The Sugar Quill
Author: mary ellis (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Three Orphans  Chapter: 2. Minerva-Septebmber, 1937
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MINERVA September, 1937

Oh, my wonderful reviewers, I feel so heartened by your loyalty. JKR's myriad readership could not make me happier.

Sara, Amanda B, Ardie Bea, and Madaline Fabray, welcome back! I do hope to delve further into some incompletely explained characters and theories of JKR's world of magic. To facilitate this, the story will be from many different POVs, a là George RR Martin's
A Song of Fire and Ice, though hopefully not so maddeningly rambling.

Arimalka and Arya, here is our dear young, stubborn Minerva, just as you wished.




“Ouch!”

Minerva McGonagall froze in her seat as the cry echoed throughout the school library. It sounded a bit like her friend Raymie Sykes, and came from the opposite end of the long table, where she had noticed him earlier shooting spit wads at Susannah Yorke from behind a propped-up copy of Beginning Charms. But Minerva didn’t look up from her work, not even to see if Suze had given him a well-deserved taste of his own medicine. Suze, a very comely and zaftig young witch, had, over the summer, learned a Conjunctivitis Curse from her mother and was presumably using it to discourage the increasing attentions of playful young warlocks.

Minerva didn’t dare risk losing her train of thought. Here they were, barely two weeks into the term, and second-year assignments were already proving to be exponentially more difficult than first. Though not in one particular subject.

She couldn't understand why Transfiguration came so easily to her though she'd wondered about it often enough. Perhaps it was in her blood. But thinking about her parents--a painful subject--brought no memory of either of them blithely expanding closets into ballrooms or changing chairs into chimneypieces on a whim. Da had been an inventor and, so far as she could remember, rarely used Transfiguration to bring his brainstorms to fruition. No, he built them a piece at a time, using whatever parts came to hand--and begged, borrowed, or bought whatever didn't. What he was good at was developing the charms that would hold his inventions together and make them work. He had a scholar's grasp of the basic building blocks of magic, the syllables, the inflections, the thoughts needed to command and control matter. And he was well-versed in Muggle physics and maths. He was forever lecturing her on trigonometry and the calculus, and on the slightest provocation would discourse on particle and wave theories, those quaint yet effective Mundane approximations of the underlying structure of the universe.

And then there was The Book—Professor Dumbledore's Adventures in Transfiguration, which had first piqued her interest in the subject. It distilled the entire vast field down to a pool of easily absorbed first principles. Well, it did ramble a bit--she found she had to use her own organizing talents to distill out the essentials--but somehow, it perfectly complemented the knowledge and background she brought to it. At every turn of the page, it bolstered her shallower understandings of the way magic worked. Every chapter held at least one Eureka! moment. Reading it was like visiting an old, very wise friend.

The book and the memories had comforted her somewhat when she returned to school some weeks early to finish the exams and classwork she'd missed in the wake of her father's death. In a fit of loneliness, she'd read through the entire second-year Transfiguration text her first night back and felt more pieces of the puzzle of this fascinating subject click into place in her cerebral cortex.

In her free moments, she found herself a student body of one, rambling about the grounds--the shore of the loch, the Quidditch pitch, the eaves of the forest--trying out her new-found transforming powers. She quickly found that the principles involved in expanding and shrinking objects were helped by her father's geometry lessons. Angles didn't change no matter how large or small the object came to be. And by the axiom of proportionality, she had only to envision the new length of a single dimension of an object to turn it into a perfect replica, whether enlarged to the size of a house or minimized to a hairsbreadth. The tricky part was in observing the Law of Conservation of Matter…

Merlin's Beard! There she was--woolgathering on her favorite subject again. At this rate she'd be getting an Outstanding in Transfiguration and a Failure-to-Come-Even-Close-to- Meeting-Expectations in every other class. She had to keep her concentration on the page in front of her. And she prayed there would be no more outbursts from Raymie. She knew in the back of her mind that if that 'Ouch!' were repeated, it would bring the wrath of Madam Squint, the librarian, down on the entire table. No sound louder than a whisper was suffered in the sacred precincts of The Library. Calliope Squint, its High Priestess, was known to banish entire Years and Houses from these hallowed halls for weeks if even one of their number put a toe out of line.

