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Chapter 2 : The September it Began
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But not Hanzi, she's mine. Hands off.
Minerva had spent most of the summer wishing that she could return to Hogwarts, but now that she stood on the platform she suddenly felt mournful that she’d lost a whole summer without really achieving anything. She had intended to read a long list of books that were currently pinned over her desk, but had found when she packed her trunk that she’d only managed to get a quarter of the way through them. She had started reading up on healing potions but was slightly horrified by the complexity of the potions she’d managed to find and had become slightly put off the idea; potions happened to be her worst lesson (other than divination, which she considered to be a useless subject that she wanted to drop as soon as possible) and although she was still very good at it, she couldn’t quite consider herself up to the task she had set herself.
She began to regret the fact that she’d eagerly relayed the idea to Peter via letter and that he’d excitedly responded about how he’d be forever in her debt if she did manage to help him. Now, she was dimly aware that she was either going to have to really disappoint him, or find another way of getting her hands on some healing potions. Neither prospect was very appealing.
“What’s wrong?” Minerva’s mother asked her quietly as they walked slowly towards platform nine and three quarters. Her father had not noticed that Minerva was quieter than normal, nor had Minerva particularly expected him too – she was well used to her father’s lack of perception when it came to other’s feelings. Her mother, on the other hand, seemed to be quite in tune with Minerva’s feelings even if she wasn’t particularly adept at interpreting what was upsetting her daughter correctly. She’d mistakenly thought that the lull in Minerva’s mood after moving to Scotland was purely due to impatience at not being allowed to practice magic rather than through missing Peter, her friends and frustration at the muggle war that only she appeared to care about, “you’ll be home soon, “she added, although this did nothing to cheer Minerva up.
In truth, Minerva often preferred to spend Christmas in the castle and had even less enthusiasm for the Christmas holidays than ever – not only was Scotland very cold during winter, but there was nothing to do but sit around waiting for her parents to come home from work and then they never seemed to find all that much to talk about. After so many weeks of being held up with her parents the same conversations had been repeated so many times that she’d rather not talk about her excellent OWL results, her position as Prefect or her particular love of transfiguration ever again.
Her parents were the sort of people that had completely forgotten what it was like to be young, and Minerva sometimes doubted that they’d ever been teenagers. They always assumed that Minerva was keen to look to the future and that she should already know exactly what she wanted to do in her life and be following a comprehensive plan to get there. They tended to forget that teenagers leant more towards wanting to spend time with their friends more than their family, and instead felt that spending time with them was much more important than ‘writing silly letters.’ They seemed to have avoided having hormones and therefore never expected Minerva to come home talking about any sort of boy, or for her to have interactions with any members of the opposite sex other than her Potions partner. Her mother thought that any problem her daughter had could be solved by a biscuit, which was quite frustrating for Minerva when she found herself wedged in the middle of some mundane teenage drama.
Minerva found that she always gave into exactly what they wanted far too easily, and as a result was much more serious and solemn than most of her peers. She found it all too easy to fall into their expectations and become exactly the daughter they wanted, but she definitely would not miss having to fulfil the role for the next few months.
Her mother squeezed her shoulder comfortingly before using that hand to lead Minerva towards the barrier. Minerva found the guiding hand on her back more frustrating and patronising than she could say, but held back these thoughts and instead tried to walk fast enough that her mother would drop the hand and allow her to walk through the barrier on her own. She glanced sideways towards platform nine and ten to make sure that no muggles were looking her way before walking straight through the barrier and feeling that familiar thrill at the glory of magic.
Jane was standing with her muggle parents half way down the platform and lifted her hand up in greeting when she saw Minerva. Francesca wasn’t there yet, but her family was always running chaotically late and she usually didn’t turn up until the train was beginning to jitter into motion. Twice, Jane and Minerva had to half hang out of the train to pull Francesca bodily onto the train, laughing wildly as they watched Francesca desperately trying to keep hold of her hat as she ran.
“Do you want us to stay with you till the train leaves?” Her mother asked, looking absent mindely at the red express train as though caught up in an unexpected memory, “Or...”
“No, you can leave,” Minerva said, “Jane’s over there so...”
“Got everything?” Her father asked, “Your lunch? Clothes? Books? Right, well – we’ll see you at Christmas!”
