All was quiet in Hogwarts as Minerva McGonagall paced the halls. It was late afternoon, and even with the extended curfew there were no students about, although there were very few in the castle to begin with. The Express had left earlier in the day, carrying most of the student body home for the holidays, leaving only a baker's dozen to rattle around within the suddenly too-large building.
I suppose, Minerva mused to herself as she turned at the end of the Charms corridor, that it was only to be expected. These attacks have everyone on edge. High cackling at the end of the hall had her increasing her pace. That kind of laughter could only mean one thing: Peeves was up to his usual tricks, and it would be up to someone to ensure they didn't get out of hand.
Some hours later, after foiling an attempt by Peeves to turn several major staircases into icicles by flooding them with freezing water, Minerva returned to her rooms and got ready for bed. As she removed the pins from her hair, she perused the mirror that showed her the Gryffindor common room, checking in on her lions one last time for the night. The mirror showed a quiet scene – the three youngest Weasley boys and Harry Potter were seated on the floor in front of the fire, playing a card game, while Hermione Granger sat curled up on a nearby couch with a large book on her lap. The boys started back from the cards as Ronald's hand went up with a muted bang, and Minerva smiled indulgently. Exploding Snap, then. Shaking her head just a little at the boys' antics, Minerva went to bed. There seemed to be no major damage to the Tower in the offing, and the children were on break. If they slept in some the next morning, well, where was the harm in that?
The Gryffindor common room was not nearly as quiet the next day. The children had decided to practice duelling, and Minerva was often distracted from the papers she was trying to grade by the muted 'bangs' and flashes of light coming from her mirror. Shortly before tea, Minerva gave up the last few essays as a bad job and sat back in her chair to watch the chaos.
The children had pushed the furniture up against the walls so they would have enough space, and Harry and one of the twins were facing off against each other. As she watched, the other twin's hand dropped in a signal to start and the two were firing spells and dodging. Before long, Harry's reflexes won out, and his opponent's wand was flying through the air. Good-natured laughter and teasing drifted from the glass.
Minerva frowned, pursing her lips. On the one hand, it was probably wise for the students to know some basic defensive skills, particularly with the Chamber opening and all the attacks. On the other, she rather wished they had not decided to practice in the common room without proper supervision. While it would only take her a few minutes to get to the tower if she was needed, that was still plenty of time for a miscast spell to go seriously wrong.
Not, she reflected, watching as Harry returned the twin's wand and the boys took to teasing Hermione into a bout, that they have as many options for supervision as I might like. Strictly speaking, it was the Defence professor's job to oversee such practice bouts, but with Gilderoy being worse than useless, it was no surprise they hadn't approached him. The next best option would have been Filius, but like herself he was mired in the paperwork that accompanied being head of house and it was unlikely that they would have thought of approaching him in the first place.
The twins had evidently been successful, and Hermione stood, brushing off her jeans and drawing her wand. She was going up against the other twin, and no sooner had the bout been started than she was firing off charms. The spells weren't quite as quick or powerful as Harry's to be sure – goodness knew the boy would be quite the force to be reckoned with, when he grew into his magic, he had so much of it – but she was displaying a variety that Minerva definitely approved of. As she watched, Hermione used a summoning charm, weaker than it should be but still impressive for a second year attempting a fourth year charm, to coax a cushion from the couch behind her opponent into smacking him in the back. There was a brief uproar of laughter as the twin stumbled, arms windmilling before he tumbled theatrically to the ground.
Minerva smiled fondly. Oh, a professor should never have favourites among the students, but there was no denying that these particular lions were dear to her heart.
Three days before Christmas and Minerva's entrance to the Great Hall for breakfast was interrupted by a sudden flare of red and gold sparks emanating from the visors of the suits of armour around the Entrance Hall. Sighing, Minerva went to investigate.
It wasn't hard to determine the cause. The remains of a Filibuster Firework lay smouldering gently in each affected helmet, along with a charred cup. Some quick wandwork identified the spells involved: a simple cantrip that would, upon a predetermined signal, would upend the cup of water on the firework and set it off. Shaking her head, Minerva vanished the fireworks and cups, then proceeded into the hall. There was exactly one team of pranksters who would pull this off, and as she knew they would be returning to the Gryffindor common room that afternoon, she was determined to have at least one meal before she tried to stem the chaos.
