Miracle of miracles; I have updated. It has to come as some surprise considering how long it has taken. Somewhere between the good, the bad, the mucky and the downright exhaustingness of real life, I got completely waylaid and side-tracked and turned around. This is perhaps a second interlude, but with it, hopefully I can move on to finishing this first year off sooner rather than later!

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Chapter 32: Change is Upon Us

"I appear to have missed the arrival and the departure of no less than twelve Aurors, Minerva," Albus' first words are said with a smile and a twinkle, yet I cannot help but distrust the bland grandfatherly guise he wears. Too much has occurred this year for me to continue to trust the man blind. In fact, too much has occurred for me to trust him at all. "And the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Lax of me, that."

Despite their being fewer people in my room than there were not that long ago, somehow the room seems far more crowded than it was before. Albus is of course standing there, twinkling merrily away at something only he seems to know and I have no intention of understanding, but next to him is Severus and there's something in the younger man's dark eyes that hurts me to look at. Perhaps it's my imagination, I hope that it is my imagination, but I would swear that I can see betrayal in that hooded gaze. Betrayal, and it is not aimed at Albus but at myself.

"Unfortunately we had no time to spare, Albus," I reply briskly, more than aware of the rebuke hiding behind his gentle tone. This is a dangerous conversation because I am on decidedly rocky ground and we both know it. I undoubtedly overstepped myself in bringing Amelia and the Aurors to Hogwarts not only without Albus' consent but without his prior knowledge. He is well within his rights to rebuke me. "Going through the correct lines of formality could have tipped our hand to Peter Pettigrew and there were four students as potential hostages to protect."

I catch and hold Severus' gaze as I speak the name of the traitor out loud. Those dark eyes meet mine unflinchingly and I refuse to look away at the reproach in them. There was a reason I did not include Severus in our fraught capture of Peter Pettigrew, much as there was a reason I did not inform Albus Dumbledore. Albus can only ever be trusted to act as he sees fit, and that may not coincide with what any other reasonable person may see as the responsible course of action. Severus however… I had the gravest of concerns over whether Severus would be able to keep control of his emotions or his temper when faced with the man who betrayed Lily Potter. Let alone the man who will be the reason that his nemesis will be set free.

"And yet you had time enough to inform Remus and Amelia, not to mention Filius here as well," his hand flits over the two men in passing, as he gazes at me benignly. I am not fooled. There is undisputable anger behind those mild mannered words. "Two out of those three were outside the walls of Hogwarts, whilst I of course have been very predictably sat in my office." He stops, and fixes me with a piercing gaze, those blue eyes serious and steady all of a sudden. "Peter Pettigrew, you say? It is quite impressive an impressive feat for a dead man to hold four student's hostage…"

"Bathilda was correct then?" Severus' dark gaze meets my own squarely, not flinching from the truth inherent in his words. "If Peter is alive, then…"

"Sirius is innocent," Remus speaks the words that are at the forefront of my mind quietly, but they hammer home no less powerfully in this near silent room. His voice breaks as he speaks and my heart aches for this man, one of my own, whose wounds are being opened up again after all these years. "He's always been…innocent."

I glance up at Phineas Black, sharing a portrait silently for the time being at least, his dark eyes expressionless but undoubtedly taking in everything being said. The capabilities of magical portraits are one of those areas that I don't fully understand, but they are certainly more than messengers and seem to carry part of the original subjects very nature and being within them. They are not the people, they are not a replacement for the one they represent but sometimes that is easy to forget. Does a portrait have feelings? Now that, that I cannot answer.

"Out of the entire Black lineage," Phineas was not a man to stay silent in life, and death made no improvements on that score. "Only that fool of a boy could get himself arrested for something he didn't do."

His dark eyes shift to Albus for a moment before settling on my own. It's difficult to tell if portraits can feel emotions such as grief or anger, betrayal or disappointment. Perhaps I am merely reflecting my own disappointment at myself onto the man, but I swear I can see a shadow of it as he looks shrewdly down at me.

