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Chapter 3 : The Days of Calm
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“What does it say?” A fifth year boy asked, clamouring to get closer to the crowd of people who were pushing towards the notice board.
“All Quidditch teams eligible to compete in the inter house Quidditch tournament must hence force contain members of both sexes, or else they will be disbanded. Girls can’t play Quidditch!”
“What? But we’ve got a team already!” A sixth year, Donny Henderson, said angrily.
“You haven’t had the tryouts yet!” A third year said, “you told me the tryouts would be next week, Peakes.”
“Honestly, Hugh, the try outs were going to be more of a formality. You’re too young,”
Walter Davis slipped away from his friends for a moment and muttered “Was that you’re doing?” in Minerva’s direction.
“Dumbledore’s,” Minerva said without a smile, regarding him with her stern gaze which gave little away but enough so that Walter Davis was assured of her part in this. Credit where credit was due, Minerva was not going to go down without a fight.
“Who’d have thought it right?” Francesca said fairly audibly, “Minnie, a feminist hero.”
“I assume there’s more to what you’re planning,” Walter said quietly and Minerva allowed herself to smile for the first time in a few days – there was a lot more to what she was planning, and as much as Minerva hated even the idea of breaking rules there was a strange thrill which accompanied the idea of achieving her goals successfully. Walter grinned as the group began heading away from the notice board and spilt out into the corridor.
“When are the try outs, Peakes?” Francesca asked following close behind.
“Why, Caudwell, your younger brother is a Ravenclaw – ask about the Ravenclaw tryouts, yeah?”
“Stuff it, Tristan. Minnie’s going to try out, aren’t you?” Francesca said, pushing through the crowd of people to fall into step with Tristan Peakes.
“Minnie,” Tristan said scornfully, “don’t you think you should stick with Prefect duties, Minnie?”
“As much as you’ve mastered sexism, I think wit is beyond your capabilities,” Minerva said sharply, “don’t you think you should stick to brainlessly strutting around school with your narrow minded views and arrogant tendencies, Tristan?”
“Try outs are Saturday morning.” One of Tristan’s friend said after a long ringing moment of silence in which Minerva’s lips thinned to a degree that it was nearly impossible to describe where they were on her face and Tristan scoffed several times but found nothing to combat Minerva’s comment with but a vacant and confused expression.
“I’m trying out too,” Jane added with a look of defiance on her features that was a lot more surprising than Minerva’s look of anger.
“You not trying out?”
“No,” Francesca said with an eye roll, “I’m scared of heights.”
“See, girls can’t fly.” Tristan said tweaking his prefect badge on his chest stupidly.
“So,” Minerva began, her voice full of acid, “you’re saying that Francesca represents the entire female population. Even for you that’s moronic.”
“Let’s just go to breakfast,” Jane sighed, “it’s too early in the morning for this.”
Do you know anything about the writing on the walls yet? What do you think is going to open? Have you found out anything at all, Minnie? Be careful.
Minerva ran Peter’s words over in her head and was greeted with a fleeting image of Peter curled up in the rocking chair in the Anderson’s main room, wrapped up in blankets and unable to move his left leg. Admittedly, she’d only been at school for a week, but the only progress she’d made was on battles she hadn’t even intended to fight. In the grand scheme of things, what did Minerva really care about Quidditch? She’d allowed herself to be pulled along by the small victory and had forgotten to focus on the practicality of her plan.
Yes, she’d talked to Slughorn and he’d agreed that she could use the potions dungeons during her lunch hour today, exactly like she had been doing since Professor Dumbledore had effectively told her not to go flying quite so much. She was very near completing the most simple healing potion she had managed to find, one that was primarily for used on small cuts. She’d worked out that if she produced lots of the potion with regular application Peter’s wound might be healed in no time at all, but it still didn't seem enough when Peter was hurting.
She sighed and continued scanning down the letter. It had arrived over breakfast. Jane had sent her a suspicious glance but Francesca was busy delighting in what she called ‘the verbal duel of the centaury’ and reiterating just how terrifying Minerva looked when she was irritated.
My leg has been infected. Jimmy sends his love as do I,
“Minnie, who have you been writing too?”
“My parents and Peter.”
“Ooh, Peter; how is Peter?”
