One Hundred Nine – Lord Voldemort's Request; The Unknowable Room; After the Burial; Horcruxes
McGonagall swore under her breath as Sprout burst into her office. She had been hastily gathering up some papers, trying to leave to meet Dumbledore a little earlier than scheduled. Flitwick had warned the transfiguration mistress that Sprout had definitely acquired some desirable knowledge, and it seemed to be related to the romantic adventures of several students. McGonagall, as always, wanted to leave the students to their own devices on such a subject, and had hoped to deprive Sprout of the opportunity of using her as an unwilling sounding board.
"Pomona, I'm just about to – "
"Did you notice anything different today about certain students of yours?" Sprout inquired eagerly.
"Leave me out of it, Pomona," said McGonagall firmly. "They'll figure it out without my interference, and especially without yours."
"Weasley and Brown are very nearly over," said Sprout, either not hearing or completely ignoring McGonagall. "I haven't seen them so much as make eye contact all day, and she's livid with him for one reason or another."
McGonagall flopped back down into her chair, knowing she would not be allowed to escape. "Is that so?" she asked flatly, not at all surprised.
"Oh, I know you're so shocked," said Sprout sarcastically. "Granger seems pleased with the arrangement, however. She and Weasley appear to be on good terms once again."
"Is this, or is this not, what I predicted a few months ago when you started panicking about Ron and Lavender beginning to date?" McGonagall asked tiredly. "Also, Hermione's likely only been so quick to forgive because Ron almost died. Otherwise, I assure you, she'd still be bent out of shape. So you can get rid of the notion that all is well only because Ron and Lavender are practically done. Not everything revolves around romantic tension."
"Why do you resist this so much, Minerva?" Sprout desperately asked. "Give in, for once! Indulge me!"
"You'll continue on no matter what I say or how I act, so why shouldn't I say and do as I please?" McGonagall came back with. She sighed as Sprout scoffed. "Go on, get it out of your system."
Sprout set herself on the edge of the seat across McGonagall's desk. "Ginny Weasley and Dean Thomas have had a row."
"Now that, truly, is groundbreaking," McGonagall droned. "They hadn't fought in a whole forty-eight hours before that, I'm sure."
Sprout sneered at McGonagall quickly before continuing. "This fight was different," she said. "Apparently, Thomas was laughing about the whole Quidditch incident with Potter, and Miss Weasley did not take kindly to it." She finished with a suggestive smile and a raised brow that made McGonagall set her face in her hands.
"Perhaps Thomas mocking Potter's misfortune will finally be enough to end his relationship with Miss Weasley, leaving her open for Potter," Sprout suggested after a few moments of McGonagall's silence.
McGonagall peeked through her fingers to glare at Sprout.
"That's it," Sprout encouraged. "Tell me what you really think."
McGonagall threw her hands into her lap and sat up, positively glowering at Sprout. "What I think, Pomona, is that you ought to leave all students alone as they make a mess of their romantic lives, especially my Gryffindors! They've got to make their own mistakes! They'll figure things out on their own!"
"Oh?" Sprout asked lightly. "Do you think Lily Evans and James Potter would have 'figured everything out on their own' if they hadn't been thrown together as Head Boy and Girl?"
Now thoroughly seething, McGonagall hauled herself out of her chair and snatched up her papers again. "Stay out of it, Pomona Sprout, unless you want me to unleash all my pranking prowess on your personal possessions!"
She ignored Sprout's objections as she strode from the room and slammed the door.
"I see this is going to be a delightful meeting," said Dumbledore with a mixture of amusement and caution as McGonagall entered his office a few minutes later.
"Pomona's being insufferable," said McGonagall by way of explanation, setting herself into her usual seat with a huff. "Enough of that noise, however. I'd like to get straight to work, if we can."
"I actually have one quasi-business-related topic to discuss before we deal with all those paper's you've brought," said Dumbledore, settling himself at his desk.
"Merlin's beard," McGonagall muttered under her breath.
"Sybill has stepped her complaints up a notch," said Dumbledore.
