and unsure of himself, and how she had talked to him; though she hadn't done anything, nothing like this anyway. She hiccupped and stepped back, giving him a teary smile.
"Thank you, Albus," she said sincerely.
"Not at all, my dear. Not at all."
Author's note: That's it for now! Some of you might think Alastor Moody was out-of-character but I've always thought it was the long years as an Auror that made him so grumpy. This is at the start of his career so he is yet to become jaded.