Chapter 1: May
Minerva didn’t remember who had used smoke, but smoke hung in the air in the wake of the battle. Her body was bruised and beaten, her castle in ruins. Minerva looked around and took account of who still lived - Flitwick, Sprout, and Slughorn walking amongst the students, attempting to offer comfort. The Weasley family gathering around each other, Harry Potter and Hermione Granger among them. Shacklebolt and what was left of his aurors levitating in a stunned Fenrir Grayback, dragging Death Eaters out in shackles.
But there was one person - one person Minerva had fought with daggers and fire - who was unaccounted for. Minerva rounded on Kingsley. “Where the hell is Snape?”
Harry Potter turned to face her, his expression unreadable. “Professor McGonagall, there’s something I need to tell you.”
“My last word to him was ‘coward.’”
They had waited until nightfall to hold this vigil. That morning, they had laid to rest Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks; that afternoon, Fred Weasley. The parents of Lavender Brown, Vincent Crabbe, and Colin Creevey had arrived to take their children home, where they would no doubt be buried beside their grandparents and ancestors, far before their time.
And now Minerva, Flitwick, Slughorn, and Sprout stood around the levitating plank on the Hogwart’s grounds, below the astronomy tower, where Dumbledore was buried, where Dumbledore had fallen less than a year earlier and destroyed Minerva’s whole world. Before them lay their colleague, the last victim left to mourn from what history books would no doubt one day call the Battle of Hogwarts.
“He was the best student I ever had.” Slughorn’s chin wobbled and he wrenched his big hands together. “I should have told him.” He paused and drew a long, shaky breath. “I believed the worst too, Minerva.”
“He didn’t tell any of us,” Sprout said, playing the role of the comforter as she always did, though her eyes were shining with the same mixture of sadness and guilt. “If it weren’t for Harry…”
“If it weren’t for Harry,” Minerva picked up where she had left off. “We would have cast incendio on his body like the aurors did with you-know-who.”
Flitwick reached forward, laying his hand over Snape’s, forcing Minerva’s eyes from where they had been looking over the smooth surface of the black lake onto the lifeless form in front of them. In death, he looked every part of what he didn’t in life - small, young, and finally at peace. “We have forgiven you, Severus,” Filius whispered. “Please forgive us.”
Minerva sniffed and wiped at her cheeks. Sprout reached out for her hand. They stood in silence, Flitwick’s floating candles providing a dim, flickering view of the destroyed Hogwarts grounds. The silence stretched until Slughorn spoke. “What should we do for him? Does he have any family?”
“No.” Harry’s story had shown Minerva how little she understood a man she had ostensibly known for nearly three decades. But she had always known that. “At least not any family worth going home to.”
All four paused again at the weight of that statement, then Flitwick looked up at Minerva. “Then what should we do?”
Minerva found herself, not for the first time, glancing at the white tomb as if it would give her answers. But Dumbledore was gone; Dumbledore wouldn’t be providing her with guidance in this situation - or ever again, for that matter. She forced herself to look away from the tomb, and her eyes swept across the black lake.
She stepped forward, the other three following her silently. When they reached the edge of the lake, Minerva turned and drew the pallet toward her with a wordless spell. She met the eyes of Sprout, then Flitwick, then Slughorn. They all raised one arm, bringing the pallet to levitate out over the lake.
Minerva knew this moment called for her to speak and searched for the right thing to say, the right memorialization for her fallen colleague and friend. But she couldn’t imagine what Snape would want - did he have a tradition? A favorite reading? Other than potions - and now, Lily Potter - Minerva didn’t know of anything that he loved.
Instead, as she spoke, Minerva found the words coming from somewhere deep in her memory, her father’s words spoken at a burial when she was just a young girl. “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our lord Jesus Christ, we commend to almighty God our brother Severus Snape, and we commit his body to the deep. Blessed are the dead who die in the lord, says the spirit. They rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”
“Amen,” Slughorn muttered. Together, they lowered their hands, and committed Severus Snape to the deep.
Minerva held a cup of tea in one hand, her wand in the other. The castle was empty now - empty but for the detritus strewn everywhere she looked - stone, wood, suits of armor, artwork - all of the trappings that had made Hogwarts...Hogwarts. It was Friday morning and though Minerva hadn’t slept in days, she felt more like she hadn’t slept in weeks. The tea and pepper-up potion weren’t nearly doing their job.
Their dead had been buried and their students sent home. The bodies of the fallen Death Eaters had been burned and the remaining Death Eaters carted off to Azkaban. The sight of Amycus Carrow bound by an immobilus charm, dragged through the castle and sent by portkey to prison was one that Minerva knew she would remember fondly for the rest of her life.
But with just herself and the other teachers remaining, the castle felt more than damaged. It felt ruined, empty.
“Reparo.” Minerva heard Flitwick’s small voice in the Great Hall from where she stood near the Grand Staircase. “Duro. Meteolojinx.” He must be out of options if he was using that one. She stood and listened as his voice dropped off, replaced by the sounds of his wand swishing back and forth as he searched for a wordless spell.
“Well, I’m not seeing any evidence of lingering dark magic.” Kingsley Shacklebolt’s deep voice pulled Minerva’s attention to the bottom of the staircase, where he was standing with another auror, looking as tired as everyone else.
Minerva descended the staircase slowly, tucking her wand into her sleeve to grip what was left of the banister. Her knee – the one with the old Quidditch injury - protested and she attempted a nonverbal “Episkey,” which only sort-of worked.
“Then why haven’t we been able to repair anything in this castle?” She asked, her voice sounding more pointed than she had intended.
Kingsley remained unfazed. “We’re not entirely sure.” He turned to the auror next to him. “Minerva, this is Auror Quintin.”
“Yes, I know.” Minerva would recognize almost any student who had attended Hogwarts over the last forty-two years, which meant she knew nearly everyone at the Ministry of Magic. But she would certainly remember former Head Girls and beaters on one of the legendary Slytherin Quidditch teams. “Thank you for your help.”
“Of course, Professor McGonagall.”
Kingsley turned toward his colleague. “The Ministry needs me to process the Death Eaters. I’m going to leave Auror Quintin here with you.” He turned heel and disappeared, niceties lost in the exhaustion.
Minerva walked slowly toward the heavy wooden doors, the doors she had locked against Sirius Black, had attempted to lock against the Death Eaters. They were covered in the marks of dozens of spells, their beautiful craftsmanship marred, perhaps permanently. “This castle is over a thousand years old, Calliope.” Though she addressed her former student, Minerva was really talking to herself. “These doors must have seen other battles.”
“That’s probably true, Professor.” Calliope Quintin maintained her distance, politely staring straight ahead at the doors before eventually turning to take in the entire entrance hall. “And the suits of armor?”
“What about the suits of armor?”
“How old are they?”
“Thirteenth Century, I believe.” Minerva looked, finally, at what remained of the suits of armor littering the floor.
“And has anyone else ever used that spell?”
Calliope was obviously choosing her words carefully. “Piertotum Locomotor. I didn’t see it of course, Professor. But they say you brought the castle to life.”
Minerva sighed. The suits of armor had defended their school, the stonework had come to life to protect them. And now it appeared damaged beyond repair.
The wreckage wasn’t the only thing that was different. Minerva discovered, after a weekend spent almost entirely asleep, that the stairway that normally took her from her private chambers to the Great Hall had moved so that she had to walk entirely out of the way, past Pomona Sprout’s chambers, if she was going to attempt to find her way to the kitchens.
She knocked on the door then stood leaning against it, waiting for Pomona to scramble around her chambers looking for something as if she had not lived there for over fifty years. “Give me five, Filius,” she called through the door.
“It’s not Filius.”
The door jerked open. “Oh, it’s you.” Pomona was only about half-dressed, and she grabbed an overcoat off of a hook near the door. “Joining us for breakfast?”
“The staircase sent me this way.”
“They have been funny lately. I wonder what -”
She was cut off as Flitwick approached, looking a little out of breath. “I’m sorry,” he said. “The staircase to Ravenclaw Tower…”
“Moved,” Minerva finished for him as they made their way to the kitchens. “You’re not the only one.”
“What’s doing that?” Sprout asked, opening the door to the kitchens for the other two.
“The aurors aren’t sure.” Minerva groaned as she sat down at one of the rough wooden tables. Apparently, a whole weekend sleeping didn’t make up for the toll the battle had taken on her body.
“I feel the same.” Slughorn appeared in the doorway and joined them at the table as one of the house elves placed a pot of coffee and bowl of porridge on the table. “Thank you, Winky.”
“About the staircases?” Flitwick asked, ladling himself some of the porridge.
“No, about getting old.”
“Who’s getting old?” Minerva asked, though she wasn’t sure if she could get up from the table if she wanted to.
“All four of us.”
“Speak for yourself.” Flitwick, easily the oldest among them, glared out over his spectacles.
Sprout and Slughorn laughed. Minerva forced a smile. Normally, she would have made a retort aimed at the much-older Dumbledore or the much-younger Snape, but nothing was normal anymore. Lost in that thought, the waves of conversation washed over her, though she didn’t register any words, until Sprout’s voice cut through her reminiscences. “Right, Minerva? … Minerva?”
Minerva’s hand twitched, causing coffee to spill out over the side of her mug. Slughorn reached into his pocket and produced a handkerchief, but Minerva vanished the spilled coffee with a wave of her hand. “I’m sorry, Pomona. What were you saying?”
“That the aurors don’t know why we can’t repair the castle.”
Flitwick blew a stream of air over his coffee, and steam momentarily obscured his face. “Then what are we going to do?”
Minerva nodded, partaking in the general feeling of malaise, until she realized that Sprout, Flitwick, and Slughorn had all turned their eyes toward her. “What?” she snapped, suddenly self-conscious.
“What?” Slughorn echoed.
“Why are you looking at me?”
“Get used to it, Minerva,” Sprout said. Minerva watched as she ladled three more scoops of sugar into her porridge. “This is your party now.”
Your party. Sprout likely didn’t even realized she had used one of Dumbledore’s lines - they probably all did occasionally. After all, many of them had been listening to Dumbledore since they were eleven years old. “Ms. McGonagall,” she heard the voice from somewhere deep in her memory. “It’s your party now.” Dumbledore had held his wand up and watched her transform for the first time.
She fought a sudden urge to transform now, to turn into a cat and hightail it out of there. “My party now,” she muttered. There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when Minerva would have been overjoyed to become the Headmistress of Hogwarts. But that was in a world where Dumbledore had retired to write that treatise on transfiguration he was always talking about, living in a cottage somewhere she could visit and seek his advice. Not a world where Dumbledore had fallen off the Astronomy Tower after conspiring to commit his own murder. “That’s not exactly how it works, Pomona,” she said. “The Board of Governors…”
“What Board of Governors?” Flitwick asked. “They’re all dead, in hiding, or in Azkaban.”
“Well, then the staff,” Minerva protested weakly. She wasn’t sure what was making her do it, making her deny a position, a responsibility, a duty that nearly everyone would agree was rightfully hers.
“Staff vote,” Sprout said, banging her mug on the table. “Hufflepuff in favor.”
“Ravenclaw in favor,” Flitwick said.
“Slytherin in favor.” Slughorn raised his mug, and Sprout and Flitwick brought theirs up in a toast.
Minerva took a deep breath, sighed, then raised her own mug to meet the other three, clinking them together. “So,” she said. “Which one of you is going to be my deputy?”
“Not a chance, Minerva,” Flitwick said for about the hundredth time.
“Come on, Flitwick.”
Flitwick walked ahead of her, crouching to examine the stones littering the grounds near the greenhouse. He touched the stone with his wand, which did nothing, then muttered under his breath, which still did nothing. “Get Pomona to do it.”
Minerva sighed, turning her attention to the shattered glass surrounding the greenhouse. “You think I haven’t tried that? She doesn’t want to, and we both know she spends more time on Head of House duties than both of us combined.”
“Hufflepuff,” Flitwick muttered, straightening back up. He put his hands on his hips and surveyed the grounds. Minerva’s gaze followed his, scanning for something - anything - that would give her a clue how to proceed. “Let me tell you something, Minerva. When I started teaching here in 1945…” Minerva knew where this was going, but still, she stood beside Filius and let him go on. “When I started here in 1945, I never had the ambition to become Headmaster or Deputy Headmaster. There’s a reason you became Deputy Headmistress when there were professors here who were much older and had been here much longer than you. There are different skills required for leadership than for teaching - skills I do not have.”
“But you’re head of Ravenclaw,” Minerva protested.
“Yes.” Filius sighed. “But only because at the time, there was no one else on staff from Ravenclaw….which is weird if you think about it.”
Minerva looked back at him and allowed herself to smile when he wasn’t looking. She had found her angle. “So you stepped up when Hogwarts needed you. Is that what you’re telling me?”
Minerva was rewarded with the same glare she had received as a first year charms student, when the cat she had snuck into class knocked over a stack of books that Flitwick was standing on. “A year,” he said. “One year. And in that year, you’d better find someone else more suitable.” He paused and shook his head, then they both started laughing. “Young lady,” he added as if to acknowledge the tone he had taken. It felt strange to laugh, even wrong. Hard as she tried, Minerva couldn’t think of a time she had laughed after Dumbledore was gone. The thought made her somber mood return.
Minerva had grown accustomed, over the last forty-two years at Hogwarts, to staff meetings held in a cozy drawing room, at a glossy wooden table surrounded by plush armchairs while a fire crackled in the stone hearth. But when she had entered that room the previous night, had seen the dust piled up on the chair that had always been hers, directly to the right of the one that had always been Dumbledore’s and directly across from the one that had been Snape’s, Minerva had known she couldn’t handle the thought of a meeting in that room. She had shut the door immediately, not even bothering with the dust.
Instead, the staff sat on benches on either side of the Hufflepuff table in what was left of the Great Hall. The ceiling was no longer reflecting the sky, the stone was chipped - and in some cases, blasted - away, and the stained glass windows were blown out, letting damp air into the room. But aside from a few scars, the table itself seemed in good shape.
As Minerva glanced around to check that everyone had arrived, she realized that they were seated in the same order they always were - herself, Sprout, Hooch, Babbling, Flitwick, and Vector in a row on one side; Filch, Pomfrey, Hagrid, Trelawny, Sinistra, and Slughorn on the other. Binns, as usual, floated somewhere behind her, making her feel vaguely eerie.
Ticking everyone off, Minerva wondered if Sybil Trelawney would make her usual comment that when thirteen gather at a table, the first to rise is the first to die. The fact that she didn’t either meant that she felt it was insensitive in light of the circumstances or that Binns being dead already negated the whole thing.
She was about to smirk at the thought when she realized all eyes were on her. Clearing her throat, she started. “Thank you all for being here. Before I let you leave for the summer, which you all must be eager to do -” Something caught in her throat and Minerva wondered, again, if she was doing the right thing by holding this meeting. “We wanted to talk about next year. Filius has graciously agreed to act as Deputy Headmaster.” Filius cleared his throat. “Interim Deputy Headmaster,” she corrected. “While I would not blame any of you - truly - if you choose not to return, I do need to know that now.”
There was a moment of silence while MInerva hoped that no one would take advantage of the offer. Then the responses started.
“I’m in.” Sprout.
“You got it, Professor.” Hagrid.
“Of course.” Slughorn.
“Yes - and Firenze told me to say the same for him.” Trelawney.
“I’ll be here.” Vector.
“Me too.” Sinistra.
“Count me in.” Pomfrey.
After a long pause, everyone said, “Binns!” Minerva turned around to see Binns jolt in the air.
“What?” he said.
Minerva tried to roll her eyes as discreetly as possible, then turned back to the table. Binns would be back. There was no way she was getting rid of him that easily. “While you’re all away, Filius and I will work on finding teachers for Muggle Studies and Defense Against the Dark Arts.”
“What about you?” Babbling asked.
“Who’s going to teach transfiguration?”
“Well, I am.” She had truly never considered an alternative.
“Professor McGonagall,” Sprout said. Minerva knew Sprout was addressing her by title for the benefit of everyone else, though she took the same tone she used to when they were students at Hogwarts, when Pomona had acted as Minerva’s self-appointed elder sister. “You cannot teach transfiguration and run Hogwarts. It’s too much. Especially now.”
“I’ll figure it out.”
“At the very least,” Sprout said, leaning forward, “You have to find a replacement Head of Gryffindor.”
“She’s right,” Flitwick said. “It wouldn’t seem fair, otherwise.”
Minerva nodded in acknowledgment. “I will see you all in August.”
The first time Minerva had stood in front of this Griffin, she had been a newly appointed professor of Transfiguration - twenty-one years old and barely out of Hogwarts herself. She stood, gripping a stack of paperwork that needed Dumbledore’s signature. Though Dumbledore had been her mentor, had guided her through the process to become an animagus, had recruited her to teach Transfiguration when he stepped into the Headmaster’s position, she had never imagined that she would one day work for him.
Standing in front of the entrance to the Headmaster’s office, Minerva stared, confused, at the Griffin - that had not been a feature when she was a student, when Armando Dippet was the Headmaster. She didn’t know what to do; she assumed there was a password but had no idea what it was.
She was only left to wonder for a few moments, until the Griffin spun, revealing a spiral staircase. “Headmaster,” Minerva said. “I see you’ve redecorated.”
“I thought this door could use a Griffin,” Dumbledore replied, looking at her expectantly. When she didn’t respond, he continued, “So it’s a Griffin-Door.” Minerva continued to stare at him. “Get it?”
Dumbledore laughed. “Well, come up, come up. The password is ‘Treacle Tart.’”
Minerva stood in front of the Griffin again, planning to enter the office for the first time since Dumbledore had been gone. By tradition, this should be her office now, though Minerva hadn’t decided whether she wanted to use it. She could always just keep her office on the first floor - it wasn’t like Hogwarts ever ran out of space, after all.
But in any case, she would need to access all of the records housed in the Headmaster’s office if she wanted to keep any sense of continuity among her staff. Harry Potter had accessed this office during the battle - he had told her of his breaking in to use the pensieve. Minerva took a deep breath. “Dumbledore,” she said, calling out the password Harry had used, bracing herself for the task of entering the office. Nothing happened - the Griffin didn’t turn, the stairs didn’t groan with the burden of rotating. She tried it again. And again. Still nothing.
Minerva turned away from the Griffin with a mixture of anxiety and relief.
“It looks like we have an inventory of the damage,” Kingsley said, surveying the front hall again. He looked over at Auror Quintin, who was taking notes on a sheaf of parchment.
“I’m sure we’re not the first item on your priority list,” Minerva said. “Don’t you have some Death Eaters to round up?”
Kingsley snorted. “We’re working on that to be sure. But the school is important to everyone. We only have until September 1st, and children are coming back here. I think everyone would feel better if the castle was in good repair.”
Minerva understood that. Even from Kingsley’s position - as Chief Auror, and if Minerva’s hunches were correct, as a Minister of Magic candidate - she understood the importance of Hogwarts as a symbol in their world. After all that happened, people would need something to look forward to. But whether opening Hogwarts in even decent repair was a possibility remained to be seen.
“While you’re here,” Minerva said, “Would you mind taking a look at something?”
“Of course,” Kingsley said, following her up the staircases, not saying anything when she took a wrong turn, forgetting for the thousandth time that the pattern of the castle had changed.
Minerva stopped in front of Dumbledore’s - Snape’s - the Headmistress’s office. “We can’t seem to get into the Headmaster’s Office,” she said, indicating the Griffin, which still appeared undamaged.
“Do we know a password?” Quintin asked, examining the Griffin, writing notes on the parchment.
“Harry Potter was able to access it. He said the password was ‘Dumbledore.’”
Both Shacklebolt and Quintin stared at the Griffin as she said it. Once again, it didn’t move. They both tried it themselves with no success.
“Well, shit,” Shacklebolt sighed. “I only have one guess, and I have to admit it’s a long shot.”
“I’ll take it,” Minerva said immediately.
“When did Potter try to access it?”
“Right after he talked to Snape.”
Shacklebolt and Quintin nodded. Somewhere in all of this, they must have heard about the battle from Harry’s perspective. “That may be it,” Shacklebolt said. “Snape may have charmed the Griffin to recognize Harry’s voice. From what Potter told me, he guessed the password - that leaves a lot to chance, especially for Snape. My wager is that if Potter had come up here and groaned, he would have been able to get in.”
“So what do we do?” Minerva asked.
“I think the best - and least destructive - thing to do would be to bring Potter over here.”
Minerva didn’t think she’d ever seen Harry Potter look tired. When she thought of him, she automatically conjured up the sly looks he and Ron Weasley wore when they were up to another scheme. But now, he looked tired. Not sad, really. Just exhausted. He had greeted her only perfunctorily on his way up the stairs, then stood in front of the Griffin blocking the entrance to Dumbledore’s office.
Minerva held her breath and waited, hoping. Hoping for what, she wasn’t sure. Getting into the office was a necessity, of course it was, but then she’d be in it. She’d have to sort through years of Dumbledore’s and Snape’s things and try to decide whether she wanted to establish herself as the owner of the office. The thought itself drained her of the little energy she had.
Harry drew himself up, faced the Griffin, and said “Dumbledore” boldly. Nothing happened. “Open,” he tried. Still nothing. He turned to Minerva and shrugged. “I don’t know, Professor.”
“It’s alright, Harry,” she found herself saying. “Thank you for trying.”
Harry let himself out, and Minerva trudged back to her office, wondering. How were they going to get in? She briefly considered and discounted a use of force - a reducto aimed at the Griffin - because she couldn’t bear the thought. The castle had been through enough. There was no need to explode the statue Dumbledore had personally installed.
Back in her office, Minerva tossed some powder into the fireplace and muttered “Auror Quintin’s Office.” After a moment, Calliope Quintin’s face appeared in the flames. “Any luck?” she asked without pretense.
“I’m afraid not. It didn’t work for Potter - either his voice or the password he remembers.”
“Hmm…” Quintin considered for a moment. “The spell was either extremely short-term, or it died with Snape.”
“What’s next, then?” Minerva asked. “What does this mean?”
“Normally, it would mean that we would revert to the earlier password,” Quintin said, confirming what had been in Minerva’s mind. “Do you have any idea what it could be?”
Chapter 2: June
Minerva had always done her best thinking as a cat. The theory was inconclusive, and experiences varied amongst animagi, but for Minerva, existing in her animal form gave her a clarity she could never quite experience as a human. Not to mention, no one thought to bother a cat.
She wandered the Hogwarts grounds, the grass wet with dew beneath her paws. Pieces of stone were strewn over the lawn, along with the remnants of the suits of armor Minerva had animated during the battle. Minerva paused at each one, sniffing it.
For some reason, this mess reminded Minerva of her mother. Isobel Ross, from everything she had heard from the age of eleven, had been a remarkable witch. But Minerva didn’t have those memories - memories of her mother’s experimental charms, her aptitude for healing potions. Instead, the only memories she possessed were of her mother bent double, hair tied back with a rag, scrubbing the kitchen floor by hand. If her cloth had moved a little quicker than normal, if her bucket of soapy water never seemed to run out, her husband, Robert Sr., never noticed.
Minerva had been holding the family cat, a gray tabby that looked much like she did now (minus the spectacles) when her father found out. Minerva had received her Hogwarts letter and her brothers Rob and Malcolm had begun to show their own magical aptitude. It was no longer possible to hide.
From her spot in the hallway, through a crack in the door to her parents’ bedroom, Minerva saw Isobel reach under the bed and pull out a long, narrow box. It was the first wand Minerva ever saw - and certainly the first for her father.
What ensued hadn’t been a row - not really - but it did mark a change in the McGonagall household. Robert Sr. stood dumbfounded, his mouth slack, as she explained, then sputtered a “Since when?” as if Isobel had become a witch that morning.
“Since always,” her mother whispered.
“Minerva? Rob? Malcolm?” Her father asked, the half-spoken question hanging in the air.
Her father hung his head, opened his mouth as if to speak, then walked out of the room, not noticing Minerva crouched in the hall on his way out.
Her mother emerged a moment later, her face streaked with tears. She knelt beside Minerva, patted the cat on the head, and said, “Let’s go to Diagon Alley.”
Thinking back to that time, Minerva understood the sacrifice her mother had made - not only to hide her magical abilities for the sake of her marriage, but to reveal them in order to allow Minerva to board the Hogwarts Express at age eleven.
The night before she left for Hogwarts, August 31st it must have been, her mother was once again knelt on the kitchen floor, scrubbing at the stains left by cooking for an entire family.
Minerva was in the next room, packing her trunk, deciding which of her books were to accompany her to Hogwarts.
Robert Sr. came in through the front door, twisting his hat around in his hands. “I’d like to accompany you to London tomorrow,” he said. Though he was looking at Minerva, Isobel raised her head.
“Really?” Isobel asked.
“She’s my daughter. Of course.” Her father’s speech was stiff, formal. He looked about the room at all of the magical implements - wand, spellbooks, robes - then back at his wife. “What are you doing?” he asked suddenly.
“What do you mean?”
“Why are you washing the floor like that?”
“I do it every week.”
They stared at each other, then Robert cleared his throat. “Isobel, if you think I’ve made you live a life you don’t want…” He broke off, then started again. “I don’t know anything about…” He paused, as if unsure whether he could say the word. “...Magic, but I’m sure you don’t have to clean the floor like that.”
Isobel dropped her rag, hanging her head, and it took a moment for Minerva to realize she was weeping. Robert knelt beside her, crying too. “You could have told me,” he sputtered. “I’m not a tyrant. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, Robert, I’m sorry.” Isobel wiped at her face. “I actually don’t mind it,” she said, indicating the floor. “Over the years, I’ve come to find it...satisfying. We’re not so different, you and I.”
At the time, Minerva had assumed it to be a lie, had assumed that her mother was trying to smooth things over for the sake of Minerva and her brothers, for the sake of peace. But now her view was more complex. She could see what her mother meant, in a way. Isn’t that what they had fought for, after all? To prove that magic wasn’t always might, that wizards weren’t superior to muggles, or even all that different?
And wasn’t that who Minerva had become? Not just the daughter of Isobel and the great-granddaughter of another Minerva, two brilliant witches who excelled in charms, but the daughter of Robert McGonagall, a Presbyterian minister who was able to look past his strict upbringing, to love his three children who were destined for lives so different from his own.
As much as she was a witch, she was a muggle as well. And like her mother, Minerva knew that sometimes the muggle way worked where the magical way didn’t.
Eventually, she realized, they would figure out how to repair the castle to its former glory. But for now, they’d have to use what they had. They’d have to restore it to function the muggle way while they looked for a way to restore it to beauty the wizarding way. Spells didn’t seem to be working, but if there was one thing Hogwarts had, it was the wizarding world’s support.
“We need to take out an ad in the Prophet,” Minerva said without ceremony, bursting into Flitwick’s office.
“Who’s we?” Flitwick answered without looking up from a piece of parchment.
“You. Media relations are a Deputy Headmaster duty.”
“Exactly.” He carefully folded the parchment, then his hands. Then he looked up at her. “They aren’t an interim Deputy Headmaster duty.”
“Are you going to nitpick that all year?” Minerva asked, sure she already knew the answer.
“Probably. You weren’t sorted into Ravenclaw, but I was. I can nitpick even better than I can retain useless information.”
Minerva snorted at the old argument. “I can see why you weren’t brave enough to be sorted into Gryffindor. I can withstand nitpicking with the heart of a lion.”
“Do you ever think about what would have happened?” Flitwick asked. “If your hatstall had gone the other way?”
Minerva didn’t love to be reminded of her hatstall. Even after two wars, she could safely say that the six minutes the hat had rested atop her head, debating whether to place her in Gryffindor or Ravenclaw, had been the longest of her life. And Flitwick’s four-and-a-half minutes of the same decision must have felt similarly. “I’d probably be here. Having this same stupid argument.”
“Too true.” Flitwick sighed. “Fine. I’ll place the ad. What’s it for?”
“Manual labor to clean up the school.” She produced the parchment from a pocket in her robes. “I took the liberty of writing it. Make sure we get good billing. And they’d better not charge us.”
“Damn right.” Flitwick perused the ad for a moment, then said, “You made a grammatical error.”
“You just can’t help yourself, can you?”
“I know you may not want to, Minerva, but it’s a matter of necessity,” Slughorn said.
“Who said anything about not wanting to?” Minerva overdid the retort a little, and it came out nearly rude. While she felt bad about it, she did nothing to correct herself, though if she were honest, Slughorn was right.
“What passwords have you tried?” Slughorn asked as if she hadn’t just snapped at him.
“Everything I could think of. Dumbledore always used a candy, and I’ve tried about every sweet known to magical Britain.” She glared at the Griffin guarding the entrance to the Headmaster’s office. “And Snape…Did you ever hear him use a password?”
“No.” Slughorn considered the Griffin himself. “Though judging by how paranoid he was, my guess is it’s some Latin name for a rare potions ingredient.” He tried a few without success.
“Any luck?” Both Minerva and Slughorn turned toward Aurors Shacklebolt and Quintin, who stepped up beside them, staring at the Griffin.
“None,” Minerva said. “What do you suggest?”
“If the other efforts tell us anything,” Shacklebolt said, “it’s that we’re not going to be able to enter through use of force. Quintin.”
“Try out one of the probes.”
Quintin stepped forward, holding out a thin golden rod, which she slowly moved up and down in front of the Griffin, ear cocked to the side as if it would speak to her. Minerva watched for about five minutes, until Quintin shook her head, replaced the probe into her belt and pulled out something that vaguely resembled a telescope. She looked through that for a while, then said, “Nothing.”
“What do you think, Quintin?” Shacklebolt asked.
“I think we’re going to need a cursebreaker.”
Minerva had expected a good turnout – but the turnout was even better than she expected. Current students and their parents she was anticipating, along with a coalition from Hogsmeade, but it seemed as if every organization in the wizarding world had sent a delegation as a matter of good faith – what was left of the Ministry and the Wizengamot, the combined Quidditch leagues of Britain and Ireland, and the shopkeepers of Diagon Alley. Representatives from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang had even flooed over to help.
One group had headed inside under Filch’s supervision, while Minerva and the other half of the volunteers were outside, being directed by Hagrid. Minerva watched as a group of Quidditch players, led by Cormack McLeod of the Montrose Magpies, lifted fallen debris off the Quidditch pitch. “Better get this cleaned up,” Cormack shouted Minerva’s way. “We’ve got our eye on Ginny Weasley, and we can’t recruit if there’s no matches.”
“Correction.” Across the pitch, Gwenog Jones, captain of the Holyhead Harpies, balanced a large rock against her hip. “We’ve got our eye on Ginny Weasley.”
Minerva smiled as the two captains fell into a banter about their rivalry. Quidditch recruiters were exactly what she needed to imbue the school with hope. And this would be a showdown worth watching – of course, being from Caithness, Minerva had always been partial to the Montrose Magpies, but there were no bridges Gwenog Jones wouldn’t cross to get what she wanted.
“Professor McGonagall.” Minerva turned to see Olympe Maxime walking toward her – nearly unrecognizable without the feathers or sequins, dressed in drab work clothes.
“Madame Maxime,” Minerva answered. “Thank you for being here, and for bringing - ”
Olympe cut her off with a wave of her manicured hand. “It is the least we could do. Hogwarts was our home for a year, and I can only imagine if Beauxbatons…” she shuddered at the thought. “I am sorry for…” she trailed off again, as if unable to settle on any one tragedy. “For everything you have been through these past years.”
“How is the progress out here?” Minerva looked up in time to see Hagrid appear on the pitch, taking stock of the surroundings.
“It’s coming along, Hagrid,” Minerva replied, watching Hagrid’s clear sense of pride at overseeing this operation. She made a note to give him more opportunities like this in the future.
“Thanks, uh…” Hagrid trailed off and Minerva tried to give him a bracing smile. “Thank you for being here, Olympe.”
Hagrid and Olympe looked at one another for a moment, and Minerva knew she was no longer needed. She retreated to the castle to find Filch.
After two back-breaking days of physical labor, Minerva toured the grounds with Filch and Hagrid. The rubble was removed from the Quidditch pitch and the grounds, the broken glass removed from the greenhouse. The stained glass windows had been replaced by clear sheets of glass in the Great Hall, and the house tables had been sanded and put back in place. The classrooms and hallways were clear of debris, and the remnants of the artwork and suits of armor were packed away in a store closet.
The castle was functional, ready to take students in September. But that’s all it was. Without the armor, without all of the portraits, without the stained glass windows, Hogwarts looked like the ruins of a muggle castle that were beginning to be restored. Minerva doubted the first-years arriving in September would be as enchanted by the castle as she had been for the first time, when she had seen its full opulence and splendor. What would they think when they came into the Great Hall and see simple, unadorned stone walls and a ceiling that no longer reflected the night sky?
She kept her sadness to herself – it would be ungrateful not to celebrate all they had accomplished in forty-eight hours. “Thank you, Hagrid, Mr. Filch,” she said instead. “It looks wonderful.”
Hagrid beamed with pride and teared up a little. Filch even cracked what could almost be mistaken for a smile. She would research what needed to come next. She would find out how to restore the castle eventually. But for now, as Dumbledore would say, it was enough to be getting on with.
Hogwarts and its guests celebrated the completion of the clean-up with a simple meal in the Great Hall. Minerva looked around the room, watching Filius Flitwick talking with Fleur Delacour and Olympe Maxime in animated French, Pomona Sprout sitting with a large group of Hufflepuffs of varying ages, and Horace Slughorn embracing Calliope Quintin.
Hearing someone clear their throat, Minerva looked up in time to see Kingsley Shacklebolt sit down next to her.
“Kingsley,” Minerva greeted.
“Professor McGonagall,” Kingsley said. “I wanted to let you know that I’m placing Auror Quintin in charge of security for the school. She’s going to have a team here for all of your major events – first day of school, Quidditch matches, the like. You need anything, you call her. Day or night.”
“Are we worried?” Minerva asked, trying to sound nonchalant. “About an issue?”
“Well,” Kingsley said, tilting his head to the side and gazing just past her. “Let’s put it this way. We’re not not worried.”
Minerva stood, once again, in front of the Griffin guarding the way to the Headmaster’s office.
“Professor McGonagall.” Minerva turned to see Calliope Quintin taking the stairs several at a time, strange objects swinging off her belt as she did. “Still nothing?”
“Still nothing,” she confirmed.
“Hopefully, the cursebreaker will be able to figure it out.” Minerva nodded but didn’t say anything, and Quintin mercifully waited in silence until two men came up the staircase. “Rathburn,” Quintin said forcefully. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Marcus Rathburn just gave one of his nonchalant smiles. “The cursebreaker requested an MLE escort and Shack asked me to do it.”
“God knows you weren’t doing anything else.”
Minerva snorted. “Mr. Rathburn, good to see you.” She hadn’t seen Marcus Rathburn since he had graduated from Hogwarts and didn’t mention to him that her clearest memory of him would always be the image of Calliope Quintin lobbing a well-aimed bludger that splintered his broom, then hitting him with ‘arresto momentum’ as he fell from his keeper’s post, allowing Slytherin to win the championship game. As loathe as she was to admit it, the play had been spectacular.
“Professor McGonagall,” Rathburn said. “You know the cursebreaker, I’m sure.”
“Mr. Weasley,” Minerva said. “How is your family?”
“Getting by.” Bill Weasley, always ready with a charming smile and a story, just nodded, knelt on the floor, and started pulling books and parchment out of a canvas shoulder bag. He looked exhausted, with circles under his eyes and his long hair tied up haphazardly, his trademark fang earring nowhere in sight. “Professor Babbling here?” he mumbled.
“No, I’m afraid she’s left for the summer,” Minerva said.
Bill grunted in response, chose one of his books, and handed it to Rathburn. “Hold this up for me?”
“You don’t want me to just levitate it?”
“No, that’ll interfere,” Bill said with no other explanation. He stayed kneeling on the floor, taking a quill out of his bag and drawing a complex set of runes on the parchment in front of him. After reviewing it for a while, he stood and, glancing between the book, the parchment, and the door, started tracing shapes in the air with his wand. The other three watched him in silence.
This scene reminded Minerva of another, in this very spot. It was after a head of house meeting in Dumbledore’s office. Flitwick and Sprout had remained to speak with Dumbledore further – presumably to ask for additional funding for Charms Club or the Hufflepuff Hug Society or something – and she and Snape rode the moving staircase together in silence.
Snape was still new at that time – in his second or third year, perhaps – and to Minerva he looked painfully young. Though he had to have been twenty-two or twenty-three, near to the age she had started teaching at Hogwarts. She had known him as a student, of course, but he hadn’t made a connection with anyone, students or teachers. Even Slughorn, who should have been a natural kindred spirit, had never taken Snape under his wing. But Dumbledore knew something. Dumbledore trusted him, and that had to be enough.
They reached the door without a word spoken and stepped through it, prepared to go their separate ways. But before either of them could take a step, something streaked through their vision – a flesh-colored blur. Minerva turned her head as Snape shot off a wandless freezing charm. She had heard about his command of wandless, non-verbal magic, but Minerva found it quite ironic that the first time she saw it in action was to stop a naked, streaking student dead in his tracks.
“Mr. Weasley,” Minerva said, carefully averting her eyes. “Just what do you think you’re doing?” She glanced at Snape, who flicked his hand. Bill Weasley tumbled to the floor then scrambled into a seated position, thankfully covering himself.
Bill was in his second year and had already attempted to establish himself as something of a hellion, an effort that only sort of worked. “I was -” Bill sputtered. “I was trying – trying to run past – past Ravenclaw Tower… And the stairs -”
“And you neglected to wear clothes because of the weather? Or is this an ill-advised attempt to impress the Ravenclaw girls?”
Bill didn’t say anything.
Snape was the one who broke the silence. “Twenty points from Gryffindor.”
“Make it thirty,” Minerva said. “Now get back to Gryffindor Tower and don’t subject us to another incident like this. Merlin knows it will take us long enough to recover from this one.”
Bill staggered to his feet, still trying to keep himself covered, and turned to run.
Minerva waved her wand at Bill’s retreating back. It would be improper to allow him to run through the castle naked, but allowing him to run through the castle in a Slytherin Quidditch uniform? Now she wouldn’t have to put herself through supervising a detention – the reception he would receive in Gryffindor Tower would be punishment enough.
As Bill sped up and disappeared from view, Minerva heard a snort. She turned and found Snape with a hand covering his mouth. She had never seen him laugh – not as a student, not as a professor. It took him a moment to regain control of himself, and when he did, he said, “That was masterful.”
“Years of practice,” she said in response. “Now -” she stared at Snape for another minute, finally seeing a small part of his façade finally crumble away. “I could certainly use a drink. Severus?”
“Shit,” Bill said, breaking her connection with the past.
“What?” Minerva dared to ask, dreading the worst - an impenetrable set of wards, a curse that was spreading throughout the castle.
“There aren’t any wards up,” Bill said.
“None?” Quintin asked.
“No, Auror Quintin. Just the password.”
“The password?” Minerva asked. “You have the password?” Bill nodded. “What is it?”
“You’re not going to like this, Professor McGonagall,” Bill said, glancing at her. She saw very little of her former Head Boy, of the intelligent and confident young man he used to be.
“What is it, Bill? There is nothing that could surprise me at this point.”
“It’s your name.”
She had been wrong. “What?” she said. “My name?” Bill nodded. “My name?” she repeated. “Minerva McGonagall?”
The Griffin rotated, revealing the staircase. “Oh my god,” Quintin muttered. Minerva reached out her hand as if to steady herself before realizing there was nothing to grab on to. The staircase remained open, taunting her, and somewhere behind her, she saw Rathburn put his arm around Bill and gesture with his head toward Quintin. The three left with little noise.
Minerva stood at the entrance to the Headmaster’s office for several minutes, but after a few attempts to make herself enter the spiral staircase, she found she couldn’t do it. She thought she had prepared herself for anything - the Griffin to burst into flames, the Dark Mark to emanate from its mouth, but this...this was unbearable. Snape would have needed a good reason to abandon his practice of multiple wards, of impossible passwords. He had known he was going to die.
