A Battle of Wills
AN: This one is unbeta'd . I've read it at least 4 times though. Sorry for any typos though, English is not my native language.
AN2: I forgot to mention some important details: This story takes place during HBP obviously, but it's rather AU. It's not the end of term yet, so Dumbledore is still alive. Not DH compliant for the time being.
Chapter 1: Seeking answers
Hermione, in her sixth year, couldn't deny any more that she had started noticing the world outside of academic achievements. She was still an overachiever and none of her peers would ever bother hoping to attain all the knowledge the girl had crammed into her head over the years, but recently Hermione was not as focused as she used to be. To her utter dismay she realized that her usual focus seemed to disappear completely during Transfiguration classes. Not that she wasn't still ahead of her class by at least one lesson but for some strange reason she caught herself staring distractedly at her favourite professor more and more often.
She allowed the issue to bother her for approximately two weeks before she got fed up with it and decided to ask Ginny about it. Even though the girl was two years younger than her, Hermione had to admit that the younger witch knew a lot more about life than she did. Also, Hermione had a hunch where this distraction was coming from and Ginny was bound to know more about what the wizarding society thinks about such things.
"So what do you have on your mind?" Ginny asked, after she made herself comfortable on Hermione's bed. The girls managed to get the bedroom all to themselves, although Ginny had to threaten Lavender with a Bat-Bogey Hex when the nosy blond tried to negotiate staying in the far side of the room.
"Hold on." Hermione said, casting a silencing charm around their immediate surroundings to make sure no one would be able to eavesdrop on them. The last thing Hermione wanted was another round of gossip about her love life, she had enough of that in her fourth year to last a lifetime.
"Gin... I don't really know where to start. First, you have to promise that you won't think less of me and that you'll keep this a secret." Hermione said sheepishly. She was rather embarrassed about specifically asking her friend to do so but she was nervous beyond words.
"Hermione... What do ye take me for? Lavender? Don't be an idiot, of course I won't tell anyone." Ginny seemed to be lost in thought for a moment and then refocused on the older girl. "Does this have anything to do with your recent... topsy-turvy behaviour?"
Hermione's eyebrows ascended into her hairline at the comment. She tried to act as if she wasn't taken aback by Ginny's insight but failed miserably as she could feel her cheeks heating up.
"What... do you mean by 'topsy-turvy'?" She finally asked.
"Well... I haven't seen you in class per se, but Harry asked me the other day if you were all right." The redhead answered casually. "He said he noticed that more than once you weren't the first to raise your hand, and even caught you sneaking a peek at his book to see where it was opened." By the time Ginny finished she had a huge grin plastered on her face.
"Uhm... well..." Hermione started but the words soon died on her lips. She cleared her throat and filled her lungs with air to get a hold of her nerves. "I think that I'mattractedtosomeone." Ginny stared at her blankly for a moment trying to comprehend what exactly her friend had said and a moment later it hit her. "What? You fancy someone? WHO?"
"Not so loud, you goon!" Hearing her friend's sudden outburst she was very glad she put up the silencing charm.
"Oh come off it... you put up a silencing charm, I could yell every word and no one would hear it." Ginny retorted good-naturedly. "Now spill... who is it?"
"See, that's what I wanted to talk about... Ginny, I really hope you won't think less of me but... is homosexuality accepted in the wizarding world?"
Ginny stayed motionless on the bed for some seconds, absorbing the information her friend had just shared. The normally chatty girl was suddenly lost for words and all she could do was stare at the brunette witch sitting on the other side of the bed nervously chewing on her bottom lip.
The only reason Hermione knew that Ginny was still alive was that she could see the slight rise and fall of her chest. 'Oh GOD, she hates me!' With each passing moment Hermione grew more and more upset, wondering if she had just wrecked a friendship with her honesty. To her great relief however, Ginny finally spoke up, washing away all her fears.
"Is that ALL? My god, woman... you have to be extremely conservative and ridiculously unintelligent to judge someone because of their sexual orientation... isn't it like that in the muggle world?" Ginny asked, genuinely perplexed.
"Not really. Most people are tolerant but many still consider it to be a mental illness..." Hermione said, her voice suddenly growing sad. This was definitely a conversation she did not want to have with her parents.
