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Professor McGonagall Delivers A Letter

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It was the summer of 1994 when Professor Minerva McGonagall found herself dressed in Muggle clothing while facing a pale brick house situated at the edge of a small English town. She nodded approvingly at the trimmed lawn and well-maintained garden before striding purposefully to the door. This was not her first time conducting this sort of visit, and as she knocked on the door she prayed that this time no one would scream, faint, or threaten to notify the police of a madwoman at their doorstep.

Professor McGonagall had nothing against Muggles, but even she had to admit that they could be tiring.

McGonagall knocked sharply at the door. She heard footsteps from within the house, and moments later a woman who couldn’t be much older than thirty opened the door. A quizzical look passed over her attractive features, deepening when she saw McGonagall’s clothes. The witch could only suppress a sigh. It was impossible to keep up with Muggle fashion, and some days she wondered why she bothered to try.

“May I help you?” the woman asked politely.

“Yes you may,” McGonagall said. “My name is Minerva McGonagall, and I am the Deputy Headmistress of a small private school, and the name Matilda Wormwood has appeared on our lists. May I presume that I am speaking with Mrs. Wormwood?”

The young woman’s pale cheeks flushed red. “I, er, not exactly. My name is Jennifer Honey, Miss Jennifer Honey.” She glanced down the street as if worried that someone might see or hear. “Why don’t you come in?”

Miss Honey stepped aside, allowing Professor McGonagall to pass into the brightly-lit entrance way. McGonagall was led to an open sitting room with a fireplace, obviously unlit in the summer heat. Above the fireplace was a large portrait of a man who bore a passing resemblance to young Miss Honey.

“Would you care for tea, Ms. McGonagall?” Miss Honey asked. “I just put a kettle on. It should be read any minute.”

“No, thank you,” Professor McGonagall said. “Is Matilda about by chance? It would be best if I were able to speak to both of you at once.”

“Just a moment. And, please, sit.”

Professor McGonagall eased into a comfortable settee while Miss Honey went up the stairs to the upper level of the house. Next to her was an end table stacked high with books. The first was a thick textbook, its cover adorned with complex mathematical equations not unlike what McGonagall taught in her NEWT level Transfiguration classes.

Again McGonagall found herself nodding with approval. She had spent some time watching the house in the form of a plain tabby cat with spectacle markings around the eyes, and knew that Matilda Wormwood and Jennifer Honey were the only two who lived in the house. A curiosity glance at the book – labeled Calculus II – was enough to tell McGonagall that it was not the girl’s, for there were precious few adults who could manage advanced mathematics, let alone an eleven year old child. She could appreciate any woman who took the effort to advance their education in such a way.

Moments later Miss Honey was descending down the stairs again, this time followed by the Wormwood girl. They looked nothing alike. Miss Honey was thin, with pale blonde hair and bright blue eyes hidden behind round spectacles. There was a fragility to her, as if a stiff wind might knock her sideways, and a timidity in her body language that was not present in the young girl. Matilda was tall for eleven, her long brown hair tied back in a ribbon. Sharp, inquisitive eyes studied Professor McGonagall, taking note of each eccentricy in her appearance, but not reacting as Miss Honey had just minutes earlier.

“Matilda, this is Ms. Minerva McGonagall. She says she’s the Deputy Headmistress of…” Miss Honey’s voice trailed off, and she chanced another glance at her houseguest. “Where did you say you were from again?”

“I’m afraid I haven’t,” Professor McGonagall said. She turned her attention to the girl. “And I take it you are Matilda Wormwood?”

“Matilda Honey. Mum adopted me six years ago,” the girl corrected. “How do you do?”

“Very well, thank you. It’s a pleasure to meet you at last,” Professor McGonagall said. The three women paused after the greetings. The air was polite, if understandably confused on the side of the two Honeys. Professor McGonagall cleared her throat.

“As was said, I am the Deputy Headmistress of a small school. I would be surprised if you have ever heard of it.”

“I’m a teacher myself,” Miss Honey said. “I know all of the schools in the area.”

