At first, Minerva was not entirely sure what caused her to wake up so fully at five o’clock in the morning. She was especially surprised because she had only managed to return to the castle from her visit to Hagrid’s hiding place in the hills above Hogsmeade two hours earlier. It had not been an easy task, carrying the parcel of food in her Animagus form and sneaking through the hidden route beneath the Whomping Willow to the village and back, and she was exhausted. So what, she wondered, could possibly have woken her? She lay quite still. Had she heard a noise? Was Dumbledore’s Army on the move? No—no, most of them would not be back in the castle until the end of the week. Still, she had obviously heard something that had startled her out of sleep. She slipped out of bed, reaching for her dressing gown, and walked quietly to the hidden door that led from her bedroom to her office. No noise came from the other side, but this did nothing to alleviate her worry.
In fact, Minerva realized, she was becoming more alarmed by the moment. Instinct was telling her to light a candle, her wand, or something, but she couldn’t bring herself to move from where she stood. What was wrong? There was a sudden, echoing crack outside her window, across the grounds. Minerva breathed a sigh of relief; it was a thunderstorm, nothing more, and she must have heard the first thunderclap in her sleep. She crossed to the window to gaze out at the lake. But there were no rainclouds in the sky…the trees weren’t swaying in the wind…and no fork of lightning appeared. She frowned, listening for more sounds of a storm.
Then, something out on the grounds caught her eye. The white tomb that stood alone on the shore of the lake…it looked somehow different. It looked misshapen, as though it had been crushed. She stared, straining her eyes, trying to figure out why the tomb looked suddenly different. Minerva rubbed her eyes hard, and then suddenly recalled her spectacles. She fetched them quickly from her bedside table, and was hurrying to peer out the window at the tomb again, when there was a brilliant flash of blue light. She blinked and had the rather foolish thought that lightning was not blue. But outside the window, the tomb had resumed its usual shape once more, and the grounds were silent in the pre-dawn light. Perhaps, in her half-asleep state, Minerva had dreamed the sight of the damaged grave? After all, she couldn’t see a thing without her glasses.
But her hands shook too violently and she felt too nauseated to believe that what she had seen was some kind of hallucination. The sight, or even the idea, of Albus’s grave being broken…there was something sinister in that. Deciding at once, she tied her dressing gown and hurried out of her bedroom, through her office, and into the quiet, dimly lit corridor. She looked this way and that, assuring herself that she was alone; Pomona’s rooms were on the floor below, so she set off quietly down the staircase.
“…Something I can help you with?”
“No, Severus, I think not. Can a former student not visit his school once again?”
Ice filled Minerva’s veins, and she froze on the stair. The voice that had spoken was terrifyingly familiar. Barely human, it whispered and wove its way up the stairs to where she stood, coiling around her like a serpent.
“Of course, my Lord,” said Snape’s voice silkily. He was perhaps a flight below where Minerva now stood, but she could hear him clearly. “I only meant—well, it is, perhaps, an odd moment—”
“Lucius and his family are dealt with, for now,” hissed Voldemort. “They have broken Lord Voldemort’s trust, and they have paid the price. But now, I have matters that I wish to discuss with you…”
“Of course,” Snape said again, and his voice was closer; they would round the banister and see Minerva at any moment. “My office is not far, I trust you remember..”
Minerva moved faster than she believed herself capable and tucked herself out of sight down the corridor, holding her breath, as though that would help. She heard the swish of cloaks, and a moment later, she chanced a look out from her hiding place. There was no mistaking the tall, pale white figure that kept pace beside Snape as they disappeared into the shadows at the far end of the corridor. Severus had allowed Voldemort into the castle, where unsuspecting students, however few of them there were, lay sleeping and defenseless. Her mind flew back to the sight she had thought she’d seen on the grounds: Albus’s destroyed tomb. Voldemort had to be connected—but what was going on?
She couldn’t find out, now. Not while Voldemort himself was in the castle, much too close to her students. She checked once more to be sure that Snape was gone, and hurried down the corridor to Gryffindor Tower. For the first time ever, when the few Gryffindors who had remained over their holiday rose the next morning, a tabby cat with square spectacle markings around her eyes sat rigidly on the common room window sill. She looked exhausted.
“I could kill them. I could kill them both. It was bound to happen one day…there are a lot of poisonous plants in my greenhouses…it could just happen.”
“Pomona, you are not going to poison them,” Minerva said under her breath, pocketing the letter she had risen at the crack of dawn to retrieve from the Hogsmeade post office. She had only just returned in time to sit down at the staff table for breakfast.
