Some would have called the small Presbyterian kirk austere. Minerva called it home. And it had as much to do with the father she adored, who she was currently helping to hang the Christmas greens with, as it did her heavenly Father.
"Raise your side a couple of inches," her father instructed.
He gave a satisfied nod after she lifted the garland of holly up a little bit and he tacked it to the wall. "That's fine. Very fine."
The peace was broken by Malcolm and Robert Junior bursting into the sanctuary like the little hellions they were. She dreaded the day her younger brothers became equipped with wands.
Her father sighed a barely audible sigh, if he only knew the trouble they'd caused that morning his sigh would have been louder. The boys had caused Mrs. Brodie, who organized all the ladies' missions and was her mother's strongest criticizer, to grow a disproportionately large bum.
The boys, seven and five, had dissolved into a fit of giggles at their accidental magic before their mother had shrunk it back down to size and gave the distraught woman a forgetfulness charm. It had been intensely embarrassing and though she would never in a million years admit it to the scamps, a tiny bit amusing.
Mrs. Brodie had most definitely had it coming after suggesting that no minister as good and solemn as Reverend McGonagall could ever produce two such troublesome children, implying the unseemly about the boys' heritage, however veiled.
"Come on, children," her father said. "It's nearly dark, and I imagine your mother will have dinner ready soon."
It was only a short walk to the manse. He was no doubt more worried about them causing damage to the newly decorated kirk than from any sense of hunger or concern over the dark.
Minerva, herself, thought it a wise choice until they came upon their mother in the kitchen. She had her wand out fixing a simple dinner of cock-a-leekie soup and a plain loaf. It was an economical but filling meal that any pastor's wife could have been proud of except that it was made with magic.
"Isobel, how could you?" he said quietly but severely as if he had caught her in some great sin.
Her face colored red with anger. She was clearly ready for a fight. Their parents left them in the kitchen to continue their discussion in the privacy of their room.
"How can you expect me to eat that, knowing how it was made?" he asked, his voice carrying perfectly well in the small house, making the argument not private at all.
"It's not poison, Robert!" she said emotionally. "It's the same thing Muggles eat just a different method of getting there."
"I hate it when you call me that. I am a human being, not a Muggle."
Minerva looked down. "I think Father was wrong. It's only a little after 3. That gives you both almost half an hour of play."
As boys who loved the outdoors, she didn't have to tell them twice. She should have gone with them. She didn't know why she stayed to listen to her parents' argument. It tore her apart inside to hear their discord though she knew despite everything, despite their differences, they still loved each other.
"I didn't call you one!"
"There's no need to shout. What if someone had seen you through the window? Do you do this often?"
"I was careful. I'm not stupid. I just need a little magic every once in a while. Just to keep from feeling so stifled."
"I wasn't aware I was stifling you," he said as terrible in its coldness as her mother's voice was in raised passion.
The conversation ended at that, or at least, she wasn't able to hear anymore. They would make up. They always did, but the underlying tension was always there. She observed it and saw it in many different ways, the sometimes too loud silence, the red eyes, the cover-ups. Their unhappiness pained her, and she wondered if there was a place somewhere on this earth where people could exist together happily just being themselves.
October 4th 1946 was the day Minerva McGonagall turned eleven. It started out just a birthday like any other. Her mother fixed her favorite sponge cake, she opened her presents, one from every member of the family, including her brothers' homemade contributions, but that was where the normality ended.
She was in the middle of reading the back of the book she'd received from her father, The Wind in the Willows. It was a little fanciful perhaps, but it looked to be a diverting read and a good moral tale.
Her brothers' cries of "Look, look!" sent them all to the window to spot an owl winging its way straight towards the manse.
It wasn't unheard of to see an owl in the daytime. Many Muggles believed it to be a bad omen as it was so very rare to spot one in daylight hours, but it was also very within the realm of non-magical possibility. It was quite a handsome bird from what she could tell with orange eyes, brown feathers, and a severe but wise expression.
What wasn't so normal was that it carried a letter in its sharp talons and dropped it so that it slid under the front door with amazing precision and timing.
While she and her parents moved away for a closer look at the letter, Robert Jr. and Malcolm both still had their faces pressed against the glass as it perched for a few moments on a tree before turning back the way it had come. They were much more interested in the owl than the letter.
"Blimey, Dad! Can we get an owl?" Robert Jr. asked, breaking the silence, as if one could have an owl for a pet.
Her father usually a very composed man looked a little wild-eyed at the moment. He was running his hand through his thinning hair as if to soothe himself. "No, you may not." No doubt he was thinking about what he would he say if anyone asked at church tomorrow what a postal-bearing owl had been doing delivering a letter to his house.
Her mother had no such concern and had picked up the letter marked with her name and address. Minerva had never gotten mail before, and she wondered from who it could be. Her mother flipped it over where it bore a crest and a glob of wax to seal it.
"It's a letter from Hogwarts," her mother said with a trembling voice. Her eyes shimmered with a mix of pride and envy.
Minerva accepted it cautiously and slowly opened it and read silently, "Dear Ms. McGonagall, We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment. Term begins on September 1. We await your owl by no later than July 31."
She was so engrossed in this mysterious and wonderful letter, she hadn't realized her parents had become involved in yet another disagreement. This time it was about her.
"What is wrong with the school we have here?" her father asked. "She's done well enough. She has her friends and family and church. Everything she needs to know is here. I don't understand why she needs to go off to boarding school in England."
On the one hand, she was pleased her father didn't want her to go as it showed his love for her, but on the other hand, her heart sank at the prospect of not getting to go.
"You must let her go, Robert, or else, I'll have to teach her to control and use her powers here. And you know how closely the parish watches you, watches all of us."
She held her breath. She'd accept her father's decision. She was too old at eleven to cry over not getting her way, but the thought of being able to be who she was without hiding it and to learn in an environment that promised total acceptance was so wonderful that she could scarce contemplate it.
"Do you promise you'll say your prayers every night? To read your Bible every Sunday if you do it on no other day?"
"Of course," she answered. She was a little surprised and hurt that he thought he needed to ask her.
"Then I suppose it is for the best if you attend this school," he said, not able to say so ridiculous a name as Hogwarts.
Knowing he would be hurt if she acted too excited, she kept her show of excitement to a broad smile. She would miss her family, of course, but the opportunity to learn how to use her God-given gift among those like herself held an overwhelming appeal, and though she'd never say it and would hardly admit it herself, it would be nice to be away from the tension in her home as well. "Oh, thank you."
Her happiness that day was marred only by the tears of her mother that gave way to sobs in the privacy of her room. Sobs Minerva would remember for a long time to come.
Minerva was studiously taking in everything around her. There were more people than she'd ever seen at one time, towering buildings, and double-decker buses. And this was just the Muggle section of London.
She watched the people, especially the women who wore loose, permed and sometimes bleached waves, short skirts that hit the knees, and bright lipstick.
She looked at her own respectable light brown braids and a green tartan dress, 'a symbol of the McGonagall clan that showed pride in her Scottish and Muggle heritage'. Her father's exact words after he'd presented the new dress to her as a going-away present. Then she looked at her mother with her dark brown hair pinned up into a bun and a gray dress that had a skirt length resting at midcalf. They looked slightly out of fashion maybe, especially for London, but very respectable like a minister's family should. And no one could have guessed they would very soon be shopping for magical supplies for a magical school.
Her father had stayed in Scotland with her brothers. It was just as well. He wouldn't have liked London. It was too worldly, and had he been able to see some of the people walking the streets, he might not have approved of her being there either.
He certainly wouldn't have approved of his daughter walking into a pub, but her mother beckoned her in, and she followed. They didn't linger there, however. They went out behind it, to a courtyard, and her mother knocked on a brick.
She watched in amazement as a whole new world opened up where current fashion was thrown out the window, where store windows revealed items she'd only heard about from her mother or seen in her mother's locked box under the bed. And no one here would be surprised if one decided to play their father's bagpipes without the need for immense lung power and ear plugs until one mastered the sounds. In fact, they would probably be in agreement that bagpipes sounded better played the magical way.
It wasn't that magic was a stranger to her, but a magical community was. Her parents had been slow in telling her that she possessed magic. They were always ready with an explanation as to why this or that had happened. She had been eight before she fully realized it was her causing the out-of-the-ordinary things to happen, and they'd finally told her the truth.
She wished she could say it had created a more open household, but it hadn't been long before her mother had engaged her help in covering her brothers' tracks. It wasn't that her father hadn't been told when they'd developed the signs at a later age than Minerva had shown them, but he had held out hope that they might not have magic, and so the news had added to his stress load.
Minerva took a step backwards upon entering the bank. It was her first time seeing goblins, but then it was her first seeing a lot of things. If they didn't look like such serious creatures, one would almost be tempted to chuckle at their appearance, assuming one was prone to fits of laughter.
She watched her mother's confident strides and how easily she exchanged their Scottish currency for wizarding currency. She was completely at home here in a way she wasn't in Caithness.
Money in hand, they checked off items on the supply list, one-by-one: the robe, the pointed hat, the cauldron. They passed by the brooms she couldn't yet have but would be learning to fly soon. It wouldn't be much longer, and she'd look like a witch from a fairy story, and it gave her an uneasy feeling.
Was something about these things inherently wrong? They were things that might have gotten her burned to death if this were the 17th century rather than the 20th. Probably by her own Muggle ancestors as Presbyterians had been heavily involved in the persecutions in Scotland, according to the history she'd learned at school. It was a sobering thought and kept the shopping trip from being as joyful as it might have been.
As they passed The Magical Menagerie, her mother paused a moment and said, "I wish we had the money to buy you an owl."
"I think I'm more of a cat person." She had wanted to take Jasper with her, the family cat, but he was getting on in years and wouldn't have appreciated the trip. "But how will I write letters home?"
"The school will have their own owls you can use. Try not to send them too often though, dear. It will upset your father."
That was very true. And she could probably expect not to get very many letters either, since her mother had needed to travel forty-five minutes to use an owl, belonging to a witch she'd gone to school with, just to send a reply to Hogwarts.
