The Sugar Quill
Author: Calanthe (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Differences of Opinion  Chapter: Part 2: Logical Consequences
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: All characters and concepts are the property of JK Rowling, etc

Disclaimer: All characters and concepts are the property of JK Rowling, etc.  Except for the ones that are mine. And I’m not, unfortunately, making any money out of this.

 

Author’s Note:  Once more, just to be on the safe side: this fic is a shipsinker.  If you don’t feel you can cope, please don’t read.  If you can’t cope and read anyway, please don’t say you weren’t warned… 

 

This fic was begun before the publication of Order of the Phoenix, so it’s not so much AU as very, very late…it can be considered to take place in an hypothetical fifth-year in which Umbridge never happened.

 

Thank you to everyone who reviewed Part 1—I hope you like this bit as much as the last…

 

 

 

Part 2: Logical Consequences.

 

The wind keened; rain pelted against the windowpanes, sharp as hail, and around the classroom, torchlight quivered.  Minerva stopped, shot a look over a rounded shoulder, made out a neat trio of diagrams—base figures accurate, points of definition correctly identified, lines of change marked in with decent precision.  She produced a thin smile.  ‘I only wish your practical work were as good as your theoretical understanding, Mr Longbottom,’ she said, and turned away. 

Under her elbow, Ronald Weasley dropped his quill and slumped over his parchment, smothered a yawn in his palm.  Minerva’s nostrils flared.  ‘Mr Weasley, if you do not complete this work in this class, I will expect you to do so for homework!’  Ronald groaned, and fumbled for his quill without lifting his head.  Minerva stalked away between the desks, glanced at Seamus’ work, Parvati’s… 

She sighed.  ‘With those numbers, Miss Patil, you would be lucky to Transfigure anything into stoach.  Revise your equations.’ 

She rounded the last row of desks, stopped by the door, looked down.  A torch flared.  Her shadow leaped over a drooping head, limp tangles of mousy hair, an unrolled parchment; and Hermione started, and her head shot up.  For a moment she blinked up at Minerva, her eyes blank; then, too quickly, she dropped her hands over the parchment.  Minerva’s brows drew into a thin line.  Slowly, she drew her wand from her belt, lifted it, and gave one sharp flick. 

The parchment whipped from under Hermione’s hands and shot up, hung trembling faintly in the air.  Torchlight painted it ruddy-gold, called out a dark network of lines.  Minerva’s breath hissed in her nostrils, and her brows tightened; she settled her spectacles on her nose, drew in her chin and looked hard at the shape, and slowly the elaborate five-pointed star resolved itself into glyphs, vectors, resolutions—

‘Miss Granger.’  She reached out with finger and thumb, plucked the parchment out of the air.  ‘Unless I am very much mistaken, this is a Transfiguration lesson, not Charms.  Where are your charts and diagrams?’

Ink-spattered hands shifted, pushed another scroll across the desk.  ‘I’ve finished them, Professor—’

Minerva’s nostrils pinched.  ‘Did I or did I not instruct that if you finished the set work in this class, you were to begin reading and annotating the discussion of points of definition in Magical Theory?’

Hermione closed her eyes.  ‘You did, Professor.’

‘And have you completed that, too?’

Teeth closed in a pale lip.  ‘…I read it a month ago, Professor.  And I annotated it then—’

Words bit like acid on Minerva’s tongue.  She drew a slow breath, released it, and began to roll the parchment up.  ‘If you read it a month ago you will need to revise it now.  Kindly open your textbook at once.’  She turned away, skirts and sleeves flaring around her, and swept toward her desk.  Behind her, a small, persistent voice said,

‘I revised it last night, Professor.’

Her breath swelled in her chest; she bit her tongue, tossed the scroll over the stacks of books that edged her desk, and swung around.  Wide eyes blinked, dropped hastily.  Expectant grins disappeared behind hands.  Her eyes narrowed.  ‘Well.  Since you all appear to have finished your work ahead of time, you may copy this—’ She flicked her wand at the blackboard ‘—into your notebooks.’  A faint groan ran around the room, and the grins vanished entirely as words scritched across the slate: Compare and contrast the Mountmellick, Dollimore and Oldfangle formulae for subtle Transfigurations, with particular reference to Petrifaction

Minerva lifted an eyebrow, turned her head slowly around the classroom.  Hands reached for quills.  Neville’s forehead furrowed anxiously, and he hunched over his notebook and wrote with effort.  Ronald scrubbed at his eyes with one fist, scrawled with the other.  Lavender sat back with a resigned lift of her eyes, and corked her ink-bottle.  Hermione’s quill twisted between her fingers, around and around and around…

Far away, faint under the pounding of rain onto glass, a gong struck.  All around the room, quills dropped; Minerva lifted her chin sharply, and hands fell away from bags, and bodies straightened in their seats. 

