A/N: And here is the last and final chapter of A Lioness. Thanks go out to AMP, Suburban House Elf, Kate, and of course J.K. Rowling. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: This is not mine.
Chapter Two- Discussions
"Delubrum Minervae." The bolts in the lock clicked open as Minerva uttered the password, and she stepped into her personal quarters with a relieved sigh. Lee Jordan's comment had dispelled the somber atmosphere in the Gryffindor common room, and it had returned to normal in no time. Minerva had left soon after that. It had, after all, been a long and tiring day.
Conjuring herself a cup of tea, Minerva sat down in her favorite chair by the window. Her quarters consisted of three rooms—a bedroom, a bathroom, and the sitting room she was in now. The rooms were by no means opulent, but they weren't sparsely furnished either. Because she was the head of Gryffindor the predominant colors were red and gold, warm colors that were altogether pleasant to come home to. The sitting room in particular was filled with various trinkets and mementos of her time teaching. An entire display case was filled with figurines from the headmaster, who found it amusing to give her cat statuettes each Christmas. The most recent one closely resembled Minerva's Animagus form. A large painting of Hogwarts held pride of place over the fireplace, given to her by a former student years ago; it changed according to the season. Minerva gazed at the pleasant summer scene while she sipped her tea.
Now that her mind was no longer occupied with thinking of what to say to her Gryffindors, she found her thoughts returning to Harry Potter. She was disturbed by what she had seen of him in the Gryffindor common room. He had seemed dark and brooding, completely turned inward. He needed to see that pushing others away because of the prophecy would do more harm than good. Nor would blaming anyone accomplish anything, especially Albus, who blamed himself enough already for not telling Harry of the prophecy sooner. But the boy's godfather had just died, so he had reason to be angry and depressed. Minerva closed her eyes at that, once again thinking that Sirius needn't have died, if only she had been there when Harry had come looking for her the day of the attack.
But her tea was growing cold, and she was extremely tired, and she had sworn that she would stop blaming herself for something that she couldn't change. She was not to blame any more than Albus or Harry were; everything that had happened was Lord Voldemort's doing, and they all needed to remember that. Draining her cup, Minerva hauled herself to her feet and entered her bedroom, vanishing the tea things as she went. She changed into her nightgown and undid her trademark bun, braiding back her long black hair. She barely remembered to take the potions that Poppy Pomfrey had given her before climbing into her bed, which was looking more welcoming by the minute. Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort could wait until morning; she was going to sleep.
She rose later than usual Monday morning, undoubtedly because of the stress of the day before. Dressing hastily, Minerva only just remembered to take her potions before heading to the Great Hall. Breakfast was in full swing as she entered, and she had to reprimand several students for their boisterous behavior before she reached the High Table.
"Good morning, Professor Dumbledore," she said as she sat down in her usual chair to the headmaster's right. Serving herself breakfast, Minerva began to eat as he replied.
"And to you, as well," he said with a smile, eyes twinkling. "What are your plans for this morning, if I may ask?"
Pouring herself some tea, Minerva answered, "I intend to finish marking the fourth years' exams today. And I suppose I will venture into Umbridge's office before lunch," she finished reluctantly. She had been most displeased when she had seen Umbridge in the hospital wing the previous day; she would not have been at all unhappy had Albus left the woman in the Forbidden Forest with the centaurs. Minerva was not looking forward to sorting through Umbridge's belongings, but it had to be done.
"I apologize, but it is necessary," the headmaster said, echoing her thoughts. "Besides," he added with another smile, "I rather think you will enjoy finding items that might incriminate Dolores."
"I had not thought of the task in precisely that light," Minerva admitted, feeling a certain amount of vengeful glee at causing trouble for Umbridge. The former High Inquisitor's star at the Ministry had fallen quite rapidly after the attack in the Department of Mysteries, and a dubious item or two might be just the key to preventing it from rising ever again.
Chuckling at the look on her face, Albus asked, "And have you had an opportunity to tell Mr. Potter that his Quidditch ban has been revoked?" His smile faded as he glanced at Harry Potter, who was sitting at the Gryffindor table with Ginny Weasley and halfheartedly picking at his food.
"No, I have not. I shall speak with him later today—perhaps after lunch." Looking from the headmaster to Harry and back, Minerva wished she could do more to help them both. But if wishes were fish we would walk on the sea… She changed the subject abruptly. "However, I have spoken to Gryffindor House about the attack. It went well," she added when Albus gave her an inquiring look.
"Excellent." Finishing his breakfast, the headmaster stood. "I shall see you at lunch, then, Professor McGonagall," he said with a nod as he left.
