The Sugar Quill
Author: Dragonlady  Story: A Lioness  Chapter: Chapter One-Bittersweet Homecoming
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A Lioness

Summary: "Professor McGonagall!" said Snape, striding forward. "Out of St. Mungo's, I see!" - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The events after the attack in the Department of Mysteries from Minerva McGonagall's point of view. Chronicles from her return to Hogwarts until the end of term. Featuring Albus Dumbledore, with cameos by Harry Potter, Severus Snape, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Poppy Pomfrey.

Disclaimer: The world of Harry Potter is unfortunately not mine, and I am immensely grateful to J.K. Rowling for giving me the opportunity to visit in her world for a while. Most of the dialogue in the Entrance Hall scene is taken directly from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

I am immensely grateful to AMP for helping me make something coherent out of my confused ramblings. Major thanks to my SQ beta Suburban House Elf as well. Now, on with the story!

A Lioness

Chapter One- Bittersweet Homecoming

As Professor Minerva McGonagall looked around, immediately after Apparating from St. Mungo’s hospital to just outside the gates of Hogwarts, her first thought was that it was a beautiful day. Somehow that struck her as odd- one did not normally associate the tension of wartime with such wonderful weather. For war was what it was, even if all but a handful of the Muggle population was not aware of its existence. However, Minerva much preferred the ignorance of the non-magic folk over the willful blindness of many wizards and witches.

Almost automatically Minerva glanced down at the copy of the Sunday Prophet she was holding. After the attack in the Department of Mysteries, the Ministry of Magic had finally been forced to acknowledge Voldemort’s return. In her opinion, the acknowledgement was too little too late, but it would at least help inform the common public and might even inspire more people to openly oppose Voldemort. Minerva had decided to use his name after the attack, realizing that calling Voldemort ‘You-Know-Who’ was only another form of denying his reality. It was not the same as the Ministry’s blatant denial that he had returned, but the principle was similar.

The loud chirp of a nearby bird shook her out of her reverie, and Minerva shook her head at her inattention. Carpetbag in one hand and walking stick in the other, she tucked the newspaper under her arm and started towards the castle. It was, indeed, a beautiful day; a gentle breeze was blowing and there was not a cloud in sight. The sunlight shone so brilliantly down on the lake that Minerva turned away from the glare, moving her gaze to the castle itself.

Though she had not been gone for long, Minerva felt a strong sense of homecoming as she beheld Hogwarts in all of its glory. The castle rose majestically out of the green lawn, windows shining in the sunlight, as a lone owl glided towards one of the towers. Seeing that owl, a weary traveler coming home at last, made Minerva hasten her steps until finally she neared the top and heard voices coming through the open front doors.

Minerva paused to listen at the top of the steps, tucking the newspaper inside her carpetbag as she did so. The low and malevolent voice was undoubtedly that of Severus Snape, the other- Harry Potter?

"Put that wand away at once. Ten points from Gryff-" Snape’s voice stopped. His sneer was audible when he continued, "Ah. I see there are no longer any points left in the Gryffindor hourglass to take away. In that case, Potter, we will simply have to- "

Minerva, as the head of Gryffindor House, had had enough. No points in the Gryffindor hourglass? If forcing the Ministry of Magic to acknowledge Voldemort’s return was not worthy of house points, she didn’t know what was. She walked into the Entrance Hall and was in time to halt Snape in mid-sentence with, "Add some more?"

The crowd in the hall, which also included Draco Malfoy, Vincent Crabbe, and Gregory Goyle, turned as one to look at her. Surprise and gratification briefly flashed across Harry’s face as Snape strode forward. "Professor McGonagall! Out of St. Mungo’s, I see!"

Shrugging off her cloak, Minerva replied, "Yes, Professor Snape. I’m quite as good as new. You two- Crabbe- Goyle- here. Take these up to my office for me."

Crabbe and Goyle shuffled forward to take the offered carpetbag and cloak before turning and stumping away up the marble staircase. Minerva was rather surprised that they knew where her office was. But then, they had been forced to visit it numerous times, so she supposed that even they would have learned its location by now.