He hugged her quickly and then her mother embraced her for an embarrassingly long time before she was released and was allowed to wave her parents goodbye. Jane beckoned her over and there she was reacquainted with Jane’s parents and told that they had ‘heard so much about her’ and Minerva couldn’t decide whether they were being polite or they really had heard a lot about her. She was sure that her parents didn’t have a clue who Jane was, other than her partner in Herbology.
“Good summer?” Jane, who knew that Minerva hadn’t really enjoyed her summer from her letters, asked her.
“Yes, it was okay,” Minerva returned, “You?” she asked, even though she knew that Jane hadn’t enjoyed the summer very much either.
“Yeah, same. Shall we get a compartment?” Minerva nodded and Jane’s parents took it upon themselves to help them both with getting their luggage onto the train and expressing that they wanted them both to have a really good year, a sentiment which Minerva returned towards them, before pulling her trunk onto her compartment and being glad she no longer had to deal with anybodies parents for the next few months.
Except they weren’t quite rid of Jane’s parents yet, who were still milling around on the platform as if waiting for Jane and Minerva to re-emerge from the train to talk to them a little more. Minerva sighed feeling irritated, but obligingly followed Jane back out and began politely discussing Jane’s exams results whilst trying to avoid being asked about her results, which were better than Jane’s. She didn’t want to show Jane up.
“So she’s going to carry on with Divination after all,” Mrs Crosby was just concluding, and Minerva was nodding and agreeing (deciding to make it her mission to talk Jane out of divination if it was the last thing she ever did).
“How did you do in Divination?” Mr Crosby asked her kindly.
“An A,” she admitted feeling slightly irritable. Although she didn’t want to show Jane up, she felt that telling them her Divination grade was showing herself up, and that it was very unfair that they might walk away the impression that she was merely ‘acceptable’ at any of her classes (and anyway, divination was hardly a class at all so it did not count).
“Well done! Jane, of course, got an O in Divination but -”
“Don’t be so rude, Josephine,” Jane’s father reprimanded his wife.
“Oh it’s quite all right, Mr Crosby,” Minerva said, “Jane really is very good at Divination,”
“You must come and stay with us next summer,” Mrs Crosby said fondly, as if this compliment to her daughter’s grades and sealed Minerva’s fate in her eyes forever, “such a good friend of Jane’s is always welcome in our house,”
“We better go,” Jane said, hugging both her mother and her father and turning to Minerva with an eye roll, “I’ll write,” she added as an afterthought, turning back to the train and walking very quickly away from her parents. They remained on the platform waving every time either girl looked around. “I’m sick of them,” Jane muttered under her breath, sighing as they escaped onto the refuge of the train.
Francesca arrived with three minutes to go. Jane stood up to wave her over to their compartment, and looked on in amusement as Francesca tried to pull her sister along in her wake, but only managed to make the girl trip over her feet several times. Francesca’s brother had fallen away from the group as soon as he’d crossed the barrier and Minerva presumed he’d already joined his group of forth year friends.
“Minerva! Jane!” Mrs Caudwell, Francesca’s mother, exclaimed stepping forwards to talk to them through the window. Minerva found herself feeling distinctly irate: every time they had to take the Hogwarts Express her friend’s parents went through the same motions and Minerva really didn’t see the point in the niceties, “How are you? Franny said your OWL results were both very good. Especially you, Minnie,” Minerva internally winced, “but of course we just knew you’d do well, didn’t we Andrew?”
Mr Caudwell nodded and smiled at her.
“You always were a bright spark, always wondered why you weren’t in Ravenclaw myself – but of course we’re very glad that you’re not or else you and Franny might not be friends! And Jane, you did brilliantly too, of course. An O in divination and astronomy Franny said, well done! Franny only got the one O – charms, but she never really was the academic type. Not a clever clogs like her friends!”
Francesca had now joined them in the compartment but didn’t appear in slightest affronted by her mother’s slight on her intelligence (something that would have made Minerva very irritated indeed). Minerva noted that parents were sometimes a lot more trouble than they were worth, but continued to smile politely at the Caudwells.
“Well,” Mrs Caudwell said with a distracted smile, “look after Eddie and Gaby, won’t you Franny? I’ll write to you soon. Have a good journey! And you too girls!” The train was beginning to vibrate with the beginning of its motion, and Mrs Caudwell had to hang onto the window to utter her goodbyes, “see you Franny! Minnie! Jane!”
