The Sugar Quill
Author: FernWithy (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Of A Sort  Chapter: Sept. 1, 1933: Minerva McGonagall
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Of A Sort

Of A Sort
by FernWithy
September 1, 1933:
Minerva McGonagall

"Really, Mother, this is silly," Minerva said, straightening her new robes. She'd made a little bow of her family tartan to pin to the collar, but Mother said it would have to come off when she was assigned her house colors.

"What's silly?"

"We've come all the way to London just so I can catch a train directly back to Hogsmeade."

"It will give you a chance to meet your classmates."

Minerva squinted through the steam on Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters. The tall shadows moving about didn't look much like friend material. "I'd have met them at school," she said.

"You will have a book open the moment they let you near your trunk." Mother checked the ends of Minerva's plaits, which had started to unravel in the humidity, and did a quick spell to shore them up. Satisfied, she gave Minerva a quick, business-like kiss on the cheek. "Now, I expect you to do your work, and to make friends, and to not spend your weekends trying to come home or asking for chores around the shop."

Minerva didn't answer. She didn't like working in her parents' parchment store, but surely it was some sort of duty.

"Now, listen to me," Mother said. "Whichever House you're sorted into--"

"Ravenclaw," Minerva said morosely. Everyone knew she would be a Ravenclaw. Boring, old maid bookworms. The thirdie Slytherins who came into the shop last year had made fun of her glasses and her books and told her that she would be sorted there, and the Ravenclaw fourth year who came in after them hadn't helped matters by assuring her that it wasn't as bad as she was thinking, and she would fit right in.

They hadn't won the Quidditch cup for Minerva's entire life. They barely even won games.

And none of them seemed to care much.

Not that Minerva let on to Mother that this was an important issue to her. Mother purely hated Quidditch.

"Whichever house," Mother said, "I expect you to be a credit to it. Get good grades, work hard, and be a well-behaved young lady. I don't want to get owls about you, Minerva."

"Yes, Mother."

Mother inspected her, frowning deeply. Her eyes narrowed. "Let me see your handbag, Minerva."

Minerva tried to push the large bag around behind her, but of course it was too late. Resigned, she held it up for Mother.

Mother took it and opened it. Her lips went tight and her eyebrows moved in toward one another. "Minerva?"

"I promise, I'll put it away if anyone wants to talk to me!"

Mother drew the book out. It was only a simple little story about a boy who solved mysteries--a child's book, really, with illustrations of brooms flying around behind a Quidditch pitch and of girls waving from the stands--and Minerva had only brought it because...

Well, because she'd thought it was small enough to fit in her handbag without Mother noticing it.

"Minerva," Mother said, "I am delighted that you enjoy your books, but we talked about this. You will need to meet your classmates today."

"They won't talk to me, anyway."

"Certainly not, if you go off in a corner and bury your nose in a book." Mother slipped the book into the pocket of her own robe. "Now, you will go on that train, you will sit with your classmates, and you will be polite and pleasant to them."

"Yes, Mother."

There was another dry kiss on the cheek--Mother was not one for great displays of affection, a circumstance for which Minerva was profoundly grateful--then Minerva found herself being pulled along in a crowd of children her age and older. She jostled her trunk up onto the train and somehow or other managed to stow it in a luggage bay. She could see older students putting theirs up in overhead racks, but most of those that were close to her size didn't even attempt it.

She made her way back into an empty compartment, then remembered that Mother had been adamant about meeting people, and Mother would check. She spoke to Hogwarts teachers frequently when they came into the shop to buy their supplies, and anything Minerva did would get back her. She took a hard swallow from her spitless mouth, and headed back into the more crowded part of the train.

The first compartment was full with six older students in Slytherin robes. One of them looked at her like she was a particularly disgusting doxy when she searched for an empty seat. The second compartment was crowded with people around a vending cart of some sort. The third was occupied by two girls who seemed to be first years like herself--they had no House colors--and a boy wearing the blue and bronze of Ravenclaw.

Well, he was likely to be in her House, at any rate. It seemed as good a place to start as any, and perhaps when the conversation lagged, he would have an extra book she could borrow.

Meet your classmates.

Minerva steeled herself and said, "Hello."

The two first year girls started to give her smiles, then seemed to notice something out the opposite window. Probably the reflection of the wretched glasses. The Ravenclaw boy didn't acknowledge her. He leaned down and picked up a broomstick that was stowed with his things and began mucking around aimlessly with its twigs.

Determined now, Minerva tried again. "Is that a Nimbus Three Hundred?" she asked (rather unnecessarily; she had been looking at pictures of them for the better part of a year and knew the make without checking).