"Right then," she continued, glancing up at the hourglasses. "Well, I think Potter and his friends ought to have fifty points apiece for alerting the world to the return of You-Know-Who!" Minerva told herself that the only reason she had refrained from saying Voldemort’s name was to spare the students. "What say you, Professor Snape?" She had to fight to keep from laughing at the disgruntled look on Snape’s face.

"What?" he snapped, though it was obvious that he had heard. "Oh- well- I suppose…"

Smirking inwardly, Minerva said, "So that’s fifty each for Potter, the two Weasleys, Longbottom, and Miss Granger." She paused, watching with satisfaction as two hundred and fifty rubies hit the bottom of the Gryffindor hourglass. Had she forgotten someone? "Oh- and fifty for Miss Lovegood, I suppose. Now, you wanted to take ten from Mr. Potter, I think, Professor Snape, so there you are…" As ten rubies moved back into the upper bulb, Minerva finished, "Well, Potter, Malfoy, I think you ought to be outside on a glorious day like this."

Harry, obviously eager to leave, headed out the front door in the direction of Hagrid’s cabin without a backwards glance. Minerva turned and stared at Draco until he muttered something unintelligible and also left, though he headed in the direction of the dungeons instead of outside. She shook her head, but let it pass.

Severus Snape, now the only person left in the Entrance Hall other than Minerva herself, glared up at the hourglasses. That was Severus all over. He was not at all fair, favoring the Slytherins and hating the Gryffindors, but he was a tremendous Potions Master. His teaching style was radically different from Minerva’s own, but she had to admit that intimidation was usually enough incentive to get the students to work. Besides, he was a huge asset to the Order of the Phoenix. Even if he was a "greasy bat," as Minerva had heard one student call him. Her amusement at the analogy immediately vanished when Severus glanced around warily and said, "You have spoken to members of the Order, then, if you know who was at the Department of Mysteries."

Minerva also checked for listeners before replying, "Yes, though that is nearly all I know, other than what is in the Sunday Prophet. Kingsley Shacklebolt told me when he escorted Nymphadora Tonks to the hospital. He said only that the six in question had gone to the Department of Mysteries because of a vision of Potter’s and had to be rescued, though he looked as if he wanted to say something more before he left. Nymphadora herself had not woken when I was discharged."

"And he said nothing more. " There was something odd in the Potions Master’s voice.

"No. Nothing more." Minerva frowned. "I may be growing old, Severus, but I am not entirely lacking in intelligence. What is it that I am not being told?"

Snape did not reply, but instead pivoted and strode in the direction of the dungeons. "I am sure the headmaster would want to see you," he said as he departed.

Minerva watched him as he left, still frowning, before turning and walking to the marble staircase. She climbed slowly, using her walking stick for support, while she pondered what Severus had said- or rather, hadn’t said. His silence had seemed almost as though he had wanted to spare her from hearing something, which was not at all in character. What could be so terrible that even he, who as a spy for the Order was so often the bearer of bad news, did not want to tell her?

Deep in thought, Minerva did not even notice when her ponderous steps led her towards the stone gargoyle that was the entrance to the headmaster’s office. She halted in surprise when she realized where she was, but did not turn back. After all, she had planned on seeing the headmaster anyway. Still, she was partly reluctant- she was not at all sure that she wanted to hear what he had to tell her. Whatever makes both Kingsley and Severus tread on eggshells must be horrible…

Oh, this is ridiculous! Minerva scolded herself a few minutes later, realizing that she was still standing in front of the stone gargoyle. Hesitating no longer, she gave the password and stepped onto the moving staircase. Her momentum carried her all the way to the door where she grasped the griffin knocker and let it fall, then repeating the action twice more.

For a long moment there was silence from within, and Minerva had raised her hand to knock again when she heard rapid footsteps from inside. Then the door opened and she found herself looking at the person whom many considered to be the most powerful wizard in the world.

Professor Albus Dumbledore was beaming down at her, bright blue eyes twinkling merrily from underneath snowy brows. "Minerva! Welcome back!" He moved aside, letting her precede him back into his office.

"It is wonderful to be back, Albus," Minerva replied, smiling, as they sat down in two chairs by the fireplace. Fawkes made a noise from by the desk, and Minerva glanced over that direction. She did a double take as she saw that the phoenix was a newborn. Odd, she thought. She did not recall him being close to a burning day the last time she saw him.

