Minerva started awake, her head jerking up so suddenly that she cricked her neck. She did not remember falling asleep, she realized, massaging the side of her neck painfully. The embers of the fire were dying, and her room was quite dark…but she had had the sensation that someone had spoken to her, and caused her to wake up…
Blearily, she straightened her spectacles and reached for her wand. “Lumos.” The tip ignited, and she looked around. The lit wand glittered over the carriage clock: it was after ten o’clock. And then she heard the sound that had awoken her. A man was shouting angrily, somewhere not far away…and she had a very good idea of who it was. Without pausing for a moment (though later, she would wonder how she had had such presence of mind), Minerva seized Elphinstone’s pocket watch and her own wedding band, tucking them securely in her pocket, and took off through her office and down the corridor. Sure enough, it was Amycus Carrow’s voice that was echoing through the dark castle, and she followed its sounds all the way to…Ravenclaw Tower. She stopped, listening carefully over the excited hammering of her own heart. Amycus was almost certainly standing at the top of this staircase.
She heard several loud bangs. “ALECTO! If he comes, and we haven’t got Potter—d’you want to go the same way as the Malfoys? ANSWER ME!” Minerva’s heart leapt, and she scrambled up the stairs. She arrived at the door and composed her features elegantly just as Amycus began throwing himself bodily against the brass-knockered door, trying to break it down.
“May I ask what you are doing, Professor Carrow?” she demanded imperiously.
He gave her a filthy look. “Trying—to get—through this damned—door!” he roared, partly from pain as he continued to fling himself at the wood. He turned to Minerva, baring his teeth. “Go and get Flitwick! Get him to open it, now!”
Minerva couldn’t resist it; Amycus looked so enraged that he might go utterly mad. She put on a politely confused expression. “But isn’t your sister in there? Didn’t Professor Flitwick let her in earlier this evening, at your urgent request? Perhaps she could open the door for you? Then you needn’t wake up half the castle.”
Amycus looked ready to throttle her. “She ain’t answering, you old besom! You open it! Garn! Do it, now!”
Minerva lifted her eyebrows. “Certainly, if you wish it.” She moved past him, ignoring the fact that he stumbled over the hem of her dressing gown trying to get out of her way, and raised the knocker that hung below the bronze eagle.
The bird opened its mouth, and a polite female voice asked, “Where do Vanished objects go?” Not for the first time, Minerva wondered if Rowena Ravenclaw’s trick for her pet students knew who was knocking. It would certainly be a quirk of the castle to make things that much more difficult for people like Amycus and Alecto, who would have no hope of answering a question like this.
“Into nonbeing, which is to say, everything,” she said evenly.
“Nicely phrased,” replied the eagle, and the handleless door swung open. Minerva caught a glimpse of a few stray Ravenclaws sprinting up the stairs to the dormitories before Amycus shoved past her, his wand out.
He gave a horrible yell, and Minerva saw what it was he was gazing at; his sister was a lifeless heap on the floor. Minerva bent immediately to examine her, while Amycus let out another roar of rage.
“What’ve they done, the little whelps? I’ll Cruciate the lot of ‘em till they tell me who did it—and what’s the Dark Lord going to say?” His voice went up three octaves, and he strode over to Alecto, hitting his own forehead with his fist. “We haven’t got him, and they’ve gorn and killed her!”
Minerva rolled her eyes, rising again. “She’s only Stunned. She’ll be perfectly all right.”
“No she bludgering well won’t!” Amycus bellowed in her face. “Not after the Dark Lord gets hold of her! She’s gorn and sent for him, I felt me Mark burn, and he thinks we’ve got Potter!”
Minerva felt her limbs become ice. “‘Got Potter?’” she repeated angrily. “What do you mean, ‘got Potter’?”
Amycus didn’t seem to have any regard for what he was saying; he was striding about, yanking at fistfuls of his own hair. “He told us Potter might try and get inside Ravenclaw Tower, and to send for him if we caught him!” he shouted.
“Why would Harry Potter try to get inside Ravenclaw Tower?” Minerva demanded. “Potter belongs in my House!”