“Hurt,” Minerva said folding the letter carefully and placing it in her bag, “injured in the war. He can’t walk anymore.” This stunned the others into silence for long enough to give herself a moment’s respite – there was far too much going on for her to be comfortable with.
Minerva thought the problem about potions was the ambiguity of it all – you could follow the instructions to the letter and still wind up confused about what exactly classified as ‘royal blue.’ Generally, she thought that hers was leaning more towards midnight blue (despite hours of careful brewing and sweating over her cauldron), although she couldn’t be entirely sure. Maybe the potion makers should provide a colour chart or at least something that would help her decide whether or not it was right...
Minerva glanced at the front of the classroom. Professor Slughorn had disappeared off to eat his lunch, trusting Minerva to not blow up the potions classroom. She picked up her cutting knife and pricked her thumb with it, pressing down until a bubble of blood appeared and began to run down her hand. Then she ladled a spoonful out of her cauldron and placed her bleeding thumb onto the surface of the questionably royal blue potion.
She glanced back at the list of effects and decided that a sudden throbbing pain wasn’t supposed to happen. Nor, she expected, was her finger supposed to start turning a suspicious shade of orange.
Useless, she sighed, vanishing the potion away feeling irritated. She threw her potions things in her cauldron and decided she’d pick them up later – for now it was probably best for her to sort her thumb out before it fell off, or something else ridiculous like that.
She regarded her thumb feeling slightly interested in the way it was crusting over. Where had she gone wrong? She’d really thought she’d followed every damn thing correctly – she supposed that she’d been sloppy at some point and those inaccuracies had cost her a healing potion. She wouldn’t waste this impromptu trip to the hospital wing, of course, and prepared herself for sneaking long glances at the potions cupboards.
Minerva dithered slightly in front of the mirror, bringing a hand up to her hair before dropping it again. She was beginning to think that this tartan ribbon was more trouble than it was worth, because since nearly losing it she’d been worried about wearing it in case she lost it – at the same time, she hated hoarding things that weren’t functional and felt, considering Peter had given it to her, she probably should wear it.
It was currently tying her hair up into the usual tight bun but she was seriously considering replacing it with one of her usual plain black ribbons. Finally, she made a decision (mostly because she was irritating herself with this pointless deliberation) and pulled the ribbon out of her hair and placed it on the top of her trunk delicately.
“Minnie, you do realise that the sluggy thing starts in about a minute?” Francesca asked, looking up from her bed and raising a distinct eyebrow, “Merlin, Minnie! You’re going to be late!” Minnie didn’t waste time rolling her eyes at the heavy mocking tone to Francesca’s comment and instead grabbed her wand and left sharpish. She didn’t really understand why Francesca insisted on mocking her insistence that they must be on time for everything – punctuality was very important, and in any case, it wasn’t like they had anything else to do but show up on time for Charms (unlike Tristan, who seemed to think he was above such petty constraints as time).
She just didn’t like to be late. There was no need to mock her about it.
Walter Davis was dawdling around the portrait hole. Minerva raised an eyebrow at his appearance and contemplated that he was waiting around for Tristan before heading to Slughorn’s party, but then again the inflation to Tristan’s ego that came with being invited to Slughorn’s parties usually blessed him with a sudden surprising ability to turn up on time.
“I figured we could walk together,” Walter Davis said as Minerva drew level with him, “and you can tell me about this plan I’m going to help you with.”
“Okay,” Minerva said curtly, pushing open the portrait hole and stepping out without waiting for him to catch up.
“I didn’t expect you to be running late though.” Walter continued once he’d fallen into step with her again.
“Fashion disaster.” Walter nodded, then seemed to process her answer and stared at her quizzically. Minerva’s lips twitched upwards slightly.
“I thought you were serious for a minute there,” Walter grinned, “I thought perhaps the summer had broken you, or something. So, what’s the plan?”
“You’re not going to tell anyone,” Minerva stated, “and you’re going to help me.”
“Yes,” Walter agreed with a grin, although the effect of the smile was counteracted slightly by the fact he had to awkwardly add in another step to keep up with Minerva’s long strides.
“I need to break into the hospital wing,” Minerva said simply, unable to stop herself from turning to face him to absorb his response to her words. His eyes widened and for a split second his mouth was gaping open with no sound coming out of it before he recovered.