"You are recovered, I trust?" the headmaster asked, recalling her attention.

"Almost completely, thankfully," Minerva replied. "The residual discomfort has all but disappeared, and with luck I will be rid of the walking stick in a matter of weeks. I am, however, required to report to Poppy some time today."

Albus nodded. "Good," he said, retrieving a tin from his desk. "In addition, I am sure you will be pleased to hear that Hagrid has returned safely. Lemon drop?" he asked as he returned to his seat.

"No, thank you," said Minerva, just as she had every other time the headmaster had offered her a lemon drop over the years. "I am pleased that Hagrid has returned unharmed. I know at least three of my Gryffindors who will be delighted to hear that- though one, I think, may already know," she added, remembering that Harry Potter had headed in the direction of Hagrid’s hut upon leaving the Entrance Hall.

"Actually, all of the students are aware of Hagrid’s return because he was present at breakfast this morning," the headmaster answered. "So you saw Mr. Potter? It must have been him, for Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger have not yet been released from the Hospital Wing."

His Deputy, knowing that the two students just named had been present in the recent attack, immediately asked, "Are Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley all right?" Recalling her colleagues’ evasions, she added, "What is it that both Kingsley and Severus were afraid to tell me? And what in Merlin’s name happened in the Department of Mysteries?"

Holding up a hand to forestall any more questions, Albus replied, "Your young lions will soon recover, so you need not worry on that account. Miss Granger was cursed by Antonin Dolohov and Mr. Weasley was attacked by brains, but I have Poppy Pomfrey’s assurances that both will be completely healed before the end of term. As for Kingsley and Severus- " The headmaster sighed and closed his eyes for a long moment. When he opened them, he said, "Minerva, I regret to inform you that Sirius Black is dead."

Minerva blinked, and blinked again, the headmaster’s words refusing to register in her mind. Whatever she had been expecting, this was not it. She opened and closed her mouth several times before asking weakly, "Albus, what happened in the Department of Mysteries?"

Albus sighed again, looking his true age for the first time that afternoon. "You are aware that I required Harry Potter to learn Occlumency from Severus because of his connection with Voldemort."

"Yes." Minerva’s eyes had begun to burn, but she replied steadily. "You said that the Occlumency training that Kingsley and Nymphadora received as Aurors, while mostly adequate for their needs, is not sufficient to block Harry’s connection with You-Kn- er, Voldemort."

"Correct." The headmaster nodded. "What you may not know is that Severus refused to continue giving Harry Occlumency lessons some time ago, for reasons that are not mine to tell. As a result, Harry’s training is nowhere near complete. Because of this, Voldemort was able to send Harry a false vision on Thursday afternoon."

"Of what?" Minerva asked, horrified.

"Of Sirius Black being tortured in the Department of Mysteries," Albus said heavily. "You and all of the members of the Order are aware of the prophecy concerning Harry and Voldemort, if not its contents. Voldemort wanted to lure Harry to the Department of Mysteries- "

"- so the prophecy could be retrieved for him," Minerva finished, her insides going cold. "And Harry, thinking that his godfather was being harmed, took the bait. But why did he not try to contact a member of the Order first?"

"He did," Albus replied. "He, along with the other five who were at the Department, was captured by Dolores Umbridge after attempting to reach Grimmauld Place though her fireplace. He also notified Severus Snape in code when Dolores requested Veritaserum, which Severus denied. All might have been saved if Hermione Granger had not managed to lure Umbridge into the Forbidden Forest, where Umbridge was taken by centaurs. Mr. Potter and Miss Granger only escaped narrowly themselves. In the meantime Ronald and Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom, and Luna Lovegood hexed the members of the Inquisitorial Squad who had been holding them and rejoined their friends. All six then flew Thestrals to the Department of Mysteries."

"Merlin." Minerva sat back in her chair. "Then how did Sirius die, if the vision Voldemort gave Mr. Potter was false?"