After finishing breakfast, Minerva went to her office. She spent most of the morning in the familiar routine of grading papers. Many of the Hogwarts teachers abhorred marking, but she was not one of them. Minerva found it comforting to lose herself in the well-known intricacies of Transfiguration; her love for the subject had not diminished over the years. She and the headmaster had spent many an enjoyable evening debating some of the more obscure theories and principles. Besides, she felt an enormous sense of accomplishment when her pupils improved over the course of the year, as almost all of the fourth years had done.
But no good thing lasts forever, and so it was that Minerva set Ginny Weasley's paper atop the pile of marked exams about half an hour before lunch. She still had to go through Dolores Umbridge's things. Using her walking stick to stand—she was quickly growing to hate the thing—Minerva went up to the third floor. The door of the Defense Against the Dark Arts office was closed, but unlocked. Checking the hallways for onlookers, she entered the room, closing the door behind her. It wouldn't do for the Deputy Headmistress to be seen searching through the former High Inquisitor's possessions.
Looking up, an expression of disgust appeared on Minerva's face as she surveyed the room. It was, in a word, hideous. Every available surface had been covered in layers of lace. Several vases were filled with dry flowers; none of the arrangements matched. Each vase occupied its own doily. It was one of the walls, however, that made the room truly seem foul. There was a large collection of ornamental plates hanging there, each sporting a garishly bright kitten with a different bow around its neck. Minerva stared at the wall for a moment, repulsed. "A disgrace to felines everywhere!" she muttered, waving her wand. The plates flew off the wall and landed in a haphazard pile by the fireplace, thankfully out of sight.
Sitting at the desk, which was covered by an odious flowered tablecloth, Minerva spent the next fifteen minutes searching through Umbridge's belongings. In addition to the normal teaching materials, there was a large amount of correspondence from the Minister of Magic. Minerva skimmed through each letter; most were filled with Cornelius Fudge's customary bluster and pomposity. She put them away to read more closely later, along with copies of the various Educational Decrees. Those, perhaps, could be used for publicity purposes; she knew that many people would disapprove of the restrictions that Umbridge had placed upon Hogwarts. Minerva also found a small chest of potions. None were illegal, but most, especially the lesser truth potions, had almost certainly been used for negative purposes. There was an entire cabinet full of confiscated items, most of them innocuous, which also went into the pile of things to keep. They could be returned to their proper owners later (with the exception of a few things that had almost certainly belonged to the Weasley twins or Lee Jordan). It was the last thing she found, however, that turned Minerva's intense dislike of Dolores Umbridge into what could only be described as hatred.
The bottom drawer of the desk was empty apart from a bundle of parchment and a black quill. Minerva placed the quill on the desk, lifting out the papers with a frown. She had been teaching Harry Potter for five years and had graded enough of his essays to recognize that it was his handwriting that covered the sheets of parchment. Minerva glanced through all of them; they were all covered with "I must not tell lies." Undoubtedly Umbridge had made Harry do lines during his many detentions, though only Merlin knew why she had kept them.
But there was something odd about the ink that had been used. It was an unusual red-brown color, flaking off in some places. Minerva placed the papers on the desk and was about to dismiss them when her gaze fell on the quill that had been with them. She stood absolutely still as a horrible suspicion flashed through her mind. No. Surely even Umbridge would not have… Snatching up the black quill, Minerva peered at it closely. It was long and thin with an unusually sharp point. With a white-knuckled grip, she drew a line across the top of a sheet of parchment. She gasped in pain as a line of blood appeared on the parchment. The resulting cut on her hand faded to an angry red line, and Minerva stared at it, feeling ill.
It was a Blood Quill. Favored by Dark wizards, they had also been used by many of the old pure-blood families for the signing of oaths and other important documents. However, they had recently been declared illegal and the Ministry of Magic had confiscated almost all of them. It would have been easy for Dolores Umbridge to obtain one, assuming she hadn't had one already.
Minerva put the quill back on the desk, her hands trembling in anger. Dolores Umbridge had deliberately injured students—no. She had forced them to injure themselves, which was even worse. How many students had been affected? Harry Potter, certainly. Probably Lee Jordan as well—Minerva remembered him coming into Transfiguration with a bandage on his hand shortly after he had served detention with Umbridge. And there were quite possibly more students from other houses, for she was only told of detentions when the recipients were in her house. Realizing that she was shaking and that her hands were clenched into fists, Minerva closed her eyes and counted to ten. The anger faded to a bearable level, only to be replaced by guilt.
Why had she not seen? Students had been injuring themselves because of small transgressions and she had not even noticed. Recalling what she had said to Harry Potter, Minerva winced. "She is your teacher and has every right to give you detention." She remembered that she had even punished Harry further, taking points from Gryffindor when Umbridge had given him detention for the second time. Why had she not seen? Why had no one told her? She began to feel more angry again—at the students for not telling her, at herself for not noticing, and, especially, at Umbridge. Staring at the Blood Quill, Minerva almost wished that the toad-like woman were standing right in front of her.
