The Prison Tower
Had Minerva known beforehand the impact that her words had on Neville, she would never have spoken them, for Severus was as bad as his word. The next morning, as students filed into the Great Hall, they were shocked to find that their House tables were gone; the hall was empty, and the faculty stood in a grim-faced line on the raised platform at the front of the room. The first bunch to arrive were Hufflepuffs, so Pomona stepped down (at Snape’s direction) and chivvied them quickly into regimental lines, shoulder to shoulder. Minerva did the same with the first group of Gryffindors, Filius with the Ravenclaws, and Horace with the Slytherins. Soon the entire school stood at attention. Minerva had been the one who designed this assembly as a means of giving out announcements and evacuating the students, when she had been sure that she would have to close down Hogwarts nearly five years ago.
At the time it seemed practical, but now the sight sickened her, and she was grateful that she had never been the one to implement it. The students, all the way down to the smallest first years, looked like soldiers being marched into a war. Though they had received no instruction to be silent or still, none of them spoke, and kept their wary and frightened gazes on Snape, standing only a few feet away from Minerva, who had rejoined the line of faculty between Horace and Alecto Carrow.
“Nice kids,” Alecto muttered, and Minerva resisted an urge to seize her by the throat. Severus cleared his throat and stepped forward. “There is a reason that you are not sitting at a meal right now, enjoying the company of your classmates and preparing for your day’s lessons, and it is quite a simple one. There is a canker in our midst. It is self-serving, conniving, and holds no regard for you or your safety.” Confused stares were flickering back and forth across the hall at these words, but Minerva could see several older students towards the back who were standing rigid, staring elsewhere. Neville Longbottom had not removed his gaze from the enchanted ceiling showing the pale blue sky outside in several minutes.
“This…clique, this faction of students—some of you may even know who they are,” Snape was saying, “They are deliberately endangering your wellbeing here at Hogwarts.” He swept a black-robed arm back to where Amycus and Alecto stood side by side. “Your professors have no wish to harm you. But when cowardly behavior like anonymous acts of vandalism lead them not to one sure culprit, but many possible ones…they are left with no choice. They are bound by their duty to protect the good of all of the students, and so must punish those whom they can only believe to be guilty.” Minerva felt lightheaded and sick. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Pomona on Filius’s other side, digging her fingers into his arm.
“Starting today,” Severus said loudly, “Anyone who is caught in rule-breaking will be automatically reported to Professor Carrow. Failure to do so by anyone on the staff will lead to severe consequences for that teacher. Furthermore, a detention is to be served as rapidly as Professor Carrow deems it; should you be caught in any wrongdoing, your punishment will be correspondingly severe and carried out instantaneously.” Minerva could not stop a gasp, but it was covered up as for the first time, muttering broke out among the students. She understood what Snape wanted…
“This is in order to determine who our true troublemakers are,” he continued coldly, talking over the whispers, which abated quickly. “If you have nothing to hide that might get you into trouble, then you have no reason to fear these stricter measures. However,” he added, and his black eyes swept to the back of the room, where Longbottom stood with Seamus Finnigan. “Should you, for instance…be caught out of bounds after curfew…speak out of turn…or anything else that might come to mind…you will bear the marks of your crime and serve as an example for those who might follow you.”
“What the bloody hell does that mean?” Seamus could very easily have been joking, trying to irritate Snape, and though there were a few nervous titters of laughter, Minerva knew he was not. She had thought precisely the same thing.
Snape merely looked bored. He raised one hand and waved it. The Carrows hurried eagerly to the back of the Gryffindor lines. “It means, Mr. Finnigan, that you are about to show us all what happens when you disrupt an assembly, and that from now on, any faculty member—” here he glanced at Minerva coldly, “—who undermines the disciplinary measures in place will be reprimanded just as severely.” Amycus and Alecto dragged Finnigan to the front of the hall, each holding onto one of his arms. Alecto snatched his wand from his pocket and stepped back to join her brother, who raised his own wand. Minerva tensed, feeling sick…she knew what had to be coming. In a flash of bright light, Finnigan gave a horrible yell of pain and collapsed to his knees, clutching a hand over his face. A deep gash gushed blood over his fingers, and cries of shock and fright echoed around the room. There was a second flash of light, and he doubled over, groaning, his hands covering another wound on the same cheek, pouring even more blood.