‘Are there any questions?’  A slow mutter of No, Professor.  Heads shook.  Minerva lowered her chin, directed a slow look at Ronald over the rim of her spectacles.  ‘You’re quite sure of that, Mr Weasley? You’ve had questions about everything else today.’  Ronald’s face flushed, and he ducked his head.  Minerva’s lips thinned.  ‘In that case, I shall expect a classful of exemplary essays on my desk before school begins on Monday morning.  Three rolls of parchment.  You are dismissed.’ 

She turned on her heel; her robes belled around her as she swept around the corner of her desk and dropped into her chair.  Breath huffed through her lips.  After a moment, she unfolded her hands, reached up to pinch the bridge of her nose between stiff fingers.  Beyond the stacks of books, she heard satchels thump onto desks, chair legs scrape over stone.  Footsteps approached the desk, stopped, scuffed uncertainly—

‘You may collect it at the end of the day, Miss Granger,’ she snapped.  The footsteps retreated.  Voices rose from murmurs to words to—

‘Hey Weasley!’

Minerva slapped her hand down, glared over the top of her books.  ‘Quietly, Mr Thomas!’  

Dean grimaced.  ‘Sorry, Professor.  Hey, Weasley—’ quieter this time ‘—what’s up with you lately?  I’ve never seen you stick your hand in the air so often.’  Hinges creaked; feet clattered toward the door.  Dean’s voice lifted carelessly.  ‘You making up for lost time, or what?’

‘Well,’ said Ronald loudly as he went out, ‘I’ve got all these lost points against my name all of a sudden, haven’t I?  I’ve got to try and make them up somehow.’  There was a sudden outraged gasp.  Minerva’s head lifted.  Her fingers closed hard on the arms of her chair.  She drew a breath—

The door slammed open.  ‘Oh no!  Don’t you dare, Ron Weasley—don’t you dare try to blame me for your lost points!  Not this time!’

Minerva shoved back her chair, stood for a moment with her fists balled by her sides.  Then she let her breath out, stalked toward the door.  Ronald’s voice said truculently, ‘Did I say I was blaming anyone?’  Minerva stopped short. 

Yes,’ said Hermione sourly.  ‘Exactly the same way you always do.’  Minerva’s lips thinned.  She reached for the door as Hermione went on, ‘I thought you’d be on my side.  You were right there, Lavender, you saw what he did.  You must have!’

Minerva’s hand froze on the door-handle; she shifted a little, looked out of shadow into the corridor.  Hermione stood in the middle of a clot of dark shapes, her satchel clutched to her chest, breathing hard.  After a moment, Lavender sniffed, and lifted her chin in the air.  ‘I didn’t see anything.  I was too busy ducking your flying candlesticks!’

‘You—oh!  That was him, Lavender!  He threw them, I was just trying not to get hit!’

Black cloth billowed like a thundercloud as Ronald rounded on Hermione, his mouth twisted into an ugly sneer.  ‘That’s right, blame me, you’re never in the wrong, are you?  Little Miss Perfect—’

Hermione whirled around; her chin shot up and she glared at him from narrowed eyes.  ‘This is your fault, Ron, all of it, and you know exactly why—’

My fault?’ bellowed Ronald; he loomed forward, and Harry and Seamus backed away.  ‘Excuse me?  Who slapped whose face?’  His finger jabbed hard into her shoulder. 

Minerva’s breath stopped in her throat.  Her hand curled tighter around the door-handle.  She watched through narrowed eyes as Hermione’s back stiffened and she took a step forward—another—a third.  Ronald reared back.  Hermione’s mouth wrenched hard. 

‘Well, what else was I supposed to do?’ she spat into Ronald’s face.  ‘Enjoy it?  Say thank youBe grateful?  You horrible—you revolting little—’  Her face quivered; she made a sharp disgusted noise, whirled away, and stumbled out of the knot of bodies toward the stairwell, still clutching her bag against her chest. 

Cold lines creased around Minerva’s mouth.  Slowly she stepped into the light, and folded her arms.  She cleared her throat pointedly. 

There was a faint squeak, and faces swung toward her, pale above dark robes.  A flicker of torchlight called out hot blotches on Ronald’s cheeks, sickly dark streaks under his eyes.

She drew a slow breath.  Her voice cut like acid through the muffled drum of the rain: ‘That will be…’  Ronald’s shoulders hunched ‘…sixteen points from Gryffindor, I think.’  Neville cringed.  Harry sighed.  Seamus opened his mouth indignantly; Parvati’s elbow jabbed sideways, and he subsided.  ‘Now.  If you would be so kind as to remove yourselves to the Great Hall?  At once!’ 

She narrowed her eyes, tapped one finger sharply against her elbow.  Slowly, the murmur of Yes, Professor McGonagall gathered, faded into the rain.  They gathered their bags, pulled their robes straight, shuffled away; Minerva stood, and watched them go. 

