Minerva McGonagall was fuming. Why couldn't the Ministry just keep their noses out of education? She'd thought that, after the catastrophe that had been Umbridge's reign of terror in the school, things might have settled down and those bureaucrats in the Ministry might have realised that when it came to matters concerning education, they had no more clue about what to do than the man in the moon.
But no. No, of course not. Hush up the Umbridge affair. Don't let the parents know that Dolores Umbridge was inflicting physical pain onto the students, of course not, we can't have that. We wouldn't want people to know that their children are now more frightened of the people that are supposed to be protecting them than the people they're supposed to be protected from, now, would we?
She exhaled sharply. Examination results. It felt as though they had this argument every year. Probably, she thought, because they did. Not that any of those officials actually bothered to listen to her. What did she know, after all? She was only a teacher. She only spent most of the year living with the students. She understood them far better than the people who were drawing up decrees and regulations left, right and centre.
As if they had time to be fussing around with education, anyway. But, of course, it was better to fiddle about rather pointlessly with the aspects of life that they could control. She could just imagine some pompous twat at the Ministry suggesting that they set up a Wizarding Examination Authority, because of course the teachers weren't fit to judge the students themselves, oh no.
She did approve of the external testing, mostly because she was fully aware of the fact that not everyone could be as unbiased as she was. Severus Snape came to mind almost instantly. Talk about favouritism, she thought. If he had his way every Slytherin would have twelve OWLs with 'O' grades and the Gryffindors would fail every single one. No, she understood the need to bring in people from outside.
But honestly, she thought, it was tough on them. It was easy for the examiners to set the papers and assign grades, without having watched the students go through the years and seeing how hard they worked, or perhaps didn't, and then not know that their performance on the day was completely uncharacteristic. It was easy for them to say that the fifth-years should have a firm grasp on Defence Against the Dark Arts, when she knew that the quality of teaching they'd received had been sub-par the majority of the time. It was easy for them to smile sympathetically at, say, Neville Longbottom mixing up all the important dates, without having any idea of how hard he'd worked. They didn't see the tears and the drawn, worried faces that started appearing sometime after Christmas and often never left.
This year she'd watched Ginny Weasley, a girl who'd come out of her shell once she'd found that most of the boys were rather fond of her, and someone who seemed determined to follow in her brothers' footsteps when it came to causing mischief, become withdrawn and sullen as the exams approached. She'd watched Colin Creevey stumble into class after late nights in the library, too exhausted to even cast a spell to hide the shadows under his eyes. She'd seen bottom lips chewed anxiously, fingernails bitten down to nothing, and most of all, fear.
That was the problem, wasn't it? Fear. They didn't know what was coming. It was odd, she thought, that even in the world they lived in now, with so much uncertainty, the prospect of important examinations still struck fear into the hearts of even the bravest of Gryffindors.
The current argument was not about the exams, however. She knew that it was pointless to argue, and that even though it was a nightmare for the students, it was something that had to be done. They needed to be assessed, and to be assessed by a neutral observer; otherwise, what was the point of them being educated at all?
It was about the results. A few years before they had scheduled the exams so that the students could have their results at the same time as the house exams were graded. It was a system she'd thought highly practical. Those last few days in school were always a relief for the students, and worrying about results was, as far as she could see, kept to a minimum. And then all the results were handed out on the last day of term, and they could get on with enjoying their summer holiday.
They needed that holiday. She could see it in all of her students, that restlessness that set in sometime in May and refused to lift until the very end of the term – and then the renewed energy when they came back in September, perhaps not entirely delighted to have lessons again but usually willing to work hard for the next few months, at any rate.
What they didn't need was to have that holiday disrupted with results that had little or no relevance at that point in the year – too long after the exams to put into context, and too long before the new school year began to set about turning over a new leaf. She'd run into students during that waiting period many times, noting the anxious habits that still remained as they came up with ways to pass the time until they found out just how they'd done, and what that meant for their futures.
The Ministry had decided that they alone would decide when the exams were scheduled to take place, and when the results would be given out. After all, one rather annoying twerp had pointed out to Minerva, the examiners needed time to ensure that the grading was fair. Whereas she knew that the practical exams were marked almost on-the-spot, and that the written examinations were not terribly difficult to assess. It was time-wasting. It was completely unnecessary.
Dumbledore was very calm about it and said that it was most unfortunate but couldn't be helped, which wasn't exactly the response she had hoped for. He had then reminded her that they were fighting a war, which hadn't entirely escaped her attention. But the whole point of keeping Hogwarts open was so that the future generations could be educated. But let's not pay too much attention to that minor detail, and concentrate on the war.
She was loyal to him. Of course she was. She would have gladly laid down her life for him, if he had so asked. But there were times when she wished that he would make up his mind, and not try to run a school and lead the battle against Voldemort at the same time. He would go down as a hero in history. She had no doubt about that. One of the greatest wizards who ever lived.
Whether he would be remembered as one of the greatest headmasters … that was a different story.
She chewed the end of her quill before penning a letter to the Wizarding Examination Authority suggesting – in the politest terms possible, of course – that they reconsider their policy on the timing of examination results. For the sake of the students. Let them have their summer holidays, for Merlin's sake, she thought, and not have them sitting about fretting over results. Let them have the wretched things over with by the time the train arrives to take them home. Let them realise that the teachers do actually know what they're doing, for the most part, and certainly have a better idea than those bureaucrats tucked away in London. Let them stop interfering and get out of our hair. They have a war to fight. We have a school to run.