The sound of students in the hallway outside told her that it was time for lunch. Casting Enlargement and Feather-Light charms on the bag she had brought, Minerva swept the papers on the desk, the potions, the confiscated items, and the quill into it and left the office. She headed towards her chambers to deposit the bag before going to lunch, still in a black mood. Students going downstairs scattered right and left as they saw the look on her face. So this is what it feels like to be Severus.
Upon reaching the Great Hall she sat down in her usual chair and served herself food with more force than was strictly necessary. She began to eat, thoughts of the Blood Quill filling her mind all the while. The dark expression on her face was sufficient to keep any of the staff from talking to her.
"Is something amiss?" a quiet voice asked her some time later. She had not noticed when the headmaster came in. By this time Minerva's anger had cooled somewhat, but her feeling of guilt had not diminished at all. She did not wish to discuss it with Albus, though, particularly not at the High Table in front of all the students and teachers.
"I have just finished going through Umbridge's office," Minerva replied, hoping that her statement would answer the question for itself. Glancing at the Gryffindor table, she saw Harry Potter stand up. She still wanted to talk to him, and it would prevent Albus from asking any more questions. She would tell him about the Blood Quill later. "If you will excuse me, I still need to speak with Mr. Potter regarding his Quidditch ban." The headmaster nodded.
She intercepted Harry in the Entrance Hall. "Potter, come with me," she ordered. She glanced at Ginny Weasley, who was not so unobtrusively lurking in the doorway to the Great Hall. "Alone, if you please."
Minerva turned and began walking up the marble staircase without waiting to see if Harry would reply. He didn't, and for some reason that irritated her. She knew it was irrational, and that she should try to be more understanding, but understanding and patience were things that didn't come easily to her.
She paused when they reached her office door, trying to collect her thoughts. This was not a discussion that Minerva wanted to enter without being fully in control of herself. She was beginning to think that speaking to Harry like this had not been such a good idea after all; she was intelligent enough to realize that dealing with emotions was not her strong suit. However, the Gryffindor that was in her wouldn't allow her to simply give Harry his broom and let him leave. Someone who knew of the prophecy had to speak to him, and as the headmaster was obviously out, she was the only one left.
Harry coughed awkwardly, and Minerva realized that they were still standing outside of her office. She opened the door and gestured for Harry to precede her inside. "Sit," she said, closing the door behind her. He did. She sat down behind her desk and looked at him. And so it begins.
"You will be happy to hear," Minerva began, "that the headmaster has seen to it that your Quidditch ban has been revoked." She searched Harry's face as she spoke, hoping that he would give her something, anything to work with. He remained expressionless, though a brief flicker of something crossed his face when she mentioned the headmaster. When she said nothing further, however, Harry spoke.
"Er—Professor? Can I go now?"
This annoyed Minerva further. She pressed her lips together disapprovingly. "No, Potter, you may not." To give herself some time, she thrust her tin of Ginger Newts at him. "Take one." He obeyed. She looked around the room for inspiration, and her eyes fell on the bag by the door. Standing up abruptly, Minerva withdrew the Blood Quill and returned to her seat, placing the quill on her desk. "Would you care to explain this?"
Harry stared at it, recognition appearing on his face. "That's Umbridge's! It...it uses the writer's blood for ink…" He trailed off.
"I know that, Potter," Minerva replied irritably. "I am more interested in finding out how you know it." He had inadvertently confirmed her suspicions about the detentions, but she hadn't yet found out why no one had said anything to her.
Apparently realizing that he was treading on dangerous ground, Harry looked down at his hands as he muttered, "She made me use it to do lines in her detentions."
"I see." Minerva was remarkably proud that she managed to keep her voice level. "And is there a reason that you did not inform me of this at the time?"
"I—er—I didn't think you'd be able to do anything about it."
"You didn't think I—" Minerva stopped and took a deep breath. "Even if I couldn't, did you think that the injuring of students would be ignored? Did it not occur to you, Mr. Potter, that Blood Quills are illegal and that perhaps, if you had told someone, Dolores Umbridge could have been removed from the school?"
Judging by the stricken look on Harry's face, it hadn't. "I didn't know!" After seeing the unforgiving expression on Minerva's face, his tone grew angrier. "I thought you'd be fired, Professor! I didn't know how much authority you had over her. And I didn't even know what that—that thing was! I didn't know!" He sounded as if his excuses were directed more to himself than to Minerva.
