Tu Me Manque Part I - The Letter
I'll be stationing at Hogsmeade on Friday. Meet you at the lake at 6pm?
Tu me manque,
Ginny stared down at the piece of parchment, her brain yet again in turmoil. She had already scribbled down a "yes" and sent it back with the same owl at breakfast, but now, as the seventh years were put to work on their routine "mental defence" practice, she found herself unable to focus.
She'd recognised Harry's hasty handwriting, even if he didn't sign his full name, as usual. And she was thrilled that they could meet each other again before the end of the September. But she couldn't help but worry. What would Harry be doing in Hogsmeade? Was he on a case? Would he be compromising his work just to see her in school? Her boyfriend had already made himself a nickname in the Auror office by Silencing a mouthy third-year trainee, and taking a detour while working would definitely not help his case.
Around her, Hermione, along with all the seventh year NEWTs Defence students, were either scrutinising at their piece of parchment with their mouths open and their brows furrowed, looking as if they might as well eat their assignment, or, in Hermione and Odyssey Quinn's case, fervently scribbling down their "position/stance from the information given and personal experiences". It was a routine practice in Professor Underwood's classroom, as the trivial Canadian teacher felt it necessary to teach them how to distinguish lies. Ginny never had much interests in this practice: everyone could tell lies from truths, and last year was because the truths were nowhere to be found.
She stared down again, this time pushing Harry's message aside to read the passage, with the hope of diverting herself from all her drowning thoughts.
She had her hopes high. As she skimmed through the arguments of why the US Ministry denied entry of a British magical family, phrases like "dark magic", "security concerns", and "post-conflict areas" brought Harry's bright green eyes to the front of her mind again. She could see now, in her mind, Harry's tired, intense face when he usually came back from work, and immediately regretted agreeing to meet on Friday. By that thought, however, the Harry in her mind looked immediately miserable and dejected, just as the night when she screamed at him saying he might as well abandon her and go off with the Aurors. Sometimes, Ginny felt like she was being too hard on her boy when she knew, and understood, his choices. But other times, the twat deserved a scolding. And she would properly scold him when they met on Friday.
Reading the note again, Ginny found herself focusing again on a certain line. "Tu me manque", what does it mean? Of course Hermione told her that it was the French expression for "I miss you," but why did Harry choose to use it, and how did he know about this? Unless... Unless when he stayed at Bills...
Ginny shuddered at that thought.
Bill said they were always huddled together, plotting, she told herself firmly, they barely talked to the others, let alone her...
"Time's up," announced Professor Underwood, holding the empty hourglass, "Again, it's perfectly okay if you haven't written much. I would just like to see your thought processes, and any marks on the passage could count as a draft response. Now, please leave your passage and response on your desks, I will collect them later. Class dismissed."
There was a scurry of movement as people shoved their books, quills, and ink pots into their rucksacks. Hermione, after squeezing in her final words, put everything in her beaded bag. Ginny, just finishing underlining a few random words to make it count, started collecting all her things swiftly, when Professor Underwood spoke again,
"Ginny, may I have you for a few seconds, please?"
Stupid, Canadian woman, thought Ginny as she nodded and told Hermione not to wait for her, why has she got to be so polite that no one can refuse her!
"Yes, ma'am?" Asked Ginny as she approached Professor Underwood as the others streamed out of the classroom.
The Defence professor didn't say anything, and instead kept staring at the door intently, looking as pleasant and calm as ever. Despite the look, Ginny couldn't help but wonder whether the dark skinned woman was angry at her: after all, she hadn't been paying proper attention in Defence since... Well, since the DA was founded.
"Sorry, I wanted to make sure that everyone's gone before I talk to you," said Professor Underwood, much to Ginny's annoyance, "I hope I'm not inconveniencing you by any means?"
"No, Professor," said Ginny, "I don't have anything scheduled for tonight."
It was, partially, the truth, but Ginny would not mention the mountain of homework she was supposed to do tonight.
"So..." Professor Underwood tapped her finger on her desk, "Would you mind informing me what was preventing you from completing the critical thinking assignment today?"
Critical thinking, right. That was the term Underwood gave for her "mental defence" work.
"No, ma'am," said Ginny stiffly. This woman had no business interfering with her life, and if she was to throw it away like her mum accuses her to be, what was it to her? She was no more than a Defence professor, one that had neither skills nor experience, end of discussion.
But the idea of "good Defence professors" brought another mental image to Ginny's mind: Remus and Tonks laying side by side in the Great Hall, their bodies cold and lifeless. And their bodies triggered another one, one that has a short, muscular built, a wicked grin, and the same hair and freckles like she did. Ginny blinked, and shifted her focus back to the classroom. Professor Underwood was still waiting for an answer, intently yet patiently. Ginny stared at her, compelling herself to identify her ethnicity by the shade of her skin.
