The Sugar Quill
Author: Calanthe (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Differences of Opinion  Chapter: Part I: Behaviour Management
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Differences of Opinion

Differences of Opinion

 

or

 

The First Shot from the Catapult Against the Monstrous Regiment of Shipfics.

 

by Calanthe Borrible.

 

 

Author’s Note: It’s a shipsinker…take a wild guess which ship.  If you don’t think you can cope, please don’t read.

 

With thanks to Lady Alys Vorpatril for a certain bit of advice that a certain character would do well to follow…

 

 

 

Part I: Behaviour Management.

 

 

Gallimaufrey!’

Really, Professor, there’s no need to shout—’

Somebody screamed.  Minerva lunged through the portrait hole with her skirts around her knees, dove into the Common Room—then flung herself hastily against the wall, her skirts billowing on a howling wind.  A torch shot past her nose, streaming fire; glass splintered.  She groped for her wand.  Tapestry tangled and rent, tumbled in rags through the air and plastered itself across the walls.  Flames surged out of the hearth.  A hoarse voice bellowed, ‘Furunculus!’ and sickly green light shot out of a storm of parchment, caught in the wind, rocketed off stone—

Minerva’s mouth pinched into a tight line; she clamped a hand to her hat and stepped forward, and thrust her wand into the wind. 

Finite omnes!

Light careered off a tooth of glass, and vanished.  For a moment there was silence, drifting, smoke-filled: then the carpet heaved violently in mid-air, plummeted to the floor; a table plunged down and splintered on stone; tapestry rags slid into heaps against the walls.  Something whistled overhead; Minerva ducked smartly aside as a candelabrum thumped onto a heap of carpet and candles went flying, trailing smoke.  Parchment and books, torn pages, quills and scraps of wool drifted down.  Slowly, through the mess, Minerva made out two shapes.  One was tall, red-haired, tangled in the battered remnants of a school robe; he staggered as his legs grew slowly firm under him, his teeth shrank and his face drained of its brilliant yellow tint.  The other shape was short and stocky, wild-eyed, gasping for breath as a writhing nest of snakes restored itself inch by inch into wind-snarled hair.

Minerva’s chest swelled with a furious breath.  ‘Miss Granger!  Mr Weasley!  Would one of you care to explain what precisely has been going on here?’

Through the last sinking scraps and feathers, two faces snapped toward her, one mauve, the other sallow as wax.  For a moment they wore identical expressions of shock; then Ronald’s jaw bunched mutinously, and Hermione’s mouth pinched tight.

Well?

Ronald looked away.  Hermione’s eyes flinched shut; her hair gave one last limp billow around her temples and slithered down over her face.  She stood rigid.  The sound of her breath rang loud in the silence. 

Minerva’s eyes narrowed.  At the edge of her sight, pale faces peered out of the shadows of the stairwells.  A fold of carpet heaved, and a small fair shape struggled out from under a chair back and flopped to the floor.  Lavender Brown edged out from amidst knots of curtain, blood streaking down her cheek; behind her, two small shapes huddled warily against the crazed window.  And still, no reply.  Minerva pressed her lips together, hard. 

‘I see,’ she said tightly.  ‘Very well.  Your wands, if you please.’

For a moment, neither of them moved.  Then, slowly, Hermione’s hand lifted.  She reversed her wand along her forearm, held it out hilt-first; Minerva picked up her skirts and stepped carefully over the heaps of carpet, twitched it from the girl’s fingers.  She swung around to Ronald with it poised between her hands.  ‘Mr Weasley?’

He shoved his wand toward her without meeting her eyes; she stalked across and whipped it out of his hand, and spun on her heel.  ‘Miss Proctor!’ 

The Prefect started, paled, slithered cautiously out of the portrait hole.  ‘Yes, Professor McGonagall?’