Olympe Maxime was back again, Minerva observed from her office window. She and Hagrid were taking a stroll around the lake, and Minerva found herself watching them, though she knew it was probably inappropriate to spy on something so personal. They would be seeing a lot of Olympe that year, Minerva figured. It always happened after times of war. Everyone married quickly after the first war with You-Know-Who, and Minerva was sure that the wedding invitations would start to arrive any day now.
As Hagrid and Olympe turned into the forest, no doubt to observe some dangerous creature, Minerva couldn’t help but feel lonely. Twelve years had passed since she lost her husband, but there were still days she longed for someone to take a walk with, as she had done almost daily with Elphinstone during their three year marriage.
It was too late for her, she knew that. Hogwarts had somehow become a repository for the broken-hearted, those destined to be alone. And in her sixty-two years, she had found two great loves – first Dougal McGregor, the muggle she left immediately after their engagement, then Elphinstone Urquart, who died all too soon. And of course, Dumbledore. It was probably because of Dumbledore that she endured the losses as well as she had. She hadn’t loved him the same way as she loved them, and she hadn’t loved them the same way either. But in the end, did that really matter?
She should count herself rich, she told herself. She had more than she could ever need. But still, she remained at the window for a while, looking out into the forest.
Though Minerva had considered and tossed aside several possibilities, she knew that there was no one other than Pomona Sprout that she would have beside her at a time like this. Pomona never had the type of relationship with Dumbledore that Minerva did, but she granted it the same kind of quiet acceptance that she offered everything.
Minerva was glad for Pomona’s unwavering support – the kind she had given Minerva as a scared first-year who arrived at Hogwarts without knowing anyone. And Pomona had kept up the elder sister act even after she had finished at Hogwarts, attending each of Minerva’s Quidditch games and seeing her off to the train each year.
So when Pomona stood beside her as the griffin rotated, taking her into Dumbledore’s office at last, and she wasn’t able to speak to say her thanks, she knew she didn’t have to.
The inside of the office looked the same as ever, though meticulously ordered – the work of Snape, no doubt, as Dumbledore was wont to leave papers and gadgets on every available surface. Other than the uncharacteristic cleanliness, there was no indication that Snape had ever inhabited this office. Perhaps he could will himself to believe that Dumbledore would be back at any moment and that in the meantime, he could surround himself with the trappings of Dumbledore’s life, Dumbledore’s work. It is what Minerva would have done, under the circumstances. Snape may have been the only one, Minerva considered, who had loved Dumbledore the way she had. And Minerva hadn’t loved him enough to do what Snape was asked to do.
Minerva wandered about the office, examining things at random. Pomona was more systematic, heading directly to the desk. “Minerva?” she finally said, drawing Minerva away from the Sneakoscope she had given Albus for Christmas some twenty years ago.
Pomona didn’t reply, just held up an envelope. Minerva crossed the office to take it. “Minerva McGonagall” was written across the front in Albus’ distinct script.
The neatness of everything overwhelmed Minerva. She opened the envelope slowly, sickened by the fact that Snape and Dumbledore had carried out the end of their lives so clinically, careful to leave their affairs in order for her to step seamlessly into their roles, roles she couldn’t hope to fill.
The envelope contained two pieces of parchment. The first was obviously a legal document. Minerva scanned the first few lines. “I, Albus Dumbledore, being of sound mind and body, on the date of November 1st, 1996, in the presence of these witnesses at Gringotts National Wizarding Bank, do hereby appoint Minerva McGonagall as executer of my estate in the event of my death, dismemberment, or incapacitation.” She handed the parchment to Pomona, who read it thoroughly while Minerva moved on to the second.
It may be too much to ask your forgiveness after all that has transpired. I assume, knowing you, that if you read this, not only has Harry Potter triumphed, but you have already ascertained Severus Snape’s innocence, his acting entirely upon my will.
I’m sorry, Minerva, that I did not inform you of our plans. Perhaps it is because, more than anyone else I know, you are the rational voice in my mind, the one person who could dissuade me from a harebrained scheme.
I have left my estate to you, to do entirely as you see fit. I have no instructions, no requests. You have always been the only one focused entirely on Hogwarts and its future, and I have no doubt that your judgment will be as steadfast as it ever was.
For the past forty years, it has always been the two of us. And now I am proud that it is you. I am off to the next great adventure, and again it is time for you to find a new dream.
“Merlin,” Pomona said when Minerva looked up from the letter. “Executor of the estate? What are you going to do?”
Minerva sighed. “I don’t know. Can you even imagine the extent of his estate?”
Pomona let out a little laugh. “I can.”
“I’ll need time to sort through it all. Years, perhaps.” She put the letter and the will back in the envelope and set it gingerly on the desk, then climbed the stairs to the golden telescope. She had never really had a knack for astronomy, so she gazed into the nearest lens, which brought a puffy white cloud into view. She thought for a moment. “Alright,” she said, “the first thing is Hogwarts.”
Minerva pulled herself up, leaning against the telescope to face Sprout. “So we find someone to teach Muggle Studies and someone to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts.”
“Then we get ourselves through September 1st without incident.”
“Then we figure out how the hell to fix the castle.”
“Mhmhmm. And in your extensive free time, you go through all of Dumbledore’s rubbish?” Sprout asked, a smile playing at her lips.
“He said Hogwarts comes first. I would never disagree.”
Minerva tossed aside another application, then turned to watch Flitwick do the same. Filius sighed and glanced over at his stack, which somehow didn’t seem to be dwindling. “How is it that we’re not finding anyone qualified?” he muttered. “Among this many applicants. And we haven’t even started on Muggle Studies.”
Minerva shrugged, gave a barely verbal response, then allowed a few moments of silence to pass as they both considered another form. Eventually, the frustration of it got to her. Three solid days of looking through Dumbledore’s old candidate files and new letters of inquiry had yielded nothing. Pushing her chair back from the table, Minerva stood and wandered over to the window, taking in a deep breath of the warm summer air. “All I need is a pulse,” she said. “A pulse and an ‘E’ in Defense Against the Dark Arts.”
Flitwick looked up, removed his glasses, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “How flexible are we on pulse?”
Minerva let out a snort of laughter she wasn’t expecting. She kept to herself the fact that another Binns on the faculty would be more than she could handle. Instead, she looked back out the window, watching Hagrid wander across the grounds toward the Forbidden Forest, dragging a downed tree behind him. A memory floated to the surface - herself at this window, Dumbledore at the desk, attempting to fill Kettleburn’s open Care of Magical Creatures post. “Did Dumbledore ever tell you the two things all Hogwarts professors need?” she asked Filius.
“No, I don’t believe I’ve heard that one.”
“A NEWT and a broken heart.”
Outside, Hagrid dropped the tree just out of sight, where it would no doubt be claimed by the forest, the one part of Hogwarts unaffected by the war. Minerva searched her mind, working her way through the significant number of people she knew with broken hearts. “Filius,” she said. “I have what is perhaps a crazy idea.”
Chapter 3: July
Minerva tried to remember the last time she had been to the Burrow. It was ten years, perhaps, but she could remember a meal here with the Weasleys sometime before the second war. She was greeted at the door by Percy, who showed her in silently.
The Burrow was subdued, in a way Minerva had never seen and couldn’t have imagined. Percy disappeared into a back room to fetch Arthur and Molly, and Minerva looked around the quiet house. Through the window to the back yard, Minerva could see Ron and Ginny, with Hermione Granger and Harry Potter, lying in a row on the grass, staring up at the sky. There was no sign of George.
Molly and Arthur emerged without Percy, who must have secluded himself in another corner of the house. Both looked exhausted, walking slowly toward the kitchen, but Arthur afforded her a pained smile. “Mr. and Mrs. Weasley,” she said by way of greeting.
“Minerva,” he said. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“Tea first, Arthur,” Molly interjected before Minerva could answer, busying herself with preparing the kettle and setting out mugs on the worn kitchen table. Minerva sat at the table when Arthur gestured for her to do so, gently placing her hat on the table, and casting about for a way to begin this conversation.
Molly didn’t allow much time for silence. Perhaps it was too painful to be in a quiet house, or perhaps she needed to speak to keep herself awake, but in any case, she launched into a series of questions. “Minerva, I read in the Prophet that the clean-up at the school was successful?”
“Very much so,” Minerva replied, allowing her to lead the conversation. “I can’t begin to thank everyone who came to help. It was because of their manual labors that the school is at all in working repair.”
“You don’t need to thank them. We all need Hogwarts now.” Molly sat next to her husband, across the table from Minerva. The tea tray levitated over and settled itself in front of them. “Milk or sugar, Minerva?”
Molly passed her the cup, then resumed. “Then on September 1st, the school will re-open? Like normal?”
“That is our hope,” Minerva said, then corrected herself. “Our plan.” Molly and Arthur paused and looked at her. She realized that this was her chance. “That is actually why I’m here. We lost several of our professors, as you know. And if we are to re-open the school, we will need a new professor of Muggle Studies, as well as a new professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts. And I need to step down as the Head of Gryffindor if I am to act as Headmistress.”
“Of course you’re the Headmistress,” Molly said. “I hope no one has doubted that. But was does that have to do with…” she trailed off, and Minerva expected that she had surmised the request.
“Here is my offer,” Minerva said. “I would like to offer you the position of Muggle Studies, Arthur, and Molly, the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts. And Head of House, jointly.”
Molly stood abruptly from the table. Minerva watched her as she moved over to the window, looking out at her children on the lawn. Minerva was sure she was thinking of Fred – how could she not be?
“I don’t understand, Minerva,” Molly said, not looking away from the window. “Why would you think of us?”
“These children have been through so much,” Minerva replied, “They need -” she cut herself off. Perhaps saying ‘parents’ was not appropriate. “They need support. Especially the students in Gryffindor. We need quality instruction in these subjects, now more than ever. But more than that, we need our students to feel welcome at Hogwarts.”
“But,” Molly protested. “Arthur teaching Muggle Studies I can see. But me...why would you begin to think I was qualified?”
“I heard a story in the wake of the battle,” Minerva said, choosing her words carefully as she continued. “I heard that there was a notorious Death Eater who had killed and tortured over fifty people over the course of both wars.” Arthur and Molly both stared at her silently, waiting for her to go on. “And I heard that a housewife who previously claimed no experience in defensive magic killed her.”
“That’s just - ” Molly started.
“Then,” she continued as if she had not heard the interruption. “I looked through my old records. And I remembered you had an “O” on your NEWTS for Defense Against the Dark Arts. You were an accomplished dueler, and you were well versed in the theory.”
Arthur stood, placing himself between Minerva and his wife. Minerva may have imagined it, but Arthur looked taller, bigger than he usually did. When he spoke, it was in a menacingly low voice Minerva did not know he possessed. “Minerva, you know I respect you. Dumbledore always thought highly of you, and you’ve been the head of house for us and for all of our children. But how dare you? How dare you ask anything of a grieving mother?”
Minerva nodded, preparing to turn around and leave. She had half-expected this, but as Dumbledore would have said, it was worth a go. She had picked up her hat and turned toward the door when Molly’s voice came from behind Arthur. “We’ll do it.”
“What?” Arthur and Minerva spoke at the same time, turning to look at her.
Minerva took a long look at Molly. She was clearly exhausted - it looked as if she had aged ten years since the battle two months previous. But the same gleam in her eye was there that Minerva had witnessed during the battle. “Think of those children, Arthur. Think of all they’ve been through. Professor McGonagall said it - who better than us?”
“Welcome to the first game of the pre-season! Today’s match – the Montrose Magpies vs. the Ballycastle Bats!” The announcer’s voice came loud and clear over the speakers, and Minerva took a deep breath of the warm summer air. It had been too long since she was on a Quidditch pitch.
Around her, it seemed the crowd had the same feeling. Everything was subdued from what she normally saw in the Magpie Stadium – no face paint, no giant signs, no drunk revelers about to fall from the stands. But at the same time, there was no denying the sense of cautious hope accompanying the first match since the war ended.
“The Quaffle is released, and the game begins!”
“Quafflecorn,” a stadium attendant called. “Get your Quafflecorn!”
“Ooh, Quafflecorn.” Next to Minerva, her brother Rob raised his hand. “Right here.” He leaned over about six people to hand the sickles to the attendant, taking the overflowing bucket of steaming Quafflecorn and setting it precariously in his lap.
Minerva reached over and grabbed a handful of Quafflecorn, not taking her eyes off of the match. “I don’t know why I eat this,” she remarked. “It’s not the kind of thing I would eat anywhere other than the Quidditch pitch.”
“That’s kind of the point,” Rob replied, munching loudly.
Minerva laughed. There was a time, before the war, when attending the Magpies’ preseason matches had been an annual tradition with Rob. Unlike their younger brother Malcolm, Minerva and Rob had followed the Montrose Magpies since they were children. And their loyalty didn’t waver, even in the face of a season like this one, which was likely to come with more losses than victories.
They both groaned as the announcer cried, “And the first goal goes to the Ballycastle Bats, making the score ten to zero!”
Minerva kept her eye on the match as the Bats scored two more goals, but spoke to her brother. “How is Anna?”
“She’s good. She’s at Flourish and Blotts, ever since they re-opened.” Rob’s wife had worked in some shop or other for the last thirty years, and though Minerva was pre-occupied during the war, she assumed Rob and Anna had been like most people – keeping their heads down and trying to get by.
“And the children?”
This prompted a sigh, as it always did. “You know how they are. Robbie just went back to the Prophet, but of course, he’ll probably be a type-setter for the rest of his career if he doesn’t buckle down and accept a full-time schedule.” Minerva gave a ‘hmm’ to indicate that he should keep going. “Isobel took another apprenticeship in…” he thought for a moment. “Prague? … It might be Prague.”
“The one in Paris didn’t take?”
“Apparently not. And Glendon…well, Glendon is making sure no mold grows in my basement.”
“Is that a full-time job?”
“I suppose so. I’m not really sure what he does down there all day, but I get through it by reassuring myself that I probably do not want to know.”
When Minerva glanced at Rob, he paused from shoveling Quafflecorn in his mouth to adjust his glasses, which were eerily similar to hers. Like Minerva, Rob took after their mother physically – tall, thin, terrible eyesight. But he had inherited their father’s bafflement with his children and their habits.
She was going to make a comment to that effect when all three of the Bats’ Chasers entered the scoring area, and one threw the Quaffle past the distracted Keeper and into the left goal post. “Stooging!” she shouted, along with the rest of the Magpies fans. “Stooging!”
“We’re hearing an accusation of Stooging from the Magpies’ side,” the announcer called. “And the referee is calling for a penalty shot, to be taken by Captain and Chaser Cormac McLeod.”
Minerva and Rob sat forward in their seats as McLeod caught the Quaffle, flew toward the Bats’ goal posts, shot, and missed. “I’m going to need a drink after this,” Rob said. Minerva was inclined to agree.
“What are you doing?” Sprout asked as Minerva pulled another book from the shelf and dropped it heavily onto one of the tables.
“Dancing,” Minerva replied. “What does it look like?” She paused to gesture around the Hogwarts Library, which, like the rest of the castle, was cleared of debris. But the musty smell remained, and the lamps required frequent re-lighting.
“It looks like research.”
“They don’t call you one of the greatest wizarding minds for nothing.” Minerva slowly worked her way through the Charms section. The Transfiguration section she was comfortable with, having selected about half of the books herself and read all of them. And she knew that none of the books in Transfiguration would be of help anyway. Charms, however, might offer some explanation.
Minerva contented herself with the pile she had accumulated and sat at the table, opening Charms for Construction, a book so dusty it had likely not been checked out since the early 80s.
“What are you researching?” Sprout asked, undeterred by Minerva’s attempt to bury her nose in the book.
“Why we can’t repair the castle.”
“Oh. Right.” Sprout availed herself of Aberto to Zamiski: The Master Encyclopedia of Charms and started paging through it. “Anything in particular I’m looking for?”
“I wish I could say there was,” Minerva replied, marking her place with her finger. “For now, I think we should list charms to try.”
Pomona nodded and returned to her book, and Minerva looked back at the chapter titled “Baking Bricks: Charms for Materials Construction” – a real page-turner, she soon found.
She had made it through two paragraphs by the time Slughorn arrived, eating tinned pineapple with a fork. “You aren’t allowed to eat in here,” she said by way of greeting.
“I’ll give Madam Pince my apologies upon her return,” Slughorn said, chewing noisily. He sat down heavily at their table, tin of pineapple in front of him, and reached for When Charms Fail: Spells for Hardship. “What are we looking for?” Slughorn asked. As Sprout explained it to him, Minerva wrote ‘Aparacium’ on the list of charms, with a note to find out exactly where the stone that made up Hogwarts had been quarried.
All three turned to their books, and Sprout and Slughorn were mercifully quiet (aside from the chewing, of course). Minerva continued to read, pausing to add ‘Duro’ and ‘Erecto’ to the list, with a question mark beside the latter.
“One thing I have learned,” Sprout said, looking up from her book (which Minerva noticed was still open to the ‘A’s’), “Is that we have a far greater number of charms to destroy than to build.”
“Are we talking about charms?” They all turned toward the doors, which Flitwick had opened silently with a spell – he had never been able to open them physically. “And you didn’t invite me?”
“Do I have a sticking charm on me?” Minerva remarked. “How did you all wind up here?”
“Nothing else to do,” Slughorn said.
“Except raid the kitchen, apparently,” Flitwick muttered, picking up the charm list. “We already tried Duro.”
“It won’t kill us to try it again,” Minerva said as Flitwick lifted the cover of her book to peer beneath it and see what she was reading, then moved on to examining all of the other titles.
“Why didn’t you get Spells for the Spellbound or Charms to Charm?” Flitwick busied himself with locating those books and levitating them over to the table, then paging through them quickly, probably to get to a certain passage he had practically memorized.
“I don’t know, Professor,” Minerva answered. “Perhaps you will tell us how to cite our sources as well.”
“Shut it, you two,” Sprout said with a smile.
They all fell silent, turning back to their books. Minerva felt like a schoolgirl again, researching with friends in the Hogwarts Library. She added another spell to the growing list.
“Auror Quintin, good afternoon.”
Calliope Quintin looked up from her desk, which was covered in paperwork - paperwork in neat stacks, but paperwork nonetheless. “Professor McGonagall, Professor Flitwick, thank you for coming.”
“Of course.” Minerva’s first job out of Hogwarts had been at the Ministry of Magic - in Magical Law Enforcement, not the Auror Department. But the dull, square office she had back then looked about the same as the Auror’s office did now. She hated that job, which hastened her return to Hogwarts, and she couldn’t imagine what it must be like now, in the wake of a war.
“Give me a moment to finish this paperwork, Professors, and we’ll discuss the security arrangements I’ve drafted.”
Minerva glanced around as Quintin spoke, taking note of the wall of ‘Most Wanted Wizards’ behind her desk. Among the ones she expected, “Carrow, Amycus A. - Incarcerated” (which gave her a smile) and “Jones, Ernest T. - Alias Fenrir Greyback - Incarcerated” (which gave her a chuckle), was one she should have expected. “Snape, Severus P. - Alias Half-Blood Prince” was written atop a quite unflattering picture of Snape (though Minerva had to admit she’d never seen a flattering one) sneering back at her from the parchment. Across the picture was a bright red stamp: “neutralized.”
Minerva stared at it for a moment before Flitwick elbowed her, and she realized Quintin was talking. “...one of the priorities for the Ministry under the new...Professor?” Quintin cut off and Minerva turned her head just in time to see that she had also turned to look at the wall. “I’m sorry,” Quintin said, “I’ve heard that Harry Potter believes…” she trailed off, leveraged her wand at the poster, and the red stamp changed to read “Deceased.”
“I’m sorry, Calliope,” Minerva said, attempting to recover. “What were you saying?”
“I’m saying that even though the election hasn’t occurred, Shacklebolt has been appointed temporary minister and will be making a run to make it permanent, as we all hoped, and it’s likely he will succeed.” Quintin spread a huge map of Hogwarts and the surrounding areas on her desk as she spoke. “If that’s the case, and likely even if it isn’t, Hogwarts will be one of the priorities for the Ministry under the new administration. I’ve been given ten aurors under my task force, with additional MLE personnel at our disposal for events. Do you think that should be enough?”
“To start with, yes,” Minerva answered. “How many on rotation?”
“Two on rotation at all times. Where would you like them posted?”
“The entrance from the Hogsmeade side,” Flitwick replied.
“Agreed,” Minerva said, looking down at the map, thinking through the many security breaches the school had seen over the last seven years. “One from the Hogsmeade Trailhead to the Front Entrance, one from the Forbidden Forest near the stables to the greenhouses.”
Quintin noted these on a clipboard. “Consider it done. And for the first day…” She tapped the map with her wand, causing near twenty red X’s to appear on the map. “I’m thinking aurors in these locations.”
Minerva looked over the map, while Flitwick hoisted himself to sit upon the desk and do the same. “I’d like another at the Gatehouse,” he said. “I was one of the professors set to secure it two years ago, and there’s too much activity for one or two people.” Another X appeared on the map where he indicated.
“And what about in the Great Hall?” Minerva asked. “I see two just outside the entrance behind columns and two inside. But the best view of the students is from the front, where we are.”
“Would you like someone behind the staff table?” Quintin asked, pointing.
“Perhaps at the table, so as not to arouse as much suspicion.” An X appeared at the table’s far right side.
“What about the boat landing?” Flitwick asked. Minerva looked and sure enough, there were no X’s in that area.
“I’m going to be frank with you, Professors. I don’t like the boats. I don’t like the thought of hundreds of eleven-year-olds by themselves in the middle of a body of water, even if aurors are aboard. The carriages we can handle – we can have aurors in front and behind the convoy, in carriages, even on broomsticks overhead. But boats leave us with nowhere to go, should something happen.”
Minerva didn’t even need to consider that one. “Then we lose the boats. They can all come in carriages.”
“And let Hagrid know he should split up the first years,” Quintin suggested. “You’ll want to have more experienced students available to them, just in case.”
“I think that went alright,” Flitwick said as they walked through the corridor outside the Auror Department, toward the bank of elevators.
“I agree,” Minerva said absent-mindedly, aware that eyes seemed to be following her. The Ministry was as subdued as the rest of the wizarding world, though the bustle of bureaucracy was starting to pick back up. “I have no idea what to expect, as far as incident.”
They walked on in silence, reaching the elevators. As they rode to the lobby to take one of the fireplaces back to Hogwarts, Minerva found her mind drifting to the new first years. Even during a time of peace, they wouldn’t be able to see the castle appearing before them from the boats, wouldn’t be able to have their breath stolen in that moment, the moment they realized they had come home. Instead, they would be riding in dark carriages, surrounded by security guards, wondering just what type of world they had entered.
The Burrow had changed in the two weeks since Minerva last visited. When she arrived, she was greeted by Ginny, who muttered, “Watch out for the boxes,” as Minerva followed her inside.
Indeed, Arthur and Molly had packed away what Minerva could only assume were most of their possessions in Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes boxes of varying sizes and colors. It was an overwhelming sight.
“How are you, Miss Weasley?” Minerva asked.
“Fine,” Ginny said, plopping herself into one of the kitchen chairs. “Harry and Ron are out, but I think Hermione is here somewhere.” She popped back up again, opened the kitchen window, hollered “Hermione!” and shut it again, then launched herself back into the chair.
Hermione appeared quickly, breathless, and said, “Yes?” followed by, “Professor McGonagall.”
“Professor, I received my booklist yesterday, and I’ll be going to Diagon Alley first August.” Hermione took a deep breath, which Minerva knew signaled the beginning of a thought she had been considering for a while. “I’m planning on taking my NEWTS in Transfiguration, Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Herbology, Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, History of Magic, and Potions.” She counted them off on her fingers while rattling them off. “What do you think?”
“I don’t recommend it,” Minerva replied. Hermione’s face dropped. “NEWTS are your opportunity to specialize and prepare for your career. You shouldn’t take eight NEWTS.” Hermione looked disappointed, so Minerva followed it with, “We’ll talk when you arrive at Hogwarts. In the meantime, spend time thinking about what career you would like to pursue.”
“Well, I’m thinking of - ”
“Hermione,” Ginny interrupted. “I don’t think Professor McGonagall is here to give you career advice. She’s here to recruit my parents to work at Hogwarts.” She said this with not a little disdain. Minerva briefly felt bad for her two brothers, who had attended Hogwarts under her eye.
“Ginny,” Molly said warningly as she and Arthur came into the kitchen. “Minerva, I believe we’re almost ready for our move next week.” Minerva noted the cautious excitement behind Molly’s voice.
“I couldn’t decide which muggle artifacts to bring, so I packed them all!” Arthur added.
“That works,” Minerva said, though she had her doubts. She didn’t comment on Ginny’s subtle eye roll. “We will have your quarters and offices prepared by then. All that we need is these contracts.” Minerva pulled the scrolls from her robes, and Arthur and Molly sat at the kitchen table to read them.
“Who will be living here while you’re gone?” Minerva asked in the interest of making conversation.
“Ron will probably live here forever,” Ginny replied.
“Ginny, we appreciate his help,” Molly said without looking up from her contract.
“Miss Weasley, what can we expect from you this year?” Minerva asked. “As a Quidditch Captain, that is.”
Minerva thought Ginny would have been excited by this offer, but instead, she hunched over in her chair, kicking her feet back and forth and examining her shoes. Minerva chanced a look at Hermione, who made a face of discomfort. “Um…the thing is, Professor,” Ginny said to her feet. “I don’t know if I’m going to go back.”
“What?” Of all responses, Minerva had not expected that. “Why not?”
“Harry and Ron aren’t going back,” Hermione blurted. “And she’s not sure if she wants to…” she trailed off as Ginny snapped her head up to glare.
Minerva was a little taken aback that Harry and Ron weren’t returning, but they were past the age of their seventh year. Harry was likely to have any opportunity he wanted, and Ron was never going to commit himself to NEWT-level study anyway. But Ginny… “How are Quidditch recruiters going to find you if you’re not playing?”
Ginny shrugged. “It’s just Quidditch.”
“And if Harry isn’t going to be there,” Molly said, looking up from her paperwork, “She may want to be close to him.”
“What?” Minerva said again, to Molly as much as Ginny. Had the wizarding world not changed at all in the past forty years?
She thought of herself at Ginny’s age. Clutching a letter in her hand from her head of house, beaming with pride at the idea that Professor Dumbledore had named her Quidditch Captain and Gryffindor’s Head Girl, excited and terrified of taking her NEWTS. She petted the owl on the head and bounded from her room, passing Rob and Malcolm playing a game of Gobstones, squealing like only children could at disgusting slime being squirted in their faces.
“Gross,” she muttered as she descended the creaky staircase, ready to burst into the Manse’s sitting room and tell her parents of her accomplishments.
“You know what I mean, Robert.” Minerva came to a halt at the sound of her mother’s voice and stood statue-still on the staircase, straining to overhear.
“No, I don’t,” her father countered. “Minerva said she needed to go to school for those lizard tests. It didn’t sound optional.”
“NEWTS,” Isobel said, exasperated. “And I’m not saying that she shouldn’t take them. I’m saying that she has unrealistic expectations of where they will lead. Don’t you agree?”
“Why would I know?” Minerva could hear her father’s footsteps as he paced back and forth across the sitting room. “I don’t know what half the stuff she talks about even means.”
“You do know, Robert. The wizarding world isn’t all that different from the muggle world. She thinks she’s going to play sport professionally or take these exams and go on to a long career. That isn’t what happened for me, and it won’t likely happen for her.”
“Are you saying you’re unhappy, Isobel? Is that what all of this is about?”
“Of course I’m happy. It’s not about me. It’s about the fact that other girls her age are talking about marriage and families, and she’s talking about Quidditch and Transfiguration.”
“Ah,” Robert said, as Minerva stood with her mouth open on the staircase, holding her breath and waiting for her father’s response. “She’ll grow out of it.”
Minerva felt all of the breath go out of her at once. She sank heavily onto the stairs with a ‘thud.’ Her parents immediately fell silent, then the footsteps headed in her direction. Scrambling back to her feet, Minerva stumbled up the stairs, retreating into her room and closing the door as quietly as she could manage.
She struggled to regain her breath, smoothing Dumbledore’s letter out over the desk, considering. What did her parents think of her? That she was taking all of these NEWTS, that she was training so hard at Quidditch, to give it all up the moment she graduated? Only a year ago, they had seemed so proud of her accomplishments - the O’s she brought home after every term, her status as a prefect and Gryffindor’s seeker. And now, suddenly, after all this time, they wanted her to change? Or had they only been humoring her, putting up with her quaint dreams and silly ambitions?
Minerva hesitated for only one brief moment. One moment of weakness, of wondering if her parents were right. Then she blundered right through to resolve, opening drawers haphazardly until she found a quill to compose her response.
“Professor Dumbledore,” she wrote, “It is an honor, sir. Thank you for the opportunity.”
“It’s your choice,” Minerva finally said, returning her thoughts to Ginny. “But please think further about it, about your future. I don’t believe it’s just Quidditch. I know talent. And you have talent.”
Minerva strolled the street of Diagon Alley, looking about her at the shops in the process of being re-opened. Flitwick was out, talking with muggle families of some of their incoming first-years about the process of purchasing their school supplies. Sprout was attempting to harvest some kind of poisonous plant for Slughorn, who was planning to use it to make some kind of (not poisonous) potion to refill their medical stock. Minerva hadn’t asked too many questions. A few hours with all of them preoccupied should have meant that she had time to go through Dumbledore’s effects or to prepare the staff room for the return of the faculty. Instead, she found herself wandering through Diagon Alley with the ostensive purpose of making sure all of the textbooks were in stock.
The area was busy with people who had not likely emerged from their homes in quite a while. And Minerva took note of aurors and Magical Law Enforcement as they paced the side streets and stood like sentries between shops.
There appeared to be some sort of event going on – each of the stores had a table set out front with at least one shopkeeper peddling wares. Though the shops themselves were in varying states of repair, this arrangement seemed to be good for business.
The downside to being a Hogwarts professor, especially one who had been teaching for over forty years, was that everyone recognized you. Minerva waved at the shopkeepers and patrons as she walked by – Angelina Johnson and Lee Jordan, who were midway through a firework display at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, Garrick Ollivander, who smiled warmly as his son cleaned up a mess made by a new first year trying out a wand, and of course, Florence Fortescue, who was surrounded as always by a group of children vying for the raspberry truffle cones.
She made a few quick stops – Amanuensis Quills, for the obvious, and the Apothecary for potions Slughorn wouldn’t have the time to make – before reaching her destination of Flourish and Blotts. The old witch at the front table called out “Afternoon, Professor! Anything I can do for you?”
“Is Anna in today?”
“Yes, yes. Go on in.”
The interior of Flourish and Blotts was musty and dark, with piles of boxes littering the floor. As Minerva showed herself inside, she felt a slimy substance beneath her shoe. “Anna?” she called.
Her sister-in-law emerged from a back room, her blond hair askance and her robes covered in dirt. “Minerva,” she replied, stepping over three boxes on her way to greet Minerva with an embrace. “Are you well? Rob told me you seemed well.”
Minerva allowed Anna to examine her for a moment before answering “I am.”
“Good,” Anna said, though she seemed unconvinced. Anna had always been maternal, even when she was a first year Hufflepuff in Minerva’s Transfiguration class. “The school?”
“Getting there. Do you have the textbook orders?”
“Yes.” As she spoke, Anna moved toward what had been the counter, bending to retrieve a sheet of parchment. “I’m glad I haven’t had children in school in years.” Minerva took the offered parchment, reviewing the textbooks, publishers, and order amounts. “That’s a terrible thing to say,” Anna corrected herself. “Someone’s children are there.”
“It’s alright,” Minerva responded. “I’m glad your children weren’t there also.” It was true – seeing her students in danger was bad enough; the thought of Rob or Malcolm’s children in harm’s way was too much to consider.
“Do the orders look right?”
Minerva double-checked the parchment. A Beginner’s Guide to Transfiguration, A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration, Intermediate Transfiguration, Theories of Transubstantial Transfiguration, Transfiguration through the Ages – her subject at least was correct. She moved on to Charms. Flitwick would have a heart attack if even one wrong edition was on the list. “It looks right,” she replied after a minute. “I suppose one thing we can be thankful for is that none of the publishers have taken it upon themselves to add one page to a textbook, call it a new edition, and add ten galleons to the price.”
“What about the numbers?”
Minerva sighed. That was the question. “There’s no real way of knowing how many students we’ll have. How many who didn’t have a real seventh year will return? How many younger students won’t? How many families will decide Hogwarts isn’t safe enough yet? I think this will work for now. I’ll owl with any changes.”
Minerva took her leave and made her way slowly back to the Leaky Cauldron, thinking vaguely of lunch. The thought of returning to her duties, or worse, to sitting alone in her quarters was not something she looked forward to.
As the rest of the staff moved in to their quarters, Minerva stood in the Great Hall with Flitwick, Slughorn, and Sprout – Flitwick on top of the high table and the rest of them interspersed between the house tables, while the list of charms, expanded to the size of a bedsheet, hung in the air above them. A pile of the dislodged window panes and chunks of stone sat at the back of the hall, near the door.
“Perhaps we should start somewhere other than the Great Hall,” Slughorn said. “In the case that the Great Hall is too much to take on at once.”
“We’re already set up here,” Flitwick replied. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll move elsewhere.”
“We defer to you, Professor,” Minerva called from her place between the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables.
“Let’s do this,” Sprout added, her wand brandished in front of her as if she was about to duel an invisible opponent.
“I’ve organized the charms we found into three categories,” Flitwick said, indicating the giant, floating parchment. “There are the Revelio family charms to reveal any damage, the Reparo family charms to mend, and the Erecto family charms to build. I say we start with the Revelio charms – if there’s anything the aurors missed in their scan, we’ll find it.”
“How are we doing this?” Sprout asked.
“I’ll cast it first, then if it doesn’t work, you’ll cast it and see if we just need more wizards and witches.” Flitwick paused, raised his wand eloquently, and shouted, “Aparecium!”
Minerva turned in a complete circle, eyeing the familiar Great Hall critically. Nothing happened. “Aparecium,” she said, along with Sprout and Slughorn.
“Next one,” Flitwick said as a thick, black line crossed “Aparecium” off the list. “Incantatum Revelio.”
They were midway through the Erecto family charms when Molly and Arthur appeared. “We’re all moved…” Arthur trailed off and Minerva forgot which charm she was casting.
“Minerva. Epoximize.” Flitwick ordered.
“Yes, sir.” Minerva smiled weakly at Molly and Arthur, then raised her wand and called out “Epoximize.” She wondered if the fact that they were starting to lose hope in their list of spells was compounding the problem. A black line removed “Epoximize” from the list.
“What are you all doing?” Molly asked, regarding Flitwick on the table, then the parchment in the air.
“Trying to repair the castle,” Minerva responded. “We don’t know what’s causing the block to normal repairing charms, but we presume it’s a lingering dark magic. Or perhaps the castle has simply been through too much and needs time before repairing itself.”
“Don’t write it off yet,” Flitwick said just as Molly asked “Can we help?”
“Yeah, we’re unpacked,” Arthur said.
“Spark plugs and all,” Molly added.
“It’s up to the Charms Master.” Minerva pointed toward Flitwick who rolled his eyes, but consulted the list for the next charm.
“Lapis Erecto,” five voices echoed. There was a brief rumbling, and Minerva spun around, practically dropping her wand in shock. She realized that some hope of their success, however feeble, remained. And also that the vibration was caused by Slughorn, who had collapsed into a seat at the Gryffindor table.
“I think that’s enough for today,” she said, catching her breath.
Minerva rode the Griffin to Dumbledore’s office with Pomona, the final stack of boxes from her old office accompanying them. They only had about a week remaining until the full staff would be present and the preparations for the school year would begin. It wouldn’t do to try living out of two offices at once.
Once in the office, Minerva levitated in a box of old copies of Transfiguration Today – a magazine she hadn’t had time to read for two years. She paged slowly through an issue, then set about arranging them on one of the bookshelves that wasn’t already crammed full.
“Would you like me to pack up anything, Minerva?” Pomona asked as she dusted off the Young Person to Look Out For award from 1954.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, do you plan on staying as a guest within Dumbledore’s office, or do you plan to make it yours?”
“Dumbledore specialized in Transfiguration as well,” Minerva responded, knowing she was taking the easiest route of answering that question. “So it’s likely I will want everything.”
“Including his notes on Beedle the Bard?” She held up an old book, and Minerva took it. Pomona hadn’t been lying – the book was full of annotations, like most of Dumbledore’s library. Defacing books was one of his favorite pastimes, a quirk that had annoyed her when he was alive.
“I should do something with that,” Minerva muttered to herself, wondering just how she was supposed to manage an estate like this, full of the thoughts of the most brilliant wizard who had ever lived. How was she worthy to do that? “When I have time,” she added, to give herself space from such a daunting task.
“Well, you’ve done a wonderful job of keeping yourself busy, haven’t you?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Minerva responded.
“Oh, you don’t? There’s a perfectly logical explanation for why you needed to physically go to Diagon Alley to check book orders? And why you needed to have the Weasleys sign their contracts in person? These are jobs we normally reserve for owls.”
“Human touch never hurt,” Minerva said, aware of where this was going and hoping to thwart it.
“How very Hufflepuff of you.”
“And how very un-Hufflepuff of you to speak with such sarcasm.”
They stared at each other for a moment, until Minerva backed down, as only Sprout and Dumbledore could ever make her do.
Pomona backed down, too. “I’m not trying to be cruel. But if you don’t begin to face what happened, it will come to haunt you when you least expect it.”
It was time, Minerva figured. Time to finally face the staff room. The staff were already returning, and tomorrow would mark the beginning of professor contracts, of the month of planning and preparing the school to welcome its students. She opened the door carefully. Nothing had changed, of course. Since this room wasn’t damaged, it wasn’t included in the cleanup. There was nothing wrong with it – it was simply unused and dirty.
For some reason, this made Minerva more miserable than if the room had been blasted apart by Death Eaters. She knew she needed to restore it, if the staff were ever to move forward. Slowly, she took a step into the room, her entire body feeling weighted down, heavy. The first thing she laid eyes on was Dumbledore’s chair. It was too much.
In the hall, she heard approaching footsteps. She covered her eyes, not wanting whoever it was to see her like this, so she had to identify them by voice. “What is it?” Trelawney. Great. Of all people, she didn’t need to have this conversation with Trelawney. But she found herself having it anyway.
“I can’t…” She sniffed, trying to maintain composure. She hadn’t broken down yet; she didn’t need to do it now. “I can’t do this.” Minerva tried to think of Dumbledore, of what Dumbledore would do in this circumstance. But all she could think of was the white tomb, and she needed to gasp for air. In that instant, she hated them – hated Snape for killing Dumbledore, hated Dumbledore for making him. Hated them both for being dead, for leaving her here alone.
She sank heavily into one of the chairs. Not her own – that would have been too much. But into a chair at random – Vector’s perhaps, or Flitwick’s. A cloud of dust erupted, enveloping her as if someone had cast Fumos. The dust irritated her eyes and throat, which were already stinging with the effort to hold back tears.
She kept a trembling hand over her eyes, so she heard, rather than saw, Trelawney pull back the neighboring chair with a scrape across the wooden floorboards. Trelawney took Minerva’s free hand with both of her own, and Minerva could feel the weight of her many rings and bangles.
“What can’t you do?”
“I can’t clean the fucking staff room.” With that, Minerva felt herself break. It wasn’t about the staff room, she knew that, and she knew that Trelawney understood it as well. Minerva couldn’t help it; as embarrassed as she was, she lay her head on the table, cradled in her arm, and wept. “How am I supposed to do this?” she choked out. “I don’t know how I’m going to live without Dumbledore. How am I supposed to be him?”
Trelawney waited until Minerva’s tears had subsided – a considerable time – to continue. “You’re the leader we need, now, Minerva. Not you trying to be Dumbledore. You. You’re the only one who can lead us through this.”
“Is that what you see in the future?” Minerva asked, unable to keep the sarcasm out of her voice, even after all Trelawney had just done for her.