Half-way to the stairwell, Lavender said blankly, ‘She slapped your face?’

Ronald forged out of the group, worn poplin snapping around his calves. 

Neville scrubbed at his nose with the cuff of his sleeve.  ‘Why?’

Ronald’s elbows flapped angrily. ‘Because she’s a stupid cow!’

Minerva’s eyes shut; her chin fell to her chest and she let out a long breath.  The knot of students jolted to a halt.  After a moment, Ronald swung around, arms akimbo.  ‘Look, she’s the one who ripped up the Common Room, with that wind of hers.  I was just defending myself.  It’s her fault, you know it is!’  He glared at them.

Deliberately, Lavender tossed her hair.  ‘I didn’t see anything, Ron Weasley.  I was too busy making sure a couple of first-years didn’t get killed by your flying candlesticks.’  She stuck her nose in the air and sailed past Ronald into the stairwell, and after a moment Parvati followed, twitching her robes away from his as she passed.

The boys looked after them uneasily.  ‘Come on, Weasley,’ said Seamus, and tried to laugh.  ‘You must have done something.  Even Granger doesn’t go around slapping people’s faces for no reason at all.’

Ronald drew in a breath, stalked forward, shoved his face nose to nose with Seamus’ and said loudly, ‘I didn’t.  Do.  Anything.  So just leave it, why don’t you, eh?’ 

Seamus put his head on one side and folded his arms.  His back set solidly.  After a long moment, Ronald’s mouth bunched, and he jerked away, spun on his heel and stormed into the stairwell. 

Minerva lifted a hand and pressed her fingertips hard into her temples.  There was a graunch of iron beside her; she turned her head to meet a heavy iron helm swinging toward her.  ‘Odds’ boddikins, but there’s a sorry tangle,’ said the suit of armour in a hollow rasp. 

Minerva glared.  ‘On the contrary,’ she snapped, ‘the whole business is all too painfully clear, so kindly hold your tongue!’  And she spun on her heel and swept back into her classroom, and slammed the door behind her. 

 

 

Between twin pools of candlelight, green ink darkened to black; parchment glowed the colour of honey.  Minerva traced the final point of the star into the centre of the diagram with the tip of her quill, felt the tension ease from the corners of her eyes.  Five separate Charms—four of them already adaptations—blended into a single unique spell...  Not elegant, but clever.  The balance was sound throughout, the integrations mostly fluent, working steadily toward the centre; the solution was solid.  Really, an extraordinary piece of work for a fifteen-year-old… 

She tapped the end of her quill softly against her chin, looked again at the thick crosshatch of vectors spiralling in to the solution.  Slowly she reached out to her inkwell, loaded the quill—

There was a faint rap at the door.  Minerva shook the nib clear, propped the quill against the inkwell, looked up. 

Light from the corridor slanted greyly over a dull tangle of hair, a pale cheekbone, fingers knotted in dark sleeves. Minerva sat back and folded her hands.  ‘Yes, Miss Granger?’

She heard a faint indrawn breath; then Hermione stepped into the room and said, ‘Please, Professor, I—may I have my Charms work back?  You did say…’

Minerva propped her elbows on the arms of her chair, looked down at the diagram, lifted her eyes consideringly.  ‘I had no idea Professor Flitwick’s lessons covered such…complex material.’

Hermione stopped, scuffed a toe against the floor.  ‘It’s not for Charms…’  She unwound a hand from her sleeve, hauled her bag higher onto her shoulder, shifted her weight uneasily.  Then: ‘It’s for the tapestries,’ she said in a rush.  ‘You can’t just use Reparo and put them back together—Ron tried.  You have to respin each strand of wool, and reweave all the strands back into the original pattern, and rebind it all, all at the same time…  It took me four nights to work out, please can I have it back?  I won’t look at it in class again.’ 

Minerva looked at the parchment again, nodded slowly.  ‘I’m glad to see you taking your detention so seriously, Miss Granger.  When do you think you will be finished?’ 

Hermione’s eyes fell.  She lifted a shoulder.  ‘A couple more days.  Mr Filch won’t let us use magic unless there’s no other way we can fix things, that’s why it’s taking so long…’ 

‘I see.  Well.’  Minerva unfolded her hands, lifted the parchment, held it out over the desk.  Hermione’s head came up.  Her eyes caught candlelight, bright as gold.  She pushed her hair off her face, reached out eagerly— 

‘I recommend you get this checked over by Professor Flitwick before you attempt to apply it.’ 

‘Oh.’  Hermione’s hand flinched away.  ‘Couldn’t—couldn’t you look at it instead—please?’ 

Minerva’s brows snapped into a flat line.  She dropped the parchment onto the desk.  ‘Miss Granger—’

Hermione shut her eyes.  ‘I’d really rather not go to Professor Flitwick…’

‘Why on earth not?’  Minerva’s voice cracked whiplike in her own ears; her mouth thinned, and she pressed her fingers together tightly. 