The headmaster had a far-away look in his eyes as he spoke. "Upon leaving Umbridge’s office, Severus immediately contacted headquarters. Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, Alastor Moody, and Kingsley Shacklebolt were present when he called. I was expected shortly, but Sirius denied Severus’ request that he stay behind and tell me what had happened. All went to the Department of Mysteries to help Harry and his friends."

Minerva frowned, confused. "But if Sirius was at Grimmauld Place, why did he not respond when Harry tried to reach him through the fire?"

"And thus is the treachery of Kreacher revealed," Albus said grimly. "When I arrived at headquarters, I discovered that Sirius had left it to Kreacher to inform me of what had happened. Using Legilimency, I discovered that, over the winter holidays, Kreacher had taken Sirius’ order to leave literally. Kreacher went to Malfoy Manor, and when he returned he became an informant. Due to the Fidelius Charm he was not able to reveal the secrets of the Order, but he was able to pass on that Sirius Black was the person who meant the most to Harry Potter. Hence the vision. Kreacher injured Buckbeak in order to assure that Harry’s call would not be answered. After learning this I immediately went to the Department, but I was not able to prevent Bellatrix Lestrange from causing her cousin to fall through the Veil there with a curse."

"Killed by his own cousin while trying to save his godson," Minerva whispered. "I shudder to think how Harry must feel. And Remus Lupin," she added, horrified all over again at the thought of the werewolf losing his only remaining friend.

"Remus is relatively unharmed, if grieving," the headmaster replied, sounding incredibly weary. "Harry, however, is another matter entirely. He pursued Bellatrix Lestrange into the lobby of the Ministry after she killed his godfather, even attempting to cast the Cruciatus Curse on her." Minerva gasped, but Albus did not pause in his narration. "They were met in the lobby by Voldemort himself, but I arrived in time to keep him from killing Harry. I was not, however, able to keep Voldemort from temporarily possessing Harry before disappearing. After the Aurors and Cornelius Fudge arrived, I sent Harry back here via Portkey. When I returned, he was extremely angry. He destroyed many of my possessions and was on the verge of attacking me. I explained to him about Kreacher. Afterwards, I did what I should have long ago. I told Harry the nature of the protection living with his relatives gives him and revealed the entirety of the prophecy."

Looking at the headmaster in concern, Minerva said carefully, "I gather that he did not react well. However, not knowing the contents of the prophecy, you will forgive me if I find it difficult to comprehend the full implications of what you are saying." Fawkes chirruped, and Minerva suddenly realized that he had probably been reborn sometime during the headmaster’s presumed duel with Voldemort.

For the first time since telling her of Sirius’ death, Albus gave Minerva the full force of his penetrating gaze. He searched her face for a long moment before nodding abruptly and standing up. Going over to a nearby cabinet, he retrieved his Pensieve and returned to the fireplace. Handing it to her silently, the headmaster moved a side table so that it was between their chairs and motioned for Minerva to put the Pensieve down.

As Albus took out his wand, Minerva finally realized what he was doing. "Albus, you do not need to- "

"Yes, Minerva, I do," he interrupted. "I am human; I too occasionally need someone to confide in. However, I must ask that you not speak of this to anyone who does not already know." The headmaster waited for her nod before prodding the contents of the Pensieve with his wand.

The figure of Sibyll Trelawney appeared above the Pensieve. When it spoke, revolving slowly as it did so, its voice was considerably harsher than Minerva had ever heard it before. "The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…And the Dark Lord shall mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…"

Minerva sat stunned in her chair as Sibyll’s voice and image faded. There was a long moment of silence. Finally, she spoke. "It means Harry," she said, feeling dazed. "Albus…" The word was almost a plea.

"You see why I did not wish to tell him," the headmaster said. "I delayed for five years, and now it has come back to haunt me. Sirius’ death was my fault. Had I told Harry of the prophecy he would have known that Voldemort would eventually attempt to lure him to the Department of Mysteries. He would not have gone and would not have needed to be rescued, thus preventing Sirius’ death."

Though his voice was calm, the guilt and anguish in Albus’ eyes jolted Minerva out of her horrified daze like nothing else would have. "Nonsense," she protested in the strongest voice she could muster. "You know Harry. It is likely that he would have gone anyway, even knowing about the prophecy. Besides, knowing the prophecy would likely have caused him to push his friends away in an attempt to spare them, and without their aid he would certainly be dead right now."

