In "Deathly Hallows," Part II (film), there's a disturbing moment when McGonagall rather happily banishes all the Slytherins to the dungeons. Even keeping in mind the canon prejudice toward Slytherins, this action seemed over-the-top to me - and not really in keeping with McGonagall's character. The following story is my attempt to explore her possible motives.
Thank you to my super-perceptive, super-fast beta, The Real Snape.
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By Kelly Chambliss
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A month after the Battle of Hogwarts, they come for her - - three cloaked and masked figures lying in wait along the Hogsmeade road.
Minerva hears them before she sees them; she reaches for her wand at the first sound of their shouted "Petrificus Totalus!" But she isn't fast enough.
Today's walk to Hogsmeade marks the first time in years that Minerva has allowed herself to relax her guard, and as she falls heavily to the ground, she remembers something Alastor once said: "you're never in more danger than when you think you're safe."
They Apparate her to a small, windowless room. It's not a dungeon, but more like a hastily-cleared store-room in someone's cellar; she can see a sack of what look like onions still lying in a corner. In the center of the floor is a straight-backed wooden chair with arms, and they push her into it as soon as they release the binding spell. Charmed metal shackles immediately clamp her wrists to the chair arms and her ankles to its legs.
As the initial shock of the attack wears off, Minerva finds breath and voice returning, and, more to show her captors (and herself) that she's uncowed than because she expects an answer, she demands, "What on earth is the meaning of this?"
She uses her best teacher's voice and clenches her hands to conceal their shaking.
The masked figures do not reply. Two of them move to sit in high-backed chairs that have been set up behind a long table; the third points a wand at Minerva and barks, "Expelliarmus!"
As she watches her own wand spin through the air into her captor's outstretched hand, Minerva supposes she should be proud that she did not flinch. But such Gryffindor displays of nerve seem rather pointless now, when so much and so many have been lost.
Still, the habits of a lifetime die hard. So she gathers herself together, lifts her chin, and stares hard at the mask-covered faces. They are not Death-Eater masks, but whether this fact bodes well or ill, she has no idea. She's no longer even quite sure what "well or ill" might be for her; there have been moments since the battle when she's thought that her own survival might be her greatest ill of all.
The seated captors remain silent as the third joins them behind the ornate table. It's been Transfigured, Minerva notices, and badly: as she watches, the spell wavers, and she can see the makeshift reality beneath - - just a board laid across two barrels.
Then the Transfigured shape returns, and Minerva recognises the table as the sort used in the DE trials she attended years ago. It occurs to her now that this room is set up like a Wizengamot court, and she is the one in the dock.
Finally one of the figures speaks, growling "Look at her!" in a voice that is clearly male, clearly disgusted. "Look at her, sitting there glaring at us, all high-handed. Arrogant as ever, aren't you, Headmistress?"
The captor in the center places a light, restraining hand on the man's arm and says, "Please." It's a woman's voice this time, low and firm. "We agreed to do this properly, with the fairness and justice that we never received from her." She jerks her head toward Minerva and then leans forward.
"It's your day of reckoning, Professor McGonagall," she continues. "You're finally going to be called to account for the way you treated our children at Hogwarts, for your callous disregard of them …"
Minerva is stung into protesting speech. "I never disregarded the children! I protected them - -"
"Not the Slytherin children!" The third figure, a male, speaks for the first time. "You curled your lip, and you told that fool of a caretaker that the dungeons were the place for Slytherins, and you abandoned them like they were garbage. My girl was there, she told us."
"It was for their own protection," Minerva begins, but the first man laughs harshly.
"Don't insult our intelligence. You may choose to think Slytherins are all evil barbarians, but even you must know we're not stupid. How would it protect our children to lock them up, helpless and wandless, in the middle of a deadly battle?"
"We didn't - -"
The woman holds up a hand. "Enough. You'll have your chance to speak, Professor. You see, unlike the way you treated Pansy Parkinson and Severus Snape, we're going to give you an opportunity to explain yourself. We're not going to condemn you unheard. We will listen to your side."
At the mention of Severus's name, Minerva feels a prickle of tears behind her eyes but forces them away. She has not wept since the battle ended, and she's not about to start here.
Even as she deplores their tactics, she feels a brief pang for these Slytherin parents, furious and frustrated enough to have done something as foolhardy as kidnapping her. She'll answer their questions as best she can, for there have been far too many secrets and silences, but she wonders if they are naïve enough to think that any explanation will alleviate their pain. Knowing the truth about Severus has done nothing to mitigate her own.