Automatically, Minerva made to step forward, but Horace caught her arm. “Not now,” he muttered. “Now is not the time.” Minerva was too horrified to even formulate a response, and Snape was already striding forward. He seized the collar of Finnigan’s robes and hoisted him to his feet. With a wave of his wand, the bleeding stopped, though the deep slashes across the boy’s face remained. With another lazy flick, Severus conjured a handkerchief and tossed it at Finnigan, who ruefully blotted away some of the blood, wincing.
“Back to your House,” Snape spat at him. Finnigan snatched his wand back from Alecto and trudged off. “Anyone—anyone—who is punished from now on will be punished in such a manner. Healing,” he added, turning to face Poppy Pomfrey, who stood at the end of the line of faculty, far from Minerva, “Is neither necessary nor welcome.” She looked stricken. “Perhaps those of you who would think of putting themselves before the wellbeing of others will now tread a little more cautiously. Is that understood?” There was silence in the hall, and Minerva could hardly blame the students’ for the fear that seemed to radiate from them in great waves. She felt horrible. Just like Augusta, this was her fault…she had been the most vocal, the most stalwartly against the Carrows and their cruelty, and now she was reaping what she had sown.
“You are all dismissed. Go to your lessons,” Snape said, and Minerva looked at him, startled that he had denied the students breakfast. Then she realized that it was a test; he wanted to see if Finnigan, Longbottom, or anyone else was going to speak up. No one did.
Or, so she thought. That afternoon, Minerva walked in the open door of the greenhouse, and heard the ceramic clink of a pot being struck with a spade. “Pomona? Where are you?”
“Near the Flutterby seedlings,” came Pomona’s harsh response. Minerva proceeded down the long tables and rounded a corner. Pomona stood before her worktable, shoveling fertilizer into a large flowerpot that held a Mandrake. She looked extremely irritated.
“You didn’t walk your seventh years to my classroom,” Minerva said, keeping a safe distance. Pomona’s shears were only inches from her hand. “I don’t think Alecto or Amycus saw—”
“Hmf,” Pomona huffed through her nose. “Could that be because they are seventeen years old and fully capable of looking after themselves? I had other matters to attend to, Minerva. Thank you for your trouble.”
“‘Thank you for your trouble?’” Minerva repeated. “What on earth—”
Pomona looked up, letting her spade fall with a clatter. She pointed to an open door to a smaller room of the greenhouse, and Minerva took it to mean that she was meant to go there. Warily, she walked to the doorway. Two students occupied it; Hannah Abbott was leaning over Neville Longbottom, touching a bit of some plant extract to an enormous gash across his face. Her expression was tender as she spoke soothingly to Neville, whose round face was screwed up in pain.
Minerva sighed, and Hannah started, blushing bright pink as she whirled around. “Professor McGonagall!” she spluttered. “I—I’m sorry—”
“As far as I know, Miss Abbott, you aren’t missing a lesson,” Minerva said. It was true; like Longbottom, Hannah Abbott had not continued with Transfiguration after her O.W.L. year. “Although I would advise you both against remaining anywhere that could be considered out of bounds during your free periods.”
“Yes, Professor,” Neville said. He had risen, and Minerva could see the open wound on his cheek, horrible and deep, as well as a great deal of caked, dried blood on his collar.
“Longbottom,” she said, unable to stop herself as he and Hannah hurried to leave the little room. He turned and looked at her. “What—what ever did you do?”
Neville and Hannah shared a glance. “Just a question about…blood status. In Muggle Studies, Professor,” he said, though the slight tremble in his voice betrayed his anger.
Minerva closed her eyes for a moment. “For your own sake, Longbottom, do try not to let it happen again.” Neville gave a grimace.
“I haven’t got a lot left to lose, Professor,” he answered. Without another word, he left Minerva alone in the room. She was still staring after Hannah Abbott when Pomona’s gloomy face appeared in the doorway.
