July 27, 1992, 1:00 PM, Great Staircase, Hogwarts Castle
Albus took a breath as he made his way down the stairs.
He passed a duo of ghosts engaged in a fierce duel as they floated up the staircase, giving them a look of mild amusement as he did so.
Those two had been fighting since he was a young boy first entering the Castle, and Albus imagined they’d be fighting long after he shuffled off the mortal coil.
He went into the hallways of the castle, relaxing in the majesty of Hogwarts as he continued on his leisurely stroll, doing his best to recover his spirits after a long, particularly dull morning at the Ministry.
For a while, Albus let his mind be swept away by the sound of the portraits arguing with each other, the clacking echo his shoes made as he walked and the general atmosphere of this great place of magic.
This was where he belonged— in one of the great hearts of the arcane world, helping the next generation grow to be fully-fledged wizards and witches.
Eventually, he found himself standing in front of a familiar door; for many years, the rooms behind it had belonged to him. No longer.
He knocked twice and waited.
“Come in.” The words came, clipped and strained.
Albus stopped himself from frowning as he opened the door, revealing his Deputy’s office.
It was just as it always was, ordered and tidy. Minerva herself stood by the window overlooking the courtyard, staring off into the distance, at something that only she could see.
He stood in silence for a few moments before she turned, eyes widening in slight surprise at the sight of him.
“Albus?” Minerva said, quickly composing herself as she took a few jerky steps forward. “I did not expect you until…”
Albus nodded and gave his colleague a small smile. “It seems that the Minister did not have need of me for very long.”
That was a bit of a lie, Albus had to admit to himself. Fudge looked continually overwhelmed as he attempted to navigate the ever changing political waters of his office, but he couldn’t be seen leaning on Hogwarts’ Headmaster for very long.
With recent events, it was now more dangerous than ever. That was not to say that his life was on a knife’s edge on the matter, but his comments against Grindelwald’s actions had certainly stirred the pot, so to speak, and so it would take time for things to calm down again— if they ever did.
It was not a change Albus had predicted in the man, but one he’d certainly hoped to see if things ever took a turn for the worse.
It helps that his father was a direct victim of Grindelwald’s previous bloody campaign. The darker part of him said coolly. Who knows how he would have reacted in response to the possibility of Voldemort’s return, in comparison?
Grindelwald’s actions, while they inspired a great deal of fear, also summoned forth a considerable anger from the masses. Voldemort ruled from the shadows as a force of terror and had been absolutely unstoppable— Grindelwald’s rise, on the other hand, was fraught with so many failures that people generally thought they had a chance to beat him.
It also helped that, unlike Voldemort, Gellert Grindelwald still fought by a set of rules and principles— or so Albus had thought.
This recent attack… it did not fill him with confidence. Had his old friend fallen even further than Albus had initially considered? Something about it all was off.
He pushed the thought away, unwilling to entertain it right now. It was a moot point anyway; Fudge had grown something of a spine, and the fate of Magical Britain would hopefully improve as a result.
Minerva, he noticed, did not say anything in response for a few moments before getting ahold of herself and gesturing for him to enter. “Please come in, Albus. Would you like some tea?”
Albus did not comment on her hesitation and gave her a grateful nod. “That would be lovely, my friend.”
He sat down, content to stay silent as he watched the tea make itself at the call of his Deputy’s magic.
Even in his old age, he would never stop the sense of amazement he felt whenever witnessing a spell being cast.
Still, he thought as he gazed upon McGonagall’s face. She looks unwell.
It was evident to anyone with eyes. He knew that she had been neglecting her meals for quite some time because of whatever was bothering her, but it also seemed that she was no longer getting much sleep, judging by the dark shadows under her eyes.
He couldn’t let it keep going anymore.
And yet Albus did not comment on it, merely enjoying his time with her. This was all he could do, really.
The ball is in your court, as the Muggles would say.
The minutes continued to pass with neither side saying a single word.
He sipped at his hot beverage for a few moments, watching her do the same and close her eyes in a momentary relief before her face tightened again.
“I know why you’re here, Albus.” She said, keeping her eyes closed for a few seconds before opening them again. “I have… I have not been well, of late.”
Albus nodded for her to continue, looking at his friend with neither judgment nor reproach.
Minerva placed her cup down with a shaky movement, and he realized then that her hand was trembling.
Still, Albus did not dare to comment, for he knew that if he did, she would not open up. You couldn’t simply ask her. She had to come to you. His Deputy was strange like that.
He had often wondered if that was why her Animagus form was that of a cat— similar patterns of behavior.
“You obviously noticed. I have been expecting this visit for some time.” McGonagall said, sighing as she sagged in her chair. “The others have as well, I gather?”
