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Portraits of Courage by forsakenphoenix
Format: Short story collection
Chapter 1: The Phoenix Rises
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The stories of past courage...can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul. – John F. Kennedy
In a flash of flames, a phoenix buries itself in ashes, burning slowly like an ever-glowing candle, a beacon of light for the weary. Then it rises again and it may not be as beautiful or as strong as it once was, but it lives and matures until it regains its youth, its courage.
A phoenix is immortal.
Men are not.
The picture on the front page of the Daily Prophet reveals motionless bodies in an image where everything else is constantly moving. A house crumbles and a haunting, glowing mark floats angrily in the sky – a warning to everyone, a tell-tale sign of death and destruction.
"The Dark Mark, the reporters are calling it. There are claims that the Mark is burned into the skin of his followers, the Death Eaters. A name that fits their dastardly deeds, no doubt," Professor McGonagall sniffs as she finds herself sitting with Professor Dumbledore, the Prophet open on her lap. "Killing off innocent Muggles and the families of Muggle-born wizards and witches."
Dumbledore hums his assent, though his thoughts are elsewhere.
"What are you thinking, Albus?" McGonagall questions, folding the Prophet and placing it carefully upon his desk. "You’ve been distracted lately."
Dumbledore gazes at the newspaper on his desk – the ink telling the story of attacks and deaths, revealing the threat of a coming war – and then refocuses his concentration on the woman before him. He sighs and tightens his grip on the arms of his chair.
"There are two sides to every war, Minerva."
The sun dips below the horizon and the sky darkens, marking the end of another day, another set of casualties. The fire crackles behind him, warm and bright; a stark contrast to the world outside the walls of his beloved school. He moves away from the window when he hears a sharp rap on his door and sits down in his chair.
"Come in," he says, and motions towards the chair before his desk as his guest enters.
He is greeted with a curt nod.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, Minerva?"
McGonagall settles in the chair, her dark hair pulled tightly back into a bun and her face, a solid mask to hide the worry that bubbles anxiously in her stomach.
"Lemon drop?" Dumbledore offers.
For a moment, McGonagall looks at him distastefully before she politely declines. "The war is coming to Hogwarts."
"The war is already here," Dumbledore replies evenly.
"I’ve separated four fights just today between the Slytherins and other Houses. I had to send six students to the Hospital Wing. The war is causing a rift between the Houses. Now, more than ever, should they stand united, not divided."
"This war will shake the very foundations of the wizarding world, Minerva, not just Hogwarts."
"There must be something we can do."
"We cannot choose our students’ futures for them. Their actions now will consequently affect their actions later, when they are forced into this war."
McGonagall’s eyes darken. "So we just leave them be? Let their hatred and prejudices threaten the unity and safety of our school and students?"
Dumbledore leans forward slightly, the twinkle in his blue eyes never faltering. "We cannot choose their futures, Minerva, but we can guide them and light their way down the darkened path of life that awaits them."
"And then what, Albus?" McGonagall asks. "We let them out to fend for themselves?"
"No. Sometimes," he begins, his voice growing softer as he gazes at the phoenix perched beside him, "sometimes, we cannot fight our battles alone."
Dumbledore pushes his chair back and stands, moving towards the red and gold bird. He curls a finger and runs it gently down the phoenix’s chest.
"Phoenixes are fascinating creatures, don’t you think, Professor?"
McGonagall gives Dumbledore a strange look. "Well, yes," she admits as she moves to stand beside Dumbledore. "They burst into flame when they are ready to die and are reborn from the ashes. But, what does this have to do with anything, Albus?"
"Phoenixes are also extraordinarily faithful." Dumbledore smiles and turns to McGonagall.
"I am afraid I do not follow your train of thought."
Dumbledore brushes past McGonagall and stands before his window once more, his eyes flickering to the hut beside the Forbidden Forest and then to the reflection staring at him questioningly from behind.
'As I’ve said before, Minerva, there are two sides to every war. It’s time for us to fight back."
"But what can we do?" she asks, and Dumbledore smiles, confident now that he has picked the right person.
He returns to his desk and pulls open the top drawer, his fingers grabbing and curling around a small object. He outstretches his hand to McGonagall and unclenches his fist, revealing a small, golden pin.
She hesitates. "Is that – is that a phoenix?"
He clasps his hand with hers, transferring the pin, and gives her hand a reassuring squeeze. He then leans toward her and tells her of an idea that has been flourishing in the recesses of his mind. He speaks of a secret order built on the foundation that some good still exists in this world, that there are more important things than power and purity.
"Out of the ashes a phoenix will arise, but never will it die."
She looks at him with understanding now and nods her head, slipping the pin into the pocket of her robe.
"I have a list…" Dumbledore shuffles through some parchment on his desk before extracting a piece near the bottom of the pile and hands it over to McGonagall. "I assume you understand what you must do?"
McGonagall glances down at the parchment quickly. "But Albus, these are just students…"
"We need those that are steadfast in their beliefs and have courage in the face of fear, Minerva. I have no doubt in my mind that these students fulfill both requirements admirably."
McGonagall sighs and folds the parchment, placing it in her pocket beside the pin (it feels heavy in her hand, like the weight of the world, like the lives of her students). She bows her head and bids Dumbledore a quiet goodnight. The wooden door clicks shut behind her.
Dumbledore returns to Fawkes and the bird rubs its head against his hand, reassuring and ever faithful.
There is nothing more he can do now. The pawns are in position, are ready for their next move, their next command. And all Dumbledore can do is wait.
Author's Note: The beautiful banner was made by Violet Gryfindor. Thanks to TenthWeasley for editing this story.
