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"I don't know if magic will do it."

Minerva looks up, aware that she's speaking but barely cognisant of the words. "What spell do you need?"

Of course her mind's on need. They've all been living inside desperate need for the last thirty-six hours of hell. No one's slept; adrenaline and grief carrying them through the grey morning and the day that followed. It's a day of death, even with the sun high in the sky. Bodies blend together, all of them loved by someone, even the Death Eaters.

Minerva called for a truce, for all to collect their dead for burial. She wants no more masks; no more lies. The families of the dead Death Eaters weep, so do the families of the brave defenders. Xiomara wants to remember all the traitors, etch their faces into her mind and remember what they did. She can't. She's seen so many dead by sunset that there are no traitors, only the dead and the grieving, for no one has escaped. She only has the strength left to hate Voldemort and he can take all of it. It's his fault.

One man wrought all of this.

"Don't need anything," Xiomara says, sitting down on the rock that was once a step or even a statue, beside her. "I was thinking aloud."

"Oh." Minerva's fingers are still wrapped tight around her wand, as if someone, something is bound to appear at any moment, fangs bared.

It's the Great War all over again, but this time it was their evil. No Muggle leaders rattling their sabres did this. Voldemort was one of their own; a wizard twisted more fiendishly than a dementor.

"I taught him to fly you know, Tom Riddle."

Minerva knows, but Xiomara's not telling her the story so she'll listen to the words. She's speaking because talking is what makes them human. They have to talk, keep talking, find stories that remind them they are more than silent, suffering warriors facing another long night.

"Never had a knack for it. I should have suspected him then. I never trust anyone who can't handle their own broom."

Minerva turns her head, her eyelids moving just enough to not be still. Whether she's holding them open or wishing they could shut, Xiomara can't tell so she kisses Minerva's dusty forehead. Stone and blood, like all of them.

"Is that a crack at my flying abilities?"

"Darling, you've always been a better cat than a canary."

"We can't all swoop out of the sky like hippogriffs." Minerva brushes her hands across her skirt, smoothing the tartan that will never come clean. She's making the effort, which is a small victory. She has enough dignity left to raise her hackles at a mock insult.

Minerva straightens where she sits, back to herself. "Now, to which spell were you referring? I know we're all a bit drained but I'm sure magic can rise to the task."

"If you try to save these robes, I'll fly off with them to the mountains and burn them myself." Xiomara stares down at the filth covering her own robes for emphasis. Aside from the all too recognisable human blood, there's ichor, vampire blood, the spittle of a werewolf, snot of a troll, dust, dirt, ash: the more she looks, the more hideous things her brain identifies as coating her clothing. Minerva's is worse.

"They are wretched, aren't they?"

"Wretched beyond measure. If I were facing a boggart, he'd turn into my own robes and chase me around the room."

Minerva stares at her, eyebrows elegantly raised in surprise. It takes time for that image to sink in and slowly, Minerva's mouth twitches. She fights it but this last battle has sapped even her indomitable strength. "Where do you think you'd find a boggart?"

"I imagine he'd find me. I am in great need of something to fear now because there's nothing left here for me to be afraid of, except, perhaps, what my robes are going to turn into if I don't burn them before the full moon."

"He'd find you." Minerva repeats, resting her hand on her chest. "Course he would, boggarts are terribly intelligent creatures."

"Regular brass tacks they are, boggarts."

Minerva cracks, giggling like she did decades ago the first time she saw an animagus. Xiomara remembers. No one studied as hard as Minerva did to earn those tabby stripes.

"Wonderfully witty."

"Cunningly clever."

"Amazingly astute."

"Perfectly perspicacious."

Xiomara holds her laughter better. She's had all those years of practice, watching first years attempt to stay on their brooms. Minerva laughs until her chest shakes and tears run down her face.

She sobbed after the last wizarding war, at the very end, when all the dead had been honoured. They sat on the roof of the great hall together, feet over the edge, and cried for everyone they'd lost.

This war isn't any easier to finish. There's more dead and they're even younger this time. Boggarts and alliteration aside, their home lies in ruins, their people bleed and mourn. Hogwarts must be rebuilt. The Wizarding world must be dragged from the dust and built anew.

Xiomara digs into her shirt, somewhere, beneath all the robes she has a handkerchief, perhaps it's not dirty. It's rumpled when she pulls it out, but it's only damp with sweat, not blood. That counts as pristine on a day like today.

She hands it over and Minerva pats her eyes. "I don't even know if my quarters survived."

"Mine didn't." Xiomara lifts a stone and levitates it off her palm, letting it hang in the there. "I was hoping yours had so I'd have a bed."

Minerva grabs her chin, turning her face to hers and kisses her that fierce way of hers. They are constant, even now in the dirt. Whatever gods kept Mineva with her have all of her gratitude. "Even if we have to sleep in garden, you'll have a bed with me."

"How long has it been since we've slept out on the grounds?" Xiomara whispers when their lips part.

Minerva's lips twist upwards, scandalised and amused. "I think it was the last midsummer festival we had before Voldemort started this nonsense."

Years ago, between the second war and after the first. May there never be a third.

"I bet I could conjure us up a tent with a view of the sky."

"If I keep my eyes open long enough to look."

"Maybe you'll sleep better knowing the stars are still up there, free from tyranny once more."

They're all free and that's what she tastes when Minerva kisses her again, that giddy abandon that comes with freedom. Xiomara takes her hand, dragging them both to their feet. On their own, they'd both waver in their dusty boots, but together, they hang on.

"What am I going to sleep in, without my nightgown?"

Xiomara can't answer that, not even with her incredible control. She bits her lip then coughs to keep from laughing. "I have a few ideas."


Xiomara stops them in the empty hall, holding her close. "If the answer to death isn't the celebration of life, we're not living. You'll sleep naked and hold me close and tomorrow, we'll pick up stones and magic them back into place. We'll keep at it until Hogwarts is home again and you, Headmistress, will have a very proud Flying Instructor."

Minerva traces her lips, fresh tears in her eyes. "Headmistress."

"Aye, my love."

Wrinkling her nose at the attempt to mimic her accent, Minerva leans forward to kiss her again. "You're always proud of me."

"I believe that's part and parcel of loving you."

Wiping dust from her cheek, Minerva nods. "We'll need much of that to put the school back together."

"How fine it is that we have so much to give then, isn't it, kitten?"

Minerva pulls herself to her full height and glares for at least a heartbeat until she sighs. "Not in front of--"

"Anyone, ever, or I'll be mysteriously transfigured permanently into a newt, got it." Xiomara tugs her forward again. "Come on, kit--"