Long lines etched themselves across Hermione’s forehead.  ‘He keeps acting as if—all of this—is some sort of enormous joke.’  Hermione rubbed a finger over her lips; the corners of her mouth were white and tense.  She wound her hand back into the cloth of her sleeve.  ‘He keeps making Ron and me work together.  He looks at us like he’s, he’s laughing at us, and he’s always making little comments.  As if he expects us to just—be friends again, or something.’

Minerva’s nostrils pinched.  She put back her shoulders.  ‘And will you?’

After a moment, Hermione’s shoulders lifted, and she sighed.  ‘I’m not sure why we ever were, any more.’  Her voice was drained.  ‘He’s so annoying!  Funny sometimes—not as often as he thinks he is,’ she added sourly; then she straightened, and pushed her hair off her face, and said quietly, ‘He never takes me seriously.  He never takes anything seriously, it’s so infuriating!  Sometimes—sometimes I just despise him.’  Her voice shook suddenly, and her face creased.  ‘I don’t like that.  But—he’s not stupid.  How can he not care about things?  And then he—he just—’ 

Minerva’s brows lifted, and she raised her head in a silent prompt, but Hermione’s eyes fell shut, and she shook her head.

Thoughtfully, Minerva looked down at her hands.  ‘I will speak to Professor Flitwick, Miss Granger,’ she said after a moment.  Her voice was level, calm.  ‘You shan’t be troubled by his sense of humour any further.  Now.  Come around here.’  She beckoned.  Hermione’s head lifted; she stirred, plodded around the corner of the desk, and her bag slid down to her feet with a dull thud. 

Minerva drew the parchment close again, reached for her quill.  ‘I would suggest making a few alterations to this—here, toward the centre.  As it stands, this is somewhat too complex; it risks losing coherence when performed.  Are you familiar with Tangled’s Progressions, by any chance?’  She slanted a glance aside. 

Hermione shook her hair behind her shoulders, folded her arms over her waist and leaned forward.  ‘Yes—well, not properly, we haven’t covered them in class.  They’re a set of equations you can use to plot integration points for blending spells…’  She rubbed a hand briefly over her face; her eyes were screwed up with effort or tiredness, but the strained lines had begun to ease from her forehead and mouth.  Candlelight washed away the purple shadows from her cheeks.  She leaned against the edge of the desk, and looked seriously at her diagram.

Minerva’s lips quirked, not quite a smile.  She nodded, and reached for a blank roll of parchment.  ‘Very good. Tangled’s Progressions are considerably more economical than the standard formulae for plotting integration points, which is why they are favoured by advanced spellworkers.  Let’s see what result they produce when applied to your work, shall we?’

 

 

Parchment wound itself into a roll between Minerva’s fingers.  Wine-dark cord whisked into a loose knot, flopped over her knuckles.  ‘Well,’ she said, and turned.  Torchlight flickered in gilt threads, warmed pale shapes amidst the dark wool folds against the walls, picked out Hermione’s knotted fingers, Ronald’s hunched shoulders, the tip of Argus’ nose.  ‘The room appears to be fit for human habitation again.  Thank you for your patience and assistance, Mr Filch; we shan’t take up any more of your time.’

Hermione’s breath shot out in a rush, and she clutched her hands hard against her ribcage.  Ronald’s face twitched and slackened in plain relief.  Argus bent a dour eye on the boy; Mrs Norris slunk out from behind the hem of his robes, eyes gleaming with splinters of reflected flame, tail twitching malevolently; he reached down a hand and scratched between her ears.  ‘Either of you two does anything like this again and I’ll see you expelled.  I’ve got better things to do with my time than coddle vandals.’

Minerva’s eyes narrowed, and she drew a sharp breath—

‘Thank you for telling me about how to restore the tapestries, Mr Filch.’ 

She blinked, sharply, forced her brows into a straight line as Hermione gave Argus a resolutely polite smile and went on, ‘It was very kind of you to help me and I’ve learned a lot.’ 

For a moment the only sounds were Argus’ breath, wheezing in his throat, and the mutter of flame.  Argus’ head hunched between his shoulders.  His eyes gleamed venomously.  Minerva lifted her chin.  His mouth worked, and at last he grated out, ‘Glad to hear it,’ and wrapped himself crossly into his robes, and stumped away to the portrait hole. 

Hermione blinked.  Her smile quivered, deepened slightly.  She tossed her head, and her chin settled smugly in the air. 

Colour climbed over the tips of Ronald’s ears.  ‘Thank-you-Mr-Filch,’ he muttered as Mrs Norris’ tail vanished through the portrait hole.  There was a sour grunt from the corridor, and the sound of boots clumping away. 