“No. It’s what I’ve seen in the past.”
Minerva finally raised her head. Trelawney handed her a handkerchief, which she used to wipe the dust and tears from her face. It took her a moment to realize that the room was immaculate – the table shone, set with a golden goblet at each place. The chairs looked as though they had been reupholstered. A fire roared pleasantly in the hearth. Minerva was nearly speechless. “What?” she sputtered. “Thank you.”
Trelawney only shrugged.
Chapter 4: August
The staff room still looked beautiful as the professors, along with Filch, Pomfrey, and Pince, settled into their usual spaces. Arthur and Molly held back until everyone else was seated, then found two empty places, settling in with parchment and quills in front of them.
Minerva hovered near the door, marveling at the job Trelawney had done to the place, until Calliope Quintin arrived, rushing up the stairs. “I’m glad you found it,” Minerva said, shutting the door behind Quintin.
“The directions were most helpful, thank you. This isn’t a place one goes as a student. Where would you like me?”
Minerva indicated the one empty chair – the one that had always been hers, next to the head of the table. As Calliope took a seat, Minerva tapped her golden goblet with her wand, signaling to the house elves below that all of the goblets should be filled. Gillywater bubbled up into the goblets, and Minerva took a sip, then cleared her throat.
“Welcome back to all of you,” she began. “I trust you have settled into your chambers and that everything is satisfactory?” At the nods and grunts, she continued. “And of course, we would like to extend a welcome to Arthur Weasley, Professor of Muggle Studies, and Molly Weasley, Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts. Professors Weasley will also be jointly assuming the role of Gryffindor Head of House.”
“Here here,” Hagrid said, raising his goblet and sloshing gillywater onto the table.
“Congratulations,” Vector said, as Babbling shook Arthur’s hand and Hooch patted Molly on the back.
“Moving into our business, I would first like to introduce everyone to Auror Calliope Quintin, who will be our head of security this year. Auror Quintin will have two aurors present at all times, with teams available for all of our major events. Auror Quintin, if you will?”
As Calliope spread the enchanted Hogwarts map on the table and began to describe the security measures for the start-of-term feast, Minerva glanced around at her staff. They all sat forward, looking at the map, interjecting questions and suggestions – the suggestions all shot down by Flitwick.
Minerva remembered her first staff meeting. Walking in, nervous as all hell to be in the same room as her former teachers. She had already experienced an awkward run-in with Flitwick in the hallway, where he had done the whole “you can call me Filius, now,” routine she was sure to expect from everyone.
She looked around the room nervously, not sure where to sit. Apparently, she wasn’t the only one. Pomona Sprout winked at her as the teachers shuffled into new places now that Headmaster Dippet had retired and Dumbledore had taken over.
Dumbledore caught Minerva’s eye and motioned to the chair directly to the right of his. She sat down, feeling eyes on her as Dumbledore said, “Our new Transfiguration Professor and Deputy Headmistress, Minerva McGonagall. I want all lesson plans submitted to Professor McGonagall by fifteenth August for she and I to review.”
Minerva blinked as a wave of that unprepared feeling she felt back then resurfaced. As Quintin finished her spiel, she said, “I would like September’s lesson plans submitted to Professor Flitwick by fifteenth August for he and I to review. Should you need our assistance before that time, we are happy to provide it. I would also encourage you to review your plans and make any requisite changes no matter how long you have taught your subject. We do not need to be complacent and simply recycle lessons year after year.” Here she cut a glance toward Binns, though she knew it would do no good. “And now on to Mr. Filch for a construction update…”
Minerva decided to take her own advice and review her Transfiguration plans, though it wasn’t as if she was going to let Filius and his grammar-picking nose near them. But she may as well get them done now, before everyone else needed her help.
After digging through the boxes still left unpacked near Dumbledore’s telescope, she located the scrolls labeled ‘September’ for each of the years and hovered them all in the air to view them at the same time.
Immediately spotting the changes she wanted to make to the NEWT-level plans (especially if Hermione Granger and her endless questions would be there), Minerva opened the top drawer to Dumbledore’s desk in search of a quill. None was to be found. Instead, there were several candies and even more candy wrappers.
She moved on to the next drawer – filled with what looked to be confiscated joke items, things that should have resided with Filch. And in the lowest drawer…letters. Minerva lifted them gingerly. Each had a phoenix emblem across the back of the envelope, with the front addressed simply to “Albus.” Minerva had to assume these were Order business, likely from the first war, though the letters seemed too old even for that.
Minerva located one of the boxes she had used to move her own items to this office. Gently, she placed each of the letters inside. These were not hers to open. She needed to find where they should go.
“I think we need to look into additional curses and jinxes,” Minerva said, standing at a safe distance from the Dark Arts portion of the library’s restricted section.
“But the aurors didn’t find any trace of dark magic, did they?” Sprout countered from the other side of the aisle.
“No, they didn’t,” she conceded. “But Merlin knows what kind of shit the Death Eaters were using. It could be something that doesn’t leave a trace.”
Minerva levitated Secrets of the Darkest Art off the shelf, hovering it in the air and flipping through pages with her wand. “Any luck?” Sprout called.
“Not really. I think most of these authors were just out to prove they knew what dark arts were. This one just outlines the difference between jinxes, hexes, and curses. This is third year Defense Against the Dark Arts stuff. Hardly secrets.” She sent the book back into its place on the shelf and replaced it with So You Want to Curse Your Family and Get Away with It? “Why do we even have this?” she muttered.
“We need to audit this section,” Sprout said, voicing Minerva’s exact thought.
“That’s the problem with not having a consistent teacher for the last fifty years. You end up with a bunch of vanity press and Knockturn Alley publisher crap. What we need is a real expert on curses, or at least a book by one.”
Neither of them said what Minerva knew they were both thinking. They needed Snape.
“You can’t smoke in here,” Minerva said, though telling a Hogwarts professor not to smoke in the library should hardly have needed to be said out loud.
Bathsheba Babbling tapped her pipe on the table. “But this one has a charm on it,” she said in a voice that betrayed years of that particular habit. “The smoke immediately vanishes.”
“And goes where all vanished objects do,” Minerva said, “Into non-being, which is to say, into everything. And I hardly need smoke in everything.”
“Touché.” Babbling put down the pipe and settled for playing with the wooden bracelets on her wrists. She watched as beside her, Bill Weasley spread a large map of Hogwarts on the table, then overlaid it with a thin sheet of parchment. Bill looked a little better than he had the last time he visited Hogwarts. Color, such as it was, had returned to his face, and the earring was back. And Minerva had always thought Babbling dressed more like a seer than an Ancient Runes specialist. Together, they made quite a pair.
“Alright, what are we looking at?” Bill asked as if he hadn’t just overheard two of his old professors arguing. “We think there could be some kind of untraceable dark curse that’s preventing you from repairing the castle?”
“Something like that,” Minerva confirmed. “Have you heard of such a thing?”
“There’s plenty of dark curses for just about everything,” Bill replied. He drew a rune on the parchment above the map, over the Great Hall, as Babbling watched over his shoulder, nodding with approval. “So could a curse exist that prevents the castle from responding to more mundane, ordinary spells? Sure. But then the question is: who cast it?”
“What do you mean?”
“These kinds of curses, the kinds with lingering effects persisting long after the caster has moved on or died can’t just exist unintentionally. Someone would have had to lay it.”
“And they take a while,” Babbling added. “These ancient types of curses would need a construction in runes. Someone couldn’t have just said ‘Castelo No-reparo’ and called it a day.”
Minerva sighed. That hardly sounded like the type of curse a Death Eater would have laid during the battle, especially considering they all thought You-Know-Who would be victorious. She watched as Bill drew another few runes and Babbling, ever the professor, leaned over him to make a correction. “This is probably a dead end, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Honest opinion?” Bill asked. At Minerva’s nod, he continued. “Most likely. But I’m happy to do my thing anyway, just to cross it off your list.”
“Thank you,” Minerva said, starting at Bill’s rune map while her hope faded even further.
There was a time, some fifteen years ago, when Minerva would take a walk each morning. Sometimes alone, then increasingly with Elphinstone Urquart by her side. Elphinstone had been her supervisor when she was at Magical Law Enforcement, and they stayed in contact after she moved on to Hogwarts. He would arrive early, usually half-past-six, and they would walk the grounds before she went in to breakfast.
One morning, a late summer morning like this one, Minerva looked sidelong at Elphinstone, noticing the deep lines in his face. She couldn’t help but wonder how they had gotten here – how they had moved from a working relationship, to a friendship, to whatever it was they had now. He had feelings for her, she knew that, but she appreciated that he didn’t bring it up routinely.
What was it making her rethink her position? Was it that the war with You-Know-Who had ended just over a year ago, imbuing their world with a fresh sense of peace? Or that at forty-seven, she was willing to look past their age difference and see Elphinstone’s never-ending support and kindness? Or simply that she realized she was far too old to be punishing herself for leaving Dougal McGregor all those years ago? He had moved on, was married and presumably had a family. Why shouldn’t she?
“Elphinstone,” she said as they neared the black lake. “I think we should try it.”
Minerva would always remember the look of hesitant joy on his face. “Try what?”
She laughed. “Try raising blast ended skrewts for a living, what did you think?” At his incredulous face, she continued, “Try this out. Whatever it is we’re dancing around.”
Now, twelve years after his death, Minerva stood on the steps of the castle, contemplating, then decided to take her morning walk as a cat. She circled the greenhouse, sniffing at the newly potted plants, congratulating herself when a mouse was frightened of her animagus form.
As she rounded the East Wing and made her way toward the Boathouse, she noticed Arthur and Molly coming in from the Hogsmeade Trailhead, hand in hand, holding mugs of something-or-other that sent steam into the chill of the morning air.
Minerva ducked out of sight behind a wild shrivelfig bush. A cat on the Hogwarts grounds wouldn’t be unusual, but a cat with spectacle markings would definitely catch their eye. “It takes my breath away, still,” Arthur was saying. “Seeing the castle like this.”
“Kind of reminds you of our first date, doesn’t it?” Molly replied.
“Oh, don’t remind me,” Arthur said with a groan.
“What? Walking back from Hogsmeade, drinking butterbeer, holding hands…”
“Spilling butterbeer on my robes, getting hit in the face by a snowball…”
“I yelled at my brothers for that, you know,” Molly said, laughing.
“I do know.” The Weasleys paused and turned briefly to each other, smiling, then walked on toward the castle.
Minerva stayed behind the bush for longer than was strictly necessary, batting at a shrivelfig. After a while, she lay her head on her paws, staring out across the lake.
Minerva decided to review Molly and Arthur’s lesson plans first. As the new professors, they would theoretically need the most time (though Merlin knew Hagrid could use some input).
Arthur’s review took two hours and three Muggle Studies reference books. Of course, he wasn’t going to be perfect in terms of his understanding of muggles. But he was enthusiastic, and he loved muggles, and after the war, Minerva considered that more important even than accuracy. And on top of it, Hermione was practically his daughter-in-law. She would make sure he didn’t embarrass himself too badly.
While Arthur was predictable in just about everything he did, Minerva wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Molly. She and Arthur smiled at each other in passing as Molly carried her scrolls into Minerva’s office and Arthur levitated his out the door toward the griffin.
Molly set the scrolls down, clearly nervous. “Professor McGonagall,” she said in greeting.
“Do I need to do the ‘call me Minerva now’ routine?” Minerva tried to joke.
“I suppose so,” Molly said, taking a seat in front of the desk, opening the scrolls to reveal the most detailed lesson plans Minerva had ever seen. Where Binns usually wrote something to the effect of “Goblin Wars – discuss” and Trelawney basically listed “Train Inner Eye” as the learning objective for each class date, Molly had a list of objectives, lecture notes, discussion questions, and activities for each day for each class for the entire month of September. She had even sketched out a timeline of each class.
This was the work of a veteran teacher, not someone newly hired. The only professors who had ever rivaled this level of detail were Snape and herself, and even they couldn’t hold a candle to the work Molly had put in. “My god,” Minerva whispered.
“That bad, huh?” Molly said, twisting her hands in her lap.
“Not at all,” Minerva said, reading through the introductory lessons for the NEWT students. Objective: Define ‘Dark Arts.’ It was philosophical, it was engaging. Minerva had forgotten what good Defense Against the Dark Arts instruction should look like. “This is…this is incredible, Molly.”
“Really?” For a moment, Minerva saw young Molly Prewett sitting in front of her, unsure of selecting a career, ready to be finished with Hogwarts and start a family.
“Really.” Minerva made a few quick notes on the parchment – suggestions for the sake of looking like the Headmistress more than anything, and rolled them back up. “You’re ready for September.”
“That’s…” Molly finally allowed herself to breathe, and it came out in a rush. “That’s wonderful. I’ll start on October right away.”
Minerva watched as Molly collected her scrolls and prepared to leave, congratulating herself on choice of professor and congratulating Hogwarts on having the Defense Against the Dark Arts curse lifted. “I’m sorry, Minerva,” Molly said suddenly, drawing Minerva’s attention back to her. “It’s been weighing at me, what I told Ginny. She doesn’t need to arrange her life around Harry. You were right. I’ve told her she should come back. I hope she listens.”
Minerva nodded, relieved. “I hope so too.”
The students would hate it if they ever found out about this tradition, but that was part of its appeal, in Minerva’s opinion. “I can’t believe this,” Molly Weasley said as Sprout tapped the barrel and revealed the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room. “All of my student fantasies are being washed away in this very moment.”
Minerva followed Sprout, Molly, Arthur, Flitwick, and Slughorn into the common room. “Me too,” Arthur agreed. “How long has this little tradition been in place?”
“As long as I’ve been here,” Minerva answered. “Slughorn, Flitwick, any idea?”
“When I took over head of house from Merrythought, she told me about it,” Flitwick said. “So long before my time as well.”
Sprout started messing with plants as Molly asked, “What can we help with?”
“The idea is just to make sure everything is ready and looks nice for the students,” Minerva said. “We can’t get the first-year dormitory completely set until we know how many students will be sorted, but the house elves usually take care of that.”
“And this year, we may not know how many seventh years we have either,” Slughorn put in.
“True. So we spread out, examine the common room and the dormitories, make any necessary repairs or decorate as need be, and generally spy on the other houses.” Minerva pointed her wand at the black and yellow tapestries hanging from the ceiling as she spoke, causing them to flap back and forth and dispel dust.
Arthur laughed and followed Slughorn down the hall toward the dormitories while Molly set to work on fluffing the sofas.
Slytherin always elicited the biggest reaction from the non-Slytherin faculty, and Molly and Arthur were no exception. “Whoa,” Molly whispered as Slughorn led them inside. “This is not what I expected.”
“What did you expect?” Slughorn asked. “Big, bad torture dungeon?”
“You never know,” Molly responded, winking in his direction.
Slughorn clearly appreciated that and chuckled as he set to work dusting pewter skulls lining the mantelpiece of one of the fireplaces. Molly and Arthur were less helpful than they had been, gazing out the windows into the black lake, pointing when they saw a turtle or a grindylow pass by. Not that Minerva could blame them – she had done the same thing her first year, after all.
Minerva worked on the tapestries again, and she was half-tempted to play the prank she pulled every year on Snape – casting “Colovaria” on them to temporarily replace the green and silver with red and gold. Snape would always roll his eyes and pretend to be angry for about five minutes, but Minerva knew he secretly liked being part of their friendly rivalry. But as she glanced away, she found Slughorn lingering in the hall that would lead to the dormitories.
“What is it?” Sprout asked, drawing Molly and Arthur’s attention away from the window.
Slughorn didn’t turn around to face them, but he whispered, “Who’s going to come back?” then lifted his hand, covering his mouth. “How can we -” He cut off and didn’t finish the thought, but he didn’t have to. How could his house move on? How could any of them?
They were in Ravenclaw when they actually discussed it. Flitwick didn’t give anyone a chance to answer the riddle (“What am I?” to which he blurted “A Question,” causing the rest of them to groan) and put them all to specific tasks – most involving rearranging the books on the cases that stretched nearly to the ceiling. Flitwick himself worked on polishing the statue of Rowena Ravenclaw, a task Minerva knew he trusted to no one else.
“What do we think,” Sprout began hesitantly. “What do we think about house rivalries this year? Will they be worse because of the war or better because we survived it?”
Minerva looked at her, trying to convey the gratitude she felt that the head of Hufflepuff, the house with the least inter-house issues, was the one to raise the subject. “I don’t know,” she answered. “I truly don’t. Horace, what are your thoughts?”
“I’m unclear. I doubt we’ll have many from Slytherin come back.” Slughorn had regained some of his composure after his outburst in his own common room. “All of the old families will be angry or ashamed by the war’s outcome, and many of the others have lost friends.”
“So what do we do?” Arthur asked. “How do we handle it?”
“I’d appreciate if no one inflames the rivalries,” Slughorn said, addressing Minerva even though it was Arthur’s question he answered. “And that we don’t blame the students for…for all that they’ve done.”
“We can do that,” Molly said, laying her hand on Slughorn’s arm.
“Of course we can,” Minerva said, her mind already concerned with how she was going to do this – how she would communicate this message, in her start of term speech, perhaps. “No one blames you, Horace,” she said. “And no one blames the children.”
“You lot don’t, in any case,” Slughorn said. “And that’s enough for now.”
“I appreciate you left this one for last,” Arthur said as they entered the Gryffindor common room. “That way, I can take my crippling nostalgia back to our quarters for the night.”
Molly laughed. “I haven’t been in here since I was a seventh year,” she said. “Not even when…when anything, really.” She quickly ran out of steam and sank onto one of the couches. Sprout sat beside her, playing the comforter as usual. Minerva worried about this, about Molly and Arthur being in proximity to the last halls their son had walked, the rooms where all of their children had been in danger. “It’s alright,” Molly said, her hand smoothing out the fabric of the sofa, looking around at each of them. “I can do it.”
“We know,” Sprout said.
“No doubt in our minds,” Flitwick said, flipping his wand over his shoulder.
Minerva traced the trajectory of his wand, watching as the tapestries in the common room changed their colors to blue and bronze. “Flitwick!” she practically shouted.
Flitwick tried to maintain his composure, failed, and started giggling maniacally. “Impaled upon thine own sword,” he choked out. Minerva tried to look angry, but then Sprout started laughing, then Arthur, then Slughorn, and finally Molly. Minerva couldn’t help it – she laughed along with them. Though she did change the colors back first.
Minerva doubted Dumbledore was ever really nervous. He seemed to handle everything with an odd sense of calm, from fighting an army of dementors to facing down the Board of Governors. But as she sat in his – her – office, watching Flitwick read through the draft of her start of term speech, she gained a new appreciation for Dumbledore’s fortitude.
Flitwick pushed up his glasses, which had slipped on his face. “You ended this sentence in a preposition.”
She should have figured this. “That’s it. Get out. I’m asking Pomona.”
“And you need a comma here.”
“It’s a speech, Flitwick. No one’s going to see the comma. Go.” She snatched the parchment out of his grip as he hauled himself off the chair and left the office with a snort.
She looked back over the speech, unhappy with most of it. Waving her wand, she muttered an “Evanesca,” and the final paragraph disappeared, the daunting blank parchment returning. After a moment more of staring at her unfinished speech, the door opened again.
“Flitwick said you got sick of his Ravenclaw nonsense,” Sprout said. “Well, that’s not exactly how he put it, but I wasn’t born yesterday.”
“Too right you are,” Minerva said, holding the parchment out for Sprout to take – which she did, taking Flitwick’s seat and moving her lips silently as she read.
“I think this is wonderful,” Sprout said when she had finished, handing the parchment back to Minerva.
“I’ve gone from one extreme to the other. Now I’m getting sick of Hufflepuff nonsense. It isn’t wonderful. It isn’t even finished.”
“Where’s your Gryffindor spirit, Minerva? What’s it you Gryffindors always say? Cast first, ask questions later?”
“I fail to see your point.”
Sprout sighed. “My point is, you’re overthinking it. As long as you do the whole ‘Welcome to Hogwarts, it’s a magical place, let’s heal after the war’ thing, everyone’s going to love it.”
Minerva had to disagree with that. “I think the expectations are higher because of that…How am I supposed to speak like Dumbledore in this situation?”
“Are we going to be doing this all year?”
“Doing what all year?” Minerva asked, her patience growing thin.
“Listening to you sell yourself short in comparison to Dumbledore. Because it’s not even September, and I’m sick of it.”
Aurors walked in front of the professors on their way to Hogsmeade, and aurors walked behind. With the school and its surrounding areas now (relatively) safe to inhabit, Minerva had decided to resurrect the annual tradition of taking the staff for dinner at the Three Broomsticks the night before term began.
Minerva didn’t hear the chatter of Hagrid and Arthur beside her. Instead, she remembered the last time she had made this journey. She walked between Snape and Dumbledore. That itself wasn’t unusual. But something was going on with them – they were barely speaking to each other and were avoiding even looking in each other’s direction. Minerva had to fight the urge to roll her eyes – she had known them both long enough to know that not only were they in some kind of argument, they thought they were being subtle about it.
Minerva was tempted to hang back, to walk with Pomona or Filius. Dumbledore and Snape got into a spat every now and then, and she had learned years ago not to get involved – it was always inane and never worth her time. But in this instance, something made her stay.
“So,” Minerva said, attempting to break the silence of whatever unspoken ill-will she was meddling with. “Who’s read the article about the supposed thirteenth use of dragon’s blood?”
“Hogwash, in my opinion.” If Dumbledore saw right through her (which he usually did), he didn’t let it show.
“Not that you’re biased,” Minerva replied.
Snape snorted and glanced at Dumbledore briefly, then back at the ground. Minerva fixed Dumbledore with a look, and he reached his arm around her, laying his hand on Snape’s shoulder. Snape flinched, startled, then nodded, almost imperceptibly.
She didn’t allow herself to think too long on what that fight had been about. With two years of hindsight and Harry Potter’s account of Snape’s memories, she knew, but she didn’t want to examine it, to acknowledge it fully.
When they arrived at the Three Broomsticks, Minerva waited until all of the staff had entered the building. Calliope Quintin and Marcus Rathburn stood as sentinels at either side of the door. It was clear Rathburn was counting their numbers, and Quintin asked, “Is that everyone, Professor?”
“Enjoy your evening. If anything happens, stick to the plan. We’ll be out here.”
“Thank you.” Minerva entered the Three Broomsticks to the sound of Quintin laying a Caterwauling Charm and Rathburn chanting “Cave Inimicum” over and over.
Inside, Madam Rosmerta greeted her with an embrace, then gestured toward the table, which had been set in the center of the pub. Minerva watched as her staff helped themselves to the piles of food that Rosmerta had prepared – roast chicken, Cornish pasties, potatoes, split pea soup. “You didn’t have to do this much,” Minerva said. “This is more than our usual -”
Rosmerta shook her head. “After everything you’ve all done…” She paused to wipe at her eyes. “I can make food. That’s what I can do.”
“It smells delicious,” Minerva said, deciding to let it go. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
Seating herself amongst her staff, Minerva helped herself to the pasties, listening as Arthur Weasley relayed a complicated story involving a spark plug, a roller skate, and a clothes dryer, with Molly rolling her eyes good-naturedly and Pomfrey almost falling out of her chair with laughter.
As the evening drew to a close, Minerva rose, her goblet in hand. “A toast,” she said. “To all of you. To our students. To another year. And to those we have lost.” Minerva didn’t know if she could continue, but luckily, she didn’t have to.
Hagrid stood, his chair clattering to the floor behind him. His voice was thick as he raised his giant stein and said, “For Dumbledore.”
Vector stood, one hand holding a glass, the other reaching toward Babbling, who took it. “For Burbage.”
In a brief moment, Minerva worried that no one was going to say the last one. He had, after all, made more enemies than friends of the people in this room. But Sinistra and Slughorn, the two Slytherins among them, stood together. “For Snape.”
Minerva raised her glass. “For Hogwarts.”
Chapter 5: September
Minerva watched the door keenly, looking to see who would be present this year, who wouldn’t. The Slytherin table was sparse, she noted with a tightening of her chest. Many of the students had made the wrong decision during the war, of course, backed by the pressure of their families. But Minerva couldn’t help herself feeling for them, for the few Slytherins who remained, and for Snape, in the case that he was watching.
She kept her eye on the door, and finally, Hermione Granger came through, the same excited look on her face she wore in every situation like this. Behind her, Luna Lovegood. And then…Ginny Weasley walked in behind them. She parted ways with Luna and followed Hermione to the Gryffindor table, pausing to look up at Minerva, point to the Quidditch Captain’s badge she had somehow affixed to her robes, and do a silent little jig. Minerva sighed in relief and said, “Settle down,” as Flitwick led in the first years for the sorting.
Minerva would never forget this moment in her own life. After the majestic ride on the boat, she waited with all of the first years, nervously hopping up and down, ready for the sorting. She didn’t know what to expect. Her mother had told her about the sorting, of course, but only the basics. A hat rested upon your head, telling you of your house. Minerva’s imagination had run wild for months in anticipation.
The heavy wooden doors swung open, revealing the Great Hall behind them. But Minerva’s eyes trained on the man who walked through them – purple robes, half-moon glasses. He was the first grown-up wizard (aside from her mother, of course) Minerva had ever seen.
“Welcome to Hogwarts,” he said, and Minerva knew, somehow, that this man was powerful, that he was important. “I am Professor Dumbledore. In a moment, we will walk through these doors and you will be sorted into your houses. The houses are Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. During your time at Hogwarts, your house will be like your family.”
Minerva followed him blindly, shaking from nerves as one classmate after another was sorted, unable to even appreciate the Great Hall’s beauty, the night sky shining above them. As Professor Dumbledore called, “Morgana Mattington,” she knew she was close.
“Minerva McGonagall,” Dumbledore called. Minerva took a seat on the stool, put on the hat, and waited.
“Hmm…” the hat whispered in her ear. “Hmm…well, isn’t this interesting?”
“What’s interesting?” she thought, and the hat seemed to read her mind.
“Your mind. It’s quite keen you know. Very sharp. But bravery, that’s also there. There’s wit, but there’s courage. The desire to improve your mind, but the desire to improve your world….Hmm.” Minerva started to blush. This was taking quite a long time. Longer than her classmates – but that could just be her imagination, her nerves.
“Ravenclaw or Gryffindor?”
“My mother was in Ravenclaw,” Minerva thought.
“But is that where you belong?” the hat whispered.
“I don’t know.”
The hat didn’t speak again, not for a while. Minerva looked up, panicking. Was something wrong? Teachers at the high table started looking at each other, their eyes wide. What if the hat couldn’t sort her? Only the stupidest, least powerful witches in the world wouldn’t have a house to belong to. Breathing hard, Minerva chanced a look at Professor Dumbledore. He smiled and nodded at her, an odd look on his face. For some reason, Minerva’s mind went to Dumbledore’s speech outside the Great Hall, the slight emphasis he had placed on the word ‘Gryffindor.’
“Gryffindor!” the hat called, and Minerva nearly fainted in relief.
As she attempted to stand up, her knees weak, Minerva heard the whispers from the teachers behind her. “How long? … Five-thirty-three….Hatstall…Extraordinary…Isobel Ross’ daughter…When was the last? …”
Professor Dumbledore needed to help her off the stool and give her a little push toward the Gryffindor table. “Gryffindor it is,” he whispered.
As Flitwick carried the hat to the high table and took a seat, Minerva stood, feeling a slight shake in her hands and an ache in her bad knee. She looked toward the back of the Great Hall, noting the two aurors at either side of the door. Now that all of the students were inside, the aurors raised their wands, performing a series of silent protection charms.
“Good evening,” Minerva said, hoping the tremor in her voice was the kind only she could hear. “And welcome to another year at Hogwarts. This year, we come to Hogwarts with anticipation and excitement, as well as with sadness and grief. We come to Hogwarts without our friends, our classmates, and our professors. Those of you returning to Hogwarts may note that much has changed. The staircases in particular will now take you to different locations than they did before. I encourage you to plan extra time into your schedules to locate the most direct route to your classes. ‘The stairs moved’ will not be an adequate excuse for tardiness. Additionally, Hogwarts will be secured by a team of aurors, who will be patrolling the buildings and grounds throughout the year. As we begin the year, I must remind you that you are the future, not only of Hogwarts, but of the wizarding world. Now is the time for us to come together across years, across houses, to rebuild our school and our world. Please keep that in mind. Enjoy the feast.”
“Very well done, Minerva,” Slughorn said, passing her a coffee pot the following morning at breakfast.
Minerva knew it wasn’t true but accepted the sentiment, and the coffee, without comment. She hadn’t really slept the previous night, playing over everything that could have gone better from the evening’s proceedings.
“I have to say,” Flitwick said, swirling his spoon around in his porridge. “I’ve seen the sorting from the exact same vantage point for some fifty years...until last night, of course.”
“Very true.” Minerva agreed - with herself at the head of the Great Hall and Filius leading in the students, everything had felt backwards, out of place.
“Tell me about it,” Sprout said, leaning around Slughorn, who had tucked into a pile of bacon.
“You did the same thing you always do,” Minerva said.
“Yes, but I did it without Snape in my ear, muttering ‘looks like one of yours’ every time a sloppy, unkempt child was called.”
Flitwick snorted. “I forgot he used to do that.”
Minerva was surprised - she had never heard about this particular quirk. “When did he start doing that?” she asked.
“What would you say, Filius?” Sprout responded. “Maybe his fourth or fifth year?”
“Something like that,” Flitwick confirmed. “Right around the time he started talking. You have to admit, Pomona, that he was right a hell of a lot of the time.”
Sprout made a noncommittal grunt, then clearly sought to change the subject. “To the first day of classes,” she said, raising her mug. “Tonight, this will be firewhiskey.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Minerva said, rising from the table and steeling herself for her first class.
“Welcome back,” Minerva said to her gathered group of students. “This is NEWT – level Transfiguration.”
While her first day of term had consisted primarily of first and second year students, today she was confronted with the more inquisitive and, of course, more traumatized group of older students. Hermione Granger sat at the front of the small class made up of students from all four houses, Luna Lovegood next to her. Ginny Weasley, who had become the third member of their little trio, had elected for Care of Magical Creatures and Charms, along with relentless Quidditch practice. Minerva made a quick mental note to interrogate Hermione about her schedule; without even asking, she knew Hermione had not followed her advice to reduce the number of classes she was taking.
“This year, we will be preparing for your NEWTS, which will test your knowledge of the theory and practice of Transfiguration. You will need a deep understanding of both to succeed at your NEWTS, and I expect that you will spend hours outside of class in practice and study each week.” Here, Minerva glanced at each student to make sure her point was taken. No one so much as moved. “Between here and Christmas, our focus will be on practicing the most difficult form of Transfiguration, which is?”
Hermione Granger’s hand shot into the air, but Minerva said, “Miss Greengrass?”
Astoria Greengrass, the only Slytherin in the room, looked up from her parchment, clearing her throat. She paled under the stares of the other students in the classroom as they turned toward her seat at the very back of the class. “Human Transfiguration, Professor,” she said in a small voice.
“Correct. Five points to Slytherin. And after Christmas, we will examine the theoretical foundations of the most common Transfiguration spells. Now, to begin, I want you all on your feet.” Minerva conjured twelve mirrors, one for each student, and set to reviewing the hair-changing spell.
“For your homework,” Minerva said when the hour was nearing its end. “You will read Chapter 4 of A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration and Emeric Switch’s seminal 1926 article ‘On the Transfiguration of Man’ originally printed in Transfiguration Today, which may be found in the library. You will compose an essay on the history and theory of Human Transfiguration.” Hermione’s hand was up again, and Minerva anticipated her question. “As long as it takes to sufficiently address the issue at hand, Miss Granger.” Hermione’s hand lowered. “You are dismissed.”
Minerva walked with Sprout on the trail to Hogsmeade. They had made it through the first week of term without incident. She wasn’t sure whether to take that as a good sign or simply as the calm before the inevitable storm.
They passed the auror at the Hogsmeade Trailhead. “Professor Sprout and I are going to Hogsmeade,” Minerva told him. “In an incident, please alert Professor Flitwick, then myself. He is aware of our departure.”
Sprout was quiet for the beginning of the journey, letting Minerva look around at the late summer scenery without comment. Then finally, as they rounded the curve that brought Hogsmeade into view, Sprout said, “Remember when I worked at Dogweed and Deathcap after I graduated Hogwarts?”
Minerva smiled at the recollection. “All of the Gryffindor third-years thought I was so adult, having a grown-up friend who worked in Hogsmeade.”
“You did too, for that matter.”
“I suppose so. What made you think about that?”
“I don’t know,” Sprout said thoughtfully. “I’ve just been thinking about the past a lot, lately.”
Minerva didn’t say that she had, too – that it was nearly all she thought about. She didn’t need to. “Three Broomsticks?” she said instead, leading them in that direction.
“Absolutely. I’d love to enjoy a Palopabita’s without being surrounded by a thousand students.”
“Agreed,” Minerva said. “On the Hogsmeade weekend insanity, not on the Fishy Green Ale. I don’t know how you stand the stuff.”
“It’s an acquired taste,” Sprout said, opening the door to the Three Broomsticks, which was full, but mercifully, full of adults.
Madam Rosmerta gestured them to a booth that was somehow empty, tucked away in a corner. Minerva had always appreciated how the Hogsmeade villagers took care of Hogwarts professors needing a little time away from the castle. “The usual, Professors?” she called across the pub.
“Indeed,” Sprout shouted, a little louder even than necessary.
“And you haven’t even started drinking yet,” Minerva said.
The Three Broomstick’s longtime chef, Juliet Osuji, came out with Rosmerta to deliver the food. “I heard a rumor Professor Sprout was here,” she said, leaning in to hug Sprout across the table. “And hello as well, Professor McGonagall.” Minerva looked up from her soup to smile in Juliet’s direction.
Minerva sipped at her soup as Sprout caught up with her former students. Like all good cooks and pub owners, Rosmerta and Juliet were also loyal Hufflepuffs, and Sprout couldn’t go anywhere without a swarm of them surrounding her.
“You’re doing it again,” Sprout said as Rosmerta and Juliet walked away. Minerva slowly drew her eyes away from Rosmerta, who kissed Juliet on the cheek, then jumped away as Juliet swatted playfully at her with a towel.
“Doing what?” Minerva asked.
“That thing you always do, when you stare at happy couples.” Sprout drank deeply of her Fishy Green Ale. “It’s been twelve years, Minerva. It’s acceptable for you to move on.”
That wasn’t really the problem – it wasn’t as if she believed Elphinstone to be somewhere monitoring her every move, deciding when she could finish mourning him. She knew that day would never really come, just like the day would never come when she didn’t on some level regret walking away from Dougal. But she didn’t want to talk about any of that, not even with Sprout. So instead she said, “What do you suggest I do? Take out a personal ad in the Daily Prophet?”
Sprout laughed at that. “It’s a start.”
“Why don’t you do it then?” Minerva asked. She knew immediately it was the wrong thing to say. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Sprout dismissed her with a wave of her hand and another drink of ale. “You know that whole thing isn’t for me.”
“I’m sorry,” Sprout said. “Let’s eat our lunch and gossip about the other professors.”
Sprout could always do that – make Minerva forget whatever had angered her only a moment before. “That works for me.”
After classes, then dinner in the Great Hall, Minerva marked essays in her office until Bill Weasley emerged from the fireplace, brushing soot off his shoulders. “Good evening, Mr. Weasley,” she greeted.
“Ready for me, Professor?” he asked.
“Indeed. Where would you like to start?”
“I was thinking the Entrance Hall.” Bill adjusted the bag hanging off his shoulder and followed Minerva as she led him from the office, down several flights of stairs, and across the castle to Hogwarts’ main entrance.
When they arrived, Bill removed parchment and books from his bag as he had during his last curse-breaking visit, but this time, he also produced a small jar containing a green paste. “This is tincture of mastic,” Bill explained. “It has revelatory properties when used in conjunction with certain runic combinations.”
Minerva nodded – she had some experience in runes, after all.
“So I’ll need to draw the runes in this tincture on the stone. Will that be alright with you? I’ll erase them before I leave.”
Bill got to work, painting a rune on the stone floor with his thumb, then sat back on his haunches, examining it. He had his hand poised to paint the second when a voice called out from the staircase. “Bill fucking Weasley, I didn’t know you stayed up this late.”
Minerva snapped her head up sharply, just in time to see Ginny Weasley gasp. “Oh, shit…I mean, good evening, Professor McGonagall.”
“Good evening,” Minerva returned. “And good ten points from Gryffindor.”
“That’s fair,” Ginny said, twisting her broom awkwardly in her hand.
“Don’t you have a Quidditch tryout to be overseeing?” Minerva asked, noting that Bill hadn’t even acknowledged his sister’s insult. Instead, he just returned to his runes as if this sort of thing happened all the time. It probably did.
“Yep. Indeed I do. I’ll just be…” she shot down the stairs, sidestepping Bill and obviously attempting to get out the door without attracting any more of Minerva’s attention.
“Please be selective in who you place on the team.” Minerva could never resist doling out Quidditch advice, and Ginny was in no position to ignore it right now. “I expect the cup this year.”
“Yes, Professor.” She disappeared out the door and Bill sighed.
“I’m taking that as a ‘no’ for the Entrance Hall,” Minerva said, glancing at the mastic smudges on the stonework.
“That’s correct,” Bill said. “On to the basements?”
“Lead the way.” Minerva followed Bill out of the entrance hall, prepared to follow this lead to its inevitable dead end.
“Professor?” Minerva looked up from her texts to see Hermione Granger standing over her, a giant stack of books in hand.
“Miss Granger,” she responded.
Hermione kept staring at her. Minerva knew why – professors didn’t research in the library amongst whispering students. She could tell Hermione wanted to ask why she was there – she was practically bouncing up and down with the effort to keep it in.
Minerva quickly changed the subject. “I hear you’ve registered for seven classes,” she said.
Hermione set the books on the table and sat down across from Minerva. “I dropped Ancient Runes,” she said, as if this had been a substantial sacrifice. Perhaps it had.
“That’s a start,” Minerva said, quickly tucking her book underneath a stack of scrolls, so that Hermione couldn’t read the title. “What else are you planning to drop?”
Hermione sighed, fiddling with a quill on the table. “I was hoping to keep everything else.”
“I had this conversation with you after the time-turner disaster that was your third year.” Hermione had the prudence to look chastened, so Minerva continued. “We need to make your seventh year more manageable. Two or three NEWTS is customary.”
“How many NEWTS did you take?” Hermione asked.
Minerva sighed. “Four.” She made it a general rule not to discuss her own life with students, but if there was a time to make an exception, this was it. “Transfiguration, of course, along with Charms, Arithmancy, and Ancient Runes.”
“And I’m sure you got Os in all of them.” Hermione had always been bold, but the war had emboldened her, that was certain.
“I did,” Minerva said. “And I was so exhausted that I fell from my broom during the Quidditch finals. I broke four ribs and to this day, my knee hurts when it rains.”
The story had its intended effect. Hermione gave Minerva a look she recognized – it was the same look she had given Dumbledore when she first realized he was human. “What do you think I should do, Professor?” Hermione asked.
“I will approve four classes, provided that you make your studies your only priority this year.”
Hermione nodded, clearly disappointed in this outcome, but not protesting. “Can I think about which ones I want to keep?”
“Yes. Please let me know Monday.”
Minerva watched as Hermione scooped up her pile of books and shuffled out of the library, then turned back to her research.
Hermione approached the high table, holding out a sheet of parchment. Minerva took it, unfolding it on the table. There it was, in Hermione’s neat script – ‘Transfiguration, Charms, Arithmancy, History of Magic.’
Minerva looked at the parchment for a moment before realizing that Hermione was still standing in front of the table. And Ginny Weasley had come to join her. “This will work,” she said, wondering how breakfast had somehow turned into a Gryffindor group meeting. “Miss Weasley,” she said, turning her attention to Ginny. “Do you also have something to discuss with me, or did you join Miss Granger for moral support?”
Ginny snorted. “No, Professor. Hermione, you can go.”