"Muggles..." Ginny said, shaking her head in disbelief.
"You're not a muggle Hermione... just because you were born into a muggle family doesn't make you one. You're a witch."
"My parents are muggles..." She replied, her voice growing even sadder. Ginny's eyes doubled in size when she understood what Hermione was saying. She scooted closer to comfort the girl. "Oh you poor thing. Do you think your parents will react badly?"
"I haven't the faintest idea." There were tears in Hermione's eyes now.
"Well... you don't have to tell them right away, 'Mione. You have plenty of time to come up with something. Perhaps this girl you fancy could help you? Who is it?" Ginny asked, trying to steer the conversation to a less touchy subject.
A single tear escaped from Hermione's eye and she wiped it off her cheek with a rather angry movement. She looked Ginny in the eye without blinking. They stayed like that for almost a minute, Ginny waiting patiently, Hermione trying to compose herself for the revelation. She could feel her cheeks heating up again but she decided it was now or never. "McGonagall."
To say that Ginny was stunned would have been the understatement of the year. Possibly the understatement of the century even. Her jaw dropped all the way down to the kitchens and a great number of emotions were displayed on her face, shock, disbelief and something quite similar to horror among them.
"McGonagall?" Ginny asked when she finally found her voice. "You don't mean... Minerva McGonagall?" She clarified as if the school had been chock-full with McGonagalls. "You're talking about... Minerva bloody I-have-never-laughed-in-my-life McGonagall?" Ginny asked, thunderstruck.
"Do we know of any other McGonagalls?" Hermione asked. Even though Ginny had just insulted her favourite teacher and newfound crush she couldn't help but be amused at her reaction.
"But...but...what is she? Eighty?" Ginny spluttered, still in shock.
"Sixty-one, thank you very much." Hermione retorted, her good mood turning sour rapidly but the remnants of a smile still lingered on her lips.
"Do you even know if she's into women or not?" Ginny asked, curiously. Personally she couldn't imagine Minerva McGonagall with anyone but she wasn't thick enough to think that the woman was asexual.
"No... she could hate lesbians for all I know." Hermione answered, the smile vanishing from her face completely. Her voice grew sad again and a great sigh escaped her lips as she thought about all the reasons why her feelings would most likely remain unrequited.
"Doubt it. Only the aristocratic pricks hung up over blood purity are that thick in the wizarding world." Ginny answered, trying to cheer her strangely moody friend again. Ginny knew this crush had to be serious, Hermione didn't usually have such abrupt mood swings.
"If only I could find out what she thinks without exposing myself..." Hermione said wistfully. Both witches fell into a deep silence, trying to come up with a working plan.
"I've got an idea!" Ginny yelled after a few minutes, startling Hermione so much she nearly jumped off the bed.
They were still deep in conversation when a number of girls demanded entrance into their room and the two young witches decided to move their base to another room, but only after a furious Lavender Brown threatened to complain at their Head of House.
A few days later...
Hermione was not at all sure about the plan Ginny and she had devised a few days ago. Luckily, they came up with the bulk of their plan during the weekend because Hermione was so insecure about her position that she called nearly all points of the plan into question.
Thankfully, Ginny proved to be an extremely patient schemer and after arguing every point well into the night they finally agreed on the course of action they would take.
Hermione's inhibitions fought to surface once again as her legs took her to Minerva McGonagall's office almost of their own accord. She'd been to her Head of House's rooms so often she would have found it even if she was blindfolded.
Once in front of the portrait she revised all the things she was supposed to say and summoning her Gryffindor courage she allowed a shaky breath past her lips before she knocked.
The portrait opened almost instantly and as she stepped into the familiar room she was greeted with the lovely sight of her diligent professor, sitting at her desk as usual.
The older woman looked up from her paperwork for a moment to acknowledge her guest, whoever it might be, and was pleasantly surprised that her star pupil had decided to pay her a visit again. 'She hasn't been to see me for some weeks. Perhaps I could ask why she's been so distracted lately.'
Minerva straightened in her chair and only someone paying close attention to her face would have spotted the transformation that took place. She didn't exactly smile at the young girl, nor was it a softening of her features, but her face seemed to warm up somewhat.
