The Sugar Quill
Author: mary ellis (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Childhood's End  Chapter: 3. Making Plans
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At supper that night, Jupiter McGonagall outlined the strategy for preparing his daughter for her glorious entry into wizarding school.

“I’ve had a look at yer book list, and I believe we have copies of most of the texts you’ll be needing, either here in the library or among yer friends’ cast-offs. And of course, we’ve plenty of cauldrons and such to round out yer equipment needs. You’re almost your mother’s height now, so I’ll have Goodie take up a few of her work-robes for you. You’ll have your tartans for special occasions of course.” He took a sip of his Brose. “What’s that you say, Goodie Gudgeon?”

The old housekeeper, in Ma’s absence, took her place opposite Lord McGonagall. “It is no ma pairt tae say it, sir, but daena ye think yer wife wad want the lass to be weel-pittin-on for her first year at that barrie school?”

Minerva grinned secretly. She had been chafing to say this very thing. She wouldn’t mind wearing Ma’s old robes to Hogwarts, but…

Goodie continued: “Tis aw weel an good to reuse auld books an sic. But a lass wants to look good amang all thir Lunnon-folk, nae be wearin her mither’s auld rags.”

The shaft hit home. Jupiter was certainly not one to allow any Londoner to outshine the daughter of a Highland lord. “All right. You two Floo over to Hogsmeade in the next day or two and pick up some nice new robes.” He paused dramatically and surveyed Minerva with his eyes a-squint, like a Quidditch fan studying a vintage Oakshaft for his collection. “But the most important thing I’ll not leave to any two-Knut merchant.”

She gulped. “You mean my wand, Da?”

“Indeed I do, lass. No untried, store-bought twig for the likes of you. Saturday week, by the dark of the moon, we’ll go down to the family Crypt and see which of your antecedents will be donating their wand to their worthy offspring.” With that, he toasted said offspring and drank the bowl dry.


After dinner Minerva slipped outside to climb the spreading beech tree in the courtyard and meditate on the day’s wonders. She’d finally showed the other kids she could hold her own at Quidditch, and she’d make her House team at Hogwarts, of that she was sure.

“Hist! Nerva! Dutchoo wooing?”

Minerva smiled to herself. It was her friend Giggie—Gilliain Gillespie Gwynn. Gig had an embarrassing habit of mixing up words when she was excited. Some said her Uncle Leister had placed a tongue-tying hex on her as a baby when he didn’t get an invitation to the birthing celebration--not that the old curmudgeon would have attended anyway. Others said it was because she was born on the thirteenth of the month on the dark side of the moon, with the sun in the house of the Crab. Aunt Charlemaine swore uncharitably that it was because Mrs. Gwynn had developed an insatiable craving for Billywig juice during her confinement.

“I’m just thinking.”

“About what?”


“It’ll be such fun—going around together. You wait.”

They sat a while in companionable silence, enjoying the evening breeze and the starshine. But then Gig started twisting her hair and clearing her throat, as she did when she had something on her mind.

“I wanted to ask you what happened today.”


“When you was tangled in the noal get—goal net--with Dugald.” She giggled. Giggie had a bit of a crush on Dugald MacMillan, even though he was two years younger than she. Funny pair they’d make, thought Minerva: Dugald, huge and stolid, with the bright carroty hair of his Norse ancestors, Giggie, thin and bespectacled, with straw-white hair and skin, always chattering and fidgeting.

“What do you mean?”

“I thought maybe you magicked some...beastie to net you out of the get. What was it?”

“Did I—what did you see?”

Gig whispered excitedly, “Lash of flight an’ a dark, theek sling like a snarten meaking—marten sneaking--round the net. Then you dropped down. I thought it freed you.”

“I—I don’t remember any beastie—I thought Petey did some kind of Severing spell--”

“Not to nut my ket—ket my nut—damn--cut my net-- he did not!”

“I did feel queer afterwards. But I thought it was from the fall.”