Hermione glared but stalked off to the Gryffindor table, picking up a large stack of books and heading out of the Great Hall. “What is it?” Minerva asked.
“I wanted to run the Quidditch roster by you, Professor.”
This was good news. Minerva tried not to micro-manage Quidditch (aside from bouts of unsolicited advice), and now that she was no longer head of Gryffindor, it would be especially inappropriate. But she knew Ginny wasn’t about to discuss it with her parents, and Minerva enjoyed knowing the roster before everyone else. She mentally prepared herself to withhold her opinion, then said, “Please do.”
“Okay.” Ginny took a deep breath. “So I’ve got me and Robins keeping our spots as Chasers, and I’m adding Dobbs. Robins is good at evasion, and Dobbs is fast, so I’m thinking together, they’ll be a good match.” Minerva nodded her approval. “I’m keeping Peakes and Coote as Beaters. We didn’t have too many others try out and the ones that did…” she trailed off, her implication clear. “Keeper was close, but I’m going with McDonald. She’s small and kind of jumpy, but she blocked the most shots, and she’s got no problem taking a bludger. And seeker, I’m going with Abercrombie.”
Minerva cut a glance over at Euan Abercrombie, a small, odd-looking boy who hadn’t shown much discernible talent, either in the classroom or out of it. Ginny must have read her surprise because she quickly followed up with, “I know it seems weird, but it was hands down. On a broom, he’s a different person. And I think we need some young blood – me, Robins, Peakes, and Coote are getting up there.” Ginny didn’t need to mention that they were also all fresh from a war.
Minerva thought through the roster once more. “I’m impressed,” she said. Most captains picked their friends. They were seventeen, after all. But this roster was well thought out. It showed maturity and knowledge of the game. Minerva didn’t quite know how to put that into words in a way that wouldn’t embarrass Ginny, so she simply said, “Go ahead and post it. I think the cup is well within your reach. If you begin practice immediately, of course.”
Ginny clearly got her meaning – the one she couldn’t express. “Thank you, Professor. We will. Tonight.”
Minerva sat in her office well into the evening. Her essays were marked and her lesson plans finally ready just past one in the morning. She was exhausted, but she didn’t want to make the trek to her quarters, and she didn’t look forward to lying awake in bed, her mind too busy to allow herself to fall asleep.
She returned to Dumbledore’s letters that she had placed into a box and found herself with a moment of clarity. These didn’t belong to her, not really. She might like to think of Dumbledore as family, and in a way, he was. But he did still have family, after all, even if he didn’t see them fit to manage his affairs after his death.
Minerva had never really known Aberforth – of course, she had been introduced, and she had spoken to him in the Hog’s Head during several Hogsmeade weekends over the course of the years she had worked at Hogwarts, but it wasn’t as if she took tea with him routinely.
She walked around the office, finding things to add to the box along with the letters. Dumbledore’s books and personal items – statuettes, paperweights, everything else she could find without any noticeable magical properties. She had never fully understood the relationship between Albus and Aberforth Dumbledore – her relationships with Rob and Malcolm were much less fraught, more straightforward. It wasn’t as if the Dumbledores caught pre-season Quidditch matches or sat at the table for hours after Christmas dinner, playing games of Exploding Snap that nearly turned violent.
But if it were one of her brothers – at the thought, Minerva felt her heart plummet – if it were one of her brothers, she would want the opportunity to hold onto something they had touched.
Minerva sniffed, then held back a sneeze - it seemed as if Aberforth still hadn’t found it fit to dust. She looked over both shoulders, as if for someone she knew...not that anyone she knew would frequent the Hog’s Head. Perhaps she was just embarrassed to be there.
She had been so focused on her errand, so concerned with completing this task, that she hadn’t considered how she would react to seeing him - but when Aberforth Dumbledore came out from the stockroom, met her gaze with his blue eyes, and gave her a smile that tugged at his cheeks, at the corners of his eyes, Minerva felt herself stop breathing. She knew she was staring. She knew, but she couldn’t stop. “Aberforth,” she whispered, clutching the package in her hands.
“Minerva,” he said. “How may I help you?”
“I…” she faltered. “I went through your brother’s office. I have some of his effects.” She held out the package, which Aberforth took. As he sorted through the contents, she couldn’t help but continue. “There are many others, too large to carry. Tools, magical implements. I’m unsure which belong to him personally and which to Hogwarts, but I am willing to locate the records to find out. Of course, anything you want is yours. You are his family.”
Aberforth looked up from the box and raised his eyebrows. “I am, am I?” he said, more cryptically than he had perhaps intended. He set the box down on the bar and slid it toward her. “I don’t need anything of his,” Aberforth said definitively. “And I certainly” - here his eyes flashed with something reminiscent of Albus, “don’t need anything of Gellert Grindelwald’s.”
“Gellert Grindelwald?” Minerva couldn’t keep the surprise out of her voice. But what surprised her, she couldn’t have said. She had known, of course, about Gellert Grindelwald. Was she surprised that Aberforth knew? She shouldn’t have been. Or was it that she had believed Grindelwald to be a thing of the distant past?
Aberforth reached into the box, pulling out what Minerva assumed was a letter, emblazoned with the red and gold phoenix symbol Minerva had seen thousands of times over the years. “I would recognize that son of a bitch’s handwriting - and his stupid phoenix seal - anywhere.”
“The phoenix?” Minerva asked. “The phoenix was Albus’ … everything. His companion, his patronus, the name he gave his Order. Everything.”
“Exactly,” Aberforth said, a solid note to his voice. “Where do you think he got that phoenix?”
Everything. Gellert Grindelwald had been everything. Minerva sank to the floor in front of Dumbledore’s desk, staring at his golden telescope, turning the letter over in her trembling hands, deciding.
Unbidden, a memory rose to the surface of her mind, as clearly as if she were viewing it in a pensieve. Herself, in her transfiguration classroom, age twenty four, clutching a letter like this one. Her mother’s voice echoing in her mind, telling her amidst a stream of Caithness gossip that Dougal McGregor had married a local woman, a farmer’s daughter, Rosemary Something-or-other. Rosemary McGregor now. She chastised herself as tears streamed down her cheeks. She had been the one to leave Dougal, after all. She had been the one with a bright future, a job offer in London, her whole life ahead of her. She had been the one to watch her witch mother languish among muggles in Caithness, her wand hidden beneath her bed. She had walked away with no explanation. She couldn’t blame Dougal for moving on - she had no one to blame but herself.
A knock sounded on the door, and she turned, quickly wiping at her face, to see Dumbledore leaning in the door frame. “Minerva?” he said softly.
“Headmaster,” she sputtered, humiliated. She searched frantically for a suitable lie. She was already the young woman on staff. She didn’t need to seem lovesick on top of it. “I was just -”
Dumbledore cut her off by raising his hand, then sat at one of the student desks, leaving a distance between them. He looked at the letter then into her eyes. He was an accomplished legilimens, she knew that, but she didn’t feel him pry into her mind. Instead, she found herself blurting out “He married someone else.”
Dumbledore sighed and nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“I can still do my job, Headmaster. The students will never know -” She cut off when he raised a hand again.
“I know. There is no need to reassure me of that.” Dumbledore stared out the window for a moment, allowing silence to settle over the room. When he spoke again, it was in such a quiet voice that Minerva needed to strain to hear him. “I understand.” He paused. “Minerva, have I told you about Gellert Grindelwald?”
He hadn’t. He must have known he hadn’t. But Minerva knew now, with decades of hindsight, that he must have been nervous to begin the conversation. “Gellert Grindelwald?” she said, surprised at the turn in subject. “The dark wizard you defeated?” Dumbledore nodded, and she stared at him, trying to fit the pieces together. “I don’t understand...Did he…” she continued, though hesitantly. “Did he hurt someone you love?”
Dumbledore just gave one of his sad little smiles. “He is someone I love.” Is. Not was. Minerva remembered now, far too late to do anything about it.
Minerva assumed Dumbledore would have to have known she would read the letter. Either he would have wanted her to, or he would have forgiven her for it.
My Dearest Al,
The sun has risen and set but twice since I departed. Two rotations of the earth, two sunrises, two sunsets. And two nights without you next to me. How am I to survive five more?
I fear I have developed a chill that shall never depart. Not from the breeze of an Albanian summer, and not from the close quarters with my dreadfully ill father. It can only be from not basking in your warmth – you beside me, beneath me, within me. You warm me like the flames from which the phoenix rises – restoring me and imbuing me with life.
I may never find the Elder Wand. I may never find the Ring of Resurrection. I may never find the Cloak of Invisibility. But in you, Albus, I have found the Deathly Hallows. You are the power that sustains me, the love that encircles me, and the comfort that protects me through each hour of every day.
Until I see you my darling, I am forever yours,
PS – I do fear my letter contains one lie. You are not entirely warm – your feet are frigid even on the hottest of summer nights. These socks should prevent you from waking me at midnight when next I sleep in your arms.
Sighing, she replaced the letter in its box, then opened a bottom drawer, thinking to hide the letter away until she could decide what to do with it. But when she opened the drawer, she found another stack of parchment - more letters. The handwriting was distinctly feminine and vaguely familiar. Though she had to acknowledge that the handwriting of anyone under fifty three would probably be familiar, after reading seven years’ worth of their essays.
Minerva tried to think of a woman who may have written to Albus - his sister Ariana, perhaps, or maybe his mother? She picked up the parchment - brittle, but less so than Gellert Grindelwald’s letters - and focused on the first line. “Dear Sev.” Minerva closed her eyes, feeling as though her heart had turned to ice. She didn’t need to look at the signature, a swirl she had seen atop countless scrolls, to know what this was.
She didn’t read the letter. The loss of Snape was newer and more raw than the loss of Dumbledore, and she hadn’t known him as well. It was enough of an invasion that she knew about a love he had kept hidden for two decades - reading through the particulars would be unforgivable.
So instead she stayed there, leaning against the desk, holding Gellert Grindelwald’s letter in one hand, Lily Evans’ in the other. The portraits of former headmasters and headmistresses looked at her inquisitively, but thankfully, none of them spoke.
Her mind wandered across decades, the time these two men had spent in this room, in conversations with her, in conversations with each other from which she had been excluded. Her heart ached for them - the two people on Earth she should have known best. She had spent more time with them - arguing, conspiring, laughing, throwing experimental spells at each other - than she had with her two brothers. They had been her family, she realized too late to tell them. And they had shared a pain so deep it had become who they were, the very core of their being.
She wanted to mourn further for them, for the losses from which they never recovered. But instead, her mind traveled to her own quarters, to the letters hidden under her bed. For years, she had rationalized her choices. Dougal McGregor would never have followed her to London, would never have left his stable life in Caithness for the unpredictability of life with her. And she never would have allowed herself to end up like her mother, a woman who had buried her talent for the sake of peace. Dougal McGregor’s letters may be under her bed, but at least her wand wasn’t.
But still, she realized, the letters remained. She shared more with Dumbledore than a knack for Transfiguration, more with Snape than a logical mind. All three of them were united not only as overworked schoolteachers responsible for the future generations of witches and wizards, but as broken-hearted souls who had walked away from their true loves. Snape and Dumbledore had taken their grief and heartache to their graves, and she was on track to do the same.
There, on the floor of the headmaster’s - headmistresses’ - office, Minerva lay her head against the desk, closed her eyes, and, exhausted from these revelations, fell asleep. She dreamed fitfully of Dougal McGregor, on one knee in an open field, of herself trying and failing to tell her mother of her engagement. Of the bags she packed with tears in her eyes, of another letter - her final letter to Dougal, telling him she was leaving, offering no explanation.
She woke with a headache and a sore back from sitting so long on the ground. The letters were still in her hands, and she placed all of them in the drawer, pulling herself up on the corner of the desk. She blinked a few times to clear her eyes, and a clarity overcame her for the first time since the battle. She would not take this grief alone to her grave as her two friends had. It may be too late for her to achieve love, but she wouldn’t spend the rest of her life brooding about it, hiding it under her bed. If she couldn’t have love, she could at least have closure, and integrity. She would find Dougal McGregor, and she would tell him the truth.
Chapter 6: October
Minerva nodded, though there was no one around to witness it. But she needed to demonstrate, if only to herself, that her mind was made up. Tossing the floo powder into the crackling flames, she called out “The Manse at Caithness” and stepped into the grate.
She stepped out of the fireplace in what had been her childhood bedroom. It now functioned as a haphazard combination of storage space and office, but she could still picture the low, narrow bed from which she had summoned her toys, which had rested on the bookshelf that had been thrown out or relocated years ago. In its place was a desk, whose occupant rose abruptly, knocking over a pile of books and papers.
“Merlin H. Christ, Minerva. I could have had a fucking parishioner in here. You couldn’t have called first?”
“You would have preferred my face to appear in the ashes?”
“Touché. Good to see you.”
“Good to see you too, Malcolm.”
Minerva’s brother tugged off his reading glasses, then made his way around the desk and threw his arms around her. It may have been her imagination, but Minerva could swear that Malcolm held onto her just a little more tightly, and a little longer, than he normally would have.
But when they pulled apart, he resumed his usual demeanor. “I’m glad you’re alive and everything, but what the hell are you doing here?”
Minerva allowed a smile - Malcolm was every bit their father’s son. He grew more like Robert Sr. every day, not only in looks, but in sardonic humor. “Oh, Malcolm. Don’t be so effusive. You’re embarrassing me.”
“Seriously, though. When did teaching become the most dangerous of wizarding careers?”
“Long before my time. We can’t all become muggles.”
Malcolm rolled his eyes. “I didn’t become a muggle,” he said without heat. It was, after all, quite an old argument. “Think of me as a wizard of the world.”
Minerva snorted. No one had been more surprised than her when, upon their father’s death, Malcolm had announced that he was leaving his Ministry of Magic desk job to take over the Presbyterian Church in Caithness. Even more surprising was that his wife and daughter had followed him. “In any case,” Minerva said, deciding to get to her purpose. “I’m here to find someone. Is Dougal McGregor still part of your parish?”
“Dougal McGregor?” Malcolm took a step back, eyeing her strangely. “Why do you give a flying Merlin’s arse about Dougal McGregor?” He tilted his head, then a look of understanding lit his face. “Oh,” he said, breaking into a grin. “Oh-ho-ho. Looking for an old paramour, Minerva? Trying to rekindle an old flame?”
“Just answer the question, Malcolm.”
“When did you get friendly with Dougal McGregor? Did you sneak over here without telling me?”
Of course Malcolm didn’t remember. He had been what...eight at the time? “Malcolm.”
Malcolm was enjoying this a little too much. “Fine. Yes. He took over his father’s farm.”
Minerva decided to walk to McGregor Farm. It was just shy of two miles, and she was hardly eighteen anymore, but the sun was warm, and the walk was peaceful, with rolling farmland on her left, the sea on her right, and birds sunning themselves on rocks.
When she reached it, Minerva knew the farm immediately. When she was a young woman, the McGregors had grown barley and raised livestock, much like everyone else in the parish. While the farmhouse looked nearly the same as it always had – like all other stone farmhouses everywhere in the highlands – the farm itself had changed. Some sort of grain still grew in the fields, but near the house was what looked to be a large vegetable garden. And near the road, an orchard with a single occupant.
There was no doubt in Minerva’s mind as she stepped forward. “Dougal,” she said, though it came out as merely a breath.
He turned, and she knew she had been right. It was him, unmistakably him. His hair, once a deep brown, was white, he had softened considerably around the middle, and when he narrowed his eyes in her direction, deep lines formed in his weather-beaten face. But they were the same brown eyes, there was no question. “Minerva?”
She nodded, and they stared at each other across the orchard - across time, perhaps. For a long moment, neither of them spoke. The speech she rehearsed died in her throat, refusing to rise and be spoken. Instead, she said it again. “Dougal.”
“Indeed.” He set down his basket, removed his straw hat, and cautiously made his way toward her. “Minerva, what…?” He must have been equally lost for words. “How...are you?”
She stared at him another moment, gathered her courage, and spoke. “Dougal, I ...I came to tell you the truth.”
“About why I left.”
“Why you left...forty years ago?”
“Why? … Why now, I mean. I suppose I’ll hear why you left momentarily.”
“Oh.” Minerva swallowed. Looking into his eyes brought forth so many memories, but she had come here with a purpose. “Um…” How to explain it? “I recently…” What? Fought in a wizarding war? Protected a magical school from a group calling itself Death Eaters? “Lost someone I care for. And it has led to some introspection.”
Dougal nodded. The explanation must have resonated with him, at least on some level.
“Dougal, I left because I had a job offer in London.”
“A job offer? In London? That’s...that’s it?” Whatever he’d been expecting, that must not have been it. “You could have told me that. I know Caithness is a little backward, but I never thought women needed to -”
Minerva raised a hand and he cut off. “That isn’t all. I’m afraid it was more complicated than that.”
“Ah,” Dougal said, but he looked as confused as ever.
“I’m…” Minerva faltered. “It may prove easier to show you. May I?” She reached for the hat that now hung limply from Dougal’s hand.
“Of course.” He handed it over, staring at Minerva as she turned it over in her hands, feeling the weave of the thatch, considering.
She closed her eyes, blocking out Dougal’s confused stare, his hair falling into his face in a way that she remembered from when she was eighteen. “Avifors,” she muttered.
She opened her eyes in time to see the look on Dougal’s face as the hat split apart into a flock of birds that alighted from her hands, scattering and soaring briefly in the autumn light before landing amongst the trees.
Dougal’s jaw dropped. When she had known him as a young man, he was impossible to render speechless - one of her favorite of his traits - but now, he sputtered, grasping at words. “That’s...I’ve...What…?” But he collected himself back into the man she remembered. “That’s my best hat.”
Minerva smiled. “Finite.” The birds left their perches, flew to Dougal’s hands, and reformed themselves as a straw hat.
“Bloody…” Dougal turned the hat over in his hands, examining it, as if it would provide him with answers. “Are you having me on?”
“I didn’t come here after forty years for a prank, Dougal.”
Dougal glanced around the orchard. “Are there cameras?”
“Is this one of those joke programs? Where I make a fool of myself on the telly?”
Minerva had no idea what he was talking about. She had been out of the muggle world far longer than she had realized. “I’m afraid not.”
“So it’s -” He stared at her, and she heard the rest of the sentence as if he’d spoken it aloud.
“Fuckin’ hell. Well?”
“Show me something else.”
Minerva crooked a smile. This was nothing like her father finding out her mother was a witch. Then again, Dougal hadn’t vowed his life to her. He had a perfectly normal wife at home. The expectant look on his face once again shot her back forty years, but she shook her head to bring herself back to the present. With a shrug, then a wink, she turned into a cat.
“Holy shit,” Dougal said as she transformed back. “So…” they stared at each other for a moment. “What the hell kind of a job was it?”
“I feel that I should be more surprised,” Dougal said, nursing a beer and looking at Minerva in the low light of the pub. “That magic is real, I mean.”
“You are taking it better than most.”
“I’m old, I suppose,” Dougal said. “And I’ve seen it all...And come to think of it, your brother Malcolm’s always been a little...off.” He glanced at Minerva as if unsure this was a joke he was permitted to make.
“A little?” She asked. “He’s quite off, but that has nothing to do with magic.”
Dougal snorted and spun the stein around in his hands. “So what have you been up to for forty years? Boiling babies in cauldrons? Bringing pestilence upon your enemies?
“Well,” Minerva said, “I did learn how to turn into a cat.”
“Oh, so that’s...that’s not normal?”
“No, it’s fairly rare.”
“Leave it to you,” Dougal said, “to take everything too far. Even magic.” He leaned back in his chair. “But really. Are you married?”
“I was.” A flash of Elphinstone’s face came into her mind, a bittersweet memory of a man gone far too soon.
Dougal nodded his understanding. “Any children?”
Dougal raised one of his wrinkled, leathery hands and pointed at her. “You’re a teacher. I should have known. Is there - what? Some magical school in London where children come and learn to make magic potions and wave magic wands and turn hats into birds?”
“That’s exactly what it is, isn’t it?”
“It’s near Edinburgh. Otherwise, yes.”
“Hell,” Dougal muttered.
Minerva seized upon his silence as an opportunity. “And what about you? Still running the farm I see. Any children?”
“One,” Dougal replied. “A daughter, Iris. And a grandson now.” He fished in his pocket and produced his wallet, flipping to a well-worn picture of a small boy - a picture he must have shown a thousand times in the village.
“His name?” Minerva asked.
“Ian. A little devil, that one.”
“Comes by it honestly, I’m sure.” Dougal smiled at that. “Are they here?” Minerva asked. “In Caithness?”
“They are. We sent Iris to Edinburgh for university, and she’s decided to come back. She’s got me into this new farming movement - small crops, no chemicals. Come to think of it, I guess it’s a revival of the old farming movement. But she’s obsessed with it. It’s really her farm now. I’m just the hired hand."
“And your wife? Rosemary, if I remember?”
“What about her?” Dougal asked, drawing back defensively.
“How is she?” Minerva asked, trying to diffuse whatever it was that had gotten Dougal offended. She wasn’t here, after all, to try to ‘steal’ an old lover from a woman he had built a life with, a woman he undoubtedly loved.
“You haven’t heard?” Dougal asked.
“I’m sorry, I thought you must have...from your brother...Rosemary’s passed. Three years ago.”
Minerva was shocked. “Dougal, I’m...I’m so sorry.”
“Me too. It was cancer.”
“Same with my dad.”
“I remember that.”
They were silent for a moment, then for some reason, Minerva felt the need to say, “My husband...it was a freak accident. He was older than me, but…”
“But you should have had longer,” Dougal finished. “I’m sorry.”
“It was years ago.”
“How depressing we are,” Dougal said. “We sure grew up, aye?”
“We grew old, in any case."
“Minerva, will I - will I see you again?”
Minerva was still reeling when she woke the following morning. She stretched in her bed, wondering if the whole previous day had really happened. Then she remembered Dougal’s smile as they had parted, the promise that they would see each other the next weekend. The day had not gone at all like she had imagined. She had planned to tell a married man the truth; instead, she found a widowed man and reconnected with him. Minerva was far from letting herself get her hopes up, but still, as she rolled to her side and pushed herself out of bed, she couldn’t help but wonder.
She wasn’t left alone with her thoughts for long. A loud ‘bang’ sounded at her door, followed by a resounding “Happy birthday!” in Sprout’s voice. Pausing with her dressing gown only halfway on her shoulders, Minerva realized it was, in fact, her birthday. She was sixty-three. Merlin.
“Don’t remind me,” she called back, hearing Sprout’s hearty laugh as she made her way to the door.
“Good morning,” Sprout said as she opened it. “Get some bloody clothes on, for god’s sake. We’re going out.”
Minerva had tried protesting, like she did every year, but Pomona had already made the arrangements with Flitwick for her to be gone for the day. It wasn’t often their birthdays fell to the weekend, as Pomona insisted on reminding her.
Pomona talked constantly as they walked to the apparition point, for which Minerva was grateful. Her head was swimming with thoughts of the previous day. And at the same time, she considered that it was her second birthday without Dumbledore, the second time she had not found a small package beside her coffee at breakfast, filled with some kind of odd trinket to adorn the shelves in her office.
Once they were outside the Hogsmeade trailhead, Sprout apparated them, and they landed in a dank alleyway. “Pomona, you shouldn’t have,” Minerva commented. “This is such a lovely place to bring me for my birthday.”
“Oh, shush,” Sprout responded, already walking away toward the light of the bustling street. “We’re in Edinburgh. If you can behave yourself in public, I’m taking you for breakfast.”
Minerva removed her hat, tucking it into her robes, then quickly waved her wand over herself to blend her clothes to her muggle surroundings. Sprout was already in the street – Minerva would have to pass her off as a mad aunt again.
When she arrived back in her chambers for the evening, Minerva found two parcels on the table near the entryway – one from each of her brothers. Robert had sent her a charmed Magpies banner, as he did every year. She hovered it over to the wall and affixed it beside her bookshelf, knowing full well the luck it was supposed to bring would be far too little to save the Magpies’ season this year.
For the package from Malcolm, Minerva had no idea what to expect. He always sent something strange and perhaps inappropriate. She had learned years ago not to open anything from him in mixed company. When she tore away the heavy brown paper, Minerva found a whole package full of chocolate frogs. She rolled her eyes – did Malcolm think she was turning twelve? – and moved on to the attached letter.
St. Godric’s fucking bollocks, Minerva, will you look at this? You’ve finally made it in this cruel world. Fuck all of your other “accomplishments,” you’ve bloody done it this time.
By the way, what in Merlin’s hairy backside happened with Dougal McGregor?
The letter was Malcolm all over, but Minerva had no idea what he was talking about. She figured he was having her on and decided that if there was no one around, she may as well eat a chocolate frog. When she opened it, the letter made sense.
On the front of the card was her – well, a cartoon rendering of her. “Minerva McGonagall,” it read, “1935-Present.” She flipped it over. “Order of the Phoenix member and Hogwarts Headmistress, Professor McGonagall was the youngest witch or wizard to master the animagus transformation and is known for her pioneering work on the Amato Animo Animato Animagus spell.”
Minerva sat in one of her overstuffed armchairs, turning the card over and over in her hand, watching the image gleam in the light. This was something she had never expected, and she didn’t know what the proper thing was to do. The frog had jumped away, and somewhere in the back of her mind, Minerva realized it would probably melt and stain the carpet. She summoned another.
“Will you tell us about the Amato Animo Animato Animagus spell?” Luna Lovegood asked the next morning, just as Minerva was about to start the morning’s lecture.
They must have seen the card. If there was something one could rely on Hogwarts students to know, it was the current state of the sweets industry. “Are you trying to get me off subject, Ms. Lovegood, or are you interested in becoming an animagus?” To be fair, if there was anyone in this particular room with the patience to pull off the animagus transformation, it was Luna. The thought didn’t make Minerva feel particularly good about herself.
“I’m just curious,” Luna said, “And we are studying human transfiguration. Isn’t animagus transformation the most complex of all transfiguration spells?”
“Yes and no,” Minerva replied. “The Amato Animo is indeed a complex transfiguring spell, but it is also a charm. Who can remind us of the difference?”
Hermione Granger’s hand was up before the question was out of Minerva’s mouth. Minerva nodded in her direction. “A charm adds properties to an object, while a transfiguration spell will change it into something entirely different by altering its molecular structure,” Hermione rattled off.
“Correct,” Minerva said, figuring she may as well salvage this into a useable lesson. “Make that connect for us. How would Amato Animo be both a transfiguration spell and a charm?”
“Well…” Hermione paused to think for a moment. “It’s a transfiguration spell in that it allows you to turn into an animal, thus changing you into something entirely different. But it’s a charm in that you’re still you – you retain your human mind and essence.”
“So how did you change the spell, Professor?” Luna asked.
“When I became an animagus, the spell was eleven words. The secret to any of the exacting branches of magic, such as transfiguration, is to make the spells as clear, precise, and memorable as possible. Any error with a spell of this complexity can lead to disastrous results. When one seeks to become an animagus, one must repeat the spell at sunrise and sunset each day until the animagus potion is ingested. It was during my own process that I began to try out the shortened version of the spell. I had a theory that if I could distill the eleven word spell into something shorter, more witches and wizards would be able to complete the transformation. The trick was to achieve the same results with a shorter spell. Which is why we will be studying the Latin roots of spells after Christmas.”
That seemed to satisfy Luna well enough, so Minerva went about her regular lecture. But as she was levitating the chalk to the board in order to begin the notes, she paused, something striking her in an odd way. She knew, somehow, the way she had known something was wrong with the Amato spell, that something about this was important. That she needed this knowledge to fix the castle.
It took Minerva until Friday, until her classes for the week were over and the students were about the castle and the grounds, focused on anything other than schoolwork, to take her newfound realization to the library. She wasn’t sure exactly what she was looking for, but for some reason, the discussion of the Amato spell had made her rethink her approach to the castle. What if what she was looking for was a transfigurative spell after all? Was the castle still the same castle with new properties as she had assumed, or had it been transformed to something else entirely? Perhaps, like the animagus spell, it was both.
Luckily, no student ever researched on Friday evening. Even for those who, like Hermione Granger, would probably be inclined, the library closed earlier in the evening. Minerva made herself at home at what was becoming her usual table, a lantern supplementing the dull light of the torches.
“I’m glad Friday night is treating you so well,” Minerva said as Flitwick found her behind the massive stack of dusty books.
“One could say the same for you.” Flitwick took a seat across from Minerva and helped himself to the books. “What are we researching?” Minerva wouldn’t say it, but she was glad to have his help. She recounted the thought that had struck her during her NEWT Transfiguration class, and Flitwick listened intently before responding, “So Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1 type of thing?” He grinned at his own joke and flipped through one of the books.
“And yet you’re considering it,” Minerva muttered, though there was some truth to Flitwick’s comment. This was a basic consideration – charm versus transfiguration. But in it might lie the answer to the castle’s problems.
“My classroom has boarded windows. I had to walk an extra mile to deal with a crisis in Ravenclaw Tower last night. I’ll consider anything at this point.”
“A crisis in Ravenclaw Tower?” Minerva asked, her research forgotten for a moment. “Why didn’t I know about this? What was the crisis?”
“I was going to bring it up at the staff meeting,” Flitwick said in response.
“Well, bring it up now. What happened?”
“A student crisis,” Flitwick countered, his nose still in the book. “A second year was having a rough night – nightmares – and the prefects couldn’t calm him down.”
“Shit,” Minerva muttered. She should have known nights like that would happen. She did know it – that’s why she hired Molly and Arthur, after all. But since she was no longer a head of house, she felt suddenly out of touch.
“We got through it,” Flitwick said. “And it’s not like this is a surprise. They were tortured for a year. What should we expect?”
“We should expect exactly that,” Minerva said quietly. “But please let me know if it happens again.”
“Of course.” Flitwick was quiet after that, involved in his book. Minerva stared at her transfiguration text, but an hour later, she still hadn’t finished the page.
“Caithness Farmer’s Market,” the sign read, “Second Saturdays.” Minerva met Dougal just outside of the town square, having somehow managed to floo over to Malcolm’s house without having to see Malcolm in the process. They said hello somewhat uncomfortably, and strolled into the square, where the streets were lined with booths selling local produce, meats, and cheeses. A light guitar sound emanated from the town hall, where a young woman was strumming and singing lightly.
Minerva walked beside Dougal as he gave her the history of this tradition that started sometime after she had left Caithness for good. “It’s for the whole county because god knows we couldn’t get enough people just from John O'Groats. They’ve been having it since the 80s, but it was nothing like it is now. A few odd meats and barmy cheeses – nothing you’d eat if you had the choice.” They stopped to examine a booth that was indeed selling cheese and took the offered samples from the vendor. As they walked on, Dougal kept talking. “And god forbid you ever saw a vegetable in those days. That’s where we come in.”
Dougal led her to a wooden booth with “McGregor Farms” hand-painted across the front. Inside the booth, a woman weighed out a parcel of kale on a tiny scale, then accepted money from the customers. She called after them with a “Come back next time and tell us what you made!”
“And that’s my daughter, Iris,” Dougal said, though he didn’t have to. Iris must have inherited her blond hair from her mother, but the eyes and smile were all Dougal. She ran around the booth to meet them, and hugged her father tightly. “Iris,” he said, pulling away, “I want you to meet Minerva.” They must have talked beforehand, Minerva figured, as Iris wasn’t surprised to see her father at the farmer’s market with a strange woman. It was a relationship she could never have fathomed having with her own parents.
“Minerva,” Iris said, as if trying it out. Nothing Minerva wasn’t used to in the company of muggles. Her parents had given Rob and Malcolm perfectly normal muggle names, but had seen fit to let her grow up in Caithness in the 40s named Minerva. But Iris didn’t comment further. Instead, she looked Minerva up and down with the complete opposite of subtlety, and said, “Nice to meet you. I’m sorry you’re stuck spending the day with this old-timer.”
“So am I,” Minerva responded, feeling oddly nervous considering that she was hardly eighteen anymore. “And it’s nice to meet you as well.”
“Alright, the rest of the introductions,” Dougal said. “Where are they?”
“They’re by the truck,” Iris said, then jogged away for a moment, returning with a woman carrying a young boy.
“Ah,” Dougal said as they arrived. “Minerva, this is my daughter in law, Lisa - ” he paused for Minerva to shake her hand. “And this,” he said, taking the boy from Lisa’s arms, “is Ian.”
“That’s right, Minerva,” Iris said, “The instant Ian was born, dad forgot all about me.”
“Who are you?” Dougal said by way of response. He bounced Ian against his side, but the boy seemed as if he were about to drift off to sleep at any moment.
“Hello, Ian,” Minerva said, which only caused him to turn his face into Dougal’s shoulder and hide. She had never been particularly good with small children.
“He’s just shy,” Lisa said, probably reading the look on Minerva’s face. “He practically clung to my skirt when I took him to child care for the first time, and he’s always hesitant around new people.”
“That’s kind of you to say,” Minerva said, as Dougal handed Ian back to his mother.
“Well, these introductions have been lovely,” Dougal cut in, “But I’m going to take Minerva away from here before you scare her off.”
Iris laughed loudly and said, “You kids have fun! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”
Dougal led Minerva back through the market, stopping occasionally to pick up cold cuts and cheese to add to the pile of fruit he stole from the back of Iris’ truck. They walked just outside of the village, stopping to sit atop an outcrop of rocks overlooking the sea.
“They seem lovely,” Minerva said to make conversation as Dougal cut an apple with a pocket knife and handed her a slice.
“They seem ridiculous. Lisa’s alright, though. She wasn’t raised by a hooligan, unlike my daughter.”
“How long have they been together?”
Dougal stared off over the water, thinking and chewing loudly on a piece of cheese. “Six years? Seven? I’m too old…the years all run together.”
“I understand that.” Dougal snorted a little, munching on something or other, and Minerva was struck again by an image of eighteen-year-old Dougal, sitting in a spot just like this one. “Do you still make them?” Minerva asked, as if the past had indeed laid itself over the present, as if Dougal would know what the hell she was talking about.
“Make what?” he asked.
“Those wooden flutes you used to make? Do you remember how we would sit looking out over the sea and you would carve those flutes? And play them?” In that instant, the image was so bright in her mind that it could have been happening in front of her.
“I can’t believe you remember that,” Dougal said. “Perhaps your mental faculties aren’t going after all.” He paused and looked at her for a long moment. “Yes, I still make them.”
“I need to hear you play them again.”
“You sound like Iris. She’s always trying to get me to play at the Farmer’s Market or the Christmas Festival or any time there’s music.”
“Do you?” Minerva asked.
“Of course not,” he said. “Who wants to see an old man play a wood flute?”
“You may be surprised.”
“I would be surprised. But I’ll play for you.” He looked at her again, his dark eyes boring into hers. “Next time.”
“Next time,” she echoed, unsure what was happening between them.
Luckily, Dougal broke through it, asking, “Fancy a walk? I’d say I’ll show you around, but nothing has changed since you left.”
“Show me around anyway,” Minerva replied. Dougal laughed a little and stood, extending his hand to help Minerva up, a courtesy she and her bad knee appreciated. Once she stood and brushed off her suit with her free hand, Minerva found her other hand was still in Dougal’s. She didn’t let go as they walked away.
Minerva wondered, as she eavesdropped on Molly Weasley’s class, if Molly had encountered any of the late-night crises that Flitwick mentioned. She made a mental note to ask Molly after class, perhaps use it as an excuse for hanging around the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom without an explicit reason.
Leaning against the wall just outside the classroom, Minerva could hear the conversation Molly was facilitating among her NEWT-level students. “But that definition is simplistic.” It took Minerva a minute to recognize the voice – Derek Shafiq, a Ravenclaw. “To say that the arts that harm are the Dark Arts denies the fact that if you wanted to, you could harm someone with just about anything.”
“Like what?” Molly prompted. “Give us an example.”
“You could cause an explosion with…” Derek trailed off, presumably to protect Molly. Word of Fred’s death must have gotten around. “You could drown someone with Auguamenti.”
“That’s very true.” Luna Lovegood’s voice, Minerva would have recognized anywhere. “But saying all Dark Arts harm and all arts that harm are dark are very different things.”
Derek acknowledged her point with an “mmm,” a universal Ravenclaw symbol that the conversation wouldn’t end when the class did. “That’s a very interesting point, Luna,” Molly said.
“Maybe,” said a third voice – Astoria Greengrass – “It has more to do with the harm it causes the caster than the harm it causes the target.”
“What do you mean, Astoria?” Molly asked. “Can you elaborate on that?”
“Well, like Derek said, if you drown someone with Auguamenti, then the person you cast it on will drown. But you’ll be the same. But if you cast Avada Kedavra and kill someone, that person will be dead and your soul will be damaged. So the Dark Art causes harm to you, not just the person you’re targeting.” In the hallway, Minerva nodded. It was an astute observation, and more than she had ever heard Astoria Greengrass speak at one time.
“Isn’t that better in some way?” asked another student – Yasmin Holmes, perhaps.
“Isn’t what better?” Molly asked.
“I mean, if you’re going to hurt someone, shouldn’t you have to pay the price?”
“That’s an excellent observation,” Molly said. “Many good points today. We’ll pick up here for next time. In the meantime, please read Chapter Five and come prepared with three discussion points from the reading.”
After the class ended and the students spilled into the halls, Molly walked out of her room, her scrolls levitating behind her, and it appeared as if she simply deflated – all of the energy from the lesson gone in an instant. “Good afternoon,” Minerva said to announce her presence, causing Molly to startle. Minerva inwardly chided herself for not handling that better.
“Professor McGonagall,” Molly responded, though the students were no longer around to hear.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m - ” Molly began as if she wanted to say something, then stopped with “I’m fine.” Minerva walked alongside her as she and her scrolls moved in the direction of Gryffindor Tower. Molly was quiet and Minerva decided not to push. Instead, she simply walked next to Molly, who seemed to be lost in her own thoughts, until Arthur ran by, clearly on the way from their quarters.
“Professor McGonagall,” Arthur greeted, smiling broadly. “Did Molly tell you our news?”
“News?” Minerva asked, chancing a look at Molly.
“No,” Molly answered for her.
“We’re going to be grandparents!” Arthur practically shouted, as if it had been an effort to keep his joy inside until that moment. “Bill and Fleur told us yesterday.”
“Congratulations,” Minerva said, shaking Arthur’s hand.
“Thank you, thank you,” Arthur responded, then started to turn away. “Got to run, but you know you’ll be hearing all about it from us all year.” He waved, then jogged off down the staircase like a man half his age.
Minerva suddenly understood. “When?” she asked.
“May,” Molly answered, and Minerva felt the blow that information must have given Molly. “It’s not that I’m not happy,” Molly said quickly, as if needing to cover for not matching Arthur in his excitement. “It’s just…”
“Yes,” Minerva said, wishing Sprout were around to say something appropriately kind.
“I’m sorry, Professor,” Molly said, and Minerva didn’t bother to point out that she sounded like a student. “Did you need something?”
“No,” Minerva said, deciding to let it go for now. “No, I was just checking in.”
While Flitwick gave the “visiting the village is a privilege” speech to the students, Minerva leaned over her desk, examining the Hogsmeade map that Auror Quintin had laid out. Quintin pointed to all of the auror stations in the village while Marcus Rathburn stood off to the side, his arms crossed as if he was already on guard.
“This does seem to hit most of the areas students are likely to go,” Minerva said. “Though several of them always get it into their heads that they need to visit the Shrieking Shack. And with the shack being a distance from downtown, you won’t have great visibility.”
“Rathburn, can you get personnel to the shack?” Quintin asked. “My aurors are maxed out.”
“Done,” Rathburn said, shooting off a wordless spell that Minerva didn’t recognize. A moment later, three more Xs appeared on the map.
“Where would you like us?” Minerva asked. When Quintin and Rathburn just stared at her, she continued. “The professors. Where would it be best for us to help you keep an eye on everything?”
Quintin and Rathburn turned to stare at each other. “Professor McGonagall, you shouldn’t have to…” Quintin began, as Rathburn said, “You’re teachers, right?”