"You cannot be sure of that," said the headmaster.

"And neither can you be sure that Sirius would not be dead if you had told Harry of the prophecy!" retorted Minerva, exasperated. "Albus, do not do this to yourself! It serves no purpose. What is done is done, and guilt will not turn back the clock. If you had told Harry the prophecy, if the students had not ventured into the Forest, if Severus had been clear that he would try and help- the fact remains that these things did not happen. Blaming yourself will not change that. This was not your fault." Pausing for breath, Minerva suddenly realized that she had just lectured the headmaster as she would have a student and sat back, flushing.

There was an interminable moment of silence as innumerable thoughts flickered behind the headmaster’s blue eyes. Minerva was about to apologize when Albus suddenly smiled, his eyes beginning to twinkle again. "My dear Minerva," he said, "you are quite correct. After all, self-blame can only go so far before it becomes self-pity. Let us speak of happier things. May I ask two favors of you?"

"Of course," Minerva responded immediately, relieved at the headmaster’s change of mood.

"Would you kindly tell Mr. Potter that his Quidditch ban has been revoked and return his Firebolt to him?" Albus asked. "I believe that it is being held in the dungeons."

"I would be delighted to do so," Minerva said, smiling. She had a certain amount of interest in the Gryffindor Quidditch team, and Ginny Weasley, while competent, was no match for Harry as a Seeker. The girl would almost certain be kept on the team, though; she was a natural with a broomstick. "And the other favor?"

"Unfortunately, it is not nearly as pleasant," the headmaster replied. "It is necessary that someone sort through Dolores Umbridge’s belongings and determine whether or not they are suitable to be returned to her. I have been informed that a few of her possessions are of a somewhat dubious nature."

Minerva grimaced, but agreed. "If that is all, then, Albus?" she asked, reaching for her walking stick and using its aid to rise at his nod. "Poppy will have my head if I do not see her before dinner."

"Minerva." Albus’ voice stopped her as she reached the door. "I am glad that you have returned."

Looking back at the man who had been teacher and mentor and was now friend, Minerva smiled, her eyes suddenly burning again. "As am I," she replied simply. "I shall see you at dinner."

She went down the stone staircase and headed towards the hospital wing, nodding to the teachers and students she passed in the hallways. Minerva remembered that Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley were there as well and thought that she would look in on them. Though she would never show favoritism, Hermione was one of her favorite students, reminding Minerva of herself at that age. And Ron Weasley was on the Quidditch team. Besides, both were the very epitome of Gryffindor standards.

But it was impossible to think of two members of the famous- or infamous- Gryffindor trio without thinking of the third. Sobering, Minerva turned her thoughts to Harry Potter. She had been worried about him for the entire school year, and that concern had only intensified when Albus had told her of the prophecy. She was not at all reassured when she recalled that he had attempted to cast the Cruciatus Curse on Bellatrix Lestrange. Yes, his godfather had just died and he was under a tremendous amount of pressure, but that was no excuse for his behavior. On the verge of attacking the headmaster indeed, Minerva thought, remembering what Albus had said and the guilt in his eyes when he said it. Perhaps she would speak to Mr. Potter about more than just Quidditch when she saw him.

Upon entering the Hospital Wing Minerva immediately spotted Hermione and Ron in two adjacent beds near the far end, both looking nearly recovered. They were conversing animatedly, though they spoke softly to avoid incurring the wrath of Madam Pomfrey. A textbook lay abandoned on Hermione’s side table, a Quidditch magazine on Ron’s.

Hermione was the first to notice Minerva’s approach. "Professor McGonagall!" she cried. "You’re back! How are you?"

"Good afternoon, Miss Granger, Mr. Weasley," Minerva said, smiling. "Quite recovered, and yourselves?"

"Er, Madam Pomfrey reckons that we’ll be out of here before the end of term," Ron replied. "Hermione was worse off than me, really- you were!" he added when Hermione glared and opened her mouth angrily.

Minerva cleared her throat loudly, and both students started and looked back at her guiltily. Suppressing another smile, she said, "You will both be happy to hear that two hundred and fifty points have been added to Gryffindor. Oh, and Mr. Potter’s Quidditch ban has been lifted, but I should like to tell him that myself."