“I’m afraid this particular institution is a long distance away. It’s a special school, for specially gifted children. Have you noticed, Miss Honey, that your daughter is, perhaps, a little…different than other girls her age?”

The furrow between Miss Honey’s eyebrows deepened, and suddenly Professor McGonagall wished this was not part of her job. She was far too blunt to handle the delicacies of explaining the existence of the magical world to Muggles. Dumbledore, with his unique charm and air of infinite wisdom, was much better at this sort of thing than she would ever be.

But of course Albus Dumbledore was far too busy to go to every Muggle-born witch or wizard, especially with the rumors that were beginning to circulate once more. This was her duty, and she would perform it, if not exceptionally, then capably.

“Is this about the paper?” Miss Honey asked. “I was under the impression that wasn’t going to be published until the New Year.”

“I’m not aware of any paper, Miss Honey,” Professor McGonagall said. “I am here today as a representative of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I know this might be difficult to hear, but your daughter is a witch.”

The house went very quiet. Miss Honey was spellshocked while Matilda looked contemplative, and Professor McGonagall took advantage of the silence to continue on. She took out her wand, and with a flick of her wrist Conjured a small table. Two taps later and there was a tea tray and biscuits. It was rude to make tea appear seemingly out of nowhere when Miss Honey had already offered some, but over the years Professor McGonagall had found that this was one of the best ways to convince Muggles that magic truly existed. She took the biscuit plate and offered it to the mother.

“I know this is a shock,” Professor McGonagall said apologetically. “Please, have a ginger snap.”

“So the reason I can move things with my eyes is because I’m a witch?” Matilda said, helping herself to two.

Professor McGonagall turned to Matilda sharply. “You can move objects with your eyes?”

“Not anymore,” Miss Honey said faintly. “Not since she was five years old.” She took a deep, shuddering breath, and with it collected herself once more. “Magic. I always wondered, but when you couldn’t do any more…I just assumed…”

She trailed off again and shook her head. This time it was Professor McGonagall that was at a loss of what to say. She busied herself with pouring three cups of tea that were gratefully accepted. “Perhaps,” Professor McGonagall said, “it would be best if you explained to me what happened when Matilda was five years old. I shall, of course, do my best to answer any questions that you have afterword.”

The two Honeys shared a significant look, and Miss Honey said, “Go on, dear. It’s your story.”

“It’s our story,” Matilda said, but she turned to face Professor McGonagall anyway. “I lived with my biological parents and older brother until I was five years old. None of them showed the slightest hint of magical ability.”

“That is not unheard of,” Professor McGonagall said. “While magic tends to follow familial lines, it is both possible for magical parents to give birth to non-magical children and for magical children to be born from non-magical parents. Although with a name like Wormwood I would not be surprised if you had a witch or wizard for an ancestor.”

Matilda nodded thoughtfully. “My parents didn’t speak much of their families. I never knew any of my grandparents.” She smiled wryly. “P’haps they were ashamed of my Mum and Dad. They weren’t very good people. Dad was crooked as they came, and all Mum did was play bingo and watch American soaps. They used to make me so mad that I wanted to explode. They even forgot to enroll me in school for half a year, and ripped up my library books when I wouldn’t watch the telly with them.”

“Matilda is uncommonly intelligent,” Miss Honey added. “I was thinking of having her start university soon.”

Professor McGonagall did a double take. She knew little enough of Muggle schooling, but she wasn’t stupid. “So this textbook…?” she asked, nodding towards the end table.

“Is mine,” Matilda said. “Mum has me working with a tutor three times a week. In fact, I’m supposed to meet him at the library in half an hour.”

“I see,” Professor McGonagall demurred, though her mind was racing with possibilities. “Please, continue with your story.”

“Well, I was finally allowed to go to school, but the headmistress kept me in the bottom form and forbade me from working on more advanced material. Miss Honey did what she could to help, but her hands were tied.”

“She was your teacher?” Professor McGonagall asked.

“Yes,” Matilda said. “She was wonderful, but the headmistress…” Her eyes flickered to Miss Honey, who was sitting very still, with a white-knuckled grip on her teacup. “The headmistress was worse than my parents. One day she accused me of putting a newt in her water pitcher – a crime I didn’t commit, and she had no proof otherwise – and I got so angry that I used my eyes to spill the pitcher on her from the other side of the room.”