Chapter 2: Alastor Moody, Gideon and Fabian Prewett
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Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others. – Robert Lewis Stevenson
He’s not always heartless, not always cold-iron fists and paranoia buried deep in his subconscious. It comes with the territory, he supposes, with years of duels chronicled in the calluses of his hands and in the scars that mark his body.
Someone has to do it, he reminds himself. Because the young ones, sometimes they’re too rash, too brave and they only half-understand what it means to be careful, to make sure they come home to their loved ones.
Sometimes he has to let down his rough exterior and speak in hushed tones (they’ll be back soon, don’t you worry) because he knows that worrying just makes the waiting harder. And he knows all about waiting, knows about sitting up late with cold coffee (black, no sugar) and trying to fight an anxious tension that hums through his veins.
He waits for them each night as they tumble into headquarters weary and beaten down, but not yet broken. He wishes that their spirits are never broken. That’s one of the few times he’ll get down on his knees and pray, because he doesn’t believe in God, or any higher being. He thinks that sometimes he should, because luck will only get him so far. Perhaps he should invest in some faith or hope because it’s the only way he’s going to get out of this war alive.
He’s no stranger to worry either; Dumbledore likes to keep him on the sidelines – his skills, his instinct too valuable to give up too easily – he’s needed to train future Aurors, Order members, soldiers in a war where half of them are too young to even understand what they’re fighting for.
He wishes that their lives weren’t precious and fragile, so easy to surrender. But he knows that it’s a part of war and it’s something they should all get used to, because he can no longer count the number of casualties on one hand.
He feels slightly guilty (in this line of duty, he thinks he should feel more guilt for the things he’s done) for sending Molly out of her mother’s kitchen, but it’s not her time yet – her belly is too round, too full of baby (babies, if her size is any indication) to risk dragging her into something this big.
"We’re sorry, Molly," Fabian is saying, a hand resting reassuringly on the small of her back, helping her shuffle out of the kitchen.
Moody puts a protection spell on the kitchen as he peeks out of the window suspiciously.
"If my dinner burns while you’re in there talking, you will have something to apologise for," he hears Molly threaten, blowing curly hair out of her sweaty, rounded face.
Fabian smiles and kisses the back of her head before shutting the door behind her. He performs a Silencing Charm and turns back to face the quirked eyebrow of his brother. He shrugs sheepishly.
"Just in case," he mumbles. "Bill and Charlie are running around upstairs."
"Smart thinking, boy," Moody growls. "Precisely why we need people like you."
"For what?" Gideon questions as he rubs a thumb anxiously across his cheekbone.
Moody looks at the both of them with steady eyes, slips an even steadier hand into his pocket and pulling out a clenched fist, seeks comfort in the glide of smooth gold along his palm.
"Wars can’t be won if there isn’t anyone willing to fight them."
"You know we do what we can, Moody," Fabian argues. "But the Ministry won’t even acknowledge the fact that there is a war going on."
Moody huffs in agreement, but now is not the time to talk politics; he has more important matters to address. He looks expectantly at the two wizards before him and lowers his voice. "The two of you are some of the best wizards around – " Gideon grins at the compliment and Fabian looks pleased. " – and we need men like you for something secret, something dangerous."
The two young men lean forward, their hardened eyes telling Moody all he needs to know. He opens his hand to reveal two identical, golden pins and Gideon reaches forward without a second’s hesitation.
"It’s a phoenix," he murmurs, his thumb brushing along the grooves of the phoenix’s wing.
"Dumbledore?" Fabian asks as he too fondles the phoenix between his fingers.
Moody nods. "I’m sure you’ve read the Prophet and discovered the sudden influx of Death Eaters being apprehended by Aurors."
"Does that have to do with – with this?" Gideon questions, laying the pin down on the worn table.
"Dumbledore, like you, was tired of the lack of action by the Ministry. The Order of the Phoenix was organized to fight back against You-Know-Who."
"Who else is involved? Just Aurors and those you decide are worthy enough?" Fabian leans back in his chair, keeps a careful eye on the door, on Molly’s dinner (her anger frightens him more than the prospect of fighting, of the war).
"No, no. We’re drawing in all we can for this. Strength in numbers, in diversity."
Gideon bites the skin around his thumb. "What ‘bout Molly? You can’t keep anything from her."
Moody growls. "You better try damn hard. It’s not her time, not yet. You mustn’t talk about any of this business unless you’re in a room of strictly Order members and certain precautions have been taken."
Fabian’s eyes widen. "Moody, you can’t possibly expect to ask Molly to join," he hisses. "She’s got three young boys and at least one more on the way. There’s too much at stake, too much to sacrifice to ask that of her."
"Sacrifices must be made," Moody barks. "It will be Molly’s choice, just like it’s your choice. No one’s forcing you into this, but we do need you."
Gideon clenches his fist around the pin as he says, "I’m in. I’m willing to do anything to keep Molly and her boys safe."
Fabian sighs and rubs a hand wearily down his face. "Me too," he agrees quietly.
The scraping of the chair is harsh on their ears as Moody pushes back to stand up. Fabian and Gideon stand as well and Moody grips both of their hands.
"You’re doing this world a favour, the both of you," Moody says, proud of their decision. He sticks his hand into his pocket once more and pulls out a folded piece of parchment, which he presses into Gideon’s hand. "Don’t ever speak that address out loud. Next Wednesday night, you will make your way there and before you enter, make sure you burn that piece of paper. Memorise that address and never forget it for it will never be spoken of."
The two men nod. "Thank you, Moody," Gideon says. "We won’t let you down."
"I’ll see you Wednesday night, then," Moody replies as he moves toward the kitchen door, opening it slightly.
Molly is on the door as soon as she hears it creak open, fretting anxiously about her dinner.