"Brilliant!" Ron exclaimed enthusiastically.

"That’s wonderful!" Hermione added. "Harry really needs something to cheer him up, especially after- " She stopped abruptly, biting her lip and glancing at Minerva apprehensively.

"It’s all right, Miss Granger," Minerva said. "Professor Dumbledore said much the same, as well as informing me of what happened on Thursday night."

"We’re worried about Harry, Professor." Surprisingly, that was Ron, looking more serious than she had ever seen him before.

Looking at him thoughtfully, Minerva replied, "I know, Mr. Weasley. We all are." She would have said more, but Poppy Pomfrey chose that moment to come bustling out of her office.

"I thought I heard you, Professor McGonagall," she said, smiling. "Welcome back."

"Thank you, Madam Pomfrey," said Minerva, returning the smile.

"Now then," said the matron, becoming businesslike, "the Healers at St. Mungo’s gave me explicit orders to check you over thoroughly. Shall we go into my office?"

Agreeing, Minerva excused herself to Ron and Hermione and followed Poppy into her office. Beginning to perform diagnostic spells as Minerva sat down, the matron asked, "Have you reported to the headmaster?"

"I have," said Minerva. "He filled me in on…on the full events of Thursday night."

Poppy sighed. "A tragic business for all concerned, though you might know more than I. All Professor Dumbledore told the staff yesterday was that there would be no more Ministry interference in the future, and that someone very close to Harry Potter and his friends had died."

"Yes." Minerva closed her eyes as Poppy cast another spell. "Poor Harry."

"Poor Harry, indeed," the matron agreed. "Did you know, he- " She stopped abruptly.

Opening her eyes, Minerva frowned. "Out with it, Poppy. What you have to say cannot possibly be any worse than what I have heard already today."

"Well," began Poppy hesitantly, "he came looking for you, that Thursday afternoon. He came running in here as if his life depended on it, in fact. He looked ever so distraught when I told him that you weren’t here. White as a sheet, he was."

"Harry came looking for me," Minerva repeated. There was a horrible feeling growing in her stomach. It took her a moment to realize that it was guilt.

"Yes." Poppy sounded as though she wished she hadn’t said anything. She cast one last spell and assumed a brisk tone of voice as she said, "Well, that’s done. You’re healing quite nicely, though you’ll need the walking stick for a few weeks more. Overwork and emotional distress will give you extremely painful chest spasms, so mind you relax and keep your temper." She took two bottles off a cabinet and handed them to the Deputy Headmistress, finishing with, "Take these twice a day until the end of term and absolutely no transforming until I tell you."

"Thank you," Minerva said, automatically putting the potions in her robes and using her walking stick to stand up. She nodded absently to Hermione and Ron as she left the Hospital Wing and headed towards her office, but reversed her steps when she remembered that Albus had asked her to retrieve Harry’s Firebolt from the dungeons.

Harry had come looking for her on Thursday afternoon after having his vision. He was going to ask her for help, and she hadn’t been there. Minerva remembered her question to Albus: "But why did he not try to contact a member of the Order first?" And he had tried. To contact her. If she had not been foolish enough to lose her temper and go running into the dark after four Ministry hit wizards without even drawing her wand, she would not have been injured. Harry would have found her, and there would have been no ambush at all. As she had said, it was not the headmaster’s fault that Sirius had died, or even Harry’s. The blame was hers, and she would carry it with her for the remainder of her life.

These thoughts occupied Minerva’s mind all the way down to the dungeons, where she retrieved Harry’s Firebolt without incident. She remained caught up in her guilt the entire trip back to her office before realizing that she was doing exactly what the headmaster had been and pulling herself up short. Stop, she told herself sternly. You are doing no one any good. Albus’ words echoed in her head: "Self-blame can only go so far before it becomes self-pity." He, as always, was right. Minerva pushed the thoughts to the back of her head where they lingered, momentarily dismissed but not gone.

She spent the rest of the time before dinner marking finals; she had to grade everything but the O.W.L.’s and the N.E.W.T.’s herself. Most of the students had already left by the time Minerva walked into the Great Hall, though the majority of the staff still lingered at the High Table. The headmaster stood and pulled out her chair for her as she sat down.

