The Sugar Quill
Author: mary ellis (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Minerva Moves On  Chapter: Default
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MINERVA MOVES ON


She tossed and turned on a bed of bones as she wrested herself out of a fitful dream.

"Albus…Albus…" she muttered, and stifled a groan.

She shushed her plaint as she would a whining child. It had always been her habit to keep herself to herself, even when only the walls could hear.

But what had caused her to cry out like that? Dreaming of his face again, the face that had emerged very gradually through the wall of his office after his death, and settled itself into portraiture between his predecessors, Armando Dippet and Phineas Nigellus Black. In her dream, she had tried to wake the peacefully slumbering face, to ask a very important question. But now--fully awake herself—she could not remember what the question was.

She rose stiffly from her bed. The journal and quill and her clothes bunching under her accounted for the lumps in the bed--not bones at all. A morbid image that was, and not at all befitting the intrepid Scot in her.

But when was the last time she had fallen asleep in her work robes like this? Correcting a last round of exams? Fretting over a student's illness? Writing letters to worried parents? She couldn't remember. She did recollect she had been writing in the journal when she dozed off.

She perused her latest entries by moonlight. They were mostly childhood memories, sketches of herself as mischievous witchling, loving daughter, athlete...scholar...leader. Where was that person now, she wondered? The cynic in her answered: buried under a lifetime of student essays and staff meeting notes.

Or was it some other lass whose life she was remembering, whizzing about the Quidditch pitch, tripping through heather and whin, laughing with friends whose names she could barely remember? Gig...Petey...Dugald. Ah, Dugald, that one she could never forget. Dug Macmillan, he of the dark red, curling hair and the slow, winning grin--the beefy arms, the crushing embrace, the lips that knew all her sensitive places—and most of all, the loyal, steadfast heart. They'd had something once, a certain heady passion, borne of equal parts love, animal attraction, and frank curiosity.

It was curiosity that brought her near to Tom Riddle too, though how anyone could be said to really know Tom was beyond her ken. Albus had thought he did though he never talked about it. But then he wouldn't, being as secretive as she, though for different reasons. And now he was dead at Tom's--Voldemort's--order. To this day she had no idea how much Albus had guessed about their juvenile relationship. And now she would never be able to set the record straight.

Albus, that trouble with Hagrid…I didn't intend to…couldn't see that it would end like that. Whether he had divined her part in Hagrid's expulsion or not, Dumbledore had made things right, after a fashion, the way he managed to neutralize so many of his students'--in particular, the Potter boy's--impulsive acts. But after Hagrid's Unwanding, she made of her error an object lesson and scratched the words Restraint and Objectivity over and over on her soul—with a sharp, black quill.

And last year, she had finally made some amends, when she rushed out of the castle to defend the gigantic groundskeeper from Dolores Umbridge and her minions--if chest burns and a trip to Saint Mungo's could be adequate recompense for the long-ago theft of Hagrid's magical birthright.

But the true nub of her torment lay elsewhere. Her implacable inner judge replayed in her mind—like a session in Dumbledore's Pensieve--the aftermath of the aborted Death Eater invasion. She heard again Harry Potter in the infirmary making his bald accusation that Professor Snape had killed the Headmaster

That statement had unnerved her mightily, and continued to unnerve, though it had been uttered days ago. Severus, for all his petty cruelty and sniping, had always seemed loyal, to Albus at least. But shock at his treachery was not the real reason for Minerva's floundering at the staff meeting she called later; her sense of righteousness and Celtic pugnacity had been eroding over a long period of time. And every one of her peers knew it. She saw it in their eyes--Flitwick's, Poppy's, Hagrid's, even Slughorn's--as she stumbled through a speech that she had intended to be a short, strong message of comfort and motivation. She's lost her nerve, those embarrassed, fleeting glances and frank, shocked stares seemed to say, as her words came out weak and rambling: I am not convinced that the school should reopen…a terrible stain on Hogwarts's history…horrible…

For throughout the meeting she was remembering that it was she who had sent for Snape at first word of the battle—the Angel of Death to his appointed round. Hers had been the responsibility to guard the castle and the children—innocents still, though ostensibly schooled in magical defense. She had failed-- miserably. And she found she could not utter the words she had intended to say: Hogwarts will survive this tragedy, as it has so many others, because she could not now bring herself to believe them.