“I figured they would have a harder time tracking any healing to me,” she said. “He was bleeding badly when he arrived, so I let Abbott tend to him.”
“He thinks he has nothing to lose,” Minerva whispered in a strangled voice. She leaned back against a table full of ceramic pots for support.
“I heard,” Pomona said, sounding quite as disturbed as Minerva felt. “And it’s only the first day of these lovely new rules.”
“Nothing to lose,” Minerva repeated. “He’s seventeen, and he thinks he’s got nothing left.” Involuntarily, she gave a helpless, humorless laugh.
“He’s lost his mother and father to worse than death, and now his grandmother,” Pomona said. “I can’t blame him in the slightest.” Minerva stared at her. “He is wrong,” she continued, “but I don’t blame him a bit for thinking it.”
Suddenly, without realizing what she was doing, Minerva picked up one of the small, empty pots sitting on the tabletop and hurled it at the ground. It burst into pieces. “Why can’t we stop this? Why can’t anybody—just—do—something?” She punctuated each word with a stomp on the shards of the pot, and then was suddenly jolted back to reality. “Oh—oh, Pomona, I’m sorry…”
Pomona lifted her eyebrows and said, “It’s been a few years since I’ve seen that side of you.” She raised her wand and flicked it. The broken pot mended itself at once, leaping into her hands. “Nice as it is to see you so firmly resolved, Minerva, do try and refrain from destroying my greenhouses.”
“Resolved?” Minerva asked.
“You’ve been the middle ground between the Carrows and Longbottom for too long, putting out fires,” Pomona said sharply. “I kept warning you, you were in more danger trying to stop the fighting than just picking a side and staying there. Now you’ve listened.” She held up the pot and placed it back on the table. “So stay on that side. Stop trying to block their paths to each other, because you’re only making the Carrows more desperate to hurt him, and putting yourself in danger, as well.” She looked down at her watch. “My next class is coming. I’ll see you later, Minerva. Get yourself a cup of tea,” she added bracingly, placing her hands on Minerva’s upper arms and steering her through the greenhouse.
Minerva could never remember a worse time in all her years at Hogwarts, from the day that Lily and James Potter had died, to the opening of the Chamber of Secrets, to the aftermath of Cedric Diggory’s death. Nothing that she and Albus had weathered with their contingent of loyal colleagues had ever prepared her to see the things she saw in the next seven days. Students regularly appeared in her classroom bearing brutal scars and deep wounds across their faces, necks, and arms. Some limped in, holding ribs and nursing limbs, and Minerva suspected that they were also being used as practice targets for the Cruciatus Curse in Amycus’s lessons. She also heard a piece of gossip that made her feel faint—three first years had been flung down a staircase for being late to Muggle Studies.
Dumbledore’s Army made no movement that week, not that they needed to. They had practically moved out into the open, for the members were those students who were punished most frequently by the Carrows. Within a couple of days, Neville Longbottom, Seamus Finnigan, Parvati Patil, and Lavender Brown all bore the worst of the marks. Minerva saw them together at meal times, holding cold goblets of pumpkin juice to their bruises and looking furtively over their shoulders through puffy, swollen eyes. She heard things from Pomona and from her students, about how Neville had insulted Amycus Carrow’s bloodline, or Seamus had refused to torture a second year serving detention in Dark Arts. Proud Minerva might be of their conviction, but it was too much to bear to see them all suffering so horribly and be unable to stop it. She was grateful for the weekend when it finally arrived. She could visit Hagrid in Hogsmeade, perhaps get a letter off to Remus or Kingsley, and best of all, the students could have just a few days to rest and heal before the onslaught began again.
Minerva was in the headmaster’s office late on Saturday afternoon, providing a report of the previous day’s staff meeting. “…Professor Trelawney is concerned that a ‘cloud of evil’ is hanging over the castle, and before you answer, she’s been saying it for weeks, and I include it in my report only because I’m starting to agree…”
“You know, Minerva, when I request weekly summaries of the staff meeting, I do not require your personal take on the day’s gossip,” Snape cut her off irritably. “Perhaps that is the way that your interactions with the headmaster have gone in the past, but—”
“Then perhaps you could ask another of your colleagues to give the report?” Minerva interrupted, just as sharply. “I seem to recall that this is no longer my duty, as I do not hold the title of Deputy Headmistress. Am I correct?”