Matilda paused her narrative, her expression solemn. She looked much older than eleven, and when she spoke again Professor McGonagall knew she was choosing her words with great care. “After that, I knew that I could move just about anything if I put my mind to it. It didn’t matter how heavy, or how far I wanted to go. If I could just concentrate hard enough, nothing was out of my grasp. I used my power twice more, but I didn’t move anything heavier than a piece of chalk. Shortly after that, Miss Trunchbull left the school and I was moved to the highest grade. My parents had to flee to Spain to avoid the police, and Mum adopted me. I’ve been happy ever since, and I haven’t been able to use my power. For awhile I tried. I thought it would be nice to be able to move things with my mind all the time. When I couldn’t, I figured Mum was right and it was gone for good.”

“You knew of these episodes?” Professor McGonagall asked Miss Honey.

“I was present for most of them,” Miss Honey said. “I thought that her frustration at home and school was the root cause.” Twin spots of pink formed on her cheeks. “I thought it was her incredible brain power,” she said, embarrassed. “When she was able to use her mind to its fullest potential there was no need for it anymore.”

Frustration certainly played a part of it, and Professor McGonagall had to take a moment to catch her breath, wondering how close they had been to disaster. Most children first displayed their magical ability in periods of extreme duress, but to be able to actually control the outpouring of energy was much rarer, especially without the use of a wand. Without intervention young Matilda Wormwood could have become another Credence Barebone or Carrietta White.

Professor McGonagall took a deep breath and another sip of tea. “While I am sorry to hear of the circumstances that you discovered your magic, it is for the best that you both have been aware of it. Which brings me back to my purpose for this visit: It is imperative for Matilda to receive a magical education. Without learning proper control, it is entirely possible for more of these episodes to happen in the future, and as she gets older they will only become more powerful.”

Professor McGonagall pulled out Matilda’s acceptance letter and list of school supplies. She handed it to Miss Honey for her inspection before continuing to speak. “Most magical children in Britain go to Hogwarts. I may be biased, but it is one of the best schools in the world, and at the end of seven years of study Matilda will emerge a fully-qualified witch. Of course parents retain the right to educate their children as they see fit, but pardon me for saying it Miss Honey, as a Muggle you are not qualified to handle your daughter’s magical education alone.”

“Muggle?” Miss Honey said, looking up from the papers.

“Excuse me, it’s the term we use for a non-magical person,” Professor McGonagall said.

“I see,” Miss Honey said quietly. She worried her bottom lip. “Matilda, you’re going to be late for your lesson if you don’t hurry.”

“I can’t go to the library today!” Matilda exclaimed. “Mum, I’m a witch. I have so many questions…”

“Ms…” Miss Honey glanced at the class list again. “Pardon me, Professor McGonagall will be here when you return. Go get your things.” 

“But Mum!”

Miss Honey gave Matilda a look. “It would be extremely rude to cancel your lesson at the last minute, especially since Professor Hawthorne has come down from Oxford. Professor McGonagall will be able to answer all of your questions once you finish. Am I right?”

Miss Honey shifted her gaze from her daughter to Professor McGonagall, and the old witch wondered if perhaps she hadn’t underestimated the Muggle teacher. There was fire in her pale eyes and a stubborn set to her jaw. She wasn’t asking, not really, and Professor McGonagall smiled.

“Of course.”

Matilda got up with a huff, but she didn’t argue. Professor McGonagall finished her tea and reached for another biscuit while the girl gathered a book bag and put on her shoes. She kissed Miss Honey hurriedly on the cheek. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” she said, making it sound like a threat. “Don’t talk about anything interesting without me!”

She dashed out the door. As soon as it clicked closed Miss Honey let out a long sigh, her shoulders slumping forward. “I’m sorry. This is all very sudden, and I have questions of my own.”

Questions she apparently didn’t want her daughter to hear. Professor McGonagall nodded her understanding. “I’ve made dozens of these types of calls during my tenure. You both are actually handling this all quite well. How can I help?”

