August 26, 1944.
Ministry of Magic, Auror Department.
A young woman with jet-black hair sat stiffly, facing a large mahogany desk. The chair behind it was vacant, but the woman let her cool gaze bore into it anyway. She found herself, as always, claustrophobic in the windowless room, its tightly packed shelves and large cabinets closing her in. Light permeated the room in the form of a single candelabra, reflected in polished mirrors on every wall until the room was bright enough to see the large cork-board behind the desk, which was overflowing with newspaper cutouts, pictures covered in red writing, letters, addresses, numbers-
"You know why you are here, Miss McGonagall?" A voice interrupted her observations as Minerva continued to look ahead. The woman behind her held a paperweight in one hand, as if weighing it, as she gazed into one of the mirrors. Reflected was the view of a second mirror, in which she could clearly see her interrogatee's impassive profile.
"No, ma'am, I do not," answered Minerva, speaking clearly to a clipping which showed a picture of a tall, light-haired woman pacing in front of a blackboard, occasionally jabbing at it or gesturing around her, as if enthusiastically making points.
The other woman set down the paperweight and turned around, tall heels clicking on the wooden floor as she moved behind the desk. "But you have a notion," she stated, leaning forward slightly and spreading her long-fingered hands over the scorch marks and scratches that scarred the desk top. In contrast, the woman showed no sign of damage. Her dark brown hair was pulled into a tightly twisted knot, emphasising the strong jaw and cheekbones of her Latin-skinned face. Her Muggle suit was immaculate, the skirt falling to the perfect length. Minerva stayed focused on the picture, slightly to the side of the piercing grey eyes examining her. "The new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor," the second woman clarified, without so much as glancing behind her. "She's being tailed, security precaution."
Minerva was now forced to meet her gaze. "Yes," she answered simply. Silence rang out, a beckon to continue. "You want me to stay close to Professor Dumbledore."
"Astute as ever. And why would I pick you for that job, McGonagall?" she inquired, turning to examine the cork-board, hands clasped behind her back. Minerva's hand twitched, ready to get on with the pile of paperwork waiting at her desk. Caterdily's drama took far too long to deal with.
"The Professor and I were close at Hogwarts. He was my mentor, and also a good friend," she answered, as if reciting prose.
"Your inferences are correct." The older woman turned to face her once more. "Most importantly, Dumbledore trusts you. The two of you have already hit it off. I expect weekly reports on him. I want to know anytime he goes anywhere, be it London or the loo. You know his behavior, his patterns, routines, and as much of what makes him tick as anyone. The second he begins to act even the slightest bit off-color, there had better be an owl on my desk. Do you understand me, Miss McGonagall?" She was leaning so far forward that she was half across the desk, intent on the woman in front of her.
"Yes," Minerva answered, still meeting the woman's cold gaze. "Ma'am," she added, when the eyes in front of her did not move. A second later, they finally blinked.
"Good. Good," she replied, straightening up. "Another thing." Minerva's eyes, which had come to rest on the desk in front of her, again shot up to the woman's face. "I understand, from your behavior in the past, that your bonds with Dumbledore may overcome those that you hold with the Ministry, with myself...maybe even with your job. However, you should know, Miss McGonagall, that if you lie I will find out." She turned her back to Minerva yet again and flicked her wand at the cork-board, which transformed instantly into a map with tiny red dots roaming around it. "I can track you, anywhere you go," she continued, body angled so that she could look back at Minerva, "and my staff aren't my only source of information. Lie, and it will cost you- and him- dearly." Minerva's mouth thinned, and for almost a minute the two women glared at each other, daring the other to look away. They were interrupted by a quick knock at the door, which opened to reveal a short man holding a huge stack of folders and papers.
"Coralina, the minister wishes for you to look over these-" he began, looking down and sorting through the stack to pull off the top quarter.
She snatched the papers out of his hands. "It's Caterdily, to you, and in the future you'd do well to knock before entering," she glared, slapping the paperwork onto her desk without looking at it. The man looked shocked, papers threatening to fall out of his arms, before gaining composure.
"Of course, Ms. Caterdily, ma'am, ever so sorry," he apologized, shuffling away. "Until next time, eh?" he had reached the door and was about to head off before Caterdily stopped him.
"Wait! Give me that red folder," she demanded, reaching out a hand.
"Err... This is supposed to go to Harrison-" he stuttered, pulling out the folder in question and looking back and forth between it and Caterdily.