The last stop was 'Ollivander's: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC'.
The first thing she noticed about the tiny shop was the young man in it, whose wide, silvery eyes fixed themselves on the mother and daughter in a measuring way. The second thing she noticed was the darkness of it. Neither phased her as she examined the many shelves of waiting wands.
"She's here for her first wand," her mother explained as excited as Minerva if not more so. "Right-handed. I was thinking pine."
"You'll find my methods different from my father's. I believe in having the wand select the wizard rather than the wizard selecting the wand." He proceeded to take some very strange measurements, some he did and some the tape measure did alone. "This will give me an idea, but it isn't an exact process."
He had climbed up on a chair. "Perhaps a hazel wand," he said, tapping a finger against his chin as he studied her for a moment, and then he grabbed one. "With unicorn hair as its core. Slightly bendy. Give it a wave and see how it does."
Wand in hand, she gave a grand-sweeping wave. It grew fiery hot and discharged such an energy that many of the boxed wands toppled over, and all their hair got a little out of place.
Dropping the wand and smoothing her hair, she looked hard and suspiciously at the young man, a look that might have intimidated a lesser mortal, which was saying something coming from a little girl. "Are you quite sure you know what you're doing?"
"Minerva, the Ollivanders have been making and selling wands for generations. I'm certain he knows what he's doing." Despite her words, Isobel looked unsure. This letting the wand select you business hadn't been done when she was a child. And it was plain from his age, he hadn't been doing this long.
He grinned at Minerva. "I believe I know just the wand for you." He went straight to it. Apparently the shop wasn't nearly as disorganized as all the many narrow and unlabeled boxes looked, or at least Ollivander understood the disorder. "Try this fir."
It was an average length and quite rigid with a finely carved handle and a lovely glass tip.
It grew warm and a shower of sparks emitted from it in a much more controlled manner.
"There's dragon heartstring in there. A powerful wand that will only choose a powerful witch or wizard. Known as a survivor's wand that one. A name my august grandfather gave it."
"And it won't be long before you'll be able to do this." Her mother released a whispy West Highland Terrier patronus that ran hyperly around the small shop, making it considerably brighter for a moment, before it was gone.
She was not able to resist the freedom to do magic while she had it apparently, but Minerva smiled at her mother's skill appreciatively.
Ollivander was looking at the wand. "Kelpie?"
"Yes," Isobel answered, sounding impressed he could identify the core without seeing it.
"You could do much more with a stronger core. My own father had kelpie hair in the core of his wand, and it does the job, but it's inferior."
"I'm sure you're right, but I'm afraid I have no need of a stronger wand," she said, the longing was far from absent in her voice.
They spent a night in a Muggle hotel, which was another first for her, but it couldn't compare to all she'd seen over the day. She could barely sleep for excitement.
Morning came quickly enough though, and after a light breakfast, they made their way to the train station.
"We're going to go through that wall," her mother told her. Having lived in a solidly Muggle community, Minerva continued to be fascinated at how the wizarding community hid their world in plain sight.
Her mother took the lead, and she followed after her with a confidence few first-years possessed.
The train was magnificent: black and red with gold lettering. Students everywhere were saying goodbye to their families though a couple seemed to be alone.
"You displayed magic from your earliest hours of life," her mother said. "They were just little things like toys appearing in your cot or Jasper crouching in front of you, so you could pull up on him, but I knew we would end up at this platform one day."
"I wonder if I'll enjoy being at Hogwarts."
"You'll love it!" her mother declared passionately. "You'll have the time of your life. You won't want it to end. Oh, I wish..."
She left the sentence unfinished, but Minerva knew what she wished. Her mother wished she was going instead.
She gave her daughter a hug and goodbye and wishes of love.
Minerva found an empty compartment and sat down on the stark red, cushiony seat. A sigh of relief was released along with the steam of the train. Was this what freedom was like?
She knew what bothered her father the most about his wizarding family in that moment. It was the lies he had to tell daily: "Minerva is going to a ladies' boarding school in London to receive a fine 'English' education like her mother." Or when her mother'd had a potion going in the fire to cure her boils and a visitor had dropped by unexpectedly: "The smoke only looks green because of the lighting" and "Yes, I know my soup's hissing."
The cloak of deception was falling off her shoulders for the first time in her young life as she replaced it with her school cloak, and she realized just how much she too valued honesty and what a burden her father lived with.
No one joined Minerva in her train compartment, and she didn't seek anyone out, being quite content to enjoy the scenery and look over the textbooks she had in anticipation of all she was about to learn. She found the train ride quite agreeable.
The food trolley came by with some very interesting treats, none of which she had money for. The pumpkin pasties smelled especially good. Her stomach gave an undignified rumble that she hoped the trolley witch didn't hear. She reminded herself that she would be eating at Hogwarts very soon.
The plump professor who had greeted them led the way. He seemed pleasant enough, but there was something about this Professor Slughorn she didn't like, and it wasn't his slimy-sounding name.
They boarded boats. She was rather glad then that she hadn't eaten anything on the train for the ride across the Black Lake made her seasick though she wouldn't have turned down a biscuit to nibble on just then.
"Who are your parents?" Slughorn asked as if he had been asking all the students that.
She thought it a strange question to ask before even asking for her own name, but she obliged, being that he was a teacher. "Reverend McGonagall and my mother would have been Isobel Ross when she attended school here."
"A reverend is a strange profession for a wizard. I remember your mother. She was here my first year of teaching. Talented witch as I recall. Then she just dropped off the radar."
She didn't correct his mistaken assumption that both her parents had magical abilities, not because she was embarrassed but simply because she thought it was none of his business. "She leads a simple life now, keeping house and raising a family."
"I must have your mother confused for another Isobel Ross. The girl I knew wouldn't have been happy without employing her considerable gifts in a grand way."
Once again, she didn't correct his assumption that he had the wrong Isobel in mind, and he moved onto another student.
The castle was as grand as her mother had told her. Professor Slughorn led them all the way to the Great Hall where they took their seats and where the headmaster greeted them from the front of the room.
Professor Dippet, the headmaster, was a bearded man with a serious countenance that was refreshing. "Welcome to Hogwarts. If you follow our rules, this will be an enjoyable time in your life. A time of great learning and a time to make friendships that will last a lifetime." He proceeded to list those rules of which there were many.
When the speech was finished, it was time to bring out the hat. It didn't look like a remarkable piece of headwear on first glance, being an ordinary brown and worn, but it had a face, and it sang a song.
"I am the cap that will tell your future.
For your future at Hogwarts is dictated by who you are.
Reading your mind, I never make a blooper.
Your thoughts will tell me the house to which you belong.
Will you be a Gryffindor lion, strong and brave,
Fearing none but courteous to others?
Will the student next to you be one you save,
Using the strength and courage of the lion's paw?
Or will you be the Ravenclaw eagle, quick of wit,
Finding value in those that seek their own path?
Very little gets past your eye as the Grey Lady would've had it,
And your mind is as sharp as the eagle's talon.
Or perhaps you are the Hufflepuff badger, hardworking and true,
Deceptively quiet until provoked and then watch out!
But patient and loyal above all, you are true blue.
In your burrow, one can find humility, friendliness, and good cheer.
Or maybe you're the Slytherin snake thus ambitious and crafty,
So willing to reach your goals, you'll use whatever at your disposal.
The parselmouth spoke. 'Accept second-rate or muggle blood?' laughed he,
'No self-respecting serpent would'; you shed the rules like you shed your skin.
Courageous, brilliant, kind, or great,
You wonder what you'll be when Hogwarts you depart.
Even for a most peculiar hat, this is so very easy,
A man becomes the thoughts he thinks in his heart."
She didn't know what house she wanted to be in. Only that she didn't want to be in Slytherin. Shedding rules and using whatever was at your disposal did not sound appealing at all. Her mother had been sorted into Gryffindor, and she was sure it would please her mother if she did as well.
She watched the sorting closely. For some, the hat barely touched their head before it shouted out a house. For others, it took a little longer.
When at last her name was called, she made her way to the stool. With great inward excitement and curiosity, she took a seat while a kindly-looking professor placed the hat on her head, she waited for the hat to shout her house.
Only he didn't. He began a long conversation with her, asking her questions that were more prying than Professor Slughorn's had been. What was she looking forward to studying the most? What frightened her the most? And the like. She was looking forward to it all, and she wasn't sure what there was to be frightened about as long as one did the right thing. Didn't her father teach her that God always walked with her?
"It's been over five minutes," she heard a student whisper in amazement though it echoed loudly in the quiet hall.
"Though you would do well in Ravenclaw, I put you in Gryffindor!" shouted the hat at last, and there was cheering and clapping as she went to join their table.
"You were in a hatstall," said the girl she sat down beside.
"What's a hatstall?"
"Something that almost never happens. The sorting hat knows his job well, and while he can take some time every once in a while figuring out a house, it very rarely goes over five minutes. As in no one can quite recall the last time there was one."
When the sorting finished, it was time for the feasting. She prayed silently over her meal though it seemed no one else did. The meal was far above the simple meals allowed to a parson. It wasn't called a feast lightly. So much rich food appeared and disappeared in her plate, she feared she was in danger of committing gluttony. She had to exercise great self-control, but she was still left feeling satisfyingly full.
The prefects lead them up to the common room, which didn't seem an altogether trouble-free task with all the moving staircases, but she supposed it was something one got used to, along with the talking portrait of a woman who'd obviously had no qualms about committing gluttony herself.
She walked into a room that was decorated heavily in red and gold with a roaring fire and stuffed chairs. The common room looked and felt like it could be quite a comfortable place to spend time in, a real home away from home.
The poster bed with a thick scarlet blanket looked far better than her own bed at home, but before she climbed into it, she put her knees to the cold, hard floor. Her heart was full and under no roof had the sense of belonging been more complete. "Thank you, God, for allowing me to come to Hogwarts."
Minerva's first class was herbology, which took place in a greenhouse outside the castle. The herbology professor, a lanky man with a prominent nose, appeared to be an excitable sort.