Minerva didn’t know where they were attempting to go with this, so she waited until Rathburn muttered, “They should have had a head of security for years.”
“I was thinking the same,” Quintin replied. “Professor McGonagall, whatever happens with the new administration, and whoever becomes Chief Auror if Shacklebolt is elected Minister, we will ensure you have security.” She sighed deeply. “You should focus on teaching. During Hogsmeade weekends, you should be stopping students from…I don’t know, smoking or destroying property, not protecting them from dark wizards. All of the children in our world are at Hogwarts. We should have paid it more attention.”
The professors who hadn’t accompanied the students walked together to Hogsmeade. Minerva took a break from listening to Babbling and Trelawney argue to listen to Quintin and Rathburn, who were bringing up the rear, walking backwards with their wands raised. They appeared to be in an argument as well, this one about Harry Potter. “I don’t care if he’s the Boy Who Lived,” Quintin was saying, “He’s going to be the Boy Who Spent Five Years in Magical Law Enforcement. Don’t fight me on this, Rathburn.” Minerva couldn’t help the little snort of laughter that escaped her. “I apologize, Professor McGonagall,” Quintin said, picking up on her eavesdropping. “But five years in MLE is the pre-requisite for anyone to become an auror. I don’t think the rules should be bent for anyone.”
“You won’t hear any arguments from me,” Minerva said. “He didn’t come back to finish his NEWTS. I think the rules of the real world will be good for him.”
“Alright, fine,” Rathburn conceded. “I know Shack doesn’t want us to bother him about this shit right now anyway. I’ll put Potter on liquor licenses in Knockturn Alley.”
“Perfect,” Quintin said, and after all Harry had been through, Minerva couldn’t help but agree.
After the morning’s conversation with Quintin and Rathburn, Minerva ended up in the Three Broomsticks, with Sprout, Hooch, and Slughorn, while the Weasleys wandered the streets, and Flitwick, Hagrid, and Vector went to the Hog’s Head. She didn’t know where Trelawney, Babbling, and Sinistra were and tried to keep herself from worrying by telling herself that they wouldn’t be too useful in a firefight anyway.
Hooch and Slughorn discussed Quidditch at length, and Minerva only half paid attention, sipping her Gillywater and surveying the students in the pub. A clump of Ravenclaws sat at one table, whispering amongst themselves. A group of Hufflepuffs clustered around the fireplace. Hermione and Ginny came in, but only took butterbeers and left immediately, presumably for rendezvous that Minerva did not need to know about.
And then the door opened and a group of Slytherins came in. No one she really needed to worry about – most of the students from the Death Eater families had fled the school and presumably the country. The small number who were left were the ones who had joined Slughorn in the battle. But still, she couldn’t hold herself back from keeping an extra eye on them. Astoria Greengrass was among them, though she usually kept to herself. She didn’t really talk to anyone as the group found a table in the corner, separate from the other students, just rubbed her hands together over and over, as if trying to warm them. She was ill, Minerva knew that – all the teachers knew that – but only in moments like this was it obvious.
Minerva looked away before the students realized she was staring. And when she did, her eyes fell on the Ravenclaw table, who were also chancing glances at the Slytherins. Nothing accusatory, only nervous, as if afraid their classmates would jump up and cast unforgiveables on them at any moment. With a sinking feeling, Minerva realized she could never erase that from their memories.
Minerva instantly felt guilty. She hadn’t really noticed this through September. Though when she considered it further, perhaps she wouldn’t have. Students ate with their houses, lived with their houses, played Quidditch with their houses. It was hardly a surprise that they sat with others from their house in the mixed classes. They didn’t have time or space to interact, let alone to discuss what had happened to them – to all of them. Of course they were afraid of each other. Why wouldn’t they be?
Minerva couldn’t help but reminisce about the years of decorating for Halloween. While Christmas at Hogwarts was beautiful, few students were around to see it. Halloween was always their major holiday, requiring planning in staff meeting and an all-hands approach to setting up the castle for the feast.
She found her mind drifting to several years before everything started – before Harry Potter had come to Hogwarts and each Halloween meant some disaster or another. Flitwick, the unofficial head of party-planning, was barking out orders at the rest of the staff, scattered throughout the Great Hall. “No, no, no, Bathsheba, the skulls are supposed to be higher.” Minerva looked over from her post of putting candles in pumpkins to watch Babbling puff on her pipe and begrudgingly raise the skulls.
Beside her, Dumbledore stifled a laugh. “Aren’t you going to tell her she can’t smoke in here?” Minerva asked.
“Hardly seems worth it,” Dumbledore replied, handing her another candle to light.
“I can’t see,” Flitwick commented.
“Can’t you levitate yourself?” Vector called out. “That’s first year stuff.”
“I gotcha.” Minerva stared as Quirinus Quirrell lifted Flitwick onto his shoulders while simultaneously flicking his long hair out of his eyes, a gesture he did constantly to the delight of the sixth and seventh-year girls.
“Q, if you drop me, I swear to Merlin,” Flitwick responded, though he seemed fine with the arrangement and started pointing to where the candy garlands needed to be levitated.
“Rowena’s honor, sir,” Quirrell responded, flashing a smile.
Snape made a big show of rolling his eyes, while next to Minerva, Dumbledore whispered, “Did I tell you Quirrell wants to take a sabbatical next year?”
“Why?” Minerva responded. They technically could take a sabbatical – it was part of their contracts – but no one ever did. Preparing to be away for a year and getting back into teaching after a year away would negate any of the benefits of having time for research.
“To gain firsthand experience, that’s all he said.”
“Did you approve?”
“I could hardly disapprove. We still have it in the contract.”
Minerva nodded, and she didn’t say what she was thinking. What would firsthand experience mean for a Muggle Studies professor? Dumbledore probably wouldn’t appreciate her real thoughts – that having slept his way through Hogsmeade, Quirrell was tired of being surrounded by children and old people and ready to get out and see (and potentially sleep with) the world. When she thought about it, she could hardly blame him. She and Dumbledore were past that point in their lives, and no one could say they made the most of it. What was the harm in letting someone have their fun?
She was drawn back to the present, not ready to think through how wrong she had been about that, how wrong she had been about so many things over the last decade. Instead, she held up her glass to Flitwick as the students started to enter the hall. Even with the boarded windows, the ceiling that didn’t reflect the night sky, the chunks of missing stone throughout the hall, Flitwick had made it look beautiful, as he always did. He smiled at her as he raised a glass, too. Even after everything that happened, they had kept Quirrell’s tradition of sneaking some firewhiskey into the teachers’ goblets. It may have been the firewhiskey, or it may have been the enchanted looks on the faces of the first years, but Minerva felt warmed from the inside.
“Let the feast begin,” she called, banging on her goblet to signal the house elves. Piles of food appeared and the students dug in.
It was nearing the end of the feast, with the plates looking like they had been ransacked by thieves, when the clatter started. Minerva looked around, unsure what was happening, feeling slow somehow, mentally. She had been slightly off guard all evening, secure in the fact that the students seemed so content, that the aurors were at their posts as always.
Somewhere in the midst of the house tables, a crowd was forming. “Ginny!” Arthur shouted, and sure enough, Minerva saw Ginny dive into a pile of students. It took a moment for Minerva to recognize it for what it was – a fight. Sparks were flying, and Minerva couldn’t make out anything in particular over all of the yelling. Arthur shouted, “Ginny!” again. Minerva raised her wand and shot off a patronus before she could even think, then amplified her voice.
“Stop at once,” she said, her voice sounding steadier than she felt. “All students return to your house table immediately.”
When nothing happened, she followed the other teachers, who had moved from the high table into the throng of students. She hadn’t even made it when the doors burst open and aurors streamed in – not only the two from the usual patrol, but Quintin and her entire team. Quintin shouted “Stand back!” sending off a blast that sent the onlooking students flying backwards into a cushioning charm, which then locked them in place. The students in the scrum were hit with a freezing charm by three aurors simultaneously.
The shouting in the hall stopped immediately, leaving an eerie silence that Minerva hadn’t experienced since they lost Dumbledore. She stepped around the tables to see what had transpired. Ginny Weasley was indeed one of the students at the center, but she was frozen in place holding someone back, her arm wrapped around their shoulders as if she was attempting to block them from throwing a punch. It took Minerva a minute to see who it was, but when she did, her heart sank – Dennis Creevey.
On the other side was Slytherin Jason Harper – a beater on the Quidditch team, but otherwise, not a student who garnered much attention, good or bad. Harper’s wand was raised behind his back, in the stance Snape had always favored. That sight tugged at her heart as well.
Minerva sighed, looking over the scene. It was clear what happened. What wasn’t clear was why. “Professor?” Quintin asked.
“Go ahead,” Minerva responded.
Quintin nodded to one of the aurors, who muttered “Finite,” releasing the students from the freezing charm. Aurors immediately jumped into the fray, pulling Ginny off Dennis, and pinning all three students’ arms behind their back. Harper fought against the auror’s hold, but Ginny went willingly, and Dennis was too small to put up much resistance.
Amplifying her voice again, Minerva said, “Everyone back to your houses. Your heads of house will escort you.” When no one moved, she added, “Now.” As the students and teachers started to shuffle awkwardly toward the door, she added. “Harper. Creevey. Weasley. You’ll come with me.”
The aurors escorted the three students in the direction of Minerva’s office, and Minerva walked behind them, thinking of only one thing. She needed Dumbledore.
Chapter 7: November
Early on the morning of November 1st, grateful this all fell on a Sunday, Minerva showed Ginny Weasley to her office. “I’d like to hear your account of last night,” Minerva said.
“I told that story to the aurors,” Ginny said, though without any real heat.
“Well, in case you were unaware, I am not an auror,” Minerva replied, motioning Ginny to the seat in front of her desk. “I read your account in the report, but I would like to hear it from you.”
Ginny thought for a moment, glancing out the window, through the clear pane of glass that was precariously balanced where a stained glass scene of a griffin should be. Minerva waited, trying to surreptitiously massage her temple where it throbbed from a late night talking to the students involved in the fight, then waiting as each was interviewed by the team of aurors.
She had ultimately decided on a loss of house points and detentions for the two boys, rather than any kind of expulsion, but the aurors weren’t able to get much out of them in terms of an explanation for the fight, other than “he knows why” and “he’s the one who started it.” The aurors had dismissed Ginny as a bystander, but Minerva hoped that Ginny could fill in the significant gaps they still had in the story.
“I’m not sure what really happened, Professor,” Ginny said finally. “Dennis was just sort of looking over his shoulder all night, but he’s kind of twitchy anyway, and with everything that’s happened…” she trailed off and scuffed her boot on the floor. “Nobody really thought anything of it.” She sighed. “But then he just got up and Harper got up, then you saw what happened.”
“Do you know who instigated the fight?”
“I’m not sure.” Minerva hadn’t expected that sort of confession. She expected to hear that it was Harper, of course it was, how could it not be. “They both kind of got up at once.”
“When did you realize they were fighting?”
“When Dennis stupidly tried to throw a punch.”
“Then you jumped in?”
“Yup.” Ginny kept kicking her boot on the ground. Minerva held herself back from a lecture about ruining the floors.
“I don’t know,” Ginny said. “I’m a seventh-year. I’m the Quidditch Captain, so I’m faster than all those fu – all those students. It just seemed like my job.”
Minerva nodded. She couldn’t argue with that. “Do you know what it was about?”
“Not really,” Ginny responded. “But I can guess.”
“What do you want us to do?” Sprout asked, plopping down at Minerva’s usual table in the library, breaking her concentration on The Transfigurative Charm: Notes on Dual-Classification Spells.
“Wait,” Minerva said, making a note on her equation for the transfiguration of stone. “Want you to do for what?”
“Hufflepuff Day of Service,” Sprout replied as if it were obvious.
Minerva sighed and set down her quill. She and Dumbledore had all but mastered the division of labor between Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress – she handled the day-to-day operations and management of the teachers and curricula; Dumbledore handled the Ministry, the parents, the Wizengamot, the press. But somehow, Hufflepuff Day of Service had always been his issue. “When is that again?”
“Last weekend of the month.”
“Can I just tell you to do whatever you want?” Minerva asked. “The castle is in shambles. I’m sure anything you do can help.”
“The students want to know it was something identified to help the school. Usually, we get the project, and I pass it along to the Day of Service captains.” Minerva noted how Sprout didn’t way ‘What Dumbledore always did’ - she didn’t know if that encouraged or annoyed her.
“How many captains?” Minerva asked to buy herself time.
Minerva stared at one of the torches for a few minutes, until the flames looked like one giant orange ball. Then she remembered a promise she had made to herself at the beginning of the year. “Send one captain to Hagrid and one to Filch. They know better than I do what the hell’s going on around here. Then divide up and have the captains in charge of those two projects.”
“Not half bad,” Sprout said. “I’ll do that.”
“Please.” Once again, Minerva tried to go back to her reading.
“It’s Gryffindor versus Ravenclaw!” the new announcer – Lemona Littlefield, a Hufflepuff – cried.
Players shot out of the gates and Minerva sat forward in her seat, trying to look impartial. She didn’t know how Dumbledore did it, how he looked like he didn’t care who won, when she knew he did. He had cheered at all of her games, after all.
She was glad it was Gryffindor and Ravenclaw – two houses with no rivalry outside of Quidditch, who were playing each other for the first match. And with Creevey and Harper serving their detentions with Filch and aurors seated in each section and hovering over the stands on broomsticks, Minerva hoped that gameplay would provide the only excitement for the afternoon.
It always surprised Minerva how consistently good a team Ravenclaw managed to mount year after year, even though no one would argue that athletics were at the top of any Ravenclaw’s priority list. They were never quite stellar, but they were stable, which was more than she could say for any of the other teams.
This game was no exception. Ravenclaw came out hard, scoring once within the first five minutes. Minerva worried for a moment, but she shouldn’t have – the Ravenclaw goal only served to piss Ginny Weasley off, and she had stolen the Quaffle within moments, ramming into a Ravenclaw chaser as she sped toward the goalposts. “And the second goal of the game goes to Gryffindor, which will tie the score!” Littlefield shouted.
Next to Minerva, Arthur whooped and Molly removed her hands from her face long enough to clap. “I can’t stand watching this,” Molly said. “It makes me so nervous. I know she’s good at it – it just makes me so nervous.”
Minerva tried to muster a sympathetic smile, but she was too focused on the game. Ginny scored once more and wrangled another assist to Dobbs. Ravenclaw tried to keep up, but ultimately, Ginny shouted, “Abercrombie! Fucking go!”
The swearing aside, Minerva suddenly knew what Ginny was thinking by putting Abercrombie on the team. He was off in a blur, catching the snitch before Ravenclaw’s seeker could even respond.
“Gryffindor wins!” With Littlefield’s shout, the players all landed on the field, to a thunderous cheer of “Go, Go, Gryffindor” from the stands. Ginny hoisted Euan Abercrombie onto her shoulders, and for a moment, Minerva could almost forget that at this time last year, they were deep within a war.
Saturday should have meant marking papers, or making lesson plans, or reviewing her staff’s performance. Or planning for the next Hogsmeade weekend. Or communicating with the aurors about security. Or drafting updates for the Prophet. Or preparing to deal with some issue or other from the Wizengamot.
Instead, Minerva stood in Dougal’s garage – a converted barn full of strange muggle contraptions and a restored green classic truck. It looked like the sort of car her father drove in the 50s. When she told Dougal as much, he responded with “It’s a 1953 Austin. I’ve been working on it myself for years.”
“And he means years.” Minerva turned around as Iris sauntered into the garage, leaning against the truck. “He probably bought it when I was still in school, and here it is, finally finished. Where are you taking it?”
“We’re going to Thurso,” Minerva answered, not willing to risk saying what they were doing, for fear of not sounding quite like a muggle.
“We’re seeing a film,” Dougal finished for her.
“You’re taking this all the way to Thurso?” Iris asked, pounding on the side of the truck for emphasis.
“Should I be worried?” Minerva asked, though she wasn’t worried at all. It wasn’t as if transportation was ever a real issue for her.
“Yes, Minerva, you should be,” Iris said, as at the same time, Dougal answered, “Not at all.”
Iris snorted while Dougal bent over to rummage around, then lifted some sort of muggle contraption to the back of the truck. “Oh no,” Iris said, “You are not bringing that.”
“Why not?” Dougal asked, “I’m thinking after we get back from Thurso, we’ll walk along the beach.”
Iris moved closer, as if attempting to have a private conversation in the tiny garage. “Are you trying to impress her or not?” she asked in a loud whisper. “No metal detector. Just have a nice walk.”
“No buts. It was cute when I was five, but it’s not cute on a date. And you’ve already found literally all there is to be found on that beach.” Iris turned around, acting as though Minerva had not overheard the entire conversation (though to be fair, she had understood very little of it). “Enjoy yourselves,” she said, “Don’t stay out too late. Call me if the truck breaks down like it did that time -”
“Goodbye,” Dougal interrupted. Turning to Minerva, the metal detector safely stowed back into its box, he asked, “Are you ready?”
The theater was called Merlin Cinemas – and the film was called Practical Magic. Minerva didn’t know if this was Dougal’s idea of a joke, but he was smirking to himself as they walked into the dark cinema, Dougal carrying a bucket of popcorn and Minerva carrying two sodas.
As they settled into their seats and the screen began showing clips of other films, Dougal had apparently resisted as long as he could. He leaned over and whispered, “Do you think Merlin himself built this cinema?”
“Perhaps,” Minerva responded. “This cinema could have easily been built in the medieval era.”
“Wait,” Dougal said, a little too loudly, twisting around in his seat. “He was real, wasn’t he?”
“Indeed. He attended Hogwarts.”
“What the bloody hell is Hogwarts?”
“The school,” Minerva replied. “Where I work.”
“It’s called Hogwarts?”
“Would I make that up?”
Dougal didn’t respond. Instead, he descended into laughter, snorting loudly. Someone in front of them turned around, glaring pointedly. “Shh,” Minerva said, though she couldn’t resist egging Dougal on further. “You’re disturbing the muggles.”
“Muggles,” Dougal repeated through his laughter. He didn’t let up until halfway through the film.
“So,” Dougal asked, more calmly, on the drive back to John O’Groats. “How accurate was the film?”
Minerva laughed a little. Any film would have been confusing after spending this long in the wizarding world. But a film about the muggle idea of magic? She had hardly followed it. “Let’s just say I don’t believe they had a wizard as part of the…what do you call people who make films?”
“The film crew?”
“Yes,” Minerva said. “There was no witch or wizard on the film crew.” She looked out the window as the scenery went by. “Though I suppose I can relate to those witches. How hard it can be to love a muggle man.”
Dougal turned sharply toward her, taking his eyes off the road for a precarious minute. “There isn’t a curse, is there?” he asked, his voice tinged with panic. “Like in the film? Where the men die because of a beetle?”
“No,” Minerva responded, laughing a little at how clueless Dougal was about magic – as clueless as she had become about muggles. “There’s no curse. You’re in no danger.” Dougal sighed in relief and turned back to watching the road in front of them as Minerva went on. “It’s just difficult in our world, sometimes. There are laws…we aren’t to disclose magic to muggles.”
“But you did,” Dougal responded. “You didn’t forty years ago, but you did now.”
“I did,” she said. “When I was eighteen, I had everything to lose. My career, my place in wizarding society. But now…” she thought for a minute. “In one sense, I’ve lost about everything I can. And in the other, I’m the Headmistress of Hogwarts. They aren’t going to jail me over revealing myself to one muggle. Especially after…” she trailed off. Some things didn’t need to be discussed on a date. Not when she had been having such a pleasant time.
“After what?” Dougal asked.
“Nothing,” Minerva responded. “What did you think of the film?”
“That those witches could have easily avoided the curse.”
“How so?” Minerva asked, glad he took the bait and changed topic so easily.
“If it were my daughter, it would be no issue. The curse only applied to men they dated. Not women.”
Minerva laughed, and Dougal joined her. Then they sat in amicable silence until the truck started to sputter.
It took about three muggle tools that Minerva didn’t recognize, and eventually, a spell, but they made it back to town. Dougal guided the truck into a car park near the sea, shutting it off and leaning back against the seat, looking over and smiling in her direction.
Minerva didn’t know what to say, but she knew something was happening here. They looked at each other for a long moment across the truck. He wasn’t the eighteen year old Dougal McGregor she fell in love with, not really. But he was something else, something more even, and she could feel herself falling again. She leaned in. “May I?” she asked. At Dougal’s nod, she gripped the lapel of his tweed jacket, pulling him across the gearshift and into a kiss.
The call came sometime after midnight. “Minerva.” It was Slughorn’s voice, she knew that immediately. But in her drowsy, delirious state, she couldn’t tell immediately where it came from. “Minerva,” he repeated.
Minerva stumbled out of bed and into the living area of her quarters. It was the fireplace, she realized. She was being fire called. “Horace?” she asked, kneeling beside the fireplace. “What is it?”
“I need you to come to the Slytherin dormitories,” Slughorn replied. “We have an emergency.”
“Have you alerted Auror Quintin?” she asked, standing to find her dressing gown.
“It’s not that kind of emergency.”
“Alright,” she responded, not quite sure what that meant. “Let me through.”
Minerva emerged from the fireplace in the Slytherin Common Room, a sickly green glow from the lake making the room appear even more eerie than usual in the dead of night. The Common Room itself was silent – no students up late studying. She headed toward the dormitories, listening for voices. It was the boy’s side, she realized as she opened the door to the dormitories, following the voices to the fifth years’ room, announcing her presence with a knock.
Horace’s meaning was clear as soon as she walked in. “Good evening,” she said quietly, trying not to frighten anyone as she surveyed the scene. Horace was standing at the end of one of the four-poster beds, wringing his hands together. In front of the bed knelt Astoria Greengrass and Jason Harper, who were both trying to calm the boy who sat on the edge, his face covered by his hands.
“Who is it?” Minerva asked Horace.
“Demetrius Selwyn,” Slughorn responded in a near-whisper. Once she knew, it became obvious. Selwyn was rocking back and forth, clearly fighting to breathe. He was repeating something over and over, but what it was, Minerva couldn’t make out.
“What is it?” she asked. “What is he saying?”
It was Astoria, not Selwyn, who answered. “He’s saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m fucking sorry,’” she said, then added. “Excuse my language.”
“What is he sorry for?” Minerva asked.
Jason Harper’s face snapped up to stare at her. It was almost a glare – almost inappropriate, but she decided not to say anything, to see where this led. He didn’t say anything to her, not directly anyway. Instead, he took Selwyn’s hand and said, “It’s not your fault, mate. They fucking made you. You had no fucking choice.”
“It’s true,” Astoria said. “You’re still a good person. We all did what we had to do to survive.”
“Yes, we did,” Harper said. “And now we have no fucking parents, and everyone hates us.”
Minerva was rooted to the spot, staring at the students. She knew Harper was speaking to her, as much as to Selwyn. Why this all came out on Dennis Creevey, she may never know, but she did know it needed to come out of all of them, somehow.
“Maybe we deserve it.” It was the first thing Minerva could hear from Selwyn. “They should hate us.”
“Yeah, you might be right, mate,” Harper said.
Astoria gave Harper a pointed look, and Selwyn’s breathing sped up again. Minerva started to wonder if they needed Pomfrey. But before she could say anything, Astoria looked at her with huge eyes. “Professor McGonagall,” she said, her voice trembling. “I know she’s a Gryffindor, and I know it’s against the rules, but can you get Professor Weasley? Please?” She was practically begging. Minerva couldn’t say no – she shot off a patronus.
Molly was there almost instantly – miraculously. She didn’t knock quietly, the way Minerva, and presumably Horace, had. She burst through the door, still tying her dressing gown around her waist, her hair in rollers, and immediately sat next to Selwyn on the bed. “Oh, my poor dear,” she said, and without asking a single question, pulled Selwyn into her arms.
Minerva had a free period mid-afternoon, so she made her way back to her chambers, hoping to find time for a nap before someone inevitably came knocking. She was so caught up in her thoughts that it wasn’t until she came across the blocked passageway that she realized she had taken the old familiar route. The thought of turning around and trudging back to her chambers was overwhelming. “What the hell,” she muttered, then transformed, jumped over the blockage, and transformed back.
Once she made it to her chambers, removed her shoes and outermost robe, and collapsed onto her sitting room sofa, Minerva found that she couldn’t quiet her mind enough to sleep. Someone - a house elf, hopefully - had laid a stack of mail on her doorside table, and Minerva summoned it to her and began to sort through it. In addition to what appeared to be several angry letters (probably from parents about this teacher or that class) was an advance issue of Transfiguration Today, set to be released in March. Minerva had been one of the copy editors for the magazine, there to catch errors in theory, since some time before the first war, though it’s not like she had made any real contributions over the past few years.
She absently flipped through the magazine, making a mental note to edit it later, when she had more energy, knowing that it would probably happen in the early morning hours with most of her work.
At the end, after an essay by a new animagus and several letters to the editor regarding advances made by German Transfiguration scholars, was the annual column that had given Minerva her start. “Transfiguration Today’s Young Person to Look Out For.” This year’s issue featured a picture that reminded Minerva of the one of herself forty-five years earlier. Arms crossed, wand in hand, eyebrow cocked as if in challenge. “Tearany Flint, 21,” the caption read. It took a minute of consideration, but Minerva remembered her (of course she did) - Slytherin, O on the Transfiguration NEWT - not outstanding otherwise. She had been a good student, to be sure, but not an innovative one, and she had never expressed an interest in transfiguration beyond passing her NEWTS.
“Tearany Flint, 21, is Transfiguration Today’s annual Young Person to Look Out For. Her work on the theory and usage of the locomotor spells have led to innovation in…” Innovation - exactly what Minerva had assumed she lacked. If the article was to be believed, Minerva had truly missed talent right beneath her nose. Granted, Tearany was in Snape’s house and wouldn’t have discussed career plans with Minerva - unless, of course, they involved her field of expertise. How had she missed this?
Minerva finished the article half-heartedly and tossed the issue aside, her mind wandering.
The phoenix patronus woke her in the middle of the night. “Minerva,” it said in Dumbledore’s voice, “You must get outside now. Bring the potion.”
Minerva rolled out of her bed and stood abruptly, grabbing the vial of potion off her night table, not bothering to stop when, from the bed next to her, Morgana Mattington called out, “The hell?”
“Nothing,” she responded, running out of the dorm, ignoring the protest of her knee. She sprinted down the stairs, barely pausing to notice the thunder rolling outside.
A lightning bolt cracked the second she opened the door leading out of the castle. Dumbledore was on the lawn in front of the Black Lake, a conjured umbrella protecting him from the storm. She didn’t bother to imitate him. It wouldn’t matter soon anyway.
“Are you ready?” Dumbledore called over the storm, as Minerva was soaked through her thin pajamas, her slippers squelching beneath her. She could barely see past the rain on her glasses. Another lightning bolt struck, followed by a clap of thunder.
“Yes,” she shouted, downing the potion in one gulp. It was disgusting, but she hardly noticed. She started to raise the wand to her heart like they had been practicing, ready to cast the spell and do this.
“Wait,” Dumbledore said, holding up his hand. “Not yet.” They waited in silence until another bolt struck. Dumbledore nodded and raised his wand. “It’s your party now.”
Minerva lifted the wand to her heart, as Dumbledore kept his own wand trained on her. She took a deep breath, then called out, “Amato. Animo. Animato. Animagus.” She barely had time to register the stunned, panicked look on Dumbledore’s face, his shooting off of some kind of spell. The world raised around her – or she shrunk, one or the other. Then she sniffed – everything smelled of rain, so much stronger than she had ever experienced. She did it again. Then looked down at her feet.
Paws. Little gray paws. She stared at them for a moment, then looked back over her shoulder, finding a gray tail. A cat. Her form was a cat. And not just a cat – a cat similar to the one she had as a child – a gray tabby. She tried moving her tail, just to see. And it worked. She was doing it. She meowed for good measure. She wanted to shout for joy. But it came out as another meow.
“Change back,” Dumbledore said somewhere above her. “Remember what we discussed.”
Minerva concentrated on her true form. It wasn’t as if she had a wand at her disposal – well, she did, but it had somehow become part of her animagus form. Slowly, very slowly, she rose to her full height. She looked down and found her own feet, in her own soggy slippers. “Oh my god,” she said, swaying a little on her feet. “I’m a cat,” she said, unsure what else one said in this sort of situation.
“You’re alive,” Dumbledore answered, holding onto her elbow to steady her. Minerva noticed he was breathing harder than she was. “Holy hell. Shit.” He bent over, gasping. “Shit,” he repeated. “What the hell was that spell?”
“The eleven-word spell leaves so much room for error,” she responded.
“It was a good theory, but you just…” he gasped again. “Went for it.”
“How else was I supposed to try it?”
“Shit,” he said again, as if that was all his mind could come up with. “Let’s get back to the castle.” He held the conjured umbrella above her, escorting her back into the warmth of the castle’s walls. Minerva glanced at the grandfather clock as they passed it in the hall. It was near three in the morning. “I’ll have hot cocoa sent to the Gryffindor common room,” Dumbledore said.
“Thank you,” she said, preparing to part ways with him on the staircase. She didn’t know how to convey everything she wanted him to know. “For everything, Professor.” As she turned to go, she was struck with an odd sort of sadness – this was it. She had achieved her goal. She would be the youngest animagus on record. But it was over, this time with Dumbledore, her teacher who had supported her ambitions, who hadn’t looked down on her dreams.
“Wait. Minerva,” Dumbledore called, and she stopped several steps up and turned around to look at him. Dumbledore glanced at her for a long time, and his eyes seemed to shine a little, though perhaps that was the rain. “Come to my office tomorrow. After we get you registered, we need to talk about you publishing that spell.”
There was usually chatter before the staff meeting, so much so that certain professors (Babbling) needed to be called to order several times. But this time, for reasons Minerva could guess at, they started in silence. “We know what we need to discuss,” Minerva said without preamble. “There have been several emergencies with our students. The heads of house have informed me of nightmares and other nighttime disturbances. And of course, there was the fight between Harper and Creevey on Halloween. From the information we have gathered, I’ve asked Auror Quintin to brief us on the findings.”
“Yes, Professor,” Calliope said, distributing sheets of parchment across the table. “Here is the official report I’ve put together for the Ministry. Essentially, what my team believes was the cause did not have anything to do with Creevey and Harper’s relationship personally. As you all know, Creevey’s brother was killed in the battle last May, but Dennis Creevey was not a student at Hogwarts last year. From what we can tell, Harper and Creevey never interacted before the fight.”
“Then what was it about?” Vector asked.
“Excellent question. Auror Shacklebolt has not been able to determine who was responsible for Colin Creevey’s death in the battle. And from what I heard from both students, as well as what Professor Slughorn has informed me about Harper’s behavior this term, it seems to me as if Creevey is looking for someone to blame for his brother’s death. Harper was a student the Carrows used to torture other students last year, and he is stuck somewhere between guilt and defensiveness for his behavior. That’s the perfect recipe for someone who will rise to a fight given the first opportunity.”
“So who was at fault?” Pomfrey asked. “For the fight? Are you saying it was Dennis?” Pomfrey looked as uncomfortable with that ruling as Minerva felt.
“No,” Quintin answered. “I don’t believe it was Dennis. I don’t really believe it was Harper, either,” she continued. “I think it was the only possible outcome of all of the factors you have at play in the castle this year.”
“Oh, Merlin,” Sinistra said. “So what do we do?”
“That’s my question to you,” Minerva said. “What do we do to mend the relationships between the students of different houses and blood statuses? What do we do to help the students with the fear that may never leave them?”
The response was a deafening silence. Of course, Minerva thought, no one would know any better than she did. This was something that Hogwarts had never seen, something perhaps even Dumbledore couldn’t imagine and wouldn’t know how to handle. Even after the first war, with students who had Death Eaters for parents, the staff could rest assured that the battle had never come inside the castle walls, that the war had never truly come for Hogwarts.
“This may the wrong thing to say.” It was Molly who spoke up, which surprised Minerva, though it shouldn’t have – she had been the one to handle more of the late-night issues than any other professor. “And incredibly disloyal of me.” She looked to Minerva, as if for permission.
“Please go on,” Minerva responded. “We need all thoughts to be discussed frankly.”
Molly took a deep breath and looked right at Minerva – not at her husband, not at Quintin or any of the other professors. “What if the houses are the problem?”
Hufflepuff Day of Service was in full swing when Minerva’s brother Rob arrived at the castle. Stepping through the floo in her office, the first thing he said was “So, Malcolm informs me that you’ve been going to Caithness to see Dougal McGregor.”
Minerva didn’t respond right away, instead leading Rob down the spiral staircase and into the nearly-empty hall. “You hardly speak to Malcolm, and when you do, you talk about Dougal McGregor?”
“Correction. Malcolm gossips about Dougal McGregor, and I listen half-heartedly.”
“And then bring it up with me,” Minerva said, rounding the staircases that led toward the castle entrance.
“I suppose I’m curious too.” Rob, never athletic, struggled to keep up with Minerva on the entryway stairs.
“Well, I know it’s the bane of any Ravenclaw’s existence, but you’ll remain curious for now,” Minerva said. She didn’t want to admit to Rob that this ridiculous conversation was at least taking her mind off of what Molly Weasley had said at the staff meeting, the words that had been ringing in her mind since then: What if the houses are the problem?
Rob laughed a little at Minerva’s retort, and they paused outside of the castle to watch the day’s events unfold. While they hadn’t run into Hufflepuffs who were inside working on Filch’s project – cleaning and restocking the owlery, the grounds were bustling with the other group, working on Hagrid’s project. Minerva and Rob wandered the grounds, to see a group of students constructing a new pen for the fire crabs and one for the crups. As they passed the Black Lake, Minerva saw one of the seventh-years knelt by the water’s edge, in conversation with one of the merpeople about pollution in the lake.
“Good to see they’re still doing this,” Rob remarked as they arrived at the Hogsmeade trailhead and ventured away from Hogwarts toward town. “I remember that year Malcolm was Day of Service captain. I don’t think he’s ever worked that hard in all the years since.”
Minerva remembered that year too, the year Rob had been in his seventh year and Malcolm in his sixth. She was glad Rob had landed in Ravenclaw and Malcolm in Hufflepuff – it was odd enough being both their sister and their professor. Being their head of house would have been a little too much. “That would be offensive if it weren’t true,” Minerva responded. “But this year, we need their service even more so than usual. It’s not as if we can use magic on anything to repair this castle right now. A group of Hufflepuffs will accomplish more in a day than all of the professors could in a year.”
“What do you mean?” Rob asked, stopping abruptly. “What are you talking about?”
Minerva paused, looking at her brother for a long moment. With how much the damage to the castle was impacting everyone at Hogwarts, she had forgotten that the rest of the wizarding world wasn’t preoccupied with fixing the castle. That they didn’t even know what was wrong. Rob had a sharp, analytical mind – that’s why the sorting hat had put him in Ravenclaw within a minute. It couldn’t hurt to get his advice. “Alright,” Minerva said, “But this is between you and I.”
Chapter 8: December
Rob wasn’t an efficiency expert for nothing. As she stood in front of the blackboard in her Transfiguration classroom, Minerva scolded herself privately for not asking her brother’s advice on the castle before. For not asking his advice generally, in fact.
“So the question is ultimately whether the castle has been transfigured – whether it’s been changed in its essence – or whether it’s been imbued with new properties, or both,” Rob had said as they walked the Hogsmeade trailhead. “Is that correct?”
“That’s the long and short of it,” Minerva had replied.
“When did the change occur?” Rob had asked. “During the battle?”
“I believe so,” Minerva had said.
“Well…” Rob had kicked at the stones as they walked, an annoying habit he developed in childhood. “Can’t you calculate from that time? A long term bewitching charm could still be in effect, but long-term transfiguration I don’t know as much about…”
Minerva looked at the blank blackboard, levitating the chalk in front of her and beginning the calculations for a transformation. A long-term charm was a definite possibility, provided of course, that the spell-caster was still alive. Once a charm was cast, it could persist as long as the spell-caster did. A transfiguration, on the other hand, was much more variant. Vanishings were permanent, conjurings transient. Transformations could vary from permanent (usually the result of a poor calculation) to extremely short-term.
She stared at the Transfiguration equation as if she hadn’t seen it thousands of time since the age of eleven:
t=[(w x c)/(v x a)] x Z
So what had happened here? Either a dark charm that she and her colleagues were completely unaware of, or a transformation undertaken by someone with an excess of either wand power or concentration, leading to a positive transfiguration constant - a huge one, if their transfiguration was still in effect. Minerva tried to think of who that could possibly have been – they could be living or dead, it didn’t matter with transformative spells. If the rumors in The Daily Prophet were true, You-Know-Who had the Elder Wand, and no one could argue he lacked concentration. But he didn’t have control of either, not really. And working her way through the Death Eaters she was aware of, the only one with the concentration to outweigh the product of their body weight and viciousness was Snape – and he wasn’t a viable suspect anymore.
Was it both a transfiguration and a charm, as she had begun to suspect? In that case, she needed an entirely new equation. She sighed and sank onto the desk, the chalk beginning to waver where it hovered in the air.
“Where the hell have you been?”
Minerva whipped around, the chalk falling out of the air and cracking on the stone floor. It was Flitwick, standing in her doorway with his arms crossed. “Merlin, Flitwick,” she snapped at him. “What do you need?”
“We have a meeting with the auror, in case you’ve forgotten.”
She had forgotten. In fact, she had no idea what he was talking about. “Auror?”
“Quintin? Our head of security?” Flitwick said, staring at her as if she had sprouted gills and become a grindylow. “The meeting to discuss security arrangements for the students to ride the train to London for Christmas?”
Ah. That meeting. “Shit,” she muttered, waving her wand behind her to erase the board as she struggled to keep up with Flitwick, who was already halfway down the corridor.
Minerva was close, she knew it. Her calculations were bringing her closer to fixing the castle. Awake past three in the morning, she alternated between pulling books off the Transfiguration shelves in the library, taking notes on a growing sheaf of parchment, and wishing that Dumbledore were here to provide her with guidance.
“Headmistress? Professor McGonagall?”
Minerva snapped her head up. Her neck protested immediately, then her low back. “Merlin,” she muttered, looking around frantically. Where was she? What was happening?
“Professor?” It was Madame Pince, standing over her, a rare look of concern on her sharp face.
“The library,” Minerva muttered, wiping at her eyes, then placing her hands blindly on the table, searching out her glasses.
Madame Pince reached out, finding the glasses and handing them to Minerva, then saying, “Yes, Headmistress.”
“What time is it?” Minerva asked, though she shouldn’t have had to. Light was streaming in through the window and if Madame Pince was here…
“It’s just past nine, Professor.”
“Merlin’s beard. Shit.” She stood, looking around wildly. There were books, quills, and pieces of parchment everywhere. And for the first time in forty-three years, she was late to class.
“I’ll take care of it,” Madame Pince said, gesturing to the table.
“Thank you. I - ” Minerva faltered, trying to shake the sleep from her mind.
“Would you like me contact Professor Flitwick?” Madame Pince asked. “Or let the students know that class is cancelled?”
“No,” Minerva said, gathering herself. “No. I’ll be fine.” She made her way from the library, her knee aching the entire way to the Transfiguration classroom.
A sense of foreboding overcame Minerva on her way to Hogsmeade. This December Hogsmeade weekend had felt like something of a curse over the last several years – from having to tell the Minister of Magic about Sirius Black’s supposed betrayal of the Potters to Katie Bell being literally cursed by a necklace. And even though there were no dementors around, just the usual auror escort, she still felt a chill beyond that of the December air.
Hoping to warm up, she went to the Three Broomsticks as always and was handed a butterbeer without having to speak. “On the house,” Madame Rosmerta whispered, then she was gone to serve a huge clump of Hufflepuffs before Minerva even had a chance to thank her.
Minerva had never been the biggest fan of butterbeer, not even as a student, when the novelty made up at least half of the enjoyment for most third-years. But it did its job – she felt warmer, inside and out, almost immediately. Flitwick, Sprout, and Slughorn were elsewhere – the Hog’s Head, perhaps – but Minerva didn’t mind. She sat at the bar, watching the students moving about, reminiscing.