"Is she still whining about Firenze?" McGonagall asked, deflating and crumpling up in her chair.
"She's determined to remain upset," said Dumbledore with a tired nod. "She's beginning to threaten leaving."
McGonagall groaned uncharacteristically. "Can't you just tell her that she can't, because she'd be snatched up, tortured, and murdered within a week?"
"I think we both know that, with Sybill's flare for the dramatic, that might actually encourage her," said Dumbledore.
"She's more afraid for her life than desirous of drama," said McGonagall. "All I'm saying is that it would work."
"Very well," said Dumbledore calmly. "I will inform her of such, and only of such, and then refer her to you for all her following questions, not to mention all the students that will be making their own inquiries after Sybill bemoans her fate during class."
"You wouldn't," said McGonagall with narrowed eyes.
"I most certainly would," said Dumbledore cheerfully.
"Fine!" McGonagall snapped. "I assume, in addition to all the other things you've put onto my plate, you now want me to keep an eye on Sybill and Firenze to keep tensions from escalating further."
"I'll be doing what I can from my end," said Dumbledore, the twinkle in his eyes diminishing.
McGonagall breathed heavily for a moment before deciding to abandon the topic entirely. She loudly dropped her stack of papers onto Dumbledore's desk and started going through them with the headmaster.
"Why do you continue to read that when you know it's going to be full of nothing but bad news?" Sprout asked McGonagall, seating herself at breakfast.
McGonagall answered without taking her eyes off her copy of The Daily Prophet, "I read it, because the bad news needs to be kept up with," she said somewhat distractedly.
"Who's gotten crossed off lately?" Sprout asked while beginning to shovel food onto her plate.
"Do you remember Octavius Pepper?"
Sprout snorted. "Slammed me into a wall my first year, thought it was funny."
"Merlin's beard, can you hold a grudge," McGonagall muttered. At a normal volume, she continued, "Well he's disappeared off the map."
"Despite my 'grudge', as you would call it, I never wished Octavius harm and I feel sorry for his family," said Sprout.
"I call it a grudge because it is one," McGonagall argued, "and I know you had nothing to do with his vanishing." Her eyes were still scanning the paper.
"What else has got your attention?"
McGonagall sighed heavily. "A nine-year-old's been arrested for the attempted murder of his grandparents. Suspected Imperius Curse."
"Is there any decency left in this world?" Sprout bitterly queried.
"One would like to think so, but I rather doubt it at this point," McGonagall replied. After a few more seconds of reading, she half-crumpled, half-folded the newspaper, and threw it off to the side of her plate.
"Oh, ho!" said Sprout. "What's pushed you over the edge now?"
"Mundungus Fletcher's gone and got himself arrested for being one of the stupidest people on the planet," McGonagall snarled. Had Dumbledore been present, she might have discussed such news with him. As it was, the headmaster was gone for a meeting.
Sprout sighed and rolled her eyes. "What's he done now?"
"Pretended to be an Inferius while trying to rob a place."
"That just might be a new low for him," Sprout commented mildly.
McGonagall looked skyward. "Unfortunately, it's not his lowest point. Nowhere close, really."
Sprout lit up with the possibility of hearing new gossip. "Do tell!"
McGonagall gave Sprout a sideways look. "Has anyone told you lately what a busybody you are?"
"I told myself as much only this morning," said Sprout with an unconcerned wave of her hand. "Come on, I could do with a laugh at Fletcher's expense."
"His idiocy does not usually result in laughter," said McGonagall. She felt her pulse quicken as she remembered Mundungus abandoning his post guarding Harry, and then again at the recollection of him pilfering the Black house.
"Perhaps not to you," Sprout conceded, "but I'm considerably more light-hearted."
McGonagall keenly scanned the hall full of students and deflated slightly. "Great," she said. "A good chunk of them are only reading 'Inferius' and have started panicking." She very nearly pinched the bridge of her nose beneath her glasses, but thought better of it and used her hand to remove her napkin from her lap, instead.
