Author's Pathetically Grateful Rambling: I must comment on the lovely reviews. They made me grin like an idiot for a good long while, not to mention feel remarkably smug. And it's all thanks to you wonderful people who reviewed. Thank you. Cheers. Merci. Gracias. Danke. Grazie. Obrigado. And so on and so forth.
Author's Actual Note: Well, here we are, end of the road. -sniffle- Well… sort of. See this is the end of the fic, as there are only so many hours in a day and the whole point of this fic was for it to last only one day. However, I have become weirdly comfortable writing Minerva and intend to write a lot more of her, probably starting with a piece called "The Minerva Monologues" or something to that effect. I'm also considering turning "Just a Random…" into a series for various characters, just because of how much I enjoyed writing this. It's really quite fortunate that I've enjoyed writing it, given it's length, wouldn't you say?
However I need to update Time Capsule first (yes, the words "update" and "Time Capsule" in the same sentence, shocking isn't it?) and, as previously mentioned, there are only so many hours in a day, so it may take a couple of weeks for these endeavours to materialise. Because I'm selfish like that.
Anyway, if you're vaguely interested, check my profile occasionally. If you're not even slightly interested, I'll shut up and get back to the story. Actually, I'll do that anyway. Ciao.
It soon became apparent that Minerva need not have concerned herself so much with looking innocuous, as she would have stood out no matter what. This was due to many reasons, the first being her dining companion.
Emmeline Vance was old money, both on her muggle-born paternal grandfather's side (they invented a printing press or binding method, or some such) and her witch mother's side (The were owners of Sorcière Charmante Cosmetics). As such, she did not settle for second best. So when a waitress attempted to sit them downstairs when Emmeline had specified an upstairs table in the reservations, she did not suffer it lightly. Also, for reasons unknown to Minerva, perfectly coiffed ladies in fine French fashions tended to attract the attention of the average muggle.
The second reason was largely their conversation. Emmeline had demanded to know every single detail of Minerva's day and Minerva had happily obliged. Doing so involved a lot of emphatic gesturing on her part and a lot of mad cackling on Emmeline's part. Indeed, by the time the appetisers had been cleared from their table Minerva's hair had come slightly undone, the sleeves of her blouse had been pushed up to allow for easier gesticulating on her part, and the rings that had adorned her fingers were now residing in the pockets of the coat that was slung over her chair. Emmeline had removed her fashionable jacket, revealing a cream coloured top, while her designer shoes had been slid off on the basis of being "Nothing short of torturous in this heat." All of which seemed to attract a fair amount of attention as well.
The last reason was the exceedingly strange staff at the restaurant in which they were dining. When, for example, they had ordered their starters (Minestrone and Gnocchi, respectively) the waitress had exclaimed in horror "Do you know how many calories are in that?" Naturally, both women had exchanged confused looks before asking "What on Earth is a calorie?" After an impromptu lesson in the Nature of the Calorie, both had assured the girl that, no, they did not know how many calories were in their appetisers and nor did they particularly care. This proclamation had resulted in the two of them receiving a standing ovation from the young ladies at the next table and both being asked to dinner by several handsome elderly gentlemen by the bar. They had graciously accepted the first, while declining the second point blank.
By the time they were halfway through their main course, Minerva was still ranting about her day. Not just to vent her spleen anymore either, but because Emmeline seemed genuinely interested. She cachinnated at tale of Colin Creevey's "Artistic Masterpiece" for a good five minutes, even going so far as to ask for a copy to be delivered to her office. And so, between mouthfuls of Risotto, Minerva kept talking.
"And Auriga just threw her hands up in the air and announced that she was keeping them. All of them. They are now her pets." she said despairingly. "I honestly wonder about that girl sometimes."
Heehawing away Emmeline took a sip of her wine. "Oh my." she giggled again. "My, my, my. Your life really is a great deal more interesting than mine, have I mentioned that recently?"
"Indeed you have." Minerva muttered, mirroring her companion's gesture and taking a sip of her wine. It was quite nice she supposed, but a little too sweet for her tastes. "Regrettably, I must disagree with you Emmeline. All those publications of yours, all those society parties, all those politicians-"
"All of which roughly translates to day after day communicating with people who talk incessantly, while actually saying very little of anything." Emmeline said with a despairing shake of her head. "I honestly wonder sometimes why I didn't just get a job tending bar at the Hog's Head or something. It would've been more interesting, and it's not as though I need the money, is it?"
"And I'm sure Aberforth could use the company." Minerva said in faux contemplation as she finished off her meal. Emmeline appeared to consider it for a moment before shaking her head and getting back to her own meal.
Emmeline complained about her work a lot, but Minerva knew she wouldn't trade it for the world. Not out of any overwhelming sense of attachment to her magazines, but simply because she was too much of a perfectionist to trust anyone else to run them. Minerva remembered reading a letter a few years back where Emmeline had ranted non-stop for three pages because an underling had published that weeks issue of Which Witch Fashion magazine's front page in Carmine instead of Cardinal. Minerva had been forced to write back and ask her what in Merlin's name Carmine and Cardinal was, only to be informed that they were both shades of red. Highly similar shades of red. Shades of red which, upon viewing swatches of, Minerva could not distinguish.
"So. What happened after the Great Hall incident?" Emmeline asked curiously, nibbling away on her meatballs.
"Oh nothing much. A minor spat with Delores. A er… incident involving an unscrupulous cat, a mud hill and an Auror which is really of very little consequence." she said innocently. "Did you know that they have trifle here?"
Emmeline had pinned her with a look however. "Minerva McGonagall, what did you do? And who did you do it to?"
"No one." Minerva said unconvincingly. "It's really very good trifle from what I can see. Look, they're having some over there."
"You are utterly transparent, do you know that?" Emmeline asked with a small, nostalgic smile. "You haven't become the least bit better at lying since the age of seventeen, when we were dragged into Professor Dippet's office to be asked about our extracurricular studies."
Minerva chuckled at the memory. Dippet, though more-or-less competent, was hardly what one would call an enlightened Headmaster. After four year of trying, Minerva and Emmeline had been called into his office to explain to him why they had yet to return that book on Advanced Transfiguration they'd taken out in second year while also clarifying just what they were doing in disused classrooms that resulted in their frequent arrival in the Hospital Wing with fur and feathers. If memory served, Minerva had told him that they were working on a party trick. He'd actually bought it as well, until Minerva had commented to her companion in a sotto voice; "My God, he actually believed it."
Emmeline had never quite let her forget that little slip.
"Is Filch still there?" Emmeline asked curiously, pulling Minerva out of her reverie.
Minerva groaned. "Oh yes. Quite definitely. Him and that bloody cat." she said harshly. Emmeline laughed.
"I'm guessing he's not your closest friend and confidant at the school then?" she asked coyly.
"Dumbledore was my closest friend and confidant." Minerva said simply. "Followed by Pomona. Followed by Poppy. Followed, strangely enough, by Snape." she smirked. "And I'm probably his closest confidant, save Sinistra and Dumbledore. Not that he'd ever admit it." she said.
Emmeline seemed surprised. "He talks to you a lot then?"
Minerva nodded. "About work related things. You see he talks to, or rather talked to, Albus about his… er… other engagements." Emmeline nodded in understanding. "He talks to Auriga about pretty much everything else, and he talks to me about the students he'd dearly like to jinx. Why, just yesterday I was treated to an hour long rant about Harry Potter."
Emmeline laughed. "He's a strange man, that Snape. Actually, I remember him when he was younger. He's always been strange." she amended.
It was Minerva's turn to laugh. The conversation took a temporary lull while both participants ate their food. Minerva, personally, was pondering the strangeness of Severus Snape. This soon translated to her pondering the strangeness of Theodore Nott who was, basically, the mini-Snape, which in turn led to her pondering Daphne Greengrass.
Emmeline had merely been watched one of the waitresses flirt unsuccessfully with a customer, with mild amusement, but the expression on Minerva's face must have caught her attention.
"Deep thoughts?" she inquired.
Minerva blinked a few times and looked up at her. "Hmm?"
Emmeline shrugged. "Well, you appeared to be drifting off into a world which dare not be perused by we mere mortals." she smiled. "Something on your mind? Uh, besides the reigning chaos at your place of work and rising blood pressure you're no doubt experiencing, I hasten to add."
Minerva smiled. "I did go on a bit, didn't I?" she admitted.
"Yes." Emmeline said. "You did. But if you hadn't I would have pestered you until you did, so don't worry."
"Just like I will pester you mercilessly unless you tell me what it is that's preoccupying you at the moment." she continued.
Minerva shook her head. "It's nothing. Really." Emmeline sent her a look. "It's just… Well there's this girl, in one of my classes. She sort of - well she confuses me quite a bit. But really, it's not important." Emmeline had a look of resolve on her face which usually meant that Minerva was going to be forced to spill her guts within moments. Still, Minerva McGonagall was nothing if not stubborn and she could feign ignorance with the best of them. "That trifle looks good, doesn't it?" she commented. "I think I'll have to try some for dessert."
"Tell me everything." Emmeline commanded.
Minerva tilted her head curiously. "About what?"
"Minerva, you do remember how ticklish you really are, don't you?" she threatened quietly.
That was pretty much all it took. Minerva started explaining. Everything from the hair slide incident, to the heartfelt denial of any association with Voldemort, right up to every Professor Snape had told her. Or rather, neglected to tell her. Emmeline absorbed it all with her usual poise and understanding, remaining completely silent throughout. By the time Minerva was finished telling her everything, a waiter had come to clear away their plates and take their orders for dessert. "And so basically, this girl is being persecuted from all sides since heaven knows, no other houses ever associate with Slytherins."
"You said she was friendly with Amelia's niece." Emmeline pointed out.
"Well yes, but that's very rarely. Slytherins and Hufflepuffs have very contradictory timetables, if you recall."
"True." Emmeline agreed. "That was Pomona's reason for never getting a date with Tom Riddle, if I remember rightly." she said nostalgically. "I wonder what ever happened to him?"
Minerva could have told her, in abundant detail, what happened to him. Instead she commented "I wonder what ever happened to our waiter. Surely the trifle had already been made?"
"You would think." Emmeline said, scanning the restaurant for signs of the waiter. When she found none she shrugged and turned back to Minerva. "Clearly, you need to keep an eye on this Malfoy boy. And not just because he's some little Death Eater in training, but because he clearly has a lot of influence in Slytherin and shouldn't feel any need to… you know…" she gestured vaguely.
"Inflict." Minerva finished for her. "Yes, I quite agree."
"You know I just bet they end up dating." Emmeline said quixotically.
Minerva sent her a withering look. "I credit Daphne with a bit more taste than that." she said.
Emmeline waved her hand dismissively. "Not immediately of course. That would be ridiculous. But later. Once he's been brought down to Earth a bit. When -ah- certain things come out into the open, he's bound to get a wake-up-call. Besides, nothing you've told me indicates any real personality flaws in the boy, aside from being a bit spoilt."
"Understatement of the millennium." Minerva stated.
"You must admit, it would be quite poetic." Emmeline said contemplatively. "He lusts after her for all those years-"
"Months. He's been lusting after her for months. Ever since she developed a bust."
"-She sees him as nothing more than the loathsome antagonist-"
"A fairly accurate description, really."
"-And then one day, after both have grown up a bit and learned to deal with things no children should ever have to deal with, they come to realise their shared destiny."
"Oh good grief."
"It would be terribly unusual and romantic."
"It would be Lily and James. Albeit with a great deal more purple prose." Minerva said in a cutting tone. "Really, Emmeline, for a sensible woman you really do become rather foolish about such things." she commented, taking a drink of her wine and resisting the urge to kick her companion.
Emmeline smiled. "I think I have every right to get silly on occasion." she said. "It keeps me young."
"That a couple of litres of your mother's beauty concoctions." Minerva remarked.
Emmeline gasped in outrage, just as the trifles were being delivered.
-Street outside Agapito's Ristorante-
It was a good long while before both women had finished their meals, agreed on who was paying, and finally deigned to leave the restaurant. When at last they stepped outside into the night air, the sun had nearly set and the pedestrian traffic had definitely thinned. After discussing the extremely unlikely ways in which Malfoy could hope to win Daphne's heart, ranging from creative Valentine's gifts to pretending to go blind and let her beauty "restore" him, conversation had drifted somewhat. They had, by the end of dinner, discussed the Quidditch season, the latest offers at Gladrags, the more annoying aspects of Gilderoy Lockhart books still selling well in stores, and their ink and quill preferences. It had settled, inevitably, on the ineptitude of the Ministry of Magic. Most conversations between Order Members seemed to land on that particular topic, after all.
The pair of them walked to the end of the street, with Emmeline telling a terribly amusing story about Cornelius Fudge's interview with Which Witch Magazine. In it, he discussed how he had always been keenly aware of the influence his undeniable power had over women and how he prevented his wife from getting jealous. Minerva really wondered about people on occasions.
They lingered on the corner, both unwilling to let the night end. They so rarely saw each other, after all. Minerva sighed. "Oh, fine. I'll do it. It's been lovely seeing you again Emmeline, darling." she said sweetly.
"You too, Minerva." she agreed, pulling her in for a hug.
Minerva always liked hugging Emmeline. It made her feel safe and comfortable. From her gloriously soft skin to her expensive perfume, there was something immutable about the woman. Minerva responded, wrapping her arms tightly around Emmeline and squeezing. She breathed her in and allowed herself to be comforted. It was so very rarely that she had quiet moments with her nearest and dearest, after all.
Eventually they broke apart, both smiling. "You'll come to the villa this summer?" Emmeline asked. It somehow didn't sound so much a request as it did an order, but Minerva acquiesced all the same.
"Certainly. The only reason I didn't come last year was because-"
"Because Dumbledore kept you busy with the Order, I know. But I get so very bored there by myself with all those inbred, upper-crust types." Emmeline said with a shudder.
Minerva laughed. "I'll be there if it kills me. I swear." she said. "And I'll start my next letter to you first thing tomorrow. Honestly. I'm sure more things will have irritated me by then." she quipped.
Emmeline grinned. "As sure as the sun rises." she said. "Just remember: Nill illigitimi carborundum."
Minerva frowned at her. "My Latin is obviously a little rusty, could you translate that for me?" she requested.
Grinning even wider, Emmeline whispered. "Rough translation? Don't let the bastards get you down."
-The Leaky Cauldron-
Minerva strolled back to the Leaky Cauldron with her coat slung over her arm. She took care to stop and look in shop windows, and pay attention to music she heard drifting out of pubs along the way. She even tossed a few (muggle) coins in a fountain along the way, taking care to make a wish just like her mother had taught her when she was a little girl. True, Minerva sort of doubted that her mother would have approved of wishing such things on Delores Umbridge. But once she'd been informed of the entire situation and had been made to understand that it made Minerva smile just thinking about it, she would have almost certainly accepted it.
By the time she walked into the Leaky Cauldron, the sun had almost disappeared behind the buildings and most pedestrians were wandering inside as the temperature dropped a few degrees. As she entered the pub, her light and cheerful mood waned almost instantly. While the Leaky Cauldron was clean, comfortable and relatively welcoming, it most certainly was not designed to make the most out of sunny summer days. The dark atmosphere clashed spectacularly with that outside, and Minerva knew which one she preferred.
Still, it was this or Umbridge and since the pub itself was mercifully empty she wouldn't have to worry about being caught. With this in mind, she took a seat at the bar.
"Gillywater Professor?" Tom offered, appearing behind the counter as if from nowhere.
Far too used to this behaviour to be surprised, Minerva simply smiled. "That would be lovely Tom. How's Annabel? "
Tom shot her a toothless grin, his skin wrinkling up like a chamois leather as he did so. "Glad you asked that, she's just had a litter you see. I've got half a dozen little kitties, scampering around back there. I'll just fetch that Gillywater for you. " he said, and immediately began rummaging around underneath the counter as Minerva settled herself in.
The back door swung open. Minerva's eyes snapped over to the doorway to see if the new intruder was someone she should worry about. It wasn't. It was a slightly harassed looking Weasley twin and a pretty blonde girl that Minerva had never seen before. She was chatting away merrily, apparently unconcerned as to whether or not the redhead was listening to her.
The twin, whichever one it was, strode straight for a booth and took a seat. He looked exceedingly pained when the blonde girl took a seat next to him and looked downright suicidal when she showed no signs of shutting up. Minerva tried not to laugh.
"Here we are Professor." Tom said brightly, reappearing with her emerald green drink in hand.
Minerva took it and thanked him. "Tom?" she asked before he could go back to tidying up. "Who's that?"
Tom looked over to where she was looking and chuckled as he saw the blonde girl. "That, my dear Professor, is June Jewkes. She lives in London. Was home educated if memory serves. She got a job with them Weasley boys a few weeks back, and seems to have set her sights on that one."
June placed her hand on the twin's arm and continued talking. The poor boy, whichever one it was, made some pithy comment in response. June gave a loud, vivacious and blatantly fake laugh, before placing her other hand on his arm as well. The twin dragged his hand down his face and appeared to be on the brink of a nervous breakdown. He glanced over at the bar absentmindedly and called "Two Butterbeers please Tom." without looking over.
"Oh you sweetie! You didn't have to buy me one!" June squealed.
"I didn't. George will be here in a minute." the twin, who was evidently Fred, said darkly.
Rather than take this as a deep insult and tell him to go walk in traffic, as Minerva would have done at her age, June decided that giggling was the appropriate response to this statement. "Oh you two," she chirped. "You're practically joined at the hip. It's almost impossible to get you on your own!"
Fred winced. "Well yeah, that was pretty much the plan." he muttered.
