Rating/warnings: M for self-harm
Disclaimer: Everyone make sure you're sitting down, and prepare yourselves for a shock … (drumroll) I don't own Harry Potter! (audience gasps and faints)
A/N: The Prelude is not finished yet, but I'm posting the first chapter of this one anyway. It does have a few minor spoilers for the Prelude in the first few chapters but by the time it gets to major spoilers I'll have posted the rest of it.
The first couple of paragraphs after the first scene break are from GoF chapter 18. The story is more or less canon up till that chapter.
About a Kitten: Foundations of Glass
Chapter One: Red, Gold and Red
Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice; but for those who love, time is eternity
- Henry Van Dyke
The Muggle crumpled to the floor, dead. Voldemort lowered the wand. Wormtail looked away.
"I wish for us to wrap up this pointless disagreement now, Wormtail. Perhaps we can move onto a different subject. What became of the girl?"
"Th-the Dumbledore girl, you mean, my Lord?"
"No, Wormtail, the bar lady of the Three Broomsticks," Voldemort snapped sarcastically. "Of course the Dumbledore girl."
"S-she died, my Lord."
There was silence for a minute, then Voldemort answered smoothly, "I see."
"She had begun to fight the Imperious, and was gaining control of herself again. Lucius Malfoy disposed of her."
"When was this?"
"A couple of years ago, my Lord. I believe she was sixteen at the time."
"Sixteen," mused Voldemort. "Such a waste. She could have had many more uses than she was given."
"Th-there is s-something else, though, my Lord."
"What? Spit it out, Wormtail!"
"The g-girl had a – a child. A daughter."
There was silence for several minutes. Wormtail squirmed. Finally Voldemort said, "Really."
"Yes, my Lord. Just a few months before her death. I don't think they ever found out which of the Death Eaters was the father."
"Dumbledore has a grandchild," Voldemort mused quietly. "That could be very useful. I assume she is with the Malfoys now?"
"As far as I know, my Lord."
"And her name?"
"I doubt they gave her one, my Lord."
"When the plan is completed," Voldemort said in a stronger voice, "and Harry Potter is dead, and I am back to full power, you, Wormtail, will be in charge of keeping the child."
Wormtail was quiet for a moment, before answering, "As you wish, my Lord."
"I do not yet know how she will come in useful, but no doubt her time will come. I will wait a while after I regain my powers before doing anything with her. Dumbledore is probably not aware of her existence. Once he recalls his pathetic little Order, I will find a way to let him know … and he will come running." Voldemort let out a mirthless chuckle. "I should have known when I set the curse upon him that it would not satisfy me … I want to see him scream, Wormtail. I want to see him beg for death at my hand."
"Revenge is such a sweet thing, isn't it, Wormtail? I have longed for it for over forty years." Voldemort sighed. "If I can wait forty years, I can wait a little longer … but I am getting impatient. It is about time Dumbledore paid for what he dared."
Wormtail remained silent. Sometimes Voldemort would go off on rants about Dumbledore and revenge, but none of them knew what it was Dumbledore was supposed to have done. Rumour said that it involved a woman, but most privately agreed that Voldemort was incapable of loving anyone, and therefore it couldn't be. This was the first time he had mentioned anything about a curse. Wormtail was curious to know what sort of curse, but he didn't dare ask.
"Foolish Gryffindors," Voldemort said suddenly. "The Sorting Hat must have chosen correctly after all. Minerva must have had more recklessness than sense."
Wormtail's head shot up. "Minerva McGonagall, my Lord? As in the Transfiguration teacher?"
"Ah, yes; I forgot you were her pupil. Tell me, Wormtail, how was she looking the last time you saw her? She was quite a beauty back when we were young … pity she had to go down the other road. She once confided in me that she thought the Hat had made the wrong choice …" he chuckled. "She was brave enough to go running to Dumbledore. And it seems they were brave – or stupid – enough to have a family, when they knew it would be cursed …" Voldemort laughed sinisterly. "She belonged in Gryffindor all right."