"Will you be staying, Alastor?" she asks politely.
"No, thank you, Molly, I have some other business to attend to. I’ll be seeing you soon," he says, giving a slight wave as he leaves the Prewett household.
Molly turns on her brothers as soon as the door shuts behind Moody. "What was that all about?"
Gideon places a comforting hand on his sister’s arm and kisses her gently on the forehead. "Nothing you should worry yourself with, Molls."
He leaves the kitchen as soon as he can, quick to avoid any more questions. Fabian isn’t so lucky.
A sudden crash from upstairs distracts her and Fabian takes the opportunity to bolt out of the kitchen.
"Don’t worry, Molly, I’ll go get your boys out of trouble. Don’t let the dinner burn!" he calls as he runs up the stairs.
"Boys," Molly huffs as she places a soothing hand on her rounded belly, keeping a careful eye on the boiling pot.
Author's Note: Thanks to my fabulous beta, TenthWeasley, for editing this chapter!
Chapter 3: Molly Weasley
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Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes over night. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down. – Eleanor Roosevelt
She has five young boys sleeping upstairs, but as she opens the door to her house to reveal one of her brothers, sometimes she thinks that she has seven.
"Gideon," she murmurs, ushering him into the house, peering cautiously outside into the inky darkness before closing the door behind them.
"Hey Molls," Gideon gasps in reply, wincing in pain. "I knew I could rely on you to patch me up."
"Where’s Fabian?" she asks urgently, placing a bracing hand on his side, his arm – tries to touch him everywhere to reassure herself that he’s safe, he’s home.
Gideon groans. "We got separated. He’ll show up soon enough, I’m sure."
She sits him down at the kitchen table. Her hand pulls away and she inhales sharply as she feels the sticky warmth of blood covering her fingers.
"What did you do?" she hisses through tears, through her anger. Her hands are trembling as she performs a cleaning charm on her hands and pulls Gideon’s shirt off. "Are you…do you have a death wish, Gideon?"
"You know I enjoy spending quality time with you, Molls."
Molly presses down on his side with a towel, hard. Gideon grunts.
"Just heal me up with a quick spell. No need to cause me anymore damage," Gideon spits out through gritted teeth.
Molly glares at him. "Gideon Prewett! How dare you – how dare you walk into my home injured like this and act so casual about it? What are you doing that’s so dangerous? I swear if you put this family in harm’s way…"
Gideon reaches out and pulls his sister towards him, pressing a kiss into her hair. "Hush, Molly. Stop worrying so much. I know what I’m doing."
Molly snorts but doesn’t say anything. Instead she raises her wand, still shaking slightly, and whispers a spell to staunch the bleeding. She bites her lip as her mind goes through a list of spells she learned from her mother to heal the wound across Gideon’s abdomen.
There’s a loud, harsh knock at the door. Gideon looks towards the door and gets up, moving to stand in the shadows that outline the dim kitchen.
"Who is it?" Molly calls, her fingers wrapped tightly around the doorknob.
"It’s Fabian," a voice mutters.
Molly twists the doorknob hard and pulls the door open quickly, enveloping her brother in a hug. He hisses in pain.
Molly shuts the door and locks it before turning back to her injured brothers. "Where are you hurt?" she asks Fabian as she pushes him into a chair. Gideon moves out of the shadows, nods at his brother and sits back down.
She shakes her head, muttering to herself about stupid, careless boys as she goes about healing their wounds. There’s silence for a few moments until a loud creak from the stairs causes the three adults to jump. Molly’s eyes dart towards the source of the sound and her lips flatten into a thin line.
"Go back to bed, Charlie," Molly says, hurrying over to bustle Charlie back upstairs.
"But Mum, what’s wrong with Uncle Gideon and Uncle Fabian?" Charlie asks curiously, peering around his mother’s large frame to look at his grimacing uncles.
"Back to bed!" Molly orders, her face going slightly red.
Charlie gulps, knows well enough to not test his mother’s infamous temper and hurries back upstairs to his room. Molly sighs heavily and rubs her eyes wearily, turning back to her brothers.
"I’m sorry, Molly," Fabian is saying before she can even open her mouth. "But we can’t tell you anything."
"Stop babying me, Fabian," Molly says, raising her voice slightly. "You’re putting yourselves in danger, and for what? Stop keeping secrets from me."
Gideon stands and pulls his shirt back on, but not before examining the fresh skin that lines his abdomen – not a sign of the injuries he received that night evident on his tired body. "Look, it’s not that we don’t want to tell you anything, Molls, but it’s not your time yet. You’ll…you’ll know what to do when the time comes. As to why we’re putting ourselves in dangers and for what? It’s for you, Molly. To keep you safe, to keep your family safe. Trust us, okay?"
"You can’t keep coming back here injured like this," Molly replies, shaking her head and wiping away tears. "You need to keep yourselves safe."
Fabian pulls Molly into his arms and speaks in a low, soothing tone. "Don’t worry, Molly. We’ll stay safe, I promise. Thank you…for everything you’ve done." His arms are strong and hold her tightly, reassuring her of his presence, giving strength, a foundation to his promise.
Molly grabs Gideon’s hand and squeezes it. "Promise me?"
Gideon smiles in a way that makes most women swoon, but this time, it’s to calm his frantic sister. "I promise, Molly."
Molly smiles careful and guarded as she ushers her two brothers out the front door where they Apparate quickly and right after one another. She shuts the door and rests her head against the door frame.
"Stay safe," she murmurs. She looks down at her trembling hands and though they’re clean, she won’t (she can’t) forget the way that blood (her brothers’) stains red; too bright, too full of life.
Molly slams the kettle down on the stove too hard and it clanks loudly, the sound reverberating in her small kitchen.