“Why did she give us such long names if she was just going to shorten them?” Francesca questioned with a grimace after she had ceremoniously slammed the window shut on her family and her overly talkative mother.
“Not found of Franny?” Jane asked with a small smile.
“Not as bad as Minnie,” Minerva said darkly, watching vaguely as the station fell away completely, “still,” she continued with a small smile, “Hogwarts,”
“What does she expect to have happened in three days?” Francesca asked wearily, “it’s Hogwarts – we eat three times a day and go to classes, that’s it!”
Minerva was ignoring this because she was busy reading a book on healing potions whilst simultaneously eating her breakfast as quickly as she could, and therefore didn’t have much concentration space to pay attention to Francesca’s rant.
“And she’s written to Gabrielle and Edward too!” Francesca exclaimed, “how does she have the time to write all these letters?”
“She doesn’t write as many as Minnie,” Jane said quietly, which made Minerva look up sharply and nearly spill some of her pumpkin juice over her book. Francesca had returned to reading the letter again for the third time and had missed the jibe, but Minerva certainly hadn’t.
So, at least one of her friends had been woken up due to her late night letters.
“Merlin, what am I supposed to say?” Francesca continued, “Minnie’s been flying herself to death, Jane’s gone insane and is actually going to take divination, Tom Riddle is my new fiancé...” Jane snorted and shook her head in Francesca’s direction, “it could happen.”
“Unlikely,” Minerva added, finishing her breakfast and setting her knife and fork down. She returned her book to her bag and stood up, glancing at the ceiling to see whether the flying conditions had changed whilst she ate breakfast.
“You’re not going flying again?” Francesca asked incredulously, “you already went this morning! What are you trying to achieve by this death by flying malarkey?”
“Waist,” Minerva muttered, the excuse she’d used for the past three days falling easily from her lips. It helped that the whole world cared about skinny waists at the moment, but she’d been surprised that they had swallowed it as easily as they had done – it wasn’t as though she’d ever placed any value on vanity before.
“Flying won’t make you thinner!” Francesca said, shaking her head, “anyway – you won’t have time to get your broom, fly, put your broom back and get to potions on time.”
“Okay,” Minerva said, sinking back down on her chair and looking at her two friends wearily. She had to admit that she was tired: between spending every free moment flying around the grounds and sending long rambling letters to Peter in the middle of the night, exhaustion was slowly creeping up on her.
“You’re not going to try out for the team, are you?” Jane asked, “Tristan Peakes is captain this year and you know he’ll be as bad as the rest of them,”
“Worse,” Francesca added unceremoniously. Minerva couldn’t help but agree – Tristan was the epitome of all she disliked: he was sexist, arrogant and was deluded by the idea that he was cleverer than her (which was something she really could not stand). She’d spent most of last year avoiding being lumped with doing Prefect duties with the oaf and supposed that this year might be exactly the same. Despite all his glaring faults, it seemed that Professor Dippet quite liked him.
There was no doubt in her mind that Tristan would uphold the longstanding tradition of laughing any girls off the pitch if they attempted to make the team. In fact, she wouldn’t be surprised if that had been his idea in the first place.
Not that it mattered, because Minerva had long since given up on the idea of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Her new flying obsession had had as little to do with Quidditch as it did her waistline (which was, as far as Minerva was concerned, completely and utterly irrelevant to everything).
“I just like flying,” Minerva finally shrugged, watching the other two finish their breakfast at a much more leisurely pace.
“You’ve never done anything just because you liked it,” Francesca contradicted, “there’s always got to be a purpose or a reason or something – you don’t give in to idol pleasures like the rest of us mortals. You find fun morally wrong and pointless,” she finished, flourishing her brimming glass as she did so.
“You could always write and tell your mother that you nearly became a deep person over breakfast before ruining the effect by tipping pumpkin juice down your robes,”
“There we go, Minnie’s got it!” Jane said, smiling as Minerva took out her wand and fixed Francesca’s robes.
“And was that a sense of humour creeping out there?” Francesca taunted, “did Minnie nearly smile then?”
Minerva silenced her with a look and flicked her book open to the page entitled ‘potions for deep wounds’ and continued to read.