“Yes.” Albus finally confirmed with a nod. “If only vaguely— they believe you to be dealing with an illness. Professor Sprout, as you would expect, has sped up the production of her medicinal plants, and has bid Severus, Silvanus and even Hagrid to aid her.”
Minerva shook her head in annoyance, though the small smile on the aged woman’s face told him that she was more fondly amused than anything.
“Of course she would.” Minerva said, sighing as she picked her teacup back up and took a long sip. “I suppose I cannot fault her— she does worry quite a bit.”
“She is not alone in such feelings, my friend.” Albus told her gently, and the two shared a look for a moment before she responded.
“It’s about the recent attack.” Minerva said. “In France.”
Albus had to resist the urge to rub his temple. Of course it was about that. Instead, he nodded and bid her to continue.
“Those two boys were in danger again. And their new… guardian.” Minerva said.
“Those two…” Albus said as the pieces of the puzzle started coming together. “Misters Clarke and Potter?”
Minerva nodded, slowly losing hold over her usual ironclad composure. “And… Sirius Black. I am… troubled by it all, Albus. Have been for some time.”
“Troubled?” Albus repeated. “How so?”
“I’ve wronged them all, Albus.” Minerva said, almost dropping her tea again. “Especially Sirius. When the war ended, I thought he was guilty— I truly believed it was the truth up until… What have I done?”
Albus absorbed her words in silence even as she built upon them, shame deepening in her eyes as she began to pour her heart out to him.
“I betrayed him. Betrayed James and Lily by putting their son with those awful Muggles… I knew they were awful. I knew and I did not protest anyway.” Minerva said, her words coming out in half-sobs. Albus abandoned his drink and came to her side, placing his hand on her shoulder. “And now they almost died. Again.”
So that’s what it was all about… Albus thought. Now it all made sense— the reason she’d been behaving oddly in the springtime was because she was blaming herself for everything that had happened to Sirius Black and Harry Potter— and, more recently, Adam Clarke because of what happened in June.
He pulled her into a brief hug, and the old woman wrapped her arms around him before he gently pulled back. “Listen to me. Minerva.”
She gave him an intense look even as he continued. “It is most certainly not your fault. Sirius’ imprisonment was a result of a terrible set of circumstances. And as for Harry… I was the one who made it so that Harry was placed with his relatives. I believed they would care for the only remaining family they had left; the blame, there, lies squarely upon my shoulders.”
That mistake was one which would haunt him for many years to come. He’d known that Harry’s life would not have been one of luxury and decadence, as he would have been living with Muggles who were neither filthy rich or dirt poor, but he hadn’t expected them to be so vile and cruel that young Harry was ready to instantly accept Black’s adoption proposal— a man who was, at the time, a perfect stranger to him.
He tightened his grip on her shoulder to get her attention. “You have betrayed no one. Do you hear me?”
Minerva gave him a nod, but he could tell that her heart just wasn’t in it. She got to her feet, gently brushing his hand away before moving back to the window she had been standing in front of, her tea laying forgotten on the table.
She stared outside, and Albus did not know what he could say to comfort her. He did, however, follow her to at least reassure her through his physical presence alone; it was the least he could do for the harm he’d inadvertently inflicted upon her.
And so they went on like this for some time. Eventually, Minerva spoke again.
“You know, this reminds me of an encounter I had with those boys.” Minerva said, looking back at him. “It feels like a lifetime ago, but this one memory always stayed with me.”
Albus gave her a sympathetic nod, and Minerva began her tale. “They truly were a nuisance in the seventies— though my two Weasley boys are just as bad, these days…”
“They’ve a true talent for mischief, one would say.” Albus said.
“If only they’d use that talent towards other endeavors… So much potential.” Minerva gained a bit of life as she chuckled before turning to stare out of the window again. “I can no longer remember exactly when it was, but it was during a detention Potter, Black and Pettigrew were serving for some prank or the other. In their Fifth Year— yes, yes. I remember now. The incident with one Miss Marbon. Do you remember?”
Albus frowned as he racked his brain before his eyes lit up. “Oh, yes! Gisella Marbon of Hufflepuff House, was it? Yes, it’s coming back to me. I believe there was a bit of an incident in Hogsmeade? Involving a few cauldrons, a chicken and a few cats.”
McGonagall nodded. “That’s the one. They’d been animating some cauldrons to harass wizards and witches as well as a few animals, and had ended up hurting the poor girl. Of course, her friends and a few others made short work of the boys afterwards, but they still earned a rather extensive set of detentions for it.”
He hummed in agreement. He had indeed remembered right, but where was she going with this?
“I oversaw the detentions myself.” Minerva continued her story, sighing to herself. “I can’t remember exactly which detention it was, but… It was near the end, and I believe I was scolding them, using Mr. Lupin as an example to follow.”
