The Sugar Quill
Author: PirateQueen (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Sherbet Lemons  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Sherbet Lemons

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Only the mistakes are mine.

Author's Note: Thanks are once more due to Chary, for ace beta-reading and kind support ...


Sherbet Lemons

by PirateQueen


It was never normally this quiet, even in the holidays, and especially not on the first day of September. Silence seemed to hang in the room's still air; there was no muted snoring of the portraits on the walls, no distant bustle of house-elves in the kitchens, not even the quiet creak of Argus Filch's boots on the castle's stone floors. It was as if life itself had stopped.

Minerva McGonagall finally stirred in her seat, and let out a long, sighing breath. She took her mother's watch out of her robe pocket. Turning the elegant timepiece over in her hand, she savoured the warmth of its gold case, something familiar and comforting on a day that was anything but. She popped open the engraved lid. Ten minutes to go.

The parchment she held was beginning to curl at the ends, and she placed it flat down on the desk, running her palms across to smooth it flat. She had found it on top of her bedside table first thing that morning, neatly scrolled, sealed with wax and tied with a red ribbon. She must have read it a hundred times already, but her eyes once more filled with unshed tears as she gazed at the familiar spidery handwriting. Exasperated with herself for still feeling so fragile, she began to read again.

My dear Minerva,

My warmest congratulations on your appointment. I am sure you will make an excellent Headmistress. Your contribution to the school has been so far immeasurable, and you will, I am certain, lead Hogwarts to greatness.

There, that's the tributes taken care of, heartfelt as they are. This letter will reach you as you face new challenges, and I hope that it will reassure you that I have every confidence that you will do just as well, if not better, than I. After all, your first achievement has been to persuade the board of governors that the school should remain open, and that is no mean feat.

"Well, Albus, it's comforting to know that your eternal optimism remains undiminished, even by the grave," Minerva muttered. The vote had been a close-run thing, and the school's position remained tenuous. Only after she had given the board assurances that the situation would be reviewed on a weekly basis, and Horace Slughorn had given an impassioned and theatrical speech about Albus Dumbledore's legacy and the shining beacon of stability that education must provide in such dark times, had the governors agreed at all. Minerva had never much cared for Slughorn and his flamboyant ways, but she had to agree that he'd come up trumps on this occasion. Nevertheless, for every message of condolence and solidarity Minerva had received over the summer, almost half the parents had elected to keep their youngsters close to home. Having had her own family devastated in the Grindelwald war, Minerva had some sympathy for their actions, despite the effect it would have on their children's education. In fact, the first year would number a mere fifteen students this term, hardly worth troubling the Sorting Hat for. Furthermore, despite Albus's faith and her own many years of teaching, Minerva felt like a fraud; she was untried, untested in the Head's role, and simply could not inspire the same confidence in people by the very mention of her name, as he could.

Sudden anger at her oldest friend rose red and raw in Minerva's heart. He should be here! Albus, whatever were you thinking, going off on a dangerous mission with Harry Potter and getting yourself killed, just when we all need you most? Distraught, she remembered the arguments they'd had over the boy; Albus always seemed to have such a blind spot where he was concerned. Yes, Minerva knew Harry Potter was the Chosen One, the Boy Who Lived, child of the Perfect Couple, all that and more. But he was still just a seventeen-year-old, naïve and hardly able to control his emotions at the best of times, who constantly led himself and his friends into danger, and for that she found it hard to forgive him, despite all his good intentions. There had been some big catastrophe at the end of every year of his school career so far, and every time Albus had had to intervene at the last minute to save his skin. Three times now it had resulted in loss of life. The boy might be a Gryffindor, but there was bravery, and there was foolhardiness, and to date he did not seem to possess either the grace or the maturity to know which was which! Minerva shook her head in despair, and as quickly as rage had come, shame began to wash over her at her own hard thoughts; Albus had placed his faith in Harry Potter, and it was for that very reason that she must not betray his memory now.

Minerva had in fact received an owl the previous day from Harry, asking for her forgiveness in that he would be a few days late for the start of term. A guilty part of her had thought (and still did) that it would provide a welcome breathing space in that Voldemort's attention would be focused away from Hogwarts for a short time while the school settled down to the autumn term's work. She could not help worrying, however. Although she knew Harry was helping the Order, who would watch him closely, the Dark side would stop at nothing now the only wizard with the power to match them was no longer there to protect the boy. And what if Severus Snape got hold of him? The very thought of Snape made her feel physically sick; there was another one Albus had trusted! Her eyes flashed once more. How dare you, Albus, she thought angrily, how dare you leave me on my own to face all this! Gritting her teeth, she forced herself, for the sake of her own sanity, to breathe deeply and clear her mind, to focus on something other than grief and sadness and wrath, to think of the responsibilities that were now hers.

She picked up the set of documents she must take to the next board of governors' meeting, and tried to concentrate. As was the custom at the start of every year, each professor must sign a contract for their duties. This year had required quite some redrafting; no longer would there be a Defence Against the Dark Arts post; instead the other professors would integrate protective magic into the curriculum for their subject area, and each would have an Auror as mentor. Dear Kingsley would act as such for her own Transfiguration classes, but Horace would have to cope with Nymphadora Tonks, and so Minerva had recently approved a large order for unbreakable laboratory ware. She smiled to herself, and her eye fell once more on to Albus's note:

Do not be disheartened, for help will come from unlikely quarters when you least expect it. Students and staff alike are your friends and allies in these difficult times.

A quiet tap at the door startled her, and her voice wavered as she called out "Enter!". Two figures entered the room, hesitating as they approached the desk, as if they too were scared to trespass in the lair of a ghost so recently departed.

"Headmistress," said the shorter one. "It's almost time for the Sorting, and Ernie and I, well, we wondered if you'd like us to escort you."

Despite her racing heart, Minerva remained outwardly dignified. "Thank you, Hermione. That's very thoughtful of you." The newly-appointed Head Girl looked as nervous as the Headmistress felt. Behind Hermione stood Ernie Macmillan, taller than Minerva remembered, and growing decidedly good-looking. He would be a popular choice. There had been few suitable candidates when it came down to it. Draco Malfoy, of course, would have been successful if … if circumstances had been different, but he was in hiding somewhere, no doubt with his mother. Ronald Weasley could not be selected alongside Miss Granger without rumours of Gryffindor nepotism; so Ernie it was.

"One moment, please." Minerva tidied away her pile of contracts and picked up Albus's note to place it in her desk drawer. As she did so, she caught sight of its last lines:

In case of dire, life-threatening emergency, you will find my stock of confectionery in the chinoiserie bureau next to the door to the privy, third shelf down, in the jar marked 'Elixir of Life'. Take one Sherbet Lemon, and you will be ready for anything.

If only it were that simple. Nonetheless, she gave a final smile at the memory of Albus, and knew that like it or not, she must carry on without him. She walked over to the mirror, straightened her hat, and paused to brush a tiny piece of fluff off her robe. Then, she returned to take the handsome Head Boy's proffered arm.

"Very well, Ernest, Hermione. Let's go."



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