"Azkaban changes a man," he says finally, after a lengthy silence. "And that boy was never the sanest of the batch to start with." He snorts dismissively. "A Gryffindor Black after all."

"A psychopathic, murderous, black-hearted…" Severus is interrupted by the portraits snide voice.

"That's enough, Severus," Albus' tone is mild, but it is still enough to silence the younger man instantly although I don't miss the resentment that flashes in his dark eyes. "If it is true that Sirius is innocent, then he has more than repaid any youthful indiscretions many times over. This is not a time for raking over the long burned ashes of the past. We need to look towards the future."

"Hogwarts however has no authority to repeal the decision of the Ministry," Filius' voice is sombre, his face stern. "As I mentioned to Minerva earlier, Section 7; Chapter 6; Clause 4 of the Counter-Terrorism Directive allows the Ministry to imprison Death Eaters without a trial. It was legislation created in the darkest moments of the war but it has never been repealed. That is a matter for Madam Bones and the DMLE to deal with. We will likely be called to testify and can certainly play a part in the rehabilitation of the man, but for now we have no choice but to watch and wait. I trust Amelia to take the necessary steps from this point forwards."

Filius is of course correct. The role of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is to educate young minds and mould our young charges into exemplary witches and wizards. Hogwarts has more than enough on its plate without trying to do the job of the DMLE as well. That said, it cannot be denied that with so many dead and no-one else to stand by him, we failed Sirius badly as a collective.

"Of that you are nearly correct, Filius," Albus comments benignly, his bright blue eyes twinkling once more as he looks around our small group. "There are roles within roles after all, and I can't imagine Amelia will be quick to turn down my assistance in this matter. May I use your floo, Minerva?"

Just like that, he's gone. I hope beyond hope that he will actually assist as, loathe as I am to admit it, Albus' sway over the Wizamagot would be helpful beyond measure in this situation. It still pains me to have to think so carefully about his actions, to try to dissect his motives, where once I would have blindly trusted that he was a force for good. That is a trust that I cannot afford to hold any longer; it is a relic of a bygone age. Even so, I still hold out hope. Albus has proven himself to be manipulative beyond belief and blinkered in his actions, his methods leave a great deal to be desired, but this is still Albus.

"Talking of Hogwarts matters, I had some thoughts about the curriculum change we mentioned before," Severus' voice is quiet and measured but I can sense the lingering bitterness and resentment in those hooded eyes. He is determined to ignore it, but he's not a man who forgets a slight quickly. It goes without saying that he feels slighted. He pulls a couple of rolls of parchment from his robe, handing them to us without ceremony. "I'd appreciate you and Filius looking them over if you have a moment."

I have to admit, I haven't had more than a couple of stray thoughts about the curriculum in the intervening chaos that seems to have plagued me. Unrolling the parchment though, I can't deny the twinge of guilt as I read the neat rows of ideas; Severus has clearly put a great deal of thought into this. Filius whistles near silently through his teeth as he glances down the parchment, his eyebrows raising speculatively as he goes.

"It's comprehensive," he says finally, interest glinting in his eyes as he looks up at Severus. "In fact I'd say it's bordering on genius. I assume that the replacement of Defence Against the Dark Arts with Protective and Defensive Spellcraft and Lore would negate the apparent curse on the position?"

"Is this curse known to all but the applicants of the post?" Remus' asks mildly although the rebuke is clear to my ears at least. "Should it not come in the initial advert, don't you think? Successful candidate may not survive the whole academic year?"