"Well, I just thought, maybe, you'd want an excuse for me to drop this assignment from the term assessment," said Professor Underwood resignedly, "You know fully well that you will receive a zero for today's work."
"I thought we hadn't got to write down a response," said Ginny.
"No, but I would like to be able to see how you think by reading the margins. You weren't thinking."
Again, Ginny stared at her. She was going to keep her mouth shut.
"I'm aware of your general background," said Professor Underwood, "and I understand that some of you may have problem focusing. But you never had this problem before, Ginny, not even on topics more triggering than this. So, would you please provide an explanation so that I would be able to maximise your grades?"
"I don't care as long as I pass, and I will pass." Said Ginny forcefully. Although Professor Underwood still looked as pleasant as ever, Ginny saw hurt and frustration behind her eyes. Strangely, it didn't make her feel bad.
"You don't think I'm qualified to teach, despite my experiences as a teaching assistant and a peacekeeper," Professor Underwood spoke so suddenly that it took Ginny a second to catch up with the meaning, "And I admit it, some of you may be better than me at Defensive Magic, for various reasons. The reason I'm doing these critical thinking practices, however, is that I really think you'd benefit from this, and I can learn from you, too."
"If you're talking about Hermione and her essays, know that we aren't all like her," said Ginny.
"Hermione does have a tendency to over-write, eh?" Professor Underwood cracked a smile for the first time since class ended, "But there's more... Can you keep secrets?"
"Yes," said Ginny even before she could fully understood the implication. Damn her curiosity.
"Well, from your work, I know that Hermione yearns to live in a peaceful world again, that Disa wants to become an Auror and worries about being a Slytherin would harm her chances, that Neville could have taken the Professional classes, but stayed in this class because he wants to help others who may have problems with new materials, and that Stewart absolutely despises all Slytherins… But you, Ginny, although your insights are mostly accurate and academic, they are always professional. There are two explanations: either you are incapable to form an argument from personal experiences, or you are trying to distance yourself from your memories and emotions."
"Can't I just move on?"
"As long as you aren't pushing yourself too hard, I would encourage it. There always needs a balance between processing and moving on, eh?"
Something about the repetition of that last syllable triggered another memory; a memory of the same woman...
"I am Margaret Underwood, a stereotypical Canadian who speaks French and uses the word 'eh' more than necessary. I don't say 'aboot' though, so don't even try making that joke on me." Said Professor Underwood on their very first class.
"French!" Ginny blurted, "You speak French!"
To her surprise, Professor Underwood didn't seem caught off guard at all. Instead, her smile widened.
"So you have a question on mon autre langue maternelle? Fire away!"
"What does... Too... Tu... " For a brief second, Ginny wanted to dig out the note and just show it to Underwood, but she suppressed the urge, and instead focused on trying to pronounce the words, "Too... To mi... Me... Mank mean?"
"To me mank, what does it mean?" Explained Ginny, feeling stupid at her own pride, "Hermione told me that it means 'I miss you' but..."
She trailed off, realising that she had divulged information for her "enemy".
"Ah, tu me manque!" Said Professor Underwood, "It does mean 'I miss you', but it expresses the meaning in a different way... Was this distracting you from today's lesson?"
"Well, let's see..." Professor Underwood tapped her finger on her desk again - she seemed to do that every time she was thinking hard, "Tu me manque... Manquer... Ah oui... Okay, think about it this way. Manquer means to miss, to be absent from, and tu me manque, literally speaking, is 'you are missing from me', if it makes any sense."
It took Ginny a second to understand the warmth rising inside her, and upon realising it, her face burned, too. She looked down at her toes, hoping that Professor Underwood hadn't noticed that.
"Well, thank you for confiding in me, Ginny, and you may leave now, if you wish" said Professor Underwood, as pleasant and calm as ever, yet she sounded like she was genuinely happy about something, "and I wish... Whoever told you that you're missing from him, I wish you all the best in the world."
Flabbergasted and flustered, Ginny took a last stare at Professor Underwood, shock replaced her determination to remain silence.
"Thank you, Professor," said Ginny at last, "I'll see you on Friday."
When the door behind her closed, Ginny felt like she'd made two of the best decisions in her life.
A/N: Part I out of two. Professor Underwood will appear in Entrance Class of 1998 as well, and I'm working on that chapter right now. It's unlikely to meet her in Back From a New Millennium, though... But I may try to give her a role if you really want it!
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