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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.

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