“As soon as possible,” Minerva returned, “I need to steal something.”
“What sort of thing are we talking?”
“A spare bed,” Minerva said sarcastically, “supplies, Walter – I need healing potions. I tried making them myself but I wound up giving myself an infection.” She admitted irritably. The failure was still irksome, especially when she had to admit it to a known potions genius, “I know where the potions are now, so it wasn’t an entirely pointless exercise.”
“Well those things are impossible,” Walter said kindly, “I tried once and if I’d put the results near an open wound I reckon I might have killed someone. You could always ask Tom Riddle?”
“I don’t trust Tom Riddle,” Minerva contradicted. Riddle had magnetism with both students and teachers to a degree even above her own, and she was well liked by most of the Professors due to her hardworking nature and her willingness to follow the rules.
Riddle was different though, he was unquestionably brilliant at all areas of magic (Minerva grudgingly admitted that he’d probably be outstanding at Divination, too, if I had any inclination to study it), but mixed this with a sort of roguish arrogance which drove people to respect him and want to be liked by him. Including the teachers.
There was something too well put together about him that made her want to stay well away. Francesca had, maybe quite accurately, suggested a few times that the reason she’d never warmed to Riddle was because he was better than her. Minerva thought that the definition of ‘better’ was a flexible one and, in any case, Walter was better than her at potions and she liked him just fine. She wasn’t that arrogant.
“Okay,” Walter said, no questions asked. Maybe that’s why she didn’t mind Walter’s talent – he was uncomplicated. She preferred knowing people’s motivation and understanding exactly why they acted a certain way, and with Tom Riddle she came up with nothing but an enigmatic question mark that she found irritating, “so, we’re stealing potions – just... you’re not trying to feed some strange addiction or...?”
“No,” Minerva said simply as they approached the dungeons. Then, she didn’t know why, because no elaborations were necessary she said, “my... friend, he was a soldier in the muggle war. He was hurt.”
“Oh,” Walter said as Minerva pushed the door open and entered the party. People had gathered at the corners of the room: Tristan was talking to a young Hufflepuff girl (poor creature) who Minerva didn’t know, Slughorn was bustling around from group to group looking delighted at being so important, dragging with him a woman Minerva assumed to be Bathilda Bagshot and Tom Riddle himself was surrounded by his usually clientele of Slytherins quite near the door. Minerva pushed forwards into the centre of the room, trying to distance herself from the scene of her lateness as Walter continued to chat to her, “You know about the war too? My parents are muggles, see, and I always find it incredible the way the magical world just ignores it.”
“Yes,” Minerva agreed, turning to face Walter just as they drew level with the group of Slytherins, “I haven’t congratulated Miranda on becoming Head Girl yet, excuse me.”
“Minerva!” Miranda said as she approached her, smiling slightly and inquiring after her summer. Minerva found, once again, she was irritated by the niceties involved in conversation. The summer was over and she no longer wished to discuss it, but there seemed no other way to start a conversation.
“Minerva, have you met Bathilda Bagshot?” Slughorn said loudly, interrupting their (admittedly rather boring) conversation about how difficult sixth year was compared with fifth year, “the most notable historian of the age!” Miranda raised a hand in farewell and disappeared with a group of her seventh year friends.
Up close, Minerva could see how age really didn’t suit the woman in front of her, although she didn’t seem remotely frail, just wrinkly. “Minerva is Dumbledore’s star pupil Bathilda, and Bathilda is an old friend of Dumbledore’s Minerva! Oh, Tom! Bathilda, this is Tom Riddle – most powerful magic I’ve ever seen from someone his age. These two are the greatest wizards in the school, I have high hopes...” and then Slughorn had moved on to the next group of people (with far less enthusiasm) despite the fact that Bathilda Bagshot looked slightly alarmed to have so many introductions thrown at her so soon in the evenings.
“You’re Minerva McGonagall, right?” Tom Riddle said, turning towards her with a forced smile. She nodded, “don’t you usually wear your hair up?”
Minerva stared at him for a long moment. She had long assumed that Tom Riddle’s persona must have a degree of bravado to it for him to charm such a wide range of people, but really. From what she knew of him he took as little interest in cosmetics as she did and the fact that his pathetic attempt at charming her had begun by a comment on her hair was downright insulting. Surely she was worth something a little cleverer?