“And why not?” Pomona asked indignantly, pointing her fork viciously at Alecto Carrow, who was patrolling up and down the eerily silent house tables full of students. Her brother was absent; presumably, he was preparing for another day of Dark Arts lessons. The thought made Minerva’s stomach churn.
“Because shocking as it may be, they are still people,” Minerva answered, “and we are the people who don’t kill other people.”
Pomona made a grumbling noise and returned to her eggs. “Who’s your letter from?”
The shout had echoed across the Great Hall. “Not again,” Minerva groaned. “What is it this time?”
“Yes, Professor?” Neville Longbottom stood at the Gryffindor table, facing Alecto.
“What d’ye think yer doin’?” she asked viciously.
Longbottom gave a theatrical sigh. “Eating breakfast, I suppose, Professor.” Pomona gave a snort, and Minerva elbowed her.
“Looks ta me like you were havin’ a meetin’,” Alecto said dangerously, turning her glare on Parvati Patil, Lavender Brown, and Seamus Finnigan, who were seated around Neville’s place at the table.
“Am I the only one who doesn’t think they can hear themselves speak?” Pomona asked, but Minerva was already on her feet and halfway down the aisle.
“Professor Carrow, really,” she said, arriving and placing herself between Longbottom and Alecto. “May we not have one peaceful meal, or must every day include a student being forced to contend with your suspicious behavior?”
“Nose out, McGonagall,” Alecto said nastily.
“Longbottom, I think you’re late for Charms,” said Minerva coolly, without removing her eyes from Alecto’s. “Mr. Finnigan, ladies, you as well.” Alecto sneered unpleasantly as Minerva heard over her shoulder the sounds of the seventh-years quickly packing up and leaving the table.
“I’m head of discipline fer yer brats, Minerva,” said Alecto, and Minerva felt a fleck of spit hit her cheek. “I wouldn’t cross my path again, if I were you.”
“Yes, using illegal curses on a colleague,” Minerva said slowly in an undertone, turning her back on some eavesdropping second years, “That certainly is a line I know you would hate to cross. Although I seem to remember…yes, I believe the headmaster was quite displeased the last time you attacked me. I don’t believe even he would let it happen again, do you?” Alecto turned an ugly, blotchy red, and Minerva turned on her heel, returning to the staff table.
“That’s the sixth time this week that that’s happened, not counting them beating him for mouthing off to her in class last week. You can’t step in every time they go after Longbottom,” Pomona told her. “What if they decide to curse you again?”
“Severus won’t let that happen,” Minerva muttered.
“Don’t tell me you still trust—?”
“It’s not trust, Pomona, as you very well know,” she interrupted, perhaps a little too sharply. She still had not told Pomona what had happened that night, over three weeks ago, when she had seen Voldemort in the castle. “He knows I’m more of a threat outside this school than trapped here. He won’t let them drive me out. I know it.”
“And I know that I don’t want to send for St. Mungo’s in the dead of night ever again,” said Pomona firmly.
“It won’t come to that,” Minerva promised, standing up. “I have a lesson.”
“Come down to the greenhouses later and let me know you’re all right,” said Pomona. Minerva nodded once and continued out of the Great Hall.
The Easter holidays had led, like the winter holidays, to a huge loss of student population; Minerva was down to only two prefects in Gryffindor. Less than three months left to this wretched school year, she thought, and then, perhaps, she would be free to commit herself to the Order once again. Remus Lupin had insisted on multiple occasions that she remain in her post at Hogwarts. She had agreed wholeheartedly, especially when she began to witness the lengths to which Amycus and Alecto Carrow were willing to go to maintain their stranglehold on the students and staff. But now that Remus, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and so many others had been forced into hiding…Minerva was less certain.
She thought sadly of Hagrid, who was still hiding in the hills above Hogsmeade. That morning, in addition to retrieving her letter from the post office, she had been delivering Hagrid another package of food from the kitchen, though it was not much—she was not as capable of carrying heavy loads in her Animagus form. Still, he seemed glad to be away from the Carrows’ tyranny, and Minerva could not blame him. They had been cruel, going so far as to ban him from the castle. It would have made Albus sick.
