"And here we have the third of the McGonagall children, I see," said the Sorting Hat, no more than a small voice in Minerva's ear. "Hmm, what should we do with you . . . Well, you're certainly quite determined. I bet a herd of dragons couldn't stop you if you put your mind to it . . . A lot like your brother then. Very much a Gryffindor trait, that. You're mind is exceptional, however. You value knowledge above all else then?"
Yes, thought Minerva to herself.
"I thought so."
Minerva blinked in confusion. She had not expected the Sorting Hat to be reading her thoughts. It made sense, she supposed, but it was a little unsettling. Her mind was very much her own place—one with large front gates and a "Do Not Enter" sign plastered to them.
"Perhaps you're more like your sister then. A Ravenclaw."
Minerva felt her stomach turn at the thought. She and her sister were quite opposite. Her sister, was the type of person who flounced around in impractical robes that cost an arm and a leg. Minerva was most certainly not that type of person. The idea of being sorted into Ravenclaw and being permanently thrown into a caste with her sister was revolting. Minerva thought silently that she would rather betray the majority of her heritage—a proud group of Gryffindors—and be sorted into Slytherin than Ravenclaw.
The Sorting Hat seemed to chuckle in her ear. "We have a definite 'no' for Ravenclaw then I see. Well, then. It's quite clear what should be done with you."
And to the entire hall the Sorting Hat shouted, "GRYFFINDOR!"
"Well, let's see how you've progressed, shall we?"
Minerva allowed herself a small, private smile. She was the only one she could see in the classroom who'd made any progress at all with their toothpick—much less transformed it almost entirely into a needle. She had not expected to get that far with her toothpick at all. Transfiguration was supposed to be terribly complicated and hard. If this lesson was any indication, though, of what was to come then she found it to be pleasantly challenging but by no means terribly hard.
"Do not get frustrated by your lack of results," Professor Dumbledore told them as he walked around the desks peering down through his moon-shaped spectacles at toothpick after toothpick. "As I stated before, transfiguration is one of the most difficult subjects you will be taught here at Hogwarts. Most students found the task you are now just as difficult as you do. If you doubt me, I suggest you ask them."
He fell silent as his eye's fell on Minerva's not-quite needle. A smile spread quickly across his face and he looked up from her work to her face with a distinctly bemused look in his twinkling blue eyes. "This is quite extraordinary, Miss McGonagall. Do you know how many students I've had that have been able to accomplish this much in a such a short amount of time?"
Some very low number, Minerva was sure. It was probably no larger than ten. It was perhaps even as low as five. She decided to stay silent and not hazard a guess, however. It would be terribly embarrassing to guess so low and then find out the number was far higher.
Professor Dumbledore raised an auburn eyebrow at her and she had the sudden and distinct impression that he knew exactly what was going through her head at that very moment. She felt a blush creep onto her fair cheeks at the idea that he was so keenly aware of her somewhat sizable ego.
"Well, it is quite a low number, I assure you. Fifteen points to Gryffindor. Class dismissed. Off you go."
Minerva had to struggle to keep her jaw from unhinging itself. She wanted to know exactly how many other students had done as well as she on their first day. She could not decide whether she should go to her next class with the knowledge set firmly in her head that she was something rare in the world of transfiguration or if she should actually ask Professor Dumbledore what the number was.
"Is there something you need, Miss McGonagall?"
Her eyes focused in on the tall bearded Professor. He was sitting behind his desk with his rather astounding blue eyes twinkling at her in the most amused fashion. She could not decide what to think of it. On the one hand, she felt rather annoyed. He was sitting there simply being amused about his sudden bout of secrecy while she was left to hang. On the other hand, she felt, not for the first time, completely charmed by her Professor. There was something very warm about him and it often made her want to simply break out into a smile. It was a rare thing for anyone to inspire that in Minerva. She was simply not a person who was prone to smiling.
Dumbledore waited patiently as Minerva stared at him with narrowed eyes and a shrewd, calculating look. He wondered whether she would in fact asked the question he knew was burning into her young mind and wondered as well whether or not he should answer it. Talent like hers needed to be encouraged, there was no doubt of that. Any young person, even one with a natural knack such as hers needed care and encouragement to flourish. However, it would simply not do to allow her head to swell too much.
She squared her small shoulders. "Professor, exactly how many students have you had that accomplished what I did?"
The steely glint in Minerva's eyes made Dumbledore's decision for him. A child or not, Minerva McGonagall was not the type of person who would stand for being easily brushed aside. If he did not tell her now, she would simply ask again. It was now or later, and now seemed by far to be the better time.
"Quite frankly, my dear, you are the first."
The determined look on Minerva's face dropped away as though the cable supporting it had been suddenly cut. She'd not expected this. She'd expected to be one of the few: something special, but not that special.
Suddenly a great sense of modesty came over Minerva. She'd studied as much as she could about transfiguration ever since her brother had come home from his first year at Hogwarts, raving about how hard it was and how good he was at it. Surely that had as much to do with her success as anything.
"Professor, I've been studying transfiguration as much as I possibly could. I'm sure that explains—"
"I do not think so."
She stared into his crystal blue with her own hazel ones and simply blinked at him. She'd had, at the minimal, twice as much preparation as any other first year student at Hogwarts. It did not make sense to her that her progress could not be explained away by that.
"But, Professor, I've—"
"Not everything can be found in books, my dear. You could have read all the books in the world on transfiguration and still come to your first day in my class and make no progress whatsoever. Magical theory is all very well and good but it takes something more than that to actually do it."
Minerva felt her entire face turn a blazing red. Professor Dumbledore was right, of course. Just because a muggle or a squib knew magical theory did not mean they could do magic like a witch or a wizard. It took something more and it was highly embarrassing to have forgotten that.