Amycus gave her another filthy look. “We was told he might come in here! I dunno why, do I?”
But Minerva was not listening, a sudden thought had struck her…but how could she find out if Potter was here, under his Invisibility Cloak, without Amycus knowing…she stared around the room, looking for some ripple of motion, before Amycus suddenly jarred her back to reality. “We can push it off on the kids,” he muttered. “Yeah, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll say Alecto was ambushed by the kids, them kids up there,” he continued, his gaze flickering up to the blue-and-gold ceiling, “and we’ll say they forced her to press her Mark, and that’s why he got a false alarm…He can punish them. Couple of kids more or less, what’s the difference?”
Minerva gave a cry of shock, feeling suddenly lightheaded. “Only the difference between truth and lies, courage and cowardice!” She advanced on Amycus, her hand closing around the wand in her pocket. “A difference, in short, which you and your sister seem unable to appreciate. But let me make one thing very clear. You are not going to pass off your many ineptitudes on the students of Hogwarts. I shall not permit it.”
“Excuse me?” he retorted, stepping suddenly into her space, jamming his ugly, red, piggish face into hers. She was half a head taller, and glared down at him furiously, feeling every ounce of hatred and disgust that she had had in the last seven months boiling over, erupting inside of her. “It’s not a case of what you’ll permit, Minerva McGonagall. Your time’s over. It’s us what’s in charge here now, and you’ll back me up or you’ll pay the price.” And he spat in her face.
Minerva slowly opened her eyes, feeling nauseated, not by the saliva that she could feel spattered across her face and neck, but by the overwhelming hatred that filled her very heart. She prepared to draw her wand, to curse Amycus into oblivion, into something beyond recognition—
“You shouldn’t have done that.” As if in slow motion, Minerva turned to see Harry Potter stepping out from beneath his Invisibility Cloak, his wand raised. “Crucio!”
Amycus was lifted off his feet and collided hard with a bookcase, shattering the glass across the floor before he crashed to the ground, unmoving as his sister. Minerva clapped a hand over her heart, which seemed to have forgotten how to beat, and faced Potter, whose face was bright red. “I see what Bellatrix meant,” he said furiously, “you need to really mean it.”
Minerva gaped at him, still holding one hand at her throat. “Potter! Potter—you’re here!” Minerva gasped. “What—? How—?” She drew a steadying breath, and suddenly her brain seemed to register what had just happened. She became upset—never, ever before had a student used an Unforgivable Curse in front of her. “Potter, that was foolish!”
“He spat at you,” Harry answered, and Minerva had to hold back a desire to laugh and hug this strange, strange boy, whom, she had not realized until this moment, she had seriously believed she would never see again.
“Potter, I—that was very—very gallant of you—but don’t you realize—?”
“Yeah, I do,” he interrupted calmly. Now that she had a better look at him, she saw his hair was long, unkempt, and shaggy, and his hands, unshaven face, and neck were covered with half-healed scorches and burns. He was staring at her seriously. “Professor McGonagall, Voldemort’s on the way.” Minerva’s heart stopped, but that was nothing next to—
“Oh, are we allowed to say the name now?”
Luna Lovegood, looking thinner and paler than Minerva had ever seen her, but smiling calmly, materialized out of thin air, pulling off the Invisibility Cloak. Minerva’s knees gave out, and she dropped into a nearby chair.
“I don’t think it makes any difference what we call him,” Harry said to Luna, “he already knows where I am.” And suddenly, he winced, shaking his head as though trying to clear it of water.
“You must flee,” Minerva said, reaching out to him. “Now, Potter, as quickly as you can!”
“I can’t,” he said flatly, and Minerva felt the swell of annoyance she always associated with Potter and his friends. “There’s something I need to do. Professor, do you know where they diadem of Ravenclaw is?”
