February 19, 1982

St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, London

Much to no one's surprise but her own, Minerva McGonagall did not exactly take to Cassiopeia Black.

"She's a socially awkward academic who swore off Britain for France until her family's reputation was put into question— you thought you'd get along?" Fillius' dry humor was grating on Minerva's already fraying nerves.

"I like academics!"

"Oh, you like all academics everywhere, do you? I suppose I should send your regards to Garnicia VanHorn then?"

"Don't be purposefully obtuse Filius– VanHorn tried to sleep with my husband! My intense dislike and minor desire to personally see her throttled by the giant squid have nothing to do with my feelings on her research into billywigs." Minerva paused, nostrils flaring. "Though why one would want to spend their entire life researching bloody billywigs–,"

"Regardless of Garnicia VanHorn or her billywig problem, I hardly see why you thought Madam Black's research would make up for the laundry list of things that you were bound to dislike about her."

Filius attempted to rearrange himself more comfortably in the hospital chair, sighing and casting a cushioning charm when no anatomic arrangement could be deemed passable.

He held up his fingers to tick off reasons for his coworker's dislike of their newest acquaintance. "Cassiopeia Black is an absolute bulldozer of a human with no verbal filter– unless you count her house elf flailing in the background. Cassiopeia Black is a potions specialist, and you hate potions theory. Cassiopeia Black has zero interest in your plans, because she has her own. Cassiopeia Black is morally questionable and moderately ruthless– neither of which you are capable of appreciating despite decades of friendship with Albus. I'm pretty sure she hates Quidditch, which you once told me was the quickest way to judge a person's character. And she's as good as French after a lifetime across the channel, which you think means she's stuck up. And—,"

"That's quite enough, thank you. "

"Are you certain? I can go on. I made a complimentary list of reasons for you– as much homework as you've been assigning lately, I figured it could hardly hurt to be prepared."

"Filius!" Minerva scowled, turning her face away to glare petulantly out the window. Without her normal rigidly pinned updo she looked strangely young, a worn ghost of the girl who once nearly knocked down Gryffindor tower in a fit of temper after losing the House Cup. "I'm quite ready to go home, you know. My students must be suffering– I remember Albus' classes, he teaches as if he expects you to know the safety protocol before you step through the door. It's a miracle no one has gotten sent to St. Mungo's with permanent damage."

Filius considered how much time he had spent filing reports about Transfiguration accidents recently and rolled his eyes. "An understatement, I think. He's entirely too brilliant for a classroom."

"And entirely too devious for a school, it would seem."

A slow silence fell between them. The pair had not yet been quite bold enough to touch onto the root of their current slew of issues: Dumbledore's ongoing, blatant, highly disrespectful manipulations. The abuse of a very old friendship and mentorship.

"Can they recover your memories?" This was asked, softly, as if to give Filius' old friend the chance to pretend she hadn't heard. However, needs must– and Minerva McGonagall was not the type of witch to back away from a topic just because it was uncomfortable.

"No. Andromeda Tonks– she was a Black, too, you remember– is the top specialist in memory repair, but she says she can't go further than we have without risking my sanity and long-term memory." Minerva twisted her fingers through her hair, glancing away to watch a golden snitch whirling around the ceiling of her room. "I've been able to sort out fake from real, and I can vaguely remember where I was and the topics we discussed– always Harry, of course– but that is as far as I can go."

"I'm so sorry I didn't catch on sooner, Minerva, that I involved you at all. If only–,"

"No." Minerva was firm on this point. "You and I did the right thing, the brave thing. Harry wouldn't have survived those horrid people. And James and Lily would have– rightfully– never forgiven us for being complacent in his neglect."

"Still, for him to–,"

"I know. Albus has been a horrid employer, and a worse friend– what he did was not only illegal, it was a betrayal, and for Gryffindors there is no greater sin. But Filius…," Minerva took a deep breath. "Perhaps I'm a sentimental fool, but after spending Morganna herself knows how many hours trying to understand… I feel that for him to have considered this, to have acted in this way, means that he is either not the man I have long thought I knew, or that there is something very, very wrong afoot."

"Wrong? More so than his actions towards young Harry?"

"I have sat here for many, many hours now," Minerva repeated. "I have considered jealousy, I have considered paranoia, I have considered even that it was all a mistake. But none of these things quite add up. Only one thing makes sense to me: what if Albus believes the war isn't over?"