"Good evening Miss Granger." She said. Her voice remained mostly professional yet it hit a friendlier tone Minerva had reserved for their private conversations.
"Good evening, Professor." Hermione replied shyly, crossing the room slowly.
"Is everything all right, Miss Granger? It's rather late for a visit, don't you think?" She asked cordially, motioning with her head for the girl to take a seat. However, Hermione remained standing, as if rooted to the spot.
"I'm sorry for disturbing you so late, Professor. I... um... well I was wondering if you could explain something to me. I really can't wrap my mind around it." She said sheepishly, only occasionally glancing at Minerva.
"Of course, take a seat." Minerva said, flashing a rare little smile, something Hermione had cherished even before she recognized her feelings for what they were. "I was beginning to wonder if my lessons weren't challenging enough, you haven't visited me in some time." The older witch cautiously tried to steer the topic of conversation towards Hermione's recent behaviour. She didn't want to alienate the girl but she was genuinely concerned about her well being.
The barely visible smile quickly melted from Minerva's face as the girl's strange behaviour hit her. The girl used to be in her office so often Minerva had noticed that she almost felt at home in it. She hadn't had to ask Hermione to take a seat in quite a while actually, the girl had usually just plopped down either in a chair or on the sofa.
Suddenly growing more concerned than she already was, she stood from her chair and rounded the table to have a closer look at the young witch.
"Whatever is the matter, Miss Granger?" Minerva asked, her green eyes focusing on the girl's face, searching for a sign to clue her in.
"Well... I saw something the other day, Professor, and I was hoping that you could enlighten me." Hermione said after a brief hesitation. "You see, in the muggle world you don't see anything like that on the streets. Or anywhere else for that matter. Or even if you do most people frown upon it."
Realizing that the girl sought her out with a personal issue rather than due to her insatiable curiosity she nodded silently and led the girl to the comfortable sofa near the fireplace.
"What is it Hermione?" She asked, wondering what on earth could have the girl seen that put her in such a perplexed state.
"Well... as I was on my way to Gryffindor Tower the other day I saw t... two Ravenclaws..." Hermione's words faltered as she realized exactly what she was about to discuss with her beloved professor. Accordingly, she suddenly felt her cheeks heat up and knew that her face would be a deep scarlet red within minutes. "erhm... making out." She said the last two words in such a rush that Minerva almost didn't catch them.
For a minute Minerva sat stunned. She couldn't imagine that the girl didn't know anything about kissing. 'And why in the world would she come to ME with it, rather than a friend?' Minerva, racking her brain for a suitable answer, tried to recall Hermione's exact words. Suddenly a possible solution presented itself to the transfiguration professor.
"Miss Granger. Do you mean to say that you saw two... girls or perhaps two boys in an intimate situation?" She asked gently, not wanting the girl to think that she was making fun of her.
She certainly knew that the muggle world still had issues with homosexuality. During her forty years of teaching she had an innumerable amount of students who came running to her, either horrified at the sight of same sex couples or in tears due to the atrocious behaviour of some muggle-borns.
Hermione nodded, silently cursing herself for forgetting to mention that bit of information. 'She must have thought I'm some inexperienced sheltered freak. Nice start, Hermione!'
"Yes, that's what I meant. I'm not... judgemental or anything..." Hermione hastened to point out. "But..."
"Over the many years of my teaching career I've had this very same chat with many students, Hermione. Occasionally even from other houses." Minerva reassured the girl, her amused little smile returning, now that she knew there was nothing seriously wrong with her prized student.
"Other houses? Forgive my question, but do you mean to say that some of the other Heads of Houses are not as tolerant?" Hermione asked, wondering which of her teachers could have a problem with this. The first man that came to her mind was Snape of course.
"Currently? No, not to my knowledge. As far as I know all of the current Hogwarts staff is as open-minded as they can get." Minerva answered, wondering if this was going anywhere. "The incident I'm referring to happened some fifteen years ago. Back then, Slytherin house had a far more conservative Head and there was a young boy who heard from a Gryffindor friend..." At Hermione's sharp intake of breath and stunned expression, Minerva raised an eyebrow. "Don't be so shocked, Miss Granger. Although not as common as it ought to be, Gryffindor and Slytherin students occasionally do form friendships. With usually disastrous results where Hufflepuff House is concerned." Minerva said, her eyes betraying disapproval. "Anyway, as you probably well know yourself, I've gained a bit of a reputation for handling these delicate matters, it's only natural that those students who are a wee bit doubtful of their own Heads would turn to me."