She felt a flash of compassion but didn't allow it to show on her face. Knowing what she was doing and hating herself for it, Minerva asked, "Then why did you not go to the headmaster? The lack of communication this year—"
"Lack of communication?" Harry interrupted loudly. He had stopped trying to control himself, as Minerva had known he would. She was grateful that she had thought to put a Silencing Charm on the door when she had gotten the Blood Quill. She couldn't even begin to get through to Harry unless he talked to her; the problem was getting him to do so. She was not the headmaster; she wasn't skilled at getting students to open up to her. Her only hope with Harry was to get him angry. But he had spoken again. "You're telling me off because I kept things from Dumbledore? He's the one who was keeping things from me! He forced me to learn Occlumency from Snape, of all people, and he wouldn't even tell me the real reason why! He kept me locked at the Dursleys' last summer! He wouldn't talk to me all year! And the prophecy—" He broke off abruptly, breathing hard, realizing even through his anger that the prophecy wasn't something that should be brought up with just anyone.
And now we come to it, Minerva thought. "I know what the prophecy says, Potter."
"You—you know? But it was destroyed…unless…Dumbledore. You mean, all of you knew? Everyone in the bloody Order knew, and no one told me?" He looked ready to explode again, and Minerva hurried to cut him off.
"Professor Dumbledore did, in fact, tell me, but—" she held up a hand to stop Harry's incipient outburst, "I only found out yesterday, when I reported to him upon returning from St. Mungo's. The Order only knows that there is a prophecy concerning you and He—Voldemort. They are not aware of its contents."
"Why you, then? Why do you know when no one else does?"
Minerva wasn't irritated at his question, though his tone had been insulting. Why me, indeed? She didn't know the answer. "The headmaster is human too. He felt that he needed to tell someone, and for his own reasons, he chose me. Don't blame him, Potter. Harry. He blames himself enough already, for—for Sirius' death."
Harry, who had stood up while he was shouting, sank back down into his chair. "He shouldn't," he muttered. "It's my fault. Hermione said that I have a 'saving-people-thing,' and she was right. If…if I hadn't gone…" He trailed off.
"It wasn't your fault any more than it was the headmaster's. It was no one's fault but Voldemort's."
"Voldemort." Harry stared at his hands. "I have to kill him, you know."
"I know." Minerva sighed.
"Have you ever killed anyone, Professor?"
"Yes, I have." Harry looked up sharply. "During the war with Grindelwald. It was perhaps the hardest thing that I have ever had to do." Minerva's tone made it clear that the subject was closed.
Harry looked down again. "Maybe I should just go after him. Voldemort. So that no one else gets hurt. I still think that Sirius getting—getting killed was my fault. And my friends might've, too. I should just get it over with."
"That is exactly what you must not do, Potter!" Minerva exclaimed, feeling what was almost panic at the thought of fifteen year-old Harry going after Voldemort. Her chest twinged, and she forced herself to calm down, remembering what Poppy had said about chest spasms. "That kind of attitude is pointless, selfish, and could very likely get all of us killed."
"What?" He sounded confused and annoyed.
And with that, Minerva was off. She spoke to him as clearly as she could, her voice devoid of pity, trying to make him understand what she was saying. She did her best to articulate everything that she had been feeling since the headmaster had told her of Sirius' death and the prophecy—that guilt served no purpose, that Harry was not the only one who grieved, that blaming the headmaster did nothing, that going after Voldemort unprepared and alone was not the right thing to do, and most importantly, that none of this was his fault. She also tried to impress that Harry wasn't alone.
"My friends, though!" he burst out after a long interval. "Why did they insist on going? They could've been killed! And everyone except Luna was hurt."
Minerva looked at him for a long moment. "Potter," she asked, "what would you do if Ron Weasley had a vision that one of his family members was being attacked and he wanted to go save them?"
"I'd go with him, of course," Harry responded automatically, his irritated tone making it clear that he thought the question was irrelevant.
"And if he said that you shouldn't go, that he wouldn't want you to be injured on his behalf?"
"I'd go anyway. It's my choice to—" He blinked. "Oh."
Minerva smiled. "Precisely. Your friends chose to accompany you of their own free wills. And if I were you, Potter, I would not push them away in the future. You need them, and they need you."
There was silence, and Minerva decided that it was best to end the conversation where it was. She had said what she had wanted to say, and it was Harry's choice whether or not to make use of what she said. She reached under her desk and pulled out his Firebolt. "I suppose you'll be wanting this."
"My Firebolt!" he exclaimed, taking the offered broomstick eagerly. "But—what about Ginny? She's Seeker now."
"While Miss Weasley made a more than adequate Seeker this year, her level of skill in that position does not compare to yours. However, I would be extremely surprised should she not make the team next year—I believe she intends to try out as a Chaser. If that is all you wished to say, you may go. Your friends will undoubtedly be wondering why I have kept you so long."