Minerva pursed her lips, and looked levelly at Hermione.  The girl’s chin dropped abruptly.  Minerva’s lips twitched; she quelled the smile, said dryly, ‘With me, both of you,’ and led the way to the portrait hole. 

She gathered her robes around her calves, ducked her head, slid neatly through the hole and started along the gallery without looking back.  Behind her, she heard a brief scuffle, then long strides overlaid by a quick determined march.  She lengthened her step, swept around the corner, and stopped beside a heavy brass doorknob.  The footsteps stuttered and stopped.  Her lips thinned.  ‘Vicarius,’ she said, and the doorknob turned.  Hinges creaked, loud in the silence of the gallery.  Dull gold light spilled a babble of voices onto stone.

Minerva stepped back from the light, turned a look over her shoulder.  Ronald was backed against the wall, hands crammed under his elbows, glowering like a gawky vulture; Hermione faltered back a step, out of the bright oblong, her fingers white knots in the cuffs of her sleeves.  Minerva opened her hand toward the door, a silent command, and after a moment, Ronald hauled himself away from the wall, stalked across the gallery and through the door.  Voices stilled abruptly.  Hermione shot a frightened look at the doorway.  Then, slowly, she lifted her chin and pressed her lips into a stoic line, and followed Ronald. 

Silence. 

Minerva picked up her skirts and stepped slowly through the door, and her brows lifted: candlelight limned half a hundred faces, gleamed in narrowed eyes turned from chairs, desks, the rugs scattered in haphazard piles across the floor, toward the door.  She arched her eyebrows sharply.  Faces reddened.  Eyes fell.  Mouths shut.  She drew in a breath through her nose.   

‘If I may—’

Thunder stopped the words in her mouth, and a small tempest of lightning and cloud shot up before her.  Her brows snapped into a flat line above her nose.  Muriel Marchmont gave a frightened whimper, and dove forward, and muffled the cards in her sleeves. 

Minerva drew a deep breath, and said on a note of pronounced patience, ‘If I may have your attention, please…  I am sure you will all be delighted to hear that Mr Weasley and Miss Granger have succeeded in restoring your Common Room to an inhabitable condition.’

‘And about time, too,’ muttered a sharp voice: Winifred Whelan’s, by the sound.  Minerva’s mouth pinched sourly. 

‘In addition to this…’  She lifted the scroll; the cord danced free of its knot, and parchment unrolled from her hand.  ‘I am pleased to be able to inform you that Mr Weasley has redeemed…’  Over the top of the parchment she saw Ronald shoot a startled look over his shoulder ‘…thirty-four of his lost points for Gryffindor, and Miss Granger forty-seven of hers.  I think—’

Sharp sound cut across her words; her brows swooped down, and she blazed a hawk’s glare around the room, found Parvati and Lavender perched side by side on a desk-top, beaming ostentatiously at Hermione, and clapping—

There was a sudden, choking sound; something jolted hard against her elbow, and she wheeled, in time to see the door swing shut in a billow of black hem.  Behind her, the patter of applause faltered, died.  For a long moment Minerva stood, looking down at battered oak with a frown.  Then she turned back to the room, and began to roll up the parchment between her hands.  ‘I think,’ she said into the quiet and the faint hiss of parchment against her palms, ‘that they may be considered to have redeemed themselves also.  I therefore expect this to be the end of the matter.  Do I make myself entirely clear?’ 

Slowly, heads nodded.  Yes, Professor McGonagall gathered, died away into a mumble.  She bent her neck, stiffly.  ‘Then you may return to your Common Room.  The new password is slubberdegullion—what is the new password, Mr Longbottom?’

‘Er,’ Neville stammered, and shrank down in his chair.  ‘S-slugger-dum-b-bullion?’ 

Her eye swept over the upturned faces, caught on a sulky scowl.  The corner of her mouth twitched.  She said, too mildly, ‘Miss Whelan?  Kindly teach Mr Longbottom the new password,’ and turned on her heel, and swept out of the room. 

Behind her, voices rose into sudden babble; furniture scraped on bare stone.  She hesitated for a moment, then shook her head, and stepped across the gallery, and tapped a bust of Nysander Bumble on the chin with the end of the scroll. 

The bust huffed and snorted theatrically, and glared up at her out of dull stone eyes.  ‘Whatwhatwhat?’

‘Which way did Miss Granger go, if you please?’

The bust huffed, and poked his chin toward the corner. 

‘Thank you,’ she said, and turned away.  Her skirts rustled quietly around her calves as she made her way along the gallery and around the corner, and pushed open the door to the girls’ toilets. 

A dark shape hunched over the farthest basin.  Faint wisps of steam rose into the light.  Harsh gulps of breath, the faint plink of water dripping from spigot to basin, echoed from the tiles.  Minerva closed her hands around the scroll, and stepped forward.  ‘Are you all right, Miss Granger?’