There was a sound of scuffling, a high-pitched squeak, a chair pushed back, and footsteps at a brisk trot past Minerva and presumably out the door. It sounded like tiny, first-year Filius Flitwick was making an emergency trip to the toilet, squealing in pain. It served him right. Those breakfast sausages had seemed a little off. But he would heap his plate, despite her dorm mate Poppy's warnings of incipient food poisoning.

Now there was silence once more, blessed silence, into which a willing and pliant mind could expand. She turned to the huge book in front of her and read:

Substantive Charm: 1) any permanent or long lasting spell, as a Memory Obliviation Spell. 2) a spell which causes a change in substance, whether the change be permanent or ephemeral. See Transfiguration. Opp., see Ephemeral Charm, Glamour.

She had been staring at this definition in Cobb and Webster's Standard Dictionary, 1933 edition for a full sixty seconds, but its meaning would not penetrate the muddle in her brain. A few entries above it, her eye had caught the definition of a Squib, and this reminded her uncomfortably of the letter she had received from her Aunt Donnie at breakfast.

Dear Minerva,

I hope you are well and that the new potions professor you owled me about is
at least half as interesting as Madam Gora was. In my day it was rumoured
that she was an agent for a foreign Ministry, perhaps even a saboteur.
We used to call her The Dragon Lady. Your aunt Bobbie swore that 'Auld Gorey' had
a tattoo of a Chinese Fireball on her ankle, a sure sign of membership in a
magical Tong. Anyway her mysterious background made for some wonderfully scary,
late-night speculation by the common room fire.

The farm is doing quite well. Your cousin Cuthbert has gone off, no one knows where,
not even his mother. After the beating we—well actually, you--gave him in that duel
over the summer, I'm not surprised. The rumours of his shoddy spell work have
gotten around, and more than one wizard is whispering what we both know to be true,
that it was his carelessness that caused your father's death. I know you'll say
'good riddance to bad rubbish' and I'm inclined to agree with you. In any case, I'll
not waste precious manpower trying to find him.

Charlamaine keeps hinting that we ought to expand the mining operation and do
an exploratory dig for precious metals in the northwest hills, but as it was originally
her son's idea—and how much credence can we put into anything he said?--I’ve nayed it
for the time being. It would really cut into our pasturage, and your Aunt Bobbie needs
every bit of grass she can get for her expanding herd. Plus, the sounds of blasting
would probably sour the milk.

I’ve a bit of sad news for you. You may or may not know that young Argus, Gerry’s son,
was never placed on the enrollment list for Hogwarts, his father being a most irresponsible
and procrastinating type. This past summer, as Argus is now nine, and fast approaching
wizarding maturity, I sought an interview with Headmaster Dippet to clarify his status.
He questioned me closely about the boy’s antecedents and when I told him he was the son of
Geraldine McGonagall and Arestor Filch, now estranged, he sighed and said I should talk
to my sister about this. He would say no more.

I questioned your Aunt Gerry about it. At first, she was angry and asked what right
I had to pry into her personal affairs. But you know it is the right and duty of the
lord of the estate to care for her people, to counsel them, and champion their rights.
Your father would have done the same, and someday you will too. I told her this
and she broke down. Argus is not really her son, she said. Early in their marriage,
Arestor came to her with a story about an unmarried sister--actually a step-sister-- of his
who was in the family way.

He was afraid that she would not be able to adequately care for an infant, as she was a
circus performer and always on the road. (I think he also realized that she—like himself—was
a wastrel and could hardly be counted on to see the child properly cared for.) He also feared
the baby wouldn’t be accepted in the magical world if he was seen as a trollop’s cast-off.

In those days, Gerry was so love-besotted she could refuse her husband nothing.
And they had been unable to have a child of their own. He wanted his nephew to grow up
safe within the Magicosm, and Gerry badly wanted a baby. She used a series of
Timed Engorgements on her belly to make it look like she was expecting and fooled
the rest of us very neatly. She always was the magical brains of the family.

And now it looks like poor little Argus is a Squib. He never did show much talent for magic,
but since boys are often slower than girls in this respect, we had let it slide.
Gerry has agreed to let him apprentice in farming with his uncle Inachus when he is twelve.
He does like to work with his hands.

And, of course, he cannot any longer be considered a potential heir to the estate, since he is
not of our blood and is a Squib to boot.