"Harrison is in my department, which means I have every right to see what is in that folder. Hand it over. Now!" she snapped as he hesitate, then scuttled back over and handed it to her. She flipped it open, snorted, and threw it in the rubbish bin.
The man, who was now wide-eyed, ran a hand though his hair, making it stand up. "The minister had flagged that as most important-"
"The minister," retorted Caterdily, with an air of great finality, "is wasting his time. It's a red herring, and if he wishes to disagree, he picked the wrong woman for this job. If he has any complaints, he may meet me personally."
The man was obviously distressed. "He had it on good source-" he fretted, again running his hand through his wild hair.
"Armando Dippet is a headmaster, not a private investigator, much as he'd like to think otherwise. He couldn't handle attacks on his own school, and therefore does not need to be worrying himself about bigger matters." She sat down behind her desk, pulled a quill, inkjar and a pair of small, oval reading glasses out of the drawer in front of her and took the first file down from the stack. The man stood still for a moment, opened his mouth as if to speak, then thought better of it, and left hurriedly.
Minerva continued to sit in her stony silence, eyebrows slightly raised as she pulled lightly at the hem of her sleeve.
"You are dismissed, Miss McGonagall," Caterdily injected into the silence, flipping a page and peering over the glasses at Minerva, who stood up quickly and strode across the room. "Shut the door on your way out, if you would."
Minerva pulled the heavy door closed behind her. Coralina Caterdily immediately reached into the inside pocket of her jacket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, conjuring up an ashtray before using the tip of her wand to light one and taking a deep drag. She breathed out, watching the smoke drift in tendrils above her desk, before fishing the red folder out of the rubbish. She had little faith in Armando's judgement., but he wouldn't send any information to the ministry lightly...
Minerva McGonagall did not relax until she was back in her cubicle, collapsing into the rather hard leather chair that took up most of the space in it and letting out a long breath. That woman... she shook her head and began to let her thoughts run freely again. For a second it was hard, after so long of trying to think of nothing, the most effective (and still barely successful) form of Occlumency that she could practice against Caterdily. As thoughts began to trickle back into her mind, she mentally thanked Dumbledore for all the lessons, much as she had despised them at the time.
"Someone's obviously been in the principal's office," sniggered a rather short, curly-haired witch from beside her.
"Mph," was Minerva's only reply. Her face was in her hands, elbows resting on the shelf that served as a desk, massaging her temples. She always had the worst headaches after dealing with Caterdily.
"Here," said the witch, slipping a hand into her robes and tossing a small vial high into the air. Minerva sat up and easily caught it. She automatically waved the bottle beneath her nose to smell the fumes before taking the potion. She wished she could say that she trusted her co-workers, but most were either idiots or too ambitious for their own good, and all enjoyed a good prank. The witch who had given her the potion fit mostly into the prankster category, which perhaps made the potion all the more potentially dangerous.
The potion fumes, however, smelled perfectly normal for a migraine potion, albeit a bit strong, so Minerva took a small sip and re-corked the bottle, thinking of the board in Caterdily's office, before passing it back and turning to look at the witch as her headache subsided. Her name was Stephanie DeMattos, the only other female auror in the department (with the exception of Caterdily). She was sitting on a chair vastly different than Minerva's- it was smaller, for one thing, and much puffier, but most noticeably she had removed the legs. Instead, a single pole attached to the center of the seat, connected on its other end to a Muggle roller-skate that had once been a portkey. The result was a chair that was rather unsightly, constantly falling over, and could roll. After several stabilizing charms, it mostly stayed upright, but there were still crashes coming from the cubicle next to Minerva's fairly often.
"Thank you," she said. There were no longer any traces of a headache in her mind, but the intense frustration was still there. She couldn't afford to lose her job. Under other circumstances, she could quit and get a new one, no problem, but with all the job cuts that had been happening, well, everywhere, that was an impossible solution. Not that she particularly wanted to quit, either- as much as she despised Caterdily and her methods, she had worked hard for this.
"So, someone's got a secret mission," said Stephanie, grinning as she tucked the vial away. "Do tell." She sat back and Minerva winced, waiting for the unstable chair to fall over.
"Maybe I'm missing out on the new terms, but I think you might have misinterpreted the meaning of the word 'secret'," replied Minerva, eyebrows raised as she flicked through the mail on her desk. Nothing interesting.
"Damn, I knew I should have put some Veritiserium in that potion," said Stephanie as Minerva picked up a copy of the Daily Prophet. "Really though, what's going on?"