Hermione jumped, choked.  For an instant, in the mirror, Minerva glimpsed screwed-up eyes dark against a tallow-coloured skin; then the girl stooped, plunged her hands into the basin, and dashed a double handful of water over her face.  Pale gouts streaked her sleeves, darkened and spread; drops spattered over her skirts, splashed on enamel and tiles as Hermione shook her head, gasped and puffed, scrubbed at her eyes and cheeks.  She reached without looking for a towel, rubbed it over her face with one hand, hard, and scrabbled in the basin with the other.

Minerva waited, and as the last gurgle of water drained from the basin, Hermione lowered the towel.  Damp wriggles of hair dripped water onto the girl’s cheeks and nose; in the mirror, her face was pink and blotchy, her eyes shadows.  She wound her hands slowly into the towel.  ‘I don’t know,’ she said at last, thinly.  ‘I—I’m glad it’s over…’

‘I’m afraid it’s not quite over yet, Miss Granger—not for you,’ said Minerva levelly.  ‘I expect you to write Mr Weasley a letter of apology for your behaviour.  Tonight.’ 

Hermione’s eyes shocked wide; she caught an indignant breath.  ‘Letter of—what for?  He was the one who—’

‘I am aware of that,’ said Minerva tartly.  ‘Nevertheless…’ 

Harsh patches of red spread over Hermione’s face.  Her hands came up, pressed the towel hard over her mouth.  ‘H-how did you know?’  Her voice was stifled.

Minerva’s breath let out in an impatient huff.  ‘Really, Miss Granger.  Did you think you were the only student of mine ever to find herself in this situation?’

Hermione’s eyes darted toward her in the mirror, then fell.  Her shoulders slumped.  She turned away, shook out the towel, hung it over the rail and fussed the edges into line with shaking hands.  ‘I know I over-reacted.  But—’  For a moment there was silence.  Then suddenly she whirled about.  Her hands clutched hard at each other, bone-white against black cloth.  ‘You don’t understand, it was disgusting.  I thought I was going to be sick!’  Her voice broke.  She dragged a wrist across her mouth, hard enough to whiten the skin.  ‘And then he just, just sat there, grinning at me, with this stupid smug look on his face, and I—and I—’

‘You slapped his face,’ supplied Minerva.

Hermione winced.  ‘…Yes.’  Her eyes fell.  ‘And then he shouted at me, and I yelled at him, and he charged off and tripped over Crookshanks, and Crookshanks scratched him, and he tried to hex Crookshanks and then—all of a sudden we were throwing curses at each other and—well—it all got…out of hand.’ 

‘Evidently.’  The word bit like acid into Minerva’s ears.  She took a slow breath, said more evenly, ‘Did it not occur to you that there might be other—better—ways of making it plain to Mr Weasley that his behaviour was intolerable?  Ways that did not, for example, put others at risk of their lives?’  Hermione’s head drooped; thin tails of hair streaked shadows over her face.  She shook her head.  Minerva sniffed.  ‘Well, keep the fact in mind if the situation ever occurs again.  And write that letter of apology.  I shall expect to see him receive it at breakfast tomorrow.’ 

She stepped aside.  Hermione rubbed a hand over her face, pushed back her hair from her forehead, and trudged obediently past her into the gallery.  Minerva followed her up to the Fat Lady.  ‘Slubberdegullion,’ she said to the portrait across one black-draped shoulder.  The Fat Lady heaved a pointed sigh, swung open; Hermione gathered her robes up around her knees and clambered into the hole—

She stopped, turned awkwardly.  ‘Um—Professor?’

Minerva loosed a hand from the scroll, pinched briefly at the bridge of her nose, and sighed.  ‘Yes, Miss Granger?’

Hermione fussed for a moment with a handful of fabric, looked up.  A faint line puckered between her brows.  ‘I thought he was my friend.  How could he do that to me?’ 

Minerva’s mouth twitched slightly.  She rubbed a finger along the line of her brow, pursed her lips.  ‘Well.  I imagine malice is rather beyond Mr Weasley’s capacity…  But a chronic absence of observation skills might account for it.  It very often does,’ she added dryly.

After a moment, Hermione gave a wry snort.  ‘Well, that certainly sounds a lot like Ron…’  Her mouth flickered, a quick, uncertain smile; then she swung around, and slithered through the hole. 

Minerva caught the Fat Lady’s frame before it could swing shut behind her, and leaned through the wall.  In the dull light she saw Elizabeth Proctor puff up to Hermione and snag her elbow.  A large pair of feet swung over the arm of a newly-stuffed chair.  A knot of heads reared back from a squirt of water bright as flame…

There, across the room: a tall shape in too-short robes, topped by a thatch of gingery hair, waving one hand explanatorily at the torch-brackets and clutching half a Chocolate Frog in the other.

She pitched her voice to carry.  ‘Mr Weasley!’