Her friends had provided the inspiration that she herself could not muster. Dear Pomona's staunch declaration--if a single pupil wants to come, then the school ought to remain open for that pupil--and Hagrid's emotional Well, I'm stayin'! should have stirred in her the will to take charge, to be the leader she'd once been: the canny, energetic Head Girl. But no, the faithful pedagogue, her fire banked or extinguished by years of deference to a wiser, more experienced Headmaster, overwhelmed the indomitable lass of her youth and dumped the decision about the school's status into the collective laps of the Board of Governors.

Later, the Minister of Magic himself, Rufus Scrimgeour, had visited to ask whether she needed assistance in securing the grounds and also to get a sense of what she thought should be done with the school. At the time, Minerva had politely declined the help of all but a few Aurors she knew to be Order members. And she was still too upset to talk more than generally about the school's fate except to intimate that she wanted no part of its governance should it remain open. But even in her self-absorption, she had registered something odd in Scrimgeour's face as he glanced about the office. It was an intensely curious, almost hungry look. And his eyes, she thought, held a cast of greedy opportunism, as if he had only just now realized the power and influence invested in the title: Headmaster of Hogwarts. Yes, he would want a healthy say in that choice.

Scrimgeour was known to be a shallow, pragmatic type. Recent events in the ongoing strife with the Death Eaters showed him up as a man of no vision, crafting decisions in haste, based on expediency, not ethics. He would recommend someone who had experience at Hogwarts, some educational credentials, and ties to the Ministry, so that he could keep an eye on things. Heavens forfend! Her musings exactly described Dolores Umbridge. But no, surely that fat toad had been discredited by her total collapse in the face of last year's student uprisings.

Minerva closed the journal and sighed. If she could not get herself together, how could she even hope to counsel her students who were questioning their own futures in a strife-torn Magicosm? She knew in her bones that Harry Potter was planning something—some desperate foray into Tom's lair, goaded by a need to live up to that execrable epithet, 'The Chosen One.' And Harry, perhaps sensing her impotence, had refused to say a word when she questioned him about it. He said he had promised the Headmaster.

Dumbledore! However much she tried, she could not get past that obstacle. Albus Dumbledore was an icon, a touchstone of tremendous power to all who knew him, especially to his students. And he was intruding himself, even in death, into her attempts to find her place in this new, uncertain world—a world deprived of his guidance. She could not hate her colleague for the wisdom and foresight that succored and sustained all who came to him for help, that bound them ever afterward to his cause. Nor could she fault the walls of fatherly protection he had built up about her all these years. She had been complicit in her imprisonment, had even helped mix the mortar and shape the stones of the gaol.

Hogwarts was the ultimate symbol of his protectionist philosophy. Albus Dumbledore had, with Minerva's help, made it a secure fortress against prying eyes, interference, and invasion. Here students could learn without fear. Here they could become their best, truest selves. Everything was planned around that--the curriculum, the games, the celebrations--even those intense House rivalries—under the watchful eye of the Headmaster and his trusted deputy.

But since Tom Riddle's ascendancy as Lord Voldemort, that eye had been clouded by a thousand other worries, notably the Potter boy's well-being. Albus had survived attempts by Lucius Malfoy and Dolores Umbridge to supplant him. But now he was well and truly gone, and there was no safety net left for Harry, should he fail in whatever he and his mentor had planned. The spell concocted of blood-ties that had kept him secure all these years in the dubious comfort of his aunt's home had dissolved when Severus uttered his killing cant.

She groped for her wand, lit it, and staggered out of her chamber. There must be something. Albus surely left a message for me somewhere, telling me what I can do to help Harry, if he must indeed go after Tom. It might be encrypted in invisible ink on a scrap of parchment or—she smiled for the first time since the invasion-- on the back of a bowling score sheet or even a crumpled candy wrapper.

She approached the office, her mind in turmoil. She still could not think of it as hers—though there had been a time long ago when she coveted the power and responsibility it represented.

But now she was old and weary beyond her years, almost hopeful that she might just be allowed to go on as she had for so long, playing the dutiful handmaiden, toiling in the shadow of some other Head. Waiting had made her so, and endless patient answering of students' questions, correcting their pronunciation, breaking up fights in the hallways, listening to girls' tearful disclosures of love and jealousy.