A chill ran up Wormtail's spine. When Voldemort was too worked up to be cautious about what he said, it was never a good sign. In a few sentences, Voldemort had revealed that not only had Voldemort had – for want of a better word – liked Minerva McGonagall, whom Wormtail had always been rather fond of and almost admired, and that McGonagall herself had something going on with Dumbledore – not that that should have been much of a surprise.
And it seemed she was the girl's grandmother. Wormtail shivered. He had never tried Occlumency before, but he had been trying it out as much as possible, in the hope of hiding the second – and third and fourth – thoughts he was having about returning to his old Lord's side. Although Professor McGonagall had been quite sharp with him back when he was a pupil, she had also helped him a great deal, and he didn't like the sound of what it seemed Voldemort had in store for her, or Dumbledore. Wormtail swallowed. It seemed Voldemort had picked up on his thoughts – this was the time to make his final decision. He attempted desperately to clear his mind as Voldemort, fiddling with his wand in his hand, started to speak again.
"No doubt you wonder, Wormtail, why I tell you all this." He laughed. "I tell you this because you are a fool, and you are not clever enough to be able to repeat this to anyone else. In fact -" Voldemort raised his wand "- you won't even remember it.
When Harry woke up on Sunday morning, it took him a moment to remember why he felt so miserable and worried. Then the memory of the previous night rolled over him. He sat up and ripped back the curtains of his own four-poster, intending to talk to Ron, to force Ron to believe him – only to find that Ron's bed was empty; he had obviously gone down to breakfast.
Harry dressed and went down the spiral staircase into the common room. The moment he appeared, the people who had already finished breakfast broke into applause again. The prospect of going down into the Great Hall and facing the rest of the Gryffindors, all treating him like some sort of hero, was not inviting; it was that, however, or stay here and allow himself to be cornered by the Creevey brothers, who were both beckoning frantically to him to join them. He walked resolutely over to the portrait hole, pushed it open, climbed out of it and found himself face to face with Ginny.
"Hello," she said. "Are you looking for Ron and Hermione?"
Harry made an indistinct noise in his throat at Ron's name.
"Ron's still at breakfast, and Hermione isn't up yet. I was just going down; do you want to join me, Harry?"
"Um … no thanks, Ginny; I think I'll just go for a walk. I appreciate the offer though."
"Okay, see you around."
Harry waited till Ginny was out of sight before starting in a different direction. He wasn't sure where he was going, and he took little notice of everything around him till he heard two angry voices.
The first was Professor McGonagall's. The second sounded like Dumbledore's.
"The lesser? The lesser? For goodness' sake Albus!You are not thinking rationally!"
"I'm not thinking rationally? Who was it that was telling me off for showing my feelings all these years and now all of a sudden is trying to convince me to let everything we've worked so hard to keep for so long just drop?"
Harry stopped, not wanting to eavesdrop, and considered going back and taking a different route, before a door several feet before him that he hadn't known was there swung open and someone came out.
Before Dumbledore could say any more or Harry could announce his presence, The Someone stumbled and a pile of boxes went flying. If Harry hadn't known better, he could have sworn that he heard Professor McGonagall curse as one fell on her foot.
Dumbledore stepped forward to help her pick up the boxes, but she let out a hiss like an angry cat – Harry marvelled at how much one could sound like their Animagus form – and he drew back sharply. Harry hurried forward and picked up one of the boxes. It was fairly heavy.
"Here, Professor …"
"Thank you, Potter," she said, once she'd straightened up and realised who was helping her.
"Minerva, I really think we should talk about this -" Dumbledore began, but cowed under the glare she sent his way.
"I've done enough talking, Albus, and the answer is no. If you are not going to listen to me, then I'm taking my opinions elsewhere until you see sense." With that she turned sharply, ignoring Harry, and swept off down the corridor. Harry, who was still carrying two of her boxes, could think of nothing to do but follow. He glanced back at Dumbledore as he rounded the corner, and saw the headmaster was standing in the middle of the corridor as if he wasn't quite sure what had happened.