The boy looked up at her, mildly surprised. "Yes," he said.

"May I see it?"

He thought about it, then shook his head. "First years can't have broomsticks."

"I don't mean to keep it," Minerva snapped.

The boy blinked and frowned, then apparently decided he'd rather not have an enemy. He smiled in a way that Minerva supposed was conciliatory. "I'm sorry," he said. "I just got it for my birthday, last month. I'm Henry, by the way."

"Minerva."

"You are a first year, right? I'm not just forgetting you?"

"No, I'm a first year."

"Third," Henry said. He indicated the broomstick. "One of our Chasers left school last year. I'm going to try out for the Ravenclaw team."

"Oh. Good luck."

"Well, the broom lists a bit. I've been practicing. I'm trying to figure out what's pulling it."

Minerva eyed the broom. It looked well enough aligned. In perfect condition, actually. "Don't pluck the twigs," she said. "It's probably just that you're leaning. The wind on the front arm side is a little worse. Lots of people drift a bit when they think they're going straight."

She had finished saying this before she realized it was a mistake. Henry's brief openness closed off, and his mouth went straight. "It's the broom," he said. "I know perfectly well how to fly."

He went back to examining the twigs, looking determinedly away from Minerva.

"I like Quidditch," Minerva said desperately. "I saw last year's cup match... I mean, from Hogsmeade station. My father did a charm so I could hear the calls. I suppose I should say I heard it more than saw it..."

"Oh." Henry went on with his examination.

"I was sure it was going to be Hufflepuff again, but the Gryffindor Keeper--"

"Pure luck," Henry said dismissively. "Quidditch requires more careful planning."

"Like the planning Ravenclaw did when Hufflepuff beat them in October?" Minerva snapped before she thought about what she was saying. "I'm sure less careful planning would have made the point spread three hundred instead of only two hundred and ninety." As soon as it was out, she clapped her hand to her mouth. She and Father talked about Quidditch all the time, and he'd said that last Halloween, but Minerva had promised herself that she wouldn't make enemies in her own House (well, the House that would be hers by tonight, anyway) by fighting about their Quidditch strategies. Mother was right--it was only a game.

Henry physically turned his back on her, sitting sideways in his seat to do it. The other two first year girls looked at her awkwardly, then turned away, like she might be contagious.

Not a promising start.

Minerva sighed and stood up. Perhaps another compartment would be a better idea. "Er," she said. "It was nice meeting you. I'll just--"

And that was when the world turned upside down.

There was a screech of metal on metal, then Minerva was flying through the air, her shoulder slamming painfully against the luggage rack. Henry's Nimbus struck her against the ribs, and as she was held against the ceiling for a brief moment, she saw Henry himself hurtle into the window and slump down, unconscious. The other two first year girls were hanging on for dear life and screaming at the top of their lungs.

Then the compartment flipped again, throwing all of them back down to the floor and shattering the windows. There was an awful grinding sound as the Hogwarts Express hurtled over stony ground beside the tracks, finally lurching one more time and landing on its side. Minerva tucked and rolled this time, so she was only jostled a little bit when she was thrown onto the wall that was the floor when the train finally came to a stop.

She could hear shouting and screaming all up and down the train, but her own compartment was quiet--both of the other girls had either been hurt or fainted, and Henry was out cold. The door was twisted out of shape and impossible to open.

Minerva grabbed Henry's broomstick--miraculously undamaged--and clamored to the top of a pile of spilled luggage. Carefully, she lifted herself through the broken window.

The train was lying mostly on its side, though a few cars were upright toward the end. Steam rose up from the engine, and Minerva could see a few students who had been thrown from the train. They were all trying to move.

Wizards and witches were Apparating to the scene with broomsticks, flying over the anti-Apparition barrier around the train to reach the injured students. Minerva caught sight of a familiar-looking man with long reddish brown hair. He looked grave.

Someone laughed, and Minerva looked up. On the hillside opposite them, she could see a tall wizard in red robes with an ugly black and white symbol on them. He waved his hand at his throat, then his voice boomed through the air, seeming to come from everywhere. "Welcome to Grindelwald's world, Mudblood-loving filth!"

Then he ran into the shadows of the forest.

No one else that Minerva could see was looking in the direction of the stranger. He was going to get away.

Without thinking about it, she pulled Henry's broomstick up, threw her leg over it, and flew.

Below her, she could see a path up the hillside, and the red-robed man gibbering gleefully up it. He would be clear of the barrier soon. Minerva looked up the hill. She didn't know anywhere near enough magic to do a spell to stop him, but maybe...