She arrived at her classroom, where her sixth year Ravenclaws and Gryffindors stood in two silent lines outside the door. Automatically, Minerva looked for the brilliant red of Ginny Weasley’s hair, and had to remind herself that she was among the many who had not returned from the holidays. It was odd, having no more Weasleys at Hogwarts. At least one, usually more, had been under her nose for the last fifteen years. She made a mental note to ask Remus what, precisely, had happened, the next time she saw him—all she had heard was that the Weasleys had become targets of the Ministry.
“In you go,” she ordered, flicking her wand. The classroom door swung open, and the students filed in silently.
“HOW DID YE DO IT?”
“Oh, no,” Minerva cursed under her breath. She hurried over to the staircase, where she could see onto the landing above. Her class followed, whispering and chattering. In the corridor above, Amycus Carrow had a student—Michael Corner—by the arm, which he was twisting painfully.
“HOW DID YE GET IN, YE NASTY LITTLE SQUIT?” he bellowed. “BROKEN INTER A TEACHER’S CLASSROOM, THAT’S A BEATIN’ THERE, INNIT?”
“Professor Carrow!” Minerva shouted, dashing up the steps. “What is the—” And then she saw it. Longbottom and the others had painted an enormous phoenix on the wall of Amycus Carrow’s classroom. How had they gotten in? “Corner!” she barked. “Get to your lesson immediately. Professor Carrow—”
“You bleedin’ ol’ hag, I’ll have yer—”
“That is enough,” Minerva spat. “May I remind you that without concrete evidence of Mr. Corner’s guilt, you have no right to punish him?”
“You know as well as we do jus’ who’s behind it all!” Amycus yelled.
“I know no such thing,” she answered coolly. “And neither do you.”
He made a noise like a furious animal, but rounded on his class of third years, who were gathered timidly in the corner. “Get in, on with ye!” he shouted, and they all scurried into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Amycus threw Minerva one last filthy look before slamming the door behind him.
Minerva sighed heavily and faced her own students, still standing on the lower landing. “In the classroom, please, quickly.” She shut the door behind her as she entered after them. “You’ve all got homework for me, don’t think I’ve forgotten…”
It was with an aching body and mind that Minerva retired to the staff lounge that afternoon. She had skipped lunch, unwilling to entangle herself, once again, with either Alecto or Amycus Carrow, but was now seriously regretting the decision; lack of food had given her a dreadful headache. With hours until dinner and no ability left to focus on grading second year essays, she had decided to find Pomona, choosing to look first in the staffroom.
“Oh, what a day,” she groaned, for no sooner had she opened the door than both of the Carrows, who were seated at the long table in the center of the room, whipped about to stare at her. “I was just leaving,” she assured them.
“Headmaster wants ter see ye,” Amycus grunted.
“I beg your pardon, Professor?” Minerva asked in a long-suffering voice.
“Snape, he wants ter see ye,” he retorted, flaring up angrily. “And I’d get to his office if it was me.”
“I don’t reckon ye’ll be too happy,” Alecto gloated, grinning evilly. “Seein’ as ye seem ta love Longbottom so much…”
It was these words that sent a prickle of fear up Minerva’s spine, but she left the room without another word, hurrying down the corridor. She passed Pomona, who was just coming up a flight of stairs.
“I thought you were coming down to see me?” she asked, watching confusedly as Minerva raced past her.
“Have to—go!” Minerva called back, waving an apologetic hand. If something had happened to Longbottom, and Severus had sanctioned it…he could override her. For all their assumed titles, she still held enough power over the Carrows to scare them off when she had to…but if Snape had given them clear permission to hurt Neville, there would be nothing that she could do.
“Pure-blood,” she said with distaste, and the gargoyle in front of the headmaster’s office leapt aside. Snape could hardly have chosen a more inappropriate password, Minerva thought to herself as she ascended the steps, but then, he had always been fond of using such phrases to protect the Slytherin common room, as well. She knocked on the oaken door.
Minerva pushed open the door, but walked no more than a few paces into the room. She kept her eyes fixed on Severus, unable to look at the portrait hanging only a meter above his head. “You wished to see me, headmaster?”
“I did,” Snape answered in a bored voice, flicking through the papers on his desk until he found what he was looking for. He held out an envelope, indicating that Minerva should come and retrieve it. “I require you to pass this on to Longbottom. You are his Head of House, he will take the news best from you.”
“Pardon me?” Minerva asked, taking the opened letter.
“It seems that Longbottom’s grandmother has run afoul of our Ministry,” Snape said in the same, toneless voice. “They have sent representatives to her home to apprehend her.”
“What?” she gasped. She ripped the letter open, her hand shaking as she read. “This is addressed to you!” Minerva spat. “Why not Longbottom?”