Minerva sniggered into her Gillywater. Fred, who apparently had ears like a bat, immediately zeroed in on her with a glare. As he realised who it was, as look crossed his face as though he'd just spotted the Messiah. Minerva felt her eyes widen as she began frantically searching for a way out. She would not save Fred Weasley from his stalker, she would not save Fred Weasley from his stalker, she would not save…
"Professor McGonagall!" Fred beamed. He sprang to his feet and practically pounced on the seat next to her. "Professor McGonagall. So good to see you. You're looking lovely this evening. How's Hogwarts? How's Professor Flitwick? Hmm? And Sprout? And Snape? Transfiguration going well? Tell me everything. In detail. Please." he requested.
A little shell-shocked at this stream of questions, Minerva simply made a few vowel sounds and nodded pleasantly. June appeared by Fred's arm, glaring at Minerva with distaste.
"Here are your drinks." Tom greeted pleasantly, placing Fred's Butterbeers on the countertop before moving swiftly to the other end of the bar. As he went he made sure to hiss a heartfelt "Good luck" at Minerva.
In the meantime, Fred had seemingly decided that his old Head of House's conversation skill weren't up to scratch, and so he was having a mostly one-sided conversation where he introduced her to June. "Professor McGonagall here was my very favourite teacher at Hogwarts you know." he said in earnest. "We were so sorry to leave her."
"Is that so?" June asked, still glaring daggers at Minerva herself.
For her part Minerva quirked an eyebrow. "Your very favourite teacher?" she quoted under her breath.
"You will be if you get me out of this." Fred muttered back.
Minerva rolled her eyes. She figured she may as well get it over with. "Oh yes, Fred here was a wonderful student!" she cooed in a syrupy tone that made Weasley do a double-take. "He and his brother were simply marvellous at Transfiguration. There wasn't an assignment set they couldn't do in a heartbeat!" Which was, at least, true. The fact that they preferred performing experiments on animals to transfiguring them was neither here nor there.
"Terrific." June commented flatly. She turned back to Fred (who was gaping at Minerva like she'd just beamed in from another Planet) and tossed her hair flirtatiously. "Hadn't we best be going back to the table for when George gets here?" she asked sweetly.
Fred blinked. "Er…"
Minerva was faced with a very difficult choice: Save the little git who'd knocked about three years off her life with his various antics for seven straight years… or watch him suffer?
"Fred?" June said emphatically, indicating that he'd better hurry up and answer.
Even Fred's freckles paled. His eyes darted around the room, and he shot the occasional pleading glance at Minerva. "Um…"
"Well… I… Er…"
"Say!" Minerva cut in loudly. "How's your brother been? I was curious to see this business of yours as well, as there were a few products I wanted to sample." she stated in the friendliest voice she could muster.
Fred looked like he could've kissed her. "Yes! Yes. Certainly. Of course. Right away. You don't mind June do you? No? Good. Well then I'll see you tomorrow. Come with me Professor McGonagall."
He reached out and clamped his hand down on Minerva's arm, and proceeded to drag her towards the back door. Minerva stumbled a bit, trying to get her bearings in her heeled boots on the highly polished floor. She reached out and snatched her coat from the barstool it had been placed on, thanking God that it caught her eye as she almost certainly would have forgotten otherwise. Minerva ended up having to prop herself up on Fred's arm just to stay upright until her feet connected firmly with the ground.
Back at the bar, June looked as though she was going to protest. Whether she did or not, Minerva never knew, as she was out the door too fast to see.
-Outside Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes-
"Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!" Fred chanted for what seemed like the thousandth time in the past minute.
They would have made quite an odd sight, Minerva supposed, to anyone who happened to be looking. Fortunately, there were no stores left open on Diagon Alley and so the only person that saw them was George Weasley as he was locking up the store. Minerva really wondered what had to be going through his head as he turned around to see his twin brother on his knees, with her arms wrapped around his old Transfiguration Professor's waist, chanting the phrase "Thank you" over and over and over again. She supposed it would have been an odd enough sight under normal circumstances, but when said Transfiguration Professor was wearing muggle clothing and had elaborately styled hair that was slowly deteriorating into a loose waves, it could hardly lessen the strangeness of the sight. Added to that was the fact that Minerva did not have use of her arms as they were pinned to her sides by Fred's vice-like grip around her waist.
So really, when she thought about it, she shouldn't have been surprised at George's expression of mildly terrified bewilderment. At the time, however, it simply annoyed her.
"Weasley! If you don't get your idiot brother off of me, I can personally assure you that no one will ever have trouble distinguishing the pair of you again." she called over to him. "They'll simply look for the one with the extensive facial scarring!"
George had apparently been paralysed by the sight and was quite useless. However Fred bounced to his feet, gave Minerva a kiss on the cheek and practically skipped over to his twin. Minerva glared daggers at his retreating form but they went unnoticed. George saw though, and looked more than a little frightened.
"She's brilliant, do you know that?" Fred announced. "She should be deified. We should build a shrine for her or something."
George articulated himself with a refreshingly succinct "Er…?" Minerva just rolled her eyes and attempted to fix her hair.
"She saved me from June." Fred explained, as he snatched the keys off his brother and set about unlocking the store. The astoundingly bright, and colourful which, now that she looked at it properly, made Minerva's head spin.
A look of understanding dawned on George's face. He looked over to Minerva with a wicked grin on his face. "I bet you wouldn't have done it if you'd know how, ah, grateful he'd be."
"Bloody right I wouldn't." Minerva muttered, as she straightened her blouse. She glanced up to where George was snickering and Fred was unlocking the store and remembered that she would need Wizard Money before she bought anything.
She quickly began searching her pockets for her moneybag.
"What are you doing?" George asked his brother curiously. Minerva didn't spare them a look. She knew that blasted thing had to be in there somewhere. She couldn't have possibly left Hogwarts without it with Driscoll watching over her all the time.
"I'm opening the store. Giving the dear Professor that tour she asked for." Fred said cheerily. "We got away from June by saying she wanted to buy things, and while we know that's a crock of dung we might as well put on a show in case she comes back." he added in a slightly quieter voice.
Minerva looked up sharply as her hands wrapped around the black velvet moneybag. She cleared her throat. "It most certainly is not a crock." she corrected Fred harshly, marching up to the Entrance. "I have some shopping to do. And after that little performance of yours I'm expecting a discount too." Minerva stated, strolling straight for the open door and right past the two stunned Weasley twins.
-Inside Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes-
Minerva was pleasantly surprised upon entering the premises. Yes, the store was a bit brighter and more colourful than anything she'd ever witnessed after the sixties, and yes several items of merchandise sent her teacher instincts aflutter. But aside from that, it was quite the well oiled machine. The till was by the door, but didn't impede the Entrance (a pet peeve of Minerva's, which became particularly apparent whenever she entered Madam Malkin's). The actual products were well laid out, giving the average shopper the opportunity to browse with ease while still making them want to rush up to the shelves and investigate everything closer. Hell, they'd even alphabetised. There was really nothing to complain about.
Fred and George slipped in behind her, wearing the expressions they used to reserve for when they'd just been caught, say for example, stuffing the Slytherin Quidditch captain into a vanishing cabinet and were expecting a fury worse than Hades from her.
"What's your delivery like?" she asked sharply.
Her only response was a baffled "Er…" She shook her heard and allowed her gaze to wander over the rest of the goods.
Next to the Portable Swamps, there was a product called Conveyable Canals for deployment in hallways. Complete with water fowl and amphibian life, apparently. That hadn't been demonstrated at Hogwarts yet, and so she took it to be a new product. Minerva made a silent bet with herself as to whether Delores would be around long enough for someone to work up the courage to use it. She was guessing no. Fred and George had been the only students brave enough to attempt such things, though since their stunning exit it had to be said that most students were getting far more rebellious. Had Harry just been James Potter's Kid, rather than The-Boy-Who-Lived, she might have been concerned but fortunately that wasn't an issue. Or perhaps that should be unfortunately.
It was actually a pity Minerva had no intention of buying joke products. Had she been eleven years old and let loose in a store like that, she would have been at serious risk of exploding with unadulterated joy. However she was both too old for such immaturity, and too young for such immaturity, and so she stuck to examining the more useful items under the incredulous gaze of Fred and George.
Extendable-Ears caught her attention in particular. They would be terribly useful, after all. She snatched up a couple of pairs and laid them on the counter. Moving further along the aisle, something else caught her attention. Patented Daydream Charms…
"Think one of these would last a whole staff meeting?" she wonder aloud.
For the second time that evening, a look of understanding dawned on George's face. "Oooh, so Umbridge is still doing the Mein Fuhrer bit then?" he asked.
Minerva didn't answer, but then she didn't need to. Fred sighed slightly. "Sorry Professor. I really thought we could get rid of the old cow." he lamented. "If it had just been her and not her Educational Decrees and all…" he shook his head. "Never mind. One of those should do you, yeah."
Minerva grabbed half a dozen of them.
George looked impressed. "Really that bad?"
"Mister Weasley, I had to get up at six thirty this morning to discuss the "rampant illness plaguing our school" and go over ever bit of legislation passed in relation to Hogwarts in the past eighteen months." she said scathingly. "Yes, it's really that bad."
Shaking her head in amusement at their flushed faces, Minerva continued browsing. She admitted to being strangely drawn to the Pygmy Puffs, but she'd be damned if she was buying one. She did have a reputation, after all.
"Still," George said cheerfully. "At least she didn't host the meeting in the afternoon. Then you'd have had one more bit of legislation to go through."
Minerva pinned him with a look. "What legislation?" she demanded.
Frowning, George moved over to the counter. He vaulted up onto it rather than go around, and stretched down to the bottom shelf behind it, rummaging around. After a moment he resurfaced, clutching the Evening Prophet. He handed the paper over to Minerva and said "Take it you haven't seen this then." he commented.
Minerva snatched the paper and scanned the front page. Underneath a large headline proclaiming record sales for the Gladrags chain, was a small article entitled "New Ministry decree for Hogwarts."
Educational Decree Number Thirty One was passed earlier today after being rushed through the Ministry. The decree states that no Hogwarts staff, save the Headmistress herself, may enchant, bewitch or otherwise modify any aspect or feature of the school. It is rumoured that the decree comes after several instances of unqualified staff members attempting to improve the school. This has led to such destructive incidents as broken pipelines and poorly resurfaced flooring replicating the effects of the Glissante Charm. Indeed, any staff members found to be disregarding the new decree may find themselves in Azkaban.
Cornelius Fudge reportedly commented that the strict endorsement of decree was entirely necessary in the interests of the safety of our children and the continued integrity of one of the best known Wizarding Schools in the world.
The decree follows the controversial dismissal of Albus Dumbledore, a known eccentric figure who has recently fallen out of favour with the Wizarding Community as a whole due to his alleged illegal activities, which include (but are by no means limited to) the following:
Minerva didn't read anything after that. She made a noise of disgust and slammed the worthless rag down on the counter. Her father had used to work for the Daily Prophet. He was probably doing pirouettes in his grave at that very moment.
Fred was trying to fight down a grin. "Would I be correct in assuming that the recent resurfacing which replicated the effects of the Glissante charm did so mainly because it actually was a Glissante charm?" he asked cheekily.
"Or that the burst pipeline burst at a time and place that was particularly inconvenient for the dear Headmistress?" George added.
Minerva sent them a dismissive look. "Don't be preposterous." she said. "The staff of Hogwarts are dedicated to upholding the standards of excellency and integrity set forth a millennia ago. They would never endanger that with such childish antics. Now; can this Conveyable Canal be adapted for use in the Headmistress's private quarters or would I have to adjust it myself?" she asked.
George simply beamed at her, while Fred looked as though he would very much like to kiss her again.
It took them twenty minutes to determine what Minerva did and did not need to cause comparatively effortless mayhem. It had to be effortless because, as she reminded both of them, she did have such petty trivialities as a job, an underground insurgent group, and a burning desire to sleep on occasions, all vying for her time as well. She also had quite a time convincing them that, no, she did not need a case of dung bombs and she didn't care if there were complimentary.
They handed her a couple of Decoy Detonators, prototypes apparently, and told her to use them well. She got a Skiving Snack-box Selection Box, not so that she could skip staff meetings or even so that she could clandestinely distribute them amongst the student body. Rather, she got them so that she could have an assortment of cures close at hand, for the next time some idiotic first year downed one end of a Nosebleed Nougat and then dropped the other half on the way to class.
Fred and George seemed rather alarmed that anyone could possibly be "so completely thick" as to do such a thing, but Minerva assured them that it happened with startling regularity. This led to a quick discussion about idiot-proofing their future products, which amused Minerva somewhat. Evidently the Weasley twins were still too young to realise that nothing on this green and verdant Earth would ever be completely idiot proof. Still, she let them continue in their delusion.
She did deign to purchase a Blaze Box, with the intention of setting it off in the Staff Room the day Dumbledore returned to the school. George pointed out that this would only happen if You-Know-Who was revealed. Minerva informed him that Voldemort or no bloody Voldemort, she was celebrating when Albus got back, it was as simple as that.
A couple of other products also made their way into her purchase, alongside a few Edible Dark Marks which she solemnly swore to try and slip to Severus. And then she was done.
George drew up her receipt while Fred pondered a few things. "Won't it look a mite suspicious, you wandering back into the castle with two huge bags full of joke products?" he commented.
"Very suspicious." Minerva agreed. "Particularly seeing as how I'll be walking back with four legs and a tail. How much is that?"
George stopped putting through the order and stared at her. "You're sneaking back into Hogwarts?" he asked. "Why?"
Minerva raised her eyebrows. "Well since I had to evade an Auror to get out, I rather think someone may ask a few questions if they see me meandering back in, don't you?"
Fred nodded contemplatively. "Brings new meaning to the phrase 'pussyfooting around' doesn't it?" he commented.
Minerva resisted the urge to curse him for use of truly appalling puns and turned her attentions back to her brother. "Surely you didn't think I was asking about delivery out of morbid curiosity, did you?" she asked impatiently.
"Oh. Well." George said, pulling out a charge sheet and looking startling like Percy as he did so. "We can deliver, no problem."
"And for a reasonable fee, at that."
"But the main issue is getting it into Hogwarts."
"Which, with a little originality, shouldn't be any trouble at all."
Minerva felt oddly inclined to back away slowly. Fred and George had, quite clearly, just entered one of their Mind Melding sessions, or whatever the hell it was they did when they got like this. Each had a monomaniac gleam in their eyes and was finishing the other's sentences as though they were, in actuality, one being forced through certain circumstances to occupy two bodies.
"I'm thinking innocuous packaging-"
"But labelled so that the good Professor knows what they are-"
"Maybe a view concealment charms-"
"And a shield charm to prevent magical leakages en route-"
"A distraction on the day of delivery would be helpful-"
"We could get Ginny to cover us with Umbridge-"
"She'd be more than willing if we offered her something she'd like in return-"
"Filch would be harder to get rid of-"
"But we could use the old fall back of threatening his cat-"
"Which is trickier to do from the other end of the country-"
"But certainly not impossible-"
"A threatening note I'm thinking-"
"Made from newspaper cuttings-"
"And sent anonymously-"
"Threatening a poisoning-"
"Should get rid of him-"
"We could offer this as a service you know-"
"Not the distractions but the innocuous packaging-"
"The distractions would be too tricky to orchestrate-"
"But for the dear Professor here-"
"Excuse me!" Minerva cut in, using her most threatening tone. Two identical heads turned to look at her, apparently surprised at her continued presence.
"Yeeees?" they inquired simultaneously, reminding her eerily of a scene out of Lewis Carroll.
Straightening despite her rising discomfort, Minerva curbed their plans. "It's not that I don't appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit, because I most certainly do. Rather, I feel compelled to inform you that an unmarked box arriving directly to my quarters tomorrow night will suffice. Thank you. Now how much is delivery?"
Both boys looked crestfallen and oddly deflated. It was heartbreaking in a strange way.
George was first to speak. "But… won't Umbridge find it? Wouldn't you lose your job?"
"I most certainly will not." Minerva sniffed. "She wouldn't be able to stop it at night, even if she was aware of it, and even then she definitely wouldn't come to me and demand to see it."
Minerva adopted her most fearsome expression and practically growled. "She wouldn't dare."
Both Fred and George seemed extremely impressed by this statement. A fact Minerva found strange, since Delores had been distinctly more afraid of them than she had ever been, or would ever be, of Minerva. Delores Umbridge was the type of person who feared what she didn't understand and what she couldn't control. Since she would never understand the nerve or daring displayed by Fred and George, or the iconoclastic tendency to rock the boat, or the fierce loyalty that meant so much to the Weasley temperament, she was automatically going to fear them. And since she quite certainly couldn't control them, they had probably terrified her for a good long while. And yet still they seemed impressed with the fact that Minerva could intimidate the little toad.
Not that she was complaining.
"Professor McGonagall, don't take this the wrong way, but if you were eighteen again…" Fred said in an oddly dreamy tone. George seemed inclined to agree.
Minerva rolled her eyes at both of them. "Don't flatter yourself Weasley." she told him. Reaching into her coat, she dumped half the contents of her money bag on the counter and snatched up her receipt, stuffing it into her coat pocket. "Send the change along with my purchase, thank you." she instructed. Before either could respond she had exited the store and promptly Disapparated.
-12 Grimmauld Place-
Apparating into Grimmauld Place was always what one could call an "experience". Given the decidedly edgy disposition of many of the occupants, you usually had to raise a shield charm the second you got there to prevent having various appendages cursed off. As Mundungus Fletcher learned the hard way. Additionally, it was always interesting to see what you would pop up in the middle of. Be it a screaming argument, a battle plan, a tea party, or an average evening playing chess by the fire, the was usually something going on.
Paradoxically, whenever you arrived and there was absolutely nothing going on it tended to be the greatest indicator of impending or immediate doom.