Snape stood with his back to her, his hands clasped firmly behind him as he stared out of the window in his office. He let out a long-suffering sigh. “Inform Professor Sinistra that if she encounters further issues with the dementors while she conducts her lessons on the parapets, I recommend either a Patronus Charm or a competent replacement who can perform one.” He turned and faced her. “And I should like you to make it clear to the staff that there are to be no exceptions made where punishment and detentions are concerned. I have seen far too many students just this week escape with warnings, when they ought to have been taken to Professor Carrow.”
Minerva scowled, flicking her wand. The parchment she held disappeared at once. “Very well. If that’s all, I’ll be returning to my office now, headmaster. Good afternoon.” She strode to the door and opened it to reveal Amycus and Alecto Carrow, who were in the midst of a heated argument as they ascended the stairs.
“Out the way,” Amycus growled, taking a swipe at Minerva, who sidestepped him. “Headmaster, we’ve got a problem.”
“What is it now?” Snape asked in a bored voice.
“Er—” Alecto looked shiftily at Minerva. She did not move.
“Professor McGonagall, you were going to your office?” asked Snape impatiently.
“Nosy ol’ bat,” Amycus muttered as Minerva shut the door behind her. She stood for a moment on the spiral stairs…she would have a better chance of hearing if she just…but if Severus saw her…oh, well, her moment was dwindling fast.
With a small pop, Minerva was several feet shorter, and her senses had become a great deal more acute. She crouched low on her paws, flattening one ear to the crack of the door.
“…do you mean, she escaped?”
“I mean we just got a letter, Snape, sayin’ the ol’ bag gave the Aurors the slip, and they only just figured it out when she didn’t get to Azkaban!” Amycus whispered angrily. “She even put one of ‘em in the hospital!”
“Now, look,” Alecto interrupted. “We jus’ need ter know what ter do abou’ Longbottom.”
“Stop all of his mail,” Snape answered. “Don’t bother reading it, anything he’s sent, you’re to burn it straight away.”
“He’s ringleadin’ the little blighters, Snape, what about that, then?” Amycus demanded.
“What is it you would do, Amycus?” Snape asked disparagingly, and there was a beat of silence. Minerva strained her ears, listening closely.
“We want ter get him,” he answered in a low voice. “Before McGonagall or any o’ the others get a chance ter try an’ save him.”
“Get him,” Severus repeated.
“Get him outta the school. We’ll take him ter Azkaban, if we have ta, or just ter Malfoy’s house,” Alecto said eagerly.
“The Malfoys’ home is no longer secure, as you well know,” Snape said firmly. “But very well. Arrange to remove Longbottom from the school. And do avoid your flair for the dramatic…”
Minerva didn’t hear the Carrows’ responses. She took off down the stairs and ran faster than she ever could have done in her human form, all the way to the Gryffindor common room, where she realized, suddenly, that she couldn’t give the password to the Fat Lady.
With another pop, she staggered upright, clutching a stitch in her chest. “Filigree,” she panted, but before she could get the word out, the portrait hole swung open, and four bodies toppled out.
“Stop!” Minerva cried, looking down at the tangle of black robes. “Longbottom?”
“Professor!” he gasped, righting himself and scrambling to his feet. Parvati Patil, Lavender Brown, and Seamus Finnigan were still getting up. “No time to explain—gotta run!”
“Longbottom, no!” Minerva barked, catching his collar. “We need—we need to get you somewhere safe—come with—”
“How does she know?” Parvati asked in a frightened voice. “How do you know, Professor?”
“Know—what?” Minerva asked, nonplussed.