This non sequitur was jarring for Minerva’s brain, which was finally clunking back into motion. “The d-diadem of Ravenclaw?” she repeated. “Of course not—hasn’t it been lost for centuries? Potter, it was madness, utter madness, for you to enter this castle—”
“I had to,” Harry insisted. “Professor, there’s something hidden here that I’m supposed to find, and it could be the diadem—if I could just speak to Professor Flitwick—”
There was a groan and a tinkle of glass; Amycus was stirring where he lay on the floor. Minerva rose at once, wiping her face with her sleeve, and raised her wand.
“Imperio.” The bizarre feeling that Minerva truly detested—it had been many, many years since the last time she had used this curse, and she had hated it then, too—shot down her arm. But she instructed Amycus to fetch his sister’s wand and relinquish it and his own to her. Then he lay down obediently on the floor directly beside Alecto, and Minerva flicked her wand again to bind them tightly with shimmering, silver ropes. Then she faced Harry and Luna again. “Potter, if He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named does indeed know that you are here—” He gave another wince and gasp of pain, one hand flying up to press against the lightning scar on his forehead. “Potter, are you all right?”
“Time’s running out,” he said desperately, and it seemed that forcing himself to stay focused was a terrible effort, “Voldemort’s getting nearer. Professor, I’m acting on Dumbledore’s orders, I must find what he wanted me to find! But we’ve got to get the students out while I’m searching the castle—it’s me Voldemort wants, but he won’t care about killing a few more or less, not now—” he stopped suddenly, and Minerva had the feeling that he was hiding something from her.
But like a potion, the mention of Albus’s name filled her with a sudden rush of warmth that she had not felt for a very long time. “You’re acting on Dumbledore’s orders?” she repeated. She straightened her back proudly. “We shall secure the school against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named while you search for this—this object.”
Harry looked stunned. “Is that possible?”
She arched an eyebrow. Some things never changed. “I think so. We teachers are rather good at magic, you know. I am sure we will be able to hold him off for a while if we all put our best efforts into it.” Then something struck her, two major obstacles… “Of course, something will have to be done about Professor Snape—”
“—and if Hogwarts is about to enter a state of siege, with the Dark Lord at the gates, it would indeed be advisable to take as many innocent people out of the way as possible. With the Floo Network under observation, and Apparition impossible within the grounds—”
“There’s a way!” Harry cried. “Neville Longbottom and a bunch of others—they’ve been using a secret passage that formed out of the Room of Requirement—they’ve been getting food and news out of the Hog’s Head—”
“A passage?” Minerva repeated. “But—” She wanted to laugh. That was why Aberforth had refused to help her. He had already met Longbottom. But even Aberforth’s tiny pub wouldn’t protect everyone, if only because there was no room. “Potter, we’re talking about hundreds of students—”
“I know, Professor, but if Voldemort and the Death Eaters are concentrating on the school boundaries they won’t be interested in anyone who’s Disapparating out of the Hog’s Head.”
Minerva paused. “There’s something in that.” She nodded once and turned to the Carrows again, raising her wand. A silvery net fluttered down and wrapped them both tightly up before hoisting them to dangle from the ceiling. She stuffed both of their wands in her pocket and turned away. “Come,” she said to Potter. “We must alert the other Heads of House. You’d better put that Cloak back on.” She strode for the door and raised her wand; her tabby cat Patronus multiplied itself into three and shot off to find Horace, Pomona, and Filius. Minerva led the way through the corridors, concentrating on getting to the Great Hall. She could hear the faintest shuffling behind her, indicating that Potter and Lovegood were keeping pace. She rounded a dark corner, and stopped. She lifted her wand slightly.
“Who’s there?” she called, though she knew the answer already…the moment had arrived, her plan was only half-formed…but it was too late to turn back.
“It is I.” Severus crept out of the shadows, where he seemed to have been lurking as a piece of the darkness itself. Minerva watched him, unblinking. “Where are the Carrows?” he asked smoothly.
“Wherever you told them to be, I expect, Severus,” she replied. For a moment, he looked into the darkness behind her, and she knew that he believed Potter to be in the castle, just as Amycus had.
“I was under the impression that Alecto had apprehended an intruder,” he said softly.
