A/N: I wrote this story for the 2010 Femgenficathon on LJ, a multi-fandom fest for gen stories featuring women. I've been a fan of Griselda Marchbanks since OoP, and I had a fine time writing her.
Each author is given a prompt for a fic; here's the one I received: Someone will remember us / I say / even in another time - Sappho (born 630-612 B.C.E., died circa 570 B.C.E.), Greek poet.
The story is set after McGonagall is hit with four Stunners in Order of the Phoenix. In Potter canon, we don't know Griselda Marchbanks's exact age, but when she comes to Hogwarts to supervise the O.W.L. exams in OoP, she's immensely old, and we learn that she administered Dumbledore's N.E.W.T.s. Canonically, Albus was born c. 1880; I've taken the liberty of birthing Griselda in 1870 (making her 27 at the time of Dumbledore's exams - young for an examiner, perhaps, but that's a story for another time).
My thanks to my excellent beta reader, Tetley the Second.
By Kelly Chambliss
"Go on, Elnora." Healer Dibbins gave her nervous apprentice a gentle nudge toward the door of the Spell Damage ward. "You should have checked her half an hour ago."
"I know." Elnora West hesitated and looked about her rather helplessly. The corridors of St. Mungo's Hospital swarmed with green-robed healers striding purposefully on their rounds and with ambulatory patients taking their prescribed walks. Even the visitors seemed to know where they were going. Elnora hated being the only one who seemed to feel out of her depth. "I meant to, but. . ."
"But what?" asked Dibbins, and then answered herself. "Afraid of Professor McGonagall? Well, name anyone your age who isn't. But you can't afford to be, you know. She's a patient; she needs us." Dibbins patted Elnora's shoulder kindly and chuckled. "Anyway, it's not like she's going to give you detention while she's in a coma, is it? Go ahead and do the wand-scan. Or Matron will have your head."
Elnora smiled weakly. Her mentor was right: she had a job to do, and there was no excuse for putting it off.
But it wasn't McGonagall that Elnora was afraid of. . .how could she be, when the poor thing looked so wan and ill, her eyes closed and shadowed, her hair actually out of its bun. Hit by four Stunners! It just didn't bear thinking about.
No, it wasn't Professor McGonagall who frightened Elnora. It was the tiny old woman who sat at the bedside, her seamed face a study in frowning concentration as she scribbled on a sheaf of parchment.
Professor Griselda Marchbanks. Head of the Wizarding Examinations Authority. She'd been administering O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. examinations at Hogwarts since Dumbledore had been a student.
Elnora still had nightmares about her own N.E.W.T.-level Charms exam, when Professor Marchbanks's bright eyes had peered shrewdly out from her astonishingly wrinkled face - and, Elnora was sure, had immediately seen every single answer that she hadn't known. The professor had rapped out the names of the charms to be performed, barely waiting until one had ended before she demanded another and another, her "hmmmms" as each charm was completed sounding sceptical and disdainful, at least to Elnora's ears. Eventually she'd stopped and glared. "That's all, girl, you're finished," she'd shouted, as if wondering why Elnora dared to be still standing there.
Elnora honestly never understood how she managed to leave the examination room without falling over - that's how badly her knees had been shaking. True, her final scores had been quite good, but still. . .
"Er. . .why is Professor Marchbanks here?" she asked, hoping she sounded just curious and not scared.
Healer Dibbins shrugged. "I'm not sure. Maybe as a representative of the school? She arrived a few hours after they transported McGonagall from Hogwarts and got her changed to a private room like that." Dibbins snapped her fingers. "And she's been sitting next to her bed ever since, writing away like a madwoman."
"Ever since?" Elnora said.
"Ever since. I don't think she's even left to use the loo. Just pointed her quill at me when I went in and yelled, 'I expect your very best, young woman.'" Dibbins laughed and shook her head. "'Young woman,' my Aunt Fanny. Although I suppose 60 does look young when you're about 150, or whatever she is."
Well, thought Elnora, as she watched the healer walk away, quills I suppose I can handle. Just as long as she doesn't start pointing her wand at me. But I do wonder what she's been writing all this time. . .
Taking a deep breath, Elnora straightened her lime-green robe, stoked her courage by sneaking a proud peek at her official "Healer Apprentice" badge, and headed toward the Spell Damage Ward.
My darling Minerva,
I'd feel like a right ninny calling you that to your face, but on parchment it's different. As a rule, it's easier to write what one feels than to say it. But even then, it's always a good deal harder than one expects; I've started this letter at least a dozen times. Good thing I lifted Albus's stash of these Correcto-Quills - just say "eraso," and they leave the parchment clean as clean.