"Good evening, Professor McGonagall," said Albus, eyes twinkling, as Minerva settled herself. "And what was Madam Pomfrey’s verdict?"

"Better than it could have been," Minerva replied. "As predicted, I am required to take potions. I will experience chest spasms if I am overworked or emotionally overwrought, but I did not plan on becoming either in any case." She said nothing about Harry looking for her the day of the attack.

"I am glad to hear that." The headmaster smiled. "Potatoes?"

The remainder of dinner was spent in pleasant small talk, knowing that they would have to speak of the war again all too soon. Eventually all of the students left and Minerva, Albus, Filius Flitwick, and Sylvia Sprout were the only staff members remaining. Finally they too finished and went their separate ways, but the headmaster stopped Minerva on the seventh floor landing.

"I neglected to tell you this earlier," Albus said, "but I have asked all the Heads of Houses to speak with their students about the attack on Thursday night. You may do this how and when you choose, of course. However, as many of your young lions do not know that you have returned, you might stop at Gryffindor Tower just now and- ah- ’kill two birds with one stone,’ I believe the saying is." He gave Minerva an inquiring look.

Minerva was not at all eager to make a speech of that nature on the day of her return, especially because she herself had not entirely come to terms with the attack. Still, it had to be done sometime, so why not now? She was the head of Gryffindor, after all. "I think I shall," she finally replied, though she had no idea what she would say. Taking her leave of the headmaster, Minerva walked towards Gryffindor Tower.

Most of her Gryffindors would be in the common room, she thought. It was after dark, but far too early for them to have gone to bed, especially considering the excitement of recent events. Recent events that I will have to speak about, Minerva thought, nodding absently to the Fat Lady’s, "Welcome back, Professor!" as the portrait swung open. And how would she address the subject?

The Fat Lady cleared her throat impatiently, still hanging wide open, and Minerva climbed inside rather awkwardly with a hasty apology. She knew the password to enter, of course; the prefects were required to tell her whenever they changed it. However, as Head of House she did not need it to enter Gryffindor Tower. The headmaster was the only one who did not need a password to get into any of the dormitories, though he seldom used that right.

She paused again at the threshold of the common room, taking the opportunity to observe her Gryffindors in a non-classroom environment. As she had thought, the room was packed, full of Gryffindors talking, reading, or playing games. Minerva’s eyes automatically searched out those who had been present at the Department of Mysteries, and she found them sitting by the fireplace. Ginny Weasley and Neville Longbottom were playing Exploding Snap, both occasionally looking at Harry Potter with concern. Harry was sitting in a corner of the room by himself, not even looking at everyone else in the common room. In fact, he looked as if he would have loved to be somewhere else. Minerva frowned as she studied him, thinking that something really had to be done.

Dennis Creevey was the first person to notice her presence. He turned around to speak to his brother, doing a double take as he saw Minerva standing in the doorway. "Pro- Professor McGonagall?!" he exclaimed loudly.

There was a sudden hush as everyone turned around, but then the noise level redoubled as more people exclaimed and nudged those who hadn’t been paying attention. Minerva cleared her throat loudly and demanded silence several times before she was confident that everyone would be able to hear her. She was flattered by the outright grins on many of the students’ faces.

"First of all," she said, pointedly staring at those who were still talking, "I would like two of you to make sure that there is no one remaining in the dormitories. It is necessary that all of you hear what I have to say." Chatter broke out again as Colin Creevey and Alicia Spinnet slipped upstairs, all of the students venturing guesses as to what Minerva was going to talk about. She herself wasn’t entirely certain of what she was going to say. As Alicia and Colin came back downstairs, a handful of Gryffindors trailing, Minerva wondered how on earth she was going to begin.

She needn’t have worried. Minerva had only just gotten the common room quiet again when a sixth-year boy asked, "It’s about the war, isn’t it, Professor?" That set off a barrage of questions.

"Is what’s in the Daily Prophet true?"

"Is You-Know-Who really back?"