Filius nearly topped out of the chair. "Not over! But the Potter family's sacrifice!"

Minerva's lips thinned into near nonexistence. "The alternative is that the strongest wizard in the nation merely believes that the war is still ongoing and has succumbed to terrible paranoia."

"Minerva–,"

"No, no. I shot down your concerns once, Filius, and look where it nearly landed us. Imagine if I hadn't agreed to go with you to check on Harry! I've not set a wonderful example, but I do think we should follow our guts from here on out. Particularly in regard to Albus' whims."

Heavy, considering silence fell upon them for several long minutes, the ticking of the clock the only noise. Finally, in an obvious attempt at light heartedness, Filius perked up in his chair and began digging through his vest pocket for an incredibly long scroll of parchment. "Shall we return to my list of reasons I expected you to dislike Cassiopeia Black and reject her request?"

"Filius!"

"I'm only being logical, Minerva- if you don't respond to one of her first three letters, she's liable to just show up here with any number of unfathomably ridiculous theories. Or to send–,"


February 19, 1982

St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, London

Before Azkaban, Sirius Black was not often flummoxed. His devil-may-care attitude, cheerful "just-roll-with-it" mentality, and incredibly toxic childhood kept him from being too terribly surprised by any new information, no matter how strange. Best mate is a werewolf? Casual- Remus wore cardigans and matching socks, so he clearly wasn't actually dangerous. His entire Charms test consisted of trick questions? Who cared– he hadn't studied anyways! Reggie was following along in cousin Bella's shoes to bow down to the Dark Arsehole? On brand– poor kid always did pick the path of least resistance.

After Azkaban though… that was a different matter.

Sirius had found it decidedly harder to shrug off things like, "my sworn brother Jamesie and his wife were brutally murdered," and "one of our best mates betrayed us all," and "my godson has been horribly abused and neglected courtesy of the guy who also tried to block my wrongful imprisonment." He'd get past these things eventually, the mind healers said, but until then… until then, Sirius was told to expect to find it a bit more difficult to go with the punches, so to speak.

He understood. It was fine- or it would be, when they finally got Harry home. Sirius could live with that, and understanding that things would be better in the future somehow helped him process things now.

But what Sirius could not quite wrap his head around, no matter how hard he tried, was Remus Lupin, Private Investigator Extraordinaire, and his many clever personas.

"Moony, that healer is looking at you like she'd rather have you for lunch than give you directions right now!"

Sirius' stage whisper made Remus snort, and he rolled his eyes at Sirius after waving goodbye to Healer Mary Taylor. Mary had been all too pleased to see him at St. Mungo's again in such a short period of time, and had asked after his father's heart and his friends' woes before promising to tell her Shelly 'hallo' and directing them to Professor McGonagall without signing in.

"Well, I have been told that I'm a delight Padfoot."

Sirius squinted. "Moony, you winked at her and she giggled."

"Concerned she didn't melt over you? Might have been that you didn't remember her name from school."

"It's not just her! Even that beastly Elvira is nice to you!" Sirius' brow furrowed in deep thought. "Moony, did you get some kind of magical cologne?"

Remus' barking laugh echoed loudly in the hallways till he cut himself off with a hand over his mouth. "Honestly Pads! Is it so hard to believe I can be charming if I want to be?"

"Charming, sure– but you've been flirting! You, who once hexed a bird for asking you out while you were in the middle of some silly muggle love story."!

"One does not interrupt Westley's passionate declaration of love! The way he says 'As you wish'- it was a literary masterpiece all by itself!"

"You wore a cardigan on your last date."

"And trust me, the cardigan didn't stop them from–,"

"Ok ok!" Sirius waved his hands in surrender. "You're adorable, you're very shagable, whatever you wish, no need to continue with cardigan inspired sex stories! My point is just that this does not feel like normal Moony behavior!"

Remus patted his head, the gesture particularly condescending considering their difference in height. "Don't worry Pads, I'd still hex anyone who interrupted a good book. Needs must for now is all– you should try applying charm where needed too. It'd be more helpful than just gaping at me, you know. Definitely more helpful than fighting with Miss Zabini constantly."

"I'm entirely charming, thank you– didn't you see the Witch Weekly article? Elvira is just—,"

Caught up in this back and forth, and particularly pleased to have another excuse to complain about his ongoing fake relationship with Elvira Zabini, Sirius didn't even pause to knock at Minerva McGonagall's door. Throwing it open he came face to face with not one, but two of his old professors.