See? Here I am, off the point again already. What is the point, you ask? The point is to tell you a few things before you die on me, and I lose the chance. If the world worked the way it should, I'd be the one dying, and you'd be the one left behind, blaming yourself for all those important thngs you never said.
But when has the world ever worked the way it should?
At least they've got you in a private room; I insisted on it. Told them I'd have Fudge and Dumbledore and the entire Wizengamot and You-Know-Who himself in here to make them sorry if they didn't give you their best. They listened to me, of course. People do.
They told me I should talk aloud to you, that you could probably hear me even though you're lying there like it was a Draught of Living Death you'd taken and not just an obscene number of Stunners. But sit here and jabber alone? Talk about feeling like a ninny! Besides, when you're my age, you can't look like you're talking to yourself unless you want everyone to think you've gone gaga at last.
And anyway, what I have to say is for no one but you to hear. Or read. Or whatever. Maybe I'll charm the letter to read itself aloud to you later - under a proper muffliato, of course. Maybe. We'll see. It depends on how much I end up saying.
I watched you fall last night. I was on the Astronomy Tower with the O.W.L. children, and we saw you run out of the castle. I knew it was you as soon as I saw the shadow on the lawn - who else would be so reckless and so damned Gryffindor as to try to face down half a dozen rogue Aurors on her own?
Oh, my dear, when I saw those Stunners hit you. . .well, I don't think I've ever been so furious with you.
All right, I've just written and eraso'd about a dozen outraged comments, of which What in the name of Merlin's withered balls were you thinking? was the nicest. When I consider how close you were to death (and still are; you're not in the clear yet, you know). . .Well. You probably don't need to hear about that just now.
So I won't lecture you about how foolish you were - not yet, at any rate. I'll save it for when you're back in fighting trim. It's no fun to argue by myself.
Ah, but we've had some excellent fights over the years, haven't we? You always have such decided ideas about teaching. About everything, really. Oh, I know what you're going to say - I have decided ideas, too. Yes, I admit it, I do. I know I sometimes care too much about being right.
But as long as I'm being so damned honest (and indeed, if not now, when?), I'll tell you something else I've never admitted to you before: you can be very arousing when you're angry. All that magical fury sparking around you, swirling your robes, bringing that flush to your face . . .well, it wasn't simply the force of your logic that let you win so many of our arguments.
I suppose that's a very condescending thing to tell you, as I'm sure you'd be the first to point out. You've always felt free to take me to task. Remember that time we spent the entire night debating Keye's theories of magical education? I can still hear you: "Griselda, despite your apparently unshakable conviction to the contrary, I am not a child." You'll have to put in all the lovely Scottish R's and vowels yourself; you know I've never been clever at voices.
And I never meant to treat you like a child . . .oh, no, my dear, when I was thinking of taking you to my bed, I assure you I saw nothing of the child about you.
And I did think about it. Quite a bit, actually. Does that surprise you? I know it won't shock you - you never did fool me with that all that prim-and-maidenly nonsense. I've always seen the passion in you, my girl, and for a brief time I was. . .silly? deluded? brave? enough to think you might be willing to share some of that passion with me.
I gave up that notion a long time ago. Obviously. We've been much better off as platonic friends. But at one point, I confess, bedding you was an idea that held considerable appeal. I thought about it - oh, yes, indeed.
Though I fear I wasn't always as discreet about those thoughts as I should have been. Somehow I gave myself away to Tiberius Ogden during one of those summer curriculum workshops we used to hold. 1960 or thereabouts, this would have been. It was the first year you and I argued for eliminating the gender division in Charms instruction, do you remember? (As if boys aren't better off knowing a few housekeeping charms, and girls aren't interested in learning how to apply reparo to toilets and things. I'm still bitter about how long that battle took to win. But it's water under the bridge, now, and I'm sidestepping my point again.)
So. About my indiscreet thoughts. You and I had been talking together at dinner, and I suppose I was too attentive to you. Afterward, I was walking with Tiberius back to the guest quarters (I have to say, Dumbledore did well by the DoME; our quarters were always sumptuous, the staff elves so helpful), and Ti told me that I was being foolish.
Oh, not in so many words. You know Tiberius - always so indirect, just hinting at things. Well, he's a Slytherin, of course. He can't help being sly any more than Gryffindors can help rushing madly out to throw themselves in the line of fire to defend Hagrid, of all people. (That's right, Hagrid - the strongest man at Hogwarts.) But there. . .I said I wasn't going to lecture you.
Tiberius may be a bit too much of the bureaucrat for my tastes, but he has always been an ally, someone I can trust. So when he started clearing his throat the way he did when he had something important to say, I was willing to listen.
"Young Professor McGonagall," he said, with just that much stress on the word "young." "Interesting girl. Fanciable, if one likes that spare-fleshed sort."