"The ghosts are going to get very touchy very quickly, I should think," said Sprout, nodding her agreement upon her own examination of the student body. "Who better to ask about terrifying undead puppets than those that have already died?" She suddenly looked more thoughtful than exhausted. "Do you think it's possible that any of the ghosts' bodies have ever been used as Inferi?"
McGonagall's only response was to show Sprout a disgusted grimace.
"You're right, I should just let that one go," Sprout said, shaking her head as if to clear it.
The bell rang to signal the end of breakfast.
Sprout looked at her plate, aghast. "Already?" she asked, outraged. "I haven't had time to eat anything yet!"
"That's what you get for coming late and then spending all your time gabbing instead of eating," said McGonagall unsympathetically. "Come on, you've got class!"
"Well this day's just fantastic," said Sprout bitterly as she rose from her seat.
McGonagall had seated herself at Dumbledore's desk and was going through a host of school-related business papers. She had almost begun to feel more comfortable working in Dumbledore's office than her own, he was gone so much. The thought unsettled her and she dug into another stack of papers with renewed fervor.
"Enter," McGonagall called when a knock sounded.
"Oh," said Tonks, sounding quite surprised as she opened and set a foot through the door. "I didn't expect to see you, Professor."
"I could say the same," said McGonagall, trying to pull a smile onto her face for the young woman. "Come in. Is there something I can help you with?"
"Well I'd come to see Dumbledore," said Tonks, looking around as though the headmaster might be hiding in the curtains.
McGonagall's efforts of smiling were thrown to the floor and her lips pulled into a pronounced frown. "Dumbledore's gone out for the day, possibly longer," she tried to say with as little bitterness as possible. Her eyes suddenly doubled in size. "Nothing's happened with the sixth years in Hogsmeade?"
"No, no, no!" said Tonks quickly. "All's well with the Apparition practice."
McGonagall sighed in relief. "That's one potential crisis so far averted," she said half under her breath. "Really, Nymphadora, what did you come to ask Albus?"
Tonks started playing with the sleeve of her robe. "Well," she said uncomfortably, "I'd heard rumors about the werewolves…"
McGonagall's empathy increased tenfold as she observed Tonks nearly coming to tears. "I haven't heard anything about Remus," she said gently. "No news, in cases such as these, is typically good news."
"Would he tell anyone, though, if he'd been involved with any of those attacks that happened last full moon?" Tonks asked so quietly McGonagall almost failed to hear. "The poor Montgomery family…. They bury their five-year-old at the end of the week."
McGonagall's mind jarred from the shock of the implication. "I think Remus would be able to find a way out of being involved with that mess," she said with resolve.
"You really haven't heard anything?" Tonks asked desperately. "There were attacks, as in plural. We've been told that the werewolves in that colony can turn on each other quite easily if provoked…"
"I'm sorry, I haven't heard anything," McGonagall answered. "I'll be sure to bring it up with Dumbledore as soon as I see him. Do you want me to send him to you?"
"No!" Tonks quickly exclaimed. "No," she said more calmly, "I'll just do as you said and take no news to be good news. Have a nice day, Professor!"
Tonks was out the door, despite tripping on the carpet, before McGonagall could get another word out. The professor huffed as she set her eyes back on the school budget, then rose from the desk and over to the window, unable to concentrate. She would love nothing more than to smack sense into Remus Lupin, to get him to see and accept what everyone except him was able to.
"Poppy, I was wondering if you could take a look at – Merlin's beard! What happened to you?" McGonagall was glued to the floor, midstep, as she took in Hagrid's bedraggled appearance. He had not look so poorly in months. "You're not keeping something in the forest again, are you?" she asked shrewdly, setting her hands on her hips at the same time as she leveled off her step.
Hagrid simply hung his head dejectedly and sniffed.
McGonagall instantly went from suspicious to sympathetic. "What's happened?" she asked, closing the distance between her and the half-giant until she could prod the angry marks on his forearm, herself.
"Aragog's dead!" Hagrid wailed.
As Hagrid descended into the realm of incomprehensible, McGonagall turned to Pomfrey for answers.
"Apparently," said Pomfrey loudly over Hagrid's cries, "his 'pet' acromantula, Aragog, died last night."