She recalled a time when, at the height of youthful hubris and superior knowledge, she had accosted Headmaster Dippet in this very hallway, and demanded his attention. It was just after Myrtle Hotchkiss had been found dead in a second floor bathroom. Minerva, as Head Girl, had made her own inquiries into the matter and had uncovered a terrifying admission.

"Sir, someone has confided in me that he knows who unleashed the Monster."

The Headmaster had put a finger to his lips and led her up the spiral staircase into his office and closed the door.

"A student?"

"Yes."

"Ah, Miss McGonagall, we get 'revelations' of this kind from the student body ten times a day--some even confessing themselves to be the master of the beast. But not one has turned up evidence of any value. Who may I ask is your informant?"

"Well, actually, sir, the person didn't exactly inform. He has been acting strangely lately. When I pressed him about it, --he told me--reluctantly--"

"Not Riddle, is it?"

This had taken Minerva by surprise. She had never found the Headmaster particularly clairvoyant, and it shocked her into an admission.

"Why yes, it is."

"Poor boy. You know his history, don't you? Mother died in child-birth, father unknown, presumed--erm--otherwise engaged. Young Tom has been brought up in an orphanage in London ever since."

"He said he was named after his father—who was a great wizard—and that his mother was a Muggle."

"Ah yes, that nonsense. His poor mother--very young she was, and undoubtedly delirious on her deathbed-- named him after a wealthy landowner in Northumberland, who by-the-by is no wizard at all. Apparently she was from the area. It was presumed that she did so to wish a kind of benison on the boy, in hopes that linkage with that family might allow him to hold his head a little higher when he came of age, but she did him no favor. Strange, is it not, the things people will do, out of love—or desperation?"

Now Minerva smiled grimly at her younger self. Was it love or pride that kept her from then and there revealing Tom's plan to confront Hagrid and his monster that very night?

Only later did she realize their mistake as she witnessed Hagrid's heartfelt pleading: He were on'y a baby…my little Aragog never hurt no one… That moon-faced young oaf, facing the loss of his wand and a term in Azkaban, was more worried about the well-being of his toxic pet than his own fate. She knew then: there was no way Rubeus Hagrid could be the Heir of Slytherin.

She said as much to Tom, but he taunted her softheartedness and made a full report to the Headmaster and the staff.

Professor Dumbledore had been away during the incident, but at Hagrid's Unwanding, he had given her a look of such piercing sadness, she could not help but believe that he knew she had been involved. She left Hogwarts, unforgiveably hurt by Tom's hiding his orphaned status from her, but worse by that look of Dumbledore's. The subject never came up again, even when he hired her as the school's Transfiguration teacher, but she still felt it like a stray pin in the folds of her clothing, pricking her at odd times, and, on occasion, drawing blood.

~*~

Her thoughts were interrupted by a sound of whispering and movement coming from the office. Probably the old Heads were up and discussing the tragic events. They would bombard her with questions, as they had after the staff meeting. She had fled them then; she could not do so now. She had to make her search, and there was a chance that the portrait of Albus would speak to her, although it could not say anything she did not already know. That was the nature of such phenomena; they were really not much more than memories the living had of the dead. It might steady her though, just to hear his voice.

The office door was open a crack. She stiffened. She had locked it earlier, since the Headmaster's death negated the charm on the gargoyle guarding its entrance. At the time, she had not seen fit to do more than a simple Colloportus and warding.

She peered through the opening. She could see pinpoints of light moving near the desk, and made out a familiar silhouette against a window. Rufus Scrimgeour! There was no mistaking that leonine head tossing restlessly about, as she'd had a chance to study it in detail on his earlier visit. And it was obvious now that the hunger she'd seen in his eyes back then had a different, more ominous intention than the appointment of a new Head. And he now had come back for whatever it was that first aroused that appetite.

She had a sudden urge to kick open the door and confront him. But could she face down a host of Aurors as well? She had tried that once and it had put her in the hospital. And Rufus Scrimgeour was the Prime Minister. In a sense the office was his already, because even if the Board of Governors opted to keep Hogwarts open, it would likely fall to him to appoint the new Head.

What could he be searching for? She'd had little to do with the new minister until recently. She had seen him walking with Harry Potter around the lake after Dumbledore's funeral. The Minister had looked, by turns, sympathetic, agitated, and finally furious, walking off in a huff back to the school. And Molly Weasley had once confided after an Order meeting that Scrimgeour had interrupted the family Christmas dinner to speak alone with Harry. A shrewd political move that,seeking the benison of the 'The Chosen One.'