Instantly the chatter died, and faces swung guiltily toward the portrait hole.  Ronald choked, sputtered, shoved the Chocolate Frog into Harry’s hand.  Elizabeth Proctor let go of Hermione’s elbow, bustled forward.  Then Ronald swallowed noisily.  ‘Pr’fess’r?’

She beckoned.  ‘A word with you, if you please.’

 

 

‘Well, Minerva.’ 

She set her knife and fork neatly down on her plate, picked up her napkin, dabbed neatly at the corners of her mouth.  ‘Yes, Albus?’ 

Albus propped his elbows on the arms of his chair, steepled his fingertips together.  Light pooled in topaz and deep sapphire above his knuckles.  ‘I am informed that the Gryffindor Common Room is in good order again..?’

Minerva smoothed her napkin across her lap again, reached for her teacup, lifted it to her lips.  The porcelain was warm under her fingertips.  ‘It is.’ 

‘And have Mr Weasley and Miss Granger been able to repair their friendship?’ 

Minerva looked over the top of the teacup, down to the Gryffindor table.  At the corner of her eyes, she saw Albus tip his head to follow her gaze…  A glint of ginger in clear sunlight caught her eye: Ronald Weasley with his elbows on the table and his cheek distended with a mouthful of toast, glowering at his plate.  Across from him, Hermione sat watching Lavender distribute Tarot cards portentously around her plate, her face fixed in a smile.  She lowered her chin, and took a sip of tea.

There was a sudden chuckle from further down the table, and Filius leaned around Albus’ elbow with a conspiratorial wink.  ‘Give them time, Albus!’ he said reprovingly.  Minerva’s lips pinched together hard.  She looked away.  ‘The poor children can hardly have had a chance to—reconcile—with Argus looming over them every night for a week.  That was cruel of you, Minerva…’

She lowered the cup, set it back in its saucer with a deliberate clink.  ‘It was nothing of the sort, Filius,’ she said tartly.  And, Albus, permit me to assure you—’ 

A shadow darted overhead.  She looked up.  An owl swooped down from the vaults of the ceiling.  A scroll tumbled end over end from talons to outstretched hands.  More shadows darted above the tables; letters and parcels dropped out of the light, and at the Gryffindor table, two envelopes fluttered down together, and landed between Hermione and Ronald. 

Hermione looked around at them tiredly.  Her eyebrows tugged together.  Then, after a moment, her mouth shaped a swift oh!  She shot a quick glance toward the staff table.  Minerva bent her neck once, confirmation and instruction; Hermione’s mouth twitched in an uncertain grimace, and she reached out and picked up an envelope and tugged it open.  Ronald grabbed the other envelope. 

‘Ah,’ said Albus, and leaned back in his chair.  At the corner of her eye, the mouth behind the shield of fingers curved into a faint smile.  Minerva pinched a fold of her napkin between her fingertips, and watched as Hermione pulled a scrap of ragged-edged parchment out of her envelope. 

The girl’s mouth bunched sharply.  Her head shot up; her eyes narrowed to furious slits.  Ronald’s jaw pushed forward into a smug grin, and he leaned across the table and said something, loudly, and sat back with a triumphant look. 

For an instant Hermione froze.  Then, slowly, a look of plain contempt collected on her face.  She said one word, boredly, and picked up her goblet, and turned back to Lavender.  Ronald’s face blanked, shook into a sudden scowl, and he clambered abruptly off the bench and dragged his robes tight around him, and stalked away.  Harry slumped forward out of his shadow, and buried his face in his arms.

Slowly at the edge of Minerva’s sight, Albus’ hands parted, opened towards the Hall. He beckoned gently.  Amidst the clutter of plates and discarded wrappings on the Gryffindor table, two scraps of parchment quivered and moved. 

Minerva’s head snapped around.  ‘Albus!’  Her hand closed hard on her wand; but then the parchments twitched and lifted, flitted up into the light.  They danced for a moment above unsuspecting heads, soared toward the ceiling.  Minerva’s nostrils flared on an angry breath.  She turned a cold eye on Albus; after a moment, two pale fragments of light tumbled out of the ceiling, and settled onto Albus’ hands.   

Minerva’s fingers pinched on the hilt of her wand.  Her eyes narrowed.  She watched coldly as Albus unfolded the ragged slip of parchment, angled it to the light, tilted back his head to read.  Ronald’s untidy scrawl looped stark between his hands:

 

Hermione,

I’m sorry I kissed you.  Really sorry.  Believe me.  If I’d known you were going to make such a stupid fuss about it, I never would have bothered.

Ron.

 

‘Now, what did I tell you, Minerva?’  Filius poked his head around Albus’ elbow, waggled a finger at her triumphantly.  She drew in her chin, opened her mouth—

Albus laid Ronald’s letter aside, lifted the other.  Minerva’s lips quirked sourly, and she opened a hand towards fussy cursive lines: 

 

Ronald Weasley,

I am writing to apologise for slapping your face.  I shouldn’t have done it, and I’m very sorry that I did.  After all, Professor McGonagall’s right—there were so many other better things I could have done to show you what I think of you. 