Harry got up and walked to the door, Firebolt in one hand. As he opened the door, he paused and looked back. "Professor?"
"Thanks." It was obvious that he was referring to more than the Firebolt.
Minerva smiled. "You're welcome, Harry."
She lingered at the High Table that night at supper, content to simply sit and watch the students. She was even more tired than she'd been yesterday, but she felt that the results were well worth the trouble. Harry was again sitting with Ginny Weasley and Neville Longbottom, cleaning his plate for the first time since Minerva's return. She looked up as the headmaster sat down. "Good evening, Professor McGonagall," he said.
"Good evening," she replied, nodding. Albus served himself from the platters in front of them before turning back to her.
"I believe you said at lunch that you had sorted through Dolores Umbridge's possessions," he said, keeping his voice low enough that none of the students could hear them.
Minerva kept her voice low as well. "I did. I took her papers, some potions, a drawer full of confiscated items, and—something else," she finished, deciding that it was best not to mention the Blood Quill in front of the other teachers, some of whom were looking their way. "I shall bring them to your office at your convenience."
"Later tonight, perhaps? The confiscated items will need to be returned to their proper owners before the end of term."
"With the exception of a few things that almost certainly belonged to the Weasley twins of Lee Jordan, yes." The headmaster chuckled as Minerva stood up and reached for her walking stick. "Until later, then."
Minerva approached the stone gargoyle and gave the password. She stepped onto the moving staircase, closing her eyes as it carried her upward. As much as she valued her conversations with Albus, she was incredibly weary. However, Minerva had no desire to make the headmaster worry about her, and she knew that would have been inevitable had she declined his invitation. She opened her eyes as she reached the top of the staircase, grasped the knocker and knocked three times.
"Come in, Minerva." Albus' voice was amused. The door swung open on its own and she entered.
"How did you know it was me?" Minerva asked, entering the office and closing the door behind her. At Albus' gesture, she deposited the bag of Umbridge's things by the desk and sat down in her usual chair by the fireplace, leaning her walking stick against the wall.
The headmaster walked out from behind his desk, his bright blue eyes twinkling down at her. "Of all of the faculty who knock at that door, my dear, you are the only one who does so precisely three times. The students' knocks, of course, are so quiet that they can barely be heard. Hot chocolate? I have acquired a new supply of marshmallows."
Minerva sniffed with disdain. "If you insist, but absolutely no marshmallows, if you please, and a very small amount of sugar." Albus chuckled as he searched the room for two clean mugs. Minerva leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, her smile fading. This was what she loved, this pleasant conversation between two old and very dear friends. However, she feared that there would not be as many of these conversations in the future. The war was starting. Merely thinking about the horrors that she knew would come made Minerva feel every one of her years and then some, as well as making her even more tired than she was.
"Perhaps this was not such a good idea after all." Minerva hastily opened her eyes and sat up, cursing herself and her bad timing as she saw that concern had replaced the twinkle in Albus' blue eyes. Two steaming mugs of hot chocolate were in his hands. "You look exhausted."
"Nonsense," Minerva replied, deliberately keeping her tone brisk. However, when the headmaster continued to gaze at her concernedly, she sighed. "Really, Albus, I'm quite well," she went on more softly. "Just a bit tired, and I daresay that your hot chocolate will cure that as much as anything else would."
After keeping his penetrating gaze trained on her for a moment more, Albus relented. "If you insist." He handed Minerva one of the mugs in his hand and sat in the chair across from her. Neither spoke, both occasionally sipping their hot chocolate. The silence grew, and after a moment Minerva became uncomfortable.
"I spoke to Mr. Potter regarding his Quidditch ban," Minerva said abruptly, setting her mug down on a nearby side-table with a faint tic.
The headmaster also set down his hot chocolate. "Did you indeed? And how did Mr. Potter react?"
"He did not react at all, at first." Minerva frowned.
Albus sighed. "I had hoped that he would be more pleased." His deputy huffed exasperatedly.
"Really, Albus, what did you expect? The boy's godfather has just died- by no fault of his or yours, I might add- and he is supposed to be ecstatic about Quidditch? Might I remind you that it was Sirius who gave him the broom in the first place?"
The headmaster smiled faintly. "You are, of course, correct." He sat forward and fixed Minerva with his gaze once more. "But pray tell what you meant by 'at first'?"
"After I had…er, talked with Mr. Potter for quite some time, at the end of our conversation he expressed concern about whether or not young Ginny Weasley would affect his being on Quidditch team," Minerva replied. "He did not want to give up the position, nor did he wish to supplant her. I told him that things would likely work out for the best, given that the girl originally wished to be a Chaser anyway." There, she thought. Entirely true.