Harry walked quickly to keep up with Professor McGonagall, who seemed to be in a very bad mood. He noticed the paintings flinch and the candlesticks actually melted as she passed.
She stopped dead outside a portrait on the fourth floor, and Harry almost walked into her.
"Bumblebee," she growled at the subject, who scurried into the frame and opened up. Harry, not knowing what else to do, followed Professor McGonagall inside.
"I need to change that password," she muttered to herself, setting her boxes down. Harry followed suit, looking around. It appeared to be the combined living-room and kitchen of someone's private chambers, except it seemed neglected of late. There was little furniture, no other home comforts, and a thick layer of dust everywhere.
"Er … Professor?"
"Just set it down anywhere, Potter, please."
"It's not that, I've done it – you're not leaving Hogwarts, are you?"
She looked up at him in surprise. "Oh! – No, Potter, I'm not leaving. Not the school, anyway." She opened up the top box to reveal it full of kitchen appliances. "Do you want a cup of tea?"
"Er … yeah, okay, I suppose. Thanks."
Professor McGonagall took out a kettle, set it on the dusty stove and prodded it with her wand, and began to unpack the rest of the box, muttering darkly under her breath as she did so. Harry hesitated before starting to help.
Several minutes later, apart from the dust, the kitchen part of the room looked in use. Professor McGonagall poured out two cups of tea and gave one to Harry, who sipped it, looking around curiously. The staff's quarters had never been officially classed as out-of-bounds for the students, but it seemed to be an unspoken rule that they never entered.
"So," Professor McGonagall said suddenly, making him jump, "Something's bothering you, Potter. Out with it." She gestured for him to sit down.
"After last night, I'm surprised you had to ask, Professor," Harry replied dully.
"A good point." She watched him for a moment, then a thought seemed to strike her. "Why were you in that corridor?"
"Trying to avoid the masses," Harry admitted.
"Ah. I take it you don't like the idea of going down into the Great Hall very much." Harry shook his head. "I don't think I fancy the idea either … Would you like to eat here?"
"Er …" Having tea with a teacher was one thing; having breakfast with them was another. But it beat going down to the Great Hall by a long shot. "Yeah, all right."
Professor McGonagall set her empty cup down and swished her wand to apparently summon a house-elf. Harry stared as a familiar figure with bat-like ears and a long pencil nose appeared with a crack. "What is Professor McGonagall wanting?"
"Dobby?" Harry asked incredulously.
There was a squeal and suddenly Harry found himself being hugged extremely tightly. "Harry Potter sir, Harry Potter! Dobby has been hoping and hoping to see Harry Potter, sir, and now he is!"
Harry shot a nasty look at Professor McGonagall, who was leaning back in her chair with her hands over her mouth, apparently smothering a laugh. Dobby let go and stepped back a few paces, beaming up at Harry, his enormous, green, tennis-ball-shaped eyes brimming with tears of happiness. He looked almost exactly as Harry remembered him – except for the clothes, which could only be described as weird.
"Dobby, what're you doing here?" Harry asked in amazement.
"Dobby has come to work at Hogwarts, sir!" Dobby squealed excitedly. "Professor Dumbledore gave Dobby and Winky jobs, sir!"
"Winky? She's here too?" Harry felt slightly dazed.
"Yes, sir, yes!"
Dobby pulled Harry into another bone-crunching hug. Harry grimaced. Professor McGonagall cleared her throat.
"Friend of yours, Mr Potter?"
"Harry Potter is setting Dobby free," Dobby gushed ecstatically. "Dobby is eternally indebted to Harry Potter …"
"No, you're not," Harry said firmly. "I did what any decent wizard would do. If your old masters were even a fraction of decent, they wouldn't have treated you like that in the first place."