‘Please take Miss Brown and Mr Creevey, and anyone else who has sustained an injury, to the hospital wing immediately.’  Hermione’s eyes widened, and her hands flew to her mouth.  Ronald’s face drained of blood in an instant.  Minerva’s lips compressed in sour satisfaction; as Elizabeth Proctor began to clamber over piles of carpet toward Dennis Creevey, she raised her voice to carry to the stairwells.  ‘I shall speak to the house-elves; a room in the East Gallery will be set up to serve as the House Common Room until this ruin can be repaired.  For now, Prefects, please see that all students stay in their dormitories until tomorrow morning—and somebody had better stay down to make sure the Quidditch team don’t get a nasty surprise when they get in from practice.’  She turned back to the portrait hole.  ‘Professor Flitwick!’

Filius poked his head over the rim of the hole.  ‘Professor McGonagall?’  His eyes darted around the room.  His bushy eyebrows shot up; then, unexpectedly, his lips quivered sharply, and he clapped a hand to his mouth.  Minerva’s brows snapped together.  She drew in her chin, drummed her fingers on the confiscated wands, and Filius rearranged his face into shocked lines. 

‘If you would be so kind as to take charge of Mr Weasley?’

‘Certainly.’  Filius achieved a respectable stern frown, bent it on Ronald beckoned.  After a moment, Ronald stalked toward the portrait hole, colour high in his face, his back defiantly stiff.

Minerva swung around.  ‘Miss Granger…’  Hermione’s chin went up, but her eyes squeezed shut.  Minerva folded her arms over her chest.  ‘My office. Now.’

 

 

‘Well, Miss Granger.  Have you entirely taken leave of your senses?’  Flame stretched behind the curve of glass; light swelled warmly out from the lamp, over her desk and the scatter of half-marked essays to the tatterdemalion shape beyond it.  Minerva’s fingers tightened over her knuckles.  Her eyes narrowed to slits.  Her mouth compressed into a white line.  ‘Well?

The flame crackled faintly.  Breath hissed through the girl’s nose. 

‘I see.’  Minerva stood up sharply, shoved her chair back and swung away; then, abruptly, she wheeled back, skirts hissing around her.  ‘I have never been more disappointed in one of my students.’ The words sat in her mouth like shards of glass.  ‘You, of all people!  I expected better of you, Miss Granger.  You are a Prefect; you are supposed to set an example for the younger students.  A positive example!’ 

Hermione’s chin dropped.  Limp tangles of hair slithered forward over her face.  From behind them, there was a sound like a sniff.

‘I—’

‘Yes?’

Another sniff.  ‘I—I’m sorry, Professor—’

‘That is hardly going to mend matters now, Miss Granger!  Sixty points will be taken from Gryffindor for your disgraceful behaviour—the same penalty will be applied to Mr Weasley, if he proves to deserve it,’ she added tartly as Hermione’s head jolted up.  ‘As to the rest—you and Mr Weasley will report to me here tomorrow morning, immediately after breakfast, when I will give you both your wands back and inform you of your full punishment.  Is that understood?’

Hermione shut her mouth, and looked down.  ‘Yes, Professor McGonagall.’  Her voice cracked on the words; the last syllable was barely a sound.

‘Very well.  Now take yourself back to your dormitory.  Go on!’ she snapped, but Hermione stayed where she was, arms clamped over her waist. 

‘Professor—’

She arched an eyebrow hardly.  ‘Well?’ 

Grey eyes flicked up behind limp tangled hair, fell again.  ‘Could I—go to the hospital wing, please?’  The girl’s voice was a thread.  ‘I don’t—I don’t feel very well.’

Minerva shot her a disgusted look.  ‘I’m not sure you deserve such consideration, Miss Granger—’  Then her eyes narrowed.  She came slowly around the corner of the desk, peered down through mousy hair and shadows.  In the lamplight Hermione’s skin was the colour of tallow; there were heavy shadows under her eyes, and her hair lay in limp knots against her skull.  Minerva flipped the damp fringe aside, pressed the back of her fingers to Hermione’s forehead.   The girl flinched at the touch; her skin was clammy and cold, and she was shivering.  Minerva’s brows drew into a frown.  She stepped back.

‘Can you manage alone?’ 

Hermione ducked her head, and Minerva heard a tiny relieved breath. 

‘Off you go, then.  Quickly!’ 

For a moment the girl stayed where she stood; then she said quietly, clearly, ‘Thank you—’ and backed away.  The door swung shut on her heels.  Minerva pinched her fingertips hard on the bridge of her nose; when the shadows and light were still again, she drew a deep breath and crossed to the empty fireplace, reached into her little gilt jar and scattered a pinch of Floo powder over ash.  Flames flared green-edged under her hand. 

