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You Can't Win the Battle and the War - Chapter 6/12
Illyria, AtS
Chapter 6 - Minerva: New and Old

As Harry exited the too-hot bathroom, his feet carried him down the familiar path through the drafty corridor. In the two days since the fighting had stopped, he had walked between the bathroom and the Great Hall so often that he no longer gave any thought to what he was doing. Instead, his mind strayed to his destination, where he knew several staff members of the now destroyed school were organizing sleeping arrangements for the many people who still remained inside the castle. A few scattered groups and families had left the grounds as quickly as they could, because, Harry speculated, they couldn’t bear to stay in the destroyed castle, or because they, like him, felt uncomfortable staying among the relief and the celebration and the grief. But he couldn’t leave.

Most people remained in the Great Hall, all clumped together as though leaving the crowd would be horribly dangerous, all clinging to the simple act of being surrounded by people, talking and laughing and smiling freely and easily. No one seemed to want to be away from people and the relief of being able to breathe. No one wanted to go to sleep.

As the thoughts ran through his head, Harry let out a low, soft, bitter laugh that echoed through the empty hall, sounding faintly horrifying and too loud as it settled into his ears. Luna had told him that people would be able to sleep at night because of what he had done; yet no one wanted to sleep.

Harry’s feet carried him into the Great Hall, and he wished that the sound of his hollow laugh would stop echoing in his head now that he was surrounded by people, even though none of them could hear it. He saw Hermione and Ron leaning on each other as they made their way out of the hall, to the dormitories to sleep. He saw the Weasleys, even closer together as they moved, as though afraid that one of them might get lost if separated from the pack. He saw Neville, once again surrounded by a crowd of fervent admirers now that his grandmother had gone to help organize the sleeping arrangements. Harry couldn't help noticing that he was looking extremely uncomfortable and still clutching the Sword of Gryffindor like a life preserver, and he felt a vague sympathy for his friend. Harry’s eyes slid over several people he knew he would have to talk to the next day, after everyone in the hall had slept. But it would have to wait; he couldn’t speak with them now. Now, he was searching for someone specific.

He stood with his eyes raking the emptying hall for a moment longer before he saw her, standing in the middle of the hall, and made his way toward her against the current of people.

“Professor!” he called as he neared her. He saw her head jerk toward him, slightly startled.

“Potter,” McGonagall responded, the surprise fading quickly from her face. She said his name as she had a million times in class, her voice strong and proper and a wall for him to lean on, just as it had been every time she had scolded him or asked him a question, or those rare times she had praised him, or that single time she had stood up for him. He remembered worrying at the time that he would let her down. He wondered now if he had. Then he recalled the note of pride in her voice as she had talked to Amycus Carrow. He wondered now if he had imagined it.

“Potter,” she repeated, somehow looking down at him even though he was now taller than her. It didn’t seem right that he was taller, but the fact that she could still look down at him was comforting to Harry; it made everything fall into place. The stern note in her voice brought him back down to earth, and reminded him of his manners; this was a teacher he was talking to.

“Er, have you got the sleeping arrangements sorted, Professor?” he asked, trying to be polite and not dive right into his point. To his surprise, something flitted across her usually still face.

“Er -” she began, and Harry was even more surprised to hear that uncertain noise that he made so often escape her lips. However, the uncertainty disappeared after only a moment, another thing Harry was left to wonder if he had imagined. “I am no longer your teacher. I think – it would be – prudent – for you – Call me Minerva.”

“Er,” Harry responded, unsure of what to say. Even he had had few conversations in which the word ‘er’ was spoken so many times in such a short time. “All right.”

“Now, Po- Harry, what is it you wanted?” she continued as though the awkward exchange had not occurred. She looked at him, calm and waiting, utterly confident and comfortable. As she waited patiently, anticipating his words, Harry was jolted by the thought that she had confidence in him.

“The castle,” he announced, ignoring the curling sensation in his stomach, a mixture of gratification and fear and discomfort. “It’s been destroyed.” She looked at him, concern lingering behind her stern and contemplative expression, something altogether familiar that he had never noticed before. Seeing it now, he wondered how he had not realized it was there, when it was so familiar that he knew it always had been.

“Yes, I suppose it has,” she replied, her eyes raking his face.

“I’d like to help rebuild it,” Harry explained, and the look on McGonagall’s face softened, the concern becoming more pronounced.

“Of course, Harry,” she told him. He nodded and felt a small smile lift his relaxed mouth.

“Also,” he added, ignoring his shame and asking for what he wanted straight out, “would it be possible for me to sleep in a dormitory away from the others?” He saw a small smile flick onto McGonagall’s mouth to mirror his own.

“I’d already arranged it that way,” she answered. He was not surprised.

“Thank you, Minerva,” Harry said as he turned and began to walk away.

“Harry,” he heard McGonagall call out from behind him, and he turned back. “It was an honor teaching you, and even more of an honor fighting with you.” Harry nodded and smiled gently back at her, looking her directly in the eye and for once feeling that they were both looking not up or down, but straight ahead.


Harry fell back as the hall emptied, leaving him as one of the last people remaining, before he left and made his way to the empty dormitory Minerva had set aside for him. He collapsed onto the bed and was once again greeted by the sensation of his head aching against the soft pillow. He decided it was his least favorite feeling in the world.

Though it had been two days since he had last slept, Harry found himself lying awake, waiting not-so-patiently for sleep to overcome him. He lay completely still, not tossing or turning, not restless, only awake. He wished he could fall asleep, as thoughts whirred through his head and upset the delicate balance he had developed.

Finally, he rose from the four poster, firmly unable to sleep and determined to regain that balance. Without thinking, he left the room and found his body leading him, trying to rebuild the balance; he was halfway to the bathroom before he realized where he was. Now more aware, he continued on to the bathroom, but when he reached it he took one glance at the mirror and immediately looked away. He knew that his blissful absent state, that which had overcome him before he had risen, that which found him when he was slightly less than entirely awake, would leave him if he went to the sink and the mirror. Instead, he moved slowly to the first stall. Leaning against the wall, he sank to the ground, his head back to hit the wall in the small space reminiscent of his cupboard, but with a toilet, and he finally sank into sleep.

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