"... if you don't respond to one of her first three letters, she's liable to just show up here with any number of unfathomably ridiculous theories. Or to send–," Filius paused. "What timing, boys. We were just talking about you."

Remus pushed Sirius fully into the room, stepping in and closing the door behind him. "Our apologies for the interruption, Professors."

"Minnie! Did you miss me? Have you been horribly bored at Hogwarts without me? Do you regret turning down my fabulous proposal at least twice a week?" Sirius bounded across the room to crouch down by his old Head of House' bed, grinning madly. "Surely you've not thrown me over for good old Flitwick!"

Minerva's eye twitched just a bit, a familiar experience from past dealings with one Sirius Black. Then she broke into a wide smile. "I find I'd quite like to assign you a detention, Mr. Black, for causing me entirely too much worry the past few months."

"I'd sit detention with you any day, Madam, just say the word!"

"That, Mr. Black, is precisely why I shall not."

"Forgive the eavesdropping, but it almost sounded like you were expecting us, Professor Flitwick." Remus blatantly ignored Sirius' spluttering at his favorite teacher's cheerful rejection, moving to sit next to their Charms teacher instead.

Fillius smiled widely (he'd always liked studious, secretive Remus Lupin– the boy would have made a wonderful Ravenclaw). "Safe to assume you've been sent on by Madam Black then? I did try to tell Minerva she wouldn't take silence for an answer."

Unable to restrain herself from a long eye roll, Minerva shook her head. "I did hope Madame Black might trust me to make decisions for myself. I assume she's asked you to solicit my agreement?"

Sirius blinked. "Well, I suppose? Though I wasn't looking for an agreement, per say, she suggested that I come by just to say thank you and ask for your blessing as we go into this new chapter of our lives…"

"This next chapter of your–," Minerva frowned, glancing from Remus to Sirius and back again. "Oh I see. You aren't here for— Well, this isn't entirely unexpected I suppose, though why Madam Black thought you needed my particular blessing… and of course you're welcome, though I expect to be invited to the celebration young man."

"The… the celebration?"

"Certainly! This is a once in a life-time event, Mr. Black, it would be inappropriate to not celebrate it accordingly with your friends and family."

Sirius warmed to this idea accordingly. "You are absolutely right! There's never a reason to neglect a party, and Remus loves making those silly calligraphy invites!"

(Remus, cheeks bursting with constrained laughter, tried very hard to interject at this point, only to be waved off immediately by an enthusiastically party-planning Sirius. Fillius patted his hand consolingly.)

"... Gryffindor colors are appropriate for a theme, don't you think Minnie? And I'll need to get him an amazing present to open at the end, perhaps with a toast about joining the family? And Minnie– you know, besides Dorea Potter you're the closest thing to a real mum I've had, so perhaps you'd be willing to give a little speech too?"

"It would be an absolute honor. You know, I rarely like to admit to having favorites but…,"

"And of course we can't forget the sweets- everyone knows that the most important part of the party is the cake!"

"Ah, I remember my wedding cake. I can give you recommendations for bakers for your own wedding cake, though perhaps you won't want to be as traditional?"

There was a long pause. Finally, weakly… "Wedding cake?"

"Wedding cake," Minerva said back slowly, slanting her eyes. "For your reception, which we have been talking about. Haven't we?"

"Oh no! Professor, surely you don't actually believe the tosh in the paper about me and Elvira Zabini!"

"Elvira Zabini? I'm speaking of your upcoming nuptials to Mr. Lupin!"

Bewildered: "My– Moony– wedding- WHAT?! But I'm talking about Harry!"

With no small amount of disappointment: "Harry Potter? You mean, you haven't finally proposed to Remus?"

"No! Remus was just flirting with a Healer! We're not– we're not together, we just live together!"

Rather knowingly now: "And you're upset about that?"

"This," Filius said cheerfully as Sirius spluttered loudly, "is the highlight of my week. I adore presumptuous Gryffindors. Do, please, keep going. It makes up for the amount of paperwork Minerva has had me doing."

Remus, very helpfully: "He did tell me I was adorable right before we walked in, Professor."

"Moony!"