Albus nodded. "Good." Then, his expression more serious, he continued, "And, if I may ask, what else did you and Harry talk about?" When Minerva hesitated, he added, "You need not tell me if you do not wish to." It was the almost undetectable sense of bitter irony in his tone- the secrets that he had kept from Harry had cost so much, and now Harry was, albeit rather indirectly, keeping secrets from him- that decided her. Now, how to go about this?
Minerva took a deep breath and let it out audibly. "If you will excuse my dramatic oversimplification, I suppose it could be said that I told Harry that his attitude was entirely pointless- not to mention selfish- and could very likely get all of us killed."
The headmaster stared, and a part of Minerva felt smug that, after all these years, she had finally surprised him. "I beg your pardon?"
"You heard me, Albus," Minerva said. When he continued to stare, she gave an impatient sigh and clarified, "Of course, I said a great deal more. However, essentially I told Mr. Potter that his attitude was, as I said, pointless, selfish, and could very likely get us all killed."
Albus seemed to have regained his powers of coherent speech. "Would you care to explain further?"
"I suppose," Minerva replied. After taking another sip of her hot chocolate, she continued, "As for being selfish, I told Harry that he did not have exclusive rights to grief and loss, even over Mr. Black, and used one Remus Lupin as an example. Nor is he the only one who feels guilt over Sirius' death, however misplaced that guilt may be." Minerva paused and looked at Albus sternly before moving on. "I also pointed out, kindly I hope, that Sirius is indeed dead, and that no amount of grief or guilt will bring him back. Harry is not alone by any means- he has his friends, who have proved the depth of that friendship beyond all doubt by accompanying him to the Department of Mysteries; he has the Order, who will stand by any and all who forsake He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named; and he has the majority of the Hogwarts staff, ourselves undoubtedly included. I reminded him of all of this as well." She stopped again, draining her mug, rebuking herself as she realized that she had once again forgotten to call Voldemort by his name.
The twinkle in the headmaster's eyes had returned, if a bit dimmer than it had been at the start of the evening. "I believe that eliminates pointless and selfish. However, you have failed to provide me with an adequate explanation of how Mr. Potter's attitude could result in our collective demise." He refilled Minerva's now-empty mug with a wave of his wand, and she nodded in thanks.
Minerva took a deep breath and let it out, preparing herself to continue her explanation. The conversation was not going as badly as she had feared it would, but she was still nervous, and above all did not want to cause Albus to feel guiltier than he already did. "Is it not obvious, Albus? Mr. Potter may indeed be the future savior of our world, but he is also an adolescent, and a rebellious, angry and grieving one at that. If you will forgive my pessimistic view, we have gained only a temporary respite by the Ministry's acknowledgement of Y- of Voldemort's- return. Things are inevitably bound to get worse, even though some of Voldemort's minions have been captured. If the situation worsens, Mr. Potter will almost certainly act precipitously and go after Voldemort himself, because of his knowledge of the prophecy concerning him, and there is a very good chance that this will happen before he completes his schooling."
"I will not allow that to happen-" the headmaster began, but Minerva interrupted, allowing her growing anger and frustration to get the better of her and ignoring the twinge in her chest.
"How will you stop it, Albus? You did not stop him from going after the Philosopher's Stone, or into the Chamber of Secrets, or going to the Department of Mysteries!" Minerva saw the flash of hurt in Albus' eyes and knew she had gone too far, but plunged on, not able to stop. "He will go after Voldemort, and if he goes unprepared, he will die! Prophecy or not, Boy-Who-Lived or not, he is not even through school! What he needs to realize is that this is not about him, this is about the wizarding world. Yes, he is the only one who can kill Voldemort, yes, he is the only one who can win this war. But if he goes before he is ready, he will die, and if he dies, who will be there to stop Voldemort from destroying us? No matter how many lives he thinks he will be saving if he acts before it is time, a hundred times more will be lost if he kills himself in the process!" She paused, breathing heavily. Somewhere in the midst of her diatribe she had risen from her seat and begun to pace the area close to the fireplace, forgetting all about the hated walking stick, though she suddenly wished she had its support to lean on. Albus was watching her with sad eyes, and with that one look at him all of her anger at Harry immediately was replaced with anger at herself and a sadness so immense that she had to bite back tears. "Good heavens, Albus, I- I am sorry, I don't know what I- " But the emotional stress of the past little while had finally grown too much, and the pressure that had been steadily growing in her chest suddenly erupted into agonizing pain. Minerva stumbled back to sag against the fireplace, one hand going to her heart as her eyes squeezed shut. "Oh, Merlin-"
"Minerva!" Albus' sharp exclamation was drowned out by the burning in her chest, by the pounding of her heartbeat in her ears. Her breathing, already shallow and labored from emotional tension and pain, became an agonized gasping for the air that seemed to be purposefully eluding her. Blackness threatened to engulf her, and Minerva fought back with all her strength, trying desperately to remain conscious. Dimly she was aware of the headmaster supporting her, easing her back down into her chair, but was too busy fighting the pain and trying not to collapse to reassure him. Finally the pain began to ebb and her breathing became more effective, and Minerva was able to open her eyes.