"Don’t ask that of me," she says harshly, her back turned to the three men sitting at her table.
"Molly…" It’s Fabian. It’s always Fabian trying to reassure her, quiet her anger.
"No." Her voice is firm – it doesn’t shake like her hands, like the nerve endings, the hormones sending desperate signals to her muscles to run, to get out of this situation she’s so suddenly been placed in. Fight or flight. But in her heart, she knows she’d rather go down fighting.
"You wanted us to tell you what we’ve been doing." Gideon, now. He wasn’t one for apologies or sympathy.
Molly turns around now to face her brothers, to face the man that dragged them into this mess.
"You," she hisses, pointing an accusing finger at Alastor Moody. "You forced them into this."
She’s angry now. Her brothers had yet to see her full-blown anger these past few weeks (it’s been nothing but quiet desperation and worry) but it's rearing its ugly head like a livid Hungarian Horntail, ready to spit fire; there’s hatred in the words that are spilling from her mouth.
"It was their choice," Alastor replies, calm and steady.
"It was their choice to go off and get themselves killed?" she retorts bitterly, in disbelief.
"We did it to protect you, Molly," Fabian says gently. "You know that. We told you weeks ago."
"You also promised me you’d stay safe, Fabian," she growls. "And then you show up not two weeks later with so – there was so much blood." She’s quiet now and there are tears caught in her lashes, blurring her vision.
"Think of your boys, Molls," Gideon implores. "Think of the world they’ll be forced to live in if we lose this war, if they survive."
Molly whimpers, clenches her fingers tightly on the apron tied around her waist. Moody stands stiffly and rummages through his pocket, before holding out a hand to her.
"Please, Molly," Moody is saying, and it’s the only time she’ll ever hear him this quiet, this pleading.
She dabs at her eyes with the corner of her apron and then reaches forward, picking up the pin between her forefinger and thumb. The pad of her thumb rolls over the grooves in the furled wings of the phoenix and she sighs in resignation.
Her heart beats steadily in her chest, and that ‘fight or flight’ response that makes her nerves thrum anxiously and her hands shake…it’s gone now. There’s no other option, Molly thinks, as she stares at the pin gleaming in her hand. There’s no turning back.
Author's Note: Thanks to TenthWeasley for beta'ing!
Chapter 4: James Potter
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The hero is strangely akin to those who die young. – Rainer Maria Rilke
“Mr Potter, if you please,” Professor McGonagall says to the boy fidgeting in the chair before her desk.
“I can’t help it!” James cries, tie askew and glasses slanted on the tip of his nose. “Snape put – ” he almost slithers out of his seat as he tries to scratch his back, “ – itching….”
Minerva sighs in frustration, and with a flick of her wand, eases the burn and itch of the spell.
James exhales heavily, relieved, and pushes his glasses back to the bridge of his nose. “Thanks, Professor.”
“This is the third time this month you and Mr Black have gotten into some sort of altercation with Mr Snape. You’re Head Boy, James,” she continues softly, “you can’t continue to act like this. The younger students are impressionable, and they are looking up to you to show them how to behave.”
“I only acted in retaliation,” James protests. “He was going to hurt Peter if I didn’t step in.”
She shuffles the parchment on her desk in an attempt to still the shaking of her hands. Minerva wonders if this was the right decision, if she should be bringing him, bringing these children into this war. James, he’s too rash, too hot-headed sometimes. But she also knows he’s smart on his feet, with his wand. They don’t need stupidity, but they need bravery, need those who can have the courage to face their fears, do the right thing, and she doesn’t doubt James. She’s never doubted James.
“I’m sure Mr Pettigrew could have defended himself, don’t you?”
James ruffles his hair and looks at Professor McGonagall defiantly. “I’m his friend. If he doesn’t have to fight by himself, why should we let him?”
“There shouldn’t be any fighting to begin with,” she replies evenly.
But she remembers what Dumbledore had said - Sometimes, sometimes we can’t fight our battles alone - and she lets his comment slide.
“I’m not here to punish you, James.” She is rustling through her desk drawers now, pushing aside homework assignments and detention slips. “Though I should,” she adds, glancing up quickly to notice his pleased look.
“Then what am I doing here, Professor?”
“A-ha,” she says to herself as she pulls out a small wooden box from the back of her drawer and rests it on her desk. Placing the tip of her wand to the latch, she murmurs a few words, and the latch unhooks itself. James looks on curiously with a slight grin.
She plucks a pin from inside the velvet-lined box and encloses it in a fist. Closing and locking the box, she puts it back inside her drawer and pushes it shut.
“Mr Potter, can I trust you not to repeat what I am going to ask of you? You mustn’t even tell Mr Black.”
“But – ”
“James,” she says quietly, desperately. Maybe this was a wrong idea. “This is a serious matter.”
James pulls his bottom lip between his teeth and ruffles his hair. But when he looks back at her, he’s serious, straight-faced. “All right, Professor,” he says.
“Not even Mr Black,” she repeats, fingers clenching and unclenching.
“I won’t even tell Sirius,” he promises.
She knows where his loyalties lie, but she also knows that James isn’t stupid, that he knows this is something to only be spoken of in hushed voices, to be kept behind locked doors. She sets the pin down and pushes it across grooved wood until it’s lying in front of him, waiting for him to pick it up.
“Wha – ”
“You said it yourself, Mr Potter. Sometimes there are battles that we cannot fight alone.”
He picks up the golden phoenix and squints at it, turning it over in his fingers, watching it glint in the candlelight. He furrows his brow, opens and closes his mouth a few times before he actually says, “I’m still not sure I understand…”
“We’re in the midst of a war, James,” she replies. She sees the way his brain processes the words, makes connections, conclusions.