"Well, Mr. Black, if you aren't here for my 'blessing as we go into this new chapter of our lives' with Mr. Lupin-," (Minerva used her fingers to convey this particularly sarcastic air quote), "-then what were you talking about?"

Sirius, who was rather absorbed glaring at his particularly evil best friend (and really, who would have thought Remus was the most troublesome of the Marauders?), took a second to answer. Finally, feeling a bit vexed that he had been annoyed by flirty Mary Taylor, he cleared the air. "Aunt Cassie sent us to talk to you about my guardianship of Harry, and about arranging for a few visits with him beforehand so he doesn't think he's being given to a stranger if he can't remember me. Pup has had too much change in his life as is- we don't want to trigger him."

A thin brow arched towards the ceiling. "Surprisingly insightful."

Sirius bristled, but Remus was quick to step forward and lay a placating hand on his shoulder. "Professor, that's a bit uncalled for. Sirius isn't seventeen anymore, and he's spent a long time now preparing to take Harry in. We're dedicated to giving him the magical childhood he deserves, that Lily and James wanted us to, just as soon as we can settle the absolute mess that Dumbledore has landed us all in."

"The mess Dumbledore has landed us in, indeed," Filius stood, moving to look out the window. "Well, Mr. Lupin? You may as well lay out your entire plan."

It took nearly an hour, but eventually they all came to an agreement: Minerva would be discharged the next day, presumably to continue recovering in her mother's care. She would Portkey directly to Scotland, where she would bring Isobel up to date. Sirius and Remus would arrive together for tea following Harry's afternoon nap (there could be absolutely no disruption to this particular routine!). The pair would spend a full week in Invermoriston, leaving on the morning of the 27th to prepare for the custody trial (which had finally been scheduled for the March 2nd).

"The only thing left to decide is how to allow Dumbledore to pretend that he's had Harry this whole time." Remus hesitated. "Professor, you should know that when we spoke to him yesterday he refused to say who had Harry. He was, in fact, surprisingly earnest about protecting your identity from us."

Minerva's lips tightened, her chin rising several inches. "Albus Dumbledore may surprise me yet," she murmured, sending Fillius a pointed look, "However, how Albus' charade is allowed to proceed is of no concern to you. I will handle Albus in my own way."

"Professor–,"

"Don't worry, boys- I'd hardly let him go guilt-free after this particularly ridiculous stunt. But you'll have to trust me to handle my business in my own way. And I'd appreciate it if you'd convey that sentiment to your ridiculous Aunt, Mr. Black."

Sirius frowned. "What's Aunt Cassie have to do with anything?"

Snorting, Filius picked a letter that looked rather like it had been angrily crumpled up and thrown across the room up off the floor. "Madame Black is insisting that Minerva have protection from your family at any point she sees Albus– she's also asked about twelve different ways if Minerva would like to be Headmistress. Dear Minerva simply can't abide being told what to do, even if it is in her best interest."


February 20, 1982

St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, London

"Looks like you'll be free in only mo' Professor! It was lovely seein' you again, though I'd prefer it be without any strange, rare magical illnesses next time ma'am."

Minerva smiled at Shelley Connor, who she had quite literally never expected to end up as a Healer instead of a hot-shot Quidditch player. "It's been a wonderful surprise, Miss Connor. Thank you for your attention these past weeks."

Much to her amusement, gratitude seemed to only make Shelley uncomfortable. Taking pity on the young woman, Minerva nodded politely through the remainder of the discharge paperwork and left with little further commentary.

The portkey Filius had charmed for her (a Ravenclaw blue button on a tiny brass chain, if only because her rival Head of House couldn't pass up the opportunity) sat heavy in her pocket. In thirty seven minutes it would activate, sending her spiraling through space and time to arrive on her mother's front lawn.

But thirty seven minutes was plenty of time. She twisted on her heel and disappeared.


February 20, 1982

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Scotland

Minerva may have been absent for the past several weeks, but Hogwarts was her home– it had been from the time she was a slip of a girl till she finished a particularly competitive apprenticeship with Albus Dumbledore, and the castle had opened its welcoming arms to her once more when her husband crossed the Veil. Regardless of her time away, Minerva knew Hogwarts and its patterns better than she knew herself.

It was mid afternoon on a Saturday, and well over half the student body and teachers were currently in Hogsmeade, overwhelming the small village with their demands for chocolates and butterbeer and prank supplies and new books. The students that remained were almost all outside or in the library, battling their friends with snow or anxiously completing late homework.