She was sitting in her armchair again, white-knuckled hands grasping the armrests. Albus was bending over her, his hands lightly grasping her wrists. His face was extremely concerned, even alarmed, but relaxed considerably as she tried to smile. "Are you all right?" he asked, releasing her and stepping back. "Shall I escort you to Madam Pomfrey?"
"No," Minerva replied as quickly as she could, taking deep breaths. "No, thank you, it has passed, and Poppy would do nothing but fuss and remind me to take my potions, which I did just before coming here."
The headmaster looked her over for a long moment, taking in the determined set of her jaw, before sighing and resuming his own seat. "If you insist." He said nothing more, seemingly wanting his deputy to restart the conversation.
Minerva desperately wanted a sip of her hot chocolate, but didn't take it, knowing that the inevitable trembling of her hands would not help her case. Instead, she cleared her throat and asked a trifle unsteadily, "Now, where were we?"
"I believe," replied Albus, still studying her, "that you were remarking on how Mr. Potter will eventually get himself, and therefore all of us, killed if he continues on his current path." Minerva opened her mouth to apologize again, but Albus held up a hand to forestall her. "And I must reluctantly say that you are most likely correct."
Minerva closed her mouth, noticing that the twinkle in Albus' eyes had not returned. Nor was it likely to, given her previous words and actions. But perhaps there was still a way to salvage the situation. "I must apologize, again. However, though I meant what I said earlier, I did not mean to imply that the situation is irretrievable. Perhaps if we can find a way to convince Harry that he is not alone, he will not act hastily. His friends will undoubtedly help in that endeavor, and Harry himself seemed to be encouraged when I reminded him of his friendships." She paused for a long moment before adding, much more softly, and not intending it to be heard, "I suppose what bothers me the most is that I have been, and am, entirely ineffective."
For the second time that night, the headmaster looked astonished. "Ineffective? Why in Merlin's name do you say that? You are anything but."
It was Minerva's turn to look surprised. "How can you say that? When if I had not lost control of my temper I might have prevented Sirius' death? When I went to her last night, Poppy told me that Harry had come looking for me in the hospital wing, before trying to break into Umbridge's office. He went looking for me, Albus! Had I been there, had I not been fool enough to get myself injured, the whole crisis might have been averted! I used to be an Auror, for Merlin's sake! I ought to have known better than to go charging towards four Ministry wizards in the dark without even pulling out my wand. I ought to have known better," she repeated more softly. "I should have been there for him."
"Minerva." Albus leaned forward and fixed her with his piercing blue gaze. "As a very wise woman once told me, guilt regrettably does not change the fact that Sirius Black is dead. What happened happened, and we must not allow ourselves to dwell on might-have-beens. Sirius' death was not of your making. This was not your fault. As you yourself said, it was not anyone's fault."
"I was not speaking only of Sirius' death," Minerva countered, not at all sure why she was persisting. She wished she hadn't said anything at all. "I was also referring to the entirety of this school year. The High Inquisitor," she said, her tone conveying her opinion of the woman, "had a Blood Quill among her possessions. She made the students use it to do lines in her detentions. And there I was, telling Peeves which way the chandeliers unscrewed, while the students whom I am sworn to protect were injuring themselves because of petty misdemeanors that may or may not have been committed in the first place."
"You could not have known."
"But I should have known."
"You could not have known," the headmaster repeated more forcefully. "Even if you had known, you would not have been able to do anything about it. Because of the folly of the Ministry, Dolores Umbridge was given absolute control of Hogwarts in my absence. Though I assure you," his voice hardened, "the issue of the Blood Quill will be dealt with. Your openly opposing her would only have resulted in your removal from the school as well, depriving your students of the help you could give them. You are a strong woman, Minerva, a lioness who does her utmost to protect her cubs. Do not cause yourself more pain than you already have by berating yourself for things you had no control over. And you are not and have never been ineffective. I have said it before, and I will repeat it again now- Hogwarts needs you. You have always done well by it, and I am confident that you will continue to do so in the future."