There was another time when Hogsmeade weekends had meant a high alert, when You-Know-Who was out, looking for an infant Harry Potter and the newly-formed Order of the Phoenix was out, trying to protect him. And that time, too, had ended, and they found themselves, much like now, trying to pick up afterward and move on.
On a December day like this one, Minerva sat at the bar of the Three Broomsticks, Dumbledore beside her. Dumbledore sipped at a brandy with a false attempt at daintiness, as if it weren’t his third of the afternoon. He had been quiet lately, but Minerva knew not to ask. If he wanted to tell her, he would, usually at the most inopportune of times.
Minerva spun her stein of butterbeer around in her hands, wondering how to tell Dumbledore what she had been planning to tell him for weeks. She decided on the direct route. “I’m getting married,” she said, looking at the crowd of students, rather than at Dumbledore directly,
“Urquart?” he asked.
Dumbledore was quiet for a moment, so Minerva turned to look at him. She followed his eyes to find Quirrell on the other side of the bar, practically in the lap of whatever barman he was seeing that week. Her heart broke a little for him – for Dumbledore - Q seemed to be doing fine. “Congratulations,” he finally said, and Minerva could tell he meant it. “Will you be leaving the school?” he asked.
“Excuse me?” she replied. That was a response she would have expected from her mother, were Isobel Ross still alive.
“Not like that,” Dumbledore corrected. “Will you be living elsewhere?”
“I don’t know.” It was the truth. She didn’t know. Elphinstone wanted to live in a small cottage in Cornwall. Part of her longed for that. Part of her dreaded living anywhere but Hogwarts, the only true home she’d had since leaving Caithness.
“Perhaps if you lived in Hogsmeade…” Dumbledore trailed off.
It was the Caterwauling Charm that alerted Minerva, along with everyone else in the Three Broomsticks, that something was wrong. Then a loud voice shouting, “Alert Three. All A1 units to point Sorcerer Six. All M3 units stay put.” It was Quintin. This couldn’t be good.
Minerva ran outside as several MLE officers streamed in. As she heard one saying, “I need all students to stay exactly where you are. No one is in any danger,” she turned to Marcus Rathburn, who was ushering officers into several nearby buildings.
“Where is the problem?” she asked.
He looked at her for what felt like an eternity. “Shrieking Shack,” he finally answered.
“And what’s an alert three?”
“No,” Minerva whispered as soon as she arrived at the Shrieking Shack. Then she shouted. “Any student who doesn’t move aside immediately loses one hundred points.” It worked – the bystander students, mostly Ravenclaws as she observed, practically leapt out of the way. While that solved one problem, it revealed another – an all-out brawl. It was a group of perhaps thirty students, mostly Gryffindor and Slytherin, all third or fourth years. Minerva sucked in her breath. This was her nightmare.
Aurors were apparating all around her, raising their wands. Minerva spun around in a circle, trying to locate Quintin. Finally, she found her, situated behind the group of students, her back to the Shrieking Shack, her cheeks pink with the cold. Her wand was held out in front of her. “I will give one more warning to drop your wands,” Quintin said, her voice magnified with the sonorous charm.
“Don’t fire,” Minerva said, hoping to be heard over the shouting. “Don’t fire on students. Please.”
Quintin stared directly at her, and Minerva repeated it, praying that this didn’t get any worse, that these students wouldn’t somehow be harmed again. “Aurors,” Quintin said in her magnified voice. “We cast to disarm in three.” Minerva sighed in relief as a group of seventh-year students and professors arrived. “Three. Two.” The fighting didn’t stop. “One.” With nearly twenty voices calling out “Expelliarmus,” the spell rumbled the snow-covered trees. But the aurors knew what they were doing. Wands flew out of hands, but otherwise, the students didn’t so much as waver. In fact, they took to fighting with their fists.
As Quintin and her aurors, and of course, Ginny Weasley and a group of seventh-year Quidditch players, dove into the fray, Minerva saw it clearly – exactly what Molly had meant. The houses were the problem.
After their staff meeting, the final one before the students and some of the professors would leave for Christmas, Minerva leaned back in her seat, taking in the warmth of the fire. She waited for the professors to clear out, listening as Flitwick and Quintin recapped the new security measures they had discussed for the train to London in light of the fight in Hogsmeade. Even though she had slept in her bed the previous night, rather than at a library table, she still felt exhausted. The end of the semester couldn’t come quickly enough. They had given more detentions for the fight. Detentions that served as a formality more than anything. They certainly wouldn’t change what had happened or heal the damage these students may never get over.
Minerva shot a look at Flitwick as Quintin waved goodnight to everyone and disappeared down the stairs. He took the hint and herded Babbling and Hooch out of the room, then hollered, “Binns!”
“What?” Binns jolted in the air – how a ghost managed to fall asleep in meetings was a mystery that Minerva didn’t hope to solve in her lifetime.
“Meeting’s over. Time to go.” Binns floated out and Flitwick moved to follow him out the door, but stopped when Arthur Weasley, who had left with his wife when the meeting ended, came back through the staff room door. “Arthur - ” Flitwick started.
“I need to speak with Professor McGonagall, if that’s alright,” Arthur said. “It wasn’t appropriate to be discussed before the whole staff.”
“That’s fine,” Minerva said, sitting up in her chair and reaching for her gillywater. “Please sit, Arthur. Filius, you can go.” Flitwick apparently didn’t need to be told twice. Minerva could have sworn that he apparated.
Arthur pulled out a chair with a loud scrape that irritated Minerva’s head. “Some of my first-years came to me,” he said, taking a seat. “And by that, I mean Gryffindor first-years, of course. I don’t teach first years.”
“Yes, I’m aware,” Minerva responded, unsure where this was going.
“They don’t understand it,” Arthur said, his voice heavy and full of meaning, though Minerva had no idea what he was talking about. “Why anyone is fighting. They don’t understand.”
Minerva nodded. It was inevitable that eventually, a new group of students would come along who hadn’t known the war, who had never heard of a wizard with a name they didn’t speak, who weren’t waiting with baited breath for Harry Potter to come save them. But perhaps like Arthur, Minerva didn’t know it would come so quickly.
“It’s the muggle born students, mostly,” Arthur said, even if he didn’t have to. “They don’t know any of it. Why students are having nightmares, why they’re afraid of the Slytherins…any of it.”
“What did you tell them?” Minerva asked. This conversation was important, she knew that. Arthur needed to be heard; his students needed to be acknowledged. But mostly she was tired – tired from a semester of teaching and running Hogwarts, of attempting to rebuild their ruined castle with no progress to show for it.
“I didn’t know what to tell them,” Arthur admitted. “But maybe they’re the ones who needed to tell me something. They had some ideas – some ideas for the houses to work together. Maybe…” Arthur hesitated, only continuing when Minerva gestured to indicate that he should do so. “Maybe I could do something, after we return from Christmas.”
He was asking for permission, Minerva realized. Permission to do something that would perhaps allow Hogwarts to begin to heal itself. “Yes,” Minerva said, grateful in a way she couldn’t express. “Of course you can.” Arthur smiled, and Minerva said, “We could all do something.”
“Are you marking those with a quill?” Dougal asked, incredulous. “A quill?”
The train taking the students home for Christmas had barely left the Hogsmeade station when Minerva apparated from the trailhead to Caithness. She had enough marking to last throughout the entire holiday, but she figured she could do it away from the castle.
So she sat across from Dougal at a worn old wooden table at his farmhouse, sipping at tea and making her way through the third-years’ exams. “Do you have a problem with that?” Minerva asked, waving the quill in his general direction.
“How could I not have a problem with that? Have you heard of pens?”
“I’ve heard of them,” Minerva said, pausing to scratch out an incorrect calculation for the Teapot to Tortoise spell.
“But they’ve offended you in some way?”
Minerva should have known she wouldn’t get much marking done this way. But Christmas was her only time to finish going through her students’ work and prepare for the following semester. She watched as Dougal carved slowly at a block of wood – one that was to become one of his trademark flutes. Everyone in Caithness had to have one by now. “What are you going to do with that flute?” she asked, rather than respond to Dougal’s ribbing.
“Play it, most likely,” he said.
“You better play it at the Christmas festival,” Dougal’s daughter Iris said, sauntering into the dining room with Ian on her hip. She rustled around in the cabinets, seemingly unaware that she was interrupting. “Do you lot want some scones?” Without waiting for an answer, she plopped a plate on the table, saying, “Minerva, I hope you aren’t allergic to walnuts.”
“I’m not,” Minerva replied, helping herself to a scone. “And I must agree that your father play at the Christmas festival. I, for one, would love to hear it.”
“Thank you, Minerva. I would too,” Iris said pointedly, while Dougal gave her a look. Iris waited until he put down his carving knife, then dropped Ian onto his lap, continuing with “Right, Ian?”
“No,” Ian responded.
“Good man,” Dougal said, feeding his grandson a bite of scone.
“Wait a minute,” Iris said, twirling around in the doorway to stare at Minerva. “Are you writing with a quill?”
Minerva didn’t know how she was getting out of this one. “I’m old fashioned,” she said, her voice anything but convincing.
“Eccentric, more like,” Dougal muttered, looking at her in amusement, as if interested to see what excuse she was going to make.
Iris clearly didn’t believe her, but she didn’t push it. Instead, she just gestured toward Dougal with her thumb. “Then you’re doing the right thing spending time with this one.”
“Yes,” Minerva replied, taking the offered change in subject gratefully. “Yes, I am.”
Diagon Alley was packed shoulder-to-shoulder when Minerva, along with Sprout and Flitwick, arrived through the back of the Leaky Cauldron. She instantly regretted her procrastination – with everything else she had been attempting to manage at Hogwarts, the task of selecting gifts for the staff (or even sending someone else to do it) had completely slipped her mind.
So here she was, on the last shopping weekend before Christmas, attempting to rectify that mistake. And she was not about to shop in Diagon alone in December – she had brought Flitwick, who, as Deputy Headmaster (“Interim Deputy Headmaster,” he had corrected her yet again that morning), was also going to put his name to the gifts. And Flitwick had insisted on Sprout, who was better at selecting gifts than the both of them combined.
“Alright, where do we start?” Minerva asked, to herself as much as her companions.
“I don’t see why we can’t just to go to Amaneusis and get everyone a quill and be done with it,” Flitwick said.
“Yes, because professors don’t have quills,” Sprout responded.
“Most of their quills are standard Hogwarts issue,” Flitwick said. “And let’s be honest – those are crap.”
“Remind me to take you off the budget committee,” Minerva muttered, ducking aside as a wizard weighted down with packages threatened to run them over. She paused and stared at the shops in front of her, as if the titles themselves would solve their problem. Sugarplum’s…Potage’s…Madam Malkin’s…none of it was appropriate for her staff.
They wandered ahead at an excruciatingly slow pace, pausing as shoppers rushed out of Gambol and Japes, and presumably, right into Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. “We could go to Noltie’s,” Sprout nearly shouted to be heard over the hubbub.
Flitwick was quick to shoot down that suggestion. “If we get plants, everyone will know you picked them out.”
“It wouldn’t exactly be a lie, Filius,” Minerva countered.
“No, but I want to at least keep up the illusion that I was helpful,” Flitwick said, then turning sharply, added. “Hold on, I need to stop at Fortescue’s.”
“It’s December,” Minerva called after him, but it was useless. Flitwick was lost easily into the crowd. All she could do was hope that no one else was daft enough to want ice cream in the winter, or that Francis Fortescue would let him jump to the front of the line for being her favorite professor.
Next to her, Sprout didn’t seem to mind – being out shopping in a crowd was her element. She either knew everyone or would by the time they left. “So,” Sprout said, after Minerva didn’t make a move to say anything or continue walking. “What are you getting him for Christmas?”
“The mystery man you’ve been seeing.”
Minerva turned sharply in her direction. “What?” she asked, her tone coming out in an inappropriate sputter.
“I’m not an idiot, Minerva.”
Whatever Minerva had expected to come of all that, she didn’t know. But it wasn’t to be confronted so soon, in Diagon Alley no less. “Dougal,” she muttered. “And I don’t know what I’m going to get him.”
“Let’s add him to the list,” Sprout said, not pushing any further.
Luckily, Filius came back, licking at his chocolate ice cream cone. “Alright, let’s do this,” he proclaimed, as if they had not been waiting on him for the last ten minutes. “What about Praedico Predico?”
“I’ll approve Praedico Predico,” Sprout said, her tone implying she had officially taken over. “For Trelawney only. Then we’re going to Twinkle’s Telescopes, and I’m giving you five minutes to find something for each professor. Can you handle that?”
“Yes,” Minerva said, sighing a little in relief. Flitwick nodded and took a huge bite of ice cream.
“Good. Get going.”
Minerva sat in the pew in Malcolm’s church – Rob on one side, Malcolm’s daughter Artis on the other. On Rob’s other side, his three children stared ahead, all looking bored. “Kids,” their mother whispered as if they were still schoolchildren, not adults nearing their thirties.
Artis stifled a laugh, then shared a look with her mother, Malcolm’s wife Fiona. She had recently become the bane of Rob’s existence, accepting a healer-in-training position at St. Mungo’s while Rob’s children continued to cycle through various internships, part-time jobs, and bouts of doing nothing, a pattern that wouldn’t have bothered Malcolm in the least. It was as if they had both ended up with the wrong children.
As Malcolm started the service, Minerva glanced around. From one of the back pews, Dougal caught her eye and winked. His daughter, daughter-in-law, and grandson were piled in the pew next to him, the boy still swaddled almost comically in some kind of winter coat Minerva had never seen before.
In the front of the church, Malcom started the litany. “The Word was made flesh,” he called. As the congregation responded with “Alleluia, Alleluia,” Rob leaned over to whisper in Minerva’s ear. The gesture was so much like something he would have done fifty years ago that for a moment, Minerva half-expected her mother to lean over and box both of them across the ears.
“Perhaps this will be the year he gets through the service without cursing,” Rob said.
Minerva waited until the next “Alleluia, Alleluia” to answer with “I wouldn’t count on it.”
“Jesus, Good Shepard,” Malcolm recited. “Inexhaustible Way – shit – Inexhaustible Wisdom, our Way, our Truth, and our Light.”
This time, Rob said the “Alleluia, Alleluia,” while Minerva whispered, “You owe me, Rob.”
After Rob and Anna had cooked dinner and the family had eaten, the annual Exploding Snap tradition could begin. Artis laid out the cards, worn with years of use, saying, “That’s right, everybody, I’m going with Bavarian Rules. Tap the card within a minute or it explodes.” Minerva watched her niece place the cards in a neat circle while good-naturedly trying to insult everyone. She looked so much like Malcolm and Robert Sr., two men who couldn’t turn down a friendly competition to save their lives.
Minerva didn’t listen to the rest of the rules; instead, she thought of the last Christmas she spent in this house before she met Dougal, left Dougal, and took the Ministry job. They had played the same game, with the same cards, with their father dealing them out. While most things in the magical world had intimidated and even repelled Robert Sr., Exploding Snap was the one part of wizarding culture he enjoyed. If anyone else tried to deal or set the rules for the game, so help them.
She was drawn back to the game by Glendon shouting and slapping his hand on the table more quickly than she had ever seen him do anything. Anna, usually a quiet, matronly woman, shoved her son’s hand out of the way, and a bowtruckle card exploded.
“That’s one, people,” Artis called, getting louder either with the explosion or the wine that had started flowing.
It wasn’t long until the table was a mess of soot and Rob and Malcolm were at each other’s throats. “That’s true, Rob,” Malcom said, then paused to slap at a pair of manticores. “Why did I leave the magical world when I could have been a bird shit scholar?”
“I’m an Owl Route Analyst,” Rob replied, not able to keep pace with Malcolm – either at the banter or at the cards. A cyclops blew up at him.
Minerva was beginning to fear that Rob and Malcolm would come to blows when the doorbell sounded. “I wonder who that could be,” Malcolm said with the exact opposite of subtlety as he got up from the table
“Well, well, well,” Malcolm’s voice from the entryway was loud enough for everyone to hear. “If it isn’t Dougal McGregor.” Minerva sighed. Malcolm was still ten years old at heart. She pulled herself up from the table, and moved as quickly as she could while still being mindful of the wintertime ache in her knee to relieve Dougal of whatever embarrassment Malcolm had devised.
When she got to the entryway, she said, “Happy Christmas, Dougal,” then turned to her brother. “Thank you, Malcolm,” she continued, trying to convey a message that he should take that as his cue to leave.
“You’re welcome,” he replied, not moving at all, then went on with, “Dougal, won’t you come join us for a round of Exploding Snap? It’s sure to end in bloodshed or a McGonagall family rift.”
“I haven’t the slightest clue what that means,” Dougal said, but he was pulled along by Malcolm and was hearing the rules from Artis within a manner of moments. “So, if you don’t tap them, they explode?” Dougal asked. “Literally explode?”
“Literally explode,” Minerva said. “We’ll let you watch for a moment.”
“Like hell we will,” Malcolm countered, and the game picked back up, for which Minerva was grateful. She may have been sixty-three years old, but she still held some sort of horror at having Dougal interacting with her whole family. Perhaps it was being back in the Manse that did it. “I believe we have you to thank, Dougal,” Malcolm said loudly to be heard over the cards. “For bringing Minerva back here all the time.”
“She doesn’t come just for the charming card games?” Dougal asked, managing to slap one of the pair of giant squids. The other exploded.
“Almost,” Artis told him encouragingly. “You’re getting it.”
“If only,” Malcolm said, responding to Dougal. “I mean, now that the war’s over - ”
“War?” Dougal asked, looking between Malcolm and Minerva while Robbie slapped at a card so forcefully the whole room shook.
“He doesn’t know?” Malcolm said, staring pointedly at Minerva.
“Malcolm, don’t help,” Minerva answered.
“What war?” Dougal asked again.
“I’ll tell you later,” Minerva said, trying to pull everyone’s attention back to the game. But it seemed her whole family was thinking the same thing: Why hadn’t she mentioned the war?
Minerva walked Dougal out after the game had finished and all of the ‘children’ – now young adults – had taken a bottle of wine out to the back garden. She stood on the front step, shivering in the cold rather than risking a warming charm in front of the minister’s house. “Happy Christmas, Dougal.” She handed him the package and watched as he unwrapped it – it was a goblin-made knife, not that he would really know what that meant. But she hoped that, unlike most other magical implements, he could put it to use.
“This is beautiful,” he said, turning it over in his hand, “I don’t know what’s different about it, but something is. I’ll use it to carve my flutes. Thank you.” He handed her a small box. When she opened it, she found a small carving. But not a flute this time – it was a little cat, wearing a pair of glasses. As she looked down at it, Dougal continued, “You know you can tell me, Minerva. About the war. About anything, really.”
“I know,” Minerva said. “And I will. But not tonight.” Dougal nodded, and Minerva could sense his disappointment. “Dougal,” Minerva said as she watched him tug on his gloves, stowing the knife in his pocket. “Every year, we have a New Year’s party for the staff at Hogwarts.” She ignored the smile that came to Dougal’s face at the mention of the word ‘Hogwarts.’ “I would love it if you could attend.”
“You mean…” Dougal stared at her intently. “Go to the magic school, and meet all the magic wizards, and…I don’t really know what else you do there.”
“Yes. And we’ll mostly drink punch and mingle.”
“I would…I would love to.”
Minerva had finished all of the preparations for the staff New Year’s party yesterday – she had spoken with the house elves about dinner, helped Flitwick with the decorations, and ensured that all the gifts they had chosen were labeled and set out. Now the only thing she had left to do was pick up Dougal, which made her nervous, so she spent the evening pacing Sprout’s quarters as Sprout finished making cupcakes.
“Are you bringing…what’s his name?” Sprout called from the kitchen. “Doofus McDoogle?”
“Dougal McGregor,” Minerva answered. “Doofus McDoogle is my cousin.”
Sprout let out one of her barks of laughter. “Nice.”
Minerva walked over to a full-length mirror in Spout’s living room, moving aside several ferns, and examined her reflection, making a vain attempt to smooth out the lines around her mouth. “Things are different in the highlands,” she deadpanned. “But yes, he’s coming. Do try not to embarrass me.”
“I make no promises,” Pomona said. “Though I’ll try to keep Hagrid away from the punch and Trelawney as far away from you as possible.”
“What about Binns?"
“You’re on your own with Binns.”
Minerva met Dougal outside of Malcolm’s house, then grabbed ahold of him and apparated as close to the castle as she could get. Dougal had barely stopped gasping for breath and found his footing when he said, “Oh shit.”
“What?” Minerva asked, watching him carefully.
“I think I left - ”
Of course. The muggle-repelling charm. Minerva took Dougal’s arm to keep him from turning around, which turned out to be more of a feat than she would have expected. “Wait,” she said. “I just need to…” She took her wand out of her sleeve and pointed it directly at his face, ignoring the flinch it produced. “Revelio.”
The effect was instantaneous. Dougal swayed a little on his feet, but didn’t go down. “That was…something,” he said weakly.
“That was a charm meant to repel you,” Minerva said, but Dougal wasn’t listening to her. He was staring in wonder at the castle. Minerva turned and followed his gaze with her own – she couldn’t help but smile as she watched him take it in – Hogwarts had been her home for so long, it was easy to forget how it felt to see it for the first time.
“Bloody…” Dougal said. “That’s it? That’s the school?”
“Then what kind of rubbish state school did I attend?” Dougal asked, then followed her down the hill toward the castle.
Much to Minerva’s amusement and relief, Dougal fit right in. Or at least, Sprout made sure he did, bringing each of the friendliest, most welcoming staff members around to meet him and keeping the conversation going as only she could. “Filius,” Sprout said, dragging Flitwick behind her. “You need to meet Minerva’s friend. This is Dougal McGregor.”
Minerva watched as Dougal shook Flitwick’s hand and Flitwick somehow forced himself to refrain from making a joke along the lines of ‘Friend? Is that what the fourth-years call it?’ Instead, he just said, “Filius Flitwick. I teach Charms. It’s a pleasure.”
“Filius Flitwick?” Dougal repeated as Flitwick left to refill his drink. “These names are a delight.”
“You seem right at home, Dougal,” Minerva said, covertly glancing around the room to take stock of Hagrid’s drunkenness and see where Binns was currently floating.
“How could I not? There’s fairies on a tree, a man is called ‘Flitwick,’ and I’m drinking pureed pumpkin. I’m practically in a story book. If only I could bring Ian.” Dougal took another long drink of his pumpkin juice – he was the first muggle Minerva had ever met who could stand the stuff. When she said as much to Dougal, he replied with “Maybe I’m a wizard after all.”
“Perhaps you are,” a voice called, interrupting their conversation. “Horace Slughorn, I’m glad to meet you, old man.”
“Old?” Dougal said. “Speak for yourself.”
“Oh, I do,” Slughorn said, and with that, Minerva knew Dougal would be fine. She slipped off for a minute to get herself some firewhiskey.
As midnight neared, the gargoyles on one of Flitwick’s enchanted clocks began to chant the seconds until the new year. “Ten, nine…” they called.
The rest of the staff joined in for “Eight, seven.” Minerva looked over at Dougal.
“Six, five.” He smiled at her, his glass of pumpkin juice in one hand, and reached out with the other.
“Four, three.” Minerva briefly considered pushing him away – this was her school, these were her staff. But then, for some reason, she thought of Dumbledore, at the shrug he would give to signify he had heard an opinion but wasn’t about to entertain it. What the hell, she thought.
“Two, one.” She vanished the pumpkin juice from Dougal’s other hand and grabbed both of his hands in hers, ignoring the shouts as she leaned in to kiss him.
Chapter 9: January
These days, Minerva stayed up late almost every night, but her late nights and early mornings were usually spent marking papers or making lesson plans, not sneaking around the castle like a student. But warm from the punch and with Dougal beside her, Minerva felt eighteen again. She showed Dougal her classroom, the dungeons, the greenhouse, the Quidditch pitch. On their way to Gryffindor Tower, Minerva took Dougal’s hand to pull him up the stairs.
“Why, it’s little lovebirds in the night,” a shrill voice called. Minerva sighed and reached for her wand as Dougal spun around frantically, his eyes landing on Peeves, who was floating somewhere near the ceiling, his orange eyes glowing mischievously. Minerva shot sparks at him, while Dougal stood there with his mouth hanging open. “Ooh, a muggle in Hogwarts, what will they all say?”
Minerva waited for the inevitable second half of the rhyme, hoping that after he got it out, Peeves would move on. But Dougal gasped again as the Grey Lady and the Bloody Baron swept by, and Peeves let out a little shriek. He disappeared with a crack. “It’s a New Year’s miracle,” Minerva muttered.
“What?” Dougal sputtered. “Was that a ghost?”
“That was a poltergeist. The other two were ghosts.”
“Of course they were.”
Minerva pulled Dougal the rest of the way up the stairs toward Gryffindor Tower. She showed him where she had slept as a student and pointed out the corner of the common room where she had studied. They kissed in front of the fireplace. “You know,” Dougal said, still resting his forehead against Minerva’s. “There’s one room in this castle I haven’t seen.”
Minerva knew where he was going – knew and didn’t mind at all – but she still couldn’t resist. “The Owlery?”
“Dammit,” Dougal said, pulling away from her. “I was trying to make an innuendo, here. But now I want to see the Owlery. Don’t get me wrong, I do want you to show me your bedroom, if I didn’t make that clear.”
“And I want to show it to you, if I didn’t make that clear.”
“After the Owlery?” Dougal asked.
“After the Owlery.”
For the first time in years, Minerva woke beside someone. Dougal was snoring lightly, his arm slung across the pillow above his head. Minerva looked at him for a moment before realizing that was probably untoward, and she quietly got out of bed and walked as softly as she could into her living room to order coffee from the house elves.
When the tray appeared on her coffee table, she levitated it back into the bedroom, setting it on her night table and sipping from a mug as she lowered herself back onto the bed, mindful of the creak in her knee.
Dougal stirred next to her. “Is that coffee?” he asked. “This place really is magical. Lord knows you don’t know how to make coffee.” He pulled himself up to a seat, and Minerva handed him a mug. “Or what is it you people would say? Merlin knows?”
“That is what we say,” Minerva answered, leaning back against the headboard, drinking coffee with her eyes drifting closed.
“Merlin’s beard,” Dougal said, and even without looking, Minerva could see the little self-satisfied smirk on his face. “Merlin’s … staff?”
“That’s taking it too far,” Minerva said in mock seriousness, causing Dougal to laugh.
“Then I’ll be sure to say it at all future functions. If I’m invited, that is.”
“That remains to be seen,” Minerva replied, and Dougal sipped loudly at his coffee. She considered about telling him to stop, but thought twice about it. Instead, her mind drifted to her conversation with Dougal at Christmas, at her insistence that she not discuss the war. And now, Dougal was here in her home, in her world. He had met all of her colleagues, and it went as well as she could have imagined. “Do you still want to hear about the war?” she blurted without warning.
Dougal stopped slurping. “If you would like to tell me,” he said cautiously.
And she did – Minerva wasn’t sure how long she spoke, but she told him of both wars, of Voldemort’s rise and fall, of Dumbledore’s death, of the battle for Hogwarts. Dougal didn’t say anything, just looked at her intently. She wasn’t even sure he understood all of it, but he nodded sympathetically, took her hand at the right times.
When she had finished, she looked down at her coffee cup, still half-full, and drew in a long, deep breath. Dougal reached over and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Jesus Christ,” he said.
“Merlin H. Christ,” she responded, laughing a little through her tears. “So now what?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I have a broken castle we can’t repair for reasons none of us understand. We have students who are fighting because sadists made them torture each other. We have a house system that’s…” Minerva stopped, thinking through what she had been considering, how to reconcile students from what had become opposing houses. “That’s outdated,” she continued. “It was supposed to serve the purpose of creating families within a large school, but instead, it’s creating divisions. I think the whole system has overstayed its welcome, at least in its current form.”
“What do you plan to do about it?” Dougal asked.
“I’m not sure,” Minerva answered. “But if you care to accompany me on a walk, I’ll try to figure it out. I might even take you to the Forbidden Forest.”
“Forbidden Forest? Are there werewolves in there?” He was obviously joking, but he should have known better by now.
“No, but there’s unicorns, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see a centaur.”
“Are you serious?” Dougal asked, leaping out of bed faster than his age would suggest possible. “You’re serious. Let’s go.”
Minerva drew herself up and dressed for the day, then led Dougal out of her chambers and onto the Hogwarts grounds.
They had chosen a cottage in Hogsmeade, not Cornwall as Elphinstone had originally planned. He could live wherever he wanted in his retirement, but Minerva still needed to go to Hogwarts every day. And though she could theoretically floo in from anywhere, it felt right being as near to Hogwarts as possible.
It was strange, getting adjusted to living away from Hogwarts, but she managed it, and she rather liked having someone to come home to. Her life changed, and changed for the better – for three years. Then just as quickly as it came, her life with Elphinstone was over.
The afternoon of Elphinstone’s funeral, she walked up the little trail that led to her cottage. She hoped that a few hours of solitude, away from the well-wishers, would help her to clear her head. But on seeing the cottage, the little row of boom berry bushes Elphinstone had been so delighted with, she realized she couldn’t continue. Couldn’t go in to see the empty cottage. Couldn’t imagine spending the night there on her own.
Minerva was about to transform and attempt to deal with all of this as a cat when she realized someone was on her front porch. Dumbledore sat there, staring ahead at her, not even moving. He didn’t say anything, and after a morning of “I’m sorry for your loss” and “He’s in a better place,” that was exactly what Minerva needed.
She stepped up in front of him. He looked so ordinary, sitting on her front porch with his hands resting on his knees – not like the legendary Headmaster of Hogwarts, just like her friend. “What do I do, Albus?” she asked.
Dumbledore stood, pulling himself up on the porch rail. He held out his arm, and she took it gratefully. “You come home,” he said.
Minerva took the podium at the front of the Great Hall once dinner was completed. She was about to do it. Something Dumbledore wouldn’t have done. She couldn’t help but feel disloyal after everything he’d done for her. But maybe Sprout was right, as was Trelawney. Maybe it was time to stop trying to be Dumbledore. And maybe that’s exactly what Dumbledore would have wanted.
“May I have your attention?” Minerva began. When the clatter of plates and voices died down to a manageable level, she continued. “Welcome back to Hogwarts. I hope you have all enjoyed your holiday. Now that you have returned, there will be several changes for the remainder of the year. First, I have always said that when you come to Hogwarts, your house will be your family. It was my intent that your house would become your home, but over the years, we may have lost sight of the fact that Hogwarts, not any individual house, is your home. I do not intend to tell you that your house is no longer your family. But having family does not preclude us from having friends. From now on, the house system as we know it will no longer exist. You will live with your housemates. You will play Quidditch with your housemates. But that is it.”
Minerva looked around at the students. She was receiving a mixture of confusion and anger. She steeled herself to continue. “As of this time, the House Cup is suspended indefinitely.” She waved her wand and the hourglasses counting the house points disappeared to an audible gasp from the students. “We will no longer schedule classes by house. When you return to your chambers, you will find a new schedule beside your bed.” She waved her wand, muttering “Colovaria,” and the flags above the house tables fluttered in an artificial breeze, changing their colors to the Hogwarts crest. “And finally, we will no longer eat by house. Please sit where you please come tomorrow morning.”
The students looked at her in stunned silence, as if waiting for her to tell them it was all a prank, that she wasn’t about to change Hogwarts as it had been for centuries. Minerva couldn’t hear anything above the beating of her own heart. “Have a good evening,” she said, then turned around and swept out of the hall.
For the second morning in a row, Minerva sat at her spot at the head table, watching as the students filed in for breakfast. She didn’t quite know what the outcome of her welcoming speech would be, but she should have planned on this. While students were forced to attend classes on their new schedule, there was nothing she could do to require them to eat in a new place. And so they didn’t – all of the students came in and sat where they always did, with their houses. The one exception seemed to be Luna Lovegood, who was known to eat at other house tables even before the change.
Minerva sighed and looked over at Flitwick, who shrugged. She would have to add this item to the staff meeting – without any real change, Hogwarts was still unlikely to heal.
She saw nearly the same pattern in her classes. Though students now had class with peers from all four houses, they still sat in four distinct groups, hardly looking the way of other students, let alone really interacting with them.
It was a relief when she was finally able to hold her NEWT-level class, as those students had been in a mixed group from the beginning of the year.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Hermione Granger proclaimed as she unpacked her books before class started. “The mixed-house classes, I mean.”
“Thank you, Miss Granger,” Minerva replied. She didn’t want to show her gratitude, her ultimate relief in hearing it from at least one student, but she was sure part of it leaked through her professional veneer.
Hermione nodded and took out her quill, poised over the paper for Minerva to start class.
“This semester, we’re moving on from human transfiguration and into the roots of transfiguration spells. This is complex theoretical work, required for any innovative work in transfiguration, and certainly required for the highest possible score on your NEWT exams.” Minerva levitated the chalk to write out the instructions as she spoke. “I will be dividing the students in this class into pairs. Each pair will receive a spell. You will research the etymology, history, and uses of the spell, presenting your findings to the rest of the class along with a handout not to exceed two feet. Are there questions?”
When no one, not even Hermione, raised their hand, Minerva continued, reading off her prepared list of pairs. “Abbot, Almes – you’ll take the Avifors spell.” Minerva watched as the two named students rose to find a place together, then continued the list.
“Granger, Greengrass – Vera Verto.” Astoria Greengrass stood, and Minerva watched as Hermione’s face fell. “I’m assigning the pairs alphabetically, in case anyone didn’t know their letters well enough to realize,” she said to the group at large, hoping to quell the issue before it really became one.
Hermione panicked. “That wasn’t it. That’s not the problem,” she said frantically, turning to look at Astoria, who was slowly making her way to the front of the room. “It’s just that…Vera Verto is a second-year spell for turning animals into water goblets.”
“Yes, I’m aware,” Minerva said.
“I’m sorry, Professor,” Hermione protested. “I was hoping for something more complex.”
“That is the goal of this assignment,” Minerva said, though she couldn’t really be angry. This was the exact type of complaint she would have – did have – as a student. “You’ll find that though these spells seem straightforward on a cursory glance, once you dissect the theory, you will discover a spell that is indeed quite complex. Now, Harper, Lovegood – Locomotor.”
Minerva held the letter in her hand as she made her way to Molly and Arthur’s chambers. Arthur had requested to see her, about the plan he had begun to discuss before the students left for Christmas, she was sure.
As she approached the chambers, the door opened, and Astoria Greengrass came out, clutching a muffin in one hand and a handkerchief in the other. She looked distraught, but said, “Professor McGonagall,” pleasantly enough, then diverted her eyes and hurried away. Minerva watched her go in confusion, then knocked on Molly and Arthur’s door.
It was Molly who answered. “Professor McGonagall,” she said. “Do come in.”
Minerva entered the chambers – they had been Quirrell’s once, then Charity Burbage’s. Located near Gryffindor tower, the spacious set of chambers were one of Minerva’s personal favorites – warm and full of light where much of the castle was dark and damp. Molly gestured Minerva to a kitchen table, which was covered with tins of muffins. “I’ve been baking,” Molly said as an explanation. “I suppose I do it to relax. That, and students just need somewhere to come and be smothered in affection and pastries sometimes.”
“I saw Miss Greengrass in the corridor,” Minerva said.
“Yes. Poor dear has one parent dead, one in jail, and a sister lost into the world of pureblood pride. She just needs…” Molly sighed and stared at the tins of muffins, rather than at Minerva. “A family,” she finished.
“I suppose so,” Minerva said, moved. Perhaps the removal of houses would do some good after all.
“I appreciate it, Professor McGonagall,” Molly said, as if reading Minerva’s mind. “What you’ve done with the houses. It’s not as if my opinion matters - ”
“It does,” Minerva interrupted.
“And I wouldn’t have said it as a student. Hell, I wouldn’t have said it a year ago. But after everything…some things are more important, aren’t they?”
“Indeed, they are,” Minerva said. It was the only thing she could say.
They sat in silence for a moment before Arthur crashed in the front door. “It’s Arthur,” he called out. “Am I interrupting anything?”
“No,” Molly called back. “Professor McGonagall is here.”
“Splendid.” Arthur came into the kitchen and sat heavily at the table, in a motion that reminded Minerva of Ginny. He pulled off a woolen hat as he reached for a muffin; with his pinked cheeks, it was clear he had been walking the grounds. “Professor McGonagall,” he started. “I won’t waste your time.” Minerva couldn’t help but appreciate that. “Before Christmas, a few students – muggleborn students - came to me with an idea. They want to start a club for all houses, to play…Molly, what’s it called again?”
“Football,” Molly supplied.
“Yes, of course,” Arthur said. “Football is -”
“I know what football is,” Minerva said. “Do continue.”
“Well, they want to play it. Not house against house, just teams made up of all four houses. It’s first-years who proposed it, so I have no idea if any older students would participate, but if you think it would work…” He trailed off, and Minerva could tell he was looking to her for approval.
“I think it sounds fine,” Minerva said, feeling a wave of relief wash over her that someone was thinking of solutions, that the professors she hired were working toward the betterment of the school. “The one consideration to keep in mind is that all clubs need a faculty sponsor.”
“Oh, that will be me, of course,” Arthur said. “I never realized this as a student, but teaching one of the elective classes leaves me with much less to do than Molly – or you, of course.”
Minerva nodded. That had indeed always been a point of contention. “That’s considered in the contracts,” she said. “It’s why Molly makes more than you.”
“Ah,” Arthur said, then suddenly turned to his wife. “What?”
“Nothing,” Molly said, reaching for a muffin.
It was a rare thing that Minerva invited anyone into her chambers. Other than Dougal, the only person who had been in them lately was Pomona Sprout. Unlike Sprout and Flitwick, and apparently, Molly and Arthur, Minerva preferred to keep a separation between students and her personal space – between staff and her personal space, for that matter. Students tended to think she lived behind her old office on the first floor, a rumor she was happy to let take hold. In reality, her chambers still overlooked the Quidditch pitch, just from the fifth floor.
After dinner, as Hufflepuff’s team practiced on the pitch below, Minerva sat down at the wooden table she had taken from the Manse before Malcolm moved in. Sprout and Slughorn sat around the table as well, as Flitwick bustled around the kitchen, making coffee. “When was the last time you used this kitchen?” he asked.
“Let’s not discuss that,” Minerva responded. She honestly couldn’t remember. All staff chambers had a kitchen, but she would have been fine without one.
Flitwick didn’t get a chance to respond. “Will you look at this?” Slughorn said, holding out a page of The Daily Prophet.
Minerva could see a huge “Vote Shacklebolt” advertisement. “Yes, well, we knew he would be running for office,” she responded.
“No, not that,” Slughorn replied, flipping the page. The headline stood out starkly. “Potter Calls for Portrait of Snape to be Hung at Hogwarts.” Minerva read the portion of the article she could see around Slughorn’s big hand. “Did you know about this?” he asked.
“I didn’t,” she said. Portraits – she hadn’t even considered them. It was customary for the current Headmistress to hang portraits of any former Headmasters and Headmistresses. Dumbledore’s had been hidden away somewhere, and she hadn’t made a move to commission one for Snape. Not for lack of caring, just for…for what, exactly? And why hadn’t Harry come to her directly?
Flitwick brought over the coffee and interrupted her thoughts. “Of everything we’ve been trying to deal with this damn year, I don’t think hanging up pictures is our top priority.” He paused, setting down the tray. “With all due respect for the dead. Now,” he passed out mugs and set the pot levitating to each one to fill it up. “Why are we here, Minerva? My guess is, it’s not to discuss portraits.”
Grateful for the subject change, Minerva said, “It’s not. We’re here to look at possible solutions for the castle. I’ve done some calculations.” She paused to expand her pieces of parchment and set them to float around the room. “We’re looking at a spell that is both a transfiguration and a charm. What you’re looking at are my calculations for potential combinations of wand strength and concentration vs. combinations of viciousness and body weight.”