“Oh,” he breathes.
“We need you.”
“We? Professor Dumbledore?”
She nods. “As well as some other known members of the wizarding community.”
“What about…what about the others?” He almost looks embarrassed to ask, but he has to know, needs to know if he’ll have friends among allies.
For the first time that afternoon, Minerva smiles at him, motherly and warm. “In due time, James. I just needed to make sure that you were with us first.”
James grins back and pockets the pin, looking at her with unwavering eyes. “Always,” he promises.
She extends her hand and he grips it firmly as he stands up, pats his pocket to ensure the pin is still there, still safe.
“James,” she says, stopping him as he’s almost out the door. “You’ll be leaving Hogwarts soon. You won’t always have these walls to protect you. Be careful, won’t you? Stop provoking Severus and try to stay away from the fights. Now more than ever, you must be the leader Dumbledore saw in you when he made you Head Boy. We need you to be courageous and noble, not stupid and reckless.”
He ducks his head and ruffles his hair. “Will do, Professor. Thank you,” he says earnestly, sincerely. Minerva knows they made the right choice, knows he’s steadfast in his beliefs, his loyalty.
As he closes the door behind him, Minerva feels a sense of sadness. She’s watched this boy grow up from the awkward, lanky eleven-year old he used to be to the young man he is today. She can’t help feeling like these children are hers, and it’s her duty to protect them, keep them safe.
She knows she’s already failed them.
Chapter 5: Lily Evans
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The battle is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. – Patrick Henry
Minerva struggles to keep her composure. She’s the Head of Gryffindor, the House of the proud, the true and the brave, but it’s these exact qualities that she’s afraid will condemn her students, her children, to death. The fear that she’s signed her students’ death sentences bubbles angrily, like a boiling pot ready to overflow, and she’s having a hard time maintaining that impassive façade she’s best known for. The spoon she’s using to stir her tea rattles slightly against the ancient china as her hands shake and she clasps them in her lap to still the trembling.
She inhales deeply and then exhales slowly. She’s done this before, she can do it again. She repeats this to herself like a mantra as she grabs a quill and checks a name off on the parchment that’s resting on her desk. To anyone else it would appear like an ordinary detention list of students or perhaps a group of students who she needs to schedule meetings with, but she knows that this list is the Wizarding world’s future, their only hope and she’s the one signing their lives away.
There is a knock at her door and she rolls the parchment up quickly, efficiently as she ties it carefully and places it in her top drawer.
“Come in,” she calls as she stiffens her posture and rests her now still hands atop the desk.
She smiles gently as the door opens and a face peeks in. The girl blushes and ducks her head as she enters the office. “I’m sorry I’m late,” she murmurs quietly as she slips into the chair facing Minerva.
“It’s quite all right, dear,” Minerva assures her and the girl takes the momentary pause between conversation to straighten out her tie and smooth the front of her vest. She catches Minerva surveying her appearance and again blushes a deep crimson.
She opens her mouth to apologise again but Minerva holds up a hand to silence her. “We’re not here to discuss the perfection of your uniform, Ms Evans. Let’s not worry too much about appearance at the moment, hm?”
Lily quickly nods and then looks thoughtful for a moment before speaking up. “Was there a particular reason you called me to your office, Professor? There haven’t been any more problems with the prefects have there? I talked to them last week…”
“You did an admirable job with the prefects,” Minerva replies, looking fondly upon the girl in front of her and wishes she could put this off a few years, if not forever, “which is partially why I wanted to speak with you. Lily, you’ve been nothing but an ideal Head Girl and I’m very proud of Mr Potter and yourself for showing such determination and courage, especially during such a dark, trying time.”
“Thank you,” Lily says, beaming at the compliment. “This is what I’ve been striving for since I first stepped foot inside these castle walls. I am very thankful to Professor Dumbledore for giving me the opportunity to prove myself.”
“And you most certainly have. I must admit I was a bit hesitant when I discovered who Professor Dumbledore had chosen to work beside you, knowing your particular…opinions of one another. But you both learned how to look past your differences and work together as a team, to lead these students in a positive manner. I’m glad the two of you are getting along better,” Minerva admits.
Lily offers a shy smile and says, “Me too.”
Minerva is not a fool and she knows that there’s more than friendship bringing the two Head students together. She won’t admit it out loud but whenever she catches James slipping his hand into Lily’s, to give her reassurance or to simply let her know that he’s there, her motherly instincts take over and she’s happy. She’s pleased that two of her brightest, bravest students have found strength and comfort in the presence of the other, holding love cautiously and carefully between them as this very war could tear them apart.
She hates that she’s part of the reason that this love is threatened.
“You are a brilliant student, Lily, especially in Charms, I’ve heard,” Minerva begins, “but you’re also very loyal to your friends and loved ones. I’ve seen it time and time again. You truly exemplify a Gryffindor through and through, which is why I know there is little doubt to your loyalties.
“My loyalties?” Lily questions, but Minerva can see the burning desire in her eyes to again prove herself worthy for whatever task she can ask of her.
“I trust you won’t repeat this to anyone?” She already knows the answer, but she needs the confirmation anyway before she can continue with her offer.
“Of course, Professor,” Lily replies immediately.
Minerva knows it’s not an eagerness to please that brought forth the quick affirmation but that Lily is so steadfast in her loyalty to this school and those who hold a place in her heart, that she’d certainly sacrifice her own life in place of another, or to keep this a secret.