However when Minerva appeared in the living room, she was pleased to find definite signs of activity. Not particularly productive activity, but activity nonetheless. Remus Lupin and Sirius Black had their wands pointed at her throat and looks of thunder upon their faces. These expressions quickly cleared into polite smiles as they sheathed their wands and went back to their game of chess, where Sirius was being thoroughly trounced. Forethought wasn't his strong point.
"Evening Professor." both greeted. Minerva returned the greeting.
The windows of the stuffy living room were flung wide open to tempt the breeze inside, while a pitcher of iced something-or-other sat next to the chess board. "Lemonade?" Remus offered.
"Please." Minerva agreed, dumping her coat on the couch and taking the glass from Remus.
Sirius was watching her with an odd expression, but she ignored him. "Anything I should be informed about?" she asked.
Remus thought about it for a minute or so. "Nothing really. Nymphadora said there were rumours of Aurors being sent to Hogwarts, but she was having trouble confirming it."
"Hmm. Already happened. Dawlish, Proudfoot and Kingsley." she said, taking a sip of her lemonade. It was a bit too sweet for her liking but still palatable.
She was surprised to see Remus's expression darken as he heard the names of the Aurors, but her surprise vanished as she recalled an incident many years ago of Dawlish attempted to 'out' Remus's werewolf status at school. Since this had occurred during Remus's first year and Dawlish's seventh year, a certain animosity had obviously carried over. Under such circumstances, Sirius could usually be trusted to come up with some remark or another about the offending party. Not necessarily to soothe Remus or anything, just because Sirius was so inclined. Sirius, however, was still watching Minerva with a small frown on his gaunt face.
"May I help you Black?" she asked waspishly. It did not have the desired effect, which was to say that Sirius didn't stammer an apology and pretend he hadn't been staring at her. Rather, he tilted his head and stared harder.
"Remus, does she look different to you?" he asked his friend.
Remus looked surprised, but scrutinised Minerva anyway. A small frown also appeared on his face. "She does. It's almost like… No. Couldn't be." he said. "She'd never do anything to get that look about her."
"Almost like what?" Minerva demanded. Neither man answered, they just went on watching her.
"Should we check if it's really her?" Sirius asked.
"Well it would have to be for her to get in, wouldn't it?"
"True, but what's she doing outside Hogwarts?"
"That is none of your concern, Black." Minerva snarled, getting more and more annoyed by the second.
Ignoring her completely, Sirius got to his feet and sauntered over to her, pulling out his wand casually as he did so. He once again pointed it at her throat and requested, nay; demanded that she prove her identity. Meanwhile, Remus was stood by the empty fireplace with his wand out and watching the interaction alertly.
Minerva stared back at Sirius, agog. "I beg your pardon?" she managed to choke out.
"I told you to prove who you are." he repeated more firmly. "If you're really McGonagall it shouldn't be that hard."
She just continued to stare at both him and Remus, both of whom were now pointing their wands at her for no good reason that she could see. Save the fact that she looked, quote, 'different'. A stunned laugh actually bubbled out of her at their impudence.
Sirius pressed his wand more firmly against her throat in response. "You know Moony, I don't think it's her." he said gravely. "Maybe we should-"
A noise like cannon fire sounded in the living room, accompanied by bright purple light and two startled yells. Before anyone realised what was happening, Minerva had both men dangling from the chandelier in the middle of the room and cocooned in tight silver ropes from the neck down. Or should that be from the neck up, given their unfortunate position?
"Were you two labouring under some delusion that I wouldn't hurt you?" she asked them with and expression of bewilderment. "Was that what it was? Or were you just feeling suicidal?"
Sirius was swinging like a pendulum, but far be it for him to let that stop him. "It's definitely her Remus. Wouldn't you say?"
"Almost certainly." Remus agreed, eyeing the chandelier fixing as it groaned ominously.
Minerva sipped her lemonade leisurely and took a seat where Sirius had been sitting. She examined the chess game laid out before her. "Black, you really are atrocious at this game." she said darkly. "You. Sir Knight." Sirius's only remaining knight stood to attention. "Move over there." she said, indicating a square by Remus's bishop. The Knight hurried to do as informed, clearly thrilled to have a player who knew what they were doing for once.
The chandelier fixing groaned once again, and Minerva undid the ropes. Both men clattered to the floor loudly and lay sprawled before her comically. She smirked down at them.
"Thanks." Sirius said sarcastically.
"Any time." Minerva responded.
Remus scrambled feet and moved quickly over to the chess board, scowling at Minerva's move. Sirius, however, merely collapsed elegantly onto the couch. And on top of Minerva's coat but he didn't seem to notice that small fact until he was already on it.
"So, any reason you're here other than checking in?" Remus asked, prodding a pawn to it's doom to compensate for Minerva's move.
"Nothing in particular." Minerva admitted, eyeing Sirius as he began digging her coat out from under him. "I was in the area and thought I might as well. I was going to share one of my student's theory on Animagi with Sirius as well, but I'm not sure I will."
Sirius put on an expression of mock hurt as he finally extracted the, now distinctly rumpled, coat. "It pains me to hear you say such things Professor. I would almost certainly have profound insight into the problem, after all." he said as he slung her coat over the back of the couch. As he did so, her receipt from Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes fluttered out. Regrettably, of all the traits Black had lost in Azkaban, his lightning reflexes didn't appear to be one of them. His hand darted out and caught it. Minerva cringed inwardly.
Just shove it back into the coat, just shove it back into the coat, just shove it back into the coat… she prayed silently. No such luck though.
He smoothed it out and scanned the paper. The first time, he did so casually. As if it were merely a habit for him to read everything he came across. The second time he read over it, it was with an expression of confusion. This was quickly replaced with surprise, before an expression of incredulous delight took up residence. Minerva turned back to the chess game and pretended she hadn't noticed anything, praying that Sirius would ignore it.
"I don't believe it!" he whooped. "I don't, bloody, believe it!"
Nope. He wasn't ignoring it. The git. She'd never liked him anyway, Minerva thought huffily.
Remus looked between the wincing face of Minerva to his friend's undisguised gaiety with a look of puzzlement. "What is it?" he asked.
Sirius was barking with laughter. Minerva glared at him. "I don't see what's so amusing." she stated in an austere tone.
"You don't? Here. We'll see if Remus does." he said, handing the receipt over to Remus. Minerva folded her arms petulantly .
It took the two of them five whole minutes to shut up. They were droning on about irony, and how she had just completely destroyed everything they thought they knew about their time at Hogwarts. Then Remus remembered some theory of James Potter's that Minerva was really responsible for all those anonymous pranks that occasionally happened to the four of them and that they attributed to Peeves or Snape.
Minerva had refused to dignify the suggestion with a response (mainly because it was true) and this had led to another round of childish twittering from the pair of them. She only managed make them quieten down by getting to her feet and announcing that they were both absolutely right, that such behaviour was unbefitting a Professor, and that she would therefore refrain from slipping Snape the edible Dark Marks.
Upon hearing this, both had immediately settled down and Sirius had smoothed out the receipt, folded it up and placed it gently into the coat pocket from whence it came. Both then attempted to look as innocent as possible, as if nothing had happened.
Minerva made a 'tsk' noise. "You know, I really do hope you can't have puppies." she muttered, shifting one of the chess pieces. "Checkmate."
She turned back to the couch, where Sirius's eyebrows had apparently disappeared into his hairline. "Did you just say puppies?" he asked.
Minerva appeared as close as she possibly could to the castle, not particularly wanting to take a long hike back in her cat form given the dreary weather. She was, however, pleasantly surprised to note that the rain was easing off slightly. Very slightly. Almost imperceptibly. But still.
It had taken nearly fifteen minutes to explain the various aspects of her Hufflepuff class's theories to Sirius. Rather than taunt her mercilessly, as she'd expected him to do, he had instead taken it very seriously and considered it logically. Sirius Black and logical thought had never really gone together in Minerva's experience and so she had naturally stayed to watch it unfold.
Then, of course, Sirius had realised that in order to determine whether such a thing was possible, an Animagus would have to copulate with an animal. This had led to a very bizarre conversation, wherein Sirius and Minerva had agreed that the very thought was repulsive and consequently had to try and explain the animal state Remus. Remus, until then, had assumed that Animagi transformation was akin to werewolf transformation, only more controlled. It soon emerged that this was not the case. It was about that time Minerva had been forced to leave, lest she spend the rest of the night there discussing the Philosophical and Psychological ramifications of animal transformation.
It was times like this she realised that her life was very different to other people's lives.
She sighed and moved towards a tree on her left with thick foliage. About a mile up ahead she could see the lights of the castle. They were blurred in the downpour, but still unmistakeable. She glanced down the hill behind her towards Hogsmeade, and saw that both the Three Broomsticks and the Hog's Head were lit up like Christmas trees. Weather like this was always good for business, with people stopping in for a drink just to escape the cold rain. Had she not known that doing so would probably land her a cell in Azkaban if Delores Umbridge had anything to do with it, Minerva would have certainly gone for a Butter Beer herself. But no. She couldn't leave any witnesses in Hogsmeade.
Tom at the Leaky Cauldron didn't count as a witness since he was too used to people dropping in who technically shouldn't be there to think anything of it. Besides, it would be bad for his business if people knew he was suddenly reporting suspicious activities to the Ministry. Fred and George Weasley would have sooner eaten out their own kidneys than help Delores Umbridge, she knew. Emmeline most certainly wouldn't be doing anything to harm her, Minerva knew. And so, basically, she had left no witnesses. Or close enough.
She knew as well that Aberforth wouldn't tell anyone he'd spotted her, had she stopped in past the Hog's Head. What was less certain was the inclinations of his clientele, and so Minerva dared not risk it. Nor did she dare risk being spotted entering Hogwarts in the very same attire which she had left in, as that twerp Proudfoot would almost certainly twist the facts until he had been viciously shoved off a cliff by a figure dressed all in black.
She almost wished that war would hurry up and break out officially. Lord knew it was easier to deal with than all this rubbish.
Shrugging out of her lovely warm coat, Minerva checked her pockets to ensure she had nothing incriminating on her person. Indeed, by the time she was finished rifling through the aforementioned pockets, the only items she actually had left on her person were her wand, her clothes and a couple of rings. She folded up her coat and spirited it away into a nook in the tree beneath which she was sheltered. A quick charm ensured that no unsavoury creatures or substances would be touching it in her absence, and a quick glare around ensured that no one had seen her smuggle it. She could fetch the thing later.
Knowing she would need more space to transform than that tiny alcove would allow her, Minerva stepped out from under the thick foliage and into the heavy downpour. She gasped as the water hit her, and within less than a second she was soaked to the skin. She shuddered with distaste and glared up at the castle, venomously.
"I really hate Delores Umbridge." she muttered vehemently.
Melting seamlessly into her feline form, she began scampering up to the castle, completely unaware of the twinkling blue eyes in the forest, that watched her go with amusement.
-The Front Lawns-
Getting out of Hogwarts unnoticed was pitifully easy. Just ask Harry Potter. Or better yet, ask his father. But Minerva knew that getting into Hogwarts was a different story entirely.
After an unfortunate incident with one of the Winged Boars by the Entrance, however, Dumbledore had made sure that getting in an out of the grounds unnoticed was comparatively easy for Minerva in her cat form. As a result, the biggest concern Minerva really had, as she darted up towards the castle, was that it was absolutely freezing and raining buckets. Neither of which were small matters when you were a cat.
However when she reached the Front Door, another problem took priority. Namely, how in the name of hell was she going to open that gigantic oak door? Particularly when she could distinctly hear Delores on the other side, screeching at someone or other. Had she been in human form she would have sighed. Given her feline inclination at that moment however, the noise came out as more of a hiss. Turning her tail on the door she trotted down the stone steps and looked around a bit.
There was a window open on the third floor which she could probably reach if she set her mind to it, and didn't mind risking a broken bone or two. Regrettably, she was a seventy year old witch and was not about to lower herself to climbing a sodding tree like some sort of demented squirrel. Her fur bristled at the very thought. Alternatively there was a back Entrance on the other side of the castle which was primarily used by Slytherins heading directly towards the Greenhouses from their common room. However it was on the other side of the building and she wasn't about to go all that way unless she had to. Similarly, she wasn't going all the way back to Hogsmeade just to sneak in through a secret passage. She was, however, going to have to get inside soon.
Her fur was getting fluffy, and that was an indignity she simply would not face.
And so she resorted to doing what any cat would have done in her position. She turned back to the front door, unsheathed her claws and began scratching the door while meowing as loudly as possible. The noise of her scraping claws on the highly polished wood was akin to nails on a blackboard. Minerva retained enough of her human tendencies in her cat form to cringe at the sound, but she didn't stop.
Fortunately, the noise from inside ceased, indicating that someone heard her.
"Shacklebolt! Go let that little beast in!" Delores screeched, before turning her attentions back to whomever she'd been yelling at before. Minerva pricked her ears just in time to hear the sentence, "How could you let her get away? You idiot! She could be talking to Albus Dumbledore right now!"
Minerva paused for a moment, overcome with delight and mirth. Not only was Proudfoot was getting an earful on her account, but Delores was actually foolish enough to believe that Minerva knew where Dumbledore was. It was quite flattering. Then again, she had it on good authority that Delores thought Harry Potter knew where Dumbledore was, so perhaps that said more about Delores's idiocy than it did Delores's view of Minerva. Either way it cheered her up.
She resumed meowing as any regular cat would have under the circumstances, until the front door was creaked open. The towering figure of Kingsley Shacklebolt looked down at her, a wicked grin on his handsome features. "Well where have you been sneaking off to, Kitty?" he asked affectionately, putting just enough emphasis on the word 'Kitty' to make it obvious that he knew who she was.
Minerva purred imploringly at him, but he simply stared back with a questioning expression.
"Shacklebolt! What's taking so long?" Dawlish called.
Yeah, Minerva thought in irritation, what's taking so long? Let me in already! I'm freezing my fur off.
"Nothing. This pretty little pussycat just seems a bit uncooperative is all." he commented.
Minerva realised that he had actually been expecting a response to his previous question. She narrowed her eyes dangerously at him. Kingsley raised an eyebrow. She shook her head. And in that simple exchange they clearly communicated that she had not been to see Dumbledore, despite what Delores might be shrieking on the other side of the Entrance Hall.
Satisfied, Kingsley grinned at her and scooped her up into his arms, carrying her inside. "I presume you'll be wanting to stick around for the show?" he asked quietly, indicating where Delores was having her little temper tantrum in the otherwise deserted Entrance Hall.
-Hogwarts Entrance Hall-
The Front Door closed behind them with an ominous bang as Kingsley carried her over to the group assembled by the marble staircase. Dawlish and Proudfoot were standing side-by-side, and Kingsley comfortably took a position next to them while Delores prowled back and forth in front of them, an ugly look on her face.
Kingsley seemed unaffected and set about drying off Minerva. Auspiciously, he did not do so in an overly affectionate manner, for if he had she would have been forced to scratch him. Minerva disliked being petted in any way that could be described as touchy-feely when she was in her cat form. A quick stroke of scratch behind the ear and she was fine, but anything more than that and she began to feel affronted.
To be fair though, she would have almost certainly let Kingsley away with any cutesy or insulting behaviour he felt like, just because he was responsible for her witnessing such an amusing display as this one. On her left, Dawlish was clearly itching to punch something (he really was a disagreeable little toe-rag) while Proudfoot was obviously having to work very hard at keeping a civil tongue in his head. He was also dripping muck all over the Entrance Hall, but that just added to the effect.
"I'm telling you Umbridge-" he ground out.
"Professor Umbridge." Delores corrected threateningly but the Auror took no notice of her menacing tone.
"Whatever." Proudfoot dismissed. "I went look for her for two hours. She was not in Hogsmeade. In fact I saw no evidence that she'd even left the castle."
"Well she obviously did! You saw her leave!"
Proudfoot, who was completely drenched, glaring like a petulant three-year-old and had an odd twitch occurring in his jaw, took a step towards Professor Umbridge. "Do you know what Professor? Do you know what I would have done had I been in Professor McGonagall's position, knowing that someone was tagging me?"
"What?" Delores demanded.
"I would construct a reason to go out, get followed on purpose, shake off whoever was following me and then double back and have a jolly good laugh to myself." he said darkly, while his robes dripped constantly on the flagstone floor. "I mean think about it Delores, do you really believe that I would be able to follow Minerva McGonagall unless she wanted me to?"
"I'm quite sure I don't know what you're talking about." Delores simmered.
Proudfoot laughed a humourless laugh and shook his head. "She's been here for years." he said. "She almost certainly knows this castle a thousand times better than I do."
"I hardly think this is the time for hyperbole-" Delores said resentfully, but Dawlish cut her off.
"He's got a point. McGonagall isn't exactly what you'd call a hopeless witch either, is she? She's an Animagus for pity's sake! And who knows what else after all those years with Dumbledore."
"That's a point!" Proudfoot exclaimed. "They say Dumbledore can become invisible even without an invisibility cloak! He could've easily taught McGonagall at any time!" he stated, as though studying to become invisible at will were akin to making macaroni and cheese, and only took a few moments to get to grips with.
In Kingsley's arms, Minerva was wondering if it was possible to cackle as a cat. It probably wasn't, because if it was she'd be giggling like a loon by that point. Yes, of course, it all made sense now. She and Dumbledore were secretly learning obscure skills every night. Such trivialities as her classes, her marking, her Head of House Duties, her insane desire to eat, sleep and bathe, and her silly little habit of talking to people, well they could all be fit around perfecting her Legilimency skills. Right. Yes. Of course.
"Quite frankly, Professor Umbridge," Kingsley commented. "It seems that you have been sending us on nothing but fools errands since the moment we got here."