"So he threw himself into the Whomping Willow in his grief?" McGonagall asked incredulously, eyeing the gamekeeper's wounds.
"No, he went and got the body," said Pomfrey with a disapproving look at Hagrid. "They usually eat their dead, you know, so he had to throw and take a few punches. Pomona saw him and forced him to come see me."
"Oh, for heaven's sake!" McGonagall muttered. She turned back to Hagrid and tried her best to understand his state of mind as she set her hand halfway between his elbow and shoulder, which was nearly as high as even she could reach. "Hagrid?"
Hagrid blew his nose in his tablecloth-sized handkerchief before meeting McGonagall's eye.
"I'm sorry for your loss," McGonagall tried to say sincerely. In truth, she rather disliked having the horde of venomous, highly dangerous, and oversized spiders living in the forest, and was not at all sorry that the king of them had perished. Whatever her feelings, Hagrid seemed to have accepted her condolences as truthful and nodded his head sadly.
"Thanks, 'Nerva," Hagrid mumbled.
McGonagall's next blink was longer than necessary, and she had to take a few deep breaths to calm herself. She knew Hagrid's shortening of her name had not been on purpose, but she had rather grown to hate the nickname all the same, as her brothers had used it to mercilessly tease her growing up. It was perhaps this reason that her patience began wearing thin with Hagrid earlier than it might usually.
"What did you feel the need to go get the body for?" McGonagall asked. "Surely Aragog would have wanted to go out in the same way as his ancestors?"
"Tha's barbaric, Minerva!" said Hagrid, aghast and offended.
McGonagall barely refrained from vocalizing her thoughts on the many less-than-civil practices of Hagrid's favorite animals. "I didn't say it wasn't," said she. "It's simply acromantula tradition."
"Aragog deserves a proper burial," said Hagrid, "and I'm gonna give it ter him!"
"You're going to bury an acromantula?" McGonagall asked flatly.
"Yeah, I am," said Hagrid defensively.
"Alright, alright," said McGonagall, holding her hands up in surrender. "It's your decision to do so. If you think that's the proper way to take care of Aragog's body, you go right ahead with it."
At the mention of Aragog's body, Hagrid fell into another wave of sobs.
McGonagall patted Hagrid's arm several times while exchanging an exasperated look with Pomfrey. The matron eventually shrugged and went off to gather some supplies or other.
"Might I be so indelicate as to suggest you bury Aragog after curfew, Hagrid?" McGonagall asked. "You know how some of the students are about spiders, and if they see a giant one out – "
"He's behin' my hut now," said Hagrid. "You can' 'spect me ter jus' leave him there all day!"
McGonagall was thankful that the carcass was not on display, at least. Her next negotiation would have to be handled delicately. "Aren't acromantuals nocturnal?" she asked. "Wouldn't he prefer to be buried at night? In fact, might he be upset about being in the sun now?"
"I think he would've enjoyed bein' in the sun more, ter be hones'," said Hagrid with a dreamy look in his eyes.
McGonagall turned her head to roll her eyes before trying again. "You haven't dug a grave yet, have you?"
"No," said Hagrid, mopping his eyes at the mention of a grave.
"Well, then you'll have to dig him one – a good and proper one," said McGonagall. "That'll take time, more time than you've got before your classes start for the day."
"Classes, yeah," said Hagrid lowly.
McGonagall's stern demeanor quickly returned. "Now, Hagrid," she said firmly, "I know you're very upset by this, but you can't cancel your classes!"
"I know tha'," said Hagrid glumly.
McGonagall felt her shoulders relax.
"Alright, here we are," said Pomfrey, returning with a tub weighing down her arms.
"What is that?" McGonagall asked cautiously.
"After all of last year's injuries," said Pomfrey with a significant look to Hagrid, who had the sense to look ashamed, "I spent a good chunk of my time this past summer looking into salves and such that work on giants. This should help your bruises heal faster, Hagrid."
"Smell's a bit powerful," said Hagrid, wrinkling his nose.
"Well, you can't always have it all," said Pomfrey. She held out her hand and demanded, "Arm."
