Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and
owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury
Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money
is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Only the
mistakes are mine.
Author's Note: Thanks are once more due to Chary, for ace beta-reading and
kind support ...
It was never normally this quiet, even in the holidays,
and especially not on the first day of September. Silence seemed to hang in
the room's still air; there was no muted snoring of the portraits on the walls,
no distant bustle of house-elves in the kitchens, not even the quiet creak of
Argus Filch's boots on the castle's stone floors. It was as if life itself had
Minerva McGonagall finally stirred in her seat, and let
out a long, sighing breath. She took her mother's watch out of her robe pocket.
Turning the elegant timepiece over in her hand, she savoured the warmth of its
gold case, something familiar and comforting on a day that was anything but.
She popped open the engraved lid. Ten minutes to go.
The parchment she held was beginning
to curl at the ends, and she placed it flat down on the desk, running her palms
across to smooth it flat. She had found it on top of her bedside table first
thing that morning, neatly scrolled, sealed with wax and tied with a red ribbon.
She must have read it a hundred times already, but her eyes once more filled
with unshed tears as she gazed at the familiar spidery handwriting. Exasperated
with herself for still feeling so fragile, she began to read again.
My dear Minerva,
My warmest congratulations on your appointment.
I am sure you will make an excellent Headmistress. Your contribution to the
school has been so far immeasurable, and you will, I am certain, lead Hogwarts
There, that's the tributes taken care of,
heartfelt as they are. This letter will reach you as you face new challenges,
and I hope that it will reassure you that I have every confidence that you will
do just as well, if not better, than I. After all, your first achievement has
been to persuade the board of governors that the school should remain open,
and that is no mean feat.
"Well, Albus, it's comforting to
know that your eternal optimism remains undiminished, even by the grave,"
Minerva muttered. The vote had been a close-run thing, and the school's position
remained tenuous. Only after she had given the board assurances that the situation
would be reviewed on a weekly basis, and Horace Slughorn had given an impassioned
and theatrical speech about Albus Dumbledore's legacy and the shining beacon
of stability that education must provide in such dark times, had the governors
agreed at all. Minerva had never much cared for Slughorn and his flamboyant
ways, but she had to agree that he'd come up trumps on this occasion. Nevertheless,
for every message of condolence and solidarity Minerva had received over the
summer, almost half the parents had elected to keep their youngsters close to
home. Having had her own family devastated in the Grindelwald war, Minerva had
some sympathy for their actions, despite the effect it would have on their children's
education. In fact, the first year would number a mere fifteen students this
term, hardly worth troubling the Sorting Hat for. Furthermore, despite Albus's
faith and her own many years of teaching, Minerva felt like a fraud; she was
untried, untested in the Head's role, and simply could not inspire the same
confidence in people by the very mention of her name, as he could.
Sudden anger at her oldest friend rose
red and raw in Minerva's heart. He should be here! Albus, whatever were you
thinking, going off on a dangerous mission with Harry Potter and getting yourself
killed, just when we all need you most? Distraught, she remembered the arguments
they'd had over the boy; Albus always seemed to have such a blind spot where
he was concerned. Yes, Minerva knew Harry Potter was the Chosen One, the Boy
Who Lived, child of the Perfect Couple, all that and more. But he was still
just a seventeen-year-old, naïve and hardly able to control his emotions
at the best of times, who constantly led himself and his friends into danger,
and for that she found it hard to forgive him, despite all his good intentions.
There had been some big catastrophe at the end of every year of his school career
so far, and every time Albus had had to intervene at the last minute to save
his skin. Three times now it had resulted in loss of life. The boy might be
a Gryffindor, but there was bravery, and there was foolhardiness, and to date
he did not seem to possess either the grace or the maturity to know which was
which! Minerva shook her head in despair, and as quickly as rage had come, shame
began to wash over her at her own hard thoughts; Albus had placed his faith
in Harry Potter, and it was for that very reason that she must not betray his
Minerva had in fact received an owl the
previous day from Harry, asking for her forgiveness in that he would be a few
days late for the start of term. A guilty part of her had thought (and still
did) that it would provide a welcome breathing space in that Voldemort's attention
would be focused away from Hogwarts for a short time while the school settled
down to the autumn term's work. She could not help worrying, however. Although
she knew Harry was helping the Order, who would watch him closely, the Dark
side would stop at nothing now the only wizard with the power to match them
was no longer there to protect the boy. And what if Severus Snape got hold of
him? The very thought of Snape made her feel physically sick; there was another
one Albus had trusted! Her eyes flashed once more. How dare you, Albus,
she thought angrily, how dare you leave me on my own to face all this!
Gritting her teeth, she forced herself, for the sake of her own sanity, to breathe
deeply and clear her mind, to focus on something other than grief and sadness
and wrath, to think of the responsibilities that were now hers.
She picked up the set of documents she
must take to the next board of governors' meeting, and tried to concentrate.
As was the custom at the start of every year, each professor must sign a contract
for their duties. This year had required quite some redrafting; no longer would
there be a Defence Against the Dark Arts post; instead the other professors
would integrate protective magic into the curriculum for their subject area,
and each would have an Auror as mentor. Dear Kingsley would act as such for
her own Transfiguration classes, but Horace would have to cope with Nymphadora
Tonks, and so Minerva had recently approved a large order for unbreakable laboratory
ware. She smiled to herself, and her eye fell once more on to Albus's note:
Do not be disheartened, for help will come from
unlikely quarters when you least expect it. Students and staff alike are your
friends and allies in these difficult times.
A quiet tap at the door startled her, and her voice wavered
as she called out "Enter!". Two figures entered the room, hesitating
as they approached the desk, as if they too were scared to trespass in the lair
of a ghost so recently departed.
"Headmistress," said the shorter one. "It's
almost time for the Sorting, and Ernie and I, well, we wondered if you'd like
us to escort you."
Despite her racing heart, Minerva remained
outwardly dignified. "Thank you, Hermione. That's very thoughtful of you."
The newly-appointed Head Girl looked as nervous as the Headmistress felt. Behind
Hermione stood Ernie Macmillan, taller than Minerva remembered, and growing
decidedly good-looking. He would be a popular choice. There had been few suitable
candidates when it came down to it. Draco Malfoy, of course, would have been
if circumstances had been different, but he was in hiding
somewhere, no doubt with his mother. Ronald Weasley could not be selected alongside
Miss Granger without rumours of Gryffindor nepotism; so Ernie it was.
"One moment, please." Minerva tidied away her
pile of contracts and picked up Albus's note to place it in her desk drawer.
As she did so, she caught sight of its last lines:
In case of dire, life-threatening emergency,
you will find my stock of confectionery in the chinoiserie bureau next to the
door to the privy, third shelf down, in the jar marked 'Elixir of Life'. Take
one Sherbet Lemon, and you will be ready for anything.
If only it were that simple. Nonetheless,
she gave a final smile at the memory of Albus, and knew that like it or not,
she must carry on without him. She walked over to the mirror, straightened her
hat, and paused to brush a tiny piece of fluff off her robe. Then, she returned
to take the handsome Head Boy's proffered arm.
"Very well, Ernest, Hermione. Let's go."