Miss Honey hesitated, but it seemed that whatever was bothering her could not be contained, because a moment later she blurted, “Is it a good school? I don’t mean the classes - I wouldn’t know how to tell good from bad there – but what of the school itself? I’ve…I-I mean Matilda has gone through enough difficulty already, and I know the secrets that can be hidden behind closed doors.”

There was a sadness to her tone that indicated that Matilda had not given all the details of her tale. As much as she wanted to, was not Professor McGonagall’s place to pry. Professor McGonagall refilled the young woman’s cup – the Muggle way, as not to startle her – and said, “The current Headmaster of Hogwarts is a man by Albus Dumbledore. He’s renowned throughout the magical community as the best wizard of the age.”

“Fame and ability don’t necessarily equate to goodness,” Miss Honey said bitterly.

“No, but along with his accomplishments in the field of academic research he champions the rights of Muggles, half-bloods, part-humans, and other sentient non-humans.”

“Part-humans? Sentient non-humans?” She shook her head disbelievingly. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Professor McGonagall chuckled. “Surely you’ve heard of werewolves and centaurs? There is a whole world that you are not aware of, as you and Matilda will both find out.” The smile faded. “There are those who would discriminate against such people, but it is Hogwarts’ policy to accept anyone who wishes to learn.”

“But won’t she be behind?” Miss Honey said. “If there are children who have grown up knowing all about magic and werewolves and M-muggles…” she stumbled over the unfamiliar word, “then she’ll start off hopelessly disadvantaged.”

“Not as much as you might think,” the professor said. “Matilda isn’t the only Muggle-born in her year, and there are more still who are half-blood – that is to say one magical parent and one not. Even children who grow up in entirely magical households don’t typically receive their first wand until they start school, and it is forbidden for underage witches and wizards to preform magic. Why, there’s a Muggle-born only a few years Matilda’s senior who is easily the best in her class. A bright girl like her should have no problem catching up.”

“That’s another thing. These classes!” Miss Honey laid out Matilda’s schedule on the table. “There are no mathematics and no science, to say nothing of literature or grammar. It seems rather unbalanced.”

“Parents are expected to tutor their children in the basics of reading and cyphering before entering school, which you seem to have done a fine job of. I teach equations in my Transfiguration class, and if I’m not mistaken Potions is very similar to the Muggle study of Chemistry. Starting in Third Year, Matilda will be able to take Arithmancy, which is the study of the magical properties of numbers. Other electives are also made available at that time.”

“I see,” Miss Honey said.

“I would be remiss, however, not to emphasize that Hogwarts offers a magical education,” Professor McGonagall said. “In that sense, we are limited in what we teach.”

Miss Honey considered this, her mouth drawing into a troubled frown. “You said there are other children like Matilda, those who never learn of their ability until they start school.”

“Yes.”

“Why is that?” Miss Honey said. “Why was Matilda allowed to go so long without knowing what she is? Were her parents aware?”

“Having never met them, I cannot answer that question,” Professor McGonagall said. “It is a difficult thing to accept, but secrecy is an unfortunate necessity to the wizarding world. Except in very special circumstances, it is illegal for a witch or wizard to interfere with Muggle affairs, or to let them know about the existence of magic.”

“And who is enforcing such a law?” Miss Honey said.

“The Ministry of Magic, of course, although the Statute of Secrecy is an international agreement. There is reason for it,” Professor McGonagall said kindly, trying to soothe over Miss Honey’s clearly ruffled feathers. “Even if Britain were enlightened enough to accept us – which is debatable – there are other places in the world that clearly are not. It would be war.”

Miss Honey nodded mutely.

“And, unfortunately enough, there are some of my kind who believe that wizards are superior to Muggles,” said Professor McGonagall. “They are a rare but rather vocal minority, and the kind of people Dumbledore wishes to silence most. That’s why I am here personally instead of simply sending off an owl. Your daughter has just as much right to a magical education as any pureblood. She’s proven that much already.”