Dobby didn't look convinced. Professor McGonagall took advantage of the silence to cut in. "Well Dobby, now you're here, maybe you could get us some breakfast?"
"Of course, Professor!" Dobby beamed happily and disappeared without waiting for the order.
Harry looked at Professor McGonagall. "How long has Dobby been working here?"
"Since the beginning of term." She paused as a breakfast tray laden with enough food for five people appeared on the table and shook her head. "House-elves. They always overdo it. Well, don't just stand there, help yourself."
Harry sat, picked a piece of toast and after a moment of consideration plonked a spoonful of baked beans on it to make it look like more, though he wasn't really hungry. Professor McGonagall's mind seemed to be elsewhere as she filled a bowl with cereal. Harry noticed only just in time that she was about to pour orange juice on it.
"Professor!" he said, grabbing her wrist. To his surprise she jerked her arm away violently, spilling orange juice all over the table.
"Oh, no …"
"Sorry." Harry started mopping it up with a napkin but Professor McGonagall Vanished it with her wand.
"It doesn't matter," she said firmly as he tried to apologise again. "It was my fault." She picked up the milk. "Let me know if I try and do something stupid again."
Harry grinned as he sat back down. "Knut for your thoughts, Professor?"
"I could open a Gringotts vault with the amount of thinking I've done," she replied seriously. "But sometimes one needs to talk as well as think." She filled a spoon with Pumpkin Nut Crunch. "So, talk."
Harry blinked. "Me?"
Professor McGonagall swallowed her mouthful and answered. "Yes, you, Harry. You're thinking about last night, correct?"
He nodded, toying with the beans on his fork. "Someone, Merlin knows who, entered me for a competition for which I am underage and people have died in, Gryffindor is treating me as some sort of hero, no-one believes I didn't enter of my own accord, and Voldemort's supporters have been active again as of late." He paused. "Yeah, that just about sums it up."
"Something more than that, I think," Professor McGonagall said, setting down her spoon.
Harry stared at her for a moment. She had a knowing look in her green eyes. He sighed. "It's Ron. He's behaving like a – like I entered, and I should have told him. He's not speaking to me." He swallowed. "Out of everyone, I thought he'd believe me."
Professor McGonagall remained silent for a moment. "Look at it this way, Harry," she said finally. "You and Mr Weasley have been best friends for three years, for which you have always, whether you liked it or not, been a school celebrity. Inside he knows you don't like it and don't ask for it, but it always seems everything happens to you and he's always pushed to one side. Then, he's always felt inferior to his brothers, as they all succeeded in one way or another, whether it was academic achievement or making people laugh, and he's always felt like he's got to have his own identity, rather than being his brother's family, or the best friend of the Boy-Who-Lived. He puts up with being shoved aside, because you're his best friend, but there comes a point when one cracks."
Harry stared at her. "You could become a psychologist," he muttered.
"No I couldn't," she murmured quietly, more to herself. "I'd make a bad one."
Slightly surprised at this comment, Harry said nothing and just sipped his tea.
"Have you written to Sirius yet?"
Harry choked. "How did you -"
"You're not his only correspondent, you know. I've been in touch with him all summer, and so has Professor Dumbledore."
"Oh. Um … No, I haven't. I don't know what to tell him, really."
Professor McGonagall raised her eyebrows. "When nothing else springs to mind, it usually means the truth is the best bet."
"Right," Harry mumbled. "I'll remember that."
Professor McGonagall heaved a sigh.
"So, the fact that Mr Wea – Ron isn't speaking to you is the thing that's bugging you the most at the moment, correct?"
Harry nodded. "He's my best friend. We've never fallen out before. Him and Hermione, plenty of times, but not us. It's an alien feeling, really … him not speaking to me … like I feel … I dunno … incomplete."
She nodded. "I know the feeling."
Harry hesitated. "Professor … This is probably a bit of a childish thing to ask … but have you fallen out with Professor Dumbledore?"
She suddenly looked uptight. "Harry, how much of our conversation did you hear?"