Relief ran through her. High on the hill was a large boulder. She leaned forward on the broomstick and sped toward it, racing against the time it would take for the man to reach an Apparition point. She got there just as he came to the edge of a clearing.

On a normal day, Minerva wouldn't have been able to budge the rock, but she'd been frightened and hurt, and she was angry. She rolled off Henry's broomstick and pushed it away, running at top speed toward the boulder. Her already injured shoulder took the brunt of the impact, but she didn't care--the boulder budged, overbalanced, and rolled.

The man looked up at the last minute, but it was too late for him to run forward and Apparate. Instead, he ran back into the woods.

The boulder crashed onto the path and shattered, blocking the way. Minerva could see the man trying to climb a tree, but the wizards by the train must have seen her come this way, because they were speeding up on broomsticks now, and two of them grabbed him before he got more than two meters off the ground.

It was over.

Minerva was suddenly very aware that her heart was beating quickly and her hands were sweaty and her shoulder hurt like fire.

Her knees gave way and she sat down hard on the ground, hands shaking and lungs working double-time. The sky swam. While it was happening, it had seemed so normal to do, but now that it was over, she saw herself falling, being hit by a spell, being taken away by the red-robed wizard, anything.

There was a pop beside her. She looked up, and realized that she was crying when she noticed that the sunlight was broken into little prisms around the tall figure in front of her. She buried her face in her robes to wipe it away. When she looked up, she saw the newcomer more clearly. It was the red-haired wizard she'd seen from the train earlier. He looked around the clearing, his eyes sharp and observant, then seemed to decide that they were safe. He bent down and touched his wand to Minerva's shoulder, muttering a spell. The pain went away.

"We'll have to have Madam Undine look at you before you're Sorted," he said, "but I think you'll be quite all right."

Minerva nodded.

"That was a very foolish thing to do, Miss McGonagall."

She swallowed, trying to find her voice. "Yes, sir."

"But a brave one, and our attacker would have escaped without your help. So I thank you, though I urge you to be more careful in the future."

"Yes, sir." She got to her feet, still shaky. "What was that? Who is Grindelwald? I've heard my parents talking about him, but..."

"He is a wizard who is attracting something of a following on the continent, and, alas, he has followers here as well. They appear to be somewhat displeased with Hogwarts policies." He looked sadly at the train, far below. "The train should have been better protected. I feared this. But too many witches and wizards think of Grindelwald's followers as harmless philosophical purists."

"Was anyone hurt badly?"

"No. Bruises and broken bones for the most part. Your memory of your first day at Hogwarts, though, will not be so easily mended, and for that, I am truly sorry."

Minerva shrugged. "Are you a teacher?" she asked. "I've seen you in my parents' shop, I think."

He smiled, his eyes twinkling. "I'm Professor Dumbledore, Miss McGonagall," he said. "I teach Transfiguration at Hogwarts. I look forward to seeing you in my classes--you promise to be most interesting."

With that, Dumbledore gave her a nod and headed off down the hill toward the train. Minerva waited a bit longer, considered flying back, and ultimately decided to walk. She wanted the time to gather herself.

By the time she got to the train, the adults had righted it, and were working on the tracks where the spell had twisted them into a tangled mess. Students were milling about on the hillside, looking dazed but not seriously injured. She caught sight of Henry the Ravenclaw, who was sitting on a boulder holding his head like he was about to be sick.

He started to look up when she got to him, but seemed to be too dizzy for it. She held out his broom. "I borrowed it," she said. "Just for a minute."

He took it without saying anything.

Minerva shrugged. "It doesn't drag," she said. "You just have to even out your weight."

He glared at her. "That was a ridiculous thing to do," he said. "There are adults here to take care of things."

She went on, looking at the other students, wondering if there was something she was supposed to be doing. She couldn't think of anything.

She passed by the group of Slytherin students whose compartment she had gone through earlier, and one of the boys was talking rather loudly. "...and my grandparents warned them years ago that using this sort of Muggle technology would make wizards angry, but of course, no one listened, and now..."

Minerva rolled her eyes. It had taken nearly fifty years for Hogwarts to decide to build a train. She thought it was silly, but how else were the Muggle-borns supposed to find the way? And of course, Mother was right that it was a place to meet people, and at any rate, Purebloods and Muggle-borns shouldn't arrive differently. Unless the Pureblood was from Hogsmeade and could walk to school if she was so inclined, and that ought to be true for any Muggle-borns who happened to live in Hogsmeade, too, although there weren't any who were school-age.