“Really?” Minerva asked loftily. “And what gave you that impression? Oh—” she said in a cold voice, when Severus’s left arm gave a tic, “—but naturally. You Death Eaters have your own private means of communication, I forgot.” She met those pitiless black eyes, and had the sudden, terrible impression that this was precisely the scene Potter had witnessed almost one year ago, the night that Albus had died…but that would not happen again. Snape returned to gazing into the space behind her, as though he expected Potter to show himself.
“I did not know that it was your night to patrol the corridors, Minerva,” he said.
Minerva glared at him. “I thought I heard a disturbance,” she lied.
“Really? But all seems calm.” He met her eyes suddenly, and she tried to snap her mind shut. “Have you seen Harry Potter, Minerva? Because if you have, I must insist—”
It had been over a decade since Minerva had had a proper duel with a worthy opponent, but she sprang into this one as though she had practiced for years. She fired a powerful curse at Snape, but he deflected it, and she was nearly knocked over. He wanted a different kind of duel: old-fashioned, vicious, and a thousand times more dangerous than flying curses. She could do that. The pounding anger she had felt—could it have been just yesterday?—filled her heart again. She twirled her wand and ripped the flames from the nearby brazier torch, bringing them down in a fiery circle, a rope to bind Snape—
But the fire became a snake—she blew it apart and turned it into a cloud of flying daggers—one for each of her students, each of his wrongs, and lies, and cruelties—Snape could not get out of the way fast enough—he leapt behind a suit of armor, flinching as the knives sank into the breastplate.
She barely heard Filius, who was racing up the corridor with Pomona, both with their wands drawn. She was focused on Snape, who was trying to free himself from the armor and get a clear shot at Minerva—
“No!” Filius squealed. “You’ll do no more murder at Hogwarts!” He slashed his wand through the air as he ran. With an echoing clang, the suit of armor closest to Snape came to life at the touch of Filius’s spell, and began to wrestle with him, binding him from casting a new curse at Minerva—he flung it off of himself and bolted, fleeing from Minerva and the others, who chased him down the corridor and into a classroom.
She skidded inside, her wand aloft, ready to keep fighting—and stopped. Snape was perched halfway on the windowsill. He was going to jump. “Coward!” she screamed. He gave her a malevolent sneer and leapt directly through the window. “COWARD!” She ran forward, prepared to seize him, stop him—then, with a sickening lurch, she saw him taking flight, soaring off into the night air…it was a thousand times more terrible to behold than anything that Remus could have told her…
“What’s happened, what’s happened?” asked disembodied voice, and Minerva turned to see Potter, leading Lovegood by the hand into the classroom, as she pulled off the Invisibility Cloak.
“He jumped,” she said bitterly, ignoring the cries of shock from Pomona and Filius at their sudden appearance.
“You mean he’s dead?” Harry demanded, darting to the window.
“No, he’s not dead,” she said, pointing. “Unlike Dumbledore, he was still carrying a wand…but he seems to have learned a few tricks from his master.” For a moment, a look of uncharacteristic hatred flickered over Harry’s features, and he swore under his breath.
Then, huffing and puffing, Horace arrived in the room. “Harry!” he cried in shock. “My dear boy…what a surprise…Minerva, do please explain…Severus…what…?”
“Our headmaster is taking a short break,” Minerva said crisply, gesturing to the broken window, and Horace looked shocked.
He stammered something that Minerva didn’t hear, for Potter gave a sudden yell. “Professor!” He clapped both hands to his forehead. “Professor, we’ve got to barricade the school, he’s coming now!”
Minerva felt a thrill of horror…Potter was seeing directly into the Dark Lord’s mind, even more so than Albus had ever thought… “Very well,” she said, facing Pomona and the others. “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is coming. Potter has work to do in the castle on Dumbledore’s orders. We need to put in place every protection of which we are capable while Potter does what he needs to do.”
“You realize, of course, that nothing we do will be able to keep out You-Know-Who indefinitely?” Filius squeaked.
“But we can hold him up,” Pomona said firmly.