Maybe this sort of comment would have won over Jane or Francesca, but Minerva had too much brain.
“Wrong audience,” Minerva said, making a point not to touch a piece of hair that was dangling in front of her vision (the very reason why she never left it down – if only she hadn’t thought too much about that tartan ribbon) in case he interpreted the movement as some sort of flattery, “I’m not entirely idiotic.”
“No,” Tom said, dropping his fake smile act and regarding her with a vague degree of interest, “you’re supposed to be a bit better than that, aren’t you?”
“I am better than that,” Minerva returned, fully prepared to find some excuse or another to disappear and find someone else to talk to, “there’s no supposing about it.”
“Some sort of prodigy?” He suggested.
“No more so than yourself,” Minerva said, deciding not to assert that despite her best efforts he remained slightly above her on the intellectual pile, despite being younger than her (something which she would never forgive him for ).
“Transfiguration, right?” Tom Riddle said carefully after a few moments, “See, you’re going to have to explain that to me. I suppose I can understand the initial challenge of it, but obviously it’s no longer a challenge for you – so why transfiguration?”
The subtle way in which he implied that Minerva could have turned her hand towards anything and gotten the same results combined with the sheer intelligence behind the question (and Merlin knows there wasn’t much of that around here) cohered Minerva into giving a straight honest answer. Something that she was not inclined to do very often. “I like the fluidity – I like the way nothing has to be confined and the fact that, if you were to find the right spell, everything has the potential to transfigure into something else.”
“Does the lack of practicality ever bother you? I mean, take charms – as mind-numbingly simple as the magic behind it is – most spells have every day uses.”
“Magic is incredible,” Minerva returned, “why should it ever be confined to the mundane uses of everyday life?”
“To serve lazy wizards,” Tom Riddle said with a slight smile, “you’re right of course – not that anyone here seems to appreciate the true value of magic.”
“So you do?” Minerva asked, folding her arms and regarding him (trying her very best not to be impressed by the ease in which he introduced interesting conversation now that the subject of her hair was completely out the way).
“Of course,” Tom Riddle smiled, “I’m one of the few who understands it.”
“No one can completely understand magic,” Minerva said disdainfully, “especially not a fifteen year old boy. Why, even Dumbledore wouldn’t make such a claim.”
“Ah,” Tom Riddle said, a sneer working its way onto his features, “you rather worship Dumbledore, don’t you? Your idol? Is that why you’re particularly fond of Transfiguration then, Minerva McGonagall?”
“No,” Minerva said, unable to hide the slight flush and that gritty irritation that he’d suddenly sparked up.
“Defensive?” Tom Riddle questioned, “not quite as intellectual as you first appear, then.”
“Says the Tom Riddle who started this conversation by commenting on my hair.” Minerva retorted stiffly, “I hope you don’t judge so quickly about magic, or else you’ll never live up to Slughorn’s expectations.”
“Oh travesty,” Tom Riddle said in a low voice, “you may be Dumbledore’s favourite, but I’m Slughorn’s favourite – let’s call it equal.”
“I don’t normally agree to be equal.” Minerva returned.
“I’ll take it as a personal compliment when you do then,” Tom Riddle said, “oh, and if you were trying to impress,” he looked pointedly at her hair, “I really wouldn’t bother. Intellectuality, you’ve mastered, but I’m not sure you’re quite capable of vanity.”
“And yet you manage both impeccably,” Minerva said before turning away to find someone else to talk to – Walter, perhaps, or maybe one of her fellow Prefects. She’d even prefer talking to Tristan Peakes than continuing this conversation.
Later, Minerva had to admit that Tom Riddle was good. The subtle way he’d played upon her own arrogance in the beginning by subconsciously providing proof that she was better than him – with all that hair nonsense – before appealing to her intellectual side. Touching on a sensitive topic to get a rise out of her whilst simultaneously offering her something about him to criticise – bruising and inflating her ego at the same time. Calculated and clever. Intriguing, naturally, but also entirely fake.
She added ‘avoiding Tom Riddle’ to her list of things to do, a list that was growing ridiculous even without factoring in her list of homework.
We have a third chapter! And I have a plan. Don't expect many updates on anything else until after November! NANOWRIMO! :D
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