“You landed on your feet not your head. Fat theeling… you ever have it before?”

“No. Never.”

They sat a while longer, counting stars, and meditated lightly on this mystery. They talked of other instances of wandless magic they had heard about or witnessed or performed themselves—especially their first, the ultimate proof of magibility. Minerva recounted hers. It happened when she was three. She’d been playing with a neighbor’s cat. It bit her, and she wished it away, yowling, to the top of a chimney. Gig couldn’t remember hers—or said she couldn’t. Minerva had heard it was something slightly embarrassing, having to do with frogs and soap and the family bathtub.

A desultory breeze played with the leaves, blowing them first one way, then another. “Ooh, ooh,” said Gig, “Wanna see thumsin?” She closed her eyes to slits and raised her face to the breeze, a wrinkle of concentration on her forehead. She whispered, “Blow wind, blow a little more.” Minerva sat, still as a stone. Nothing happened. She tried again. “Blow wind, blow a little more.” If anything, the breeze lessened. Gig gave an exasperated sigh, and Minerva stifled a snort. “Blow wind, blow a little more.” Minerva thought she heard the faintest “please” at the end of the cant. And the breeze did pick up a bit. Gig sighed again.

“It doesn’t always work. But when it does, it makes me feel really powerful, you ken?”

“Do they teach that at the school?”

“No, it’s something I made up myself. All the school charms are hoo tard to say.”

“Aunt Donnie says it’s possible to do charms without saying anything—just thinking the words—but she says it takes a lot of concentration.”

“I can tronsincate okay, I just can’t spay the cells.”

Minerva changed the subject. She hoped she’d be able to ‘spay the cells,’ when she got to school but didn’t want to think too much about the possibility of failure. And the subject was painful to her friend. Home from Hogwarts, Giggie had tried practicing spells surreptitiously out in the henhouse and ended up changing her mother’s favorite biddie into a cookpot. Needless to say, Mrs. Gwynn had taken custody of her daughter’s wand for the duration of the summer.

They talked about boys (Gig’s favorite subject) and Quidditch (Minerva’s). A shooting star interrupted their thoughts.

“Did you ever wish you could fly over the Grampians just like that star, Gig?”

Gig’s only reply was a gulp and a wince, and the subject quickly changed to their coming trips to the big city to round out their school supplies. Gig would go to Diagon Alley with Dugald and his mother, and Minerva to Hogsmeade, a small wizarding village in the Grampians not far from the school. She’d never been so far from her home before. It would be a great adventure. Of that she was sure.


Dealing with her mother’s ups and downs, Minerva had learned to keep her emotions rigidly in check—except when out riding her broom. Now, with her mother gone for a long time, she was slipping into the untidy, but gratifying habit of relishing the good things of life. And the trip to Hogsmeade certainly qualified as a good thing. No, not just a good thing—a real adventure. Kids in the valley didn’t often visit the great wizarding centers. Indeed they rarely needed to. Denizens of the McGonagall grange, especially, didn’t need to go outside of it for supplies. The neatly tended vegetable gardens, orchards, herbaria, looms, mills, cow pastures, and sheep pens provided most of the clan’s needs. So when Goodie Gudgeon woke her a few days later with the announcement, “Shoppin’ day, dearie. We maun dae our chores early,” she had hardly been able to take it in.

A further thrill awaited her. As they were (finally) getting out the Floo-pot, Jupiter McGonagall approached them, waving Minerva’s broomstick.

“Here, my girl, take this to the Quidditch supply store, and tell Brobdingnag Bones that I want him to put one of those new diamond-hard finishes on yer fag.”

Minerva had heard about such coatings. They rendered a broom almost impervious to damage and made it glisten like morning dew. She grabbed the broom and gave him a grin.

“You’re sure it won’t affect the banking radius.”

“Naw, naw, tell him we want the Elasto-Sheen. That’ll keep it at maximum flexibility.”

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