"You have a very special talent, Minerva," Professor Dumbledore told her quietly. "As such you will be held to a higher standard than your peers. You are quite capable of handling the task—but have no illusions, you will fail at times. Even so, I do believe that you will astound even myself from time to time."
Minerva was not certain she could get any redder than she already was. She felt like a moron and Professor Dumbledore was just being so . . . nice. She sincerely wanted to get away and go collect herself.
"Now I do believe that you have a Charms class, starting in a few moments?"
"Well, off you trot then! I'm sure Professor Chantry would be most disappointed to see you late to her class on your very first day."
"Of course, Professor. Thank you."
And she hurried off as fast as her legs would carry her.
"You're reading again?"
Minerva glanced over the top of Basic Charms at her friend Hermes, the shortest second year boy she'd personally ever laid eyes on. He was looking at her in a rather pointedly disgusted way.
"What a waste of time," he moaned at her. "You already know all of that drivel . . . Why don't you grab one of the school's brooms and you can help me practice for nest week's match? I need someone to release the snitch for me after I catch it . . ."
"McGonagall can't do that," said Daniel Weasley rather matter-of- factly.
"Why not?" Minerva asked, somewhat huffily. She could fly very well, if that's what he meant.
"Well, don't first years have transfiguration in five minutes?"
"We don't have transfiguration for another three quarters of an hour, at least," Minerva told him, pushing back her sleeve to check her watch. That reminded her. She had a transfiguration essay to recopy and turn in. Professor Dumbledore had edited their rough draft copies and given them back last week, but she'd been having too much trouble with keeping strait who was who in History of Magic that she had not had an opportunity to make a final copy. She'd not been planning on changing anything in the essay—the Professor had made no corrections and given only compliments—but she still needed to get it done.
She caught sight of her watch. Dan was right. She only had five minutes to get to transfiguration.
"I think you're going to be late," her friend Malcolm, who was tall, blonde and quite attractive, told her.
She swore loudly and shoved her book into her bag. She was out the portrait hole in a flash and running through the hallways in a most un-Minerva-like fashion. Luck was not on her side, however. She ran into Peeves, who did his very best to block her way and pelt her with walnuts (Where had he gotten those?). By the time she reached transfiguration she was already ten minutes late.
"Five points from Gryffindor for your tardiness, Miss McGonagall." Minerva did not have to hear Professor Dumbledore say that he was disappointed to know that he was. Professor Dumbledore had not been lying to her when he'd told her that he had high expectations for her, nor had he meant only in regards to her progress with transfiguration. Until now she had managed to never disappoint him. Now she felt ashamed. Doubly so, if fact, as she had not made a final copy of her essay.
An idea struck her. She had not planned on revising the essay and the Professor had liked it. Maybe she could just turn in the rough draft again . . .
Or maybe he would just dock another five points from Gryffindor if she did that. She most certainly did not want that to happen. It all came down to a gamble.
"Taptree, would you please go around and collect all the essays for me?"
Taptree got up and began collecting the essays starting at the back of the room where he sat. Minerva would be the last one to turn in her essay. It would be right on top of the stack for Professor Dumbledore to see. She would find out in front of the entire class whether or not this was going to fly, assuming she decided to do it.
She pulled the rough draft onto her desk. Better to turn in something than nothing. She'd done the work. She'd simply done it all right the first time. There was nothing wrong with that.
Taptree picked up her essay, placing it right on top of the stack of unrolled parchment, and handed the stack to Professor Dumbledore. Minerva braced herself for what was to come, prepared to take what could be a possible punishment with a dignity and sense of responsibility that was uncommon in witches her age.
The Professor glanced down at the stack. A small laugh escaped his lips.
"Quite brave, Miss McGonagall. Ten points to Gryffindor."
She heard some mutterings move through the classroom. People wanting to know what she'd done to get Gryffinder ten points. Most people were whispering proclamations that obviously shown her transfiguration brilliance yet again. A few Ravenclaws, with whom Gryffindor had double transfiguration, disagreed, however. One Ravenclaw girl behind Minerva went so far as to say that it was an excuse because "she's his favorite student."
Minerva hated to think of herself as Dumbledore's favorite student, but at times she wondered if people like that Ravenclaw girl were right. She was Dumbledore's favorite student. She'd even heard other teachers talking about some of the amazing things "Dumbledore's protege," as she become known to the staff, had done. Perhaps her status was giving her an unfair advantage over her fellow students . . .
She shook the thought from her head. She earned everything she got. She knew that and she knew that that was what Professor Dumbledore expected of her. She got more rewards, but more was expected of her as well. There was nothing unfair about it.
She looked up at Professor Dumbledore as he handed out individual baby chickens to individual students. He gave her one of the small yellow puffs and a kind smile. Having grown accustomed to this kind of attention from him, she not only did not blush, but actually favored him with a rather enchanting smile of her own.
Her mother would have died of happiness had she seen this, Minerva was sure. June McGonagall was constantly telling her youngest daughter that she was such a pretty girl and that she should really smile more. It was not something that Minerva did very often, yet somehow Professor Dumbledore managed to make smiling more than an occasional occurrence. She found she could not help but smile when her favorite Professor was around.
"Today, we will be working to turn these baby chicks," he indicated one of the small yellow puffs with his wand, "into a crystal sphere. I do not expect all of you to finish this," here he flashed Minerva a look telling her that he did, in fact, expect this of her, "but all of you should have made significant progress by the time the bell rings."
With those words Minerva set herself to her task, determined to have finished by the time the class was half over. She had an exam in Charms for which she wanted to study more.