"Just a couple of lines, I think. I don't really remember what it was about. I wasn't trying to eavesdrop; I was just backtracking when you came out, and I thought I ought to help …"
Professor McGonagall nodded again, obviously relieved. "Thank you. I didn't realise we were being so loud. It was a rather … personal argument."
"Are you two going to be making it up any time soon?"
She sighed. "I doubt it. He's being so … so bloody stubborn."
Harry privately thought this was the pot calling the kettle black, but he didn't think it wise to point this out. "I didn't hear that."
"No, you didn't."
Professor McGonagall seemed to be on another planet again: her eyes were staring at an empty spot on the table and she was stirring her cereal absent-mindedly. Harry watched her for a minute or two before breaking the silence.
"What do you think I should do about Ron, Professor?"
She jumped as if she'd forgotten he was in the room. "Oh … If I were you I'd leave it a while for it to sink in, and then try talking to him again. If that doesn't work, maybe he needs more time. He will come round in the end, Harry. But it may be a while first."
"You don't think I've completely ruined our friendship then?"
"No!" Professor McGonagall set down her spoon rather hard and it clanged against the bowl. "Listen to me, Harry. First of all, none of this is your fault. If you go through life with that attitude, you won't get anywhere. Trust me on that one," she added as he tried to interrupt. "Secondly, I know you and Ron better than you may think I do, and you have the sort of relationship that many wish they had. The bond between you is much too strong to be broken by a bout of jealousy."
"Jealousy? Who's jealous?"
"Ron is." Professor McGonagall looked like she wanted to add "You idiot," on the end of that sentence but refrained from it.
"Of me? What, he wants to make a complete a complete prat of himself in front of the whole school?"
"You are not going to make a 'complete prat' of yourself," Professor McGonagall said firmly. "And it's nothing to do with the Tournament, it's the attention you're getting."
"I don't -"
"I know you don't want it, everyone does, but the point, Harry, is that you get it, like it or not. Ron's always put up with it but as I said, there comes a point …" She paused to take a sip of her tea.
Harry simply stared for a moment. "You were right, you do know us well." He hesitated. "I think you know us better than we know ourselves." He was exaggerating, but Professor McGonagall simply smiled.
"That's my job."
Harry frowned as a thought struck him. "What's with the first-name thing?"
She blinked. "First-name …? Oh, that … I just thought I'd tone down the formalities a bit seeing how we're not exactly in a school situation."
"You don't normally do that."
"No, but I'm feeling a bit rebellious this morning." Harry stared at her as she loaded her spoon again. Somehow, he couldn't see her as the rebellious type. She saw his face and smiled.
"I was quite the rebel as a teenager, you know. I was in my Head of House's office more times than most of my year put together. Unfortunately I don't get a lot of opportunity to be rebellious in my professional capacity."
"Who was your Head of House?"
Professor McGonagall went slightly pink. "Professor Dumbledore." She cleared her throat. "And before you make assumptions about ulterior motives, I am well aware of the rumours that fly in this school and it was nothing like that. I was simply in detention a lot."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "I wouldn't think anything of the sort, Professor."
"Why did you get so many detentions? If it's not a personal question – Well, it is a personal question, but -"
"Pranks mostly, if you must know." She laughed at the look on his face. "I bet you never thought I'd ever pulled a prank in my life?"
"Well, I just … never really thought about it."
"If you had, though, I know you wouldn't have guessed." She smiled at him. "I'd appreciate it if that one didn't get out. I know how things fly in this school – unfortunately from personal experience."
"I won't breathe a word," Harry assured her. He hesitated. "What personal experience?"
"Ah! Now you're getting nosy. Finish your breakfast." She looked at his plate which was still full. "Aren't you hungry?"
He shrugged. "Not really."
"Yeah, I guess."
She seemed to consider him for a moment. "Maybe this will help." She Summoned a book from one of the boxes.
"What is it?"
"Information about past Tournaments. Everyone goes on about the fatality rate, but there's a lot more to it that that. It might help to read about the successes."
