The day of the Quidditch final between Gryffindor and Slytherin dawned bright and early, and the nervous excitement could be felt by all in the crisp summer air. As she bent down to lace up her boots, Minerva felt an anxious flutter of nerves in the pit of her stomach. Silently scolding herself for this most uncharacteristic behaviour, she straightened up and surveyed her team with a rather forced smile.

“Well, this is it,” she said seriously, looking round at them all with a determined glint in her eye. “You all want to beat those smug little Slytherins quite as much as I do. Most of us are leaving at the end of this year, this is our last chance.” Her eyes fell on the only exception; a rather shy sixth year, Mafalda, who played Seeker. “Mafalda, just you remember what I told you at training last night; stay high above the action so you have a clear view. Dirk, Amelia,” she indicated the other two Chasers, “If we stick to the strategies we discussed yesterday, we’ll be fine!” She looked at the Keeper, who was fidgeting anxiously with his gloves, “Prewett, you’re a brilliant Keeper, don’t be so nervous, you’ll be brilliant! And you two, Jordan and Brown!” she jerked her head at the Beaters, “just pelt those Bludgers as hard as you can towards the Slytherins. A few broken noses are always helpful,” she added with a small smile.

Fastening her scarlet Quidditch robes around her shoulders, Minerva felt an unexpected rush of affection towards the team, even Dirk Cresswell, who had initially been jealous that she’d received the captaincy over him. Of course that had all been months ago, and Minerva would have liked to think that she and Dirk were actually quite good friends now.

Six pairs of eyes stared at her, each with a look of grim determination identical to her own. “We deserve to win this,” she told them quietly, “we’re easily the better team. Just play like you all did in practice yesterday and that Cup will be ours!” As the team nodded enthusiastically and picked up their broomsticks, she could not help adding with a grin, “Go, go Gryffindor!”

The team repeated this in a loud echo, yelling and waving broomsticks and Beater’s clubs in the air as they walked out onto the pitch where their emerald-clad opponents stood waiting.

“Good luck, Captain,” Dirk whispered to Minerva with a fleeting smile.

She smiled back, before striding forwards the shake the hand of the Slytherin Captain, as she was instructed. They were a sullen lot, the Slytherins, and there were no female players on the team. Still, Minerva held her head high, though she was still a good six inches shorter than the other captain, and shook his hand. Ignoring the fact it felt like he was trying to break her fingers in his vice-like grip, she smiled politely at him, and received a cold sneer in return. She cast this impatiently from her mind as she mounted her broom; they’d see who was laughing when Gryffindor won the Cup.

As the shrill whistle sounded, the fourteen players rose into the air to the deafening cheers of the rest of the school. Speeding forwards on her faithful Silver Arrow broom, Minerva caught up the Quaffle at once and passed it over the head of a Slytherin Chaser to Dirk, who was positioned exactly where he should have been.

“That’s McGonagall of Gryffindor passing to Cresswell,” rang out a familiar voice through the magically magnified megaphone. Without even having to look over, Minerva knew that it was Pomona, a Hufflepuff girl whom she was friendly with. “He passes to Bones, who passes to…And it’s intercepted by Slytherin Captain, Yaxley, who heads for the Gryffindor goals…but it’s saved by Keeper, Prewett!”

There came a loud cheer from the scarlet supporters while the Slytherin Chaser glared down at them. Minerva frowned slightly as the Quaffle was released again. Prewett was an excellent Keeper when he wanted to be, there was no doubt about that, but she didn’t want the Slytherins to come so close to scoring again. Her team would have to work harder!

Minerva urged her broomstick to fly higher, faster, onwards and upwards. Intercepting a fumbled pass by a Slytherin fourth year, she sped towards the goals, the scarlet Quaffle tight under her arm. With the eyes of the entire school upon her, she aimed for the left goal and threw the Quaffle as hard as she could. It soared straight past the Keeper’s outstretched fingers to create the first goal of the match. Loud cheering broke out from the Gryffindor supporters, their cries of “Go, go Gryffindor!” mingled with the loud sighs and snide comments from their rivals.

“Brilliant goal by McGonagall!” cried Pomona, who could not help being biased towards her friends at times, despite trying to be fair to everyone. “That puts Gryffindor in the lead with ten points to Slytherin’s zero! And play resumes! Cresswell has the Quaffle, dodges a Bludger and passes to…Bones! She’s heading for the goals, passes to McGonagall, narrowly missing another Bludger there, passes to Cresswell, to Bones, to Cr- Oh! Yaxley intercepts and passes to Clearwater. Going towards the goals…and he’s dropped the Quaffle after a well-aimed Bludger by Gryffindor Beater, Jordan!”