A quick introduction and then he gave a grand sweep of his arm to showcase the rows of large purple bulbs. "These are known as the bouncing bulbs. They are known for their use in Pompion Potion, which will turn the drinker's head into a pumpkin."
Minerva scoffed. There was a useful potion. Who would want to walk around with a pumpkin head?
"We are going to repot these delightful plants. Take it up by its leaves. Go on."
The students complied, and he let out a terrific noise from his wand that caused most of the students to lose their grips on their bulbs, and the plants began to quite literally and violently bounce in an effort to sock someone.
"Don't you just love the way they jump around!" Professor Beery called animatedly as he moved his hands around like he was choreographing a dance as if this vegetation needed any direction.
She could say with utmost certainty that she did not. She tightly restrained hers, glaring at it as if she dared it to jump from her hands until she had successfully repotted it.
Transfiguration was much more tranquil and enjoyable she found and taught by the professor who had been in charge of placing the Sorting Hat on the new students.
"I'm Professor Dumbledore. I believe you heard a long enough speech at the opening feast, so let's get on with our transfiguring. You must maintain concentration when doing a transfiguration spell and move your wand in the precise movement I show you, and your words must be the precise pronunciation."
They took a series of notes before they were able to try their first spell, which was turning a match into a needle. Whether it was his excellent teaching or a natural aptitude, she found transfiguration so very easy. Concentrate, keep your wand and words precise. The wand was almost doing it for her. She wondered if all the classes were this simple, but looking out at the others, the rest of them were struggling with the spell.
The professor beamed at her when he saw her needle. "You have a gift, Minerva."
The bell rang, and a girl she knew to be named Augusta muttered as she walked by, "Teacher's pet."
Minerva sat as alone at lunch as she had been at breakfast. She understood why. She wasn't like the other girls, giggly and chatting about nonsense.
She hadn't had many friends at home either. Being a preacher's kid had ostracized her. The other kids had felt as if she had a holier-than-thou attitude, which wasn't true. She just didn't open up easily.
The warm afternoon was truly charming with the grass rippling in the breeze. It was almost a shame they couldn't have spent it outside, but she was just as happy to spend it learning.
The next class was the history of magic. She hadn't ever encountered ghosts before coming to Hogwarts. They knew better than to hang out around her muggle-filled, strait-laced shire as there would have been regular exorcisms if they even suspected there could be spirit activity. Not that Muggles could see them, but they noticed the unordinary.
She remembered how shocked and disturbed her father had been to find out they existed until her mother had explained they were mere impressions of people who'd once lived, a mere shadow of a soul that had been rather than anything truly real in the present. And she'd also explained to them that their soul would be there on Judgment Day the same as anybody else's. He'd been quite satisfied with that answer, especially because the Bible wasn't absent of spirit sightings. The spirit of Samuel had prophesied to Saul, and the saints of the past had been seen walking in Jerusalem after the crucifixion.
She had somehow expected a ghost professor to be more exciting. Nearly Headless Nick certainly was. Professor Binns must have really loved teaching to keep on doing so even after giving up the ghost, so to speak. Unfortunately, it didn't show. To pass this class with good marks she was going to have to read the lessons on her own outside of class because she could barely pay attention to his droning, lifeless voice.
After history came charms.
"Oh, is it time for the next class already?" the professor asked upon seeing them. "I'm Professor Vane."
She then riffled through a disastrous-looking desk, not finding whatever it was she was looking for, but a summoning charm brought a box of feathers into the air from under the rubble and then the feathers suddenly whisked out, causing the students who hadn't found their way to their seat to duck, but a white feather found its way in front of every single student.
"The first spell we're going to learn is levitation."
Though she seemed flighty and more than a little disorganized, she appeared to know her subject. She explained the art of levitation to them very well, not relying on textbook jargon.
She couldn't think of a practical reason for ever needing to lift a feather unless she became a charms teacher, but one never could be sure, and they would eventually graduate to heavier and more useful items.
She succeeded with that first spell as well. Charms may have been a trifle easier than transfiguration judging from the energy she'd had to exert, but it would be very helpful. She knew her mother had used charms on many occasions.
The last class of the day took place at night because it was astronomy class. The classroom had a full view of the night sky, and they had brought their telescopes for close-up viewing.
She wondered what they did on cloudy nights. They probably had to cancel class or be subject to a less interactive lesson.
Professor Nyota was a tall man as dark and quiet and mysterious as the subject he taught. "The stars and planets guide and speak to us if we listen to them, but first we must know them intimately," he said, speaking in a light African accent. "We will study their names and movements."
"What do they say?" asked one of the students.
"The past, the present, the future. Though it is few wizards that ever master their language. It is the centaurs most adept at that, and even they do not always read the future in the stars correctly."
Stars telling the future? That was paramount to sacrilege, and she had no doubt her father would pull her out of Hogwarts if he could have heard that, but as it seemed they would be sticking with knowledge that couldn't be objected to, she had little to fear. She looked forward to studying the stars and planets for if it taught her anything, it would be more about their Creator.
The first class the following day was Defense Against Dark Arts.
Minerva prayed to God they would never need to use some of the information they learned in this class. Though men's hearts were predisposed towards evil, and she wouldn't be at all surprised if they did. And if that were the case, she was glad to be prepared. Glancing through the titles of future chapters, some of the spells sounded as if they'd be fun enough to learn.
But today's topic was degnoming a garden, and it sounded a lot more like taking care of pests than fighting back some great evil. But she knew some of the farmers back home would have argued the crop-destroying insects and animals were as dark as any demon.
Flying was after the DADA class. Their flying instructor explained the mechanics of flight: the right way to sit, the right way to grasp the handle, how to summon the broom into their hand. However, it was not very detailed instruction. Conceivably because there were some things a person just had to do to learn.
Minerva didn't take to flying right away. It was bumpy at first until she realized flying wasn't something you could overthink. It was something you just had to feel. Once she realized that, the flight became very enjoyable indeed.
With the wind whipping through her braids, her thoughts turned more philosophical. Was this how the angels felt when they flew? Did they taste such freedom and serenity every time they took to the air? Never before had she felt those feelings expressed in such a physical way though she still had plenty of room for improving.
Did her mother ever take secret flights or were her feet always planted firmly on the ground? If so, she had never felt sorrier for her than she did now. Every day she discovered just a little bit more of all that her mother had given up. She must have really loved her father.
She was sorry to have to give back the broom, wishing that first years had the permission to own one, but upon seeing a classmate crash to the ground rather unceremoniously and seeing how he would likely have a painful reminder of the landing every time he sat down perhaps there was a good reason for that.
Potions was the last class of the day.
"Ah, welcome, children, to your first potions class," Professor Slughorn greeted at the door. "Sit down and make yourselves comfortable."
It didn't sound like a professional way to start a class to Minerva. They weren't at home; they were in a classroom. But being that he was the teacher, and she wasn't, she made herself as comfortable as she could on the old wooden furniture, which wasn't very comfortable. Ingredients were already laid out before them, and they'd brought their cauldron, scales, and phials with them.
"I've decided the first potion we'll make together is the forgetfulness potion. Just don't forget how to make this potion when we're through," he said with a jolly, belly-aching laugh. "You may see it again."
He had them open their potion books to the right page and seemed content to let them have a go at it on their own. He circulated though she noticed, giving tips as needed. And he motivated them by promising a ready-made potion to keep to the one who made the best potion.
Concentrating on the spell, she put in two drops of Lethe river water in the pewter cauldron with such finesse there wasn't even a splash to be heard. The potion was so easy, her mind was able to wander as she heated and added and stirred. It was no wonder he wasn't afraid to let them try it with no more instruction than the page in front of them.
Using the mortar and pestle came easy to her. That was one aspect of Muggle cooking her mother enjoyed doing and now she knew why. Of course, it didn't hurt the food any using fresh, hand-crushed ingredients. With the last wave of her wand, she gave a satisfied humph before allowing herself to look and see how others were doing.
There was a variety of shades of red bubbling in the cauldrons from red-oranges to rusty reds, but her potion was a deep crimson red, the color it should be according to the potions book.
"Very good work, Minerva," he said, stopping at her cauldron. He was impressed with her. Interested in her again despite her lack of extraordinary parentage to his mind, making her wonder if it had been worth making the potion right. Though he seemed nice enough on the surface, something about the man still didn't set well with her. She supposed it was the fact she didn't feel a teacher ought to pick favorites or at the very least not demonstrate they had favorites. More unprofessionalism to her way of thinking. "A Screaming Snakes Hair potion just for you."
It was exactly what it sounded liked, and it took effort not to roll her eyes as she accepted it from him. The other kids seemed envious of her gift or rather her reward. But what in the world was she going to do with a potion that turned her hair into screaming snakes?
However, as he explained the right way to make it to the class, she couldn't deny he couldn't hold their attention with his humor and his interactive style. The potions class could have had a worse professor.
Minerva loved to watch the houses, particularly her house, play quidditch. She wasn't one for sports normally, but how could you not love a sport that took place on brooms with all these balls doing different magical things. It was exciting, despite the fact that it appeared to be more dangerous than American football. She couldn't wait until she was old enough to try out for the team.
The golden, winged snitch appeared in the sky, and the chase was on, but it wasn't Jean Atwater, the Gryffindor seeker, that grabbed it first. It was the Slytherin seeker. The green side of the stadium erupted into cheering.
She groaned. She could have taken losing to Ravenclaw, even Hufflepuff, but losing to Slytherin was unbearable. They were always smug about it for days afterward.
"Nice try, Gryffindor," one such Slytherin said to her on her way back into the castle as if it were her name. "I guess your house will have to get the cup next year. Oh, who am I kidding? That's never going to happen."
No your team played well. Just taunts. Of course, she couldn't lump them all into the same category. That'd hardly be fair, but she couldn't wait to join the team and wipe the smug expressions off their faces. She was competitive by nature she admitted, but their little digs drove her competitiveness to new heights.
She went up to the owlery after stopping by her room. She had finally decided what she would do with the screaming snake hair potion. She would send it to her brothers, knowing they would find it amusing.