"Thanks, Professor," Harry said gratefully, thumbing through the first few pages. "When do you want it back?"
"Tonight, if you don't mind. You can take copies of some of the content if you want."
"Thanks," he murmured again. "I'll give it back later. Will you be in your office?"
"Probably; if not I'll be in here. You remember the password?"
He nodded and repeated it.
"Good." She finished her cereal and looked at the clock. "I'd better be off, I've got a mountain of work to do. Take some toast with you if you're not hungry."
"Okay." Harry stood up and took a couple of slices, wrapping them in a napkin. When he'd finished, he saw the remaining food disappear. "Bye, Professor; see you later."
Minerva sighed as she watched him go.
Albus, you don't know what you're doing.
The problem with Albus was that, once he got one worry into his head, he concentrated so much on that anxiety it left no room to consider other problems. Thirteen years ago, he had been so concerned with keeping Harry safe from magical threats he had overlooked the dangers of leaving him with those – with those – people. Minerva partly blamed herself for letting him. Now it looked to be a similar situation – one of those few times where Albus could not think logically enough to weigh up the risks and pick the best one to take.
Minerva scolded herself. She had let her temper get the better of her earlier. That would not help anyone. She only wished she could take the situation into her own hands, but unfortunately, the only way out of the Goblet's contract would require Albus as well – and it didn't look like he would be coming round any time soon. She just prayed he would before something happened.
"Harry is not competing," she said aloud, as if by saying it she could make it true. "He is not competing and that is final!"
"Where've you been?" Those were the first words out of Hermione's mouth when Harry caught up with her outside the Great Hall. "Ginny said she saw you leave the common room but no-one saw you at breakfast. Where were you?"
Harry held up the toast. "Can we go for a walk?"
The two began to slowly make their way around the lake.
"I've been speaking to Professor McGonagall," Harry said in answer to her question. "She lent me this." He held up the book. Hermione grabbed it.
"Wow, Harry, this looks really good! Can I borrow it after you?"
"She wants it back tonight." Hermione's face fell. "But she's given me permission to copy bits."
Hermione brightened. "Oh, good. Is that where you've been all this time?"
Harry nodded. "We had breakfast together."
"What, in her office?"
"No, her rooms actually." Seeing raised eyebrows, he hastily added, "I helped her carry some stuff here and then she offered me tea … and neither of us felt like coming down to the Great Hall so …"
"Oh." Hermione stared straight ahead for a moment. "What did you talk about?"
"The Tournament … Ron." He paused. "Did you see him this morning?"
"Um … yes, he was at breakfast."
Harry sighed, remembering Professor McGonagall's advice. At the moment he wanted nothing more to do than give Ron a good kick up the arse, but thought gloomily that she probably knew best. He'd wait a while before confronting him.
"Does he still think I entered myself? Or is he just simply still jealous of the attention?"
Hermione looked impressed. "You figured that one out quickly. I was expecting to have to tell you what he was feeling. I normally do with you two."
"Actually, Professor McGonagall said he was. I told her she really should consider a career in psychology."
Hermione shook her head, apparently amused. "Harry you idiot, most people would be able to work that one out. You and Ron just happen to be blind to other people's emotions – no offence." She sighed. "I hope Professor McGonagall didn't take you seriously."
He shook his head. "Nope."
"Good. I wouldn't want to have to hold you responsible for the resignation of my favourite teacher."
"Professor McGonagall's your favourite teacher? I never knew that."
"See? Blind to other people's emotions. That was a joke, Harry," Hermione added at his glare. She paused. "What about you?"
"Me? I'm not sure if I'd want to be a psychologist. It's interesting, but I'd rather be … I dunno … maybe something a bit more active."
"I meant who's your favourite teacher."
"Oh." Harry thought. "Good question … does Dumbledore count?"
"Good, then it's an easy decision – Professor McGonagall."
Hermione looked surprised. "Really?"
