Originally written for HoggyWartyXmas 2014, for Shiv5468. With deepest sympathy to teachers in England. The level of scrutiny you endure would have led to open revolt in most other professions. I'd also like to thank my wonderful beta Edhla – thanks again, my dear!
An Inspector Calls
"Thank you for meeting at such short notice." The Headmistress inspected her staff, brusquely torn from their lunch sandwiches or last-minute marking (or sherry, in Sybill's case), for an emergency staff meeting. Even Filch was there, clutching half a Ploughman's lunch in one fist and a flask of tea in the other. There was a breadcrumb on his lip. Instead of brushing it away he proceeded to devour the rest of his lunch, chewing with his mouth open. Minerva looked away rather quickly. "I'm sure you're wondering why I've asked you to-"
"The mundane mind will be puzzled, but those of us with the Sight can See clearly."
There was a snigger from Severus at the back.
"Sybill, I'm sure-" Minerva tried to stem the tide. She may as well not have bothered.
"This is a moment of great peril! I have warned you all, time and time again, but you didn't listen! The school is under threat again, and this time-" Sybill's voice got shriller and shriller.
She was right, of course: she had warned them. At great length. More than a decade of peacetime had been good for Sybill, but eventually the lack of attention had got to her. She'd finally snapped in September this year. Her prophesy had been rather vague, but it had made it abundantly clear that Horrible Things were to be expected in the near future.
Most of the staff had resorted to suddenly remembering urgent appointments when cornered by Sybill expanding on her recent predictions. By virtue of her position, Minerva had been forced to endure several sessions elaborating on possible misfortunes that could befall them. She had little desire to revisit the subject.
"For Heaven's sake, Sybill, be sensible!" she said, a little more impatiently than intended. "We're being inspected by Ofsted, it's hardly on par with the Battle of Hogwarts!"
This meant little to most of the occupants of the room, with some notable exceptions. Hermione's eyes narrowed and she leaned forward. She'd kept up with the Muggle education system, then. Good.
Hopkins, the Muggle Studies teacher, who'd joined Hogwarts from a comprehensive in Windsor, dropped his tea mug on the floor with a loud crack.
"Oh, no," he whimpered. "Not again..."
Filius, who was sitting next to Hopkins in his favourite brocade armchair, patted his shoulder and vanished the mess with a snap of his fingers. "I'm sure it's not as bad as all that, Andy," he said consolingly.
"You don't know what you're talking about!" Hopkins' eyes darted across the room as if he couldn't see his colleagues. "They'll, they'll-" He clenched his fists closed repeatedly, closing his eyes as if to ward off his impending fate.
"Dare I ask who this Ofsted creature is?" Draco Malfoy asked, never happy with being at a disadvantage.
"It's not a person, it's an agency," Hermione explained. "They inspect schools. But I thought they were based in England..."
The last part got lost amidst the general outrage.
"An inspection! Minerva, I ask you-"
"And what business do they have at Hogwarts, sticking their noses where they don't belong?"
"It's the Ministry's doing, it's as plain as the nose on your face!"
"What sort of inspection are we talking about, pray tell?"
"Mark my words, it'll be Umbridge all over again! Next thing we know, we'll have edicts covering the walls again."
"When will these inspectors arrive, Minerva?" Severus, as always, bypassed any expressions of woe and jumped straight to the salient issue. His precise voice cut through the hubbub like a warm knife through butter.
"Tomorrow morning," Minerva replied. The protestations from the rest of the staff died down. The situation was too serious for grumbling. "It's common practice to give minimum notice. The Ministry has offered to help adapt the Anti-Muggle wards, since we hardly have time to do it ourselves."
"I say," Filius said weakly. He knew only too well how much work it took to enable even one Muggle to actually see the school, never mind entering it. Minerva and he had spent weeks preparing for the last Open Day.
"I've printed off information packs," Minerva continued, making hay while they were too stunned to object. "As you can see, we'll be graded in a number of categories..."
"I'm rather surprised you consented to this, Minerva," Severus said as they walked towards the Headmistress' office to start preparing the documents Ofsted had requested to be furnished in advance. He made sure there was absolutely no inflection to his voice. It had worked with both Albus and the Dark Lord.
"As you well know, I would never have agreed if I'd been given a choice in the first place," she replied tartly.
"Forgive my ignorance, but I was under the impression that Hogwarts was independent of the Ministry. Despite their best efforts, I might add."
"Indeed. And had we not just asked for a rather stupendous grant to upgrade your precious Potions lab, among other things, I could have told them to go hang," Minerva replied, sounding as crisp as the autumn day outside.
"It's not my Potions lab anymore, it's Draco's," Severus pointed out. "And I see your predicament. If we don't get the funding from the Ministry, we'll be waiting until Scorpius Malfoy starts Hogwarts to get a new Quidditch pitch." Narcissa had eventually brought Lucius, traditionally the last resort when the Hogwarts budget was feeling the strain, to realise that the Malfoy fortune wasn't what it once had been.
"If you lot hadn't voted against Scottish independence, we wouldn't be in this fix," Minerva said, reverting to a familiar argument. The wizarding world had narrowly ended up on the "No" side in the recent referendum, just like the Muggles. It was still a sore point with her that so many of the teachers not only had been allowed to vote, despite not even being Scottish, but also had voted to stay in the Union. Wizarding Scotland wasn't so small that the Hogwarts teachers formed their own majority, but they did influence the outcome.
"You know as well as I do it'd be a portacabin in Pitlochry if you'd got your way. An independent Scotland wouldn't be able to fund as much as a new broom cupboard, never mind a new Quidditch pitch." Severus hadn't let being a Northerner influence his vote. Not much. Practical considerations had been quite sufficient for those not blinded by parochial patriotism.