The second man now leans forward. "Yes, tell us your side, Professor. Tell us why it seemed reasonable to you to force all the Slytherin children down to the dungeons."
He waits for her to speak, but the angry man forestalls her. "You know why. She just assumed that if they were Slytherin, they were Dark. Isn't that right, Professor? Slytherins are expendable? You couldn't kill Snape, so you thought you'd just eliminate the entire next generation, because obviously they were all potential Death Eaters, right?"
"Of course not." Minerva tries to speak with her usual tartness but suspects she sounds only tired. How can she explain what it had been like at the moment she'd ordered the Slytherins removed - - how chaotic and confused everything had been, how starkly the children's frightened faces had shone in the torchlight, how heavily the air had borne the acrid smell of curses? How desperate she had felt, with the students so exposed … and how haunted she had been by the memory of Severus's eyes as she'd duelled him? How can she possibly put any of this into words?
"I did not try to kill Severus," she begins at last. "And he did not try to kill me. We planned that duel - - yes, we did," she says sharply, as one of her captors snorts. "Or at least, it was one of several plans we had, to create distractions if we needed them, ways to preserve Severus's cover as a Death Eater, so that he could continue to fight as he needed to."
She had figured out the truth of Severus's position fairly early in his headmaster year, though getting him to admit it had not been easy. He had retreated behind insults and threats, but she had known him too well to be sidetracked by bluster. And she had known Albus too well. Once the idea of a death-pact between Albus and Severus had occurred to her, the truth was inescapable. Albus's plans were always marked by over-cleverness, and the signs were everywhere.
"I can help you; why can't you accept that?" she'd said to Severus, hating the note of pleading in her voice. "You underestimate me."
He's surprised her with a bark of his rare laughter. "No, I don't think I do, actually."
"Albus underestimated me."
He'd bowed his head to that. "Yes."
In the end, he'd accepted her help, but only when he'd had no other choice. He'd never accepted her support, though; the one time she'd tried to offer the comfort of a hand on his shoulder, he'd flung her off with a snarl. It was their only moment of physical contact during that entire hellish year.
"So you're saying that you and the headmaster were working together?" The second man doesn't bother to conceal his incredulity.
"Use Veritaserum, if you doubt me," Minerva snaps, but the women half-laughs.
"You may have access to restricted substances, Professor, but I can assure you, we do not."
"Look," breaks in the angry man. "I don't give a damn about whether she worked with Snape. I don't care whether they were friends or enemies or whether they fucked each other in the Great Hall every night. I want to know about our kids. I want to know," he says more loudly, turning towards Minerva, "how you could stand there and basically condemn those Slytherin children to likely death. Some of them were eleven fucking years old! And you sent them to be locked alone in the dungeons!"
"It was the safest place for them, don't you see?" In her agitation, Minerva strains forward against her bonds, ignoring the metal edge cutting into her wrists. "It was their own common room, somewhere familiar to them. Only they knew the way in, and once they were in, they had the House wards for protection."
And they had been protected. The only Slytherin students lost had been among those who had escaped Filch's oversight and had entered the fighting.
"If you've talked to your children, then you know the truth," Minerva insists. She needs them to understand. "You know how many Slytherins survived - - almost all."
"Not my son," says the angry man, his voice cracking. Now the woman's hand on his arm is consoling, and for the first time, her own voice sounds accusing.
"If most of them did survive, it was no thanks to you," she says to Minerva. "You took their wands, left them defenceless."
Minerva shakes her head. "I don't know who ordered their wands confiscated, but it wasn't I."
Blaming others - - it's a weak defence, she knows, but she has no other, and it's the truth. She hadn't wanted harm to come to the Slytherin students, not even to the brash and petulant Miss Parkinson, who in suggesting the surrender of Harry Potter had merely said what others - - and not just Slytherins - - were no doubt thinking. Minerva certainly had not told Argus or anyone to take the students' wands.
She closes her eyes. "I'm sorry," she says, hearing the inadequacy of the words even as she speaks them. "I tried to keep the children safe; I wanted … I'm sorry."
The angry man responds with something loud and bitter, but Minerva doesn't listen. She's seeing again the bodies of all the people she failed - - the students, their parents. Albus. Remus. Severus. Especially Severus.