Hopefully, they didn't decide to use it at an inopportune time. Like in front of a crowd, or worse, at church. She wondered if it would be wise to send strict instructions with it not to, or if that would only encourage them.
In the end, she just cautioned them to be careful with it and not drink it in front of their father, which probably needed no warning.
She pictured their delight at receiving it and getting another owl. She tried to use a different breed every time, knowing they enjoyed the different varieties of owls swooping in even if their father didn't. She chose a medium-sized one with a dark brown body, yellow belly, and markings that looked like spectacles much like her own.
She missed the little buggers and her parents. It wouldn't be much longer, however, until the Christmas holidays.
By the time she did that, it was time to eat. Today was a special day. It was All Hallows Eve, and Hogwarts celebrated by having a feast to rival the start-of-term feast. She was interested in taking part in the celebration as she never had before, which was ironic. She would have been the only real witch in her village trick-or-treating.
Her father hadn't been against Halloween per se, but he didn't think it appropriate for a minister's family to celebrate it given how strongly some of his parishioners felt about its pagan ties. Her mother had always given them a pumpkin filled with candy, since they weren't allowed to dress up and collect the candy for themselves. She imagined her brothers were pigging out on chocolates and lollipops this very minute.
As she proceeded down a lone hall, gumballs that were every color of the rainbow skittered across the floor seemingly from nowhere. She stopped in her tracks immediately before she went skittering with them and lifted her school robe just a little, so she could kick the stray gumballs away from her.
There were very few things Minerva didn't like about Hogwarts, but one of those stood before her grinning maliciously, having materialized into his solid form. The poltergeist was irksome right down to his loud clothing. The only thing he knew how to do was cause trouble.
She didn't know why the teachers and headmaster suffered his presence here. The only way she could ever see Peeves being useful was if Hogwarts ever came under attack, but what fool would be foolish enough to do that?
"Don't feel that you have to act on every bad impulse," she said calmly but scathingly.
He laughed as if she'd told a funny joke.
She rolled her eyes and sidestepped the gumballs. The treats were nice, but she could do without the tricks.
Minerva proved herself to be the best student in her year, excelling in all her subjects but particularly in transfiguration. Though there were students who told her hello or good job when she earned points for her house, she had yet to make any true friends.
December came, and she was happy to hear there would be a Christmas celebration before the holidays started. There was no reason to think they wouldn't really, but her life had been so divided before coming here. Church was a place where she, her mother, and her brothers kept their wizarding side secret and never the twain shall meet. She had almost expected Hogwarts to shove aside any Christian holidays or references to God or religion, but that wasn't turning out to be the case at all. In fact, the Hufflepuffs had a friar for their house ghost.
There would be a Christmas pantomime after the feast in the hall. She wasn't sure how she felt about theatre. Her church had barely began to tolerate celebrating Christmas; they viewed celebrating as frivolous and libel to take the focus off of God rather than put it on Him. They would have heartily disapproved of a pantomime though no doubt there were some members that took off to see the occasional play when they were out and abroad. She decided to hold her judgment until after the production as the church also happened to frown on witches.
Finished with all her schoolwork until after the break was over and with no one to spend time with, she decided to see how the newly constructed stage was coming along.
"Minerva, just the person I wanted to see. What do you think about the flowers? Does it need more or less?" he asked, holding up his wand ready to make adjustments. The flowers surrounded a real-working fountain that looked quite inviting.
"Seems about right to me." Professor Dumbledore knew how to make her feel as if he respected her opinion, which couldn't be said of every teacher. That's why he was her favorite teacher. Well, that and she loved transfiguration.
"Are you familiar with the tale of The Fountain of Fair Fortune?" he asked, making friendly conversation as he put the finishing touches on the set.
"In my house, we were more likely to be told bible stories before bed than fairy tales and certainly not wizarding fairy tales."
"Ah, worth reading before you see it. It has a lesson to teach. The best stories do."
After thanking him for the advice, she went to the library to do just that. It was the tale of a Muggle knight, who with three witches, were on a quest to find a fountain that would forever give them fair fortune. The trick was only one person was allowed its magic per year. The witches all help each other pass the obstacles until they realize they no longer need the waters and allow the knight to bathe in its waters, and his fortune does change, but none of them ever realize there was no power in the water at all. And the moral was not to rely on magic as the cure for life's problems, a moral she could appreciate.
She read the other tales and by the time she finished that, it was time to eat and watch the pantomime.
There was interesting dinner conversation taking place around her.
"Did you hear Eddie and Elizabeth fighting?"
"How could you not hear it? I thought they were never going to stop screaming."
"And they have to pretend to fall in love in about an hour. This should make for some interesting theatre."
Eddie Orpington, a fourth-year Ravenclaw, was set to play Sir Luckless. He was a handsome boy and very popular. He and Elizabeth Lima, a hot-tempered Gryffindor in the same year, had been going together since only a little after the term started. She was going to play Amata, his love-interest.
Minerva looked over at them. Eddie was laughing with the girl beside him, another actress in the play. She was set to play Asha, the sick witch, given the pale stage makeup she had donned. She looked back at Elizabeth, who was glowering at them both. Hopefully, they didn't let it interfere with their acting.
When they'd had all the turkey and pudding they could hold and had opened the firecrackers, which in Minerva's case had been a gold galleon, it was time for the pantomime.
Professor Beery was tickled pinked to be directing something besides plants. He practically shook with excitement as he introduced the performance and said how he hoped this would become a yearly tradition at Hogwarts. It soon became apparent that his lengthy speech was because Eddie and the laughing girl had disappeared. They were brought in at the last by a stern-faced professor, and the curtain lifted.
It started off well enough. "Amata" and "Asha" shared their tales of woe and promised to ban together in an effort to reach the fountain. The wall Professor Dumbledore had created cracked beautifully and the vines wrapped around Asha. The other witch, "Altheda", grabbed her, and Amata grabbed Altheda pretending to struggle against being pulled in.
It might have continued to go well if Sir Luckless hadn't been making eyes at Asha and missed his cue to grab Amata, so they all could be pulled through the wall.
Amata, let go and waved her non-prop wand at Asha, breaking the vines and challenging her to a duel, which was not the way it was supposed to go at all unless she had gotten a hold of an alternate version in the library.
Asha accepted her challenge and the light show began with the two witches being thrown and frozen and lifted in turn.
Romance was looking like pure foolishness from where Minerva sat. All it seemed good for was taking away a person's ability to show good sense. And more often than not, it ended in heartache at worst and petty jealousy at best .
Poor Professor Beery tried to get the show back on track; he had neared the stage and was giving whispered directions that they were ignoring. He jumped onto the stage, "Come now, friends, I am but a friendly passerby, but you must remember your vow to help one another to reach the Fountain of Fair Fortune." He got caught in the crossfire, knocking the "wall" over with his now enormous head and revealing a waiting, engorged ashwinder that was playing the Worm in front of a miniature, grassy hill.
This pantomime was taking longer than it was supposed to. What was supposed to be thirty minutes was fast approaching an hour thanks to the delay and going off-script. And if what she'd read about ashwinders proved to be true, they only lived for an hour. That meant it was due to lay its eggs and die at any moment.
Did anyone even realize the danger in the pandemonium taking place onstage? Before she could give warning, four red eggs dropped onto the very wooden floorboards.
Professor Dumbledore certainly realized the danger when he saw the eggs drop. "Everyone out! At once!"
The girls didn't even seem to care that a fire from the eggs was spreading around them as they continued to duel.
Some of the students seemed unsure if the flames were a part of the performance. After all, a pantomime was supposed to be entertaining. But when the teachers jumped up and began urging and ushering them to evacuate, and with what was fast becoming a fiery inferno, the screaming and running began.
Wands or no, they really ought to have taken a page out of the Muggle schools' book and practiced fire drills. Minerva couldn't help but think it, as she was pushed along in the seething mass of panic. She managed to not get trampled by some miracle.
They had to divide into their houses once outside the hall, so their prefects and heads could account for everyone. And thankfully everyone was accounted for, even the actors, but there were quite a number of them coughing from all the smoke inhalation and some of the actors had gotten burns.
The headmaster had stayed behind to put it out. She'd had the good fortune of pocketing her galleon after the meal though she'd never dreamed it was in danger of melting. How could any of them foresaw this?
Professor Dippet emerged from the smoky hall, covered in ash and wearing a frown. "There will be no more pantomimes in Hogwarts as long as I'm headmaster!"
She found herself relieved as the numerous victims of the fire were escorted to the hospital wing. She quite agreed with the sentiments of Presbyterians from her father's generation: theatre was dangerous and amoral.
"There's just some things that Muggles ought not to can," Isobel said, her voice a mixture of fascination and disgust.
Minerva couldn't help but agree as a whole chicken came sliding out of the can covered in solidified chunks of fat. Her mother had turned to fixing canned food to keep from arguing with her father over where the food came from. Though meals had become less enjoyable by far and large, he never complained.
Her mother turned to her. "Christmas dinner won't be ready for some time despite being canned. Why don't you run off and see your old friends?"
Her brothers sat in the floor engrossed in playing with their Christmas toys. Her father sat at his desk pouring over his sermon notes, but he saw her as she slipped by. "Where are you going?"
"Just to the bonfire. I haven't gotten a chance to see Mary." Mary Shepherd had been her friend since they started grade school together. She hadn't exactly been able to give her an address to write to, so they hadn't been able to keep in touch.
Her father didn't approve of the outrageous Christmas celebrations with fire, music, and dancing as a way of celebrating the Lord's birth. He seemed on the verge of telling her so, but he changed his mind. "Have a good time. Don't be gone too long."
The day was nippy and barely in the 40s. She used her red and gold scarf to keep her neck and chin warm as she ventured out into the cold.
It wasn't hard to find the bonfire. If the smoke hadn't been a dead give away, the sound of bagpipes, clapping, and laughter would have.
It didn't take long to spot Mary. She was one of the few blondes in a sea of brunettes. She stood with another girl from their year, Lorna. They laughed together as if they'd been friends forever.