"The Deputy Head is supposed to support the Headmaster or Mistress, Severus," Minerva admonished, but there was a twinkle in her eye.
"I am. I'm about to help you compile a frankly stupendous amount of documents for your precious inspectors. Without a word of complaint, I might add." One quick glance through the 'information pack' had banished any thoughts of sleeping tonight.
"But you never complain, Severus – I don't know where you got the idea from." They swept past a gaggle of third-years who fell quiet in the presence of their professors. None of the children would be able to see past Minerva's rather forbidding countenance, but Severus could see the corner of her mouth lurking upwards as she delivered the coup de grace: "That's what I chiefly admire about you: your sunny disposition."
He had to look away to keep himself from smiling, and hit on a suitably grim subject to distract her.
"What will you do with our esteemed Care of Magical Creatures teacher, Minerva? One whiff of official scrutiny and he'll melt like a chocolate teapot."
It was a sign of how desperate the situation was that she didn't even pretend to challenge his assessment of Hagrid's mettle.
"He's got the flu. For as long as it takes."
Severus would bet his whole collection of elf-made wine that Minerva had put up the wards on the gamekeeper's hut herself.
The staff turned out in force the following morning, as they waited for the inspectors to arrive. Minerva was accompanied by Severus, Filius, Neville and Rose Barnicott – Transfiguration teacher and recently appointed head of Hufflepuff – on the front steps.
Hermione suspected the reason she'd been asked to join the Heads of Houses was that she was the closest thing they had to a Muggle representative, as it were. Hopkins had been carted off to his quarters yesterday and his lessons had been cancelled, as he'd proved impervious to all of Poppy's Calming Draughts. Hermione was the only available member of staff with even a passing knowledge of the Muggle education system.
Obviously, she'd done as much research as possible. Last night, she'd Apparated over to her parents in Kent to use their laptop. Ofsted was apparently a heated subject, that much she'd established with a quick google.
It was just typical of Percy Weasley to insist on bringing something that clearly worked less than satisfactorily for the Muggles across to the wizarding world. He'd dialled down the pomposity somewhat after the war, but he was still an earnest paper-pusher at heart. It was so like him not to spot the potential pitfalls in a scheme like this.
Hermione had done a bit of Floo'ing last night, too. Gossip was always better in person. Apparently, the Ministry was under pressure from parents of Muggle-borns, anxious to find out what quality of education their children were receiving. Given the level of scrutiny Muggle schools were subject to these days, it was hardly surprising that they weren't content to put their progeny on the Hogwarts Express and wave goodbye for a term.
Nevertheless, if it hadn't been for Percy and his busy-bodying ways, those enquiries would probably have been dealt with perfectly satisfactorily by Minerva. Or Severus.
Despite herself, Hermione couldn't help smiling when she pictured Severus faced with a set of parents concerned with the standards upheld at Hogwarts.
"You seem to have embraced our new overlords, Granger," he said.
"I'm just expressing my delight at being allowed in such august company." Her smile widened at the look of disgust on Severus' face. He didn't fool her.
"As well you may," he told her with asperity, and suddenly there was no more time for talking.
The inspectors had arrived.
"Welcome to Hogwarts," Minerva said in accents calculated to strike fear into the hearts of officials everywhere. "I trust you arrived safely?"
"Yes, yes," said the man striding across the lawn, heading the small group. He was tall and sandy-haired, and unlike most people setting foot at Hogwarts for the first time there was not a scrap of wonder on his face. "I take it you're the Headmistress? I'm Timothy Spencer, Her Majesty's Inspector."
He thrust his hand out.
Minerva's expression was carefully blank as she shook it. "I'm Minerva McGonagall. How do you do?"
Further introductions followed, until Filius introduced a discordant note into the proceedings: "Upon my word, if it isn't Stella McNulty! So that's where you ended up, eh?"
The short, stocky woman in the dark suit looked taken aback, but admitted that she was indeed. It transpired that she was the sister of one of Filius' old students. A short glance at Severus was sufficient to confirm that, beneath that supremely indifferent face, he was doing the same calculations as Hermione. They hadn't banked on any of the inspectors being familiar with the magical world.
This would make things much more difficult.
Spencer having dispatched his team, it fell to Minerva to set one of the younger inspectors up in an unused office with a pile of parchments towering over her head.
The window was open, letting the chilly autumn air in. Owls were still returning with more letters. The inspector visibly squared his shoulder and started off. Minerva was just about to attend to one of several crises she had to sort out this morning when he suddenly spoke:
"What's this mean? 'I don't hold with my son being taught by a Mudblood?'"
"Tsk, tsk," Minerva said, reading the completed parent-outreach survey over his shoulder. "That'll be Owen Rosier, unless I'm much mistaken. Yes, indeed. Nasty man. Desiderata is a perfectly lovely girl, though."
"But what's a Mudblood?"
Having brushed off the inspector's question – he was perfectly welcome to consult the library, should he wish to educate himself on the matter – Minerva proceeded to the next item on her list.
The unfortunate Hopkins was showing no signs of being fit to return to his duties, which meant that a replacement had to be found for his three lessons today. Hermione, the obvious choice, had a full timetable. Neville, while perfectly willing to step into the breach, would be an accident waiting to happen. Most of the older teachers were so far removed from contemporary Muggle society that she preferred to keep them away from the Muggle Studies classroom and its bewildering display of modern technology. Today of all days, Minerva would prefer if they all made it through in one piece.
Which left her with Severus and Draco.
They didn't pay her anywhere near enough for this job, but she'd bet her last Galleon that wouldn't be in Mr Spencer's precious report.