"Couldn't tell you if I wanted to," replied Minerva, adding a Muggle paper and a quill to the stack. She pulled a red ink jar closer and uncapped it, soaking the quill. "My job's on the line." She began to read, quill in hand.
"Oh, please, Caterdily tells that to everyone," replied Stephanie, unfazed as she picked at one of her nails. "We're already understaffed and overworked."
"I can tell an empty threat from a substantial one, thank you," answered McGonagall curtly, circling a headline in the paper, then another. Stephanie looked a bit bothered.
"Weird. You're one of the best in here, I'd say," she said, frowning. "Though I don't know why you even bother with those," she added, waving a hand towards the paper. "It's a separate war."
"There's no way to tell that," Minerva contradicted, underlining a passage. "Just because wizards haven't gotten involved here doesn't mean they haven't elsewhere. Grindelwald plays dirty. I wouldn't be surprised if he was behind a great deal more than we give him credit for."
"Yeah, well I doubt he's the reason for-" Stephanie squinted to read upside down, "Romania turning against Germany, or America not agreeing to attack them."
"You can't know that. When things are ignored is when situations reach their worst-" began Minerva, lowering her paper.
"I thought that was before they got better?" interrupted Stephanie.
"-and we're doing far too much ignoring. How do we know someone's not controlling Eisenhower, and that's why he won't agree to attack?" she finished, looking at Stephanie as if daring her to fight back.
"Hmm, let's see, someone is controlling Eisenhower- the entire American population, which doesn't want this all to be happening again!" retorted the brunette, as if pointing out the obvious. "Germany's never attacked them because they know America will go all Revolutionary War on their asses, so America's held its grudge only with Japan because they don't particularly want to do that either."
"That still doesn't-" Minerva began, but was cut off by a man in his mid-thirties who had several deep scars on his face and arms, as well as already greying hair, and another man, younger, who had a mane of golden hair and bright eyes.
"Enough chat, ladies, we're leaving and you're staying here if you don't get yer arses up in the next twenty seconds," stated the first man, bluntly. Minerva shoved the papers into her bag, recapped the ink bottle, and after a second threw the ink and quill in too, then stood up, wand in hand. She was shorter than both the men, though barely. Stephanie stood up, too, twirling her wand.
"You really should work on your manners, Alastor, you'd be amazed at what saying 'please' can get you these days," she commented.
"DeMattos, I am your superior, and as such I demand you for once in your life to shut your damn trap!" the man growled back. Minerva rolled her eyes and pushed her chair as far into the cubicle as it would go. She wouldn't be back for quite a while. "Now, time for the two of you to prove your identities-"
"Madman, you just saw me walk out of Caterdily's office ten minutes ago-" began McGonagall, referring to Alastor Moody by his widely known nickname, at the same time that Stephanie was ranting,
"Of course, we just marched into the Ministry and took over two aurors without anyone noticing, aren't we so clever-"
"Silence!" he ordered them, "And constant vigilance! It would be reckless not to check, just think! McGonagall, how am supposed to know Caterdily didn't curse you-"
"Because she's already Satan, Grindelwald himself could take over her and she'd still be nicer-" the ginger-headed man stated, looking almost bored.
"Scrimgeour, this does not involve you! And DeMattos, you went to the bathroom twenty minutes ago-" Moody pointed out, training a finger towards her.
"What the hell, you monitor my bathroom breaks?" Stephanie looked part shocked, part disturbed, and mostly outraged.
"Don't take it personally," suggested a well-built blond wizard as he passed by, carrying several books under his arm. "He does it to everyone." Stephanie still looked angry.
Moody pointed his wand at Stephanie. "When was our first mission together, and what was it?"
Stephanie made a great show of rolling her eyes before she answered. "During my training; the mission was a fake where I had to show what I would do if you turned out to be a traitor. I was one of only two people who passed, and the only to manage to beat the hell out of you," smirked Stephanie. Really it hadn't been all that grand, she had accidentally made the ceiling collapse on top of both of them, but still...
He grunted his satisfaction and moved his wand toward Minerva. "Under what circumstances did you and I meet?"
Minerva rolled her eyes. "At Hogwarts. You were in your 7th year, it was my first. You were running down the hall, screaming bloody murder, covered in flames. It wasn't until you plowed me over and stopped to apologise that I realized they weren't real, it was all a prank."
"Good." Moody affirmed, ignoring Stephanie's raucous laughter and the curious look Scrimgeour was giving him and shoving his wand up his sleeve. "We've got a portkey to catch. Hurry, you lot."