Much of the morning was spent removing 'enhancements' from the decorations. Minerva couldn't help but shake her head at the ingenuity of some of the work involved – not only had the twins rigged several statues with fireworks, woven some sort of sticky web into the icicles hanging from banisters, and added far more mistletoe to doorways and ceilings than made any sense, but they had also charmed a few statues to sing carols in a manner much like a barbershop quartet. If they only put as much work into their coursework as they did their pranks, Minerva mused, summoning the sticky strands from the ice, they'd easily be top of their year.
Minerva's route eventually took her by the Hospital Wing, where she found Poppy, standing in the door and looking torn between amusement and irritation. "Is everything alright, Poppy?"
"Oh, Minerva. I went out to discuss the potion stores with Severus, and when I got back, well..." she waved a hand at the ward, and opened the door a little more so that Minerva could get a look. "I can't have been gone for more than half an hour, forty minutes at most."
Minerva peeked in, and could immediately understand Poppy's dilemma. The screens around the petrified patients had been moved aside, and the beds lavishly decorated. Garlands decorated with fairy lights and multicoloured ornaments wound around the head and foot boards, and boughs of holly covered the bedside tables. Even the bedclothes reflected the season, as the blankets cycled through various colours (red, green, and silver-white) with the occasional Christmas tree or snowflake designs.
Then she noticed the robe on the floor, sticking out from behind one of the beds. Tapping Poppy on the shoulder, she pointed it out. The nurse stared at it for a moment, before her mouth set in a thin line. Gesturing for silence, she slipped forward, drawing her wand, before rounding on the figure hiding between the beds. There was a yelp, and then she sighed, lowering her wand. "Weasley. I should have known."
Minerva drifted into the room, curious. "Well come on lad," Poppy was saying. "Up you get now. And where's that brother of yours? There's never just one of you when there's mischief to be had."
"Here, Poppy." Minerva called, spotting a Weasley twin hiding behind a cart of medical supplies as his twin scrabbled upright.
"Professor, Madam Pomfrey, how lovely to see you!" one said.
"That's all well and good, Weasley, but kindly explain this!" Poppy pointed at the petrified students and their beds.
"We were sitting in the common room, behaving ourselves," one began.
"When it occurred to us, you see, that the petrified people hadn't a chance to see the castle all decorated and such." The other went on.
"So we said to ourselves, 'lads, if they can't go to the decorations, we'll have to bring the decorations to them,'" the first twin said.
"So really," the second twin said, spreading his hands and giving the two women a grin, "we were just trying to bring a little Christmas cheer."
"Shall I deal with them, Poppy?" Minerva asked.
"Please," the nurse rubbed her forehead. "I don't think I can deal with any more of their antics today."
Minerva nodded sharply, then gestured to the twins. "Come along you two, to my office."
"Between the two of us," Poppy murmured to her colleague as they watched the twins traipse out of the Hospital Wing, "I suppose it was a rather nice gesture."
"And that," Minerva replied, "is why they will not be spending this evening scrubbing floors." Nodding a goodbye to Poppy, she swept out after her students. "Come along Mister Weasley, Mister Weasley."
The twins were quiet as she led them to her office, no doubt wondering how much trouble they were in and trying to determine if they could talk their way out of it. Minerva did not enlighten them – it was good for them to stew occasionally, after all. Opening the door to her office, she gestured them inside.
"Now then," she began, rounding her desk to sit opposite them, "I have spent most of my morning dealing with your additions to the decorations. Would either of you be so good as to tell me why you thought they were necessary?" She gave them her best stare over the top of her glasses.
The twins shifted a little, nudging each other.
"I am waiting, gentlemen."
"We just wanted to make them a little more exciting," one of the boys said in a rush, tripping over his words.
"Yeah," his brother agreed. "The decorations are nice, of course, but they're so quiet. We wanted to spruce them up a bit, that's all."
"I see." Minerva straightened her glasses a bit for effect, then raised an eyebrow. "And the Hospital Wing?"
"Just bringing some Christmas for the victims of the attacks." The first brother insisted, his twin nodding beside him.
"Well, as your intentions were noble, I believe that detentions and point loss won't be necessary." Minerva bit back a smile as the boys looked at each other in relief. "However, as a general rule, you should refrain from bringing things into the Hospital Wing, or casting spells while inside. Some of the spells and potions Madam Pomfrey uses can be quite sensitive, and you wouldn't want to trigger a reaction when there are helpless individuals in range."
"No Professor," the twins agreed, looking a little more solemn. It was clear to Minerva that they hadn't considered that particular fact.