Yes, Scrimgeour wanted something--information about Harry, perhaps, and his special relationship with the Headmaster--information she was seeking too, but to help Harry defeat Tom, not to prop up the Ministry. But any interference by Scrimgeour would likely ruin Albus's plans to save the Magicosm, as Cornelius Fudge had almost managed to do. She could not allow this to happen. Albus's last, perhaps his most crucial work, must not be thwarted

These insights were like the last Bundimun in the rafters of her depression. Minerva's decayed, discouraged mind-set came crashing down about her, leaving only the strongest timber standing. Before she knew what she was doing, she had pushed through the archway and shouted an Incendio that lit up the room. Every torch, every candle, even the fireplace, burst forth with a scalding light. The intruders—there were about ten of them—were immediately blinded. By memory alone, for her eyes too were incapacitated by the glare, she wished a multiple-forked Body Bind at all of them, except for Scrimgeour who was out of range on her right, and they thumped to the floor without knowing what hit them. Slowly regaining her sight, she turned to the Minister of Magic, her wand pointed at his heart, and thundered, "What is the meaning of this?!"

The Minister cowered behind a chair, shielding his face. "Ah, Professor McGonagall, is that you?"

"Who else would it be?"

"I can explain our presence here. We were—ah--setting up posts to guard any—ah—sensitive information that might be useful to the Death Eaters—you know—student records and the like." He straightened up and essayed a show of dignity. "We must not allow the Dark Lord knowledge of our students' backgrounds and whereabouts, especially the Muggleborns--."

With a peremptory wrist flick, Minerva accio-ed his wand to her. "A pretty tale, Minister. But more likely, you were going to confiscate those records for some nefarious purpose of your own. What would you use them for, I wonder? I'll wager Rita Skeeter would love to hear about this. She could come up with a dozen plausible and highly scandalous reasons that she could write about in her odious column--"

"Professor, please! The Ministry's reputation is none too strong at the moment. If you were to—"

"The truth, Minister. I want the truth."

He sagged against the wall. "We are concerned—and rightly so—about the antics of certain of your pupils."

"Let me guess: Harry Potter."

"Erm…yes…among others. He has recently shown a disturbing tendency towards open rebellion. I am very much afraid that he's taken this "Chosen One" designation too much to heart. And Dumbledore encouraged him, I'm sure of it. Now that he's dead, I'm afraid Potter will do something rash—something that would bring Voldemort's wrath down upon us all.

And likely kill him in the process."

Of--of course.

"And you were looking for something that might tell you of Harry's and Dumbledore's plans."

"Ye—esss."

"I'm afraid I can't let you do that, Minister."

"Whyever not?"

"Touched as I am by your concern for his well-being, I have to say that Harry Potter's business is his own. Whatever he and Albus Dumbledore have set up for the foiling of the Dark Lord's plans will have to be allowed to go forward without the Ministry's solicitous attentions."

"But..."

"But--I will promise not to send a photo of this motley crew of yours to the papers with a full report on your skullduggery—if you will do one small thing for me."

"What is that?"

She took a deep breath and uttered words that moments ago she'd had no idea of entertaining. "Recommend to the Board of Governors that the school remain open, and that I be made Headmistress."

Relief flooded his face. "That's easily done. You were, in fact, on my short-list. But I thought you—"

"Whatever impression I might have given no longer applies, Minister. I see now that we need the school to be a haven for anyone who wants to come here, and not only students--whole families, if they choose to do so." And, she thought, even the Chosen One, should he need to make a strategic retreat. "Everyone needs to learn defensive measures—more than ever. Not just that milquetoast mumbo-jumbo in your Ministry pamphlets."

"Dumbledore would have been able to make this place safe. I'm not so sure that you are able—"

"I set up these protections with Albus. And now he is dead, and it seems that I have just been resurrected. Or some important part of me has been, something that was sleeping or dead. I must thank you and your bully-boys for that."

"Potter's a menace. He—"

"Harry will do what he must, what we have trained him for. That is the purpose of a school, Minister, to give young people the tools to do the work they were destined to accomplish. If we have done our work well, then we shall all be rewarded."

"And if not—"

"We will be here to help them pick up the pieces. Now go, Minister, and take your little toe-rags with you. I have work to do."

//
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