Longbottom held up a folded bit of parchment. One of his eyes was swollen shut, and his face was covered in several enormous gashes that were only just beginning to heal. “My gran escaped, Professor. She got away, she’s on the run—but I’ve got to get away—”
“Professor Carrow is on his way,” Minerva supplied. She looked at Seamus, Parvati, and Lavender, who all bore cuts and bruises as well. “Take him round the other way, to the Room of Requirement. Get him to safety, and then come straight back here when you’re done. Don’t run back,” she added warningly. They all nodded once and took off running. Minerva set off the way she had just come, keeping her eyes and ears open for sounds of the Carrows. Her heart was racing; Augusta had escaped, and she couldn’t remember the last time happiness and utter terror had filled her so completely.
“Oi, McGonagall!” She looked up calmly. Amycus and Alecto had obviously just come puffing down the corridor. “You need ter let us into yer common room,” Amycus said sharply.
Minerva arched an eyebrow. “And why is that?”
“None o’ yer business,” Alecto snarled.
“I’m afraid it’s against your rules to let anyone except students and Heads of House into the common rooms, Professor,” Minerva said coolly, enjoying the shade of scarlet that was filling Alecto’s face. “Without good reason, of course.”
“You rotten ol’—”
Minerva gave a dramatic sigh. “Really, Alecto, there is no need for name-calling. I will be happy to help you, but I should like to know why it is that you need access to the Gryffindor common room. I don’t think Professor Snape would be very happy if I broke the school policies. Why, imagine if the two of you had ill intentions towards any of the students,” she added. “I can’t simply risk endangering any of them.”
“Will you shut up an’ take us ter Longbottom?” Amycus snapped.
“Longbottom?” Minerva repeated. She stared between him and Alecto, who was practically shaking with anger. It had been nearly ten minutes…surely she had delayed long enough… “Very well. Follow me.” Repressing a smirk, she turned and walked slowly down the corridor. Just as they rounded the corner to the Fat Lady’s portrait, she heard the telltale creak that meant the painting had just closed up. “Filigree,” she said politely, and the Fat Lady smiled and gave a deep curtsy before she swung forward. “After you,” she said to Amycus, but Alecto stopped him.
“If the brats have anything waitin’ for us,” she began, eyeing Minerva suspiciously.
“Oh, come now, Alecto,” she said tiredly. “What reason could the students possibly have for hurting you?” Alecto glared unpleasantly at her. “Very well, I’ll go first.” She climbed through the portrait hole to the common room, where a number of students were gathered, sprawled lazily across the furniture as they did their homework. Several looked up, interested; Minerva rarely entered the common room when students were present.
Then, the atmosphere changed dramatically. The temperature could have fallen ten degrees. Students were sitting up, closing books, pointing and whispering worriedly as they saw Amycus and Alecto climbing ungracefully through the portrait hole after her. Three fourth years actually ran for the dormitory stairs and vanished.
Parvati Patil ran over to Minerva, tears streaming down her face. “Professor, Neville’s gone!”
“We can’t find him anywhere,” Seamus Finnigan said miserably, joining Parvati and placing a comforting arm around her shoulders. She turned and wept theatrically into his shoulder.
“Gone? What d’ye mean, gone?” Amycus demanded furiously.
Lavender Brown had hurried over. Minerva gave her a sharp look; she was out of breath, her hair rumpled. She reached up one hand and smoothed it as she said, “Seamus woke up this morning, and couldn’t find him. We thought he was just in the library, but no one’s seen him all day.”
“His bed wasn’t slept in, you can look,” Seamus said earnestly to Minerva, who thought it best to forestall any invitations for the Carrows to delve further into Neville’s disappearance. However, before she could say anything, both Alecto and Amycus gave cries of fury and shoved her aside. Amycus elbowed Seamus in the ribs as he followed his sister up the boys’ dormitory steps.
For several tense minutes, the only sounds were scuffles and bangs—then there was a great clatter, and ten or so Gryffindor boys came tearing down the spiral staircase in fright.
“He ain’t in the dormitory!” Alecto shouted as she led the way down to the common room, her wand aloft. She let off her feelings by aiming a Stinging Hex at Demelza Robins, who yelped and ran out of the way. Minerva repressed her urge to shout, instead pulling Demelza protectively behind her back.