Hagrid stretched out his massive arm toward Madame Pomfrey and she began applying her concoction to his skin.
"Yeh know," said Hagrid after a few minutes of quiet, "I think I will bury Aragog later in the day."
McGonagall felt a weight come off her shoulders. "I think that's a very good decision, Hagrid."
"Aragog always liked dusk," said Hagrid with a nod.
McGonagall barely managed not to lift her hand to cover her face and began to fervently hope that the wrong student would not look out the wrong window at the wrong point in time to cause panic that was definitely not needed.
"I think he ought to be checked on later tonight," said Pomfrey into McGonagall's ear as Hagrid began to, once again, heartily sob.
"I think you're right," said McGonagall somewhat irritably as one of Hagrid's massive tears splattered onto her sleeve, drenching half her arm.
It was pitch black outside when McGonagall stepped through the front door to get to Hagrid's cabin. She knocked several times to no answer, and had been about to circle the cabin a time or two and then leave when she heard Fang whine and begin to lightly scratch the door. She tried the handle to find it unlocked.
"Oh, Merlin's beard," McGonagall said bitterly under her breath.
Hagrid was snoring soundly at his kitchen table, though he was not alone. Slughorn, also, was passed out on his arms. A quick sniff of the half empty mugs provided an explanation for the unconscious men.
"Horace, get up!" said McGonagall rather harshly, shaking the man's shoulder.
Slughorn spluttered incomprehensibly for a moment before merely lolling his head to the side and resuming his slumber.
McGonagall had been about to give him another rough shove when she noticed the glittering, unmistakable bundle of unicorn hair spilling out of one of his inner pockets. A quick scan of the cabin confirmed her suspicions that the hairs were those that usually hung about for Hagrid to use to aid any injured creatures. She dug her hand into the pocket, removed the bundle, and placed it on a hook near the back door before setting to work once again, this time on Hagrid.
Surprisingly, Hagrid proved easier to wake up.
"Wha's happenin'?" Hagrid groaned, slowly lifting his head.
"You've been drinking," said McGonagall with disapproval, "quite a bit, by the look and smell of things."
"Slughorn came ter see Aragog off," said Hagrid with a fond smile at the drooling man. "Right nice thing fer him ter do."
McGonagall, much less apt to think so well of Slughorn, began to wonder what else the potions master had grabbed, but kept her thoughts to herself. "You've got to have some water, Hagrid, and get to bed."
Hagrid reached clumsily for his bucket-sized mug, but McGonagall snatched it away. "Oh no, you don't," said she. "You didn't finish before you passed out!"
"It'd be a shame ter waste it, Minerva," Hagrid pleaded.
"Yet waste it, I will," said McGonagall heartlessly, dumping Hagrid's cup and Slughorn's out the back door. She pretended not to notice the unmistakable mound of a recently filled grave before shutting the door again. With a quick nonverbal spell, Hagrid's mug had filled with water, and she saw to it that he drank the entirety before guiding him to his bed, where he promptly resumed sleeping.
McGonagall turned her full attention back to Slughorn, ignoring Hagrid's snores. Fang sat at her side, seeming to also be contemplating the potions master. "Well what do you think?" she asked the dog. "I don't suppose you'd be fond of him staying the night there."
Fang whined loudly.
"No, I didn't think so," McGonagall sighed. She took her wand and jabbed it into Slughorn's ample gut.
"Merlin's beard!" Slughorn exclaimed, falling out of his chair. He was promptly attacked by Fang, who seemed eager to lick the man's moustache. "Back off, back off!" he blundered, trying to bat away the boarhound.
"Fang, here!" McGonagall ordered imperiously. Fang instantly obeyed, returning to his post at the transfiguration mistress's side. "Horace, you've got to get back to your own rooms."
Slughorn looked around in awe. "I didn't mean to stay so late," he said breathlessly.
"I imagine not," said McGonagall dully. "Can you walk on your own?"