"Good. Now then, I expect that you have places to be, so you are free to go. The weather," she added as the twins hurried to the door, "is particularly fine for those wishing to enjoy the snow."
"Yes Professor," they chorused, and then they were gone.
Minerva sat back and smiled a little, then turned as her fire went green and the Headmaster's face appeared in the flames. "Ah, Albus, good morning."
"Good morning Minerva. I was just flooing to enquire about the singing statues on the second floor. They serenaded me with a particularly good rendition of 'God Rest Ye Merry, Hippogriffs' as I was walking past. I asked Filius, but he insists he had nothing to do with it."
"Two of my fourth years were responsible for that particular piece of work, Albus, although I may have...modified it a bit."
"Did you really, Minerva?" Albus gave her a mock-serious look over the top of his glasses, then spoiled the effect entirely by chuckling. "I must say, it was quite clever spell work."
Minerva smiled. "Do you wish me to undo the spells?"
"Not at all! I rather like them. We may as well leave them up through Christmas at the least, assuming, of course, that the spells hold."
"I don't see why they wouldn't."
"Excellent, excellent. I'll see you at dinner, my dear." With that Albus pulled his head back through the fire, and was gone.
Christmas Eve morning found Minerva in Greenhouse three with Pomona, discussing the Mandrakes. "I've been doing everything I can with them to hurry them along a bit," the shorter witch said, curls bobbing as she shook her head, "but there's only so much a body can do, really. We've only lost one of them, thank goodness, but they won't be mature until mid-May at the earliest."
Minerva sighed, but nodded. Fresh, mature Mandrake was nearly impossible to come by, as their relatively high lethality and very specific growth requirements made cultivating them difficult for anyone less than a Herbology Master. "I trust your judgement, Pomona."
Pomona snorted. "And thank you for that, Minerva, unlike some fools I could name." At Minerva's raised eyebrow, she went on, biting sarcasm dripping from every word. "Gilderoy Lockhart saw fit to advise me on some minor matters a few weeks ago."
The other woman snorted. "Gilderoy Lockhart is indeed a fool. It is a pity that Albus can't sack him, but if he did that we'd have nobody to teach Defence, so I'm afraid we're stuck with him until he finds someone better."
"Which means through the second week of June at least," Pomona sighed, picking up her trowel and moving to a tray of seedlings. "Such a shame. Did I tell you what that man said to Poppy after the last staff meeting?"
A pleasant half-hour of mocking the Defence professor followed, and it was nearly lunchtime before Minerva left the greenhouses, wrapping her cloak firmly around herself. As she trudged up the hill through the snow, the sound of shrieks and laughter drifted down to meet her. Rounding a corner, she was mildly surprised to see her lions, all but Percy, having a snowball fight near the front doors of the castle.
It seemed to be her second years versus the Weasley twins and their sister. Fred and George were peppering both Ronald and Harry with snowballs, while Ginny got off a snowball here and there. The younger boys gave nearly as good as they got, and what they lacked in accuracy they made up for in enthusiasm. Hermione wasn't throwing nearly as many snowballs as the boys, but the ones she did throw nearly always hit.
The twins spotted Minerva first. "Professor!" they chorused, waving at her cheerfully. "Isn't it a lovely morning?" The flying snow largely came to a halt as the other children saw her and said their own good mornings.
"It is indeed a very lovely morning, Misters Weasley." Minerva gave her lions a slight smile. "Do remember that lunch is in a half-hour, and you probably would prefer not to attend with wet clothes." There was a raggedly chorused "Yes Professor," and she nodded before sweeping inside and attending to her own damp cloak and robes. She rather thought she would speak to the house-elves about providing hot chocolate or warm cider with lunch today – just the thing for a cold winter morning, particularly when one's been outside.
Sighing to herself, Minerva sat back in her favourite armchair. The house-elves had once again outdone themselves with Christmas dinner, and she was feeling pleasantly stuffed. A tea-tray had been sent up, and she planned on spending the rest of the afternoon sitting by the fire, drinking tea and reading her new book.
She hadn't gotten more than half a chapter into the book when the fire flared green and Poppy's head appeared in the flames. "Minerva, I'll need you to come to the Hospital Wing. Miss Granger's been in a potion's accident of some type, and I believe I'll need your expertise."
"Of course, Poppy. I'll be there momentarily." Marking her place in the book, Minerva stood, repressing a sigh. So much for a quiet afternoon. Then again, she mused, as she made her way to the Hospital Wing, what else might one expect from Hogwarts?