“Minerva,” Professor Slughorn said warmly as she entered the classroom behind her friends, her thoughts entirely centred around the plan she was beginning to form, “I’ve got Bathilda Bagshot coming to the first Slug club party on Friday evening, fascinating lady – friend of Dumbledore’s,”
“Friday evening?” Minerva questioned politely.
“Seven on the dot,” Slughorn said nodding at her with a warm smile, “we’ll be seeing you there?” Minerva nodded and shifted the weight of her bag on her shoulder.
“And Peakes, you too? Seven o clock!” Minerva suppressed a groan and began contemplating an evening spent with Tristan Peakes continually taking about how important his father was. She took a seat at the bench in front of Francesca and Jane feeling considerably more exhausted.
“Bribe Miranda so that he’s patrolling on Friday evening,” Jane suggested from behind her.
“And while you’re at it bribe her so that you’ll be patrolling with Tom Riddle,” Francesca added in a carrying whisper.
“I can’t bribe the Head Girl,” Minerva said pointedly.
“But she’s your friend too,”
“Irrelevant,” Minerva said pulling out her books and looking glumly to the front.
Tristan Peakes had come accompanied with his friends, most of the Gryffindors in Minerva’s year – all of whom were much preferable to Tristan and were often quite nice people. The sudden influx of people meant that Professor Slughorn had to repeat the same sentiments about the first Slug Club meeting several times and that everyone was scrabbling around trying to find a seat that wasn’t too close to the front or by Nora Rabnott who had the tendency to blow things up during potions lessons (Minerva half wondered how she had been let into NEWT potions, but couldn’t come up with a conclusive decision).
In the end Walter Davis ended up taking the seat next to her and began politely enquiring after her summer.
After Slughorn had concluded his lecture about the importance of NEWT’s – the same speech that sent a thrill of nerves down Minerva’s back for no definable reason – and set them off on making some complex potion which allowed the drinker to see through wood for several hours before the effects wore off, Minerva began to appreciate the benefits of having Walter at hand. Walter was unquestionably the best in the year at potions and would probably have been the best potions brewer in the school, if it hadn’t been for Tom Riddle (something which Minerva could sympathise with wholly), but either way glancing over at the expert way he ground his Mistletoe Berries was like receiving a model essay answer – invaluable.
Minerva needed to improve at potions if she wanted to avoid having to fall back on her plan B.
“I saw you flying earlier,” Walter said after they had worked silently for a few minutes, Minerva sneaking looks at his cauldron to compare the quality of their work, “and yesterday – you’re good,”
“Thanks,” Minerva returned, unabashed. Although she couldn’t deny that it was nice to receive some recognition for her flying skills, especially because Walter had been on the Gryffindor Quidditch team since his fourth year.
“You’ve been flying a lot,”
“Yes,” Minerva said curtly.
“What are you planning?” Walter asked quietly, ducking his head close to the desk so that no one could possible overhear their conversation.
“What makes you think I’m planning anything?”
“You’re smart; you know getting on the team is hopeless – you wouldn’t be flying yourself to the bone for no reason at all, what are you planning? Is there any way I can help?” Walter asked, his rounded face a strange mixture of hopefulness and eagerness. Minerva couldn’t see any reason why Walter would want to help her – but the more she rolled the idea over in her head the more she was beginning to like the idea. Walter was not only brilliant at potions, but also at flying, and she was entirely sure that given the group of friends he belonged to he’d know a lot more about sneaking around the school in the middle of the night than she did.
“You know, I think there might be,”
Even the air was different at Hogwarts. Compared to the city, where the air hung stagnant and the weather never really changed, the snow melting before it had a chance to settle and the rain caught by drains before it scattered across the floor, the Hogwarts air was fresh an clean. At Hogwarts, the castle walls felt the full force of nature, even more so than her new Scotland home.
Minerva pushed off the ground and rose up into the air on her broom, pausing to drink in the mountains, the lake and the gravitating beauty that Hogwarts possessed. The sun spilt the weak September light over the Quidditch pitch as Minerva turned sharply, practicing her broom control.
Now, after flying so regularly, the pleasure had almost disappeared from it. Again, that was irrelevant, and Minerva was more concerned with becoming the best flyer she could be to maximise the effectiveness of her plan B than how much she enjoyed the flying itself.