"I would also suspect that splitting the subject into magical species and magical spells should sever any lingering echoes of malevolent magic," Filius continues as if Remus hadn't spoken. His eyes flicker across the parchment once more. "And of course the linking of core classes together is something that should have been done years ago. It will integrate the entire syllabus together in a way that would be far more accessible to those of all backgrounds…"

There's no insult meant to Remus, Filius is simply completely engaged with the plan that Severus has come up with and I can see why. I pass my copy across to Remus as I consider the implications. It will cause absolute chaos, there is no doubt about that. When we had initially discussed minor changes, even that would have required a re-working of the Defence Against the Dark Arts and the Care of Magical Creatures syllabus'. Alone that would have involved a huge amount of work for all of us. What Severus is proposing here though… Now this would dismantle the majority of the Hogwarts teaching structure and piece it back together in a way that hadn't even been considered.

"Potions and Herbology are intrinsically linked, as I believe I have shown," Severus confirms, his low voice almost a hiss of satisfaction, far removed from the distrust I can still see glinting below the surface of his expression. "As core modules they could be run in parallel with ingredients used in the Potions classes being covered in Herbology lessons in regards to growth, care and preparation."

I move closer to Remus so that I can glance over his shoulder, but with a slight huff from my young colleague another copy appears in front of me. Severus' dark eyes meet mine. There's still hurt there. Still betrayal that I would go to his nemesis before him. Yet there is an offer of conciliation in that gesture. And no matter what else he thinks about today's events, there's pride in his voice as he continues. Rightfully so. This would be the most comprehensive overhaul of Hogwarts syllabus and teaching methods in close to a hundred years. This level of change would never even have occurred to me as possible and yet it all makes perfect sense.

"The same is true for Transfiguration and Charms with Magical Theory. Magical Theory is currently all but ignored, relegated to the status of a low level elective. The majority of our students are therefore utterly oblivious to any of the theory behind their wand waving and that is a vital omission." He meets all of our gazes in turn, challenging us to disagree with anything he has said. The silence is just beginning to become uncomfortable as he speaks again. "Obviously this will require in-depth communication between Professors, however with all the potential benefits this shouldn't be too great a stretch even for myself. Who knows, we might manage to turn out young wizards capable of greater feats that shooting red and green sparks at each other."

"Physical Fitness?" Remus inquires with obvious interest, somehow oblivious to that last crack about green sparks. How many of his young Slytherin's has Severus seen lost to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? "And you've paired that with Protective and Defensive Spellcraft and Lore?"

"An important aspect of defending against magic should include ducking, diving and running as though a dragon is on your tail…" Severus doesn't look up at the man as he speaks. "…after all, in some cases, there might well be. As Filius here is more than aware, a good dueller has to train their body as well as their mind and that is something sorely lacking in the current curriculum."

"Yes, yes," Filius responds, clearly having heard his name but not actually paid any attention. He looks up, his eyes glinting in barely repressed excitement. "These electives could transform Hogwarts, Severus!"

"That was the general idea, Filius." I wince at the blatant sarcasm in the younger man's tone. "We will give our pupils a chance to grow into their full potential. We will give them the choices that they are sorely lacking."

The sarcasm vanishes and there is true passion in Severus' tone as he speaks. I can see Remus looking at him strangely, but even I am astonished. This is a side of my multi-faceted colleague that is rarely seen indeed. A side that cares about the dunderheads he teaches. Or at least the ones who could excel in his particular topic of interest.

"If for example they want to excel in Potions, then let them specialise and truly excel," he expands. "This would give us the opportunity to teach them electives that might actually mean something and could make a real difference. Restoratives, Alteratives, Toxins and Explosives. Three different electives, each uniquely focused in an area they have the opportunity to rise within whilst ensuring that if they take a more destructive elective, if has to be counterbalanced with the healing equivalent. We could teach them as much about balance as we could about magic itself, give them an insight into the way the dark and light aspects of magic intersperse and manipulate each other."

He is almost strident in his intensity, his dark eyes flashing. Without meaning to be, I find myself caught up in the idea in front of us.