Minerva let a breath out slowly. The headmaster was right; she had been being irrational. There was nothing she could have done that would not have gotten her fired or worse. And the rest…well. She had known Albus for over sixty years, and had looked up to him for all of that time. For him to give her such praise meant a great deal to her. It was also worth thinking about, for she had never known him to give praise that was not deserved. "You are, as always, correct. I was wrong to be so self-pitying, and I am honored beyond words that you think so highly of me." Tearing her eyes away from Albus' intense gaze, she looked around the room, starting visibly when she saw the clock. "Good heavens, is that the time? I apologize, but I really ought to be going."
Albus said nothing more, but instead stood and helped Minerva to rise before offering her the walking stick. "How I abhor that piece of wood," she muttered. The headmaster's mustache twitched.
They walked to the door together, and as Minerva opened it, the headmaster stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Minerva. The Roman goddess of wisdom. You live up to your namesake, my dear. Never forget that."
She flushed. "Oh- I- Thank you, Albus."
He smiled, and the twinkle was back in his eyes. "Thank you, Minerva. Good night."
Minerva was extremely grateful that the rest of term passed without incident. She spent the last few days before summer doing nothing more exciting than grading exams. So much had happened over the past few days, and everyone seemed to be relieved that the school year would soon be over so that they could rest.
The Order of the Phoenix did not hear anything new concerning Voldemort. His whereabouts were unknown, though they had checked places where he had been known to stay in the past. Severus Snape had not been called in, and the general opinion was that Voldemort had made a temporary retreat because of the attack. The wizarding world was now aware of his return, and many of his most powerful Death Eaters had been captured. As Minerva had told the Gryffindors, the attack in the Department of Mysteries had actually been a victory in many ways.
She did not speak to Harry again; neither she nor the headmaster saw any need. The boy was coping, and Minerva was of the opinion that they needed give him time to heal fully. Besides, Harry had plenty of people eager to look after him, as was evidenced by what she found out three nights before the end of term. Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley had been released from the hospital wing earlier that day.
"Did you know that Nymphadora Tonks was discharged this afternoon?" Albus asked, sounding immensely amused for some unfathomable reason. They were sitting in his office by the fireplace, playing chess. It was a favorite evening pastime of theirs, blessedly normal. Both were experienced players, equally skilled, which made for interesting games. It was Minerva's turn, and she looked up from the board with interest at the headmaster's question.
"I am pleased to hear that. But what, pray tell, is so amusing?" She moved a knight. "Check."
Albus moved his king out of harm's way. "I was at Grimmauld Place when she arrived. Apparently she and Remus were talking while she was in hospital. They, as well as Alastor Moody and the Weasleys, requested and received permission to meet Mr. Potter's relatives at King's Cross and inform them that they will not tolerate any mistreatment of Harry over the summer. It should be quite…interesting. I almost wish that I could be present."
It was impossible for Minerva to restrain a smile at that. "As do I." She moved a piece on the chessboard, her smile growing wider. "Checkmate."
Dolores Umbridge attempted to escape from Hogwarts unnoticed the day before the end of term. She had elected not to be present at the last staff meeting of the year, which had occurred earlier that day. Minerva was walking down to dinner when she saw Umbridge scurrying as fast as she could towards the Entrance Hall, chased by Peeves, who was whacking her with a sock of chalk. Both of them slowed as they saw the Deputy Headmistress, Peeves clearly worried that she was about to spoil his fun.
"Minerva!" panted Umbridge, gasping and out of breath. "Please—"
Feeling a decidedly wicked smile emerge on her face, Minerva said, "No, Dolores, I don't think I will. Peeves!"
The grin on the poltergeist's face matched Minerva's own as she handed him her walking stick. "Why thank you, your Professorship! I'll be sure to return it to you."
"See that you do," replied Minerva, though the smile that was still on her face belied the stern teacher-like tone. Feeling altogether satisfied, she continued to the Great Hall, though she was using the wall for support by the time she reached her seat. The headmaster rose to help her sit down, looking concerned.
But he was interrupted. All heads turned as a Gryffindor at the far end of the hall stood up and shouted, "It's Umbridge! She's getting away!"
Pandemonium erupted. There was a mass exodus of students as everyone crowded into the Entrance Hall to run cheering after Umbridge. The teachers, Minerva included, made a few halfhearted attempts to restrain them, but most looked quite pleased as well. Finally students began to trickle back into the Great Hall.
"Thank Merlin that hag's finally gone," said Seamus Finnegan as he and Dean Thomas resumed their seats near the High Table.
"Yeah, even Peeves was glad," said Dean with a chuckle. "Did you see? He was whacking her with chalk and a walking stick." Both students grinned evilly as they reached for their food.
Albus looked at Minerva, blue eyes dancing from behind his half-moon spectacles. "A walking stick?"
Minerva smiled, feeling happier than she had in a long time. "I would have run after her myself, had Peeves not borrowed my walking stick." Many of the students had heard and looked at her incredulously as she sat back in her chair, still smiling.