Harry nodded. "Her and Dumbledore, but you said he didn't count."
"I'd have thought you'd go for Professor Lupin."
"I don't think Defence teachers should count because they're only here a year at a time. And anyway, the answer would still be the same."
Hermione smiled. "That's why I like you and Ron so much. You never fail to surprise me. Just when I think I know you, you go and say something that completely throws me."
Harry sighed and her smile faded. "Look, why don't you go and talk to Ron?"
"Not when he's being a prat, thank you. And besides, Professor McGonagall advised me to wait a while before talking to him, so I'm going to."
"Okay. Actually, that's probably a better idea," Hermione admitted. She paused. "You know what you need to do the moment we get back up to the castle?"
Harry thought. "I don't know. What?"
"Write to Sirius."
She blinked in surprise. "You will?"
"Yeah; if I don't he'll find out from someone else." Seeing Hermione's questioning look, he recounted him conversation about Sirius with Professor McGonagall.
She nodded. "That makes sense, I guess."
Harry decided it was time to change the subject. "I've got a surprise for you."
"Yeah. I'll show you."
Harry considered the toast, but decided he still wasn't hungry and put it back in his pocket before they began to walk back up to the castle.
By the evening Harry had successfully spent the whole day avoiding Ron. He'd found out where the kitchens were and taken Hermione down there, where Dobby chatted happily to them and Winky cried miserably in the background. They'd left with their pockets crammed with food, but Harry still wasn't feeling particularly hungry. He'd spent the rest of the day in the library, and then, when Madam Pince threw him out, reading the book Professor McGonagall had lent him in the common room. It was very interesting. She'd been right: it held the tournament in a much more positive light as far as the fatality rate was concerned.
"Huh?" He jerked awake, realising he'd been drifting off in the armchair in front of the fire.
"Harry, it's five minutes till curfew."
"So?" Harry rubbed his eyes.
"So, you've got five minutes to give your book back to Professor McGonagall and back here without getting into trouble."
Harry swore, jumped up, and ran straight out of the common room. Hermione rolled her eyes as she watched him go.
"No running in the halls!" one of the ghosts scolded as Harry tore along the corridor to Professor McGonagall's office, and knocking hard on the door. No answer. Harry tried the door, thinking he'd leave it on her desk, but it was locked. He backtracked and ran the other way, praying he'd be able to find the other corridor in time.
He was lucky: he only had to turn back once before he reached the portrait guarding her rooms, two minutes past curfew. Panting, Harry rapped on the painting frame. After ten seconds of silence he gave the password he'd heard her use that morning and it opened for him.
It took a moment for him to realise Professor McGonagall was in the room after all. She was sitting with her back to the portrait, bent over something. Harry waited a moment before announcing his presence by clearing his throat.
Professor McGonagall jumped violently, her wand clattering to the floor, dropping her sleeve as she stood up suddenly. "For goodness' sake, Potter; don't creep up on people like that!"
"Sorry, Professor; I just realised I still had this: I thought you would want it back," Harry said, holding out the book. Professor McGonagall looked relieved and reached out to take it. As she did so, her sleeve fell back a little, and something caught Harry's eye.
"Professor – you're bleeding," Harry pointed out.
"What?" she jumped, startled. "Oh -" she hastily pulled the sleeve of her robe down again. "It's nothing …" Seeing him still looking, she added, "Just a scratch …"
"Let me see," Harry said slowly.
"I told you, Mr Potter, it's nothing!" she snapped.
"If it's nothing, then why are you hiding it?" Harry retorted. She didn't seem to have an answer to that, and just froze like a deer caught in headlights. He took the split second opportunity to dive for her sleeve.
"Don't -!" she started. Too late.
Harry gasped in horror. There were two shallow slits just above the wrist area, bleeding slightly, but it wasn't that that horrified him. What shocked him most were the many thin scars and just-healed cuts that littered her arm all the way up to her elbow.
Read the Prelude if you haven't already!