She’s no longer nervous – she knows why Dumbledore himself picked these students in their fight against corruption and the unyielding darkness – as she pulls out the small box from a side drawer and with a quick spell, the latch that keeps their secret safe is unlocking itself. Her fingers brush against the velvet as they pick up the small, golden pin which she clasps securely in her fist as she locks the box and puts it back. Lily’s been looking on curiously, her brow slightly furrowed as she gazes intently at what’s hidden in the curl of her fingers.
“As I’m sure you’re aware, Ms Evans, we are currently fighting a war. You will be graduating in a few short weeks and will be thrust headfirst into a violent, deadly world.”
Lily’s eyes never waver from her own and she can see the desperation and hint of anger that linger there. She knows Lily has seen firsthand the effects of this war on the students who have come to her for comfort or in the quiet mourning of friends whose families have been torn apart.
“I’m going to fight in that war,” Lily says, her words laced with determination. “I may not be in the front line, but maybe I could be a Healer or something.” She’s hopeful, eager to make a difference.
There is no hesitation as Minerva slides the pin across the desk. Lily picks it up immediately for examination. She’s silent for a few moments but Minerva is patient, is willing to give her however long she needs (in an impossible hope that perhaps, the longer she waits, the farther the war will be from their immediate future).
“We need you,” Minerva tells her in a quiet voice, gauging her reaction. “You would be a brilliant asset to us in this war.”
“Is this – is this some sort of secret organization, or…?” Lily trails off, looking embarrassed.
Minerva smiles encouragingly. Lily has always been perceptive, intuitive. They need students like her, knowing how valuable those skills are on a battlefield. “Yes,” she confirms, her voice hushed. “The Order of the Phoenix was created by Professor Dumbledore to fight against You-Know-Who. We’ve been able to gain quite a following – secretly, of course.”
“And you want me?”
“Have you not been listening to what I’ve told you? You’re an extraordinary witch, Lily, and I know you care deeply about the people around you. We are desperate for those who are loyal to our beliefs, who want to be able to live in a world free from prejudices and oppression.”
Lily turns the phoenix pin over and over between her fingers, memorising every curve and groove. “The rebirth of a free world,” she murmurs and Minerva can’t be sure if she was meant to hear it, but her heart soars and she knows that Lily will serve them well.
“Ms Evans?” Minerva prompts her.
The gaze Lily gives her is fierce and proud. “Yes,” she agrees, nodding her head.
“Thank you,” Minerva says. “I will be contacting you shortly with more details. But again, I must remind you to not speak a word of this to anymore.”
“Oh, of course, Professor. I completely understand.” She slips the pin into the pocket of her robe and looks back to Minerva expectantly.
Minerva clears her throat and says, “Well, that’s all for this afternoon, Ms Evans. I’m glad I was able to have this chat with you.”
Lily grins and Minerva is half-reminded of the boy who had just sat in this seat not three days before, the boy whose heart belongs to this very girl and she feels a pang of pity, knowing what she’s done to their future. But she hopes that her faith in these two students’ loyalty and courage will not only aid them in surviving this war, but also in keeping them closer together.
“Thank you, Professor. Have a good day,” Lily replies as she rises from her seat to exit the office.
Just as she’s about to leave, Minerva offhandedly calls, “Say hello to Mr Potter.”
A blush creeps from the base of Lily’s neck to the roots of her similarly-coloured hair. But she smiles and Minerva can see the adoration in the way her eyes light up at the mere mention of his name. “Will do, Professor,” she replies as she quickly yet gracefully exits the office.
The door closes and Minerva, though she’s so very proud of Lily and thankful that she’s willing to fight for a brighter future, can’t help but think she’s just given this courageous, bright young woman a death sentence.
Chapter 6: Sirius Black
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Villains are undone by what is worst in them, heroes by what is best. – Voltaire
She hears the girlish squeals, the shouting of curses and the crash of missed spells splintering wood and crumbling stone before she sees them. Turning a corner, her eyes flicker to the courtyard and she sighs, though she isn’t surprised by what she finds.
She hears calls of “McGonagall is coming!” as students scramble away to avoid punishment. The boys involved in the duel don’t flee; instead they stare at each other, glares hardening their faces. James, the golden boy, is off to the side, frowning and fidgeting when McGonagall’s gaze sweeps over him. He kind of shrugs in a helpless gesture and McGonagall knows his powers as Head Boy couldn’t have stopped this duel from happening.
“Black, Snape, come with me,” she calls, turning on her heel and heading for her office without a backwards glance. She knows they’ll follow her without question.
When they finally reach her office she says, “Shut the door behind you.”
At her desk she turns to face the two young men, her face impassive as she plays her role as disciplinarian perfectly. Sirius is bleeding from several lacerations and while Severus looks unharmed, he is grimacing from wounds she cannot see.
“Explain yourselves,” she demands.
Neither boy is willing to go first. Sirius toes the floor and though he looks ready to be reprimanded, she can see the anger still, in the shaking of his fists and the slump of his shoulders. She knows the fight is far from over but she had hoped, with so few weeks left in the school year, that they would have put their differences aside.
It was wishful thinking, she knows now. But she hates the idea of sending her children out into a war carrying deep prejudices and an even deeper anger that will only claw its way out in a blind fury. She looks at Sirius and she sees a broken, betrayed boy. Despite his easy grin and quick tongue, he is troubled; Sirius is all dark shadows curled around too many childhood secrets.
She wonders if Dumbledore made the right choice in picking him for the Order.
“Mr Snape?” she asks, annoyance clipping her tone as they continue to avoid speaking.
Snape clears his throat but he won’t meet her eyes. “It was nothing, Professor McGonagall,” he mutters. “Just a misunderstanding.”
Minerva can tell that Sirius is having trouble keeping his comments to himself, can see it in the quiver of his upper lip. She knows her students better than anyone: their quirks, their personalities. It is her job. Sirius is a very expressive person and she can easily dissect his movements. But unlike James and Lily, Minerva is unsure of how willing Sirius will be to join the cause, and that worries her.