“Thank you, Pomona,” said Minerva, with a rush of affection and gratitude. “I suggest we establish basic protection around the place, then gather out students and meet in the Great Hall. Most must be evacuated, though—” she paused for a half-second, and swallowed— “if any of those who are over age wish to stay and fight, I think they ought to be given the chance.”
Pomona looked as though she wanted to smile. She headed for the door. “Agreed. I shall meet you in the great Hall in twenty minutes with my House.” She began ticking things off on her hands as she hurried out into the corridor. “Tentacula. Devil’s Snare. And Snargaluff pods….yes, I’d like to see the Death Eaters fighting those.”
“I can act from here,” said Filius firmly, stepping up to the broken window and aiming his wand out of it. Harry hurried over to him. “Cave Inimicum…Protego Maxima…Fianto Dure…”
“Professor,” he said quickly, “Professor, I’m sorry to interrupt, but this is important. Have you got any idea where the diadem of Ravenclaw is?”
“Protego Horribilis—the diadem of Ravenclaw?” Filius repeated. “A little extra wisdom never goes amiss, Potter, but I hardly think it would be much use in this situation!”
Harry looked frustrated, and Minerva caught his eye, trying to indicate that it was time for them to go. “I only meant—do you know where it is? Have you ever seen it?”
“Seen it?” Filius squeaked. “Nobody has seen it in living memory! Long since lost, boy!”
Harry ground his teeth; he was clearly thinking hard. Minerva stepped in. “We shall meet you and your Ravenclaws in the Great Hall, Filius!” she called, and she gestured for Luna and Harry to follow her.
“My word,” said Horace, and Minerva stopped before she had reached the door. She faced him. “What a to-do! I’m not at all sure whether this is wise, Minerva. He is bound to find a way in, you know, and anyone who has tried to delay him will be in most grievous peril—”
Minerva glared at him. “I shall expect you and the Slytherins in the Great Hall in twenty minutes, also,” she said fiercely. “If you wish to leave with your students, we shall not stop you.” She drew a breath and did not blink, staring coldly into Horace’s nervous face. “But if any of you attempt to sabotage our resistance or take up arms against us within this castle, then, Horace, we duel to kill.”
“Minerva!” he gasped.
“The time has come for Slytherin House to decide upon its loyalties,” she said viciously. “Go and wake your students, Horace.” She strode out of the room, ignoring his incoherent splutters. She was tired of his indecision and equivocation. She would force him to act now if it was the last thing she ever did. She stopped in the middle of the corridor and raised her wand. She had never tried a spell like this on such a large scale—a chessboard was hardly anything compared to what she was about to do—and she was strangely excited for it. “Piertotum—” a gasping, wheezing noise came from behind her, and she whirled around. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Filch, not now—”
“Students out of bed! Students in the corridors!” he cried, and Minerva resisted a desire to jinx him.
“They’re supposed to be, you blithering idiot!” An idea had just struck her. “Now go and do something constructive! Find Peeves!”
“P-Peeves?” Filch stammered.
“Yes, Peeves, you fool, Peeves!” Minerva shouted, furious that she hadn’t thought of finding the poltergeist before now. “Haven’t you been complaining about him for a quarter of a century? Go and fetch him, at once!”
Filch looked at her as though she had gone mad, but stumped off, muttering to himself with his vile cat trailing after him.
Minerva shook herself and faced the suits of armor and statues that lined the corridor, mustering all of her concentration. “And now—Piertotum Locomotor!”
With an echoing, clanging crash that sounded through all seven floors of the castle, the occupants of the alcoves all down the corridor leapt off their plinths and stood at attention before her. Minerva felt a surge of electricity in her veins. She raised her arms and shouted,
“Hogwarts is threatened! Man the boundaries, protect us, do your duty to our school!”
And, with an echoing, thunderous war cry, the statues charged past her, brandishing weapons and swinging heavy limbs of marble. She ducked a few flying swords and maces and approached Harry again. “Now, Potter, you and Miss Lovegood had better return to your friends and bring them to the Great Hall—I shall rouse the other Gryffindors.”
Harry nodded and hurried up the nearest staircase with Luna, heading for the Room of Requirement, and Minerva sprinted for Gryffindor Tower.