"It’s Voldemort, and of course he’s back! He’s been back!" That was Ginny Weasley. Her statement caused shrieks, gasps, and another flurry of exclamations. Even Harry Potter had turned around to look at her.

"Silence!" Minerva finally shouted, and the noise abruptly stopped. In a calmer tone, she continued, "Miss Weasley is correct in her statement, if perhaps a bit overly vehement. And we would all, myself included, do well to call Voldemort by his name." She looked sternly at those who had flinched, straightening her glasses as she did so. "As Professor Dumbledore says, fear of a name only increases fear of a thing itself."

"But, Professor," piped up a first-year, cringing nervously as everyone turned to look at him, "what if it’s like it was last time? My parents said that You-Know-Who had everyone afraid because he kept making people disappear, and that’s why everyone’s afraid to say his name, because they’re scared it might happen again." He spoke quickly in one long sentence out of nervousness.

Giving the first-year what she hoped was a reassuring look, Minerva said, "Your parents were not entirely correct. Voldemort did cause people to disappear, but those of us who fight against him are making every effort to ensure that such disappearances will not occur in the future. However, saying Voldemort’s name will not bring him down upon us. It is only a feeble attempt to deny that he is real. I think that the Ministry of Magic has done enough of that already by only now, a year after Voldemort’s return, admitting that he has in fact come back."

"’Those of us who fight against him,’ you said," Neville Longbottom repeated as his fellow housemates looked at him in surprise. "What can we do to help?"

His rather unexpected question caused Minerva to look at him also, though in pride as well as surprise. This war truly was bringing out the best and the worst in people- the best in people like Neville and the Weasleys and the worst in people like Cornelius Fudge. "You can study hard, and learn all that you can," she replied. Seeing the incredulous glances from some of the students, she clarified, "The highest toll this war will take is upon your generation. Many of you are no longer children and have already proven your allegiances. It is you who will bear the brunt of this war. It is you who are the future Healers, Aurors, teachers, and Ministry officials. This is your war as well, and you need to be prepared for it. Knowledge is power, if you will excuse the cliché. Learn all you can, and make the best use of what you learn. It, and you, will be needed. Six students were at the Department of Mysteries on Thursday night. What do you think would have happened if they had not paid attention in the Defense Against the Dark Arts club that many of you attended this year? Even if you do not fight, even if Voldemort is destroyed tomorrow, our future falls to you. It is you who are the future leaders." There were slow nods all around the common room.

"Professor, do you really think we’ll win?" She could not see the speaker, but the voice sounded both frightened and hopeful.

"I do not know that we will win," Minerva responded slowly, the words welling up from somewhere deep inside her. "But I believe that we can win. Voldemort was defeated once, and he can be defeated again. In a way he was defeated on Friday night. Many of his most powerful Death Eaters were captured, and the wizarding world has been alerted to his return. Yes, it takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to one such as he, but I am confident that we will rise to the challenge. We are Gryffindors, known for our bravery and courage. Bravery is not being unafraid, but rather facing that fear and continuing to fight despite it. And we will continue to fight, because if we do not, Voldemort would win. He would win, and fear, hatred, and prejudice would corrupt all that we love.

"We will fight not for personal gain, but for our family and friends, for our way of life, for the future of the magical community. We fight for our fellow human beings, and for the idea that blood does not make one witch or wizard better than the next. There are those who say that we need not fight because the Ministry will protect us, but if we do not act there will be no Ministry at all.

"Perhaps we will lose this war. Perhaps we will all die tomorrow. Only time can tell. A life without meaning is no life at all, and there are some things worth dying for. But remember this: even if Voldemort defeats us, he can never truly win. People can and do die, but goodness does not die with them. Goodness is more than just an abstract concept. It is an eternal force, and it can never truly be banished. Regardless of what happens to us or to Voldemort, there will always be goodness in this world. And in the end, it will prevail."

There was complete and total silence in the Gryffindor common room. It seemed as though time itself had stopped. The conviction in Minerva’s simple yet powerful words left all of the Gryffindors stunned for several moments, still trying to absorb what she had said.

It was Lee Jordan who broke the silence, opening and closing his mouth several times before speaking. "Wow, Professor," he said, blinking. "That was one hell of a speech."

 

//
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