Summary: Two things were required to defeat Voldemort. Courage and insubordination. An alternative unfolding of book seven…
Disclaimer: Anything recognisable belongs to JKR; any OC's will be clearly labelled. The idea is my own. This tale begins at roughly the same time as the real book seven.
Note: This idea has been brewing for three and a half years. Book seven left me disillusioned and dissatisfied, to the point where I decided to rewrite it into the end of the series that I wanted to see. I have used some ideas and situations from the real book seven. In the end, it ended up slightly more epic than I was planning.
Note2: The Death Eaters have always been a source of fascination for me. This story is told from many different viewpoints, both light and dark. I felt the DE's needed more of a say, and well, the title is hopefully a clue…
Courage, n: "That quality of mind which shows itself in facing danger without fear or shrinking; bravery, boldness, valour."
Insubordination, n: "The fact or condition of being insubordinate; absence of subordination or submission; resistance to or defiance of authority; refusal to obey orders; refractoriness, disobedience."
(Definitions from OED Online; emphasis is my own.)
Courage and Insubordination
Minerva in Disarray
Minerva McGonagall, acting headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was at a complete loss. She sat in the high-backed chair in the headmaster's office, a chair that she had grown accustomed to seeing Albus occupy with all his nobility and grandeur, and it felt completely wrong to be sitting in it herself. She sighed. She had seen Albus worried in this chair; she had seen him happy, and she had seen him angry, but he had always looked at home there; as if he belonged in the dark wood and slightly faded burgundy velvet. If anyone saw Minerva at that point, the first thing that they would say was that she looked uncomfortable, no doubt because she felt uncomfortable. Uncomfortable and out of place, but here she was, sitting in the chair and feeling no great desire to move from it.
The events of the past few days had drained her physically as well as emotionally, and whilst she felt as if she should not be sitting in the sacrosanct chair, Minerva was so glad to be sitting at all and not having to support her own weight on her lead-like feet that she had no inclination to get up. She raised her gaze from the table and twisted to view the portrait of the man whose office she felt like she was intruding upon. He was sleeping as usual; indeed Minerva had never seen him awake in all of the many fleeting visits that she had paid to the room. The other pictures had assured her that this was natural and nothing to worry about. Portraits spent most of their time asleep after they had been called into being in order to help them cope with their new existence. That was all very well for Albus, thought Minerva darkly, but not quite so convenient for the current head, who was anxious to speak with her predecessor on all manner of subjects, including, but not limited to, the small problems of You-Know-Who, Albus's murderer, You-Know-Who, Albus's would-be murderer, You-Know-Who and Harry Potter, in no particular order. Minerva shook her head as she lowered her eyes to the desk once more, tearing her wistful thoughts away from the painting. Albus looked so peaceful, asleep like any other elderly man, and it seemed selfish of her to be wishing him awake so that she could overload him with all her problems. The man was going to be as burdened in pigment as he had been in flesh, and she did not want to be the one to cause such a burden. Sometimes, though, sacrifices had to be made, especially in a time of war. Minerva rested her head in her hands and closed her eyes. Sometimes the senselessness of it all made her want to break down and cry, but she had not the energy to do so now. She had cried too much in the past days to warrant a fresh burst of angry and ultimately completely useless tears. No, it was time to start thinking constructively, time to start thinking as a head-teacher should think. She had held the post of deputy for so many years that one would have thought that she would be prepared for the main event of headship once it arrived, but she was woefully unready, pitifully unready. What was to become of Hogwarts now that it had been proved, in the most spectacular of fashions, that this once-safe haven was no longer safe? The man whose presence had protected them all for so many decades was now gone. They might as well open the gates to the Death Eaters there and then.
And Severus... Albus had trusted him when no-one else would; he had stood up for the troubled young man and risked ridicule in doing so, and this was the way that Severus had repaid him. Half of Minerva didn't want to believe it, that it was all some kind of elaborate hoax. The other half knew that she had to believe it, as troubling as the thought was. Half of her wanted to meet Severus again so that she could mete out her personal revenge; the other never wanted to lay eyes on his traitorous face for as long as they both lived. She was so conflicted, so completely shattered by the events that had just occurred, and all the multiple facets of her splintered mind were at war. She needed to focus, to pull the various pieces of herself back together, and face the grim facts of reality, and she needed to do it right away.
Minerva took a deep breath, straightened her back to its usual rigid position, and opened her eyes, willing herself ready for anything that life, magic or You-Know-… no, Voldemort, Albus always said to use his proper name, could throw at her.