Now Tiberius knew about my preference for women, although of course he'd never said anything outright, and I was always as close about it as the proverbial grave. Well, you know we had to be quiet in those days; had no other choice. Things were actually a bit easier back when we still had the old Queen - Victoria, that is. Women could be more affectionate with each other without having anyone start muttering about inversion. Oh, I could tell you stories! I even knew some goblin lasses who. . .
Except that I'm wandering from the point again, I see. It's you I want to talk about, my Minerva, not the days of old Queen Vic (glorious though they sometimes were). Where was I? Oh, yes, telling you about Tiberius Ogden.
Well, as I say, he was being indirect, and I was being silent, so it's a wonder, really, that either of us managed to communicate anything at all. But after he said you were "fanciable," I thought it was best just to keep mum and wait for him to go on. And he did.
"She's very outspoken as well," he said.
I said, "And a jolly good thing for Hogwarts that she is" or some such, and he said, "Oh, I like a woman with ideas, myself." Then after a few more steps, he added, "although there are some on the Hogwarts Board who might find her a bit too forthright."
I was getting rather weary of this beating-around-the-mulberry-bush, so I said, "Is this a problem? Is she endangering her position?"
I'm sure I sounded irritated, but Tiberius just stayed as smooth and calm as ever. "Oh, no," he said. "Dumbledore thinks quite highly of her, and her students perform well. And of course, her private life is above reproach."
Then he raised his eyebrows and said, "I hope she'll be wise enough to make sure it stays that way."
Oh, it was maddening. I was torn between being terrified and being furious. Part of me knew he was right - you did have a lot to lose - but part of me was livid: livid that he should think he had a right to intervene in this way, livid that we lived in a world where we had to tiptoe around our lives. . .Well, I was just livid, period.
And suddenly I simply could not stand another second of his Slytherin diplomacy. Not a single second. I knew I was being as rash as any Gryffindor, but I stopped in the middle of the corridor and looked him in the eye and said, "What are you saying, Tiberius? That Minerva should live the life of a hermit monk just because she has the inexpressible honour of being a teacher at Hogwarts?"
I remember that his lips twitched, but he had the decency not to smile. "Not at all," he said. "But she does work with our children, which means that the eyes of the wizarding world will be upon her and upon all us educators. Which is as it should be. I'm merely hoping, for Professor McGonagall's sake, that anyone who takes an. . .interest. . .in her" (and you can imagine the delicate shading he gave that word ) "will be mindful of the need for discretion. Older, wiser heads, you know."
As if I needed Tiberius Ogden or anyone to tell me about the need for discretion! I'd been being discreet since Flamel was a pup. But of course, that's not all Ti was saying. Not by a long chalk. He was also reminding me of just how old I was. And how old you weren't.
Oh, I knew the dates; I knew them very well indeed. Fifty-five years, my dear. I'm fifty-five years older than you are, and you'll be asking what on earth I could have been thinking, an old haybag like me fancying you.
Well, I can tell you exactly what I was thinking. I was thinking that I wanted you, and that you were a grown woman, capable of making your own decisions, and that if you decided you wanted me back, it was no one's business but our own. Certainly not Tiberius Ogden's, although to be fair, I know he was trying to be helpful, in his own Ministry-driven way.
And in the end, of course, I never gave you the chance to decide what you wanted. I suppose you're wondering why. I can assure you that it wasn't because of this little chat with Tiberius - at least not in the sense that he scared me off or anything of that nature.
But he did make me look very hard at our ages. I'd been trying to ignore them, but. . .fifty-five years. I was 90, slowing down a bit (much as I hated to admit it, though now I'd be happy enough to be only 90 again). Still, I was starting to spend more time looking back than looking forward. You were 35, young and vibrant, still building your academic career. You had so much ahead of you. I'd already made a mark on time; you were still carving yours.
So I made the decision for you. I put my dirty-old-woman thoughts away, my dear, and elected to be your friend instead of your lover. Relationships last longer that way; less chance for heartbreak.
And I don't think it can be said that I cheated you. We've been good friends for forty years; that's worth a great deal. And you've not lost anything: you've known romantic love, you've got boon companions, you do good work. You've been happy, haven't you? Or mostly happy, which is as much as anyone can hope for. Don't be greedy.
If I was wrong to take this choice out of your hands, then I was wrong. I won't say I'm sorry; apologies are one of the things I've let myself give up now I'm old. But I meant it for the best. And it's not as if I don't love you.
Oh, now, would you look at that? I've made myself sniffle. Merlin's lace garters, I'm hopeless at this sort of sentimental blather. Next thing you know, I'll be putting mewling kittens on my walls, like that appalling pink creature they've got in charge of Hogwarts.