She would have protected the students in any case, for their own sakes and because to do otherwise would have made a mockery of her entire life. But she also did it because she had promised Severus.
It had been an ordinary night in the Great Hall, or as ordinary as any night had been during that surreal last year. Dinner had been over, and the students had been preparing to march out of the Hall. They were arrayed in the orderly, silent lines on which Severus insisted - - a tactic that allowed him to look like a totalitarian dictator without inflicting any actual damage - - when he had suddenly spoken quietly to her, the first personal comment he'd offered in weeks.
"My chances of long-term survival are slim, Minerva."
His tone had been matter-of-fact, and she had not argued. He wasn't asking for reassurance or denial; the time for anything less than honesty was long past.
He had motioned towards the assembled students.
"You will keep them safe."
It had been a declaration, not an order. She thought that her own chances of long-term survival were not much better than his, but there had been no point in saying so. She had merely nodded.
"I will," she'd said, giving the only sort of reassurance he would accept. It was her vow to him, and she knew he would hear it as such.
They had never spoken directly to each other again.
"Let her go."
So strong has been Minerva's memory that for a moment she has forgotten where she is. But these words bring her back abruptly to the small room and her shackles and her captors. The speaker is the quieter of the two men, the one who has so far said the least of the three.
"What did you say?" the woman asks.
"I said, let her go. This isn't helping; we should have known it wouldn't."
"She could be telling the truth," says the woman, but the man makes an impatient sound.
"It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what she says." He turns to the angry man. 'Don't you get it? Whether she's telling truth or lies, it won't bring your son back. It won't change the way people treat Slytherins or the way Gryffindors" - - he gestures towards Minerva - - "run things. What the hell were we thinking? Send her back, and let's be done with this farce."
The other two reply heatedly, speaking over each other, quickly, intently.
"What? We can't just let her go, not without - -"
"Don't start that again. We've been through it already, and you know none of us can - -"
The woman pauses to wave her wand. The voices abruptly stop, and the subtle buzzing of a Muffliato charm fills Minerva's ears.
They're trying to decide what to do with her, she realises - - probably arguing about whether to Obliviate her, worried that they aren't skilled enough. They wouldn't be the first wizards to destroy someone's mind with inept spellwork.
Renewed fear jolts through Minerva. Death no longer holds any terrors for her, and torture is something she knows she can endure, but the thought of living without her mind…
No. Before she'll let that happen, she'll fight these Slytherins to her death and to theirs, with whatever means she can.
There's an old spell that Albus once taught her, a memory protector. Its effectiveness against Obliviation is limited, but it's better than nothing. Minerva is beginning to murmur the incantation when the buzzing of the Muffliato ceases, and her captors face her.
She speaks before they can, willing them to listen to reason. "It would be foolish to try Obliviation," she says, with all the authority she can muster. "Think. You have not hurt me. I do not know who you are, and I am not interested in finding out. No real harm has yet been done. Do not do something irrevocable. You have too much to lose."
"And so do you, Professor," the quieter man observes, his voice sounding almost amused. "It is your mind that is at risk, after all. But you are right. Obliviation would be foolish, and we Slytherins are not fools. We are going to return you to Hogwarts."
"We think you won't want this story made public any more than we do," the woman adds. "The headlines in the Prophet wouldn't be pretty: 'Headmistress of Hogwarts Accused of Deliberately Endangering Children.' It's not a scandal that you - - or the school - - can really afford right now, is it?"
"You have my word," Minerva tells them, "that I will say nothing." She can't imagine that her word means anything to them, but at least no one snickers.
There is a brief silence. Then the metal cuffs securing her to the chair disappear, and the quiet man Levitates her wand towards her.
The angry man points towards the bag of onions on the floor. "It's a portkey," he says. "Go. Touch it. Get out of our sight."
Minerva's limbs have stiffened painfully, but she rises, takes her wand, and heads towards the corner of the room without looking at the masked figures. She feels neither fear nor anger now, just sadness and an overwhelming desire to end this.
Stooping, she brushes her fingers against the net bag.
Within seconds, she is standing again on the Hogsmeade road, looking at Hogwarts across moors that are just beginning to be empurpled by heather. The debris that surrounds the castle is visible even from this distance. The broken hull of the Great Hall stands out vividly against the sky, and the glass walls of the boathouse where Severus died sparkle warmly in the setting sun.
Minerva McGonagall watches it all for a moment, and then, slowly, she begins the long walk back.