She knows that Sirius is fiercely loyal to his fellow band of troublemakers, knows he would die to protect any one of them, but she isn’t sure if that’s enough.
“Mr Black?” She gives him the opportunity to explain what happened, to refute Snape’s claim.
He frowns and shakes the hair that has fallen into his face out of his eyes before looking at her for the first time since walking into her office. “Just a misunderstanding,” he says.
His eyes are like dark storm clouds and she can tell that he’s lying, but she lets it slide.
“Twenty-five points each from Gryffindor and Slytherin for fighting and I expect both of you tomorrow evening for detention.”
“Yes, Professor McGonagall,” they mutter in unison.
“Mr Snape, you may go. Mr Black, I’d like for you to remain in my office, please.”
Snape smirks as he leaves and Sirius sends him a hateful glare.
She sighs and worries he isn’t ready for this responsibility. But aside from her duty to her students, she also has a duty to Dumbledore and she says, “Take a seat, Sirius.”
Her eyes soften as he folds himself into the chair, slumping in defeat. For all the reckless trouble Sirius causes, he’s still a child when it comes to dealing with the consequences.
“Stop sulking,” she says reproachfully. “I’ve already dealt you your punishment. I have another matter to discuss with you.”
She slides open her drawer and pulls out the small wooden box, setting it down on her desk. Sirius looks at it curiously.
“This mustn’t be spoken of in public places, Sirius,” she says. “If you choose not to do what I’m asking of you, this mustn’t be spoken of at all. It is imperative that you take this to heart. Your friends’ lives could be in danger should you speak too freely.”
He sits up quickly and she sees a fire in his eyes that hadn’t been there before. “I won’t say a word,” he says solemnly, knowing this must be important.
She looks at him for a few moments and sees nothing but fierce determination. She murmurs a spell and with a flick of her wand, the box unlatches itself. She eases open the top and reaches in to pull out a small, golden pin. It sits in the palm of her hand and though it’s lightweight, she can feel it heavy in her hand, so full of life and promise. She slides it across her scratched desk and watches as Sirius plucks the pin up, holding it carefully between his fingertips.
“The Order of the Phoenix is Professor Dumbledore’s response to the growing threat of You-Know-Who. We need wizards and witches who are loyal and brave, who understand the risks of undertaking this cause. I need to know, Sirius, if this is something you can see yourself joining.”
He doesn’t answer her immediately, not like Lily and James, and she’s glad to see that he’s actually thinking something through for once.
“I think Regulus joined the Death Eaters,” he says quietly, and Minerva is surprised at this turn in the conversation. He looks saddened but she knows there’s a quiet fury raging inside him. “I shouldn’t be surprised,” he continues, rubbing the pin with the pad of his thumb. “Regulus always did what our parents expected of him. But I was still shocked when Snape made a comment about it. Reg is just a kid. Sometimes I think we’re just kids too, you know?” He laughs without humour.
“But we’re graduating soon and that makes us adults. Regulus still had time to choose and he’s so stupid, so easily influenced by power. What they’re doing for power is wrong.” He frowns and the skin between his brow puckers.
“If your family is going to be an issue…” she starts, but Sirius cuts her off.
“The Blacks are not my family anymore,” he insists. “James, Remus, Peter? They’re family. Maybe not by blood, but I don’t think blood is important. I want to do everything I can to prove to Regulus, to all of those who turned their back on me that I was right all along. I want to fight in this war, to fight against everything my parents tried to push onto me. Regulus made his choice and now I’m making mine.”
He locks gazes with her – stormy grey against a cloudless blue – and she sees no hint of hesitation. She doesn’t know why she was worried.
“Sign me up,” he says, clenching his fist around the pin.
“You must remain true, and never, ever falter, Sirius,” she reminds him.
He grins, all teeth, and idly, she wonders why she’s never seen Sirius attached to anyone because he is certainly an attractive boy.
“I’m as loyal as a dog. Y’know what they say about dogs...they’re man’s best friend.”
“I don’t doubt you are,” she says fondly. “Now go find Madam Pomfrey and have those cuts looked at, Sirius.”
He ducks his head as he stands and offers her a sheepish smile. “Thank you,” he says earnestly. “I won’t let you down. And...” He worries his bottom lip between his teeth for a moment. “...I’m sorry, for what I told you about my brother. I didn’t mean to go off like that.”
“For your brother’s sake, I hope the rumours aren’t true,” she says.
Sirius shrugs and hides his concern for his brother beneath his hardened exterior. Minerva is used to seeing the walls go up around Sirius so she doesn’t press him. He throws a hand up in a half-hearted wave while the other hand slips the golden phoenix pin into his pocket.
Minerva shares with him a secret smile as she watches him walk out of her office. She’ll miss him. She’ll miss all of them when they graduate in a couple of weeks. She wishes she didn’t have to let them go out into the world to fight a very real war. They may be adults in the Wizarding world but they are still her children. Her children aren’t meant to be soldiers, but they are the best they have; they are their only hope.
Chapter 7: Remus Lupin
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Author's Note: Un-beta'd, so any mistakes are my own.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all. – Ambrose Redmoon
Minerva sets out an extra cup of tea when she settles into the chair at her desk, awaiting her 1 o’clock appointment. Spooning a few lumps of sugar into her cup, she stirs the liquid idly, and wonders how to broach the subject of this meeting. It shouldn’t be difficult, she’s done it before, but each new recruit reminds her how close to home this war really is.