And so the game continued. Minerva never let the Quaffle leave her sight. She darted after it, weaving in and out of the other players, doing her best to snatch the ball up whenever it left the other players’ fingertips. To her delight, Dirk and Amelia had scored a goal apiece, and she herself had managed to put the Quaffle through the golden hoop another two times, extending Gryffindor’s lead. However, much to her disgust, the Slytherins had managed to break through their ranks and were now only behind by a few points.

Now would be an excellent time for Mafalda to catch the Snitch, Minerva though to herself, before Slytherin could completely catch up. True, they hadn’t been playing for that long, but that was no matter. In their last training session, the young Seeker had caught the tiny struggling ball in less than five minutes. Still, Minerva mused, as she intercepted another pass and swiftly threw it to Amelia, if the other Seeker managed to catch the Snitch, Gryffindor would want to have already scores as possible. And with that thought wedged firmly in her mind, she threw herself into the game with increased fervour, if that was possible.

“HOPKIRK OF GRYFFINDOR HAS SEEN THE SNITCH!” Pomona suddenly cried, her voice ringing throughout the pitch, catching the attention of every player and every spectator in the stands. “She’s pulled into a dive in its pursuit, but her opponent is behind her, and is rapidly catching up!”

Minerva wanted to look round and see what Pomona was describing. She had taken possession of the Quaffle yet again but she couldn’t concentrate. How could she? How could she throw of all her energy into scoring a measly ten points whenever her Seeker was about to score a hundred and fifty, and bring them all to victory? Minerva wanted to see the moment when her team won the final match of the season; she wanted to witness Mafalda’s fingers closing round the minuscule golden ball, she wanted to hear the crowd erupt into tumultuous applause.

So for the first time all game, maybe even in her entire time as a Quidditch player, Minerva took her eyes off the rest of the game. As the crowd drew its collective breath, Minerva turned her eyes towards the fierce struggle between the two Seekers for the Snitch.

Mafalda stretched out one arm, gripping her broom tightly with her free hand, a look of utmost concentration on her face. Hardly aware of what she was doing, Minerva crossed her fingers; a childish, instinctive gesture to will her Seeker on, to give her good luck. So intent was she upon this action; so utterly focused on watching the Seekers battle that she completely missed the rest of the game. She did not see the Slytherin Beater slam his club into a Bludger at the other end of the pitch. She did not hear Amelia’s horrified scream or Dirk’s yell of warning; they were lost to the clamour of the crowd. As Mafalda edged forwards towards the struggling Snitch, the Slytherin Seeker falling slightly behind, Minerva finally heard it.

The reedy, high-pitched noise of a Bludger flying through the still air at top speed. And what was even more discomfiting was the absence of the reassuring thud of a Beater’s club batting the Bludger away.

Reluctantly tearing her eyes away from the Seekers, she turned round just at the right moment to see the Bludger speeding towards her. She tried to move, attempted to force her broom upwards, downwards, anywhere that would take her out of the Bludger’s path. But she found she couldn’t move. It seemed she had frozen in midair; simply frozen and all she could do was watch as the Bludger slammed into her side.

Excruciating pain flooded her body. Furiously blinking back the sudden tears that had sprung to her eyes, she clutched her injured side while grabbing at her broom handle with her free hand. She had a fleeting thought that she should try and get safely to the ground when the second Bludger came out of nowhere. She was dimly aware of something extremely hard ploughing into the side of her head. From somewhere in the murky depths of her foggy brain, she felt her grip on her Silver Arrow slacken and before she could react in any way, she was falling, falling, falling...

Their voices were growing louder, though their words were indistinct, muffled somehow as though they were speaking from the opposite end of a very long tunnel. Their unceasing buzzing filled her ears, their mindless chatter increasing in volume until she could take it no longer. She tried to tell them to stop, to go away and leave her in peace, but to her surprise, she found she couldn’t move. She settled for simply opening her eyes to give them a threatening stare, but the scene that unfolded rendered her incapable of doing anything more than blinking rather bemusedly.

She appeared to be lying in some sort of bed; the stiff white blankets were tucked too firmly round her for her to be able to move. She tried to tell them this, but a sharp pain searing from her side and a throbbing in her head prevented her from doing this.

“Minerva! Minerva, can you hear me?” an unnaturally loud voice said, penetrating through the hazy cloud of chatter.

“Of course I can,” she mumbled and there was a general cry of relief at this statement.

She opened her eyes wider and a familiar face swam into view. Poppy, one of Pomona’s friends was leaning over her, extremely close to her face.