It was only a split second later that Minerva found this resolve sorely tested as her eyes alighted on a letter on the desk in front of her. It was a letter that had most definitely not been there before, and as the windows were closed, it could not have been delivered by a midday owl. To heighten the mystery further, the letter was written undeniably in Albus's hand. Was this some kind of inappropriate joke? It seemed bulky, as if something other than sheaves of parchment was stored within the envelope.
Minerva picked up the letter gingerly between thumb and forefinger, turning it over to see the seal still intact, the shining of the purple wax seeming to wink at her in the sunlight. She flipped it back, noting the barely perceptible chinking of glass that it gave, and stared at the words written on the envelope.
Professor Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
She could not deny that the letter had reached its intended recipient, however it might have been delivered. She took another deep breath, and then another when her courage failed her the first time, and she slid a finger under the flap of the envelope, breaking the seal before allowing four tiny vials to roll out into her waiting palm. She knew what they were with a single glance. They were memory vials, the silvery threads suspended in them seeming so calm and unaware of the havoc they were playing with the witch's mind. If this letter was truly from Albus, be it a communication from before or beyond the grave, and these were Albus's memories...
The tiniest of sparks of hope ignited within Minerva's chest, a soft and faint glow in the centre of her being, breathing new life into her numb and heavy limbs, rejuvenating her courage and resolve. She set the memories carefully on the table and slid the sheets of parchment from the envelope. As she began to read, the little flicker of hope in her breast became ever and ever stronger, until she could almost feel it roaring in her ears like the symbol of her house.
My dear Minerva, the letter began.
If you are reading this then I am dead, and if all has gone according to plan, at the hands of Severus Snape. Whilst originally you were not going to be privy to the information I am about to share, I feel that as you are stepping into my shoes, possibly in more ways than one, you deserve to know the truth about everything that has been happening in the past twelve months without your knowledge. How much of this information you choose to share, and with whom, is left entirely to your own discretion. I trust your judgement implicitly Minerva and I always have. Let it be said that of my many, many regrets, making you my deputy has never been one of them.
But before I relate this tale, I must first ask you to think back to a night nearly sixteen years ago now, when Harry Potter first became the Boy Who Lived. We spoke outside his aunt and uncle's house, and you expressed your incredulity that I could explain everything to the muggles in a simple letter. Well, this time, you are correct. This time, I cannot express everything that needs to be said here in a letter, and you must believe me – this is the twenty-sixth draft of this missive. So I have decided that it would be simpler, and use less ink and parchment, for me to send the enclosed memories instead. I hope that these will adequately explain everything that needs to be explained.
Please do not delay in viewing these memories Minerva; time is of the essence.
Yours as always,
Minerva blinked. Such a short letter, and everything was even more unclear than it was before. She turned it over but there was nothing on the back, and she looked at the other folded sheets in her hand that had been in the envelope as well. Perhaps Albus had thought of something of vital importance after finishing the letter and he had held no desire to write it for a twenty-seventh time. She unfolded the parchment and looked at it.
This is the Last Will and Testament of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.
Minerva, said the small note paper-clipped below the title line. You have known for some time now that you are my Executrix and as such I enclose my Will with this letter. Yours, AD.
Frustrated, Minerva tossed the Will down onto the desk, determining to deal with its contents later. She was anxious to view the memories and slightly afraid of what she might find within them at the same time, and she knew that she would be shaming the name of Gryffindor if she backed away from the task that had been set her in this critical moment. She picked up the memory vials and made her way over to the cupboard that housed the Pensieve. As Albus had said in the accompanying note, time was of the essence, but using the Pensieve was a process that Minerva had never considered as one that could be rushed. It was as if haste might make her careless and lose the memory forever, or make her miss something of vital importance in her hurry. There was also something a little foreign in the idea of simply walking into someone's mind, even if invited, and it was not something that Minerva could do without a little degree of mental preparation. She had always been a private person, and the intrusion seemed unnatural to her. Minerva shook her head to clear it of these distracting thoughts as she poured the memories into the basin, gently touching the shimmering surface with her wand to select the first in the chronological order. Always best to begin at the beginning.
The witch took a deep breath and looked into the Pensieve. She was ready for anything.
She was ready to learn that Albus's foolishness had led to his days being significantly numbered. As much as it pained her to admit it, Albus was not perfect. He had the same fatal flaws as any other man, although one tended to forget them when they were overshadowed by the light of his immensely good qualities. It was not the kindest of thoughts to accept, not the best memory to hold of the great man, but she knew that she must accept it with good grace, and so she did.