Anyone looking at the aristocratic tabby held in Kingsley's arms at that moment would have witnessed the definition of the phrase 'Like the cat that got the cream'. Indeed, Minerva couldn't remember enjoying a spectacle this much since… well, since Colin Creevey had walked out of the Headmistress's office unscathed. But she couldn't act smug then, whereas she could act as smug as she liked as she watched each and every one of the Aurors draw themselves up, ready to leave.
"Professor Umbridge, I think it's safe to say that the search for Minerva McGonagall has been terminated. As has our stay here." Dawlish said, looking a mite riled up in Minerva's estimation.
Delores spluttered a bit. "But… but… You can't! She's out there somewhere! No doubt doing something illegal!" she cried, throwing her hands in the air and waving them around like a cartoon character.
"I think it's infinitely more likely that she is sitting in her room, having a right laugh at all of us." Proudfoot declared, wringing bog water out of his hat in earnest. "And to be honest, I could hardly blame her. A show of utter foolishness on behalf of the Ministry if ever I saw one." he shook his hair in an attempt to remove the excess moisture, only to find a small amount of frogspawn in it. Proudfoot glared at the gelatinous substance as though it had caused him a great personal slight. "Enough is enough." he growled. "We are respected Ministry personal! Aurors! And you have us chasing after- After-!"
"Windmills." Kingsley supplied.
"Exactly!" Proudfoot agreed emphatically. "I mean, really! I've never been so embarrassed in my life as I was interviewing those Professors today. I felt like a child asking a stupid question in class. I half expected Flitwick to threaten to write to my mother and tell her he was very disappointed in me." he muttered. "Well that's it. I'm done. I'm leaving."
And with those words, Proudfoot headed for the door.
"You take one step outside that door Mister Proudfoot and I'll see that you never work again!" Delores called after him.
Everyone there froze.
It wasn't very often that Minerva felt intimidated by Aurors, but once in a great long while she was reminded that each and every qualified Auror out there was not only well-versed in innumerable curses, but also well-practised in most of them. As Proudfoot turned back to face Delores, she found herself keenly aware of that face. Kingsley, too, was drawing himself up in anger.
Minerva began scrabbling to get away; she didn't especially want to be in the line of fire when Kingsley Shacklebolt got annoyed. Even less so when she was completely helpless and unable to use her wand. Kingsley seemed perfectly calm, however. He gently set Minerva down, and turned to face Delores.
"What did you say to me?" Proudfoot asked quietly.
Minerva darted over to the entrance to the dungeons, and settled herself in for a good show. She glanced behind her and distinctly saw Susan Bones and Hannah Abbot watching the affair unfold with looks of glee upon their faces.
"Quick, get closer." Susan whispered. "I want to see the old hag's face when they knock her down a few pegs." The reputation of Hufflepuff House being nicer than the other houses was, in Minerva's opinion, crumbling. And quickly.
Kingsley had pulled out his wand. Minerva was gratified to see Delores eyeing it warily, but she knew Kingsley wouldn't throw out a curse unless he felt he had to. Which was an unfortunate fact Minerva had more or less resigned herself to. Nonetheless, he drew himself up to his full height and glowered fiercely down at Umbridge, his powerful stature immediately apparent. Delores sort of paled in comparison. Even Proudfoot and Dawlish were taking a backseat, clearly realising that their participation was no-longer necessary.
"Ms Umbridge." he said in a deep, resonating voice that practically dared Delores to correct him in regards to her proper title. She didn't. He continued. "I acknowledge that you are powerful locally. Why, I would even go so far as to say that your official power in this building is almost absolute. I accept that." he took another step towards her. "But you paid a price for that power. You surrendered any jurisdiction you once held at the Ministry when you took this job, and as such I would urge you not to behave as though nothing has changed."
"Well I-" Delores started. Kingsley did not stop speaking.
"Additionally, it is my solemn duty to inform you that have never, never, had the power to dismiss me or my colleagues. Do you understand that?" He asked in that deliberate and thunderous voice of his. Delores nodded shakily in response.
"Good. Now I took time off an important case to come here today, as did my colleagues. We are all working on very high-profile cases. I assume the fact that there has been a mass breakout from Azkaban is not lost on you? What about the recapture of Sirius Black?" Delores didn't respond. "Well I'm sorry to tell you Ms Umbridge that both of those cases take priority over chasing after whatever phantoms you have created."
Delores was trembling slightly. Minerva was purring. Kingsley straightened and headed for the door. "I am going to return to the Ministry now, Ms Umbridge. I suggest you keep a closer watch on your employees and students from now on. Because from this point onwards, the Aurors office certainly won't be doing it for you. Good Evening."
And with that declaration, Kingsley Shacklebolt strode out of the Entrance Hall; a smug Proudfoot and Dawlish in his wake. Had Minerva been a biped at the time, she almost certainly would have given him a standing ovation.
Delores gaped after them. Her mouth opened and closed a few times before she puffed herself up and tottered up the Marble Staircase on unsteady legs, muttering all the while. Minerva made out a few sentences about "Not needing those arrogant twits anyway" and being "perfectly capable of finding McGonagall".
Behind her, Minerva heard Susan and Hannah dissolve into a fit of giggles. "Oh, oh that was priceless!" Susan wheezed. "Oh I have to tell Auntie Amelia about this. She never liked the old toad."
Minerva took no notice of them, nor they of her. She got to her feet, stuck her tail straight up in the air and strutted down into the depths of the dungeons with an air of satisfaction. And why shouldn't she be satisfied, Minerva asked herself. She'd had both dinner and a show. Anyone would have enjoyed it.
Feeling quite gloriously smug, Minerva trotted down to Snape's office with a spring in her step. Since Kingsley had dried her she didn't need to concern herself about turning up in Snape's office looking like she'd just taken a dip in the lake. Additionally, she could tell Snape all about the little episode she'd just witnessed in the Entrance Hall, thereby giving him something to smirk about and giving her someone to smirk with. Even if it was Snape.
Her thoughts of savouring Delores's humiliation quickly dissipated, however, as she approached his office door and heard the distinct sound of scolding drifting out. Transforming into her human form again (lest she get caught and have to explain herself), Minerva perked up her ears and attempted to listen in.
She was not doing so out of curiosity, though she didn't deny being a little curious as to who Snape could possibly be reprimanding at that time of night. Rather, she was listening in to determine whether her assistance would be needed in disciplining the offender, or whether the victim of his castigation would be in need of psychological or emotional counselling after the incident. Severus did have a tendency to cause rather powerful reactions in students, and even more powerful reactions in students he was chastising. And by powerful reactions she did mean nervous breakdowns.
Well alright, there had only been the one nervous breakdown from that Ravenclaw first year a few years back. And Minerva had it on good authority that she had almost completely recovered. But still, Snape could hardly be described as cuddly.
The door was slightly open, which explained why she could hear voices from inside. Severus did tend to soundproof his doors after all. But if he were having a tempestuous tête-à-tête with a student he would have almost certainly ensured the door was closed. And if he was having a tempestuous anything with Sinistra he would have definitely closed the door. So Minerva really had to wonder what was going on. Her curiosity was hardly lessened when the conversation seemed to change from Snape scolding the student (whoever it was) to two different voices quarrelling. It was quite thoroughly piqued when Severus was heard to bellow "Sit down and shut up, BOTH OF YOU!"
Minerva couldn't help herself; she didn't care if she offended Snape. She walked briskly up to the door and knocked on it loudly. Snape audibly told whoever it was to wait a moment and walked over to the door. He appeared behind it a moment later with a dark glower on his face that would have made the above mentioned Ravenclaw girl burst into tears. He also seemed to have an eye twitch.
"Professor McGonagall." he growled quietly. "If you are here to confirm your alibi, consider it done. Now if you'll excuse me-"
"Actually Severus." she interrupted in the same undertone. "I was merely going to inform you that I could hear the commotion emanating from your office in the Entrance Hall." she lied. It wasn't a huge stretch of the facts, after all. "Might I inquire as to what's going on?"
Snape's eye was off again. "So far as I can tell, Miss Greengrass and Mister Malfoy had some sort of altercation." he said in a voice that was apparently loud enough to be heard inside the room.
"Yeah, and it was her fault."
"It was not!"
"It bloody well was!"
"Just because you're a complete coward who can't take half the stuff you throw out there-"
"Listen you rabid little shrew-"
"Silence!" Snape snarled. Both occupants of the room instantly shut up. Severus raised his eyes skyward, apparently searching for divine strength to pull him through. "As you can see, my hands are quite full." he continued, more quietly than before. "So if you'll pardon me-"
He went to close the door but Minerva stopped him. He glared at her, she smiled sweetly. "I'd just listen at the door anyway." she told him.
Severus hissed out a low breath, appearing as though he dearly wished to kill something. "Fine." he muttered at last, stepping back to let Minerva in. "But stay quiet."
"Of course. Hello Daphne."
Minerva had never liked Snape's office. It was dark, it was cold, it was populated by dead things pickled in jars; in short, it was not somewhere she felt comfortable. He also tended to have a distinct lack of chairs. Since this was once again the case, she moved straight behind his desk and leant on the sideboard that was behind it. Severus himself closed the door with a loud bang, before taking up position behind the desk also, albeit in a more forward position to Minerva.
Most students would have been trembling by that point. Snape and McGonagall looming over them sort of tended to elicit fear and impulse control issues, along with the occasional nervous twitch. Greengrass and Malfoy, however, were both sitting scowling and refusing to look at each other. They seemed immeasurably more concerned with each other than they did with the two Professors in front of them. Well that was a first.
Minerva glanced over at Severus, who seemed to be trying to calm himself down before trusting himself to speak again. She took the opportunity to study the pupils in front of her.
Both were out of their requisite school uniforms. In Draco's case this meant that his over-robes and tie were missing, leaving only his white shirt which was loose at the collar. It was the closest Minerva had ever seen him to 'out of uniform'. Even at the Yule Ball the previous year, Minerva had seen no discernible difference between his dress robes and his normal clothing, save the fabric. Unusually for him, he had a bright purple jawbone from where he had obviously been punched. His hair was also quite ruffled, having obvious run his hands through it several times. All these points, combined with the fact that he was scowling instead of sneering left Minerva finding him ever-so-slightly less repulsive than usual. In Daphne's case, however, nothing she wore even resembled the school uniform. She was clearly one of those witches who preferred muggle clothing. She wore black jeans, black boots, and a dark green jumper with a small silver S on it, and the sleeves rolled up. Her hair was flowing free, and she looked distinctly as though she'd been planning to sit and read a book all night.
While Malfoy slouched low down in his chair, with his arms folded across his chest; Daphne sat bolt upright, perched on the edge of her chair with her legs crossed, her hands clasped around them. They were looking in opposite directions, and Minerva was pleased to note that a nerve in Malfoy's swollen jaw seemed to be twitching with indignation.
Snape had also removed both their wands, apparently, as Minerva could see them sitting on the desk. He apparently didn't want them having access to them.
All of these facts served to tell Minerva one thing: This was going to be good.
"Well." Snape drawled at last. "This is quite the surprise. You've both remained silent for a whole minute. Had I known that all it would take to bring about a little calm was another witness to your idiocy, I would have permitted this discussion to take place in the Common Room." Two pairs of eyes glared at him for an instant before each returned to looking resolutely in the opposite direction.
Snape looked between the two of them, evaluating carefully before he spoke.
"Draco. Why don't you give us your version of events." he requested coolly.
Draco nodded. "Fine. We, that is to say, myself, Crabbe, Goyle, Pansy, Millicent and Blaise, were having a discussion about our plans for the summer in the common room. Millie called over to where Greengrass was reading a book by the fireplace and asked her what she was doing over the holidays." Daphne scoffed loudly at this juncture, but Draco pretended not to hear it. "Greengrass responded crudely, and Millie was understandably upset. Pansy, not wanting to see her best friend in such a state, retaliated and asked Greengrass to apologise."
Minerva couldn't really tell if Snape was believing this tripe, but she could say with little doubt that Daphne's jaw was going to dislocate itself shortly if it dropped any lower.
"Greengrass refused and so Pansy took out her wand." Draco continued. "Since, despite the best of intentions, Pansy is hardly skilled at duelling, she was disarmed by Greengrass within seconds. At which point I stepped in. It was during our… conflict, that you walked in Professor." he concluded with a swift glare at Daphne, before he once again settled into his chair.
Daphne was staring at him, agape. She looked somewhat appalled.
Severus nodded curtly and turned to Daphne. "Miss Greengrass, do you agree with Mister Malfoy's retelling of the events?" he asked, rather pointlessly.
Daphne turned to face her Head of House, her hands now gripping the arms of her chair. She nodded. "With the basics of it Professor, yes. In the sense that it did take place in the common room, that I was reading a book before hand, and that it was five against one." she said. "Aside from that, it's the biggest load crap I've ever heard in my life."
"Miss Greengrass, watch your tongue." Snape informed her. Daphne looked apologetic. Severus continued. "Now since you weren't sitting with them, I'll assume that Mister Malfoy and his friend's topic of discussion was unknown to you. Aside from that, could you retell the incident please?"
Daphne shrugged. "I was sitting reading by the fireplace, when Millicent Bulstrode called over and asked me if I'd be spending my summer with the Usual Muggle Slime, or if I'd spend my time shagging Harry Potter instead." she said in disgust. "I…er… responded," she said evasively.
She shouldn't have bothered since Severus caught it immediately. "Responded how?"
Daphne dithered a moment and Draco's eyes glittered maliciously.
"Miss Greengrass I can fetch some Truth Serum if you wish." Severus told her in all seriousness.
Daphne cringed. "I believe my exact words were: No I'll be offering sexual favours to the Weasley Twins as a Thank You for all the trouble they've caused you useless scumbags and the rest of Umbridge's Winged Monkeys." she said, chagrined.
Minerva bit back a laugh. Even Severus's impassive face appeared momentarily spasmodic as he repressed a smile. "And then?" he asked.
Daphne cringed once again and fixed her gaze on Snape's desk rather than look at anyone, as even Malfoy looked vaguely amused. "And then," she continued with great effort. "Then Parkinson got up, really angrily, and asked what I'd just called her." Daphne coughed slightly. "Naturally I assumed there was something wrong with her hearing and… um… repeated myself. At that point, Bulstrode, Parkinson, Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle all got up and pulled out their wands."
"What about Zabini?" Severus interrupted. "I believe Mister Malfoy mentioned his presence earlier."
Daphne nodded. "Yeah, he was there. But he didn't do anything. He just kind of slinked off to the side. Blaise doesn't like getting involved in stuff like that."
The nerve in Malfoy's jaw seemed to redouble it's efforts as he heard Blaise Zabini referred to by his first name, while he himself was on a surname basis with Daphne. Minerva was willing to bet that Blaise Zabini would be involved in a conflict of his own by the end of the week.
"Anyway," Daphne continued. "They all got up, so I went for my wand. Parkinson cast some pathetic little jinx, God knows what, at me. I raised a Shield Charm, the jinx hit her in the face and she got a lot of boils in the face." Daphne allowed herself a smirk. "She dropped her wand immediately and started crying for Malfoy to run and help her. It was pathetic, really."
"Miss Greengrass." Severus warned.
"Er, sorry Professor." she said, wiping the smile off her face. "What I meant to say was that Park- uh- Pansy was out of commission pretty quick. So then Bulstrode threw a Body Bind at me, but since I still had the Shield charm up, that didn't go brilliantly for her. Then Malfoy threw something at me-"
"I did not 'throw something at you'." Draco said scathingly. "I tried to disarm you, to stop you cursing half the bloody common room."
Daphne scoffed. "You mean to stop me before I cursed you."
"Like you could." Draco said disbelievingly.
"Oh please! I've beaten you in every Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson we've ever had." Daphne exclaimed.
"Right, because that's such a great indicator." Draco snapped. "A nut-job, a werewolf, a fraud and an idiot who was scared of his own reflection thought that you were better at fending off vampires than I was…" He mocked realisation. "Oh. Wait. You've never faced a vampire." he said. "Never mind, though. Because if we ever come across some Cornish Pixies then you certainly proved yourself more capable of running away from them than me."
"That was three years ago!" Daphne cried. "Besides, I didn't like them." she bristled. "They were all… fluttery."
Draco snorted. "That's wonderful." he said. "That's just great. You expect me to believe that you'd be able to beat me in a duel, but a butterfly would send you running." he commented sarcastically.
"Oh right, because it's not like you have an unexplained phobia or two." Daphne said disbelievingly.
Their postures had changed quite significantly, from not even looking at each other to leaning together and glaring. It was quite entertaining really. Severus must have thought so too, as he wasn't interrupting them. Then again, perhaps he had just given up hope completely and was now planning his suicide.
"Look, I really don't see the point in this Professor." Draco snapped, facing Snape. "I've got a couple of dozen witnesses who'll corroborate my story, and all Greengrass has got is some rubbish about Millicent Bulstrode provoking her."
"Of course he's got a couple of dozen witnesses!" Daphne shrieked. "They're all afraid of him!"
"Pansy certainly isn't afraid of me, and she'd confirm everything I've said." Draco responded.
"Oh. Of course she would. Pansy doesn't want to step out of line." Daphne remarked bitterly, rolling her eyes as she did so. "Don't know why that little idiot even bothers pretending to care about school anymore. She should just go home and knit until she finds someone who's arm she can hang on forever." she muttered.
Draco got to his feet in outrage, but Minerva clearly saw amusement in his eyes, indicating that he agreed on some level. "You're out of order." he said, without conviction.
Daphne got instantly to her feet and looked Draco straight in the eye. Which was actually fairly impressive considering she was a head shorter than he was. "And what exactly are you going to do about it Malfoy? Glare pointedly? God knows the only reason you managed to land any curses at all back in the Common Room was because you had Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber hold me down."
"If you're referring to Crabbe and Goyle-"
"Yes, those were the glorified rocks to whom I was referring."