‘Professor Flitwick!’ she called into the dark arch of stone. 

After a moment the fire’s voice crackled and echoed into words.  ‘Professor McGonagall.  Please come through!’

She gathered her skirts close around her calves and stepped into the fireplace.  The flames whirled around her.  Faintly, through a haze of green, she began to see shapes: stacks of parchment and towers of books, odd old instruments in brass and iron, a gangling boy with his brows down and his mouth clamped tight on words, a shock of white hair and bristling eyebrows behind a hedge of scrolls… 

The flames sank.  She stepped out of the fireplace and shook out her skirts, and lifted her chin.  Globes of charmed light swirled around the tip of her hat.  ‘And what does Mr Weasley have to say for himself, Filius?’

Above the wall of parchment, Filius’ eyes gleamed.  He rubbed a finger over his lips; Minerva primmed up her mouth reprovingly, and Filius summoned a poker face and recited, ‘It’s not fair, it was all her fault, and she should keep her cat under better control.’

‘I see.’  Her chest heaved with a tight breath.  She turned on her heel and snapped, ‘Sixty points from Gryffindor, Mr Weasley, and you are to report to my office tomorrow morning, immediately after breakfast.  Do you understand?’

Ronald gave a grudging nod.

‘Good.  Now go back to your dormitory.  I am extremely disappointed in you, Mr Weasley…’

His face drew into a sullen scowl, and he stalked for the door silently.  Minerva watched him go; then as the door thumped to behind him, she swung back to Filius and planted her hands on her hips, and said explosively, ‘Well!’ 

The last shreds of gravity vanished from the little Professor’s face, and he leaned back in his seat and crowed.  ‘Oh dear,’ he gasped, and flapped a hand at her, ‘oh dear, I suppose we should have seen something like this coming—considering those two—but—’

Her brows snapped into a blank line.  ‘I beg your pardon?’

Filius dabbed at his eyes, still chortling.  ‘Well, it’s—it’s only to be expected—they’re not the most peaceable pair!  Though I will say they went—further than most…’

‘Filius, what on earth are you talking about?’

‘Really, Minerva…’  He shook his head at her, chuckles subsiding to a smirk.  ‘You must remember Michael Makepeace and Constance Cutter!’  

Images jumped into her head: six-inch purple fingernails, a vastly oversized nose, the Quidditch pitch a scorched mess…She blinked.  Filius nodded at her wisely.  ‘Give the dust in Gryffindor Tower time a little time to settle and then I doubt we’ll be able to separate those two without a Repulsion Charm.’

After a moment, Minerva’s brows drew down again, and she pursed her lips.  ‘I had to send Miss Granger to the hospital wing, Filius.  I think this may be a little more serious than that.’  He hid his mouth behind his hand again, shrugged.  Minerva drew in her chin.  ‘I think,’ she said slowly, ‘if you don’t mind, Filius, that I shall reserve judgement on the matter.  I would appreciate it if you would do the same.’

Filius propped his elbows on the arms of his chair.  In the charmed light, his eyes sparkled.  ‘Of course, Minerva.’

After a moment, she gave a grudging nod.  ‘Well.  Thank you for your assistance with Mr Weasley.’

‘Don’t mention it,’ he said cheerily.  ‘Glad to help!’

‘Good evening…’

‘Good evening, Minerva.’   She eyed him levelly for a moment, then turned away, and began to pick a path carefully through the sliding stacks and awkward metal angles to the door.  A faint chuckle sounded again behind her; she ignored it, and reached for the handle.

 

 

‘—conjured a wind.  It was really quite ingenious—drove two of his own hexes right back onto him—’  Minerva speared her last bite of toast with her fork, shot a sharp look past Albus’ elbow.  Filius arranged his face into ostentatiously disapproving lines.  ‘Of course, it did a dreadful amount of damage to the Gryffindor Common Room…but as a spur-of-the-moment strategy, it was extremely effective!  Perhaps we should reinstate the Duelling Club, Albus—properly this time, of course—’

A gleam sparked in Albus’ eye like a secret laugh.  ‘I don’t think that would send quite the right message, do you, Filius?’  He set down his goblet, turned his head; Minerva bent a dour glance toward him and bit her toast off her fork.  Albus rested his elbows on the arms of his chair, and steepled his hands.  ‘And what do you make of this, Minerva?’