She was ready to learn that despite everything, despite all her personal thoughts towards the Potions Master, she should never have doubted where Albus placed his trust, and with that new knowledge, Minerva silently rejoiced as the lion in her heart roared with pride. She had not wanted to doubt Albus, She had not wanted him to be wrong, and now her hope was vindicated.
She was ready to learn that Severus had agreed to do what no magician should ever have to agree to do. The man had sacrificed so much in the line of duty, sacrificed so much for their cause, and he was prepared to give the ultimate sacrifice to protect one of those whom ultimately, they fought against. He was prepared to risk his soul…
She was ready to learn everything, except the contents of the last memory.
Pulling herself forcibly out of the Pensieve, Minerva didn't have time to summon the heavy chair towards her from across the room before she fell to the ground in a faint…
When she came round, not knowing how much time had passed since her collapse, the first thing that she became aware of was a familiar voice talking to her.
"I must say, Minerva," came the slick tones through her fuzzy head. "You do play the swooning damsel most adeptly."
Minerva blinked a few times and slowly got to her feet, at last summoning the chair towards her and sitting in it heavily.
"Are you alright Minerva?" asked Armando Dippet from somewhere in the vicinity of her left ear.
"Yes, thank you Armando." Minerva took a moment to gather her scattered thoughts before looking up and addressing the portrait that had spoken first. Phineas Nigellus was watching her with a politely amused expression.
"You too, Phineas, play the part of a decorative but ultimately useless wall-hanging exceedingly well."
"My dear Minerva, if I could have caught you before you hit the ground, I would have done," said Phineas.
"I somehow doubt that, Phineas."
"Your assault on my chivalry is deeply wounding, Minerva," Phineas began, but before he could continue, another voice entered the discussion.
"Now now, Phineas, this is not the time for provocation."
Phineas, affronted, left his painting with a snort. Minerva turned to view the latest addition to the portrait wall in the headmaster's office, finally awake and speaking to her.
"Albus?" she began, unsure of how to continue. There was so much she needed to say to him, and at the same time, she had no idea what to say. "How… How are you?"
"I am quite comfortable, Minerva," Albus replied with a small smile. "I do apologise for keeping you waiting like this, but these chairs are terribly soporific."
Minerva nodded her forgiveness, glancing back at the Pensieve in the corner unconsciously.
"Yes, it is indeed a terrible thing to try and comprehend. I am truly sorry that I did not make you aware of the events as they occurred. To see everything in one go…"
"Albus," said Minerva, deciding not to beat about the bush in her desire to learn all the facts. "Is it true?"
"I am afraid it is, Minerva." There was no jovial twinkle in his eyes now, simply sorrow and worry.
Minerva could not reply. No words could describe her grief, her sorrow, her anger in that moment in time. She was beyond speech, beyond everything. She could feel the warm flame of hope that had been burning brightly within her slowly dying, and it made her physically shiver to think of it.
"Minerva?" Albus ventured gently. His voice had the same effect as a reassuring pat on the shoulder would have done, and finally, the witch pulled herself together crossly.
"Albus," she said weakly, wishing that she could put more power behind her voice but still feeling faint whenever she thought back to the revelations that she had just borne witness to. "What happens now?"
"The quest continues," said Albus firmly. "It has already been set in motion. But Minerva, I need you to carry on where I can no longer tread. You will realise, surely, what I am going to ask of you?"
Minerva nodded. She had to speak to Severus Snape, to re-establish that tenuous link between the Dark and the Order. It was an onerous responsibility, and one that only she, possessing of the truth as she was, could perform.
"Before I died I arranged for Severus to meet you at the old trading point tonight at nine o'clock." Albus paused. "Minerva, I am so very sorry that it has come to this, and I regret not telling you before, I truly do."
Minerva shook her head.
"It doesn't matter, Albus," she said. "What's done is done. We cannot change the past, only use it to shape the future." She looked up at the clock on the wall; it was almost a quarter to nine already, and there were still things to be done. "I had better be going."
"Good luck, Minerva," said Albus sadly. "And remember why it is imperative that both Severus Snape and Harry Potter return to Hogwarts in September. This is the only place where we can truly protect them both."
Note3: And there was I, saying I was done with the HP fandom and I wasn't going to write anything in it again. Open mouth, insert foot. And why do I always start posting when I'm in the middle of being stressed? I finished the plot yesterday and I was so happy I decided to post… *Kimmeth sighs.* Ok, I'll get on lest the notes become longer than the thing itself…
I sincerely hope you enjoyed this beginning, and all being well, I intend to update once a week.