Minerva offered a wave in their direction, but they promptly turned their backs on her. Mary must not have forgiven her for not writing or for leaving to go to England. She should have expected that things wouldn't be the same between them. That she would make other friends, but that didn't keep it from hurting.
She would have left, but the bonfire felt so warm and the carols being played on the bagpipes were so cheery. She tapped her foot though she didn't dare join in on the dancing. She wasn't really the type and many of the older members of her church frowned on the activity. If she danced, it was bound to get back to her father.
Other schoolmates said hello though. Her teacher from last year even stopped to have a conversation with her.
"Enjoying that London school?"
"Yes, ma'am. Very much."
"You were always the smartest one in your grade. You deserved to go, I say. What's your favorite class?"
It took effort to squeeze out the lie. She hated lying, but she didn't have a choice. "Spelling." It was stupid. Who chose spelling at her age? But it was as close to the truth as she could come without saying transfiguration.
The teacher nodded slowly. "Well, you were always good at spelling. It was nice seeing you, Minerva."
She went home before she had to lie to any more people.
Malcolm and Robert Junior had grown tired of their toys, and Robert Junior ran up to her on her return and begged her, "Show us some wand magic. Please, Minerva, pretty please. With sugar on top?"
"I've told you. I'm not allowed to use magic anywhere but school until I'm 17. It's a decree given by the Ministry of Magic."
"And by your father," the elder Robert said, lifting his eyes up from his reading.
"I didn't think wizards had any rules," Malcolm said.
"Everyone has rules," Robert said. "And they're generally good ones unless they contradict the Bible, so you'd do well to abide by them." He looked at Minerva. "I'm glad to see the wizarding government body has sense and that at least one person in the house sees the need for rules."
She glowed with happiness at her father's praise, but it was quickly cut short when the platter hit the kitchen table with an unceremonious thump.
The canned chicken and vegetables were now fully cooked and ready, but her mother was angry, having overheard her father's words and not liking being lumped together with the boys as a rule breaker.
Even Christmas Day wasn't free from strife, and as much as she loved her family, Minerva longed to be back at school.
The smell of wood smoke still permeated the air in the Great Hall after their return. Apparently, no amount of spells could erase the stench caused by the great theatrical fiasco. It seemed Minerva could still smell it even in the common room, but that was more likely the crackling fire.
It was really cozy studying by firelight. She much preferred it to an electric bulb. She was studying the many differences between doxies and fairies for an exam when one of the boys snatched her book from her with a grin on his face and mischievous gleam in his eyes.
"Do you really need to study so much? We all know you're going to pass everything with flying colors." He flipped through the pages like he didn't know what was in it, which might have been true in his case. She doubted Barry Coote had ever opened a book before. He was much more inclined towards athletics.
She was completely incensed by his moronic view. "There's no magic to it. It's because I study that I pass."
"Oooh," laughed the others in the common room.
"She has you there, Barry," his friend beside him said.
"Shut up," he said, making a weapon out of the book and hitting his stomach with it.
Using her wand, she brought the book back to her before it was damaged from his tomfoolery and rolled her eyes. Sometimes she wished she really was going to all-girls school like they thought back home. "You are an idiot."
She went to the girls dormitory where they couldn't follow and finished her studying there. She got ready and dressed for bed first, in case she got sleepy laying in bed. She finished her studying off with a chapter from 1 Peter.
Some might have thought the following verses depressing: "For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever."
She found it comforting that though plants, people, and even the knowledge of people passed away, the words in front of her never changed because of the Author.
As was her nightly custom, she closed her Bible and got down on her knees to pray. She'd grown quite used to the cold stone floor. She could have used a pillow to cushion her knees, but she rather liked the feeling. It served to remind her that she was in a humble position before her Maker.
She started to get up, but the girl in the bed beside her, Vera, asked, "Why do you do that?"
"Why do I do what?"
"I've been watching you. You do that every night without fail, read the Bible and pray. I just wonder why?"
It surprised her that she was being watched so closely, but as she was the only student who did so, she supposed she did stick out. "It was the way I was raised. It keeps me close to God."
"I admire that. And you don't bash people over the head about what you believe, you just do it. I wish I had that sort of self-discipline. And you always do the right thing."
She laughed. "Not always." Probably calling Barry an idiot hadn't been the right thing to do, however perfectly true it was.
"You're smart, too. I wish I could pass transfiguration so easily. I wonder if I won't have to repeat it."
"It's not so hard. I'd be happy to practice with you if you'd like."
"You know what, McGonagall? You're a canny lass." She didn't know for a moment if she was mocking her with the use of Scottish words, but the smile on her face was genuine. "That's be really nice."
Perhaps she hadn't made a close friend, but she had someone talking to her and wanting to spend time with her. Making friends was the hardest part of school for her. Her mother had asked her about the friends she had made over the holidays more than once, and she'd tactfully avoided the subject, but now she'd finally have someone she could talk about. And it felt really great.
Minerva was packing her trunk to return home for the summer.
"Come on, Minerva, you can do that later," Vera said, taking her hand. "Come downstairs, and let your hair down."
She felt her braids with her free hand. She had no intention of "letting her hair down", but she was sure Vera meant it as a metaphor. She let her friend drag her down to the common room where an end-of-the-year party was taking place.
She stood stiffly against the wall while most of them danced. The music came from a wizarding radio station that was playing the songs of some new singer, Celestina Warbeck, who alternated between a jazz and swing style, and who had been a Gryffindor student only a few years ago, according to Vera.
The only thing that really set it apart from Muggle music was the singing/screaming banshees in the background. Her father wouldn't have approved of her listening to such worldly music. She, however, found nothing harmful in the lyrics or the tune, the dancing on the other hand...
She might have been inclined to join in if it had been something graceful and appropriate like ballroom dancing, but she found the swing dancing distasteful. The way the girls' skirts flew up due to their twisting movement was repugnant, and she wondered if she oughtn't to go back upstairs.
Vera came over to her, cheeks flushed from dancing. "It's not that hard a dance. I'll show you. You helped me this year. Let me help you."
"No, thank you," she said firmly.
She pleaded with her good-naturedly until she gave up, but seeing how disappointed Vera was before she went back to dancing, she wondered if she should have joined in the fun. This was probably why only Vera put up with her, but she couldn't have looked her father in the eye if she'd participated in such shameful dancing. She'd find a way to make it up to Vera.
She decided not to go back upstairs and further injure her only friend's feelings but went over to get some punch to cool her heated cheeks. She'd find an interesting spot on the wall to focus her attention.
Her mother was there to greet her at the train station as she had been during all the holidays. She smothered her with a hug and though she wasn't overly fond of such physical expressions of love, Minerva didn't protest as she was happy to see her.
"It'll be tough this summer, not getting to do magic," her mother told her. "Once you've tasted it, it's hard to go without it for any length of time."
She was right, and her mother did it every day of her life. Minerva was positive, however, that she had the strength of will to accomplish it.
Her mother pestered her with questions all the way home, wanting to know every second of it from what Peeves was up to lately to the things the professors had said in class. Minerva knew her mother was trying to live life at Hogwarts through her and so she humored her.
Her brothers ran into her for a hug nearly knocking her over when they got to the house. She would have fussed at them, but she'd missed them too much to really be put out with them.
Her father gave her a much less aggressive cross between a hug and a pat.
She looked around for the one member of the family that hadn't come to greet her, Jasper. It wasn't like him not to come out of hiding on her return to rub against her legs.
"You didn't tell her, yet?" her father asked.
"I thought it best to wait until we got home," her mother answered, not sounding sure at all now. The look of sympathy she was giving her said only one thing.
"Jasper's gone?" she asked.
The boys hung their head, confirming it.
Her mother gave an unnecessary nod. "He didn't suffer. He went in his sleep."
She wasn't prone to tears, but she felt them falling down her cheeks. Jasper had been around since before she could remember. It wouldn't be the same to not have him curled in her lap while she read.
"He was just a pet, Minerva," her father said. "He lived fourteen years. That's a good long life for a cat."
She gave a nod, all she could manage, and retreated to the privacy of her room.
Was her father happy Jasper was gone because of their witchly association? It wasn't that witches rode around with their cats clinging to the back of their brooms like was found in Muggle caricatures though perhaps they were a little more popular as pets in the wizarding world than elsewhere, but Jasper was much more than a pet. He was a friend and a source of comfort when she was feeling down. Jasper may not have had a soul, but she knew God had a special place in His heart for all His creation.
When her tears were about spent, there was a soft knocking in the door. For a minute, she thought it was her father come to apologize, but it was her mother instead.
She came and sat down by her on the bed. "Your father just doesn't know how to express feelings well. He doesn't like seeing you so upset. He knows how much Jasper meant to you."
Her mother smiled and put an arm around her. "You and he are a lot alike, you know. Are you alright?"
"Of course I am," she said, drying her eyes. "I'll be out in a minute."
"Good. I made your favorite biscuits." There was a long pause. "Okay, I got them out of a tin, but at least they're not canned."
Minerva laughed, knowing her mother was trying to cheer her up. "Thank you, Mother."
Though Hogwarts was free for students to attend, the supplies were not free, and Minerva was thankful she was able to contribute her galleon from Christmas towards second year supplies, which was thankfully only textbooks.
Their mode of transportation to the castle once they got off the train had changed. This year they road in flying horseless carriages and would for the rest of their school careers. Boats were only for first years.
"Hogwarts never fails to surprise," Minerva said to Vera, who though she had many friends had chosen to sit beside her. "Having a carriage being pulled by nothing."
"It means you've never seen anyone die. I saw my grandmother die two years ago. Believe me, the carriages are being pulled by something."
Minerva's grandparents on her mother's side were still alive from the bits of conversations she'd gathered over the years but estranged. They hadn't forgiven their daughter for marrying a Muggle and considered any offspring created from the union not their grandchildren.
Her grandparents on her father's side had died while he was in seminary, so before she had come along.
She didn't have an extended family, at least not ones they saw. Her father had been the only child of only children, and her mother's family had cut ties.