Miss Honey scrubbed her face with her hands, looking suddenly very tired. “I can hardly believe what you’re hearing. But you’re right. If this is what Matilda is, she needs to learn.” She laughed hollowly. “I was going to send her away to University anyway. Surely this is no different.”

At that moment, Professor McGonagall decided that she rather liked Miss Jennifer Honey. The young woman was clearly struggling with the bombardments of revelation she’d received, but she was doing her best to accept them head on. There were many in McGonagall’s circle of acquaintances that would do well to do the same.

With Matilda’s decision to come to Hogwarts all but confirmed, Professor McGonagall offered Miss Honey her ticket onto the Hogwarts Express. She spent the next several minutes explaining how to get on the train and where they might go to purchase Matilda’s school supplies. She watched with some amusement as Miss Honey very carefully wrote out the conversion rate between Wizarding and Muggle money on a piece of scrap paper. The discussion tapered into the existence of the Owl Post, which seemed to baffle Miss Honey more than anything else Professor McGonagall had said thus far.

Finally Miss Honey seemed to run out of questions, and Professor McGonagall brought up one, last pressing matter.

“There is one more thing I would like to discuss before Matilda returns,” Professor McGonagall said. “I understand that it is a delicate subject, and forgive my prying, but is Matilda’s adoption legal?”

“That…depends on how you want to look at it,” Miss Honey said.

“I only ask,” Professor McGonagall said gently, “because Hogwarts students are enrolled at birth, under their birth names.”

“I assume that magic is involved?” Miss Honey said.

Professor McGonagall nodded. “In the event of a legal adoption, the name listed on the enrollment automatically changes. Your daughter is still listed as Matilda Wormwood.”

Miss Honey’s eyes fluttered closed, a pained expression passed over her face. “Assuming they’re not in prison, Matilda’s parents are fugitives of the law.”

“You’re not in trouble, Miss Honey,” Professor McGonagall, “and as I said, it is illegal for me to be involved in Muggle affairs. I am simply informing you how things stand now.” Her lips pursed into a nearly invisible line. “And I feel obligated to let you know that Wormwood is a Wizarding name, while Honey most certainly is not.”

“Does it make that much of a difference?” Miss Honey asked.

“It shouldn’t, but it might.” Professor McGonagall straightened her already perfect posture. “I would give you my word that any student in my House would be disciplined severely for discriminating against Matilda’s heritage.”

“Of course.” Miss Honey thought for a moment, before raising her head to look the professor in the eye. She no longer appeared timid, and Professor McGonagall confirmed to herself that this young woman had a spine of steel beneath her fragile appearance. “Thank you for being honest with me, Professor, but I think that this is something Matilda should decide for herself. After all, it was her idea in the first place.”

Professor McGonagall didn’t have time to ponder what in the world had led a five year old girl to suggest her own adoption before the front door burst open and Matilda bounded in. The girl was breathless, her face red and sweaty from her mad dash.

“You’re back already?” Miss Honey said.

“Of…of course!” Matilda panted before grinning enormously. “I toldya I’d be back once I was finished. Oh, before I forget!” She dug through her backpack and pulled out a thick three ring binder. “Dr. Hawthorne let me have a copy of the paper he submitted. Look, I’m listed as a contributor!”

Miss Honey smiled, and it brightened her entire countenance. There was unmistakable pride when she read the words Matilda Honey on the cover. Professor McGonagall leaned back in her chair and allowed herself a rare smile of her own. Somehow she thought she knew what name Matilda would choose.

And in the back of her mind, Professor McGonagall was beginning to think that Potter and his friends wouldn’t be the only ones making a stir this year. It would be good to have a little variety for once. Matilda Honey wasted no time with her own string of questions, voicing some of the same things her mother had earlier, but for the most part looking at things from the perspective of an eager eleven year old who had just been exposed to a whole world that she hadn’t known existed.

This is why I do this, Professor McGonagall thought as she fielded each and every inquiry. This is what makes it all worthwhile.

Yes, Professor McGonagall thought as she left two hours later, pleased but somehow exhausted by Matilda Honey’s energy, it was going to be a very interesting year indeed.