"Human transfiguration," I offer and almost before the words are out of my mouth they have appeared on the parchment in my hands. I meet Remus' gaze levelly and bite back a small smirk as he looks down and away from me, refusing to meet my eyes for more than a brief moment. "The class would be small but at least those who are interested would be doing it under supervision."

"Wandless Magic," Filius interjects, and again the words appear almost instantaneously on the parchment. "Warding and Spellcraft. Specialist, complex topics but they are fields in need of interested parties. Wandless and Spellcraft are well within my own remit of expertise, but tell me we couldn't get Bill Weasley interested in a part-time contract for Warding or even Curse-Breaking?"

"I particularly like the Magical Species; Languages," Remus chimes in, his tone quiet but intense. "However, if that were moved to an OWL elective, Magical Species; Inter-Relations could then be included as a NEWT specialism. Just consider it; generations of witches and wizards who are actively interested in interacting with other species rather than fearing, ignoring, belittling or using them could actually work real change."

The scroll takes a little longer to update this time, but eventually the changes are made. The sourness of Severus' face is difficult to miss but any progress can't be denied. And Remus' suggestion is sound. After all, the syllabus includes human languages and magical species languages for the first time; it is a logical step to progress into the political and social inter-relations that have been so murky for so long.

"What are we going to do about the qualifications themselves?" I point out as it occurs to me. "There is no current basis for any qualification in the vast majority of subjects here and whilst certain topics could obviously be covered between us, that just wouldn't work with others. Curse breaking, warding, languages, ritualistic magic? We aren't going to be able to organise those in house…"

"We break away from the current Ministry orchestrated examinations," Severus replies dryly, "and bring in experts in the subjects to create the syllabus' and the examinations. They are of course subject to approval. I have a list of suggested experts to hand for many of the topics on the list. I am sure that between us we have more than enough contacts to cover the bases."

"Would the examinations even be accepted?" I query, knowing the Ministry's position on anything out of the ordinary, I can see this creating a storm of dragon dung. "After all, that's one of the few leashes the Ministry holds on us."

"If we have the experts to back it up, then I can't see why not…" Filius muses softly. "Our biggest challenge may be getting it through the Headmaster himself, after all he is more than a little bit stuck in his ways and the Hogwarts curriculum hasn't changed much since he was at school…"

"Neither have the staff…" Remus remarks with a wry smile.

"You know…" The smile on Filius' face seems out of place with the severity and sombreness of his tone, and I find myself smiling back, waiting for whatever idea has permeated the genius little man's mind. "We could skip the middle man. If we can get a majority from the Board of Governors then there's little Albus would be able to say against it. Particularly as it makes sense."

"I can speak to Lucius…" Severus drawls slowly. "The entire module based on Offensive Magic coupled with the possibility of the Dark Arts being included within Ritualistic Magic and Curse Breaking should have him salivating, even if they are NEWT electives and carefully moderated."

"We can split the other members of the Board across the Heads of Houses," Filius agrees perfunctorily. "We all have contacts and specialisms, although there are going to be some which are unknowns."

"They'll be something for everyone here though," Remus replies. "It's just a case of finding what interests them most and selling it…"

"And if there's someone who knows just about everyone on the Board then it's likely to be Bathilda Bagshot…" I muse.

"Or Augusta Longbottom…" Severus murmurs thoughtfully. "How about you take dear Bathilda, Minerva, I take Lucius and Filius here takes Augusta. We can go from there."

"With a curriculum like this, we ought to have them eating out of the palms of our hands," Filius murmurs distractedly, glancing back down at the sheet of parchment in his hand. "Neither the purebloods nor the muggleborn could find anything to object to politically as it stands to strengthen both of their positions."

It is with a spring in my step and a lightness to my spirit that I haven't felt all year that I finish our discussions and we all go our separate ways.

For the first time I am looking forward to Christmas, I am looking forward to planning, I am looking forward to change. Minerva McGonagall, embracing change. Whatever will happen next?