I heard from your mother. She's yet at Kirk's, ostensibly in training to be a Healer.
But I'm thinking this is partly an excuse for Ellis Kirk to keep her safe from the truth
that would hurt her so badly. Her memory has of course still not come back. She does not know
that she was ever married, that her husband is dead, and still refers to you as Mistress McGonagall.

I know this is painful for you to hear, and if I could take this Clabbert off your back and
onto my own, I would and gladly. You said you would not be coming home for Christmas,
but I want you to know we all miss you—Goodie and Filch and the servants and all your aunts.
You were here such a short time over the summer. Can the pain still be as bad as that?

Your loving aunt, and friend,

Donnie


She turned the letter over and over in her mind. Poor little Argus. She had never suspected him to be a Squib, though when she thought about it, she couldn't actually remember him ever doing magic himself. Well, the estate foreman would be a kind taskmaster. Hopefully Argus wouldn't have to live with the Filches though. From all Minerva knew of her, Filch's wife, Belda, was a hard woman to please.

The part about coming home was a recurring theme in Donnie's weekly letters. Minerva still could not bear even thinking of the Keep, much less living there. It was only three months since her father had died in the collapse of the estate coal mine.

Spending part of the summer at the Gwynns' had helped ease the pain. Her friend Giggie knew a million ways to cheer a person up, from scary stories told by the hearth at bedtime, to impromptu picnics with any of her many relatives. And then there was the odd pick-up game of Shuntbumps out over the village streets and full-scale Quidditch matches in back of Macmillan's to pass the time and keep her reflexes up to par.

When she finally got to school, she realized there was so much work to do, so much to learn. She still had in her mind the ultimate goal, the destruction of the wizard Grindelwald, who had put her mother through several kinds of hell. She could not hope to do this without becoming formidable herself in magical power. And every minute of every day mattered in achieving that goal.

In her letters, Donnie was constantly belaboring her with the inner workings of the farm and the duties of a Scottish Lord. This could only be because she still entertained the hope that Minerva would one day assume her position as heir to the McGonagall estate and all that it entailed.

Once, Donnie wrote in passing of a new 'friend', Ranulf Guthrie, a distant cousin. Minerva was sure that marriage was in her beloved aunt's future, whether with Uncle Guth or someone else. And that would likely mean new heirs, a good thing for Minerva, to ease her guilt at leaving the family legacy in limbo. For she was beginning to sense a budding love of her own—the love of the rigors of academe, the quest for knowledge for its own sake. Every book she read, every spell she learned, tickled her brain and excited her to read and learn all the more.

“Ouch!” Minerva was surprised to realize that this time the cry was her own. She clapped a hand to her brow, which was suddenly throbbing with pain. She could already feel a welt growing there--from a misplaced spell of Suze's she guessed. Now something was hovering in front of her eyes, dancing from side to side with a loud humming noise that reminded her vaguely of a Cornish pixie. Only its form was far too round for that. Whatever it was, it zoomed quickly out of reach of her swatting hand, up to the ceiling where it was lost in the rafters of the library’s main hall. She could hear it bouncing against one side of the wall, making a zizzing noise, as if it were trying to bore its way out through the roof. It's just some kind of insect bite, she thought, and did not notice immediately that everyone, including Madam Squint, was staring at her.

Now the buzzing reverberated loudly in her cranium, as if the little bugger had actually managed to inject its nerve-wracking noise into her brain through her skull-bone. The sound condensed into words, an insistent, yearning message. Come, it said. Leave this place. Down. Must go down. Urgent.

She dragged herself to her feet in a haze of obligation, still oblivious of her audience, and stumbled towards the door, barely conscious of Calliope Squint’s voice behind her: “…clumsy, puerile tricks…this table…always a nuisance…that Raymie Sykes…probably one of his…”

But Minerva was on her way down her second flight of steps before she realized that her feet were moving, not by her will, but automatically, towards something, some goal a long way from the Library, and that she couldn’t have changed direction if she’d exerted all her efforts to do so. An awful memory popped into her head: this loss of control--this helplessness--this is what it's like to be Geased.

She fought down panic and allowed herself to be propelled along. Best to save her strength for whatever she would meet at the end of the ride. She felt in her pocket for her wand, and tried to focus her mind on a spell that would be of use. But for what particular danger, if any? Was she headed for the caverns below Dungeon level where it was rumored there was some kind of powerful monster sleeping? Or outdoors to be plunged into the Lake to do battle with Grindylows, or across the fields and deep into the Dark Forest to face those unspeakable terrors that groundskeeper Ogg was always threatening her with, whenever he caught her in its shadows.