Most importantly: Albus was stuck in a meeting at the Ministry for another two hours.

Minerva strode purposefully through the halls, ducking through secret passageways to save time and avoid the occasional teacher on patrol or student heading for their dorm. She stepped confidently up to the gargoyle statues that stood watch over the Headmaster's office and nodded respectfully to them both: "Parma Violets, if you please."

The gargoyles bowed as deeply as their heavy wings allowed, and a spiraling staircase opened up in the wall. Minerva took the steps three at a time, her robes pulled up and out of the way in her fists, finally reaching the heavy wooden door that actually led to Albus' safe haven. It opened without prompting, a small courtesy from the castle that quite thoroughly renewed her sense of righteousness regarding her plans.

Even the sight of Fawkes, perched high on his gold stand, could not deter her. She nodded as politely to the phoenix as she had to the gargoyles, and strode over to Albus' desk.

"You couldn't have stopped him from indulging in his paranoia?"

Fakes' trilling response sounded rather apologetic, and he ducked his his fiery head under one wing. Minerva hid a smile.

"Well, I suppose I can't blame you for being unable to stop the whims of Albus Dumbledore, of all people. Do make it clear that I'm displeased, would you?"

Fawkes tentatively peaked out, and, seeing no wand in the Deputy Headmistress' hand, cocked his head to one side before bursting into a short, sweet song and throwing himself out the large open window.

Minerva resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

Looking around, she saw that the majority of the portraits were empty, their occupants having gone to explore other frames or to catch up with friends. Those left appeared to be asleep, or else they were just particularly good at feigning it.

There were sixteen minutes left until the Portkey activated.

Minerva shrunk and warped, disappearing from view behind Albus' heavy desk moments before a tabby cat with distinctive glasses-like markings sprung up onto its cluttered top. Oddly aware eyes gleaming, the cat lifted a single paw and flashed dangerously sharp claws.

Revenge was sweet.

Fifteen and a half minutes later, Minerva McGonagall sprang into breathless existence where a particularly worn out cat had sat surveying their work only moments before. She had just enough time to toss a wax-sealed letter onto what was left of Albus Dumbledore's desk chair before the Ravenclaw-themed portkey in her pocket swept her from the room, leaving only silence behind.

The hairball on his bedsheets had been a particularly nice touch.


February 20, 1982

Invermoriston, Scotland

"Nae a warning out of ye, Minerva? Company for a week! And am a pure nick!"

"Mam, you look fine- you look just how you've always looked! Except for the pants, which I still can hardly believe you're wearing– what happened to, 'Och, Minerva, it'll be pure munters come knocking if ye dinnae give up those trousers!'"

Isobel McGonagall fluffed a hand through her steely hair, pointedly ignoring her daughter's mocking. "A nod's as guid as a wink tae a blind horse, Minerva. Get ye quick to the front room so ye can explain yourself quick without waking up our wee lad."

Feeling a rather rare burst of sympathy for her own students, Minerva rather sullenly dropped onto her mother's couch. Isobel settled in across from her, pouring them both a cup of tea. Minerva's frown softened into a wry grin when Isobel dolloped a few fingers of scotch into her cup the way another mother may have added cream or sugar.

Inhibitions lowered by the smooth scotch, the comfort of her childhood home, and her mother's sympathetic gaze; Minerva found herself rapidly explaining not just the unexpected visitors but everything that had happened since she first left little Harry in Isobel's care. Letters had been vague and coded, leaving Isobel worrying something fierce for her most willful child. Now, she reacted properly to each portion of the Minerva's long-winded tale, hissing at Albus' actions, praising Filius' quick thinking, humming seriously over Minerva's frustration dealing with bossy Cassiopeia Black, and absolutely cheering when Minerva recounted her quick stop between St. Mungo's and Invermoriston.

"Can ye imagine what your da would've said to all this!" Isobel exclaimed, and she touched two fingers to the heavy locket around her neck. "My lass, you've had a hard time, haven't ye?"

Much to her dismay, Minerva found her eyes watering. She took large gulps of scotch-heavy tea to hide her face till she could control it a bit better. "Those boys will be here soon though– I thought to arrange them rooms at the Inn, in case Harry needs a break from them. What do you think?"

"A fine idea. Get on now, and haste ye back."