"Listen you self-righteous little hag, I…"
"What did you call me, you Nazi piece of-"
"Stuck up, son of a-"
"Death Eater wannabe-"
Both Slytherins froze like Deer in the Headlights, apparently having forgotten that they had an audience. An audience of teachers no less. Severus was fuming about this fact, while Minerva had been rather enjoying herself. "Sit." Severus ordered.
Both did so instantly, eyes wide, looking pale.
Severus took a deep breath and composed himself. "Mister Malfoy, since we now have a slightly more accurate version of events, I trust you to complete the explanation honestly." Given his tone, Snape really didn't have to add the unspoken 'or else'. "When I entered the common room, the pair of you had not only caused quite a bit of property damage, but you, Mister Malfoy, had Miss Greengrass pinned to a table as she swore vehemently at you if I recall correctly. Now, please explain to me how this came to pass."
Upon hearing Snape's comment, Minerva was looking at Malfoy's bruised jaw in a whole new light.
Draco, for his part, cleared his throat nervously and started talking in a voice quite unlike his normal drawl. "Well… uh… Crabbe and Goyle had pinned Greengrass and tried to disarm her. It didn't really work. She set them on fire. That's how the wall hangings went up."
"So I surmised." Severus said coldly.
"Right. Course you did. Well, see, Greengrass and I then start throwing spells at each other. Then she insulted me so we, uh, started throwing them too. Insulting each other, I mean. Next thing I know, our friend the pugilist here, forgets her wand completely and just slams her fist into my face." he said, sounding a little irritated with the fact. "That's when my wand went flying."
The entire room looked to Daphne for an explanation. She shook her hair snootily. "He insulted my Aunt Antigone. He deserved it."
Severus rolled his eyes. "Your Aunt Antigone being a squib, correct? And she's married to a muggle?"
"Yes. I live with her." Daphne confirmed.
"And so in an effort to restrain her you pinned her to the desk, correct?" Severus asked, now looking at Malfoy.
Draco nodded. "Er… in a roundabout sort of way, yes." he agreed.
"Right." Severus sighed heavily. "Property damage, duelling in the common room, inadvertent cursing of innocent bystanders, unwarranted provocation… A week's worth of detention for both of you. And as much as it pains me, five points from Slytherin for each participant in this little incident."
Both students gaped at him. Severus glared back at them, as though daring them to complain. When neither did, he indicated the door. "Now return to your common room. Both of you." he told them.
Both students got morosely to their feet and disappeared out the door, their shoulders slumped and an air of depression hanging around them. As the door swung shut behind them, Minerva emerged from the shadows. "You realise, of course, that there is no way anything productive will occur while those two are in the same room. Right?" she commented quietly to Severus, who continued to glare after the pair of them despite the fact that they were no longer there.
"Of course I do." he sighed "But I had to punish them somehow and I wanted rid of them before my head exploded." he added, finally taking a seat in the chair behind his desk. "I've had a long day."
"Haven't we all?" Minerva said. "Oh, did you see that new Educational Decree?" she asked him.
"No Hogwarts staff save the Headmistress herself may enchant, bewitch or otherwise modify any aspect or feature of the school." Severus chorused mockingly. "Idiot woman."
"Quite." Minerva agreed. Silence descended on the room as both occupants tried to remember what in God's name they were doing in a room together.
Severus was the first to recall. "Your alibi has already been confirmed, Professor McGonagall." he told her. "Even Malfoy can attest to seeing you here."
"So he can." she acknowledged with a small smile. How convenient." Another quiescence occurred, though this time Minerva spent it watching her colleague.
The past year had been stressful on him, there was no doubt. Shadows under his eyes had slowly been transforming themselves into eight piece luggage sets, without his say so. At work he had Umbridge to put up with, and outside of work he had Voldemort to deal with. Safe to say that neither pertained to calm and tranquillity. The stress was most apparent during quiet moments like that. His hands, normally steady as a rock, shook slightly, while his normally sharp, observant eyes adopted a permanently faraway, preoccupied expression. Of all of them, Severus undeniably had the most difficult job. Minerva wondered why she was so surprised that it had started to show.
"Are you all right?" she asked him quietly.
He didn't answer honestly. She knew he wouldn't. He just dragged a hand across his face and shuddered melodramatically. "I'll live." he stated. (We hope, Minerva added.) "After that incident with Trelawney, I should have known today was just going to get steadily worse." Severus continued, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Really, I don't know why I'm surprised."
Minerva frowned as something nagged at her. "Trelawney…" she whispered to herself. "Trelawney, Trelawney…" she suddenly remembered. "OH! I forgot!"
Severus looked at her. "Forgot what?"
"Wish I could." Severus muttered.
"No! You don't understand, I was supposed to organise something for Lavender Brown because… oh forget it. I have to go." she told him, rushing for the door without a backwards glance, and leaving behind a mildly nonplussed Snape.
-The Hospital Wing-
Minerva usually felt that she had a great deal more to do than other members of staff, with the small exception of Snape. Even then, Snape only prevailed because he was occasionally tortured by Lord Voldemort and things. If it weren't for that small fact, she would have trumped Snape too.
However there was hardly a day that went by when she didn't thank her lucky stars she was not the Hogwarts School Nurse. It wasn't so much the work load as the work itself that would irritate her. For example after the third victim of the dreaded East Hallway Incident earlier in the day, Minerva felt fairly certain she would have snapped and told each and every student that they were on their own until such times as someone was intelligent enough to put up a warning sign for other students.
She was also absolutely certain that Cormac McLaggen would have been turned away years ago, just for sheer stupidity had Minerva been left in charge of the Hospital Wing.
Additionally, the idea of sleeping next door to her office was horrifying to Minerva. She rather liked the daily commute, as it were, to her office and classroom. The trip allowed her to transform herself from Minerva to Professor McGonagall and back. Granted, on days like this where both Minerva and Professor McGonagall were needed at a moments notice, it didn't really matter where she worked or where she slept: She was going to be all over the place anyway. But on a normal day (meaning one where Dumbledore was in charge) she enjoyed the shift.
Minerva's attitude towards Poppy Pomfrey was therefore akin to reverence on the average day. On a day like that, however, Minerva was about three "self-inflicted curses" away from getting down on her knees and worshipping the woman for her patience.
"Right then, Miss Parkinson." Poppy said in an even voice as Minerva entered the room. "That's you done for now. Hold that against your face for another twenty minutes and then come back over here. And might I recommend using make-up from now on, like the rest of the world."
A meek looking Pansy Parkinson nodded, and headed for a bed on the far-side of the room. She was holding a thick blue towel to her face and was reeking of what smelled like cloves. Minerva supposed this was the reason why Pansy had not rushed in to defend Draco in Snape's office: she was too busy being fixed up. And the reason Poppy had yet to notice her was that she was cleaning up the assorted paraphernalia she had been using to treat Miss Parkinson. Minerva wondered vaguely what was wrong with the girl, but swiftly realised that she didn't care. She just sort of hoped it was painful.
"Excuse me, Poppy?" Minerva called out as unobtrusively as possible.
The nurse looked up. "Oh. Minerva, hello. Mister McLaggen is quite thoroughly unconscious, if you were looking for him. I doubt you'd be able to get him to so much as snore at this point, he's so far under." Poppy told her as she sent her Mortar and Pestle over to the sink in the corner.
Minerva had actually forgotten about McLaggen. She made a mental note to write that letter to his parents. Tomorrow.
"No, actually. I wanted to talk to you about something a bit delicate…" Minerva glanced over to where Parkinson was obviously listening in. Recalling a handy little spell Severus had taught her once, Minerva muttered "Muffliato." An alarmed looking Parkinson was immediately more concerned with the unidentifiable buzzing in her ear.
Poppy frowned at her. "What did you do?"
"Nothing much. I'll undo it before I leave." Minerva assured her.
The nurse nodded. "Fair enough. Just so long as it doesn't cause lasting damage. I'm having enough trouble with her today as it is. This morning it was the face thing, then her arm was broken in two places and now with the boils…" Poppy shook her head sighing.
"Forgive me, but: Face thing?" Minerva asked curiously. "What face thing?"
Poppy groaned. "Oh she came in this morning before classes, crying her eyes out because a transfiguration spell had gone wrong. I asked her exactly what happened, and do you know what she'd done? She'd gone and tried to transfigure herself cheekbones."
Minerva stared at her blankly for a moment. "I beg your pardon?" she asked after a moment of silence, where in she found herself quite unable to process the sentence.
Poppy scoffed. "I know. She said she's always been insecure about her bone structure. So she tried to alter it. Idiot girl."
It took a few moments of silent reflection on Minerva's part to truly appreciate the idiocy of such an undertaking. Still, at least she hadn't tried to turn herself into a snake to support Malfoy or something. Hollow bones, they could deal with. But even Poppy and Minerva were quite unable to reverse the side-effects of cold-bloodedness in humans. Particularly when the main side-effect tended to be death.
"Er… Moving swiftly on." Minerva continued with a quick shake of her head. "I wished to discuss Sybill with you."
"Oh do you have to?" Poppy whined, seemingly regressing to the age of seven.
Minerva nodded understandingly. "Unfortunately? Yes. You see it turns out Miss Patil and Miss Brown have been keeping an eye on her these past few months."
Poppy groaned. "That's how she's stayed out of trouble?"
"Apparently." Minerva confirmed, taking a seat at the bottom of one of the many beds and picking carelessly at the white cotton sheet that adorned it. "But now it's interfering with their schoolwork, and so I can't let it continue."
"No. No I don't suppose you can." Poppy concurred, taking a seat at the nurses station.
They sat in silence for a few moments, contemplating just how they could help Sybill become useful again. Or as useful as she'd ever been. It was hard though; and not just because they wanted help Sybill while not actually being forced to talk to her. But also because neither woman was especially clear on how to help someone like Sybill regain their… er… livelihood, as it were. What could they really suggest, anyway? Setting up a tent by a circus and offering readings for five quid a pop? Writing a book on predicting Harry Potter's many and varied deaths? Taking up knitting? None of the suggestions really fit.
When other people's lives went down the toilet, Minerva usually had something to say. She had some way to contribute. But with Sybill Trelawney… well, things were rather different. Among other things, Sybill was distinctly more fragile than most people and tended to dissolve into tears whenever someone mentioned the fact that she was no-longer employed.
With a sigh, Minerva turned her attentions to something else. Solutions to tricky problems often floated into her head when she wasn't thinking about them. In fact, they did so more often when she was thinking about things that were completely unrelated than they did when she was concentrating on them. And so, for reasons unknown to her, Minerva decided to focus on the crisp white sheet beneath her fingers. It smelt like lavender and was stretched so tightly across the bed that Minerva could've bounced a knut off it. Or at least it had been before she started fiddling with it…
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Poppy asked her suddenly.
Minerva glanced up. "That domestic spells really aren't my forte?" she responded in all seriousness.
"No." the eternally patient nurse said. "I was thinking that we could assign her a House Elf."
Minerva stared blankly.
Poppy got up and began wringing her hands as she worked out the details. "Yes it's perfect. We could even assign two of them. They could work in shifts. They could watch over her all day, and if she did anything dangerous they could come and get one of us. I would, of course, increase the number of anti-alcohol potions I stock and the number of sleeping draughts. Yes. Yes! It's perfect!" she announced, finally coming to a stop directly in front of Minerva.
She honestly looked as though she'd just figured out the counter-curse for Avada Kedavra, she seemed to pleased. Minerva hesitated to point out the obvious flaws in this plan, just because of how thrilled Poppy appeared to be. But if there was one thing Minerva knew, it was that denial did nothing for anyone in the long run. And so it was better to be upfront.
"Three problems, Poppy." She raised her hand and began counting them off on her long fingers. "One; if Delores found out that we were using Hogwarts resources to keep Sybill out of trouble, she would not only sack us but she would also evict Sybill as soon as look at her." Poppy looked crestfallen as Minerva raised another finger. "Two; even if Delores didn't find out, House Elves would only be able to keep Sybill out of trouble. They would not rehabilitate her, or return her to her former, er, glory. And three; House Elves are not universally renowned for their subtlety. That is to say, if Sybill got into trouble they would almost certainly come and fetch us during class time or while you were with a patient, thereby exposing the entire scheme."
By the time Minerva had three fingers displayed, Poppy was scowling sullenly out the window with her arms folded in front of her. "Yes. Right. Fine. It was a silly idea. But it was still and idea, and I've yet to hear you come up with any." she said accusingly.
Minerva rolled her eyes. "I wasn't aware it was a competition." she said in a cold voice. All the same, she redoubled her efforts in finding a solution. Let no one say Minerva McGonagall took slights against her character lying down.
There had to be something they could do, she thought desperately. Something that didn't involve constantly medicating the woman. Or putting a warning sign on her for the next poor bastard and running like hell, despite the fact that Minerva now appreciated the quiet wisdom in Snape's earlier suggestion.
Sighing, she got to her feet. "All right. Here's what we do. We alert the rest of the staff to the situation and devise a shift system, whereby we all look after her in our quieter moments. Every night we give her a sleeping draught at a suitable time and every morning we make sure she's up and lucid. And, more importantly, sober." Poppy was nodding. A bit too much, if Minerva said so herself. "What?" she asked.
Poppy's expression remained impassive but her eyes twinkled a bit as she said, "I'll agree to that. I will definitely agree to that. On one condition."
"That you take the first shift."
Minerva was fairly certain the colour had drained from her face. "What? You mean… check on Sybill? Now? Tonight?" she asked in horror.
"That's precisely what I mean." Poppy stated. "This was all your idea after all."
That much was true, Minerva admitted. And it was her students who had been caring for Sybill before. So she supposed she was a tad more responsible than other members of staff. But to be honest, Minerva had seen herself in more of a matriarchal role: Scolding and organising, and sending other cannon fodder… that was to say, sending other colleagues to care for Sybill, while watching over it all in a very detached sort of way. And they said no one was an optimist past fifty.
Looking into Poppy's resolute face, Minerva realised that she had been stupidly optimistic to even hope for such a thing. "Oh fine." Minerva grudgingly agreed. "But I'm going down to the Kitchens first, too talk to the House Elves. I intend to see to it that the North Tower is kept relatively hygienic from now on."
"Oh yes. She wasn't letting anyone in before was she?" Poppy remembered. "Said that outside interference intruded upon the flow of the room and clouded her inner something-or-other." The nurse shook her head despondently. "Why are we helping her again?"
Minerva pinched the bridge of her nose. "I try not to think about it." she said. "Whenever I do it only serves to depress me. Anyway, are we in agreement?"
"Excellent. I shall go and alert the Kitchens."
"Couldn't you send Driscoll to do that?" Poppy asked curiously. "Save yourself the trip down I mean."
Minerva nodded. "I could. But you see, I want Hot Cocoa. In fact, Poppy, at this point I need Hot Cocoa."
Poppy smiled understandingly. They said their goodbyes and the school nurse went back to clearing up after her consultation with Miss Parkinson. Parkinson herself was beginning to look extremely worried about the buzzing noise, causing Minerva to seriously debate leaving her afflicted with it. In the end, kindness prevailed by a small margin and she removed the spell. With her features no-longer contorted by concern, Parkinson went right back to looking bitter and hard-done-by, as though someone besides herself was to blame for her presence in the Hospital Wing.
If Minerva were offered the opportunity to change one thing about Pansy Parkinson, it would almost certainly be getting the girl to take responsibility for her own actions. Everything that befell her was someone else's fault in her mind, and she routinely set about punishing those she felt were to blame. Additionally, when someone else did well or received praise, it was never due to their hard work, but rather dumb luck or someone else's bias. For example, Malfoy's attraction to Daphne Greengrass couldn't possibly be done to Daphne's outsider status, strength of will, or strong character. Of course not, it was due to Daphne's cheekbones.
At that precise moment, Parkinson was alternately pouting and glaring at Madam Pomfrey as though the Nurse were responsible for the state Parkinson had got herself into and the pain she subsequently felt. Minerva rolled her eyes and stalked towards the exit. While she may not think a lot of Draco Malfoy, or anyone in his family, she'd say this for the boy: She couldn't fault his taste in women.
It took Minerva quite a while to get back down to the Kitchens, and not just because (as previously mentioned) the staircases had moved overnight. No, the sad fact was that her legs were killing her by this point. She'd been wandering from place to place for most of the day, and in a castle composed mainly of winding corridors and steep staircases, that was no small feat for her legs. It should also be mentioned that Diagon Alley and surrounding streets were hardly designed for easy strolling between places, and that London pedestrians were not famed for their consideration in letting people pass.
And so, by the time she found herself in front of that giant fruit bowel, Minerva was wishing dearly that the greatest Magic School in all the world had been located in a bungalow rather than a rambling castle. Ah well, something she'd have to live with.
She tickled the pear. It giggled happily and the portrait swung open.
Three-tenths-of-a-second after entering, Minerva was surrounded by House Elves with food on trays and jugs in hand. "Miss Professor Miss!" the one nearest her squeaked. "Is Miss wanting some scones Miss? Fresh from the oven with fresh strawberry jam and whipped cream!"
Minerva had been rather enjoying the display, until small Elf with big brown eyes thrust a plate of Blood Pudding at her. Feeling her stomach churn, Minerva politely declined and instead asked to see the cleaning supervisor.
"Oh. Snuffy is over there Miss." the Elf with the big brown eyes said, pointing towards the far table and looking a little dejected.
"Thank you." Minerva said. The Elf smiled, bowed deeply and hurried off with his comrades. They really were the strangest creatures.
Snuffy was a particularly spindly looking House Elf, who appeared so intensely fragile that Minerva feared he would break if touched. He was watching over a dozen or so Elves who were cleaning the table that sat directly under the Gryffindor House table. He had odd hazel eyes, rather sinister-looking fingers and was surprisingly tall, coming right up to Minerva's waist. His ears would have been exceptionally large, even for a House Elf's, were it not for the large tear on his left ear which left it looking about half the size of the one on the right; it made Minerva wonder if he was one of the House Elves that Dumbledore had 'rescued' at the end of the first war.