“And Potter says—” She swallowed down a sob; Albus grasped her shoulder, even as she forced herself to keep speaking. “He says: ‘So now we’re supposed to do anything that Remus does?’ And Black says: ‘What if he jumped off a cliff?’”
She shook her head in both despair and amusement. “And I told him: ‘If Mr. Lupin were to jump off a cliff, he would have done his due diligence regarding the height of the cliff, the depth of the water, and the angle of entry. So, yes, if you see Mr. Lupin jump off a cliff, by all means, jump off a cliff, all of you.’”
Silence followed her statement, with Albus doing his best to be there for her.
“Isn’t it strange, Albus?” Minerva said, turning to him again with a look of desperation and despair in her eyes. “Why that memory? It wasn’t even— why can’t I stop thinking about it? What does it all mean? What was it all for?”
Albus pulled her into another hug once again, and this time she broke down, crying and sobbing into his shoulder. Through this, Albus held onto the woman, gently leading her back to her chair, giving her pats on the back and soothing her as best as he could.
“Now James is dead, and Sirius—” She stopped, unable to continue.
“It wasn’t your fault, Minerva.” Albus said.
“Isn’t it?” She said as she allowed him to get her back to her chair. “Truly, isn’t it my fault? I could have protested against poor Sirius’ trial, objected to Harry’s placement with those awful Muggles— I could have done anything.”
“I have found…” Albus cut through her self-reproaching rant with a look of sad understanding and sympathy. “That there are things in life that we simply cannot control, no matter how powerful our magic becomes— no matter how great our knowledge reaches. Sometimes, we simply have to accept the events of the past and move on from them.”
“Don’t you think I know that? But it isnae that simple, Albus. I cannae do that!” Fire entered the woman’s voice before it died just as suddenly. She gathered herself again, speaking more slowly. “How can I just pretend that I haven’t betrayed them all? How can I face young Mr. Potter, or Mr. Clarke? How can I face Sirius after everything that’s happened?”
Albus inhaled, and then he spoke, shocking the woman with the sheer simplicity of his next words. “You go to them, and ask for forgiveness.”
She gaped for a moment before shaking her head. “No, Albus. I can’t… Can I?”
“Yes.” Albus said with a nod. “You must— for your own sake, or this will continue to weigh on your mind for years to come, my friend.”
Ariana. The name came to his mind and he let himself be gripped with his own grief for the briefest of moments before focusing on his friend again. “At least you’ll know for certain. Whether Sirius Black forgives you or not, you will have closure on the matter.”
“Yes…” Minerva said weakly as she took her tea in hand, a routine gesture which seemed to bring the old woman more comfort in her body. “Yes. You— You are right, Albus. As always. Thank you.”
“You are most welcome, my friend.” Albus said as the woman turned her head towards the clock, her eyes widening.
“Oh dear me.” She said. “It’s two o’clock already? I hadn’t noticed at all. I’m so sorry for taking up so much of your time, Albus.”
Albus only shook his head, giving the woman a soft smile. “Think nothing of it. But now that you mention it, I was supposed to speak with Alastor some time ago.”
Minerva got a strange look in her eye at the mention of the man’s name before nodding. “You should go, Albus. I’m sure it must be important news, what with everything going on in the world.”
At the man’s hesitation, she shook her head. “I will be fine, I promise; I know what I need to do now.”
“Then I wish you good luck, Minerva.” Albus nodded, gave her shoulder one more squeeze and moved towards the exit.
He stopped midway through the doorway to look at his longtime friend.
“Thank you. Truly.”
“Of course.” He said, giving her a smile. “I am only too glad to help you, Minerva. Come to me anytime.”
“I’ll try to remember that.” She said. “Take care, Albus.”
The man nodded for the final time before exiting the office, closing the door behind him. He’d been expecting something like this, but the sheer level of guilt the woman had felt concerning this issue was severe.
Then again, she was always close with her Gryffindors. like a lioness protecting her pride as well as she could. With everything that’s been happening— news of Sirius’ innocence, Quirrell’s defection to Voldemort and subsequent death, her injuries, as well as the injuries suffered by the children and the general dark turn the world had recently taken with Grindelwald’s overtures— could he really blame her for such a reaction?
He didn’t bother walking to his office, instead spinning on the spot and Apparating there directly. The portraits of the former Headmaster erupted with greetings, and Albus absentmindedly greeted them all, making his way directly to the fireplace.
A pinch of Floo, and he spoke clearly. “The Lookout.”
The fire roared green for a few moments, and Albus waited. Ten seconds passed before he decided to discontinue the connection— but he stopped as the fire jittered and coalesced to form his ally’s face.
“Albus.” Moody said. “Took your time.”
“My apologies, Alastor.” Albus said. “I was delayed. Minerva’s been unwell recently, and—”
“Say no more. I know her well.” Alastor said, giving him a nod. “Is she feeling better?”
