The Calm Before
It is never really quiet in a hospital, even a magical one. There are always noises from patients, if only their snores. There are the quiet conversations among the staff. The odd something being wheeled somewhere. Of course in a Muggle hospital, and I have worked in several, there is also the hum and beep of medical equipment and the impossible to mask street noises and the too frequent siren of an arriving ambulance.
Now it is late night, well early morning, at St. Mungo's and as quiet as it is going to get. I have spent a great deal of time here too, both as a trainee healer and as a patient. Now, however, I am neither. I am sitting in the dim light of a private room, next to the bed of a dear friend. She is sleeping quietly, and we do not doubt that she is on her way to recovery, still, it is a shock to be here. She is certainly one of the strongest and most adept witches I have ever known, and it took half a dozen attackers to bring her down, but the sight of her asleep makes me realize how many years have passed and how difficult many of them have been. If only the worst was over.
I convinced her family to go home and rest while she slept. There is nothing to worry about now, and on the tiniest chance of some complication who better to be on hand than fully qualified Healer, and a fully qualified Physician, wrapped in one handy package? They have known me for years, and know I'm not inclined to tell them only what they want to hear, so they went.
The truth is that I am using those offices, as well as my position as a Auror, to cover my main purpose: body guard. We are probably as safe here as it is possible to be, at least for the present. Minerva’s attack by Ministry officers was declared 'unfortunate,' and they will leave it at that. The Ministry’s official denial of reality and what it portends means it is fighting battles against phantom rebels, and the fallout is landing heavily on those best suited to organize the defense that we will all need soon. I do not know Harry Potter, but I know both Dumbledore and McGonagall, and their trust in him is all I need. I am certain that there is a lot of maneuvering and planning going on somewhere, all we can do is wait for the product to be unveiled and turned against us. This time I am prepared to go down fighting. And should Voldemort himself come to this room tonight, there is nothing I would hold back to protect her, certainly not my life.
I look again at the sleeping figure. I have known Minerva McGonagall since I was an anxious eleven-year-old convinced that I would never be allowed to stay at school, because it promised too much happiness. She has taught me more in my years since leaving school than in the ones I spent there, and I learned a prodigious amount from her in those seven, a good deal of it in the classroom. She was born to teach, and I certainly would have liked and respected her for that alone. I was well behaved, liked to learn and had an eager mind, so we would likely have had a good student-teacher relationship in any case. Kindness and sympathy were not qualities my mother, or my father, had in sufficient quantities to allow them to spare any for me. I think, being so hungry for those gifts I sensed them in my teacher and so found myself not nearly as afraid of her as most of the other first-years. Fortunately, Minerva has an abundance of both kindness and sympathy albeit, not readily evident on the surface.
In the quiet, I look at my wand resting in my open left hand. Malcolm’s last and best: the wood of the elm wrought into a precise tool.
“Do you have something to tell me?” She is awake. Her voice is a bit weak, and even in the dim light of the shaded lamp I can tell that she is pale. I present the hand with the wand on it, and answer in a soft voice.
“The wood of the elm does not, in fact, repel witches. Also while it is said that Orpheus first sang for Eurydice in an elm grove, my own husband would only sing for me while we were doing the washing-up and only if we had drunk wine with dinner.”
“Ah, you are a fierce defender of right, a loyal friend, and potent reminder to the Ministry of the consequences of underestimating a Scott.” She managed a slight smile.
“Why is a Healer is hovering by my bedside?”
“A mere ruse. In truth, I am your paladin and I wait in hopes that Delores Umbridge will poke her nose through that door so that I may use this wand to turn her into a newt on your behalf.” At that she managed a snort. “I'm here to keep an eye on the door and any who might try to enter it. You will be fine, which is why Robert and Malcolm gathered up the clan and went home for a good rest. So you may relax go back to sleep.”
“I would dearly love to see Delores as a newt.”
“I promise to wake you.”
“I never heard your Malcolm sing.” I griped the chair's arm with my empty hand, and forced myself to keep my voice level.
“A beautiful baritone and no sense of pitch. The gods can be cruel. Now, please sleep.” And with tiny sigh, she closed her eyes and slept.
I return again that evening at the end of visiting hours, rank hath its privilege. She is sitting up and her color was better, if still a bit pale, but the spark is back in her eyes.
“Have you brought any newts with you, Dr. Denbeigh?” I sat in the chair by her bed.
“I wish I had. Nothing would bring me more pleasure. Delores is cruel, cunning, and power hungry – which I could forgive – but her simpering is criminal.”
“What she is doing at Hogwarts is criminal, and with the Ministry’s blessing. Cornelius is becoming pathological in his denial.”
“I concur with your professional opinion, doctor. It is getting increasingly difficult at the Ministry for anyone seen as even potentially disloyal.”
“Are you in any danger?”
“Not a the moment, at least not from the Ministry. Things are getting hotter for me in the field. Some of my repeat customers are getting restive with my efforts. A few of them have taken to attempting preemptive action. I’m beginning to understand Mad Eye’s wariness: sometimes they are out to get you. And some are being let off regardless of their guilt. I’m not sure who is pulling which strings, but I think it’s time to make some solid contingency plans. Maybe for Robbie and Fiona as well.”
“Going to ground?” A note of concern is in her voice.
“Having ground prepared to go to. I've been very careful about who knows where my flat is, but I think another option or two waiting for me seems like the wise thing to do. I try to give the impression that I have little to do with my in-laws, and since I didn't take their name, it gives them some cover, but I worry it might not be enough."
“Would they go?”
“Well, not now, and never easily. They run the only grocery in the village, and they take their responsibility very seriously.” Short of a fire whipping through the village, I couldn't think of a thing that would get them to leave. Minerva gave a little sigh.
“I remember how torn they were when I came to tell them about Malcolm: proud that he was a wizard, but a bit at a loss when they realized neither of their boys would follow them in to the business.”
“Well, it's academic at the moment. I have some strong possibilities for a hide, but I still need a Secret Keeper.” I looked directly at her. “Someone that isn't a friend, but who would be willing to take the chance no connection could be made between me and them.”
“Are you hinting that I am not your first choice?”
“I am promising that at most you would be my last choice. I will not take any chance that anyone would think for a moment that you held any of my secrets.” She started to speak. “I know you would never give it up, and that would be the worst thing I could think of.”
She says nothing. What can she say? We both know I am right about the outcome, even if I am wrong about her ability to resist.
I looked at the wand in my hand, and try to guess how many tiny points had been formed by the cross hatching.
Minerva says something so quietly I can't make it out.
“Did you say something?” She speaks again, only slightly louder than before. This time I realize what she has said, I know the name, of course, and hesitate. “Do you really think she would? For me? The last time I saw her when I was being released from here. She was in reception with the baby in her arms, asking about the two of them.”
“Ask, her. She could say no, but I doubt she will.” I can hear in her voice that she is tired again, but I cannot tell if present realities or too many memories are the cause. I get up to leave and let her get some necessary and deserved sleep.
“Rest now, I'll be back again tomorrow evening, earlier.” I start to leave, then, giving in to the impulse, I bend over and kiss her forehead. “I would walk over broken glass for you.” Minerva manages a slight blush.
“Silly girl, go home with you.” And home I go.
That is I start home, but I have a stop to make on the way. An old house long owned by an old family of “pure” blood. I stand in the shadows for a few minutes, making sure there is no one keeping watch on the house. I make my way to the door and knock. After a short wait an older woman with a no nonsense expression opens the door. I notice her wand is in her hand.
“Madame Longbottom? My name is Jordan Denbeigh. A mutual acquaintance suggested I speak with you.”