Perhaps it was just something Raymie had conjured up, a practical joke that would end her up in some smelly hole or other, like that awful boys' bathroom on the dungeon level with the stopped-up toilets, where he had imprisoned a group of first-year girls the day before. A Geas was just right for a wizard of his minimal talent--primitive, wandless magic, powered by need or emotion. But she could only pray her trip would end in a place so innocuous, even if it might be sickening. in her mounting terror, she was not prepared to confront any kind of magical beast, not even a unicorn.

Crowding out these thoughts was the dogged whisper, Hurry, hurry, through the door now…

She was on the second floor, so far as she could judge. Her feet had brought her here by a route she had not used before. And now she heard footsteps behind her.

She passed a bathroom and a huge map of Argyllshire, which, if she’d had the presence of mind to notice, showed the glen she grew up in at its far eastern edge. Now she was in front of a lancet-arched doorway with a huge brownish plant just inside it. She recognized it as Professor Dippet’s pet Tickle-Truffle. Her legs carried her to the spiral staircase beyond. It started moving as she got on, but her impatient legs bounded upwards towards the Headmaster’s Office anyway. The pursuing footsteps were closer now, almost right behind her.

She came to a dead stop. Inside were no monsters, no traps, nothing at all seemingly dangerous—unless you counted the Spiny Puffball in a pot off to her right. But there was a crowd of young witches and wizards at the far end of the room. She saw Damocles Belby--a shifty-eyed Slytherin of her year, whom she’d once caught copying her Potions essay--and—yes—Barty Crouch, the Ravenclaw Prefect. Her thoughts were interrupted by a push from behind. She went down in a heap and felt someone land square on top of her. She heard laughter. She wrenched her head about and directed her stoniest glare at her attacker. It was a boy with dark tousled hair, rather good-looking in fact, though a trifle pale. He made to get off her. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t help…” There was more laughter—her classmates enjoying the pair's embarrassment.

“Ah, more students. Welcome!" It was the Headmaster. "Welcome to our little gathering. You are, I believe, the last.” Something whizzed past Minerva's ear, and accompanying it, that buzzing noise again.

Professor Dippet went on babbling in the background, as the strange young person helped Minerva up. His hands were long and slender and warm to the touch, and his dark eyes bespoke a life lived on the edge of some very intense emotion. In any case, the majesty of the Office-- portraits of old Heads, shelves of books, framed spore prints, glittering magigadgets in glass cases—seemed not to impress him at all. He simply stared at her.

The Headmaster came out from behind his glass-topped desk, and shook their hands, as if congratulating them for something, but what, Minerva could not imagine. Then he motioned them to join the students grouped about the great fireplace. She crossed the room, remembering with a pang that this was where her father had announced in the Floo a year ago the good news that her mother would finally be coming home, cured of the depression that had plagued her for so many years. And in this same fire, at the end of the year, her Aunt Charlamaine had brought word of her father's death in the mine. She cringed at that memory, and the boy behind her—again—walked right into her. He apologized a second time, but she felt his hand linger at her waist just a second, as if he recognized her frailty and was there to bolster her. Silly thought. She recognized him now from the Sorting Ceremony. She wondered if the school took transfers. He looked too mature to be a first year.

They took their places among the clumps of students. She saw Walden Macnair, standing with Belby and a thin boy with lank black hair she didn’t know. She also recognized Velassitie Vector, a second year Ravenclaw she had some classes with and a smiling, frizzy-haired Hufflepuff named Pomona who hung around with Poppy Pomfrey. And Raymie Sykes, looking mischievous and self-satisfied as always.

Seated in front of them were several teachers: Porpentina Cavallo-Grifone, the creature care specialist; Madam Boothby, the games-and-sports Mistress; and their new potions teacher, Professor Slughorn.

She heard Professor Dippet shout, "Here it comes, Gladys.” There was that buzzing noise again, and something small and round veered about the crowd. Madam Boothby stood up precipitately, snatched whatever-it-was out of the air and placed it in a little, hinged wooden box, which she shut with a sharp snap. She nodded at the Headmaster and rejoined the other teachers on a comfortable couch by the fire.

//
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