“I really couldn’t say,” Snape answered lazily.
“You—you ordered it, didn’t you? You’ve been setting your dogs on him for three weeks, and I—I’ve been stepping in—so you sent Aurors after Augusta Longbottom?” said Minerva. She was beginning to understand, now. “You can’t get to him here, so…”
“Perhaps you’ll remember this, the next time you wish to undermine your colleagues’ authority in front of the students,” Snape said, rising at last. He had lost his bored demeanor, and glared fiercely at her. “Inform Longbottom that his grandmother is being taken to Azkaban, or I shall do it for you.”
Minerva stared at him for a long moment. “How could you?” she asked at last, her voice shaking. “I have seen you do a great many things, Severus, which have appalled me, but this…Augusta is all the boy has. You know that.”
His black eyes narrowed coldly. “Longbottom’s behavior has been unacceptable. If he and his cohorts wish to carry on in the manner to which they have grown accustomed, thanks to you and the rest of this insubordinate staff, then they are going to bear the penalty. And it is thanks to you all that I will call an assembly of the students tomorrow morning, before breakfast, to discuss further changes to our disciplinary policies. All faculty and staff are to be present. The time has come for this staff to provide Professor Carrow with the support he and his sister deserve in their efforts to put down misbehavior.” There was a long stretch of silence, where they simply stared hatefully at each other. “You are dismissed.”
Minerva marched out of the room without another word, her mind reeling. She still held the letter in her hand, but how could she deliver this kind of news?
“Are you all right?” She looked up, startled, and saw Pomona, who was staring at her with deep concern. Without realizing it, she had come to a stop in the middle of the corridor outside her own office. “Minerva, are you all right?” Pomona asked again. Mutely, Minerva held out the letter, and Pomona took it. Her eyes narrowed as she read, until at last she folded it and placed it back in Minerva’s hand.
“Come on,” she said sharply, seizing Minerva’s wrist and half-dragging her into her office. She slammed the door and locked it. Out of habit, Minerva walked numbly to sit behind her desk, though she was scarcely aware of what she was doing. Her ears were ringing with the shock of what she had to do.
“They want to make him stop,” Pomona said in a low voice, pointing at the letter Minerva held. She nodded. “Well, they’ve certainly found a novel way of doing it.” She was turning steadily scarlet.
Minerva pulled off her glasses and rubbed her eyelids, heaving a sigh. “This is all my fault.”
“You stopped them from punishing him,” Pomona told her. “Augusta would thank you.”
“Augusta is halfway to Azkaban because I refused to let him be punished.”
“Listen to yourself!” Pomona snapped. “You wouldn’t let them use the Cruciatus Curse on a boy who has lost both of his parents to it! What was it you said, when Poppy was scraping you off the floor of the upstairs corridor? What was it, Minerva?”
“‘Better I than them,’” she mumbled.
“Better you, than your students,” Pomona said. “And as angry as I was that you got yourself half-killed again, anyone but those monsters that have been let into the castle would agree with you, including me. Augusta would rather sacrifice herself than lose Neville the way she lost Frank and Alice.”
“You’re right, but I don’t feel any better about it,” Minerva sighed, after a long moment. She looked around, as though expecting an answer to come flying out at her. “What time is it? Where is Longbottom?”
Pomona sighed and looked at her watch. “I expect they’re all going down to dinner, the last bell’s only just rung. I’ll bring him up here. You need to collect yourself, or he’s going to think the worst.” Before Minerva could protest, she was gone. The seconds ticked by; the clock that sat on her desk seemed louder than usual. Minerva put one hand down the collar of her robes and nervously twisted her wedding band on the chain that hung around her neck. She reread the letter from some underling in the Minister’s office, addressed to Snape, twice.
Confirmation of subversive activity or support thereof… authorities will be dispatched… suspect shall be held in Azkaban prison pending a trial date… advise next of kin…
It was then that Minerva caught sight of the signature at the bottom of the page, smudged, as though the person writing it had been in great haste…or had a desire to hide their name. She squinted, holding the parchment directly underneath the lamp on her desk. P-something…I-something…was that a letter N, or a W? Minerva’s heart sank. The letter was from Percy Weasley. Anger, frustration, unhappiness, and pity filled her all at once. Percy was misguided, too driven by his desire to be the best, and now he had gotten himself into something that was much larger than anything he could handle. She had given him the recommendation he needed to start in Barty Crouch’s office, and she had been horrified to see how it had gone. Her shock was compounded when he began to associate himself with Cornelius Fudge and Dolores Umbridge over his own family; it was only too well that Minerva recalled sitting in Sirius Black’s basement kitchen, trying to comfort Molly Weasley when she failed to reach out to Percy.