She set knife and fork on her plate with a precise clink, and reached for her goblet.  ‘Nothing, as yet.’  

Albus raised an eyebrow, inclined his head at the Gryffindor table.  ‘Mr Weasley and Miss Granger seem to be…somewhat estranged this morning.’

Minerva sniffed dryly, swallows a sip of chill water.  She had already seen it: the cluster of red heads and one messy dark one at the far end of the table, and, closer to the dais Hermione Granger hunched over a book, determinedly ignoring the pointed little space around her.  ‘That is hardly surprising, Albus,’ she said repressively.  ‘They were throwing hexes at one other last night.’

‘Hardly surprising—but somewhat worrying, nevertheless.’

Minerva set down her goblet sharply.  ‘Indeed it is.  I am not accustomed to find my students brawling like trolls in the Common Room!’

Albus looked at her over the rims of his spectacles; early light glinted coolly in his lenses and his pale blue eyes.  ‘It goes rather further than that, I’m afraid, Minerva,’ he said soberly, and thin lines creased around Minerva’s mouth.  She drew in her chin.  ‘Mr Weasley and Miss Granger’s friendship is more important than they know—more important, perhaps, than you, or I, can guess.  This…estrangement…cannot be allowed to continue.  Can I trust you to see that it does not?’

Glass froze cold under her fingertips.  For a long moment Minerva sat, stiffly, her hand fixed to the goblet stem.  Her eyes lifted, shifted, to the long table, the tangled brown mop, the far-off cluster of Weasleys.  Slowly, she pushed back her chair, stood, folded her napkin neatly beside her plate.  ‘I certainly do not intend to allow such behaviour to become commonplace among my students.’ Her voice rang cool and distant in her ears.  ‘Now, if you will excuse me, Albus, Filius—I have classes to prepare for.’ 

She she shook out her skirts, settled her sleeves over her wrists, and turned measuredly to the staff door; on the threshold, she hesitated, turned back to the table and said, ‘Excuse me, Poppy?’ 

The matron looked up with a spoonful of porridge halfway to her mouth.

Minerva folded her hands together.  Her fingers tightened over her knuckles.  ‘I take it Miss Granger arrived at the hospital wing safely last night?’  Poppy nodded.  ‘What was the matter with her?’

Poppy sniffed.  ‘Overexertion, nerves, and guilt.  Nothing serious.’ 

Minerva’s eyebrows shot up.  ‘Guilt?’

Poppy looked dryly over her shoulder.  ‘If I’d been responsible for that, Minerva, I wouldn’t want to face a dormitory either.’

‘I see.’  Minerva’s brows drew together; she freed a hand, pinched briefly at the bridge of her nose.  ‘Did she say anything about the cause of all this, by any chance?’ 

‘Not a word.’

Minerva sighed.  ‘Ah well.  Thank you, Poppy.’  She turned away slowly, ducked through the door and into the staff stairwell.  As she turned up the stairs, her pace quickened.  Her skirts flapped around her ankles. 

‘Ridiculous!’ she muttered.

A portrait started.  ‘I beg your pardon, Professor?’ 

She stalked across the landing into the Upper Bailey Walk.  Her mouth was a tight line.  ‘More important than they know—’

‘Many things are, Professor,’ said the Grey Lady loftily, and vanished into a shaft of sunlight.  Minerva snorted, and swept around the corner.

A flick of her wand opened her office door, whisked back the curtains.  Early sunlight washed over her desk, painted stacked parchments pale gold, glittered over the base of her lamp,  the gilt jar and the frame of the hourglass on her mantelpiece.  She eyed the thin trail of sand crossly, swung away—

A faint rap against wood halted her.  She turned back.  Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger stood on her threshold, side by side.  Ronald’s chin was up; his face was blotched with pink, and he scowled unconvincingly past Minerva’s shoulder.  Hermione’s elbow was pressed stiffly against her side, her sleeve tucked away from Ronald’s. A curtain of wriggly brown hair hid face.