“How are you feeling, Minerva?” she asked, but she continued on without pausing to let Minerva answer. “I’m sure you’re feeling a bit disorientated, but don’t worry, that’s perfectly normal. You suffered a rather serious head trauma during the match which has resulted in concussion, I’m afraid but the matron has you taking a potion to remedy that. You’ve also cracked several ribs; I’d render a guess at three, so the Skele-Grow should take effect within the next few hours and-”

“Miss Pomfrey! Leave that girl alone!” came the booming voice of the Hogwarts matron; an elderly, slightly frightening woman whom Minerva had been fortunate enough to never come into contact with before now.

“But please, Madam Matron, are you sure you’ve treated her head wound correctly? I think a larger dose of that potion could be administered at more regular intervals-”

“Poppy Pomfrey! Leave Miss McGonagall alone! I assure you; she is in good hands and will make a complete recovery. Now please return to your Common Room or I shall have to send for your Head of House! When will you get it into your head that you are not the matron of this school, Poppy Pomfrey?”

Muttering something indistinct under her breath, Poppy shot a fleeting smile at Minerva and whispered before the matron glared at her, “Do try and take more of that potion if you can!”

While the matron prodded and poked at her head that seemed to be encased in layers and layers of thick bandages, Minerva asked the question that had been burning since she woke up.

“What happened?”

“You gave us a right scare there, Captain,” came another familiar voice. It was Dirk and seeing that she was eager to hear the details, he moved closer to her bedside. He was still wearing his Quidditch robes and was holding a broom over his shoulder that Minerva recognised as her own. “I’ve got your Arrow here, don’t worry, nothing happened to it,” he said, gently placing the broomstick on her bed.

“Yes, but what happened with the match?” she asked rather impatiently, wincing slightly as she tried to sit up and was pushed back down again by the matron.

“Well, you got hit with two Bludgers,” Dirk informed her, in what was clearly supposed to be a jaunty voice, but there was no denying the paleness of his face, or the worry in his eyes. “One to the head, and one to the side. Jordan and Brown are distraught, they said they should have stopped them.”

“It wasn’t their fault,” Minerva sighed, as the matron finished whatever she was doing and swept off again. “I shouldn’t have taken my eyes off the game. What a way to end the season, eh? Well, at least we won!”

She was surprised to see his face fall at her words. She had expected a more joyful reaction; a loud yell of “Go, go Gryffindor!” or even a grin at the very least.

“What’s wrong, Dirk?” she asked, and when he showed no signs of answering, se raise her voice slightly, “Tell me!”

“Minerva, we, we didn’t win,” he admitted finally, placing his head in his hands.

“That’s not funny, Dirk,” Minerva said, stony-faced. “Come on, I know we won! I turned round when Mafalda was about to catch the Snitch just before I got hit!”

“I’m not joking, I wish I was,” he replied sadly. “Mafalda was about to catch the Snitch, well from what I could see anyway. But then, you got hit, and she heard us yelling so she turned round, and...and the Slytherin Seeker got the Snitch.”

Disappointment washed over Minerva. Making no attempt to brush away the tears that had sprung to her eyes, she lay back on her pillows. They had lost. The final match of the season, of her captaincy, against Slytherin no less, and they had lost. And it was her fault. If she had simply kept focused on what it was she was meant to be doing, then none of this would have happened. She wouldn’t be in the Hospital Wing for a start, and they’d all be celebrating in the Gryffindor Common Room. The rest of the house would be cheering and she’d be beaming with pride.

“Mafalda’s been inconsolable,” Dirk said simply, tactfully ignoring the sparkling tear tracks on Minerva’s cheeks. “She kept crying that it was all her fault and then took herself off to the dormitory.”

“I don’t blame her,” she replied hoarsely, wishing Dirk would look away so she could wipe her eyes on the bed sheet.

“And I don’t blame you,” Dirk said, bravely attempting a smile. “You’re still the best Captain we could have asked for. Even better than yours truly!”

She found herself unable to reply to this, and was grateful when the matron bustled back, insisting that Dirk leave so she could get some rest.

“Get well soon, Minerva,” he said, covering her hand with his for one brief moment before standing up and leaving.

“Time for some more potion I’m afraid, Miss McGonagall,” the matron said, pouring a large measure of a foul smelling green potion into a glass and handing it to Minerva. “Concussion and three cracked ribs won’t mend themselves.”

Feeling it would be futile to argue; Minerva accepted the potion and drank it. As the healing liquid spread quickly to her injuries, soothing them slightly, a thought occurred to Minerva. She wasn’t just suffering from a bump to the head and a few cracked ribs; an insatiable longing burned inside her. She longed to see Slytherin beaten on the Quidditch pitch, and knew she would carry this yearning with her for the rest of her days.

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