'What does she mean she gained a reputation for handling these situations?'Hermione was more than a bit surprised at what she was gathering about her Professor. "Um... Professor? What kind of reputation were you talking about just a minute ago?"
Minerva was rather perplexed. 'If she doesn't know... how on Earth did she think of asking ME of all people? Why not any of her friends?'
"Hermione, might I ask what gave you the idea to come to me with this matter? I was quite sure that you've heard the rumours but it is fairly clear that I'm mistaken..." the older witch asked, her curiosity now piqued. Unfortunately for Minerva, that meant she had to find out.
The one thing she detested about her Animagus form being a cat is that her natural curiosity combined with that of a cat made it very hard for her to leave a mystery unsolved. In fact, one of the reasons for her infamous stoicism and reserved nature was that she had to come up with a defence mechanism against some of her horrid cat traits. If she didn't allow herself to get too interested in her students on a personal level she couldn't drive herself crazy with inappropriate curiosity either.
One student, out of two throughout her teaching career, with whom she didn't stick to her own rules was sitting next to her with a thoroughly confused expression on her face. The ageing Transfiguration professor couldn't help but favour the girl, she was, after all, the pride of the whole school, and in HER house. Not to mention Minerva had the pleasure of finding herself in surprisingly enjoyable conversations and debates with the young girl, in whom she discovered enough compassion and friendliness to rival her intelligence.
"Honestly Professor? Nothing prompted me..." Hermione lied without blinking or looking away. She hated lying to her professor like that but she needed to find out as much as she could and this new bit of information might prove useful in her quest.
"I came to you with this question because you... well you were sort of the obvious choice. I've always come to you, regardless of the nature of the question, I didn't see why I should change that." Hermione tried to justify the previous fib by telling herself that the latter statement would have been true if she had not had an ulterior motive.
Minerva, not being privy to the younger girl's inner turmoil, inwardly smiled at the barely masked compliment. "I trust this conversation won't leave this room?" She finally asked, looking seriously into the girl's eyes. She was about to confirm something nearly no one knew for sure. Most students spread rumours about it and some of the teachers had hinted at it as well but only Albus and Poppy knew. Hermione nodded vigorously.
"The reason students frequently come to me with such questions is that a part of the rumour I previously hinted at says that I myself am attracted to my own sex." Hermione held her breath, not daring to exhale the air, lest she should sabotage the moment somehow. "Funnily enough, those who spread it, either out of spite or because they find it an entertaining story, have no idea that they're actually spreading the truth."
"There's a rumour about you being a lesbian?" Hermione yelped incredulously. The moment the words were out of her mouth she wished she could haven taken them back."I'm sorry!" Instinctively she slapped her hand over her lips, a look of pure horror appeared in her eyes as she waited for her Professor to respond to her outburst. 'Please don't be upset! Please don't be upset!'
Minerva McGonagall, seeing the terrified expression on Hermione's face, combined with how hilarious the older witch thought Hermione's reaction was, did something she had never done in the presence of a student: she burst out laughing.
"Good GOD, I needed that. Haven't had such a good laugh in years." Minerva said after she managed to calm down enough to speak. "Hermione. You MUST promise me, that you will, under no circumstances, tell ANYONE, of what you just witnessed." She suddenly turned serious again, as if her previous mirth hadn't existed at all.
"I promise!" Hermione squeaked, this time voicing her promise confidently, knowing full well that she will be able to keep this one. The young witch thought that her professor's laugher was absolutely enchanting. Inwardly she immediately vowed to guard the memory for as long as she lived, not wanting to share even the knowledge of such a divine sound with anyone.
After idly chatting for a few more minutes she excused herself, almost tripping over herself to get to Gryffindor Tower, where the younger redhead witch was eagerly waiting her news.
To be continued...
Did you like it? Or no? Please let me know! :)