Minerva folded her hands at her waist.  ‘Miss Granger.  Mr Weasley.  Come in.  Mr Potter!’  There was a sudden guilty shuffle froom behind the doorframe.  She lifted her voice sharply.  ‘Your presence is not required.  Kindly take yourself away at once!’

Footsteps retreated along the corridor.  Minerva’s chin drew in; with a satisfied nod, she swept around the edge of the desk, seated herself, and beckoned.  Hermione and Ronald advanced slowly into the room.  Outside the window, a bird peeped faintly.  Dry leaves whispered against stone.  A clear laugh faded into the distance.  Sand hissed against glass.

Minerva sat back.  ‘Well.  I trust you are both thoroughly ashamed of yourselves.’

Hot colour flared over the tips of Ronald’s ears; after a moment, his scowl grew deeper, and his chin dropped.  Under heavy poplin, Hermione’s shoulders hunched. 

‘I’m glad to see it,’ said Minerva tartly.  ‘Well.  I cannot consider the loss of House points to be sufficient punishment for such disgraceful conduct.  I will be writing to inform your parents of your behaviour this evening.  Furthermore, I have decided that it will be your joint responsibility to repair the damage you have done.  You will both serve two hours of detention, under the supervision of Mr Filch, every evening immediately after dinner until you have restored the Common Room to my satisfaction.  Is that understood?’

Hermione’s head lifted slowly.  In the pale light her face was drawn and streaked with mauve shadows.  ‘Yes, Professor McGonagall.’  Her voice was small.

‘But—’  Ronald’s shoulders drew up. 

She arched an eyebrow.  ‘Do you have some objection to this, Mr Weasley?’ 

For a moment, he scuffed a toe against the flagstones.  Then he looked up.  ‘Well, what about…what about our homework?’ he said, and his eyes lit triumphantly.

At the edge of Minerva’s vision, Hermione’s eyes lifted disgustedly, and her lips pursed into a derisive line.  Minerva leant forward.  ‘If either of you fails to complete assigned homework, points will be deducted from Gryffindor as usual, in accordance with school policy, and you will serve a Saturday detention to enable you to complete it.’

Ronald’s chin pushed out mulishly.  ‘But how are we supposed to do it if we’re stuck in detention all night?’

‘I suggest you exert yourself, Mr Weasley.’   Ronald’s face flushed hot pink.  Minerva tamped her lips straight.  ‘Now.  Your wands—’  At a touch of her finger, the desk drawer slid open.  She reached in, picked out the two wands, reversed them and handed them across the desk hilts-first, the willow wand to Ronald and the hazelwood to Hermione.  ‘Your detentions will begin tonight.  You will be allowed to use magic to assist with the repairs.  Now.  You have lessons starting in—’  She flicked a glance at the hourglass.  ‘Seven minutes.  Divination and Arithmancy, I believe.  I would advise being punctual.’

For a moment, neither of them moved. Ronald stared at the wall. Hermione shot a look from the corner of her eye; her shoulders hunched for a moment, and then she ducked her head and hauled her bag higher on her shoulder, turned—

There was a flurry of sleeves and skirts; Ronald wheeled around, stretched his long legs, shouldered past Hermione and out of the door.  Hermione stumbled, stopped, her back rigid, her fingers clawed over her elbows.  

Minerva’s eyes narrowed.  ‘Miss Granger!’ 

Hermione flinched, half-turned; her eyes dropped away from Minerva’s glare.  ‘Y-yes, Professor?’

‘One point will be taken from Gryffindor for every minute that you are late to your Arithmancy lesson.  There is no excuse for this sort of childish behaviour from a school Prefect!’

The girl’s head slumped.  ‘Sorry,’ she mumbled.  It was a long moment before she shook herself and trudged out of the door. 

Minerva’s breath fell out in a tense huff; as the door swung shut, she propped her elbows on her desk, and pinched hard at the bridge of her nose.  ‘Well,’ she said, and in the quiet her voice was weary in her own ears.  ‘We shall see, Albus.  We shall see.’

 

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