“Thankfully, yes.” Albus said. “I hope I did not take too long to get here.”
“I suppose it was just as well.” The man sighed. “The Minister needed to speak with me anyway.”
“Oh?” Albus said. “Getting your old position back?”
“Your finger’s always on the pulse, isn’t it Albus?” Moody said in amusement before nodding. “Yes. I’m to take on a few classes for the Aurors instead of simply focusing on a single person.”
“Ah, yes.” Albus said. “Nymphadora Tonks, was it? A young woman with great potential.”
Moody grunted. “Fought off several wizards during the attack in France, alongside the boy, Clarke.”
Albus nodded at that, leaning forward in interest. “And you have news of the attack?”
“That and more.” Moody said. “It’s complete chaos in France right now. The attack on the village was enough to rattle them pretty badly, but it gets worse, Albus. Much worse.”
He shook his head; those were not the words that Albus wanted to hear; still, he steeled himself and gave the man the go ahead.
“Two other attacks were carried out that night. One on their national school, Beauxbatons, and one in Rambardon.” Moody said in a grim tone. “The one in Beauxbatons was foiled thanks to the quick action of their Headmistress.”
Albus nodded. He knew his French counterpart fairly well. They’d met on several occasions, in fact; Madam Maxime was quite deft with a wand, and powerful besides. “And the one in Rambardon did not go so well for our French friends, I assume?”
“They made off with at least seven hostages— members of the families of different influential families within the French Ministry.” The fire shifted to show their likenesses, as well as those of a few other wizards and witches. Moody stopped the displays to show two sisters. “These two girls were the targets at the Village du Phantasime, but it seems the Potter and Clarke boys were able to stop them in their tracks— not without issue. I’ll be giving you the report, but be warned Albus, it is quite gruesome. I wouldn’t have expected a child of Clarke’s age to be capable of such things.”
Albus frowned, but banished his thoughts on the matter. That could wait until he read the report. “So, Gellert now has… Seven, you said? Seven hostages to leverage against the French Ministry? At least.”
“No. That’s the strange part.” Moody said. “Apparently, from what my contact in France has been able to gather, Grindelwald sent messages and letters to the French population, decrying the events and condemning any group who took part of it, referring to them as brutish rogues out to terrorize the population.”
Dumbledore took a breath, leaning back in his chair. “Attempting to distance himself from the actions of his own order— not a tactic we haven’t seen before, but makes things tiresome in how to prove that he did it…”
“You don’t know the half of it, Albus.” Moody said. “After the messages were sent, several attacks were carried out on multiple locations in France and the rest of Europe— including here. We believe that they were suspected dark wizard hideouts. All we know is that whoever took up residence is no more. Grindelwald’s order left no survivors.”
That made Albus move forward again. “What? You mean…”
Moody nodded. “Exterminated them all. Whether they were really criminals and rogues making use of the chaos, or whether they were members of his own order— he ordered them all to be killed, down to the last wizard and witch.”
“This…” Albus said, shaking his head. He had no idea what to make of this. “And what of the hostages? He has them in his custody now?”
“That’s the truly strange part, Albus.” Moody said. “He let them go.”
“He let them go.” Albus repeated. “Just like that?”
“Yes.” Moody said. “No demands, no curses, nothing. The French have absolutely no idea what to make of it. And I’ll admit I’m a little confused as well; he could have done so much with them.”
That last statement had been a little callous, but Albus knew what Moody meant. “Yes. He would have had considerable leverage with the Ministry. Unless…”
“Unless he doesn’t care.” Moody said slowly. “That’s the only conclusion I figured made any sort of sense to me. Considering the level of destruction he’s shown us he’s capable of, what use are a few people close to key members of government? He could simply obliterate them…”
“True.” Albus said, shaking his head in dismay as he began to grasp the situation in full. “It’s worse than that. Think of the implications of his actions, both in the political and social spheres. By releasing the hostages and decrying the actions of the supposed ‘rogues’, he has placed himself in the position of being a friend to the people. With that same action, he has also demonstrated a willingness to take decisive, final action against groups who mean to do harm to the general population, which—”
“—which showcases the incompetence of the French Ministry while propping them up as an organization successfully working to protect the French Wizarding population.” Moody said and cursed. “I don’t know whether to be impressed or disgusted.”
I don’t know either, old friend. Dumbledore thought before he hardened his gaze. There was work to be done.
“Your reports, Alastor? I believe I will have a closer look.” He said. “See if we can help the French Ministry salvage their credibility in some way.”
“Bailing water out of an already sunken ship.” Came Moody’s response. “But war is coming.”
“All too true, my friend. War is indeed approaching.” Albus said with a certain dark amusement mixed in with grim determination. “Regardless, we must do what we can.”