But she also recalled waking up in St. Mungo’s, one June morning, to find a bouquet of scarlet and gold roses without a card. At the time, she had thought they had come from Albus, but he had denied the gesture. It was then that she began to suspect someone else entirely. So Minerva knew, as she was sure his family must know, that there was nothing bad in Percy. Prideful, a bit arrogant, and far closer in temperament to his twin brothers than he would ever admit, he nonetheless believed nothing of what the Ministry now stood for. And if she were honest, if she had the chance, Minerva would want to congratulate him on remaining sensible enough to avoid being thrown in Azkaban himself, or worse. She took heart in the idea of being able to at least relay the message to Molly and Arthur, through Remus or Kingsley perhaps, that Percy was alive and well. There was a knock on the door. She drew a deep breath, turning the letter facedown on the table. “Come in.”
The door creaked open, and Neville poked his face in. “You wanted to see me, Professor?”
“Come in, Longbottom,” she said, gesturing to the chair in front of her desk. He folded himself into the seat; he was quite a bit taller than the boy Minerva was remembering in the exact same chair, the one who had nearly burst into tears when she asked what sort of career options he was interested in pursuing.
“I’ve been asked to—well, to tell you something,” she said, folding her hands tightly together so as to stop them from shaking. “I’m afraid—I’m afraid your grandmother has…well, she’s been taken to prison.” Neville stared back at her. He seemed to have frozen solid. Minerva carried, on, because she could not stand the silence. She began repeating bits of the letter, just to have something to say. “I understand that—she—she may have been tied to illegal activities, and—”
“No, Professor,” Neville answered. “It wasn’t her. It was me.” He stood up, looking confused. “Erm—thank you—for telling me. And for this morning. Just—thanks.”
“Longbottom,” she called sharply. He stopped, his hand on the door. “I think you know what your grandmother might want from you, now. It may encourage you to know that…well, many of us agree with her.”
Neville turned and looked back at her, and his eyes looked rather wet. “Thanks, Professor. I know.” He gave a hearty sniff and hurried out of the office.
Minerva brought her folded hands up to cover her face and closed her eyes, which were burning painfully. She heard the door open and drew a deep, calming breath. “Come in, Pomona.”
“Will he be all right?” she asked softly.
Minerva nodded, opening her eyes again. Pomona sat down in the chair Neville had just vacated. “He’s getting ready to send out Dumbledore’s Army again.”
Pomona smiled sadly. “That really is a spectacular name, you know.”
Minerva nodded, getting up to gaze out of her small window at the grounds, glowing crimson in the setting sun. “Maybe one of these days, we’ll get a chance to ask Potter where he got it.”
“Who wrote to you this morning, Minerva?”
“What?” She turned, frowning. “Wrote to me?”
“You were trying to read a letter, when this lovely day began,” Pomona said. “Who was it from?”
“Oh.” Minerva placed a hand in her pocket. Sure enough, the letter that she had gone all the way down to Hogsmeade to retrieve lay forgotten there. She pulled it out and slit it open with her wand. The note was from Remus Lupin, undoubtedly arranging their next date to meet in Hogsmeade.
“What’s this?” Pomona asked, bending forward to pick something up that had fluttered out of the envelope to the floor. “It’s a photograph…oh, Minerva.”
“She’s had the baby,” Minerva managed to say, before the painful lump in her throat caused her to well up with tears.
“She looks beautiful,” Pomona said, bringing the picture to Minerva. A snoozing baby with a tuft of green hair and very chubby cheeks lay wrapped in a blanket in his mother’s arms beneath a large walnut tree in a garden. Tonks was beaming, her own hair a matching shade of green as she laughed, embraced by Remus, who looked once again like the teenage boy Minerva always remembered.
“His name’s Teddy,” said Pomona, looking at Lupin’s note. She put a hand over her heart. “Oh, I’d cancel retirement just to get that one in Hufflepuff. What’s another twelve years, eh?”
“Don’t bank on it,” Minerva answered in a watery voice. “He looks like a Gryffindor to me.”
“In that case, we had both better be here, don’t you think?” Pomona smiled tremulously at her.
Minerva didn’t look up from the photograph she still held. “Absolutely.”