Her hand went self consciously up to her hair where the tartan ribbon that Peter had brought her was tying her hair into a tight bun that kept those irritating wisps of jet black hair away from her face.
Today, she decided she would venture outside the confines of the pitch and instead flew towards the edge of the castle. After flying back and forth in front of the main entrance to the castle, focusing especially on the sharp bends, she hovered in mid air and began counting windows: three up, six across.
Her hand yet again went to her hair.
With a jolt she saw Professor Dumbledore was sitting in his office and was peering out at her over his half moon glasses as if slightly intrigued. Many times, Minerva had felt that her favourite teacher could see right through her, and this new adventure wasn’t something she particularly wanted him to know about. She turned the broom handle upwards and circled higher and higher until the floor felt more like an abstract concept than something physical and unyielding.
It was windier without the protection of the stone castle walls. She tucked an escaped hair behind her ear and looked out over the castle grounds feeling strangely moved by the beauty of it – she always had felt most at home here, at Hogwarts, where the only expectations placed on her were ones she’d crafted herself through skill and hard work. If only Peter was a wizard too then she could be completely happy tucked up in Hogwarts away from the horrific truth about the real world, away from muggle wars and disgusting dictatorships.
The strongest gust of wind so far tugged at her hair and loosened the ribbon in her hair. The second flurry dragged the Ribbon with it, fluttering downwards in the wind.
The wind dropped and it began to fall. Minerva dove downwards, twisting as she followed the Ribbon’s unpredictable course towards the floor. The air rushed up to meet her as she pressed herself to the broom and urged it to move faster.
She caught up with the ribbon when she had reached level with Dumbledore’s office and snatched it from the air feeling oddly triumphant. There was something very satisfying about the near effortless involved in her catch.
“Nice dive,” a soft voice said from behind her, which took her so much by surprise that she nearly fell off her broom. Professor Dumbledore had now pushed open the window and was now twinkling at her in that peculiar fashion of his, “and that was quite some catch,”
“Thanks, Professor,” Minerva said feeling her cheeks flush slightly despite herself.
“Gryffindor could do with a little more talent on the pitch,”
“Professor,” Minerva sighed, “nobody let’s girls on the team, there isn’t a single girl in a Hogwarts Team,”
Dumbledore considered this for a moment as Minerva tied the tartan ribbon tightly around her wrist and knotted it twice for fear of it flying away again and not being able to catch it a second time.
“I will talk to Headmaster Dippet,” Dumbledore said simply, “now; you should probably take a break from flying. We don’t want you to tire yourself out,”
Minerva took that as an instruction, nodded and returned to the floor feeling slightly elated by the prospect that something could be done about Tristan Peakes arrogant smirk and his sexist attitude.
“So what’s Dumbledore going to do?” Francesca asked eagerly, “do you think Dippet will listen?”
“Everyone listens to Dumbledore,” Jane said looking even more excited than Francesca did, “his being just commands respect.”
“At least I’ve got something to write about now! Minnie’s leading a revolution against the chauvinistic pigs in the world, she’s already got invited to the slug club dos, she’s having study sessions with Walter Davis, she’s been diving from great and majestic heights and she almost cracked a joke this morning. Minerva McGonagall taking the world by storm!”
They reached the doors of the Great Hall and spilled out into the corridor. Dinner had just finished, so it was not unusual to find the corridors so thick with students that it was near impossible to push their way through. Still, there appeared to be something in particular that was holding people up today.
“Excuse me, I’m a Prefect,” Tristan Peakes said loudly, pushing his way through the crowd to reach the further part of the corridor. Minerva grudgingly fell into step behind him, Jane and Francesca following after.
Everyone appeared to have stopped in the widest part of the corridor and we’re gaping at something on the wall. Something which Minerva was beginning to see were letters written in brilliantly red ink.
“Prefect!” Tristan Peakes said again, stopping in his tracks when it was possible to read the entire sentence that was scrawled across the wall. Not red ink as Minerva had first thought, but in blood.
IT IS OPENING
“I think,” Francesca said through the heavy silence, “that this is going to be a long letter home.”
I had such troubles with this chapter and then it just sort of happened (yay) and I think I'm pretty happy with the general result - either way thanks for all your lovely reviews on the first chapter! This is a little out of my comfort zone but I'm really loving it!
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