"Are you Snuffy?" she asked timidly. Minerva was always rather bad at dealing with House Elves. She felt particularly uncomfortable being bowed to.
Snuffy was apparently unaware of this fact however, as he let out a soft scream of dismay and turned to bow deeply. "A thousand pardons Miss, I did not see you Miss, I was distracted Miss. Miss should feel free to punish Snuffy in any way Miss sees fit." Well, Minerva thought darkly, that certainly answered the question about where Snuffy had been before Hogwarts.
"Er… thank you, for that." she said, feeling awkward. "But I don't think I'll be doing that, Snuffy. Rather, I came to ask you for a favour."
Snuffy snapped immediately out of his bow, with a discernable crack which made Minerva wince sympathetically. He appeared not to notice though. "Anything Snuffy can do to help the Professor, Miss." he said eagerly.
One really couldn't help but admire how gung-ho he was about the entire affair. Minerva nodded appreciatively. "Excellent. Well. I was hoping that the House Elves could begin cleaning the North Tower again." she said. "Since Professor Trelawney's dismissal, she's had rather a lot of trouble taking care of herself and requires all the help she can get."
Snuffy appeared thoughtful for a moment. It actually surprised Minerva just how thoughtful he looked. If half of her students put that much effort into their ponderings, her job would be a piece of cake. She even found herself wondering if Snuffy liked crossword puzzles, just because of the pensive air he had about it. "If Miss is liking…" he said slowly, as though by suggesting something he were taking a great personal risk. "Snuffy could have the Kitchen Elves send up food for the no-longer-a-Professor, Professor Miss?" he proposed. "Normally a Professor is having to make a special request, but we could start doing it anyways, Miss. If you is liking…?"
Minerva felt her face relax into a grateful smile. "You know Snuffy, I do believe that is the most helpful thing anyone has said to me all day." she commented. "Yes, that would be marvellous. Splendid. Thank you." The House Elf grinned so much that Minerva seriously wondered if his leathery skin could handle it without cracking.
Indeed, this odd behaviour did not cease for the rest of the conversation. When she casually mentioned that if she had any further favours to ask she would come straight to him as he seemed to be an exceedingly helpful and accommodating individual, Snuffy began to tear up. Minerva had felt more comfortable being hugged by Fred Weasley than she did having someone cry with gratitude because she'd asked them to clean up a tower. As such, she quickly thanked him and made her goodbyes.
She headed over to the stoves that lined the far wall and caught the attention of a young, female House Elf with gigantic green eyes who was named, coincidentally enough, Jinny. Minerva was forced to ask her name a second time, but was assured that she had actually heard it right the first time. She was tempted to ask if it was short for "Jinerva" or "Virjinia", but feared that it might somehow get back to Molly Weasley.
"Well then, Jinny." she said uncertainly, as Jinny practically bounced with enthusiasm at being addressed by a Professor. "I was, ah… I was wondering if it would be possible for me to get a mug of Hot Cocoa."
The reaction was instantaneous. Not just in Jinny but in the entire Kitchen. Every single House Elf in the entire room seemed to freeze, immediately. Minerva wondered slightly if she could have immobilised a room any quicker if she tried. She probably could, she thought distractedly. But only if she had easy access to a Basilisk and a Disco-Ball…
"Er, was it something I said?" she managed. At her question, there was once again an immediate response from every House Elf in the room. One or two burst into tears while others began stammering apologies. One over by the Hufflepuff table began smashing his head into aforementioned table and weeping. It occurred to Minerva that House Elves really were a melodramatic lot.
Someone had to take charge, she realised. Someone had to calm them down. Someone had to make them get a hold of themselves and tell her what was happening. That someone was most certainly not her.
Snuffy appeared beside them quite suddenly. It took Minerva a moment to notice him, but he was there. And he was subtly gesturing for her to stoop down and listen to him. More than happy to oblige, if only to tear her eyes away from Jinny's trembling lip, Minerva bent down.
"We is very sorry Miss. But…" Snuffy's voice took on an oddly brittle edge, akin to the tone many used when forced to speak You-Know-Who's name. "The Headmistress has said that since the students aren't getting Hot Cocoa with dinner and since they is not meant to know where the Kitchens is, then there is no reason for it to be in Hogwarts." He sucked in a breath. "There is no Hot Cocoa in Hogwarts anymore." he announced dramatically. "We is no longer allowed to make it."
Minerva straightened, her eyes wide. That was it. That was the final straw. That old toad could set Aurors after her, she could interrupt her classes, she could detain her students, she could make her get up at ungodly hours in the morning to attend her utterly useless lectures… but getting rid of the Hot Cocoa? THAT was personal.
Right. That was it. Delores was getting the business end of a Puking Pastille in her tea tomorrow morning, maturity be damned. Professional courtesy or not, that old hag was going to suffer for this.
As Snuffy demonstrated his leadership ability by setting the other Elves back to work and calming the stricken Jinny. Minerva waited patiently until all was well and Snuffy returned to speak with her. "I is sorry Miss. Is there something else Miss would like?"
"No. No thank you, that's everything." Minerva said tightly, as she clicked her jaw in agitation. "You've been most helpful. Thank you." And with that, she turned and walked out.
It was more or less common knowledge that Rowena Ravenclaw had come up with the idea of a moving floor plan at Hogwarts. What was less commonly known was the fact that anyone who stayed at Hogwarts for more than seven years (roughly translated, Teachers) became very, very irritated with this fact on occasions. This was one such occasion.
The floor plan shifted in stages, usually going from the bottom of the castle to the top, West to East, Outside to inside, etc. It was very methodical. And so, since the stairs and hallways by Minerva's quarters had moved the previous night, she realised that she shouldn't have been too terribly surprised when the dungeons moved around while she was in the Kitchen. However the fact remained that she had been slightly blindsided by the shift and was, for all intents and purposes, lost. No. Not just lost. She was lost, with sore legs, a Hot-Cocoa-Deficiency, and no idea how to get back upstairs. Not that she especially wanted to get back upstairs, since the second she did she would be forced to go past the North Tower and see Sybill Trelawney of all people.
She couldn't have just been sent to get tortured by Voldemort, could she? No, Minerva had to take care of people and be responsible. She could just get tortured and go home like a normal person. At least she knew Voldemort, for pity's sake. She'd actually gone on a date with him at Hogwarts once, after all. Only the once though, since he really wasn't her type. He was also infuriatingly charming, in a manner which had made Minerva dearly wish to wring his neck.
She occasionally thought it a pity that she hadn't, as it would have certainly saved everyone a great deal of trouble… Shaking her head to clear it of such desultory thoughts, Minerva leant against a wall and scowled at the middle-distance.
There was still a hell of a long way to go, once she finally managed to get out of the dungeons. Minerva briefly considered an illegal Portkey, but realised that Delores had probably set up monitors for such things and that it was more than her job was worth to try. Though it might've been worth it just to get into an impromptu-duel with Umbridge. Discounting a Portkey as an option, Minerva took a short moment to lament the "No Apparating" rule at Hogwarts. This left her with walking.
She could either walk as a human, and appear respectable; or as a cat, and be comfortable. A cat's weight was spread over four legs, and as such the legs didn't tire quite as easily. Also, since the muscle arrangement of a cat was so different to that of a human, it was rare for aches such as the ones in Minerva's calves, to translate into the cat form. However, she wasn't technically supposed to transform for reasons like that. She was a teacher after all, and teachers were supposed to be mature, role-models for students. She was only supposed to transform during demonstrations or when she was going to be leaving the premises…
Minerva glanced up and down the passageway she was in and saw no sign of life whatsoever. Nor of any stairways leading upwards. That pretty much settled it. She slipped seamlessly into her cat form, taking great pleasure in feeling her muscle aches deliquesce as she did so. She stretched a bit and began adapting to the feline form as she usually did. It was always harder adapting when she was tired or emotionally drained. It was one of the reasons she now had a great respect for Sirius Black. She had tried transforming in the presence of the Dementors when they had first arrived around Hogwarts. But for some reason she couldn't quite manage it, as she was replaying every horrible moment in her life.
Shaking her head in a decidedly catty way, Minerva felt quite confident in saying that she didn't have that problem then.
She turned to face the dark dungeon passageway that she had been heading down before. The light was scarce at best; non-existent at worst, or if she were feeling pessimistic. It was true that her cat form had distinctly better night vision, but there were limits. Instead, Minerva took a seat and began listening. When she couldn't hear anything, she began sniffing. When she couldn't smell anything (anything unusual, that was), she began wandering back the way she came.
It could have been quite pleasant, had she not been longing for her bed. Minerva had never taken the time to get to know the dungeons, seeing as how she never had any need to go down there except to talk to Snape. Now that she was down here, however, she rather enjoyed it. The cool stone beneath her paws, the still air, the sparse and precious light sources; They were all relaxing in an odd sort of way. The sensation that she was miles underground and, as such, out of Delores Umbridge's reach, did tend to help a bit as well.
Minerva had been peregrinating aimlessly for nearly fifteen minutes when at last she heard a noise. It was quite a distance away, and had she been in her human form she almost certainly would have missed it. If she wasn't mistaken, it sounded like someone strolling along while humming merrily…
In the dungeons.
Well, it took all kinds, Minerva supposed. She put the source's position to be about a hundred yards back down the passageway she'd just travelled. That fact alone was a little annoying, but she turned back all the same. She ran as fast as possible, the humming getting louder as she did so. When she estimated that the source was just around one more corner, Minerva turned herself back into a biped.
Her leg muscles bemoaned this decision quite vociferously, but it had to be done. Straightening herself as much as possible so that she wouldn't terrify some unsuspecting student with her fierce appearance, Minerva strode into the passageway.
She spotted a relatively tall, stringy figure in school robes with dark hair. It was a student, and a vaguely familiar one at that. But since she had taught every single student in the building at one time or another, that wasn't really saying much. Minerva did think, fleetingly, that no students should be out of bed so late but she had a great deal of trouble caring. Frankly, it could have been a lime green ostrich, sent by the memory of Salazar Slytherin to rid the school of Which Weekly magazines; so long as it had directions to get out of those damned dungeons.
"Hold it!" she called sharply.
The student, whoever they were, froze at the other end of the hallway and turned around to face her slowly. It was Theodore Nott. "Oh. Er… Good evening Professor." he greeted her. Unlike Malfoy, Theodore Nott still wore his school robes, right down to the tie. His hair was still perfectly neat, and everything about him seemed as fresh as it did first thing on Monday morning. It was, in Minerva's opinion, a sure sign of Dark Magic, but she didn't comment.
"Mister Nott." Minerva acknowledged. "What are you doing wandering the dungeons so late?" She felt she should at least ask, even if she didn't really care. She had to maintain certain standards and traditions, after all.
Theodore looked awkward. "Well, you see, all the dungeons have moved." he said slowly. "I was just trying to get to grips with them all and find my way around."
"At half past ten at night?" Minerva asked sceptically.
"Well they only moved a couple of hours ago." Theodore stated. "And it seemed to make more sense to do it now that it did to do it tomorrow morning."
Watching him suspiciously, Minerva placed her hands on her hips. "And how, pray tell, did you know that they'd shifted if you weren't already out after curfew?" she asked him.
"Daphne told me." he responded promptly.
Minerva nodded slowly. That made sense. It even made sense for him to be trying to get a feel for the dungeons then rather than the following morning. It was something she would have liked to have done with the stairwells around her own quarters, if she'd had an hour or two spare that day. Not that it was likely she'd be getting an hour or two spare again, ever, but she could hope. She had to hope, actually, it was the only thing keeping her sane.
Theodore was watching her with an expression of dread. After about twenty seconds of her slow nodding he sighed and threw his hands in the air. "You're going to punish me, aren't you?" he said gloomily.
Even though she knew she wasn't, Minerva pretended to consider it. "Well, I could. I could probably take twenty points for such an infraction." she commented. Theodore groaned. "Or, alternatively, you could help me and I could refrain from taking points off you."
Showing himself to be quite the Slytherin, not to mention distinctly more intelligent than some of his peers, Theodore looked at her suspiciously. "Help you with what?" he asked uncertainly.
"Help me get out of the dungeons." Minerva answered him. "You see, I seem to be lost."
Rather than mock her, snigger, or continue glaring suspiciously at her, Theodore grinned roguishly. "Certainly. Not a problem. Come with me." he said, leading the way confidently ahead. How he could possibly be so confident since the dungeons only shifted an hour or so ago, Minerva didn't know. She chose not to question it though, and followed him.
"You know, I'm curious," Minerva remarked, after a few moments walking in silence. "You seem to be quite protective of Daphne Greengrass. She evidently feels distinctly less animosity towards you than the rest of her classmates… Why didn't you help her in the incident in the common room?"
Theodore's expression darkened. "I was in the library." he told her. "They wouldn't have tried anything if I'd been there, trust me."
Surprised by his ardour, Minerva examined the boy. "Mister Nott are you…?" she frowned. "Are you and Daphne a… couple?" she asked him.
The boy stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes widening. "What?" he yelped. "What, because of-? No. No. We're not. We're not a couple. No." he declared firmly, gesturing to prove his point. "We're just friends. That's it. Friends." he said. Minerva would have been inclined to believe him, if it weren't for the pink flush that was making it's way up his neck. She wondered if they were friends like Ron and Hermione were friends, but they didn't seem to be.
Hmm. How interesting. "All right." she said.
"I mean… well… she asked me out. Once. In third year." he continued awkwardly. "But we didn't… I mean I couldn't… bloody hell." He ran his hands through his hair and sighed. It was quite an amusing sight really. Then he regained his composure, stood up straight and turned to face Minerva. "You know, Daphne and I have this rule. You're not allowed to lie to each other if you're out playing walkabout after hours. She didn't strictly say it was only between us, so I suppose it applies to you too."
"I'm flattered." Minerva said dryly.
"Daphne asked me out on a Hogsmeade weekend in third year. I would've gone too, but I couldn't because I already had plans with someone else." his awkwardness increased, if it were possible. "And she quickly lost interest when she discovered that I'd been going with Pansy Parkinson." he added.
Minerva's eyebrows shot up to her hairline. Of all the pairings she hadn't expected amongst the Slytherins… The two of them had stopped moving. They were standing in a broad, well-lit hallway down in the dungeons and she had a sixteen year old boy in her clutches who had just sworn not to lie to her. She couldn't stop herself from asking questions.
"I had thought that Pansy was, er, interested in Draco Malfoy." she stated.
"Yeah. She is." Theodore agreed, with mild disgust. "Always has been. That combined with me scratching the surface of her personality was why we only had one date." he said.
"Why? What was under the surface?"
"Ah." Minerva said with a small smile. "I see." There was a moment's silence as she pondered the ethics of continuing the conversation. She quickly decided, however, that ethics were irrelevant. This was, after all, a rare opportunity to hear gossip straight from a student rather than as overheard snippets of conversation. "So Daphne wanted to go to Hogsmeade with you, but you were going to Hogsmeade with Pansy, who apparently wanted to go to Hogsmeade with Draco, who, for all appearances, wouldn't mind going to Hogsmeade with Daphne lately."
The scowl that graced Theodore's face upon hearing this observation, was nothing short of terrifying. "So it would seem." he growled. The expression on his face was magnified brilliantly by the flickering torchlight of the dungeons, until he resembled one of the guardian gargoyles placed around the castle.
Minerva nearly giggled, before she remembered that she was a teacher and as such, did not giggle. "Remembering that you're not allowed to lie, would you answer me a question?"
"Well according to the rules, I wouldn't have a choice." Theodore informed her, though he seemed far from happy about this fact.
"Splendid. So, would you or would you not leap at the chance to be part of a couple with Daphne at this point?" she asked. Theodore glared. "I'll take that as a yes. So why don't you ask her?"
"I can't believe I'm discussing this with the Head of Gryffindor House." Theodore muttered.
Minerva nodded. "Life does throw you a few curveballs on occasion. Now answer the question."
"Why don't I ask her?" he repeated. "Because she now sees me as a friend." He said the word as though it were a foul curse, not normally uttered in polite conversation.
"What gives you that impression?"
"The fact that she tried to set me up with Susan Bones." he said. "Not that I could ever go out with Susan Bones, even if I wanted to."
Yes, Minerva had to admit, that was a sign of waning romantic interest. Setting up your former love interest with one of your friends was hardly a sign of continued infatuation at any rate. Though for purely selfish reasons, Minerva would have been infinitely happier seeing Daphne with Theodore than with Draco Malfoy. Pushing such thoughts aside, she decided to request clarification on a minor point. "Why couldn't you go out with Susan Bones?"
"Because Blaise has a crush on her." he replied.
Minerva frowned. "Then… why doesn't Blaise ask her out?"
"Because she wouldn't go out with him while Mandy Brocklehurst it interested in him." Theodore told her. His scowl was slowly being replaced with an expression of amusement, which Minerva could only presume her confusion was the source of. Still, she kept on going.
"I thought Mandy Brocklehurst was seeing Anthony Goldstein?" she asked, dumbfounded.
Theodore seemed supremely unimpressed by this limited piece of knowledge and was smirking openly. "Yes. But they broke up about three months ago." Minerva tried to process this. "Now she's lusting after Blaise and he's seeing Hannah Abbot."
"But I thought Terry Boot was lusting after Hannah Abbot, to use your phrasing." she said, as her head began to spin with all this information.
"Well yeah, he was. But he didn't do anything about it and Goldstein got there first, so Terry's found someone else to direct his libidinous thoughts at."
Theodore grinned. "Pansy Parkinson."