“Perhaps he hasn’t gone far,” she said icily, facing Amycus and Alecto, who were huffing and puffing angrily before her.
“He hasn’t gone anywhere!” Amycus shouted. “The dementors woulda caught ‘im if he’d left the grounds!”
“Neville produces a really good Patronus,” Parvati said quickly. Her face was suspiciously dry again. “Better than you might think.”
Amycus ground his teeth. “Lock down the castle and the grounds!” he bellowed. “Get them prefects huntin’ with the staff! Longbottom ain’t gettin’ anywhere!”
“A manhunt, Professor Carrow?” Minerva asked. “You can’t be serious—”
“An’ you won’t have anything ta do with it, McGonagall!” Alecto shrieked, rounding on her. “You an’ yer brats here are hidin’ Longbottom, an’ we know it! Nobody leaves this tower, an’ that’s includin’ you!”
Minerva stared coldly at her, her jaw tightening. “As you wish,” she said at last. She turned and faced the Gryffindors, many of whom had crept down the dormitory staircases to see what all of the shouting was about. “As of right now, no one leaves Gryffindor Tower. Is that understood?”
There was a great collective murmur of, “Yes, Professor McGonagall.”
She turned and faced the Carrows. “There you are. Good luck,” she added coldly.
“C’mon,” Amycus muttered, and he and Alecto stumped out of the portrait hole. Minerva watched them go, trying to reassure herself that there was no way they could catch Longbottom, if he used the Room of Requirement correctly…and after spending so many months in it, how could he not?
“What about dinner?” whispered a small voice, bringing her back to reality. She turned and faced the Gryffindors, who were all looking very confused and upset. She looked at Seamus, Parvati, and Lavender, her three eldest students, and the only ones left in a class that had been dwindling by the month.
“Well,” she said, “If anyone has any kind of food—sweets, chocolates, anything—maybe now is the time to share it. I will try to do what I can.”
“Professor McGonagall, is Neville all right?” a little blond first year piped up. Josephine O’Brien stood near the stairs, with several of her classmates. She was barely as tall as the others, even standing a step above them.
Minerva looked again at Finnigan. “I’m sure that Mr. Longbottom is quite all right.”
“Do we have to go to class on Monday?” asked Geoffrey Hooper interestedly.
“I should think so, Mr. Hooper, you owe me an essay,” Minerva answered indignantly, and there was a ripple of laughter. “All right, all of you return to your activities,” she advised, and the Gryffindors dispersed, returning either to their dormitories or to the chairs they had previously occupied. Seamus Finnigan caught Minerva’s eye and nodded, grinning, which she took to mean Neville’s safety. Satisfied, at least for the moment, Minerva went to the window and stood beside it, trying to remain unobtrusive. The Gryffindors, most likely for the reason that they were effectively being held prisoner, were understandably cautious at her presence.
Outside the window, the sky was a swirling, stormy gray clotted with woolly clouds. There was the faintest break of pale yellow-white on the horizon, indicating that the sun had not quite set. Minerva heard quiet murmuring over her shoulder; the Gryffindors were casting surreptitious glances at her from beside the fireplace. Once, Minerva had been one of them, she thought rather strangely. She had sat beside that fire in those armchairs, had seen Albus Dumbledore stand precisely where she stood, giving announcements and welcoming new students. He had seemed so adult compared to her, the new Captain of the Quidditch team and Head Girl to boot, and she had been so very frightened and wary of what the future held for her. Now she was the adult, and her students were watching her with that same wariness and fear.Only now, they were not worried about exams. They were not worried about Quidditch, lessons, or even their careers. They were worried about their lives and the lives of those they loved. Minerva recalled one of her sisters-in-law saying once that she must, occasionally, envy her students. And if she was honest, occasionally, she did. But at this moment, as she was imprisoned alongside them in Gryffindor Tower, she did not find them enviable at all. Realizing that she had been staring at the Gryffindors grouped around the fire, Minerva turned her gaze out of the window once again. A fork of lightning split the sky and rain began to fall.