Slughorn's response was to begin attempting to get himself onto his feet. McGonagall watched him struggle for several minutes, believing it served him right to be drinking so heavily when he had class the next morning, before offering her assistance. She set the man at the door before turning back to make sure Hagrid was properly tucked into bed.
"You keep an eye on him," McGonagall told Fang. The dog gave a quiet woof before laying down in front of his master's bed. McGonagall looked at the scene fondly before turning back to Slughorn and developing a completely different expression.
"You should have been there for the burial, Minerva," said Slughorn, sloshing his words together as he crossed the grounds, leaning heavily on McGonagall. "Beautiful, it was."
"I'm sure," said McGonagall unhappily. Slughorn continued prattling on. McGonagall largely ignored him, instead focusing on her decision of whether to return Slughorn to his office or to bring him to the hospital wing to sober up quickly. Her musings were cut short before she had made a decision, as she saw Dumbledore up ahead. "Albus!" she called.
Dumbledore turned and smiled at his deputy, though he looked decidedly weary. "Has Horace roped you into a night of partying?" he asked mischievously.
"Absolutely not," said McGonagall harshly. She softened somewhat before carrying on. "Horace went out, apparently, to help Hagrid give Aragog the acromantula a proper burial. I went to check on Hagrid and found them both to be completely indisposed."
"Albus!" Slughorn suddenly roared, apparently having not noticed the man before. "How've you been, old friend?" He extended his hand as if to shake, but lost his balance in the process. It took McGonagall and Dumbledore working quickly together to keep him upright.
"He's certainly worse for wear," said Dumbledore, taking Slughorn's other side. "To Poppy, do you think?"
"For the sake of the students, that's probably best," said McGonagall, immensely relieved to have help.
"So Aragog died?" Dumbledore asked as he and McGonagall awkwardly made their way through the halls, Slughorn stumbling between them.
"Last night, apparently," said McGonagall. "Hagrid's been a mess all day. Pomona checked in on him a few times between classes. He held it together, but not without making several unusual mistakes."
"As to be expected," said Dumbledore. "He had quite a soft spot for Aragog."
"I can't imagine why," said McGonagall. She deflated somewhat as they approached a staircase. "Then again, I can't comprehend nearly any of the attachments Hagrid has with the creatures of the forest, plus whatever else he might drag in. Alright, Horace, up you go! Pick up your foot. That's it."
Conversation about Aragog halted while the headmaster and his deputy coached Slughorn through ascending the staircase.
Finally, McGonagall and Dumbledore got Slughorn through the doors of the hospital wing and deposited him ungraciously on one of the beds before summoning a rather irritable Madame Pomfrey. As she began fluttering and muttering, the pair saw fit to slip out the door.
"Has anything else happened of which I need to be aware?" Dumbledore asked as he and McGonagall stretched slightly in the corridor.
"I've got some documents you need to look over," said McGonagall. She looked at the bags under Dumbledore's eyes, and observed that the lines on his face were more pronounced than usual. "They can wait until the morning, though. Go to bed, Albus. You look exhausted."
"I think I will," said Dumbledore. "You make sure you get some sleep as well, Minerva!"
-punches bills in the face- -kicks moving several hours away in the gut- -gouges out eyes of emotional instability- -steps on chest of unending real life responsibilities- -releases loud battle cry- BEHOLD! I HAVE SURVIVED AND PROVIDED YOU WITH AN UPDATE!
But for realsies, there were management changes at my last job, and I decided to roll on outta there before I was fired for insubordination (because I don't suffer fools well). I've got a new job now and have realized that the "dream job" I used to have was lol-worthy. I really and truly look forward to getting up for work every morning (and this is several months in). My days often end up being 12+ hours, though, and when I'm not working, I'm typically reading about work because I genuinely want to get better at it.
"That's great. Glad you love your job. When's the next update gonna happen?"
That's a very good question, reader/reviewer, and the answer is, quite honestly, that I have no freaking clue. I do still plan to finish what I originally set out to do, it's just going to be done at a very slow pace. Sorry. Love you lots. Love my job and the people at it more. :)
I hope you are all doing fabulously and that you enjoyed this latest installment! Take a moment to review.