Minerva put her head in her hands and whimpered, trying to compute all of this. Teenagers confused her, she decided. "All right." she said, raising her head a minute later. "Let me see if I've got this straight:" she took a deep breath. "Yourself and Pansy Parkinson went on a date two years ago, but only once. At the time you couldn't go with Daphne Greengrass, because you were going with Pansy, a fact which you now regret as you would like to go out with Daphne. Meanwhile, Pansy has been harbouring a crush on Draco Malfoy who has been harbouring a crush on Daphne. Daphne attempted to play matchmaker between yourself and Susan Bones, oblivious to your feelings for her, because Susan Bones has feelings for you which she is aware of. You refuse to let Susan and yourself become and item because Blaise Zabini has feelings for Susan, while Susan refuses to let herself and Blaise Zabini become and item so long as Mandy Brocklehurst has feelings for him. Correct?"
Theodore nodded. "Pretty much. I mean you missed out Hannah Abbot, Terry Boot and Anthony Goldstein, but none of them are that interesting so you can be forgiven." Minerva gaped at his casual attitude to this deluge of information. Theodore just shrugged and started walking again. "Anyway. We should get going if you want to be out of here by eleven Professor." he called back.
"And here we are." Theodore announced, a mere ten minutes later. "Home, sweet Entrance Hall." he commented.
"Excellent." a mostly-recovered Minerva sighed. "I recommend you return to your common room now Mister Nott." she said, in her very best Teacher-Voice.
"Certainly Professor." Theodore said sweetly, making it obvious that he had no intention of doing so.
Minerva rolled her eyes. "Just tell me you'll be in your dormitory by midnight?" she requested.
"Oh, that I'll do." Theodore agreed, nodding.
"I'm glad to hear it. Thank you for all your help." she said. "You've been most, er, illuminating. And whilst I mean this in the most complimentary and grateful way possible, I must regretfully inform you that I am going to try my utmost to repress every single thing you told me this evening." Minerva informed him.
Theodore grinned at her. "I think that's probably for the best. Goodnight Professor."
-The North Tower-
Minerva was pleased to say that she had never before made it all the way up to the North Tower with so very little interruption. There was that one incident with a stray penguin on the third floor, but aside from that it was clear sailing ever since she left the dungeons. To be fair, she didn't exactly go up to that particular tower frequently, and that particular occasion was the first time she had gone up there after six o'clock at night. But still, Minerva thought the lack of disastrous incidents was worth mentioning.
As she reached the trapdoor that led to Sybill's classroom, however, she was quite alarmed to see the ladder had already been drawn down and even more alarmed to hear voices coming from the classroom above. So help her, if she got up there and found Lavender Brown OR Parvati Patil, she was going to do some serious damage. Her fears were put to rest, however, as she approached the ladder. The conversation became clearer and it became quite clear that the Good Samaritan in question was a fellow teacher. A fellow, female teacher who was quite distinctly NOT Delores Umbridge.
"Oh it's so pretty!"
"Sybill get in here!"
"Such a pity it foretells of such dreadfully violent things…"
"Sybill I'm not coming up after you. If I have to Bind you and float you in, I will!"
"It's so bright. Do you see it dear? Do you see how bright Mars is?"
"You can't see Mars Sybill, it's raining."
"Nonsense! My inner eye can look beyond such trivial boundaries as… AAH!"
Minerva scrambled up the ladder as quickly as possible; the first time she had ever done so without thinking of how gloriously undignified it was to enter a classroom through a ladder. She emerged in the stuffy classroom and tried to adjust to the dimness that engulfed her. The entire room was lit only by what meagre light had managed to filter in from outside and by one rose-scented candle in the centre of the room.
She could, however, make out the faint outline of Auriga Sinistra by the window on the far-side of the room. More worryingly, she could also make out the outline of Sybill Trelawney, dangling off the edge of the roof and apparently holding on for dear life.
Minerva ran immediately over to the open window which Auriga was leaning out of, and pulled out her wand, ready to help. "What on Earth if going on?" she asked in horror.
Auriga started a bit as she saw her, but quickly recovered. "Sybill was doing some star-gazing on the roof." she said darkly. Minerva opened her mouth to point out that it was raining, but was cut off by Auriga. "Don't even say it. I know. Anyway, she slipped and now she's… hanging."
Auriga was crouched precariously on the window sill, with her hand hooked around the frame as she leant out towards where Sybill was dangling. Sybill herself had her fingers hooked over a drainpipe a few centimetres above the window frame.
"Oh hello Minerva." she greeted pleasantly. Minerva waved in response, not trusting herself to speak without cursing the idiot. Really, Pansy Parkinson going to pieces Minerva could appreciate, but Sybill was a fully-grown woman for pity's sake. This was ridiculous. She should at least be able to handle being fired without resorting to alcoholism. Or, if she really insisted upon drinking, she should at least have the common courtesy to do so with a bottle of Firewhisky and a melancholy expression, like any other self-respecting Hopeless-Drunk™.
"Do you want to drop or catch?" Auriga asked politely.
Minerva looked at her.
"What?" she asked uncomfortably. "Drop or catch. One of us has to put her under a Full-Body-Bind to make her easy to transport while the other one has to catch her quickly and levitate her inside." she stated, in a very matter-of-face voice.
"Auriga, if you don't mind my asking, how often do you do this exactly?" Minerva asked her curiously. Auriga flushed. Realising that there were more important things to be getting on with than discussing the Astronomy Professor's stranger occupations, Minerva rolled up her sleeves. "I'll catch her." Minerva stated.
"Right then." Auriga agreed, shuffling over so that Minerva could also lean out the window.
Minerva braced her left arm on the window sill and took a firm grip, as she was rather disinclined to plummet to her death. Twisting herself so that her wand arm was free to cast a simple spell, she leant outside to get a decent shot. The cold rain hit her face, but Minerva was too fed up to care by this point. In front of her Sybill was dangling like a surreal Christmas decoration or something, and Minerva actually found herself contemplating how long the (ahem) "Psychic" could stay up there without support. She was also vaguely interested to see if, from such a great height, Sybill would bounce. Purely academic curiosity, Minerva told herself, rather than any real desire to witness such an outcome. Still… it would have been interesting.
"All right." she announced as she got into position, ignoring such macabre notions. "One. Two-"
"Wait!" Auriga interrupted suddenly. Minerva peered around at her. "Are we going on three or after three?" Auriga asked.
"What's the difference?"
"Well 'on three' means that it goes: One, two, THREE, with the action occurring as we actually say three."
"The action in this case being you casting the Full-Body-Bind and me catching her. Correct?"
"Quite. Whereas 'after three' implies that it goes: One, two, three - action."
"Well then I normally go on three. It is faster, after all. Wouldn't you agree?"
"I don't see that it makes much difference either way. Besides, I normally go after three."
"You go after three? Really? How peculiar."
"Well with the after three method, one actually says three but with the on three method, the number three is replaced with the action making the number itself rather irrelevant."
"I suppose that's true, but at the same time-"
Both Minerva and Auriga snapped around, casting their respective spells instantly, on reflex. A board-stiff Sybill hung in mid-air, nearly eight feet down from where she had previously been suspended. Beside her, Minerva heard Auriga let out a sigh of relief. Minerva, who was still responsible for manoeuvring Sybill indoors, didn't quite trust herself to let out the breath which was stuck somewhere around her diaphragm.
She spent thirty, tension-filled seconds angling her just so… By the time she had the former-Divination Professor ready to enter the window, Minerva's heart was in her throat. She'd almost dropped her. She didn't believe it. Pushing herself off the ledge, she indicated for Auriga to do the same so that Sybill could enter more easily.
"Did uh…" Auriga cleared her throat and hopped down off the window sill. "Did you forget she was there, too?"
Minerva shot her a look. Auriga just raised her eyebrows. Reluctantly, Minerva nodded. "I did. Now let us never speak of it again."
She placed Sybill on one of the many armchairs strewn around the room, while Auriga undid the Body-Bind. Sybill immediately went limp and collapsed into the chair in a dead faint.
Minerva looked at her carefully. "Why is it that every time I encounter her today, it ends with her unconscious and me questioning my sanity?" she wondered aloud. Not really expecting a response, she shook her head and continued. "What were you doing here Auriga? If you don't mind my asking."
Vaguely, Minerva saw her colleague shrug. It was hard to distinguish in the dim room, but just clear enough to make out. "I was setting up for my practical class this evening when I looked down and saw her on the roof." she said, referring, Minerva presumed, to Sybill. "I came as fast as I could. Would have been here sooner if it weren't for those bloody Penguins." she muttered. "Why? What were you doing here?"
She was quickly updated her on the plan to care for Sybill. Auriga groaned but agreed all the same. Glancing around the murky room, Auriga commented, "I'll never understand how she can put up with this. I can't see a thing."
Minerva was inclined to agree. How anyone could tolerate such obscurity in their own living quarters was quite beyond her. True, they were in Sybill's classroom rather than her private quarters, but the difference was negligible at best. In point of fact, there were days where even Sybill couldn't tell the difference between the two.
Staring at the one, pitiable, flickering candle that sat upon a coffee table in the centre of the room, releasing it's sickly sweet scent upon the world while doing very little to actually light the place, Minerva was reminded intensely of Sybill. If it were possible for Ex-Divination Teachers to have wax and wick sisters, Minerva felt sure that this pathetic little candle was Sybill Trewlaney's. It was quite depressing, yet oddly hypnotic to sit there staring at the sorry little thing…
"Oh, I can't stand this anymore. Lumos. AAH!"
Minerva continued to stare at the candle, but blinked a few times. The entire room had been lit up like a Dutch brothel, slamming the candle's sickly light into obscurity and causing Minerva's pupils to contract quite painfully. In the corner Auriga had clamped her hands over her eyes and allowed her wand to clatter to the floor.
Quite mystified as to what was going on, Minerva commented "You know Auriga, your illumination charms are really quite powerful."
Auriga swore, though whether it was directed at her or not Minerva couldn't tell. As her eyes adjusted to the sudden glare, Minerva's addled brain deduced that the light which suddenly bedazzled her was most certainly not coming from Auriga's wand-light. It was, perplexingly enough, streaming in through the windows.
Minerva strode immediately over to the open window she had been dangling out of moments before, and looked outside. What she saw caused her jaw to drop.
The light was coming from the castle itself. Blindingly bright handwriting, that glowed a thousand different colours like neon signs, had covered every inch of the castle, casting a glow over the landscape for miles around. The same four words were repeated over and over, in varying sizes, covered every available surface. It read:
PROPERTY OF ALBUS DUMBLEDORE
A thousand times or more, all over the building. They could probably see it in Hogsmeade. Hell, they could probably see it from Space.
It took Minerva a moment to process the sight. When she did, her eyes flickered down to the front doors where she saw the unmistakeable figures of Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, Lee Jordan and Kenneth Towler; all sneaking in through the front doors and sniggering uncontrollably. Well, she supposed she'd asked for it.
"My God." Auriga breathed, suddenly appearing over Minerva's shoulder and grinning. "I wonder how our dear Delores will react to this?" she wondered, with a soft giggle.
Minerva had momentarily forgotten about Delores. And the Ministry. How many Ministry workers lived in Hogsmeade these days? A fair few, there was no doubt. And how many were, at this very moment, wandering towards their windows to see what had caused the sudden illumination? How many would Apparate instantly to work to report this startling new development? And would this latest act of insubordination from the students finally make Delores's head explode?
The weariness and ennui that had been beginning to affect Minerva that evening vanished in an instant. It was replaced with the strange urge to hug something. Tearing herself away from the window Minerva announced that she had somewhere she really ought to be.
"You mean the Staff Room?" Auriga asked. Minerva came to a halt by the trapdoor and stared at her questioningly. "Er… In situations like this the Heads of House are meant to go to the Staff Room, aren't they? To help the Headmistress? So isn't that where you're going?"
"Oh. Er… yeah. Sure. Why not?" Minerva agreed, before disappearing down the ladder.
-Seventh Floor, West corridor-
She'd been forced to practically sprint to get there in time; a fact which her leg muscles were keenly aware of as they throbbed painfully. Nonetheless, she reached her destination just before her targets.
She was in the hallway outside the Gryffindor Common Room. The hall itself was dark and shadowy, or at least it would have been if it weren't for the abundant light pollution streaming in through the windows. The light bounced off the polished wooden floors, and seemed to be irritating a few of the portrait's a great deal. Not the Fat Lady though.
"Good Evening Professor." she greeted pleasantly.
Minerva simply waved in response, too out of breath to return the sentiment properly. She gulped in some air and managed (barely) to look composed before they got there. The four seventh year students she had observed sneaking inside a mere five minutes previously, came thundering along the corridor with looks of triumph on their faces. The expressions wavered as they caught sight of Minerva and came to a halt by the Fat Lady's portrait.
She sent them her most commanding and disapproving scowl and was pleased to see Kenneth Towler cower a bit. The other three never cowered. She supposed it was their long-term association with Fred and George Weasley that did it. They did, however, look mildly frightened.
Lee Jordan was the first to recover. "Well you told us to be original." he muttered childishly.
"And you can't prove it was us." Angelina added, folding her arms across her chest and looking oddly like a general about to lead her troops to war. Minerva felt ridiculously proud of her at that moment.
"Quiet." she snapped. Anyone who looked like they were going to start talking immediately clammed up. Minerva raised her eyebrows at them all. "Lux scriptas ink or Lumen Locus charm?" she asked.
"Both." Alicia murmured. "And a couple of other things. We wanted some variety so it'd be harder to get rid of, but we added a trigger mechanism so it all started at the same time."
Angelina gave her a swift kick. "Just tell her everything why don't you? It'll be gone by morning now." she hissed.
"Miss Johnson, I hate to break it to you but it would have been gone by morning anyway." Minerva said harshly. Behind her, the Fat Lady was blatantly listening in, but Minerva didn't really care so she continued. "The light currently emanating from this castle has certainly reached Hogsmeade. That means that a few dozen Ministry personnel will be here within the hour to remove it. This sort of behaviour does not reflect well on the Ministry."
The seventh years looked simultaneously delighted and annoyed by the fact that the Ministry would get involved.
She continued. "Ministry involvement means that if it is ever discovered that you four were responsible for this, you will be instantly expelled and quite possibly brought before the Wizengamot. Do you understand?"
"But… But… it's just a prank!" Lee cried in horror.
"Mister Jordan, keep your voice down." she snapped. "Now that the situation has been made clear to you, it is time for the consequences…" Minerva allowed the sentence to hang ominously over the four of them.
Kenneth gulped loudly.
It wasn't that Minerva necessarily enjoyed terrorising them (though, she did), but she did feel that they should be made to understand the sort of forces they were dealing with. She strode back and forth a few times before turning to face them properly, with her hand clamped behind her back. "Five points apiece for original and ingenious application of everyday spell work." she announced. Four eyes widened like dinner plates. "And twenty-five points from Gryffindor for enchanting the East Hallway with the Glissante Charm. Now get to bed. All of you."
"But Professor! We didn't!"
"We don't know anything about that!"
"You can't possibly nail that on us!"
"What makes you think we did it?" Angelina asked, being the only one of the four to take even a vaguely calm approach to this announcement. True, her face was contorted in a fierce glare, but at least she could communicate properly.
Minerva waved her hand impatiently. "Of course you did it. I've been reprehending for it for the past hour and a half. Now stop wasting my time and get to bed. Now!" she dismissed them.
Comprehension dawned on four young faces, quickly followed by intense gratitude and appreciation.
"You're covering for us?" Alicia asked in awe. "You?"
Minerva rolled her eyes and turned sharply on her heel, heading downstairs. "I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about Miss Spinnet. And if the four of you don't get into that Common Room in the next thirty seconds, you will all receive a detention." she told them.
There was an instant scrabbling for the Fat Lady's portrait.
"Professor?" Angelina called after her.
Minerva turned back, hand on hip, and glared expectantly at her. "Miss Johnson?"
Angelina grinned. "I like your blouse." And with that statement, she dove for the open Portrait Hole.
Minerva opened the Staff Room door and, for the first time that day, found it more-or-less empty. There were only two occupants of the room, the first being a very stressed looking Delores Umbridge and the second being one of the penguins which seemed to be taking over the school. The penguin was asleep on one of the couches while Delores paced in front of the fireplace.
"Finally!" she shrieked, throwing her hands up and stomping towards Minerva. "This travesty occurred nearly twenty minutes ago and you are the first teacher to respond! Where are the rest of you?" Delores demanded.
Minerva froze in the doorway and considered it for a moment. "Well," she said. "Only the Heads of House are technically required to respond under circumstances such as this, where no students are in actual danger."
"So where are the other Heads of House!"
"Professors Sprout and Flitwick enjoy a relatively early night, since both are quite firm morning people." Minerva explained. "As for Professor Snape - his office, classroom and living quarters are all in the dungeons. I think it exceedingly likely that he is not even aware of the situation."
Minerva closed the door behind her and took a seat opposite the slumbering penguin, as though there were nothing out of the ordinary happening. She helped herself to a fat piece of fudge from the tin that sat on the coffee table and began nibbling on it carelessly while Delores fumed. That penguin really did look comfortable, Minerva thought idly. In all her life she'd never seen someone look so utterly relaxed on that particular couch. She was actually a bit jealous. She wondered if the House Elves had changed her sheets… it was so hard to keep track of when they did such things…
Minerva realised that Delores was talking and that she should, at the very least, feign interest.
"We've got a lot of work ahead of us, that's for sure." she stated, waddling back and forth. "I've already spoken to the Minister, he's quite outraged. This behaviour cannot be tolerated, I'm sure you'll agree."
She really must be desperate, Minerva realised. If she thought for a second that Minerva was going to be helpful in this instance. Then again, there was no real reason why Minerva shouldn't help if it meant she was going to benefit from it. Or, more accurately, if her students were going to benefit.