"That must have been terrible for you. I can't imagine what it's like to lose a loved one." Probably a majority of their schoolmates could see them because of the Muggle world war that had just ended three years ago. Scotland had been blessed in that they hadn't seen many enemy raids, not like England had, but she still remembered the drills they'd practiced in school and how some of the village boys old enough to fight had never come back. "What do they look like?"
"Like horses with wings but more fearsome. They look like something the grim reaper would ride. You're fortunate you can't see them though they seem gentle enough."
She shuddered. Some would have called it a premonition. She was too practical-minded for that. No doubt it was only the wind.
A lot more had turned out for Quidditch tryouts than Minerva had expected. Many of their Quidditch players had graduated. But though there were a number of spots to fill, most would walk away disappointed.
"You nervous?" Vera asked, who'd come along solely for moral support, not being of an athletic mind unless it was dancing.
"No," she answered honestly. A perusal of the students in her year, who were trying out for the first time, showed that she may have the only one that was perfectly calm outwardly and inwardly.
She was one of the last to try out.
"Position?" Harold Minchum, the team captain, asked.
"Seeker." Some had their own broom, and they were fancier models than the school broom she currently held, but she was confident it would serve well enough. Only two others had tried out for the seeker. One had been a total flop and the other had only been average. It had taken three times before he'd gotten it.
"How is she going to see the snitch?" Lionel, Minchum's buddy and a Quidditch player, asked Harold. "She wears spectacles."
"You idiot," Minerva spat. "Spectacles mean that I can see. That is their use."
"Okay, show us what you can do," said Harold.
She got on her broom and flew up to wait for the released snitch to appear. Though her fellow house members may have doubted her ability to be a good seeker, she never did. She knew she was an excellent flier and that her reflexes were lightening fast and unparalleled. What was more though she was tall for her age, she was also thin, which could add to her speed, and above all she had the determination to win.
She spotted the flash of gold almost immediately and fell into a dive without a moment's hesitation. Some might have been uneasy about flying at such an angle with only one hand, but she didn't even think about it as she concentrated on catching the snitch, and she did on the first try.
Minerva rarely smiled, but she couldn't help smiling at their stunned expressions. She landed neatly on the ground and held out the still fluttering snitch in her hand to the captain.
"So you're more than just brains, McGonagall," Harold said, taking the snitch from her, and giving her a slap to the back. "You might just win us the cup this year."
Though she didn't appreciate the hearty thump, she did appreciate the comradery.
"That was so good," Vera said, congratulating her, when she rejoined her friend. "You must play Quidditch at home."
She could well imagine the look on her father's face to see his children flying above the manse, and she almost smiled again. "No, that was my first time actually, but I watched all the games last year, and took notes."
Vera laughed with abandon. "Only you would take notes at a Quidditch game."
Minerva was happy the first time she was carried on the shoulders of her teammates after a game against Ravenclaw. More than one person vied for her attention, wanting her to do this or that with them.
She couldn't help wondering why being smart ostracized a person while being athletic made a person rise to popularity.
Still, despite all her choices in friends, she preferred Vera's friendship, knowing it was the only friendship that was genuine, based less on her abilities and more on her company.
If she thought her mother had been excited to hear she was doing well in school, she was even more excited to hear she was playing Quidditch. "I played Quidditch back in the day. Can you believe it? I was a chaser, and I was quite good at it."
She could believe it. All eyes would be on her mother as she played and scored goals. At least until the snitch appeared. All eyes were still on her mother, but now they watched for her to slip up as she'd never quite made the ideal minister's wife no matter how hard she tried. That must have been a trial to someone who was used to fitting in and celebrated even. It seemed the longer she was at Hogwarts, the more she understood her mother.
She, her father's daughter in terms of personality, had never been as heavily scrutinized by the parish. She was the perfect moral role model for their children to follow or as perfect as any child could be, but even she felt free of the shackles of their watchful eyes at Hogwarts.
"I wish I could see you play a game," Isobel said longingly.
"I understand." And she did. Money was always tight when your father was a parson. It was a fact the children of most pastors learned to live with. But she wouldn't have minded seeing a family member rooting for her in the stands.
Vera was the next best thing, and she was there for the final game of the year as she had been for the other five.
She wanted to win the Quidditch cup so much, she could taste it; she could feel the cool metal in her hands already as she waited for the game-ender to appear.
She liked to win, both a strength and a weakness, but she would never stoop to the levels Slytherin did to win. It wasn't that they cheated so much, though they sometimes did, it was the fact they didn't care about the other team's personal safety. Even in her most heated moments, she would never put another player at risk whatever the color of their robes.
And for this game, they stuck to her like glue determined she wouldn't be able to chase the snitch should it appear. And when it did, they swooped around her like vultures circled their prey, making her flight path risky as one wrong maneuver could make her slip from her broom.
But in what surely must have been aided by divine intervention, she got the snitch anyway only a hair faster than the Slytherin seeker.
The crowd erupted into cheering, covering the boos and hisses of the Slytherin spectators. On the ground again, the headmaster wanted them to form lines to shake hands for a game well-played, which would have gone fine if the Slytherins hadn't been such sore losers. They passed by them without shaking hands.
"Cheats never prosper," she remarked as her angry shadowers went by. Not a Bible verse but applicable all the same. She hoped they'd learned a lesson and were fairer players on the field next year, but maybe that was too much to hope for from a house that prized winning above almost everything else.
It had been awhile since their house had possessed the prized silver cup and though everyone had played their part, they knew it was mostly due to her, and the congratulations didn't stop coming in. She was given the privilege of holding one of the four handles until it would take its place in Dumbledore's office, and she was not only invited to the celebratory party but was going to be regarded as the guest of honor.
They might even have a shot at the house cup thanks to the victory.
"How does it feel to be the hero of Gryffindor?" Vera asked with a smile.
"I'm hardly a hero because I caught a ball," she remarked but inwardly she was smiling.
Minerva had a surprise for her mother, a copy of the Daily Prophet. There was a small picture in the back of her capturing the snitch in the final game.
"This is wonderful," her mother said. "I wish I could show it to Mrs. Warwick. She's always going on about how athletic her children are, and I know that's not very Christian of me, but it would be nice."
Robert Jr. and Malcolm strained to see, and Isobel lowered it to their eye level. They oohed and ahhed over it. The boys were fascinated to see their sister captured in living color and watch her flying on a broom.
"I want to do that, too," Malcolm exclaimed.
"I just want to be in a moving picture. Is that really you, Min?" Robert Jr. asked.
She chuckled. "Yes, it's really me. You all will get your chance."
The potion-enhanced photos had almost become everyday to her. She'd forgotten they'd never seen a moving picture before other than that one time they'd gone as a family to see The Song of Bernadette at the cinema. Her father had declared that movies were too sensationalized afterward, and he didn't see wasting money to see another picture. Her mother didn't seem too excited about seeing the black-and-white, overacted world of the Muggles on screen to begin with.
"What sort of devilry did you bring into this house?" her father demanded, coming up behind them.
Minerva knew he didn't mean to associate simple enchanted photographs with the devil's work, but the words stung all the same. Misunderstandings between them were becoming more common.
"It's just a picture in the wizarding paper," her mother said, jumping to the rescue. "This is a game they play at school. She's the reason her team won."
"The McGonagall family has always been a fit sort, spiritual first, of course." Her father was trying to understand. "Just remember, Minerva, pride goeth before destruction."
Isobel threw her hands in the air, feeling he'd ruined a chance to give her some fatherly praise, but Minerva heard the love behind the warning.
Minerva was excited at the opportunity to take new classes. Though she was only required to choose two, she chose three: Arimanthy, Care of Magical Creatures, and Runes. Of course, she enjoyed that her core classes were getting more advanced. Vera didn't. She was miserable on the train ride.
"You don't look happy about starting a new school year," Minerva said to her.
"I'm not. Every year gets harder. I'm too stupid for school."
"You're not stupid. Anybody can learn with time and the proper help. I'll be here to help you study."
"What about Muggle Studies and Divination? I picked them because they looked the easiest, but you won't even be in those classes to help."
"I grew up in the Muggle world. My father's a Muggle, remember? What can they teach that I don't already know? And anyone can pass divination. It's a lot of rubbish. Only God can see the future and even He works around free will."
"I suppose. I still wish we were taking the same classes, but I'm allergic to animals with fur. I hate numbers, so I know I'd hate Arithmancy, and just the thought of trying to learn some ancient alphabet makes my head hurt."
The first thing one noticed about Professor Kettleburn was he was missing a leg and a few fingers. It didn't exactly inspire confidence that the man knew how to handle animals, and Minerva couldn't forget the ashwinder incident that proved the man had a reckless nature, but there was no doubt he was passionate about his subject.
He hobbled out of the way to reveal a small tank. The light from the sun overhead filtered through to reveal a small creature was in there of a sickly green color. It had strange pointed hands, good for grabbing, and lots of tentacles. It wasn't the most attractive creature God had ever made. "This is a grindylow," the professor declared proudly.
She raised her hand. "Aren't grindylows known to eat humans?"
"Quite right, quite right. Their diets consist of fish, algae, and small sea creatures, but they will on occasion eat humans if the opportunity presents itself. Only merpeople can tame them." He spoke as if he spoke from experience.
Minerva wondered if that explained a recently bandaged finger or rather the place where a finger used to be.
"We're going to practice opening the tank and feeding them a little something without getting grabbed or bitten."
Minerva wondered if it was too late to drop the class.
Minerva and Vera were one of the few still left in the common room studying.
Minerva poured over her runes. The professor had given them sentences to translate from actual messages that had been found written in ancient runes.
"Here lies the son of Odin," she said as she read the translated text out loud. The ancients had much less interesting things to say than she thought, but she supposed it would become more interesting as she learned to translate more and harder passages.
Vera was struggling with her own decoding issues. She looked inside the tea cup she had just finished drinking from and said with complete disappointment, "It doesn't look like anything to me."
She stole a glance. "That's because it's a pile of wet leaves. Make something up, which I don't normally endorse, but it would be made up whatever you did."