And if you dare do anything like that to me ever again, you’ll find out exactly what they are.

Yours, very sincerely,

Hermione Granger.

 

‘…Dear me.’  Filius’ grin vanished.  He blinked; in the light, his eyes were startled and suddenly unsure.  Slowly, he sat back.  His hands closed loosely around the arms of his chair.

Minerva smiled, thinly.  ‘It is never a good idea to make assumptions about one’s students, Filius,’ she said, and the words pierced her ears sharp as knives.   

Then Albus set the letter down, and slowly lifted his head.  His mouth behind his beard was set and hard, his spectacles white with illusory light.  Long lines etched around his eyes like cracks in ice. ‘Not one of your more successful strategies, Minerva…’  His voice was soft, remote.

Minerva released her grip on her wand, clasped her hands together over her waist, and sniffed deliberately.  ‘I fail to see the problem.  Miss Granger and Mr Weasley have each apologised for their offensive action and accepted the other’s apology.  The matter is closed.’ 

Albus’ brows lifted faintly. He turned his head toward her.  ‘If you recall, Minerva, I quite specifically requested—’

‘I am well aware of what you requested, Albus,’ she said shortly.  The soft clatter and murmurs along the staff table stilled suddenly; a faint smile tugged at her lips, and she went on into the small pool of silence, ‘I merely chose to disregard your request.’

For a moment, Albus was absolutely still beside her.  Then he turned away, steepled his fingers.  Light gathered richly in his rings.  He lowered his gaze to it.  ‘I see.’

‘Do you?  I doubt that.’  Minerva loosed her hands, picked her napkin off her lap, folded it neatly in half, in quarters.   Words built in her mouth like shards of glass.  After a moment, she took a deliberate breath, and opened her lips to them.  ‘I sometimes think, Albus, that you are in danger of forgetting that this is a school—and that I am a teacher.  I have a duty of care to these children which extends beyond sending them home in one piece at the end of the school year.  I will not permit my students to be used or manipulated, in any way, by anyone, if I can prevent it.’  She laid her napkin alongside her plate.  ‘Miss Granger and Mr Weasley have chosen to end their friendship.  Their reasons for doing so may seem negligible to you, but are extremely important to them.  And I will not interfere with their decision, for your convenience or anyone else’s.’ 

She put back her chair, stood up.  Slowly, she shook out her skirts, straightened her cuffs over her wrists.  Albus’ head lifted, but he did not look up from his hands.  Her breath huffed out sharply, and she turned away.  Heavy broadcloth whispered against stone as she made her way straight-backed across the dais, set her hand to the staff door.

‘I hope, Minerva—’

She stopped.  For a moment there was silence.  She turned her head, looked over her shoulder.  Caro’s eyes were fixed on her, wide and startled.  Poppy’s back was very still, her head lifted.  Hagrid’s face was furrowed uncertainly; his massive fingers plucked at his beard.  Severus’ sharp black stare glittered maliciously from behind a lank strip of hair. 

‘I hope that this decision of yours may not have the consequences I fear.’ 

Minerva’s brows snapped into a hard line; she spun on her heel, stalked back across the dais, and her hand closed hard on the top of Albus’ chair—

Far away, at the corner of her eye, Hermione Granger propped her chin on her hand and turned to Parvati Patil. Her face was tired and shadowed, but her smile was clear, unstrained. 

A faint, real smile twitched at the corners of Minerva’s mouth.  She loosed her hand from the ornate carving, and looked down at the top of Albus’ head.  ‘I do not think you need be too concerned, Headmaster,’ she said.  Her voice rang in the light, clear and amused.  ‘When Mr Potter next finds himself in need of assistance, I am certain that Miss Granger and Mr Weasley will be capable of putting aside their personal differences for quite as long as is necessary to keep him alive—if I cannot take care of the matter myself.  Now.  If you will excuse me, I have classes to prepare for.’

And she turned and walked away across the dais, to the Teachers’ Stair.

//
Write a review! PLEASE NOTE: The purpose of reviewing a story or piece of art at the Sugar Quill is to provide comments that will be useful to the author/artist. We encourage you to put a bit of thought into your review before posting. Please be thoughtful and considerate, even if you have legitimate criticism of a story or artwork. (You may click here to read other reviews of this work).
* = Required fields
*Sugar Quill Forums username:
*Sugar Quill Forums password:
If you do not have a Sugar Quill Forums username, please register. Bear in mind that it may take up to 72 hours for your account to be approved. Thank you for your patience!
*Comment:
The Sugar Quill was created by Zsenya and Arabella. For questions, please send us an Owl!

-- Powered by SQ3 : Coded by David : Design by James --