A gang of Gryffindor boys, apparently already recovered from the crash, had started a game of Quidditch, tossing cinders from the track bed back and forth and throwing them through a handy pair of trees. Minerva watched them for awhile, wishing she had a broomstick, then the adults were calling everyone back to the train, and the journey resumed.

Minerva sat in a back compartment with several students who were reading. She herself just looked out the window. As it got dark, she watched her reflection skipping along across the dark hills. When they drew into the station, there was a lot of jostling to get off the train. Most of the adults from Hogsmeade were there, and there were questions fired at all the teachers about the crash. A reporter from the Daily Prophet kept trying to buttonhole students, and Professor Dumbledore kept shooing him away.

Ogg the gamekeeper--who was in the shop every two weeks to buy stationery; Minerva imagined some faraway lady friend for him, to whom he wrote scroll after scroll--called the First Years, and led them to the boats by the lake. Minerva didn't notice who she was traveling with.

When they got into the castle, most of the first years tromped up the stairs to the main door, but Professor Dumbledore pulled Minerva aside. Beside him was a fat witch wearing a frilly bonnet.

"This is Madam Undine," Dumbledore said. "She will look at your shoulder to make sure I healed it properly, then you can join us for the feast."

Minerva nodded. Dumbledore went to the top of the stairs and started talking to the other firsties. Madam Undine frowned and bent over Minerva's shoulder.

"I expect I'll be seeing quite a lot of you," she muttered, not sounding at all pleased. "Your mother was never so reckless."

"I'm usually not," Minerva said. "I just--"

Madam Undine gave her shoulder a sudden, hard push. "Did that hurt?"

"Hitting me?"

"Did it make the injury hurt more?"

"What? Oh, no."

"You're quite all right, I think. Dumbledore isn't an expert at this, but he can handle a dislocated shoulder well enough."

Undine took Minerva firmly by the other shoulder and herded her up the stairs after the class. When they arrived in the Great Hall, students were applauding nervously (most of them still looked quite shaken), and an old hat on a stool in the front of the room appeared to be taking a bow.

Students at the tables looked at Minerva as she was led through, and she saw with some dismay that Henry had a quite a crowd around him at the Ravenclaw table and they were looking at her sourly. She could see them leaning over to each other, whispering something up and down the length of the table. Most looked at her disapprovingly after they heard.

Minerva looked away. At the far side of the room, one of the Gryffindor boys she'd seen playing Quidditch waved to her in a friendly way. It would have made her feel better, except that it hadn't come from her own House. Her own House was whispering and staring.

Up beside the hat, Professor Dumbledore was unrolling a scroll. He looked up at the firsties and said, "Baker, Elizabeth."

A little girl made her way up to the stool as Minerva reached the group. A large, angry bruise from the crash stood out on her cheek. She put the hat on, and it slipped down over her eyes, then a moment later, the hat called out, "SLYTHERIN!"

Minerva bit her lip and looked back at the Ravenclaw table again. Some of the older girls were looking at her in a slightly less hostile way. Perhaps they could be her friends.

"Disraeli, Rachel."

"RAVENCLAW!"

Minerva gave the girl a smile. Rachel Disraeli nodded. Her lip was swollen and cut, so maybe that was why she didn't smile back. Maybe Rachel would be a friend.

Maybe the damage wasn't complete. Henry couldn't be the only person in Ravenclaw with friends. And if he couldn't fly a Nimbus Three Hundred, he would never make the Quidditch team, so she wouldn't have to worry about him saying nasty things if she tried out next year.

"Jordan, Alexander" made his way up to the stool. A pale line on his dark cheek told Minerva that a cut had been recently healed. Someone at the Slytherin table made a rude comment about his complexion, but was led from the hall by an angry-looking teacher before the hat declared that Jordan was a "HUFFLEPUFF!"

The first years kept moving forward, their injuries in various states of magical healing. "Kendall, Bertram" became a Gryffindor; "Lawrence, Rebecca," one of the girls from Minerva's compartment, became a Ravenclaw.

"McGonagall, Minerva."

Minerva sighed and went forward. Really sort of a pointless exercise. Everyone knew where she'd end up. She looked at the Ravenclaw table just before she put the hat on. Henry was still glaring.

The hat slipped over her eyes.

"Aha," it whispered into her ear. "I haven't seen such an obvious match in years."

Get on with it then, Minerva thought irritably, not at all wanting to play.

"You don't want to argue? That's surprising. I can see in your head that you enjoy that."

There's not much point, is there, if I'm such an obvious match.

The hat seemed to laugh. "Very well. Since you don't want to make a fuss..."

Minerva sighed, and resigned herself to

"GRYFFINDOR!"

To be continued... in 1938.

//
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