"But I'm not creative. I don't have the first clue what kind of a prediction to make."
"Go small. Small is better if you want it to actually come true. Something like you'll meet a stranger soon, but maybe you just need to give it a rest and come back to it. What's your homework in Muggle Studies?"
She twirled her hair, not looking like she liked the homework any better. "We have to play some game called rock-paper-scissors."
Minerva struggled not to laugh. "Is that all?
"It's harder than it sounds. I don't get it. I mean I get that scissors cut paper. I even get that rock crushes scissors, but in what universe does paper beat rock?"
"Because it covers it. It's just a game. It doesn't have to hold up under logic."
"It seems dull to me. There's only three options to choose from. Do Muggles really enjoy playing it?"
"It's not so much the fun in playing it as that it can solve a dispute among children peacefully. Can't decide who goes first, you play rock-paper-scissors; it's sort of like a wizarding duel only less dangerous."
"That makes sense, I guess. Will you play with me? I gather it takes two people."
Never thinking she would need to play a childish game for homework, she did it nonetheless. She and Vera ended up laughing over it as their best-out-of number kept getting ever higher.
"Oh my, it's only a game of odds, but it's quite addicting," Vera said. "No wonder Muggles like to play it so much."
"We better stop. I still have to write a paper on the magical properties of the number 7."
"Not at all. It's fascinating, but my favorite class is still transfiguration. You can't beat the elegance or usefulness of it. Professor Dumbledore told me we're getting ready to transform objects into dragons."
Vera groaned. "Don't tell me that. My dragon's probably going to stay half a teacup and fall to the ground and set everything on fire."
"Half your problem is you expect not to do well."
"And the other half is I'm stupid."
"I didn't say that, but you-"
She was interrupted because Frederick Davies, who was the team captain this year, walked by. He pulled her arithmancy textbook from her hands, acting as if he were skimming through it and then he tossed it in the chair across from her current seat.
"It's no wonder you wear glasses, McGonagall. Don't you ever do anything but study? This isn't Ravenclaw; we're supposed to have a little fun."
He didn't give her time to formulate a good reply but headed up the stairs to the boys corridor, out of sight.
"He likes you," Vera crowed.
She would have liked nothing more than to put a silencing charm on her friend, but she managed to control herself. "Ridiculous."
"He could have walked on by without saying a word. Why is he worried whether you study or not? He likes you."
"Throwing my book out of my reach is supposed to be sign of affection? Maybe if he were a boy of eight."
When you come right down to it, there's not that much difference an eight-year-old boy and a fourteen-year-old boy."
She wouldn't argue with that, but..."I still stay he was just being stupid, trying to make me angry."
"You may know about everything else, but I know more about people. Trust me. He likes you."
"Yeah, well," she said getting up to retrieve the book. "My life would be easier if he liked someone else."
Tons and tons of sweets, enough to make anyone's teeth rot and be tempted towards gluttony. At least, that's what Minerva told herself in the face of all those brightly colored and unique candies.
"Oh, I don't even know what to get first, but chocolate. Definitely chocolate," Vera said.
It was their first trip to Hogsmeade, and despite her lack of money to spend, the village was simply enchanting. Particularly because these people were free to be themselves all of the time.
"What are you going to get?" Vera asked, her eyes still darting about over the overwhelming amount of choice.
She looked at her in surprise. She'd never realized she was friends with someone poor. "Why ever not?"
"I can't afford it," she said. She didn't shout it from the rooftops, but she wasn't embarrassed over her parents' economic status either. They were poor because they did God's work at a small church in a small village.
"Oh," was all she said, but when she came back from paying for her chocolate, she had two chocolate wands instead of one.
She started to reject the gift, but she realized it would be her pride talking, so she simply said thank you.
They went to Zonko's Joke Shop. It wasn't nearly as nice a place as Honeyduke's in Minerva's opinion.
"Wow, can you imagine the possibilities?" Vera asked.
"All these things are perfectly horrid ways to annoy people." She looked with disdain at a product labeled nose-biting teacup. There was nothing funny about getting bitten on the nose.
"Live a little, Minerva," Vera said, picking up a box of hiccough sweets. "This will be perfect when I need to escape class for a moment because I've just been put on the spot. The professor will send me to get a drink of water.
"That would be lying, and the professors only want to know if you've been paying attention."
"And I usually haven't. That's where the sweets come in."
Seeing they wouldn't agree on the matter, Minerva let the subject drop.
They ended the day at The Three Broomsticks. A warm, smoky place only lit with candles and fire like everything else in the wizarding world, which made everything seem cozier and more cheerful in her opinion.
If her father could have walked through Hogsmeade and seen the pub, he'd never have consented to allow her to visit on weekends. He hadn't been thrilled to begin with about her going to a community that was all wizarding.
"It'll be too worldly," he'd said after reading the permission slip.
"There's a church," her mother argued for her. "It's a few harmless shops and cottages."
"But the people may be a bad influence. Getting whatever they want at the drop of a hat, no need to rely on a higher power."
"You really have no idea how the wizarding world works. Sometimes I think you don't even try to understand," her mother said, checks flaming with anger. "We don't get whatever we want. We have limits, too. And crises that make us recognize our need for God. And are you saying I'm an evil influence?"
"No, of course not." He sighed in defeat, realizing he'd hurt his wife's feelings by his refusal. "You've really left me no alternative but to sign."
He'd take his permission back even now if he could see all the alcohol listed on the menu.
"Get whatever you want," Vera said.
"I'll have a gillywater, please," she said.
Vera gave her a look that communicated she was no fun at all and got a butterbeer.
While they were sitting at a table drinking their drinks, there were some boys from school at a table near theirs. She could hear their laughter and loud chatter.
"Look who it is. Frederick," Vera said before Minerva had a chance to turn her head.
On that news, she didn't even bother looking, which disappointed her friend. "Aww, why don't you like him?
"If he hadn't been trying to show off and kept his mind on the game last Saturday, we would've won. The crowd didn't need to see he could fly with no hands when he wasn't even beating away a ball. I still can't look a Slytherin in the eye after that fiasco."
"He was trying to impress you."
"I don't care who he was trying to impress; it was stupid. I just can't suffer fools."
"You put up with me."
She smiled at the ridiculousness of the statement. "You're not a fool. There's a big difference between people who need extra help with their schoolwork and fools."
"Frederick and Minerva Davies," Vera said with a pretend lovesick sigh. "Your names would have sounded beautiful together."
Minerva only rolled her eyes at the dramatics of her friend. She was sure they made an odd pair but sometimes two people who were completely different formed the deepest friendships.
Minerva's fourth year came before she knew it and as with every year she was a little more excited than the previous year because of the increasingly complex subject matter and as with every year Vera was a little more frustrated for the same reason.
"Minerva, may I see you after class?" Professor Dumbledore asked at the end of one his classes.
The typical, childish "oohs" came from her classmates, but she knew she wasn't in trouble. The only thing more above reproach than her behavior was her talent for transfiguration.
He waited until the room cleared out and even shut the door firmly and tightly. Whatever he was about to discuss with her was really important and apparently private.
"You are without a doubt the most talented witch I have ever had in my classroom. I've never seen someone better in transfiguration, " he stated in his usual calm, kind manner, but there was a passion burning in his eyes as he said what he said next, "I think you could easily become an animagnus."
It wasn't a conversation she had anticipated. They'd learned about the witches and wizards who could transfigure themselves into an animal of some type last year, but the thought of actually learning to do it herself sent thrills through her. "I thought it was dangerous to learn."
"I won't lie to you. It's extremely dangerous. And there's a chance you might not accomplish it and sprout fur or a misshapen nose in the pursuit of it, but if I wasn't confident you could do it, I'd never suggest it."
She was certain she could do it, too. She knew what her parents would say about it. They'd be in perfect agreement over this one. She could almost hear their "absolutely not" all the way from Scotland, yet something in her, maybe even the voice of God told her she had to do it.
"And it won't be easy," he added, sitting down at his desk and folding his long fingers together in a casualness that belied the fire still burning in his eyes. "Not like your schoolwork has been for you thus far. It may even take years. That is why I believe you should start as soon as possible. I'd be happy to give you private lessons to help you accomplish it."
"Are you an animagnus?" It was impertinent for her to ask probably, but she was curious how he was going to teach her if he wasn't.
"No. Though I've tried. I am not arrogant in saying that I have many talents and gifts, more than most, but that is not one of them. However, I very much understand the theory of it and how one whose abilities lie in that direction could accomplish it."
She didn't have to give it much thought. "I would be delighted and honored if you would teach me how."
"Good. If you don't mind, I would like to keep this between us for now. I'm not sure the headmaster would approve of my teaching you."
The secrecy surprised and unsettled her a little. "If you'll forgive me for asking why then are you doing it?"
"Because I have a terrible feeling that it will be needed one day. More than a feeling. I've seen evil rise in the Muggle world, and I've seen it rise in our world, and I think it's wise to prepare for the worst and that means making sure our youth are prepared for it by being the best they can be."
His reasoning made sense. No one knew what the future held; it was best to be ready for anything. Becoming an animal could very well save her life or someone else's, and it was useful for spying. She'd been inspired reading in the papers about the women who'd acted as spies against the Nazis. She could see herself being one someday for the right cause.
"I won't say a word," she promised.
He looked sorry to have had to extract that promise from her. He seemed to know how much deceit even necessary deceit discomforted her. "I appreciate it. We'll have the first lesson Saturday."
She still walked away from the conversation elated despite the one note that soured it a little. It was hard that she couldn't tell anyone.
Vera had waited for her. "What was that about?"
"He just wanted to tell me I was doing a good job." Not a lie exactly but not the whole truth either.
"Is that all?"
Vera seemed to know she was lying, and though it wouldn't break their friendship, it put some distance between them, and there was nothing she could do about it.
Minerva had been getting lessons from Professor Dumbledore all year, and it was their last one before the summer holiday started.
Becoming an animagnus was partly self-transfiguration and partly self-charm. It required developing an intense concentration like someone who studied meditation. She had to be able to block out all stray thoughts and outside noises, which sounded easier than it was.