The cogs started turning in Minerva's mind as she watched the Headmistress rant incoherently in front of her. Oh yes, Minerva thought, this certainly was quite the opportunity.
"I'll guarantee it was that seventh year lot. Always causing trouble. They'll never get into the Ministry, I'll tell you that much. Those wicked, contemptible little-"
"I hate to disappoint you Delores, but if you are referring to Miss Johnson, Miss Spinnet, Mister Jordan and Mister Towler, they have been with me since ten o'clock." Minerva said simply.
Delores stared at Minerva incredulously. "With you? Why?" she asked, suspicion evident.
She was really such a hapless twit on occasions. It was quite disheartening to think that one's main antagonist was that dense, or for Minerva it was. She usually had a distinctly higher class of enemy. "I must regretfully inform you that it was they who were responsible for the Glissante charm in the East Hallway." she said gravely. "Points have been deducted of course, and they were severely reprimanded. I only permitted them to return to their common room when I saw the… er… graffiti, shall we call it." she said, gesturing towards the bright window.
Delores scrutinised Minerva for a few seconds. "Is that so?" she asked quietly. Her eyes drifted down and she took in Minerva's attire. It took a moment but they eventually sunk in… "Your clothes! You're wearing muggle clothing!" she cried.
Minerva wondered if giving her superior a slow and immensely sarcastic round of applause for her quick wit and observation skills, could be considered mutinous. Rather than risk it, she merely stared back at Delores in her patented Unaffected-Feline manner.
"You weren't wearing muggle clothes earlier." Delores continued, in a manner which indicated this fact was undeniable proof of wrongdoing.
"I am aware of this fact Delores." Minerva said.
"Well why are you wearing them now?"
"I have been known to change my attire on occasion." She glanced at the pink, tweed poncho that Delores had been wearing all day and felt penitence that she didn't do the same. Deciding to do the thing properly, Minerva continued. "I had a bath earlier on to relax. I had very little sleep last night and a long day today. Since I was unlikely to relax in my work robes, I decided to change out of them. Surely there isn't an Educational decree against that, is there Delores?" she asked sweetly.
Delores huffed. "Well it is frowned upon to show yourself to students in such apparel Minerva." she said disapprovingly.
"Hmm. I know. Thing is, I very rarely see students after classes. At least until recently." she said, clearly indicating that the whole thing was Delores's fault and that the bitter old toad should feel shame. The fact that she didn't wasn't exactly a huge surprise, but she should nonetheless. "But back to the point. Would you like my assistance or not?"
Delores nodded sharply. "Certainly. We'll get to work at once. Follow me."
Pfft. As if. Minerva thought cynically as Delores headed for the door. "Ah. Yes. Well. See the thing is Delores I can't actually help in so, ah, direct a manner." Minerva said loudly.
Delores spun back. "What? What do you mean? Why not? What do you mean? Why can't you?" she asked, sounding like a machine gun she was asking so quickly. "This insubordination will be reported to the Ministry!" she finished shrilly.
"It is Ministry guidelines which prevent me from helping you Delores." Minerva told her, polishing off the piece of fudge and wondering if it would be too terribly greedy to take another.
"What are you talking about?" Delores asked, with a hooked eyebrow.
Minerva smiled. "Educational Decree Number Thirty One, passed just this afternoon, states that no Hogwarts staff save the Headmistress herself may enchant, bewitch or otherwise modify any aspect or feature of the school." she recited contritely. "If we are to follow this to the letter, Delores, it would in fact be quite illegal for me to help you. Fudge?"
Delores was gaping like a codfish. Minerva took this as a no and returned the fudge to the tin.
The Headmistress took a moment and finally returned to her senses. "You would be working with me directly. And I would put in a good word with the Minister." she laughed a breathy little laugh. "Nothing would happen to you." Though she sounded unsure.
Minerva smiled thinly. She got to her feet and walked over to the window, where the brilliant light was still streaming in. "Do you see that? Down there?" she asked. "That, Delores, is Hogsmeade. I happen to know for a fact that Darren Dawlish lives in Hogsmeade. He interviewed me earlier today, you know." Delores, of course, knew full well. That wasn't the point. Minerva continued conversationally. "During that interview, Delores, he made it abundantly clear that he would love nothing better than to lock me away. He can probably see this vandalism right now. Even as we speak he could be heading up here. And if he were to find me breaking a law passed only a few hours ago, he would send me to Azkaban as soon as look at me." she looked up at Delores. "The Minister would never even be contacted."
Delores made a noise somewhere between a croak and a whimper, but she didn't disagree.
"I could of course…" Minerva started thoughtfully. She broke off, shaking her head. "No, no. I couldn't possibly. Even if it wouldn't get me caught, it would still be unethical. Never mind. Best of luck Delores." she started towards the door, counting down in her head.
"WAIT!" Delores screeched. Minerva so loved being right.
She stopped in her tracks and looked back at Delores. She was the very picture of the word Desperation. "Yes?"
"What? What could you do? This will take hours! Don't you see that? Hours! It might make it to the Prophet!" she said frantically. "What, Minerva? What could you do?"
Minerva took a long-suffering sigh and clasped her hands in front of her. "I'd like to help you Delores, really I would. Not for you of course, as I'm sure you're aware that we hardly get along, but for the reputation of Hogwarts." she paused dramatically. "But it would involve such personal risk that… Well, I'm sorry it simply wouldn't be worth my while."
She had chosen her words very carefully, and was pleased to see it pay off almost instantly. Delores was apparently thinking hard. Within a few short seconds, the Headmistress had a plan. It struck Minerva that she may have really missed her calling as a Slytherin.
"What if I made it worth your while?" she simpered. "A pay rise perhaps? A good word in the Minister's ear? Job security? Anything!" Minerva very nearly cursed her for suggesting that she didn't already have job security, but let it pass.
She adopted a thoughtful expression. "Anything? Well… there is one thing you could do for me Delores." she said.
Delores leant forwards, looking eager.
Minerva smiled. "Hermione Granger." she said.
A look of revulsion crossed the Headmistress's face. "What about her?"
"You said this morning at breakfast that she would never pass another piece of homework." Minerva reminded her. "I would appreciate it if you would retract that statement."
An internal battle seemed to be occurring inside Delores Umbridge. One which Minerva would have almost certainly found entertaining, had she had the opportunity to sit down and really appreciate it, perhaps with a glass of Elf-made Wine and a couple of canapés. At the moment, however, she could only feel a sense of fleeting amusement at the spectacle. On the one hand, helping Minerva would mean helping Hermione; a concept which was quite clearly an anathema for dear old Delores. On the other hand, helping Minerva would also mean getting some help in return, something which she desperately needed at that point.
Had Minerva been in her position, she would have demanded that whomever she was dealing with clarify exactly what help they were offering. But then, Delores was apparently much more used to vague threats, inexplicit offers of help, and general shady dealings than Minerva had given her credit for, as she seemed used to this sort of hoopla. In many ways, Minerva preferred dealing with criminals to politicians; at least with criminals you were clear on what you were getting. Yes, they would try to swindle you and cheat you out of all you were worth, but at least they were upfront about it.
Delores came to a decision. Finally.
"Very well, Minerva." she said through gritted teeth. "I will continue to grade Miss Granger normally."
"And I am to take your word alone on this fact?" Minerva asked sceptically, with raised brows. "I think not Delores."
"I swear." Delores snapped. "What do you want? An Unbreakable vow from me?"
"That would certainly do the job." Minerva commented, wondering if she could persuade Delores into it. If she could then all Hogwarts problems would be solved the next time Gryffindor was assigned Defence Against the Dark Arts homework and Delores Umbridge would snuff it quickly, quietly and without making too much of a mess. Voila: Happy Hogwarts. It wasn't very likely though.
Delores stomped her foot. "Don't be ridiculous, Minerva!"
Minerva stared at Delores's shoe. She had really just stomped her foot. It was remarkable. Minerva had never seen a fully-grown woman do such a thing. Then again, she'd never seen a fully-grown woman keep pictures of fluffy white kittens in her office either, so perhaps she shouldn't be so surprised. Still. It was hardly probative with regards to maintaining the authority of the staff to have a Headmistress who threw mini-temper tantrums. A little decorum was all she asked.
"What if…" Delores took a deep breath, as though she were about to utter some abhorrent malediction. "What if I got Professor Snape to correct Miss Granger's work from now on?" she suggested. "You could, of course, check in with him to see that it was being carried out. You could hold me to it. I give you my word."
Delores Umbridge's verbal agreements were not worth the air into which they were uttered. But her fear for Professor McGonagall, and indeed Professor Snape, was irrefutable enough. Minerva nodded. "Yes. That would be most satisfactory." she agreed, heading once more for the door.
"Wait!" Delores shrieked. "What about your part of the deal? You said you were going to help!"
Minerva chuckled carelessly. "Oh yes. I forgot. How silly of me."
"Well?" Delores implored.
Minerva made a great show of surreptitiously checking to see if anyone was listening, which caused Delores to inch closer and closer to her. When at last she was close enough, Minerva crouched down to her level and adopted a stage whisper.
"On the First Floor." she confided. "Behind the statue of Urg the Unclean…"
"Yes, yes, yes?" Delores whispered back hopefully, as though Minerva held the secrets to the universe.
"If you tap him with your wand, he'll leap to one side. And behind him… you'll find some extra Magical Mess Remover and a spare mop. Goodnight."
Minerva had already turned and sauntered out of the room before Delores could compose herself enough to respond.
-Sixth Floor, South Balcony-
It occurred to Minerva, as she made her way back upstairs to her personal quarters, that if any Muggle had seen her at that moment they would have surely known she was a witch. Despite her muggle clothing, and the fact that her wand was completely out of sight, she was utterly certain that any unsuspecting muggle who saw her would have deduced her true nature instantly.
Perhaps it was the wild black hair (she'd taken it down somewhere on the second floor, not seeing any reason to continue the pretence of propriety). Perhaps it was the pointy black boots. Perhaps it was the severe features she'd had all her life. Or perhaps it was her gleaming eyes and demented cackling that would have tipped them off. Whatever it was, it would have betrayed her in a heartbeat.
But she had trouble caring. Just like she had trouble caring about the fact that if any students saw her in such a state, she could kiss her hard-earned reputation goodbye. In fact, at that very moment, the only thing she really cared about was the fact that she couldn't breathe. Which was why she threw open the French windows at the end of the sixth floor corridor and stepped out onto the balcony, desperately praying that some wind, rain and blinding, multi-coloured lights would calm her down. Besides, she still had one thing to do before she went to bed.
The wind and rain slapped at her face as they had done innumerable times before that day, this time, however, she had trouble caring. Gasping and wheezing, she took in as much air as possible and tried to compose herself. After a few minutes, she finally managed it. She knew that no one on the ground could see her, as she was somewhat disguised by the dazzling lettering that surrounded her. As such, Minerva didn't think her reputation was under threat anymore.
However the howling winds had hardly lessened Minerva's resemblance to the Wicked Witch of the West. Her hair now rose up around her face like the snakes on Medusa. Still, at least she'd stopped cackling.
She pulled out her wand and concentrated as best she could. "Accio Coat." she commanded.
It would take a while for it to get there, she knew. She could fill in the time easily enough. The Balcony didn't look over the front of the castle, so it was unlikely anyone would see her coat flying through the air. She had to tie up loose ends though. If some Ministry Employee headed up to help Delores, happened to shelter momentarily under a tree and spotted something suspicious… She had muggle money, a receipt from dinner, an receipt from Fred and George, an antidote to Veritaserum and God-knew-what-else in there. If anyone could place her in that coat she'd have been sent to Azkaban quicker than the guests at a Lestrange family reunion. Not because of anything particularly illegal she'd done, but because of the possible illegal things the Ministry could pin on her in the interim.
They were keen to get rid of anyone considered a supporter of Dumbledore, and Minerva more than fit that description.
The Lake down below her was stirring violently in the weather. There was no sign of the Giant Squid, who tended to take refuge deeper in the lake during such weather. The lights of the castle reflected in the water, so that the phrase "Property of Albus Dumbledore" was repeated hundreds of times, backwards and illegible in the churning water. It was quite pretty in an odd sort of way. Lee and Angelina should be proud.
She knew it had been Lee and Angelina who had masterminded the prank. Alicia was too… well… nice to be so devious, and as much as she hated to say it, Kenneth Towler just didn't have the brains. It wasn't that Lee and Angelina were cold hearted geniuses or anything, just that they were a bit more inclined to such behaviour and a bit more capable of the actual mechanics involved.
Minerva had heard a rumour that Angelina was wanted for the Holyhead Harpies reserve team. She'd also heard a rumour that the Queer Dick Quidditch Hour on the Wizarding Wireless (which normally took a lot longer than an hour) wanted Lee Jordan as an understudy to their current commentator. Minerva sincerely hoped both rumours were true. Not only because the idiot on the Queer Dick Quidditch Hour annoyed her intensely, but because it would be nice to hear Lee Jordan commentate without having to spend the entire time scolding him. He was actually entertaining when you weren't his teacher.
A short distance away, Minerva could hear a faint whistling which indicated the imminent arrival of her coat. Her coat which she was supremely grateful she'd enchanted to repel water, given the weather conditions. It flew into her outstretched hand and she snatched it quickly. The second it did, however, Minerva knew there was something wrong. It was too heavy.
Visions of tracing devices from the Ministry, or more sinister devices from Lord Voldemort, danced frantically through her head. She very nearly set the thing on fire right there, just to be on the safe side but managed to restrain herself.
She did, however, seal the door behind her shut. If it was something malignant, she damn well wouldn't be setting it loose on the students. Looking down at the heavy woollen coat, Minerva vaguely wished she had an umbrella but it seemed rather silly to conjure one.
Emptying the left pocket, she was pleased to find nothing out of place. She returned the assorted papers to their original place and turned her attentions to the right pocket. After determining that there was nothing lurking in the coat lining or some such, of course. But a quick scan revealed that it was, in fact, the right pocket she was dealing with. She prodded it suspiciously with her wand, but nothing happened. It made the chances of her blowing up the school slimmer, but didn't remove them completely.
Minerva lifted the flap slowly and peered inside.
There was nothing particularly ominous in there. And she was quite certain she had not unleashed the breath of a Nundu or anything upon Hogwarts. Rather, all the pocket contained was a medium-sized, metal hipflask with a note wrapped around it.
Minerva let out a breath. "Well, if it kills me now, at least my last act on this good Earth was infuriating Delores." she muttered. The rain was still lashing down, but she had trouble caring. She swiftly removed the note surrounding the hipflask, but continued to eye the object itself with caution.
The note was written on heavy, yellowing parchment in rich, black ink. The handwriting was elaborate and strangely pleasing to the eye. It was, however, the signature at the bottom which made Minerva's face split into a grin. It read as follows:
I thought you might appreciate this, given the unfortunate circumstances in the Kitchens.
In other news, I must say that while I find the castle's recent make-over a tad extreme, it is quite delightful nonetheless. You will be pleased to hear that Darren Dawlish suspected you instantly. I seem to recall you disliked him quite a bit.
Oh, and just so you know, I thought your blouse looked lovely.
Yours sincerely, Albus Dumbledore. Who very much wishes he could communicate with you more directly.
Minerva read it through several times, until she had memorised every word of it, before setting it alight. No evidence could be left behind after all. She then glanced at the hipflask, with a smile still gracing her face. She opened the lid the tiniest fraction and…
The rich, delicious smell of Honeydukes Finest Drinking Chocolate wafted out. Minerva closed her eyes in ecstasy and savoured it.
"Thank you." she murmured. "Much appreciated." With a small laugh she slid her coat into the crook of her elbow and closed the flask, before re-entering the castle and heading straight for her Bedroom Quarters.
Thoroughly exhausted, both mentally and physically, Minerva practically floated into her Bedroom. The House Elves, the little darlings, had made her bed with clean sheets and turned them down. They had also lit the fire in the hearth and laid out her favourite nightshirt for her, at Driscoll's request, no doubt.
Driscoll himself was watching her with an expression which suggested he was about to tell her he'd killed her dog. "I'm so very sorry Minerva," he said dolefully. "It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of, but the Kitchens… well they don't have any… what I mean is…"
Minerva placed the hipflask on a small table by the fireplace and smiled at her personal messenger. "It's perfectly all right. I acquired some Hot Chocolate through other means."
Driscoll beamed at her. "Oh. Well. That's all right then." he said.
"Thank you for the thought though." Minerva commented.
She slid off her boots and sank gratefully into her armchair by the fire, feeling all the tension of the day drain out of her. She luxuriated in it for a moment before reaching for her flask. Glancing up at Driscoll, she also saw that he was watching her strangely.
"What?" she asked him.
"Nothing." he responded hastily. "Nothing at all. You just…" he shook his head. "And how was your day?"
Minerva considered her answer a moment, a small smile playing at her lips. "You know, it was really rather pleasant come to think of it. Not in by traditional definition of course, but fairly enjoyable all the same."
"Glad to hear it."
"And yours?" she asked politely, before taking a sip of her drink. The rich, toothsome liquid trickled down her throat, instantly soothing her even more than she would have thought possible. God Bless Albus Dumbledore, she thought gratefully.
Driscoll stared at her. "Y-you, you really want to know about my day?" he asked her, clearly suspecting a trick of some sort. Minerva felt a pang of guilt as she realised she'd never asked him that before.
She nodded emphatically. "Leave nothing out." she requested, drawing her legs up and settling in for a long stay.
Driscoll grinned at her and took a seat. Minerva smiled benignly, snuggled deeper into her armchair and took another sip of her hot chocolate. "Funny you should ask." he said, straightening his purple top hat importantly. "As you wouldn't believe the day I've had…"