Her colleagues stared at the parchment for a few moments, Slughorn with his mouth hanging open and Flitwick making his own calculations on a scroll, the scratches of his quill the only sound in the room. “So if we’re considering Death Eaters, we’re either looking for someone very small or someone with a high level of concentration,” Flitwick said, looking between Minerva’s notes and his own. “Even with the properties of a charm to counterbalance the transfiguration constant, we still need a powerful transfiguration for it to still be in effect.”
“Yes,” Minerva said. “I’ve come to similar conclusions. Given, of course, that someone didn’t have an outlandishly powerful wand.”
“So how small would they have to be,” Slughorn said, “In order to cancel out their viciousness?”
“Quite small,” Flitwick answered for Minerva. “We’re talking about Death Eaters, here. They’re pretty vicious.”
“Unless…” Slughorn said, and Minerva knew exactly where he was going.
“It’s not Snape,” Minerva said. “He was small and could control his viciousness better than most, but I still don’t think the calculations add up. Not to mention that I really don’t believe he would have done anything to harm the school, given what we know now.”
“And Snape is dead,” Flitwick said, and the starkness of the statement gave Minerva a jolt. “If this spell is indeed part charm, we’re looking for someone who’s still living.”
“So, we’re looking for a tiny, non-vicious Death Eater?” Slughorn asked. “As in, Flitwick’s size?”
“Excuse me,” Flitwick said.
“Or someone with an extreme ability in concentration,” Minerva responded.
The other three were silent for a moment, then started in on the theories.
“Lestrange?” Sprout asked.
“She’s dead and incredibly vicious,” Minerva responded.
“Greyback?” Flitwick asked.
“No real concentration. Plus, he’s huge.”
“Carrow?” Flitwick said.
“I think the Carrows would have had a high concentration ability. But not the ability to temper viciousness.”
“Malfoy?” Slughorn asked.
They all fell silent for a moment, as Minerva stared at the charts. Was what they were looking for impossible? Did such a person exist? All at once, an idea hit her. Just then, Sprout said, “Okay, this may not be a popular thing to say, but I’m going to put it out there.”
“We need all ideas on the table,” Minerva responded, her heart pounding.
“Was it one of us?” Sprout asked. “Is it a lingering effect of a protection spell?”
Arthur’s club was in their first practice. A clump of first years, with a few older students, stood around on the Quidditch pitch, as one of the muggleborns stood in the center, yelling out instructions. Arthur stood by, beaming proudly. Watching from across the grounds, on the Hogsmeade trailhead, Minerva could tell he was clueless as to what they were discussing, but that didn’t really matter. He had a decent turnout, and perhaps when the older students saw that first-years were cooperating, they would have no choice but to do so themselves.
Minerva shivered a little and cast another warming spell around herself. The January snow was showing no signs of melting, and of course, she had chosen to have this meeting outside on the trail to stay away from prying students and professors.
“Thank you for meeting me, Professor.” Minerva turned around to face the trail, where Harry Potter seemed to emerge from nowhere. “Butterbeer?” He held out a cup, which she took, if only for the warmth.
“Thank you, Mr. Potter,” Minerva said. “I know you just came from Hogsmeade, but shall we walk?” she indicated the trail behind them.
“Please,” Harry replied, and they set out on the trail, walking slowly through the snow and sipping at butterbeer. “Professor,” Harry said, after a few moments of silence. “I don’t know how the Prophet got ahold of any of that.”
“You didn’t speak to them?” Minerva asked, surprised.
“No,” he said. “The only people I told were Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, and I know none of them said anything either.”
Minerva thought it through for a minute, glancing over at Harry, who swatted at a branch, causing snow to flutter down on his stocking cap. She believed him – of course she did. What motivation would he have to lie or deceive her after all that had transpired? That, and she knew the journalists in their world had absolutely no scruples. “The Prophet has their ways,” was all she said in response.
He snorted and took a long draw of his butterbeer. “Yes, they do. It’s true though, what I was thinking. I’m not mad that the portrait hasn’t been hung. It’s been a busy year…a bad year. But I’d like…” he trailed off and swung at another branch. Minerva waited for him to finish. “I’d like to commission the portrait and have it hung, if you’re agreeable to it.”
Minerva looked at her former student. Like almost everyone in their world, she had known him when he was eleven, sneaking around in his invisibility cloak he thought she knew nothing about. It was jarring at best to see him as an adult who said things like ‘if you’re agreeable to it.’ “I would certainly be agreeable to it.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Harry said, and Minerva could tell from the way his shoulders relaxed that he felt she was indeed doing him a favor, rather than the other way around. “And I’m working on the Orders of Merlin as well. Dumbledore had one, of course, but for Snape. And you.”
“Me?” Minerva asked, incredulous. “Please don’t. I didn’t do what Snape did.” She didn’t say what else she was thinking: I’m alive. Snape and Dumbledore aren’t.
“It’s Professor Snape,” Harry corrected her, then laughed at his own joke for a solid minute. “And you can’t argue with me on this. I’m Harry Potter.” He paused to laugh some more. “And you did more than you think. Ginny was here. She told me.”
Minerva didn’t argue any further. Instead, as they rounded the corner into Hogsmeade, she watched Harry take it in, the new world that he had created. “Mr. Potter,” she said, but when he turned to her, she couldn’t finish her thought. How would she thank a child for everything he had done for all of them? Instead, she said, “Go on to the Three Broomsticks. I will alert Miss Weasley that she has been granted an additional Hogsmeade weekend, to take place immediately.”
Harry’s face brightened. “Thank you, Professor,” he said. “I’ll let you know when the portrait is completed.”
Minerva nodded and turned back to the trail, back to Hogwarts.
“Are you sure I can’t help?” Minerva called into the kitchen at Dougal’s farmhouse.
“Positive,” Iris’ voice called in response. “You are a guest.”
Minerva settled on the tartan sofa, relieved. She had never cooked in her life – she wouldn’t have the faintest idea what to do in a kitchen. But her mother had taught her to at least offer.
Dougal was sat on the floor, handing puzzle pieces to Ian, who seriously considered each one before tentatively placing it on the coffee table before him. Minerva picked up the puzzle box – it was an owl, of course.
“Minerva, get in here,” Dougal said. “You think we’re going to make this owl on our own?”
“Owl,” Ian repeated.
“Yes it is,” Dougal said, proudly.
“I think you’re doing alright,” Minerva responded, but she picked up a piece anyway and handed it to the boy.
Iris and Lisa let Minerva and Dougal help carry dishes to the table, and as they sat down, Iris announced, “Minerva, do you know that my dad never had Korean food before Lisa and I started dating?”
“And my life was the poorer for it,” Dougal said, as Lisa muttered, “Iris.”
“I’m not convinced you had either,” Lisa said, playfully bumping Iris with her elbow.
“Yeah, there’s not much up here,” Iris admitted.
“What about in London?” Minerva asked.
“Can you tell I’m from London?” Lisa said, exaggerating her London accent. “London’s not bad for Korean restaurants, but of course, my parents had to settle in Surrey.” Minerva chuckled – she had only been to Surrey the once, but once was enough to know what was there.
“No one cooks as well as your mother anyway,” Dougal said, nodding in Lisa’s direction.
“True,” Iris added. “Not even you.”
Lisa rolled her eyes and reached over to cut up Ian’s food. “You should try my grandmother’s. My parents visit her in Korea every year,” Lisa said to Minerva as explanation.
“Maybe if we can get my dad to retire, he can go to Korea. Or anywhere, for that matter.”
“Trying to get rid of me, are you?” Dougal said.
“Minerva,” Iris said, ignoring him. “You’re a teacher, right?”
“Yes,” Minerva said, while Dougal corrected her with “A Headmistress.”
“So you have summers off?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“You should take my dad somewhere. Make him get out for a while.”
“Will he recognize the farm when he comes back?” Minerva asked.
Iris laughed loudly. “Let’s hope not.”
“I know it’s not my business,” Lisa said as she and Minerva washed the dishes. “But I’m glad Dougal is seeing you. It’s been good for him.”
Minerva smiled, warmed by this effusion. She stumbled a little on drying the dish, reminding herself to do it the muggle way, the way she did as a child. “For me, too.”
They fell silent as Dougal’s conversation with Iris drifted in, even through the closed window, where they watched fondly as Ian strutted about in the snow, his coat bundling him almost too tightly to move. “I like her,” Iris said in that proclaiming way she always spoke. “I approve.”
“Let’s all be glad of that,” Dougal said teasingly, though he threw an arm around her shoulders.
Minerva smiled, moved again by this scene, and perhaps a little relieved. Beside her, Lisa put a hand over her face, “Oh, Iris,” she muttered. “Can’t keep anything to herself, can she?”
“At least you never have to wonder what she’s thinking.”
“True.” Lisa went back to the dishes, gazing periodically out the window.
“I know it’s not my business,” Minerva offered. “But you make a lovely family.”
“We do, don’t we? Always room for one more.”
Minerva had about had it with the house tables. As she ladled porridge into a bowl and levitated the coffeepot above her mug, she half-considered getting rid of the four long tables entirely. Perhaps if there were twenty tables, students would have no choice. No, maybe twenty-five. It couldn’t be a number divisible by four.
The students were, as usual, taking their seats at the old tables, making no sign of changing. Minerva didn’t know what she expected. The students didn’t really know each other. Why would they change their patterns now? It would take some type of leadership to really create change.
As Minerva had this thought, she looked toward the Great Hall entryway, where Ginny and Hermione were coming in for breakfast – Ginny with her broom and uniform, and Hermione with a giant stack of books. If anyone in this school were perceived as leaders, it was the two of them. They headed toward the Gryffindor table as always, and Minerva stared at them both, willing them to notice. It took a moment, but they did - Hermione first, then Ginny. They looked up at her questioningly for a minute, and she narrowed her eyes at them. Ginny whispered something to Hermione, who whispered back.
For a moment, Minerva thought she had miscalculated, that they wouldn’t take the hint or wouldn’t follow through on it. But Ginny shrugged, and the two of them turned slightly, making their way to the Slytherin table and sitting down on either side of Astoria Greengrass. Even over the chatter of breakfast, Minerva could hear Astoria’s response. “Hi, Hermione. Hi, Ginny.”
“Don’t talk until I’ve had my fucking coffee,” Ginny said, and Minerva thought that at least for the moment, things would be alright.
Chapter 10: February
“I’m pleased to report that we have had no additional fights between students, either at Hogwarts or in Hogsmeade,” Calliope Quintin said, after Minerva called the staff meeting to order and gave Quintin the floor.
“What does that mean, do you think?” Vector asked. “Is this whole house integration thing working? Or did they just get it out of their systems?”
“Or are we gearing up for something worse?” Flitwick, ever the optimist, cut in.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s something worse,” Quintin replied, then paused to sip from her gillywater. “Though that doesn’t mean we let our guard down. We always assume another issue can arise at any time. As for what has caused it, I think you lot would know better than me.”
“I think it helps, having the houses interact more,” Sinistra said. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but having a mixed group in my classes also lends a more diverse way of thinking about the subject. I for one would love it if we held onto this next year.”
There was a murmur of general agreement, then Sprout said, “I agree, Aurora. The more we can get the students to interact, the more they can see that other students were never the real enemy.”
“Thank you for the feedback,” Minerva said. “Shall we move on?” With no disagreement, she glanced down at her scroll, to the agenda for the staff meeting. She didn’t need to, however. This item was etched firmly at the front of her mind. “We need to discuss the battle that took place at Hogwarts last May. As we all know, our efforts to repair the castle have been limited at best. After performing several calculations and consulting with Professors Flitwick, Slughorn, and Sprout, we have come to the conclusion that we need to consider the protection spells that were used by the staff and the other defenders of Hogwarts.”
“So, one of us broke the castle?” Hagrid asked.
“In a manner of speaking,” Minerva replied. “But not intentionally. We have exhausted our efforts in countering any spells laid down by the Death Eaters, and we need to consider that one of us may have cast a spell – a spell somewhere between a transfiguration spell and a charm – that through its intent to protect the castle, has limited the castle’s ability to receive other charms intended to repair it.”
“What do we do, then, Minerva?” Hooch asked. “Go around casting Finite on everything we did during the battle?”
“I doubt this is a spell that will respond to a simple Finite,” Minerva said. “But what you can do is list every protection spell you remember casting.” She passed everyone a piece of parchment. “Be as explicit as you can – even if the spell was non-verbal, give me as close to the incantation as you can.”
The room was silent for a moment, aside from the scratching of quills. Then Trelawney asked, “What if we threw crystal balls at people?”
“I don’t think that will have a lingering effect,” Minerva replied. “And there is no need to consider any offensive spells or tactics. Consider the defensive protection spells only – something you cast on the castle or the grounds.”
“What about other Order of the Phoenix members?” Molly asked, looking up from her parchment. “Could it have been one of them? I’d be happy to reach out to them, to see what they used.”
“That would be most helpful, Molly. Thank you,” Minerva said. “The caster of this spell is still alive, so if there is anyone else we need to contact, please feel free to do so. I don’t want the state of the castle described in the Prophet, but Order members can certainly know what we’re facing.”
The professors finished their writing and handed Minerva their lists – ranging from one to twelve protection spells each. She glanced at Flitwick, who raised his eyebrows in question. This was going to take a while.
She had slept about three hours the previous night, after marking papers and planning lessons, then answering owls from professors with various questions. And now, in front of her Transfiguration classroom, full of second years, Minerva found herself wavering a little on her feet, exhausted.
Levitating the chalk up to the blackboard, Minerva relied entirely on memory and experience as she said, “Please take out parchment and quill.” As the chalk wrote the incantation and transfiguration equation, she began the lecture. “Vera Verto is the incantation that will transform an animal into a water goblet. Like so.” She reached out to perform the spell, only to realize she hadn’t brought one of the school owls or one of Hagrid’s strange lizards, as usual.
She covered her mistake by walking up to one of the students, who had brought an ugly toad that was sitting attentively on the desk. It was the only pet sitting still. As Minerva looked around the classroom, she saw owls flapping their wings, cats knocking over books, and toads hopping back and forth across the desks. There was even a tarantula, and Minerva felt a surge of anger that a student was not only stupid enough to bring their pet spider to school, but had the complete audacity to place it on a desk in front of a professor.
Resolving to deal with that at the end of class, Minerva lifted the toad and brought it to the front of the room. “Like so,” she said, raising her wand above the toad’s head. “One, two, three. Vera Verto.”
Having brought Dougal into her world was such a relief, Minerva realized, as the two of them apparated from Dougal’s living room directly onto the Hogsmeade Trail. Not only could she allow him into Hogwarts and more fully into her life, she was excited to do things like this – to bring him to the village, buy him a butterbeer, and sit in the Three Brooksticks watching him look around in fascination.
“This is delicious,” Dougal said, spinning the stein of butterbeer around in his hands. “I have no idea what’s in it. I’m assuming neither butter nor beer, but that could be false."
“You likely don’t want to know,” Minerva said as the food and her gillywater arrived.
“Is it alcoholic?”
“We’ll find out, won’t we?”
Dougal snorted into his shepherd’s pie, then continued the conversation they had begun on the trail. “So you had everyone list the spells they used. What are you going to do to see which one is the problem? Does the person who did the spell originally need to be the one to undo it?”
“That’s usually the case,” Minerva said. “But not always.”
“How do you undo a spell?” Dougal asked. “Is there some kind of undo-spell spell?”
“There is, but I don’t think it will work here.”
“Hmm.” Dougal drank more butterbeer, then paused to watch as a group of wizards came in, all carrying broomsticks from the Nimbus line. “Are those brooms?” he whispered loudly. “Do you really fly on brooms?”
The wizards looked in their direction, but looked away once they saw who Dougal was with. “Yes, we fly on brooms,” Minerva answered, amused.
“Good lord,” Dougal said. Then, “Anyway. I obviously don’t know anything about spells. But when I was building my car, and I needed to see why something was broken, I usually ended up taking it apart. I broke it further, but at least I knew what was wrong.”
Minerva sipped at her soup, considering. He could be onto something. It was at least worth a try.
Minerva knew her presence alone could cause things to go differently than they would if she weren’t around. Dumbledore spent years mastering cloak-less invisibility for that very reason. And Minerva never needed to – she was an animagus, after all.
So it was in her feline form that she watched Arthur’s student club lining the Quidditch pitch to play football. Over the last few days, she had witnessed a few more students sitting at tables that weren’t historically reserved for their house. But she wasn’t sure if she should interpret that as a good sign or not.
Until she saw how many students had showed up for the football match. Where before, there had been mostly first-years, now she saw students of all ages and houses littered around the field. It appeared that no one really knew what they were doing, especially the wizardborn students. Ginny Weasley went flying through the air after the ball, tackling Jason Harper as she did. “Fuck, Weasley,” Harper said, as Ginny pulled him up. “I’m on your team.”
“Language,” Arthur said, as one of the first-years yelled, “That’s not how you play football!”
“Dad, I wasn’t even the one who cursed that time,” Ginny said, turning to her father.
“Ginny, if that’s supposed to make me proud, you’re extremely misguided,” Arthur said before turning to the rest of the students on the field. “Play ball!” he cried.
As the students rushed the field again, all swarming around the ball, Minerva turned back toward the castle, feeling a little rush of relief, of pride. This was a tiny sign of progress - almost nothing. But after everything they had endured, almost nothing could be considered quite the victory.
Minerva had never owned an owl. When she was a student, her mother didn’t want to deal with explaining to the rest of Caithness why the minister’s family had a pet owl, so she had used the muggle post for communication with her family and the school owls for everything else.
And as an adult, being a cat part of the time limited her ability to have a bird in her chambers. Owls were intelligent – they could find anyone to deliver a letter, after all – but they weren’t smart enough to tell a real cat from an animagus who looked like one.
So Minerva stood in the owlery, a room she rarely went to. She could always summon an owl from her chambers if she needed to send a letter, and the upkeep of the owlery fell into Filch’s job description. But she didn’t want to send an owl on an errand – she wanted to borrow one.
The school owls were kept in a separate area from the student owls, with each pen labeled with the owl’s name, breed, and the distance they were able to travel. Minerva looked through them, through the many barn and screech owls, to find the right one. Then she saw it – the label read “Beatrix, Little Owl, Local Deliveries Only.” The owl was only about half a foot long, brown with white speckles. It had huge eyes. It was perfect.
Minerva held out her arm to the owl, who jumped on without hesitation. Then she carefully walked down the staircase of the owlery, out onto the grounds, and to the Hogsmeade Trailhead. Gripping the owl with both hands, she apparated.
She arrived just outside of Malcolm’s house. Though it was a walk from the Manse to Dougal’s farmhouse, she couldn’t risk being seen, either by Dougal’s family or the villagers in general. So instead, she realized, she would risk being seen walking through John O’Groats with an owl on her arm.
As she arrived at the farmhouse, she paused, looking through the kitchen window. Though the day was gray and dreary, the farmhouse was warm and inviting. She could see Dougal and Ian in the kitchen, Dougal lifting a baking pan and Ian covered in flour.
Dougal opened the door when she knocked, reaching out to kiss her, then stopping. “Is that an owl?” he asked.
“Your mind hasn’t gone yet,” she replied.
“Is it from the Owlery?” he asked, probably to demonstrate his newfound expertise on Hogwarts.
“Indeed. I thought Ian might like to…”
Dougal lit up. “He will. Just come in…wait. Can a wizard owl come inside?”
“It’s a regular owl, and yes. It can come inside.”
Dougal showed her in, and Minerva caught the scent of whatever Dougal had placed in the oven – cinnamon and cloves, with some kind of fruit. Ian was at the kitchen table, coloring with crayons on a sheet of white paper, but he looked up when Dougal said, “Ian, Minerva brought something for you to look at.”
“This is Beatrix,” Minerva said, holding out her arm. Beatrix flapped, and Ian reached out tentatively. “It’s alright. You can pet her."
He did, and Minerva’s heart just about melted. Slowly, she showed Ian how to hold out his arm, then transferred the owl to take it as a perch. Dougal smiled at her, then seemed to realize he had forgotten something and took the pan out of the oven. It was some sort of cake, and it looked delicious.
Just then, Minerva could hear the sound of a car pulling up and car doors opening and closing. The front door opened a minute later, and Iris’ voice called out, “Smells good!”
“Minerva’s here,” Dougal called as a response, as if he wanted Iris to know before she embarrassed him.
“I’ll behave myself,” Iris said as she came into the kitchen trailed by Lisa, who was holding a few shopping bags. “Ian, were you good for -” she stopped abruptly. “Holy shit, is that an owl?” She looked back and forth between Dougal, Minerva, and Ian. Minerva didn’t know what to say.
“Can I tell her?” Dougal asked.
Minerva considered it for a moment. She had already broken the rule by telling Dougal – telling more people would make it worse. But then again, this thing she had with Dougal…it was going somewhere. It would be wrong to make him complicit in a lie, to hold something so important back from the family he still had, the family he had invited her into without reservation. “You can.”
After a late night of compiling a master list of transfigurative charms and a long day of classes, Minerva and the other professors waited until after curfew to take to the corridors. Minerva, along with Flitwick, Slughorn, Sprout, and Molly Weasley, had methodically gone through each of the defensive spells, determining which were both charm and transfiguration.
They had come up with twelve spells – four from Flitwick, one from Molly, two from Babbling, one from Vector, one from herself – a concealment charm - and three from Kingsley Shaklebolt. She and Flitwick had called all of the casters together, Shaklebolt included, to walk through the castle, attempting to cast the spells again.
“Do you think this is a good idea?” Flitwick asked for the thousandth time. “We could cause more damage.”
“We likely will cause more damage,” Minerva corrected as they came to a stop in the fountain courtyard. “But it’s the only way we’ll know. If the spell causes additional problems or if the castle responds after casting it again, it is our thought that it is the one still having an effect.”
Flitwick nodded and gave up the argument. If anyone agreed with him, and Minerva was sure someone did, they didn’t say anything.
“What’s the spell for this area?” Minerva asked.
Flitwick consulted the scroll he had insisted being in charge of. “We had Aqua Eructo cast on the fountain here.”
“That was me,” Vector said, stepping forward from the small group. “What do you need me to do?”
“Do you remember where you were when you cast it?” Minerva asked.
“Yes.” Vector moved around to stand behind the fountain, as she would have been when Death Eaters were approaching from the outside.
“Go ahead and cast again when you’re ready,” Minerva said.
Vector gestured to indicate that everyone should step aside. Not wanting to interfere by casting a shield charm, Minerva braced herself. “Aqua Eructo,” Vector shouted, her wand pointed at the fountain. A blast of water emerged from the fountain, drenching them all in ice-cold water.
“Should have saved that one for last,” Flitwick muttered. Minerva didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of agreeing. “Now end the spell.”
Vector lowered her wand, and the fountain returned to normal. “How will we know if that did anything?” she asked.
Flitwick turned around to face the stone wall and find one of the many places it was blasted apart. “Duro,” he called. Nothing happened. He scratched something on his scroll. “Next,” he said. “We have Flagrate.”
“How is Flagrate a transfiguration?” Babbling asked.
“It wouldn’t be, normally,” Kingsley responded. “But I didn’t cast it directly from my wand. I turned it on a fire the Death Eaters had set, to reshape it.”
“Just like Septima did with the fountain,” Minerva supplied. “Let’s try it. Where did you cast that from?”
“I was near the Greenhouse,” Kingsley said.
“Then let’s move.” Flitwick cast a drying spell on them all, and Minerva led them through the courtyard and onto the grounds.
It was a long night, reaching past one in the morning. But as Minerva walked back to her chambers, feeling defeated, she knew she wasn’t going to sleep. It didn’t work. Part of her should have known it wouldn’t work. Perhaps the castle was doomed beyond repair. Perhaps she had wasted the greater part of a year trying to repair the castle when the smart thing to have done would have been figuring out how to go forward with the castle as it was now.
She couldn’t face her chambers. Instead, she changed her route, finding each progressive staircase going upwards. She didn’t remember the new route to the Astronomy Tower, but she figured it out eventually. The wind was biting, but she didn’t bother casting a warming charm. She just sat on the precipice, her feet hanging over the edge, until the sun rose.
It was a sad sight, to say the least. Minerva had allowed Hooch to rearrange the Quidditch schedule from its normal sequence of matches for this very reason – Slytherin barely had a team. They were going to lose, and lose soundly, but luckily, Hooch had the foresight to place them against Hufflepuff, a team that would catch the snitch quickly and put Slytherin out of their misery.
Minerva looked around the stands – full, except for the Slytherin section. Next to her in the teacher’s area, Slughorn twisted his hands together, stopping only when Sprout, on his other side, laid a hand over his.
The game began, and it went just as predicted. After two goals within the first few minutes, Hufflepuff seemed to be holding off, waiting for the team made up almost entirely of first and second years to get their bearings. It was excruciating to watch.
Minerva looked away from the game into the stands, full of students. Glancing at the front of the Slytherin section, she could barely make out Astoria Greengrass beneath the layers of scarves wrapped around her face. She was too ill to be out in the cold like this, but Minerva didn’t really have the heart to tell her to leave, not when she was working so hard to support her team. Astoria stomped her feet, rallying her housemates to the cry that had been going on since she was a student: two stomps, then a shout of “Slytherin!”
The response was weak at best. Stomp. Stomp. “Slytherin!” Stomp. Stomp. “Slytherin!” Even without Hufflepuff answering with their own cheer, it was almost hard to make out. Minerva was heartened though, when Slughorn, beside her, stood to lend his own voice.
Slytherin somehow got ahold of the Quaffle and made an attempt at scoring, blocked easily by the Hufflepuff keeper. Minerva winced a little in response, and Hufflepuff quickly scored another goal.
Across from her, Minerva saw Astoria Greengrass waver, as if to give up – but only for a moment. Then it came again. Stomp. Stomp. “Slytherin!”
Minerva heard a loud, “Aww, hell,” and turned around to see which student to punish. But as her eyes trained on Ginny Weasley, the lead culprit for cursing in school, Ginny gave two stomps with her heavy boots. “Slytherin!” she yelled. Ginny elbowed Hermione, probably harder than she needed to, and Hermione joined in. It was infectious – at the lead of their Quidditch captain, it only took a few rounds for the Gryffindor section to burst out in the cheer. Stomp. Stomp. The Gryffindor stands rumbled. “Slytherin!”
Minerva tore her eyes away in time to see the Hufflepuff seeker start to dive.
Minerva was in her office marking papers, staring out at the perpetually gray sky, when Dumbledore stopped by. He leaned in her doorway, as he often did, not fully coming into the office, as if this would stop him from disturbing her when he stayed there for a half-hour. He looked tired – he had looked tired all year – and he had been spending most of his time in private with Snape. She knew why. Snape was embedded with You-Know-Who, after all, and Dumbledore needed his intel. Not to mention, no matter how they acted, he cared deeply for Snape in a way she had never entirely understood. But then again, no one understood her relationship with Dumbledore either.
“What are you doing?” Dumbledore asked, his usual opening line for interruption.
“Just marking papers. Is there anything you need?” She looked him over, wanting to get up and do something for him. But that wouldn’t be accepted or appreciated, so she settled for setting down her quill and giving him her full attention.
“No. I’m just taking a break from …” he trailed off, finishing with “Everything.”
“That’s needed sometimes,” she said, unsure what else would be appropriate.
“True. Minerva,” he said, “What do you think will happen? Once it’s all over?”
Minerva hadn’t allowed herself to think of it being over, of making it to a point where the war was no longer all they could consider. “I don’t know, Headmaster,” she said.
“Albus,” he corrected.
“Albus,” she echoed. “I think we’ll find a way to carry on.”
“Hmmm.” Dumbledore closed his eyes for a long moment, then opened them again. “Minerva?”
“What do you think about? When you cast your patronus?”
Minerva just stared at him for a while. This was odd, even for Dumbledore. But he was looking at her so intently, she couldn’t help but answer. “I think of the night I transformed for the first time. The night I became an animagus.”
Dumbledore nodded, holding her gaze intensely. “I think of the same thing,” he replied.
Minerva looked at him for a moment, confused, but before she could say anything, he had disappeared, walking away down the hall. It was the last time she ever saw him.
Seeing Dumbledore again after nearly two years, even if only in a portrait, struck Minerva to her very core. Harry Potter had commissioned the portraits, so she shouldn’t have expected anything but the best. But when Kingsley Shacklebolt carried in one of the canvases, and Harry rooted around in a dark corner for the other (almost as if they were afraid to levitate them), she startled a little when they removed the coverings.
Dumbledore’s she had seen when he was alive, of course, but it had always struck her as disingenuous and strange. Now, it took on a whole new sense of weight in the office, in her life. It showed Dumbledore slumped in the chair that was now behind the desk in her office, as if he’d only gone in for a nap, not fallen off the Astronomy Tower, never to return. Snape’s was harsher – he was staring straight ahead, as if glaring at the artist, which no doubt he would have done were he alive to sit for the painting.
“It looks wonderful, Harry,” Minerva said, falling back on niceties as her words failed her.
“I’m glad, Professor,” Harry responded.
After a moment of silence, Kingsley said, “Where would you like these, Professor?”
Minerva had given it some thought, so she gestured just above her desk. That way, anyone visiting would see them first thing. And, she hesitated to admit to herself, she would only see then when she wanted to. Harry and Kingsley hung them silently, as if they all stood in a morgue.
Once Potter and Shaklebolt had left, and Minerva was alone with the portraits, she sat on the desk, staring at them. Neither spoke, for which she was glad. If they had…if they had, she didn’t know how she would have handled it. In one way, it was just like when they had been alive – one of them on her either side, challenging her. But more than that, a picture of Snape or Dumbledore could never be anything other than a pale shadow of the man it attempted to portray. “So,” she said, addressing both portraits at once. “Here we are again.”
Snape’s portrait cocked an eyebrow and smirked. Dumbledore just winked.
Chapter 11: March
“I think we need to face it,” Minerva told Flitwick as they sat in the Headmaster’s office, reviewing the budget for the following year. “We’re not going to fix the castle by magic.”
Flitwick drew in a deep breath and sighed loudly. “I want to argue with that, but even I can’t come up with a good argument.”
“And that’s saying something.”
Flitwick scratched a few calculations on the margins of the budget scroll, then took off and replaced his glasses, a sure sign he was deep in thought. “So what do we do?” he asked. “It’s not like we really know any wizards who can construct buildings by hand. Or however buildings are constructed without magic.”
“And we can’t just bring in muggles and obliviate them.”
“Can’t we?” Flitwick asked, and Minerva was glad she could pick up sarcasm in his voice. “I don’t know,” he said, conceding. “And I don’t want to take out an ad looking for workers.”
“I agree,” Minerva said. “The last thing we need is to advertise that we’re in a weakened state. Perhaps we need to consult internationally? We could get in touch with the International Wizarding Union, or our colleagues at other schools. Maybe they have skills that wizards in England lack across the board.”
“I’ll send out some inquiries,” Flitwick said, though he didn’t seem encouraged by this idea. “And on another note, since we’re working on the budget for staffing…”
Minerva didn’t like where he was going, but she was at least going to force him to say it. “Yes?”
“Who’s going to serve as Deputy Headmaster or Deputy Headmistress next year? Because my interim title is about to run out.”
“I’m not sure, Filius,” Minerva replied honestly. “No one has stepped up, and I’m unsure whether any of them are truly qualified.”
“Then we’ll need to make a hire.”
“We can’t hire someone just to come in here as a Deputy Headmaster. They need to teach.”
Flitwick looked at Minerva over his spectacles. “If only there was a teaching position available,” he said sardonically.
Minerva wasn’t in the mood for this conversation. In fact, she’s been hoping Flitwick would forget the interim thing (a long shot, she admitted) and agree to stay on. But if that wasn’t going to be the case, she needed a backup plan, and quickly.
When 3:00pm, her free period, came around, Minerva met Trelawney and Bathsheba Babbling in the entrance hall. Flitwick had come up with a schedule for everyone to be transported to the polling places so that only a few professors were gone from the castle at once. As they prepared to leave, Flitwick’s group from the 1:00pm slot was just arriving back by portkey. That was not a good sign.
Minerva reached into the canvas sack, pulling out the small porpoise statue that Auror Quintin had procured for them as a secure portkey. Babbling and Trelawney placed their hands on the statue, and Trelawney asked, “What time is this set for?”
“Ten after,” Minerva answered.
“What time is it now?”
Minerva didn’t get to answer. The portkey swept them away.
They stopped spinning in a quiet forest – or what would have been a quiet forest if it weren’t being trampled to death by hundreds of wizards, all arriving by various portkeys. “Where do you think we are this time?” Babbling asked, as they joined the throngs of wizards taking their place in the lines formed by makeshift rope barriers, all leading the way to a canvas tent in the distance.
All around them, witches and wizards were having the same conversation. It wasn’t as if the Ministry would release where the polling place would be for the Minister of Magic. And this year, in the wake of the war, rumor had it that the International Magical Union was in charge of securing the venue and making sure none of the ballots were tampered with. “Looks like Kent to me,” Babbling said, answering her own question. Minerva was inclined to agree.
“I had a vision this morning,” Trelawney said.
While normally, Minerva would have dreaded a conversation like this one, they were stuck in a line that looked as though it would last for hours. And she had idiotically neglected to bring anything to do. “What was it?” she asked, as Babbling glared at her for encouraging Trelawney.
“I foresaw Shaklebolt winning the election.”
Babbling snorted. “I’m sure you did,” she said. “It isn’t incredibly obvious that Shaklebolt’s going to win. I’m concerned it’s going to go to Polonius Greengrass.”
“Who’s Polonius Greengrass?” Trelawney asked, and Minerva resisted the urge to roll her eyes.
“He’s one of the opponents,” Babbling said in a disgusted voice. “Merlin, even the Quibbler is covering the election.”
Minerva was about to step in, lest the argument grow heated, when they line made its way to a checkpoint and a wizard in a uniform said, “I’ll need to see wands and identification.”
After two hours of Babbling and Trelawney arguing, followed by walking through three anti-concealment charms intended to detect different types of deceit, Minerva made it into the tent, only to find that it held dozens of tiny tents packed inside it.
“Professor,” a witch said, handing her a ballot.
Minerva took it and ducked into the little tent that the witch indicated. Inside was only a floating plank of wood with a quill chained to it. The voting itself took less than a minute. Rereading the ballot to make sure she didn’t make a mistake, Minerva circled, “Shacklebolt, Kinglsey.”
The Great Hall was full of chatter when the owls swooped in with the Evening Prophet. It was positive, mostly, Minerva noted as she saw groups of students sitting at tables with friends from across the four houses. It may be only a small step, but it was a small in the direction the school needed to go.
But Minerva also knew the students were as nervous as she was to find out how yesterday’s election had fared. She barely needed to untie her edition of the Prophet to see the headline – it was on hundreds of other papers throughout the Great Hall. “Shacklebolt Victorious.” Minerva sighed audibly in relief, and next to her, Slughorn said, “Oh, thank God.”
Minerva was surprised when Calliope Quintin walked in to the Great Hall, but perhaps she shouldn’t have been – the deciding of the election may have been a disappointment to some students, a disappointment that could have led to retaliation against their classmates.
“Auror Quintin,” Minerva said as Calliope reached the table. “Is everything alright?”
“It seems so. I still have the usual aurors on post, but have you seen anything from your end?”
“Not yet, at least.”
“Good, good,” Quintin said, and Minerva almost thought she seemed nervous. “Professor, I didn’t expect the Prophet to get ahold of it so soon. You deserved to know before it was printed.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Minerva said, flipping through the pages. But before Quintin could answer, there it was. “Shacklebolt Promotes C. Quintin to Chief Auror as his Replacement.” Minerva was stunned for a moment, then she pulled herself together to say the requisite, “Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” Quintin said. “And I have to thank you for allowing myself and my aurors the ability to come onto the Hogwarts grounds and into the castle. If it weren’t for your support…” Quintin cleared her throat. “Anyway, I wanted you to hear it from me, not the paper.”
“What’s going to happen?” Minerva asked, moving the conversation into the logistics that were more comfortable for both of them. “Next year?”
“It’s my plan to keep myself stationed to Hogwarts for another year,” Quintin replied.
“You can’t run the Auror Department and be Chief of Security at Hogwarts,” Minerva said before she could even think. “It’s too much.”
Quintin raised an eyebrow and even smiled a little. “Is that so?” she asked, and Minerva read the implication as clearly as if it had been spoken.
“It is. It certainly is.”
“Thank you, Professor. I’ll take that under advisement.”
Though her students were nervous, Minerva was grateful that in her NEWT-level classes, it was time for students to begin their presentations. Though she would need to take careful notes and give marks to each pair, at least she could sit down while doing so. After Abbot and Almes did their presentation on Avifors that ended with feathers strewn around the room, Minerva gestured for Hermione Granger and Astoria Greengrass to move to the front of the class.
Astoria started their presentation. “When we learned the Vera Verto spell in our second year, we studied the traditional interpretation of the spell – that it is to be used to transform animals into water goblets. Like so,” Astoria gestured to Hermione, who performed the standard spell – one, two, three. Vera Verto. “However,” Astoria continued. “It is actually a much more complex spell with several interpretations.”
“That’s true,” Hermione said as she moved around the room distributing parchment to her classmates. “One source we read actually said that the incantation used in the Middle Ages may perhaps have been ‘Fera Verto,’ and ‘Fera’ means wild, or wild animal. However, as time progressed, the incantation may have changed or been misheard.”
“Another theory,” Astoria said. “Is that two spells eventually combined into one – Fera Verto, or change to an animal, and the original Vera Verto spell.”
“Yes,” Hermione said. Minerva was impressed – both with how calmly these two students were presenting to their professor and classmates, and that they had worked together as well as they had. It was obvious they had practiced this presentation, a rare find in Minerva’s experience. And of course, they had left no stone unturned in terms of research. “When considering the etymology of Vera Verto, we see that Vera means true or complete, while Verto means exchange or transformation. So Vera Verto doesn’t describe animals into water goblets at all. It’s describing Transfiguration as a whole, the true transformation of something – of anything.”
“Like so.” Astoria approached the owl Hermione had used for the standard Vera Verto spell. “One, two, three. Vera Verto.” The owl transformed into a teacup. “And in case that’s too similar…” She performed the spell again, and the owl became a field mouse. After she had righted the owl, Astoria continued. “And it doesn’t only work on animals. Look.” She pointed her wand at Minerva’s chalk. “One, two, three. Vera Verto.” The chalk became a broomstick that Astoria levitated around the room.
Hermione took over again, and Minerva was further pleased that she hadn’t needed to be the one to demonstrate everything. If that didn’t show growth over the past seven years, she wasn’t sure what would. “So even though the incantation can do different things, the wand movement is always the same. Three taps, then a fourth for the spell. There are a few theories as to why this is. Some people think that the three taps stand for the three elements of the transfiguration equation that the witch or wizard brings to the spell – the viciousness, body weight, and concentration. But my favorite theory is that the three taps represent the three elements of Transfiguration at its core – the past, the present, and the future – what the object has been, what it is, and what it can become.”
Minerva nodded. That was always her favorite interpretation as well. Perhaps even why the simplistic Vera Verto remained one of her favorite spells, fifty years after seeing Dumbledore perform it for the first time. It may have been Minerva’s imagination, but she could almost see Hermione tear up as she said, “Thank you,” and she and Astoria took their seats.
“Thank you, Miss Granger and Miss Greengrass,” Minerva said. And then, because she knew what it would mean to both of them, she added, “Well done.”
Dougal’s first trip to Diagon Alley reminded Minerva of her own. She had clung to her mother’s hand, much like Dougal was clinging to hers, and as she recalled, her mouth had hung open in exactly the same way.
“What is all of this?” Dougal asked as they walked past the shops. “Wands? Cauldrons? Quills? Brooms?” he leaned up to look in the window at each, close enough that his breath fogged up the glass.
It was obvious he was a muggle. But he was hardly the first muggle to ever be in Diagon Alley. As insular as wizards liked to believe themselves, muggle parents and siblings had been bringing magical children to Diagon for hundreds of years.