The knock echoes in her spacious office and she calls for the student to enter as she pushes a bowl of sugar towards the other cup. She smiles fondly as the young man walks into her office, his face alight with delight every time he glances at the shelves of books that line the room.
“Tea, Mr Lupin?” She gestures with her head the extra cup, and Remus grins as he slides gracefully into the chair before her with practised ease. Despite the easy smile, there are dark shadows beneath his eyes and he looks tired, on edge. A quick glance at her calendar reveals the source of his anxiety – the full moon is due in two days. Her lip twitches in slight amusement as he dumps a large quantity of sugar into his tea and he looks at her with eager curiosity as he sips the sugary liquid.
“I won’t keep you long. There is a serious matter I must discuss with you. But first, you must understand that discretion is of the utmost importance here.”
It has always amazed Minerva at how serious Remus can look; how easy it is for his smile to slip into a frown. Someone so young should not look like the weight of the world rests upon his shoulders. The lithe muscles beneath his robe tense and she can see the minute tightening of his fingers around her delicate china. It is his nature to always assume the worst. She saw it in his eyes two years ago, unbridled fear that nearly crippled him, when he started stammering about packing his bags and leaving the grounds following that unpleasant incident with Mr Snape.
Today, she is quick to put his fears to rest. “You are not in trouble, Remus.” Her voice is soft, like a mother soothing a crying child, but he is still rigid in his seat. “You must promise me what we discuss today does not leave this office. Can you do that?”
His eyes are wide, but he always maintains contact with hers, and she knows that he speaks the truth when he mutters, “Yes, of course.”
She has an enormous amount of faith in her students, but she requires a verbal confirmation to avow their silence, an affirmation that Dumbledore made no mistakes when choosing their future. She never doubts Remus Lupin; he owes too much to risk throwing it all away, forever in debt to Dumbledore and the school that gave him greater opportunities than he could have ever imagined.
“What are your plans for after graduation?”
Remus blinks in surprise at the question. “Pardon?”
“You graduate shortly, Remus. Surely you have plans for the time that follows.”
“You know my choices are limited. Not many places are willing to hire a werewolf,” he says bitterly, the lycanthropy like poison on his tongue.
Minerva nods, expecting this. Dumbledore went out on a limb to accept this extraordinary boy into their school and she knows that he made the right decision then; she can only hope he’s making the right decision now.
“Professor Dumbledore and I have a proposition for you, then. We can’t pay much, but it will be a job.”
“I’ll do anything!”
“You don’t know what I’m asking of you, Remus,” she says, and there’s sadness in her voice. “I offer this to you under strict instruction that you not jump into this too hastily. Don’t be so willing to throw your life away.”
“What life? My days revolve around the cycle of the moon and no one can look me in the eye without seeing me for what I really am - a monster. If I can do anything, be anything besides a werewolf, I’ll do it. Please, Professor McGonagall.”
She’ll never admit publicly that she has a soft spot for the four Gryffindor boys that frequent her office for detentions and cost her house more points than any other student, but she can’t deny Remus’s soft plea, the desperation that is evident upon his face.
“Professor Dumbledore is enlisting the help of several wizards and witches, including students, to aid him in a fight against You-Know-Who.”
Remus nearly chokes on his tea, and Minerva pauses in her explanation as he coughs and sputters into the sleeve of his robe. “That is not what I expected,” he admits, once he’s breathing normally again. “Dumbledore is building an army?”
“What can I do?”
It’s the most important question he can ask, and Minerva struggles to ask this of him, knowing the danger she will put him in. She looks at him, the thin, sickly-looking boy she’s watched grow up, become more comfortable in skin that is not quite his own, and her eyes are drawn to the faint white scars that mar his otherwise unblemished face. Her heart stutters in her chest as she’s overcome with grief. “We need you to find other werewolves,” she finally says, watching Remus’s face as he begins to understand what is being asked of him.
“To recruit them.” There is no question, just quiet acceptance.
“Yes, before You-Know-Who does.”
“You believe I can do this? I’m only a boy, Professor. Who’s to say they’ll listen to me just because I’m one of them?”
“You’re the best of us, Remus. If anyone can do it, you can.”
He smiles at her praise, sweet and child-like, and Minerva struggles to maintain her composure; the closer they are to leaving the protection this school offers them, the harder it is for her to want to let them go. Remus doesn’t accept the proposal right away and Minerva can only be thankful for small favours that he’s actually thinking before jumping headfirst into this dangerous mission. In that way, he is so unlike the two boys he considers brothers that she’s already recruited.
“I’ll do it,” he says finally, after a lengthy silence.
She sighs, knowing deep down that he would have accepted the job regardless of the risk. “Very well. I will send word to you with the time and date of the next meeting. Come see me before you leave, and I will tell you where to go.”
She slides open her drawer and pulls out the wooden box, murmuring the incantation to unlock it. There is a small pile of golden pins inside, each one meant for one of her students, and she counts them like a roll-call, memorizing every face that belongs to each pin. As she hands Remus the small phoenix, she wants to remember him, to remember all of them, this way forever, with their youthful enthusiasm and easy smiles. She has seen what war can do to people and she worries that the last image she’ll have of them is one of broken down soldiers whose faces appear in the Daily Prophet’s obituaries.
He rises from the chair, placing his cup gently back onto its matching saucer. “Thank you, Professor. For everything.”
“Thank you, Remus. We can’t do this without you.”
He ducks his head in embarrassment and then with a final glance back at her, he exits her office. She wishes there wasn’t truth to her statement, but she knows that without Remus, they have no hope of reaching the werewolves before Lord Voldemort seduces them with promises he will never keep. It makes her chest ache, such a strange, unfamiliar feeling, when she thinks of Remus as nothing more than a pawn in this war, waiting for his next command.