You know I've resigned from the Wizengamot over her appointment? Yes, of course you do. The very idea of that craven Cornelius Fudge choosing a woman like Umbridge over you! An absolute outrage. It's beyond even Fudge's usual level of incompetence. I see to it that he gets a Howler a day from me about that piece of damned dangerous idiocy. Simply infuriating.
Yes, well. Enough of that; I'm getting aerated, and my tyrant of a healer tells me I must be mindful of my blood pressure. So perhaps a change of subject is called for, what?
Let me see. Well, here's something else I never told you: I don't remember you from your school days. Yes, I know I pretended to, that time a while back when you were reminiscing about your N.E.W.T. exams. I ought to have remembered you - Albus always says you were one of the best Transfiguration students he'd ever had. But I just didn't notice you particularly. There have been so many students, after all.
But when you came to Department of Magical Education to interview for the position at Hogwarts. . .by god, I noticed you then. So confident. And the way you stared down Merton Tofty when he dared to suggest that perhaps Transfiguration was a subject better understood by men! I know I've told you this many times, but I thought you were going to turn him into a Niffler on the spot. Was quite looking forward to it, in fact.
Well, there was never any question but that you were the best qualified, Minerva. Your practical demonstration was flawless. Not even old Tofty could object once you'd transfigured his walking stick into that naked Muggle man. David, or whatever you said that statue was called.
I kept my eye on you after that, my girl. I knew you were going to be one to reckon with. And you've done us all proud. Your portrait is going to grace more than one important wall some day, I've said so now for decades. You'll be able to walk between several different frames. Now that's immortality.
As for Merton Tofty - he's turned out to be one of your biggest supporters. Well, you know that. He was horrified when he saw you Stunned last night. Horrified. Shouted "galloping gargoyles," if you can believe it. This from a man who thinks that even saying "Merlin's hat" in front of ladies is pushing the bounds of good taste. (So no, I never say, "Merlin's withered balls" around him. I save those sorts of endearments for you, my dear.) Merton's finishing all the O.W.L. exams for me, so that I can be here with you.
Though frankly, I would be here O.W.L.s or no O.W.L.s. If anyone had objected to my leaving, I would have resigned at once. I've been nearly one hundred years on the job, so it isn't as if I have anything left to prove. Except perhaps what morons so many of those Ministry types are. Ghastly, the lot of them.
Oh, dear - I think I'm going to be forced to bring this little missive to a close. I see there's a youngster dithering about in the corridor. She's wearing one of those green staff smocks, so I daresay she's waiting to do something healer-like and undignified to you. I'd take Merlin's balls in vain again, except that she seems a rather timid sort - the healer, I mean. And I wouldn't want to frighten her; I suspect she's already quite terrified of you as it is. They all are. It's a tribute to you, my love.
I've leave the letter here, shall I, in case you wake? I'll charm it to be legible only to you; let Albus think it's only a copy of Witch Weekly. (If he's ever able to visit, though I wouldn't hold my breath.) But I'm sure your stalwart coven will be along any time now - Pomona and Amelia and Rolanda and the rest.
Good-bye for now, then, dearie. I'll be back. Chin up.
Elnora West watched the ancient witch make her way out of the private room and wondered why she'd let herself get so nervous. Professor Marchbanks had been perfectly polite - no, more than polite, actually interested in Elnora's work.
The old woman's eyes had been just as bright and sharp as they'd been during Elnora's N.E.W.T.s, but this time she'd been more focused on what Elnora knew than what she didn't know. Madam Marchbanks wanted to hear all about Professor McGonagall's treatment, what the wand scans showed, what healing spells and potions were planned. She'd even seemed to value Elnora's opinion, and Elnora surprised herself with how much she, though only an apprentice, knew and understood.
After she'd explained the procedures to the professor, she'd somehow felt emboldened to go a little further and offer her own assessment of the treatment choices. She'd been thinking them over ever since Healer Dibbins had outlined them to her earlier. And when she finished, Professor Marchbanks had nodded thoughtfully and said, "very astute."
Astute! Elnora had felt her shoulders straighten.
Then Professor Marchbanks had motioned toward Professor McGonagall's bed and said, "We can't afford to lose her, you know; our world needs women like her. So you see to it, now, that she survives."
She'd looked up into Elnora's face, and Elnora felt a flash of that fearsome power that had so unnerved her during her exams. But this time, that power seemed more inspiring than terrifying, so when the professor barked, "I'm not making a mistake, am I, in thinking I can count on you?" Elnora had replied firmly, "No, Madam Marchbanks, you're not."
Nor was she. Elnora felt stronger already, as if the tiny old woman somehow managed to leave some of her own magic behind for Elnora to suck up, like an enchanted Muggle hoover.
Lifting her chin, she turned towards Professor McGonagall.
"You're going to be fine," she said. "Professor Marchbanks and I will see to it."