They walked a little further, toward Minerva’s destination – a little stall near Gringotts that had the best fish sandwiches in the country.
But Dougal suddenly stopped. “What do you think would have happened? Forty years ago?” His question came out of nowhere, shocking Minerva into standing still and turning to face him. It was an odd place for a serious conversation, she thought, the junction between Gambol and Japes and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.
“What brought that on?” she asked, hoping to go back to the lighthearted excitement of just a few minutes previous.
“I’ve been wondering what it would have been like,” Dougal responded. “If I would have seen all of this when I was eighteen. I don’t know if I was ready for it, the way I am now.”
“I couldn’t do it to you, then,” Minerva said. “And not just because of the law. You were looking forward to inheriting your father’s farm. You had plans for yourself. You wouldn’t have given them up for me. And I wouldn’t have…” Minerva cut off, looking around. Diagon was fairly quiet, and the few witches and wizards out doing their shopping walked around them without issue.
“I wouldn’t have asked you to,” Dougal said. “At least, I hope I wouldn’t have.” He looked at her desperately, and Minerva didn’t have a clue what to say. “But I did want to inherit the farm, and I’m glad I did. And more than anything, I’m proud to have raised a daughter who not only wanted our family business, but saw something more for it, something better.”
“You should be proud,” Minerva said. And she meant it – there was no animosity and certainly no jealousy. Dougal had lived the life she had never wanted.
“So should you,” Dougal said. Then he took a deep breath, and it was obvious that whatever had hit him passed by. “Maybe everything happens in its time,” he said.
“Maybe it does.” She took his hand and raised it to her lips. Then, she pulled him along with her.
When she woke, it was with a start. It was the hospital wing, she knew that almost immediately – it wasn’t as if, after six years of Quidditch, she had never ended up here. But this time was different. She could barely breathe and her whole body throbbed with a dull pain. She tried to take a breath but ended up gasping unsuccessfully.
“There, there,” a voice said, and it wasn’t the nurse, as she had expected, but her head of house.
“Professor -” she tried to say.
Dumbledore cut her off. “Do not try to speak. You’ve broken four ribs and your knee.”
“What?” she gasped.
“Minerva,” he warned. She obeyed and made herself remain silent, waiting desperately for whatever he would say next. “You are lucky to have survived. It was quite the fall, I’m afraid.”
Minerva tried to stay quiet, she really did, but questions overran her mind. “Did we…?”
“I’m afraid not,” Dumbledore said. “Slytherin won. But that’s not our largest concern, is it?”
It was, in Minerva’s mind. There were scouts at that game. This was her future, and she could see it disappearing in front of her eyes. She was afraid of the answer, but she had to know. And if she had to hear it from anyone, she wanted it to be Dumbledore. “Will I … will I ever?”
He didn’t sugarcoat it; that’s what she always appreciated about Dumbledore. “No,” he said softly. “No, you won’t play again.”
Minerva turned away from him, tears in her eyes. She didn’t want to humiliate herself in front of Dumbledore – now that he had told her what she needed to know, she wanted him to leave. But he didn’t. Of course he didn’t. He wouldn’t leave a student alone at a time like this. He especially, Minerva flattered herself to think, wouldn’t leave her alone at a time like this. “It’s all over,” she whispered.
“It’s hardly over,” Dumbledore countered. “It is simply time to find a new dream.”
“Like what?” Minerva said, more harshly than she would normally ever speak to a teacher.
“I have a few ideas.” He produced something and handed it to her. Minerva’s side hurt to take it, but she did. It was a book, and when she examined the cover, it read “Theories and Practice of Advanced Transfiguration.”
“What is this?” Minerva asked, flipping the book open at random. It landed on a page that read, “Animagi: The Process of Complete Transfiguration.” She stared at it for a long time, then looked up at Dumbledore.
“Sometimes, if a way doesn’t present itself,” Dumbledore said, “You need to make your own.”
The shouts from the Quidditch stands brought Minerva out of the past. “Go, go, Gryffindor! Go, go, Gryffindor!” was met with “We’ll huff! And we’ll puff! And we’ll BLOW. YOUR. HOUSE. DOWN!” Minerva did her usual check when Hufflepuff was playing, to make sure that the Spirit Captain (as Hufflepuff House had always called the student who led the cheers), had her boots apoximized to the railing. She didn’t need a repeat of Nymphadora Tonks’ year as Spirit Captain.
Then, as the players took the pitch and Lemona Littlefield cried, “It’s your Quidditch Cup championship match! Gryffindor vs. Hufflepuff,” Minerva found herself worrying about Ginny. The last thing she needed was to have her dreams crushed in the final game as Minerva’s had been.
Especially with scouts in attendance. Behind Minerva sat Cormac McLeod of the Montrose Magpies, Alasdair Maddock of the Kenmare Kestrals, and Meaghan McCormack of the Pride of Portree. Gwenog Jones, wearing a full Holyhead Harpies uniform, stood at the back of the professor’s box, as if too anxious to sit down.
“The Quaffle is released, and the game begins!”
The action was almost too fast to follow. Hufflepuff was a tough opponent – they practiced hard, played clean, and cheered the hell out of the stadium. But Ginny was on fire. “All eyes are on Weasley as she takes control of the Quaffle…shoots…scores!”
She stole from the Hufflepuff chaser and scored again. “Does Summerby see the snitch?” Littlefield called, referencing Hufflepuff’s seeker. Minerva drew in a breath as Summerby started to dive. The last thing Ginny needed was a game that was over too quickly – whether Gryffindor ultimately won or lost, they needed a game that showcased her scoring.
But Abercrombie, Gryffindor’s seeker, was off after him in an instant, crashing into Summerby and throwing him off the trail of the snitch. Abercrombie himself, not having enough weight to handle that kind of impact, tumbled to the ground. Minerva saw Ginny spin around in the air, checking on her seeker from above. But Abercrombie called, “Weasley! Go!” and jumped back onto his broom.
Ginny took advantage of the confusion and grabbed the Quaffle again, throwing it downfield to Dobbs, who scored. The Gryffindor stands erupted with cheers of “Weasley! Weasley!” that only spurred her on.
Hufflepuff was trying desperately to get the snitch, to put an end to the match. But even with the intense cheering of “Black and Yellow! Black and Yellow!” Hufflepuff was drowned out. Soon after Gryffindor started their cheer, Minerva saw Jason Harper and Astoria Greengrass, at the front of the Slytherin section, turn around to face the rest of their house and start the chant of “Weasley! Weasley!” Luna Lovegood had Ravenclaw on the cheer within seconds.
Gryffindor was up by over one hundred when Ginny called out, “Abercrombie!” He dove after the snitch and it was over.
“Gryffindor wins!” Littlefield called, and the players descended – all but Ginny, who seemed frozen on her broom.
Minerva watched as it seemed to dawn on Ginny what had happened. Then her fist was in the air, and she shouted, “Go! Go! Gryffindor!” her voice breaking on the final word. When she landed, it was to be lifted in the air, amid shouts of “Weasley! Weasley!” On top of the shoulders of her teammates (and Hufflepuff’s team, Minerva noted with amusement), Ginny Weasley sobbed.
Behind Minerva, Cormac McLeod turned to his fellow players. “You bastards better make good offers, is all I’m saying.”
Gwenog Jones shouted down at him. “Oi! No one is a bigger bastard or makes a better offer than me. You can count on that.”
Minerva laughed, even though her throat was tight at Ginny’s tears. Then she made her way through the crowd and onto the pitch to present the cup.
Minerva was accompanied to the Ministry of Magic only by Pomona Sprout, then at the last minute, Dougal – who, as Iris put it, “wasn’t doing anything anyway.” When they arrived, they headed straight for the elevators. Minerva hoped that her request to have this event kept free of press would be honored, but she knew that was a long shot – reporters in their world had eyes everywhere.
“Merlin,” Dougal said as they entered one of the elevators and Sprout pushed the “W” button. He looked to Sprout for approval, and she gave him an encouraging smile. “What does ‘W’ stand for?”
“Wizengamot,” Minerva said. She was too nervous to elaborate, and apparently, Dougal got the hint. He didn’t press further, just played with the aeroplane memos until one turned around and flew into his face in annoyance.
It was odd, Minerva thought as they stepped off the elevator, that the ceremony was to be held in the same place as the Wizengamot historically conducted their trials. But as they opened the door to the chambers, Minerva saw that changes had already taken place. The chamber was still in the dungeons, certainly, but Shacklebolt or one of his staff had reupholstered the chairs with a light blue fabric and hung several lanterns from each wall, giving the space a homey, intimate feel.
Kingsley Shacklebolt stood at the lectern, in his place as the Wizengamot’s leader. But he wore his normal robes, not the plum-colored atrocities the Wizengamot had for some reason favored for hundreds of years. Harry Potter stood on the chamber floor in front of him, holding a small black box. Aside from them, the room was empty, as Minerva had requested.
“Professor McGonagall,” Kingsley said. “Are you ready to get started?”
“I am,” she replied.
“Professor Sprout, it’s good to see you,” Kingsley went on. “Would you have a seat over here, please?” He indicated a space just to his right, then turned to look at Dougal. “And you are?”
“This is Dougal McGregor, Minister,” Minerva said, not wanting to give an entire relationship history to the Minister of Magic and Harry Potter.
“Pleasure,” Kingsley said, scrutinizing Dougal. “You aren’t, by chance, a muggle…are you?”
Dougal didn’t miss a beat as he sat beside Sprout on one of the benches. “Not that I’m aware of, sir, no.”
Kingsley didn’t look convinced, but he gave Minerva a long look before shrugging, then indicated that Minerva face Harry in the center of the chamber. “Well, then.” Kingsley looked down at the lectern, where he apparently had a script. “The Order of Merlin was established by Merlin himself in the Middle Ages and continues today in his memory. The Order of Merlin, First Class, is reserved for acts of outstanding bravery or distinction. Upon the recommendation by Harry Potter, and bestowed by myself, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Minister of Magic, I declare that Minerva McGonagall is to receive the honor of the Order of Merlin, First Class, for her unwavering alliance to the Order of the Phoenix in the first and second wars, and for her devotion to the education and protection of all children at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Professor McGonagall, please step forward.”
Minerva did, though her feet felt heavy. She couldn’t look at Pomona and Dougal, knowing at least one of them would be crying. So instead, she looked right at Harry, who opened the box and carefully removed the medal. She had to duck considerably for Harry to drape the green ribbon around her neck, and the weight of the medal surprised her. “Minerva McGonagall,” Kingsley read, “You are hereby inducted into the Order of Merlin with First Class Status. We recognize you for your contributions to our world.”
Taking a deep breath, Minerva looked up at Kingsley, who said. “Really, Professor. Thank you.”
Minerva wanted to say something to the effect that she was just doing what she needed to do for Hogwarts, but she couldn’t speak. Instead, she just nodded and waited for Kingsley to wrap up and step down from the lectern. While Kingsley excused himself, Harry hung around, looking so much like he often did as a student, when he had something he needed to tell Dumbledore.
“Professor McGonagall,” he said. “If this is a bad time -”
“It’s fine,” she said.
“Alright. I was thinking, Professor. The anniversary of the battle is approaching, and I’d like to…I’ve already talked to Kingsley about it, and he’s in agreement…I’d like to hold a memorial. At Hogwarts.”
There was only one way Minerva could have responded. “Of course. Of course. If there’s anything you need me to do…”
“If you could say a few words.” Harry was clearly prepared with his ideas. “I don’t want to be the one to talk. I think if it’s you…I think that would be best.”
“That sounds fine, Mr. Potter,” Minerva said. “Please just send me the plans via owl. I’ll need to run through them with Auror Quintin.”
“Of course,” Harry said, his face breaking into the excitement she used to see when he was a child on the Quidditch pitch. “Of course, Professor. Thank you.”
Harry excused himself from the chambers, and Dougal crushed her in a hug before she could speak. “I have no idea what just happened,” he said. “But I have a feeling we should go for a drink to celebrate.”
“We should,” Sprout said. “I’ll owl Flitwick and Slughorn.”
“Yes,” Dougal said enthusiastically, and once Sprout left, presumably to the Ministry’s Owl Post, he pulled Minerva to his side. “Well, I learned something today,” he said.
“What’s that?” Minerva asked, the banter enough to pull her out of whatever emotion it was she was experiencing.
“Merlin was real.”
“I told you that months ago.”
“But I thought you were having me on. That guy seemed pretty official.”
Minerva laughed – deeply laughed – and led Dougal from the Wizengamot Chambers. “He is official,” she said. In the elevator, she pulled off the medal and replaced it in the box. It really was beautiful. She would have to display it in her office. “Now,” she said. “It’s time for you to experience firewhiskey.”
Minerva nodded off a few times during Harper and Lovegood’s Locomotor presentation. But she hoped that they were nervous enough that they didn’t notice. She was exhausted. It’s not like that should have been a realization, but it was, hitting her all of a sudden as if someone had cast Bombarda. She was doing too much, she was barely holding on, she was exhausted.
When class had finished, after Harper and Lovegood congratulated each other and made for the Great Hall and lunch, Minerva noticed that Hermione was taking far too long to pack up her bag. Willing Hermione to leave, Minerva erased the blackboard and gathered her materials.
“Professor McGonagall,” Hermione finally said.
“Yes, Miss Granger.”
“You were right, Professor,” Hermione blurted out. “About the number of NEWTS I should take. Now that they’re approaching, I understand…I understand that you can’t give your best self to everything.”
“That’s very true, Miss Granger,” Minerva said, setting her scrolls and quills back on the desk, aware of what her student was trying to do. She was annoyed, of course she was, but in some small way, she was grateful someone noticed.
Hermione considered for a long moment, then said, “I know it’s not my place to say, but you seem - ”
“I know, Miss Granger.”
“Is there anything I can…?”
“Thank you, Hermione. No.”
Hermione’s words echoing in her mind, Minerva made her way back to her chambers. This had been a difficult year – a rewarding year to be sure, but a difficult year. Sprout had warned her, Flitwick had warned her. But she hadn’t listened.
Picking up the mail as she came inside, Minerva lowered herself to the sofa. A copy of Transfiguration Today sat atop the letters, and Minerva found that she was too tired to consider making any editorial notes. But this wasn’t an advance copy. It was a print copy of an issue she had already edited.
She flipped through it, looking for something. And there it was. Transfiguration Today’s Young Person to Look Out For, 1999: Tearany Flint. She read the article again. And again. And again.
Minerva tossed the magazine aside, the article intermingling in her mind with the conversation with Hermione. Perhaps it was time, she conceded, for her to step away. If she were honest with herself, she was afraid. The Transfiguration position had been the one constant her in life for the last forty-three years - through losing Dougal, marrying and losing Elphinstone, her parents’ deaths, two wars, losing Dumbledore, finding Dougal again. But perhaps it was time to move forward, to start a new chapter and to allow someone else that same opportunity. Minerva summoned a sheet of parchment and a quill, propping them up against her knee to write. “Dear Ms. Flint…”
Chapter 12: April
“I just need you to promise me you won’t curse,” Minerva said.
“I can not curse,” Ginny Weasley replied indignantly. “I can not curse all day! I can keep from cursing like a - ”
“You’re overselling it,” Astoria Greengrass whispered. Ginny cut off.
“That works,” Minerva said, pretending as though she had not heard any of that conversation. She looked across her desk at Ginny, Astoria, Hermione Granger, and Luna Lovegood. “I will see you all for the interview.” This was the first time Minerva had decided to allow students into a professor’s interview. If she were honest, it was the first time they were doing true interviews in her time at Hogwarts. But Tearany Flint had accepted the offer to come to the school and demonstrate a Transfiguration lesson. She hoped she didn’t live to regret her decision, at least where Ginny and her fellow students were concerned. “You are dismissed.”
All four of them packed up their schoolbags and shuffled out. “Move along,” Ginny said. “You heard Professor McGonagall. Don’t you have places to be?”
Hermione gave Ginny an odd look but left without saying anything, Luna and Astoria behind her. Ginny immediately plopped back down in a chair without ceremony. “Do you need something, Miss Weasley?” Minerva asked. “Or are you simply making sure your friends keep a strict schedule?”
Ginny rustled around in her bag, producing three letters, which she flung onto Minerva’s desk. “I got these,” she said.
Minerva opened the letters each in turn. She gasped. They were offers. Three Quidditch teams – the Montrose Magpies, Holyhead Harpies, and Kenmare Kestrels – wanted her for the next season. And not for the reserve teams, as most Hogwarts students in Minerva’s experience were offered. For the actual team, to compete in the British and Irish Quidditch League. Whichever she chose, Ginny had made it. “And?” Minerva asked.
“What do I do?” Ginny said, looking less like the assured Quidditch captain she had become over the last year and more like the scared child who had been sorted into Gryffindor nearly seven years ago.
“What do you want to do?” Minerva asked, looking through the letters again.
“I don’t know. The Kestrels are ahead in the league this year, but the Magpies are offering the most playing time.”
“And the Harpies?” Minerva asked.
Ginny reached for the letter, reading it through again, for what Minerva knew was probably the thousandth time. “It’s a solid offer – decent field time, a move to a starting position if training goes well, and … this is going to sound stupid.”
“I doubt that.”
“Well,” Ginny plowed ahead. “Before I was at Hogwarts, and even after I got here, I had to steal my brothers’ brooms and practice at night. Everybody still talks about how my brother Charlie could have played Quidditch, and he never even got scouted.” Minerva drew in her breath. This was the type of story she wished would go away in their world, but it hadn’t yet. But with this generation – with Ginny, with Hermione – Minerva had hope it finally would. “With the Harpies, I could play with fucking Gwenog Jones – excuse my language – and all these brilliant witches,” Ginny went on. “I wouldn’t be, you know, Harry Potter’s girlfriend or Ron Weasley’s sister.”
Minerva understood completely. “You’d be Ginny Weasley,” she said.
“Slight correction, there,” Ginny said, and Minerva braced herself to appear happy at the announcement she knew was coming. Harry and Ginny cared for each other, she knew that, but Ginny was seventeen. There was still so much for her to see and accomplish. “I’d be Ginny Fucking Weasley.”
Despite her forty-three years of experience as an educator, at holding her tongue when she needed to pretend a student’s behavior hadn’t amused her in the least, Minerva laughed out loud at that. “Yes, you would. I think you’ve made your decision.”
“I want to send it now. Before I change my mind.”
Minerva summoned an owl and waited while Ginny signed the contract for the HolyHead Harpies, then handed over an envelope and watched Ginny address it to Gwenog Jones. Ginny strapped the letter to the owl’s leg, then they stood together, watching as the owl carried the letter to Holyhead, to Ginny’s future.
Minerva had been in her office at the Ministry of Magic when she received Dumbledore’s letter.
My Dear Minerva,
I hope your position at the Ministry is going well. But not too well…you will soon find out why. Though it is not yet common knowledge, Headmaster Dippet will be retiring at the end of the year, and as Deputy Headmaster, the Board of Governors has asked me to assume his position effective 1st August.
Therefore, Hogwarts will soon find itself in need of a professor of Transfiguration, as well as a Head of Gryffindor House. There is no one I would rather see in the role than you.
I will of course give you time to consider it, which I hope you will in great depth. I would like us to work together again.
P.S. If (hypothetically speaking, of course) I am unable to locate a suitable Deputy Headmistress, would you be interested in that as well?
She folded the letter, looking around her as if everyone in the office knew what it contained, then bolted from the office, not stopping when Elphinstone called out, “Minerva? Where are you going?"
In the rainy London alley, Minerva read it again. And again. She couldn’t believe it was real. Her? A professor at Hogwarts? She was only twenty-one. That had to be too young. Or too crazy. But crazy was Dumbledore through and through. Leaning against the wall, Minerva let her thoughts wander, her head spin. But she knew, almost immediately, what she was going to do.
“Professor McGonagall,” Tearany said, standing and compulsively smoothing out her robes. “It’s an honor to be here. I can’t believe you thought of me.”
“Thank you for responding,” Minerva said, gesturing to the stairway behind the griffin. Tearany stepped onto the stairway ahead of her and rode to Minerva’s office, where Minerva gestured to one of the seats in front of it. “You know what the day entails,” Minerva said. “You and I will have a conversation, then you will be meeting with the rest of the professors, then teaching an OWL-level class to a group of students – a group of selected students.” Minerva hardly needed her candidate to think a student would set off dungbombs during the teaching demonstration.
“Yes, Professor,” Tearany said. Her nerves were evident, but Minerva didn’t consider that a reason to rule her out. She had been young and nervous once herself.
“Let’s start off with the academic,” Minerva said, partly to put Tearany’s mind at ease and partly to indulge herself. “Please tell me about your work with the locomotor spells.”
“As you and Professor Flitwick taught us, a spell is a Charm if it adds properties to its target and a Transfigurative spell if it changes the target into something entirely different. By that measure, we have always placed the locomotor family of spells into the Transfiguration category because they change an inanimate object into an animate object. But my argument is that they’re somewhere in between. If I cast locomotor on my trunk, it is now animate where it wasn’t before. But it is still a trunk. Its essence hasn’t changed.”
“Hmm…” Minerva said, her heart beating loudly. Locomotor…both a transfiguration and a charm? She tried to keep the conversation going, to not give away the panic that was rising. “And what applications do you see for this?”
“I believe it may impact what uses of these spells are available to us. Many of the Latin origins of the locomotor spells currently in use support the Transfigurative theory, but there are alternate translations that may unlock additional uses of spells or reveal limits of spells.” Tearany looked down, adjusting her robe again. “I’m sorry, Professor, if I am insulting your knowledge. You of course used one of the most powerful locomotor spells in existence. It rarely works for anyone.”
Minerva sat forward, her mind whirring. “Piertotum Locomotor? Tell me about that one.”
“If you will.”
“Of course.” Tearany faltered and her voice betrayed her nerves, but she continued. “We have long thought that Piertotum is derived from the Latin ‘petram’ meaning ‘rock’ and ‘totem,’ as in a symbol or edifice, which would lead to the transfigurative theory that Piertotum Locomotor brings stone objects to life, to be controlled by the user. But I posit that an additional interpretation may come from the Latin ‘pie’ meaning ‘affectionate’ or ‘friendly’ and ‘toto,’ meaning ‘all’ or ‘completely.’ So the spell is partially a transfigurative spell – it imbues objects with the ability to both move and make rudimentary decisions. But it’s also partially a charm. It will only imbue the property of animation onto objects that are a ‘friend’ – that respond to you in some way.”
“And what impact does that have?” Minerva asked, chasing the idea she didn’t want to name. “On the uses or limitations of the spell?”
“Well, first, the caster needs to have a connection to the objects that will act as friends in order to give them life. Not just anyone could have cast Piertotum Locomotor on Hogwarts, for instance.”
“What?” Minerva’s mind spun. “Say that again.”
“Not just anyone could have cast Piertotum Locomotor on Hogwarts?”
“Yes. That.” Minerva looked around her office, as if something on the walls would give her answers. This was hardly the time to be going down this route, but she had to know. “How long can it last? Piertotum?”
“I suppose that depends, Professor.” Tearany was giving her an odd look, but continued. “Being a charm, it could theoretically last as long as the spell-caster does. But the transfiguration equation would posit that it would last as long as the concentration of the caster is in effect, relative to the other variables.”
“Thank you, Ms. Flint. Please proceed to the staff office. The instructions are on your map. Alert Professor Flitwick that I will join you afterward.”
Tearany excused herself and left the office, allowing Minerva to be alone with her thoughts. She couldn’t let this go now. She pulled herself from the desk, walking over to the window – the one that should have been stained glass. Looking through the temporary clear pane, she could see several walls of the castle, all missing chunks of stone and mortar. This was it, the last piece to the puzzle. She was the spell-caster, the one still alive to have a charm still working. If Piertotum was both transfiguration and charm…she had imbued the castle with new properties and changed it entirely. She had made it something else – a protector, a friend. The castle had reflected who she was at that moment, a guardian who would give anything for her school.
But what now? Did the castle still reflect her, not just a witch and a professor, but a damaged human being trying to recover from a war? If so, why hadn’t it healed as she had? Could it be healed at all?
After breakfast with Iris and Lisa, Minerva and Dougal spent Saturday morning taking a walk. Their walk took them through the village, past the manse, out alongside the sea, where Minerva paused and looked out over the water. “What is it?” Dougal asked.
“This has been quite the year, wouldn’t you say?” Minerva asked, staring intently at Dougal, her mind a swirl of what she had to do for Hogwarts and what she wanted to do for herself. Forty years ago, she had to choose – choose between being true to herself and having love. Choose between following tradition and following her dreams. She had chosen, and she had chosen well. She did not regret her choice, though that choice came with its losses.
“I would say,” Dougal responded. “It’s not every year I’ve learned that magic is real. Or that someone from forty years in the past reappears.”
Part of her would always regret not having those forty years with Dougal, not watching the two of them change over the course of decades and grow old together. But without those forty years apart, neither of them would be who they were now. Minerva had followed her ambitions – she was the Headmistress of Hogwarts, something her eighteen-year-old self could hardly hope for. And Dougal had brought into Minerva’s life a family she would not have had otherwise.
Minerva didn’t quite know how to say all of that to Dougal…or whether she should. Instead, she took his hand to continue the walk, not needing to really think about where she was going. They ended up in a field, an empty field. Even though it had no significance to anyone else, Dougal stared at Minerva with a keen look in his eye. “What are you…?” he asked.
And there, in the field where she had accepted Dougal McGregor’s proposal, only to shun it one day later, Minerva dropped to her knees. “Dougal McGregor, will you marry me?”
“What were your thoughts on Ms. Flint’s teaching demonstration?” Minerva asked as she dusted the portraits in her office, not wanting to crowd Hermione by looking her in the eye for the discussion she planned to have.
“I thought she would be a good fit for Transfiguration. She was nervous, of course, that much was obvious, but that will go away with time.” Hermione took a breath and continued. “And her knowledge of the subject matter is thorough.”
“Yes, you asked her enough questions to find that out,” Minerva responded. She turned around from the portraits in time to see Hermione shrug. “On another subject, we haven’t discussed your plans for next year.” Minerva turned back away from Hermione, focusing on the portraits again.
Hermione sighed loudly, and Minerva heard her sink into a chair. “I’ve sent out inquiries into several departments at the Ministry, and I’ve received a few offers. Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, Department of Wizard/Muggle Relationships, Magical Law Enforcement…” She trailed off for a moment. “But…”
“But?” Minerva prompted.
“I hate to sound conceited, Professor, but what they’re offering are assistant positions. Fetching coffee, organizing files. I want to free house elves, not sit on committees talking about finding a method to free house elves. I want to get out there and … and do something.”
Minerva climbed off the step stool, sitting at her desk across from Hermione, looking her directly in her downturned face. “May I tell you something that Dumbledore once told me?” she asked.
That got Hermione’s attention. “Of course.”
“If a way doesn’t present itself, you may need to make your own.”
“Yes, Professor,” Hermione said, sighing a little. “Maybe I do.”
After the usual orders of business, Minerva called the staff’s attention to their interview. “I have collected all feedback from the staff and the students on Transfiguration professor candidate Tearany Flint. Please share any final positive feedback or any concerns before I make the offer.”
The professors looked at each other for a moment, shuffling their water goblets around on the staff room table. Though the process was new, this was not a group of people without opinions. Minerva gave it a moment.
“I don’t believe her inner eye was trained,” Trelawney said. Minerva knew better than to look at anyone else in the room – she would start laughing, and it would be inappropriate all around.
“I don’t believe I’m hiring a Divination professor,” Minerva countered. “Unless you’re trying to tell me something, Sybill.”
“No, no,” Trelawney murmured.
“Any other comments?” Minerva asked.
“I thought she was great,” Hagrid said, enthusiastic as always.
Molly offered a more tempered, “I agree with Hagrid. I believe with support, she will be a good addition to staff.”
“Do we offer her the position?” Minerva asked. There was an answering chorus of “aye.”
“Does she know she’s going to be the Deputy Headmistress?” Flitwick asked.
“Filius…” Minerva muttered. Of course he would bring that up. “We’ll discuss that when she gets here. On to other business. We need to discuss - ” Minerva almost told them of her discovery. That her casting of Piertotum Locomotor was what had impacted the castle, what continued to prevent the castle from being repaired. But she didn’t know how to admit that without a solution, without something to do to make things right. So instead, she said, “We need to discuss arrangements for the memorial ceremony that Harry Potter has planned for the Second of May. Auror Quintin, if you will.”
“The McGonagall/McGregor wedding. I’ve never seen anything so Scottish.”
“Would you kindly shut up, Pomona?” Minerva asked, combing back her hair and tying it in place.
Sprout laughed and straightened her dress. “How do I look? Muggle enough?”
“Enough,” Minerva responded, looking away from the mirror in her brother’s study to check Pomona’s outfit. “Luckily, there are plenty of eccentrics in the highlands.”
Satisfied with that, Sprout busied herself nosing through Malcolm’s books until the door opened with a bang. “Salazar’s shit,” Malcolm said. “Professor Sprout!” He practically sprinted across the room to take part in the obligatory Hufflepuff hug.
“How’s my favorite student?” Sprout asked.
“I know you say that to everyone, and I don’t even care,” Malcolm said.
“Don’t worry about me, Malcolm,” Minerva said, finished with her hair and now smoothing out her suit. “I’m just over here preparing to get married.”
“You’re sixty-three goddamn years old,” Malcolm shot back. “You’re hardly a blushing bride.”
“And this is why you didn’t perform my first wedding,” Minerva replied.
“I wasn’t a minister at the time.”
“You’re not really a minister now. You’re just a wizard who confunded some people.”
“Oh, you two,” Sprout said, fondly. “Are we ready to do this?”
Minerva took one final glance in the mirror. “We’re ready to do this.”
Minerva had been nervous at her first wedding. Not nervous about marrying Elphinstone, nervous that something would go wrong in the proceedings, held outdoors in a garden just outside of Hogsmeade. But with seventeen years and a war between that time and now, something in her had shifted. She wasn’t nervous, she was just at peace.
She stood at the altar of Malcolm’s church, Sprout beside her. Her brother Rob and his wife sat beside Flitwick and Slughorn in the first row, with Rob’s and Malcolm’s children in the row behind them. As she looked around, Rob met her eyes, and she heard him as clearly as if he had spoken: ‘Maybe this will be the service where Malcolm doesn’t curse.’ She felt like saying ‘Keep dreaming, Rob.’
Dougal was in trousers and a jacket that looked like something he would wear on any given day. His daughter was stood beside him as his best man, his grandson in the first row in a little suit, complete with bow tie.
Minerva reached out both hands and Dougal took them, as Malcolm said, “Dearly beloved, let’s do this damn thing.”
She knew that in the days and years to come, she wouldn’t remember much of the service, a standard Presbyterian wedding like the ones her father had performed when she was a child. When they reached the vows, she placed the ring on Dougal’s finger, standing in the church of her father, repeating her brother’s words, feeling the last forty years all come together at once. “I, Minerva, take you, Dougal, and I do promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be loving and faithful in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, as long as we both shall live.”
Malcolm raised a hand. “The grace of Christ attend you, the love of God surround you, the Holy Spirit keep you, that you may live in faith, abound in hope, and grow in love, both now and forevermore.” Minerva and Dougal kissed and made their way down the short aisle and out into the warm spring light.
With the ceremony for the one-year anniversary of the battle quickly approaching, Minerva knew she needed to write the speech Harry had asked her to deliver. So she sat in her office, at the desk that seemed to grant Dumbledore the inspiration for his impassioned speeches over the years. That and it was the one place she could find quiet. Dougal was still moving in all of his items, and while she loved having him there, he was always talking, playing the flute, or messing with some magical contraption or another.
She summoned a book from across the room – a Presbyterian Book of Prayer, one that she had quite ironically stolen from Malcolm to use as a source of inspiration. It had worked for her father for so many years, she reasoned. Perhaps she would find the right words for an occasion of both mourning and celebration.
And in the meantime, if she figured out how to undo the damage she had unwittingly done to the castle, that would be all the better. She would hate to have everyone attend a ceremony held in a broken and scarred place, a reminder of the pain and division they had endured.
It was in the funeral section that she found it – the verse she had heard many times as a child. It wasn’t right for the memorial, she knew that immediately, but still, she found herself reading it over, looking for something she couldn’t quite name. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together.”
What season were they in now? It should be the time to heal, the time to dance, the time to laugh. And in many ways it was. But in others, it would never be that time again. That was a time before a war, before they had transformed themselves to be the people they were today. Before she had transformed the castle into the friend it had been waiting to become. So how was she supposed to go back? She had brought the castle to life, had imbued it with new properties, had made it into their guardian. Something about Hogwarts had responded to her. It was no surprise – it had been her home for fifty years. Her blood ran for Hogwarts, and apparently, it responded the same way to her.
Would it still do that? Could she go back to that time, to the time before?
Minerva was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t hear the staircase rotate or the footsteps come into the office. It wasn’t until he spoke that Minerva realized Dougal had seen himself in. “I have a confession,” he said. “I rode that staircase three times before coming up here. I will probably ride it three times on the way down.” When Minerva didn’t respond, Dougal continued with, “I did it because it was fun. I wasn’t so stupid as to…” he trailed off. “What is it?”
“I know how to fix the castle.”
Minerva stood in the entrance hall, surrounded by her students and staff, and remembered the wonder she had felt when she first stepped off the boat and through the doors of this castle. She thought of Dumbledore’s wand pointed at her as she transformed. Of Pomona Sprout’s smile as she stepped off the pitch after her first game. She thought of Calliope Quintin’s well-aimed bludger, Ginny Weasley’s fist in the air. She thought of Flitwick toppling off a pile of books, Sirius Black sliding a note to Remus Lupin across a worn wooden desk. She thought of Snape’s face during Slytherin’s sixth consecutive house cup win, of Hermione Granger’s hand plunged into the air as Potter and Weasley looked on.
Minerva breathed deeply. She felt the energy of students awaiting to be sorted, the thrum of the crowd during a Quidditch match. She felt all of the friendship, the anxiety, the sadness, the love that had been felt in this castle. All of the things that made Hogwarts Hogwarts. She could practically feel the beating of all the hearts that made up Hogwarts. She thought of Dougal, of Lily Evans, of Gellert Grindelwald, then of Dumbledore, of Snape, of herself at the head of the Great Hall. She took a breath and raised both arms. “Piertotum Locomotor.”
It took a moment, but then Minerva heard a groan. Everyone spun around looking for the sound, but before they could find it, stone began to move. Stained glass flew into the Great Hall, and Minerva heard it slotting itself into the spaces left by the blasts. Stone rubble and slabs flew through the air, fitting themselves neatly into the holes created by curses. Outside, she could hear the greenhouse reforming.
Then came the suits of armor. One by one, they stood – first feet, then leg plates, then chest plates, then arms, and finally, helmets. One of them rolled its head from side to side, as if stretching, then led the others as they marched back into place.
And finally, Minerva turned to see the stairs moving, the blockages removing themselves. Portraits flew back onto the walls. Light streamed into the castle as boards covering the windows disappeared, revealing views of the grounds again.
Eventually, the movement stopped, then the creaking and groaning. Minerva lowered her arms, tired from the exertion, and swayed a little on her feet. When she finally looked around, she found that no one was moving – students or professors. Slughorn was staring open-mouthed, Sprout was covering her mouth with her hand, and Flitwick was gripping a banister to steady himself. Tearany Flint was crying.
Minerva knew no one would move, would investigate, until she did. So she climbed the stairs toward the Great Hall slowly, taking note. The portraits, which had always been in the same places, were scrambled – that was the first thing she noticed. Then, that while the staircases had moved, they weren’t in their original positions.
She moved faster into the Great Hall, anxious to see if anything had changed. The colors were as she had rearranged them - no house tables, and banners from each house scattered throughout the hall. The head table looked the same, and the stained glass looked perhaps clearer than it ever had. But someone gasped, and people started pointing upward. Minerva looked at the ceiling – instead of the sun that was pouring in through the windows, the ceiling was still stone. Stone painted over with the Hogwarts crest, the four colors blending seamlessly into each other as if they had always been there. It was beautiful, but it still felt like a loss.
“I don’t understand.” Minerva looked down to see Hermione standing next to her. “I don’t understand,” Hermione repeated. “It’s not the same.” It was true. The castle was fixed, but it wasn’t the same castle it had always been.
And she understood. Finally, a year later, she understood. Locomotor wasn’t only a transfiguration spell, it was a charm. They had all transformed, and the Minerva McGonagall who cast Piertotum Locomotor a year ago was not the Minerva McGonagall who cast it today. “Of course not. Neither are we.”
Auror Quintin was briefing the staff on security for the memorial ceremony when an owl knocked on the window. Flitwick jumped up on the desk and retrieved the note. “Molly, it’s for you.”
Molly opened the letter. “We have to go,” she said, disbelieving. “We have to go. Our granddaughter was born.” Minerva braced herself – today could not have been the birthday they were hoping for their first grandchild to carry.
Arthur whooped and started shaking hands with everyone in the room, but Molly stood quietly for a moment. “Molly?” Arthur asked.
Molly hesitated for a long moment. “It’s kind of perfect,” she finally said, “Isn’t it?”
Minerva couldn’t believe it had happened, that a year had passed since the battle. A year of change, of transformation, truly. She stood on the erected platform on the Hogwarts grounds and glanced again toward the white tomb. This time, though, she simply nodded in its direction, silently thanking her mentor not only for what he had done in the war, but for what he had done in her life. She imagined that somewhere, wherever he was now – with Gellert Grindlewald, perhaps – Dumbledore winked back at her.
Sprout, Flitwick, and Slughorn stood to her left, Dougal to her right, as people streamed onto the platform, silently arranging themselves for the ceremony.
Around her were other signs of healing, of mending bridges that had been broken. When Molly and Arthur ran breathlessly up to the platform, it was to be embraced first by Percy, then their other children. Andromeda Tonks and Narcissa Malfoy stood hand in hand, and Vincent’s Crabbe’s parents shook hands with Colin Creevey’s.
Minerva waited for the aurors below them to complete their protection spells, then she began. “We gather to remember those we have lost. Perhaps they were our friends. Perhaps they were our family. Perhaps they were our enemies. We were divided by war, but we unite in remembrance.” She took a breath and went on with her father’s words, “We pray that someday an arrow will be broken, not in something or someone, but by each of humankind, to indicate peace, not violence. Someday fearlessness to love and make a difference will be experienced by all people. Then the eagle will carry our prayer for peace and love, and the people of magic and non-magic communities can sit in the same circle together to communicate in love and experience the presence of the mysteries in our midst. Someday can be today for you and me.”
As the sun set, they spoke in turn the names of those who had fallen.
Andromeda Tonks’ voice shook as she called out, “Nymphadora Tonks.” She shot a series of pink sparks into the air.
Lyall Lupin, whom Minerva hadn’t known was still living, trembled as he quietly said, “Remus Lupin,” as he released a spell of tiny birds that took flight around the platform.
Narcissa Malfoy said, in a voice barely above a whisper, “Bellatrix Black,” letting out a simple white light that glowed like a star in front of her.
A loud group of voices called out “Fred Weasley,” as a giant W streaked across the night sky.
The names went on, each with a spell of remembrance. “Vincent Crabbe…Lavender Brown…Colin Creevey…Martin Scabior.”
It was their turn. Minerva lifted her wand as Flitwick, Sprout, and Slughorn did the same, together releasing a Hogwarts crest. “Severus Snape.”
Everyone’s eyes turned to Harry Potter, who raised his wand and released a symbol of a phoenix that glowed brightly long after he spoke. “Tom Riddle Jr.”
The morning air was chill again, as it would likely be for several more weeks. Minerva pawed at a loose stone on the ground, flicking her tail back and forth just for the fun of it. As the sun began to rise, Minerva heard footsteps falling on the grand staircase behind her. She turned to find Dougal pulling a woolen sweater more tightly around himself, rubbing his hands together to warm them.
When Dougal spotted her, he sighed fondly and shook his head, smiling. Minerva looked at him for a long moment, until he stretched out his hand. She rose, transfiguring into her true form, then took Dougal’s hand and walked on.
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