"It's time-consuming," he said at the end of the lesson, "but you've made real progress. I think we could try the next step next year if you continue to practice over the summer, but you know you can tell me if you ever decide you don't want to do it after all."
"I could be wrong about it ever being useful, and it will just be a fancy party trick to show your friends."
Depending on what animal she was capable of morphing into, it might be more than a party trick. What if she transfigured into a bear? The guests might run from the party in terror.
"I want to learn everything there is to know about transfiguration," she said passionately. "I want to know how to do it for the joy of learning."
He smiled quietly as if she'd said the right answer. "It's not hard to see why you were a toss-up between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw. I believe you'll be registering your animal by this time next year."
Glowing from his praise out in the hallway, she almost walked right into Vera.
Her friend looked between her and Professor Dumbledore's door as if she didn't quite know what to think.
All things considered, their professor was not that much older than them, but she was repulsed to think Vera suspected anything of that sort. Professor Dumbledore was too honorable to be anything to his students other than a friend and a counselor. And she thought she knew her well enough to know she wouldn't be engaged in anything so morally obtuse.
"He's been giving me extra, advanced lessons in transfiguration because I asked him to. Nothing special. I just want to be the best." It felt good to admit that much though she was walking a fine line between breaking her promise.
"I think you already are the best in transfiguration." She didn't sound jealous like some might be. "You're just the person I wanted to talk to."
"Not here. In the library."
She thought that a rather strange request. The library was not Vera's favorite room. Did she think she would be less likely to yell at her in a place that demanded quiet. It must be big whatever she wanted to discuss.
Vera didn't speak until they were settled at a private table in the corner. "I want to know if you'd be alright if I dated Frederick."
Minerva had to think for a second before she thought of the sixth year Gryffindor Quidditch captain. "Oh. Why would I? He's never been right for me."
"Oh, thank goodness. He's completely over you, but I was worried that because you didn't approve of him, you wouldn't approve of me with him."
"You're a sweet person. You might be the only one who could put up with him," she said.
Vera laughed. She knew Minerva might sound unkind to a casual listener but that it was only her dry wit coming through. If she'd had any real complaints about Frederick, she would have said them plainly.
Vera released a sigh that left no doubt she was head over heels. "You don't know how happy I am that you are okay with it. He's been the subject of my dream diary in divination all year."
She resisted the urge to roll her eyes as she always did when she heard the word divination; a dream diary was at least less silly than tea leaves.
Minerva was happy because Vera seemed happy. She had a feeling that while her friend's new relationship wouldn't spell the end of their friendship; it meant she would be seeing a lot less of Vera.
Of course with O.W.L.s coming up next year that might've happened anyway. And Malcolm would need her help navigating Hogwarts. He'd wrote her a letter about receiving his acceptance letter last month. She could only imagine the added tension that was causing at home.
Minerva's father was a little glum that summer, having come to the realization all his children were going to eventually go off to school. She didn't know if it was because it was a boarding school or a wizarding school, but she'd guess all of the above.
She wasn't able to ride with Malcolm on the train, as she'd been made a prefect and had to patrol the corridors instead. Having to dock points from her own house wasn't going to make her well-liked, but it wouldn't stop her from doing it. Right was right and wrong was wrong, and she would dole out proper punishment with no prejudice. It would be better for the house of Gryffindor to gain lasting character than a golden cup temporarily.
Malcolm was sorted into Gryffindor almost instantly, and she applauded with everyone else. She was glad because she could better keep an eye on him though a very small part of her wouldn't have minded not having her little brother constantly underfoot. She was not surprised. however, because she knew how bold her brother was.
As a prefect, it was her job to show the first-years around. Her brother was placed in her group. She was the one to take him into the common room for the first time.
"This is amazing. I can't believe I'm living in a castle, eating all this amazing food," he gushed.
It was almost like seeing it again for the first time caught up in her brother's wonder. "It is amazing, but I'm still very glad to go home on holidays."
"Why? So you can hide your magic and be judged in church of all places for being as human as the rest of them?"
She had no idea he felt that way. He and Robert Jr. had always made a joke about the critical church people. Sometimes they'd even used magic on them. She assumed it meant he was letting it all roll off his back, but apparently that wasn't the case. "Believe me, I understand. But you'll miss Mother and Father and Robert Jr. You'll even miss our church."
"Maybe, but I know what I won't miss," he said, bounding off to explore the room.
She could relate. Sometimes she wondered what she was going to do after Hogwarts, but she knew it wasn't going to be living in the Scottish countryside until she died, suppressing her god-given gifts, as much as she loved and took pride in where she was from and her family. She'd already made up her mind on that.
She went upstairs, her trunk floating out in front of her with a simple levitating spell that was wowing some of the first-years; they were so easy to please. Had she ever been that young?
She was feeling extra happy to have Malcolm here. Robert Jr. would join them the year after the next one. Where others might have hummed or danced to display their happiness, Minerva sent up a prayer of gratitude for small blessings like time spent with family.
A third year student, unpacking her trunk, who should have know better by now, had brought an auto-answer quill. She wasted no time in going up to her.
"Five points for smuggling in contraband and a detention for trying to cheat," Minerva said and immediately confiscated it to give to Professor Dumbledore later. "If you want help studying, ask. I'm a decent tutor."
"She really is," Vera added with a smile after coming over to help. She was hoping to soften the blow of lost house points and a now harder school year for the student and probably acting as Minerva's unofficial social agent as she often did.
The girl stormed away in a huff, leaving a half-packed trunk.
"The role of prefect was made for you," Vera said as she looked at the badge pinned to her uniform. "Try not to let it go to your head too much. And if you were to, uh, look the other way by giving me the password to the prefect bathroom, I wouldn't be opposed."
Minerva smiled. She knew her friend was mostly teasing but also reminding her she needed to remember to have fun and enjoy some of the privileges that came with it.
Unpacked, she went back to the common room to see if Malcolm needed anything. The other students were probably expecting her brother to be as studious as her and externally calm, some would have said stern. But while her brother shared her DNA and, of course, a faith in God, he was a free spirit. He set their expectations to right immediately by jumping up and down on one of the cushy chairs and waving his ebony wand so that sparks and fireworks shot out of it.
"One point from Gryffindor for your careless treatment of the furniture and your wand," she said, not even willing to go easy on her own family.
"Can't you do something about your sister?" whispered a fellow first-year, a boy he'd already made friends with.
Malcolm's brown eyes danced even as he climbed down, not resentful at all over her big-sister treatment or her exercising her duties as a prefect. "You clearly don't know Minerva."
Minerva stood in front of the mirror coiling her braids into a more mature bun now that she was sixteen.
"I wish you'd let me cut your hair into a bob or let me perm it," Vera said, coming up behind her. "I did it for my sister, and it looks amazing if I do say so myself."
She wasn't fond of the new hairdos. Hair was a woman's crowning glory. Not to mention if she came home with it hacked off, she'd give her father a heart attack. "I prefer long hair."
"Why? You never wear it down except to bed as long as I've known you." Vera fluffed her hair a little. "Fredrick loves my hair this way."
Like that was going to convince her. Minerva wisely and kindly kept silent on that subject.
"At least let me put some curl in your hair," she pleaded. "You'd look so great with some soft, feminine waves."
"Why if I'm going to wear it up? Besides, I don't think I'd enjoy sleeping with those torture devices you wear in your hair," she said, looking around at some of the girls who were currently suffering for their beauty. They were unrolling their hair to face the day, wincing when their hair got caught up in them.
"You get used to it," she promised.
"You wear your hair your way and let me wear it mine."
Vera laughed in defeat. "Fair enough."
Professor Kettleburn was now sporting a wooden leg as he had managed to lose his real one over the course of the break. Minerva had stuck it out in his classes because creatures, magical and nonmagical, interested her, but she often doubted the wisdom in that. Like now when her teacher had lost another body part.
The man lived on probation. It wasn't just the students or himself he endangered either. Sometimes the professors were on the receiving end of his shenanigans. Professor Beery's head had been rather enormous for almost a year after the theatrical incident; it had been what caused him to quit in the end. Though she heard he was now rather happily employed at the Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts, so perhaps it had all worked out for him in the end.
Despite her disapproval of the professor as a teacher, she was still quite shocked and horrified on his behalf to find his wooden leg in the middle of the common room sans Professor Kettleburn.
She wished she could say she didn't know who the culprit was, but that would be hoping for too much. "Malcolm!"
"It wasn't me!" he said, having been suspiciously studying a book only a moment ago. He was lying through his teeth. His voice always went up a notch when he was.
"How do you think it reflects on Father when you pull these tricks? Not only pulling such a stupid and unfunny prank but then lying about it?"
"Well, it's kind of funny."
"I'm glad you think so. You can have a good chuckle about it in detention."
He began passionately denying he'd done it but only to avoid his punishment.
Growing tired of his lying, she put a silencing charm on her brother and wondered what the chances were of her parents letting her use this particular charm at home as next year as she'd officially be seventeen and allowed by wizarding law. Probably not good.
With a whisk of her wand, she sent the leg back to Professor Kettleburn's quarters, hoping he'd never missed it. She was still cleaning up after her Malcolm's messes even here at school.
If anyone at Hogwarts had looked out their window one night in February, they would have seen a very strange sight indeed: Minerva McGonagall spitting a mandrake leaf into a phial under the moon's rays.
"I'm happy to have it out of my mouth. It's a real nightmare to carry it in there a whole month without removing it or swallowing it," she said to Professor Dumbledore. "If I'd had to start over, I'm not sure if I would've had the will."
"We're fortunate it was a clear night, or you may have had no choice."
Minerva flinched only a little as she pulled one of her hairs out and added it to the phial. She also added a dew drop and the chrysalis of a moth.
"Store it in a dark, quiet place where there's no chance of it being disturbed," he said, "and now we just have to wait for the right time."
The right time wouldn't be until the spring when thunderstorms became regular occurrences. But she'd waited this long to become an animagnus, she could wait a little longer.