One Universe to the Left
Business and Pleasure
Minerva McGonagall absently smoothed her simple but elegant burgundy robes as she worked up the courage to enter the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As the youngest headmistress in over a century, she had plenty reason to try and project the same buttoned-up, no-nonsense, professional air that had earned her the spot in the first place. However, the action mainly served to hide her nerves from any unseen watchers at the prospect of once again entering the tragically and thoroughly corrupted school.
The thick, magically-reinforced stone walls dampened sound as well as any material, and none of the students filled the halls during the summer, but Minerva still mentally attributed the utter silence to a far more ominous but likely imaginary presence. It should have been a relief that the students were now free of the sometimes brutal and always harmful indoctrination of pureblood ideals here at school, but while they were away, she was so helpless. At least at school she could provide some measure of protection to the more vulnerable students-half-bloods now, since Muggleborns had not been permitted to attend for several years. She did all she could to undermine their mandatory lesson plans and foster compassion and other positive character traits wherever they appeared, but as the only one left from the old guard, she felt she failed them more often than not.
It was terribly difficult work since children were so impressionable. Having most authority figures constantly preaching their superiority over Muggles made her egalitarian views seem like a demotion in their eyes.
It had not been a sudden thing; indeed, Albus maintained his assurance that everything would work out right up until Voldemort himself strolled into the Great Hall, and each of the other professors bowed to him. No, the governors removed Dumbledore after one too many incidents with Hagrid, their former half-giant groundskeeper. As a half-goblin and a squib, respectively, Filius and Argus went early as well. One-by-one the pureblood supremacist faction forced out good teachers with dubious claims of poor performance and installed their own, though it had not been too obvious at the time. Minerva had even gotten along with some of them, she had thought, since they were almost all quiet, business-like professors that expected excellence from their students. She had even sat in on Professor Von Steuben's Defense Against the Dark Arts class early on, and found him gruff-certainly in part due his German accent-but fair, even to Muggleborns.
She should have known something was amiss when Von Steuben seemed to have broken the curse on the Defense position. Scattered reports of mistreatment grew more and more frequent, and each time Minerva met with the staff to discuss it, they went away for a short time. All that time they were testing her limits, seeing how much they could get away with, seeing if they could wear her down...and all that time, she had not imagined that they were working for Voldemort.
The gargoyle guarding the Headmistress office, not needing a password in the summer, sprang to life at her approach. The grinding sound startled her; she had not realized she had made it all the way through the castle. She hurried up the stairs to the relative safety of her quarters.
"Hello, Minerva," a silky smooth voice said from behind her desk.
Her heart dropped into her stomach. Above the armrest of her high-back, brown leather office chair facing away from her, a thin, well-manicured hand twirled a dark wand lazily. Instantly she cleared her mind. She could not match her predecessor in terms of Occlumency; Dumbledore had always worn his dotty, forgetful persona with imaginary memories more often then not. Minerva, on the other hand, could not disguise her ability, especially since she was known for her...passion. That sounded better than temper. "Tom," she said in a perfectly neutral voice.
He stood then, his combed black hair perfectly in place as he turned and gave her his devilishly handsome smile. Despite being nine years her senior, he had aged far more gracefully than she had. "I was just discussing the modifications we've made to the Hogwarts rules and regulations with Former Headmaster Black." He turned back to the man in question. "Always a pleasure, Phineas, but if you will excuse me, I have some pressing matters to discuss with our...headmistress."
The former headmaster gave Tom a sympathetic nod. "Of course, my friend. Do feel free to call upon me if you have need, and give my great-great-granddaughter my best."
"Of course," Tom said, then waved his wand and froze the portrait, just as the others were. "Now, where were we, my dear?"
"To what do I owe the...pleasure of your company?" Her voice retained the bland quality, but she knew he expected and even enjoyed subtle insults like that.
Tom smiled again, and he approached her. "Come now, Minerva, I do so enjoy our visits. Must we always antagonize one another?"
"Of course not."
He laughed. "Ever the charmer. Very well, if we must discuss business before pleasure...a group of Inquisitors encountered a young man today during a routine safety patrol in Hogsmeade. I don't suppose you and your...companions...would know anything about that, would you?"
"A little," Minerva said calmly, though a spike of anger nearly slipped through when he claimed his thugs were patrolling the town to ensure the safety of those within, as if they had done anything of the sort in the past several years. "The young man fled the scene shortly after my acquaintances arrived to investigate."
"I see." Tom walked slowly around her, and she suddenly jumped when she felt his hot breath against the back of her neck. His proximity made her skin want to crawl; it was all she could do not to try to pull her wand and attack. "And what did this young man look like?"
"Thin, dark hair, thick glasses. He was a mess, supposedly, but given the state of Hogsmeade it shouldn't have been a surprise. They only saw him briefly, though, so they couldn't be more exact."
"And what was your conclusion?"
She only barely avoided exhaling in relief when Tom did his slow walk back around to her front. "You were there to identify the perpetrator, yes? So what was your conclusion?"
After a moment of hesitation, Minerva accepted the purpose he gave her in being there. "I did not reach one."
Tom smiled again. "I see. Well, it appears my business here is complete. Shall we move on to pleasure?"
She only had a split second to freeze in alarm.
And that's the extent of what I have written, which I never even showed my early readers. This scene was half-finished for over a year, and I finished it just for you guys. Don't you feel special?
I have a whole slew of notes and mini-scenes for this story, including a pretty solid idea of where the other half of this chapter was going to go (even I can't wait for some Harry vs Harry sparring, and I'm the one that's supposed to write it), but alas, I am kinda focusing on original fiction at the moment. There are a couple short story opportunities and NaNoWriMo coming up. Should I return to this? I would like to, but I won't promise anything. I was somewhat surprised at the reaction; I don't know if it's the FFnet readership that's changing, the quality of my stories, or what, but this story has received more negative reviews than my other ones. Not that that means much when several of them are angry that my Harry is not more powerful, when in fact I probably boosted his abilities too much as it is.
Anyway, thanks for reading! And be sure to encourage me to continue and/or express your hatred for leaving you with such a cliffhanger, if you like. Or thank me for failing to inflict more of this story upon the masses (yet), whichever you prefer.