Chapter 4 : The Night of Change
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She still had not made her mind up about Tom Riddle: she did not like him as a person, that was certain, but she found that she unwillingly admired him and enjoyed their conversations. He seemed all too keen to provide a continuing list of things that she wasn’t very good at, even having the audacity to bring up the unacceptable ‘acceptable’ divination grade, as well as forcing her to have intellectual debates about magical theory and the Ministry of Magic’s policies. Every conversation turned into a competition somehow, and sometimes she thought it was good natured and sometimes she thought that they both detested each other.
This time, it was about prejudice. Minerva had started it, highlight the fact that although Tom Riddle seemed very keen to side with the blood purity argument he was a terrible hypocrite considering his own background (Francesca had told her after she found out that they had been patrolling together – insisting that he was lonely, tortured soul). It was one of those occasions when he seemed to hate her, and she found that his silent anger made her feel a lot more in control.
“In any case, there’s no proof,” she concluded, folding her arms over her chest, “the entire prejudice is rooted in pureblood’s arrogance and their desire to see themselves as important – despite their blatant ignorance. Some of the best students in this school are muggle born – Miranda Goshawk is muggleborn, and she’s Headgirl! You’re blinded by the idea of power,”
“You’re blinded by your love of muggles,” Tom returned, stopping and turning to stare at her – his eyes flashing dangerously, “you seemed to enjoy the company of people who are more stupid and less able than you – I suppose that is how you selected your friends; to feed your own desire to feel superior?”
“My friends are not stupid,” Minerva said dangerously, “and in any case, it seemed you chose yours from a blood bank,”
A cruel smile twisted onto his unnaturally pale face.
“When you leave Hogwarts, where do you think your friends will be? Married probably, housewives – or maybe they’ll work desk jobs at the Ministry of Magic, whittling away their days with fruitless accomplishments. Is that what you want for yourself, Minerva?”
“You seem to think you’ll be ruling the world,” Minerva sniffed haughtily, “and you have the impudence to suggest that I am the arrogant one.”
He offered her a long, considered stare in return to her argument and although she had silenced him she still didn’t feel as though she had won. After a long few moments of their stare off he started walking forwards towards the top of the third floor staircase with a raise of the eyebrows.
“Shall we split up?” Tom Riddle suggested, “or will you not break the rules even that far?”
Prefects were not supposed to split up when on duty after curfew: some strange rule that Minerva had always thought stupid and unnecessary, but she’d nearly always adhered to it all the same. Still, she had big plans for tonight and although the satisfaction of denying Tom Riddle what he wanted was there, waiting for her, she’d also been manipulated into wanting to prove to him that she was just as capable at breaking the rules as anyone else. She knew full well what he was trying to do and that somehow, despite all her reasoned arguments, he was still managing to get the better of her. She closed her eyes for a second and tried to ignore his mind games, she instead focused on the plan: he probably wanted to split up so that he could stop early, or else he probably wouldn’t have bothered... which would ultimately mean that there was one less person around the castle.
“Fine,” She said.
“I’ll take down,” he said, glancing towards the staircase.
“Fine,” she repeated, whirling around on her shoes and walking back up the corridor they had just come from – the soles of her shoes clipping against the stone of the floors as she went.
Minerva McGonagall couldn’t shake the feeling of foreboding that came with her plan of the great heist: but however she glamorised the situation it was difficult for her to escape the fact that, ultimately, it all came down to theft and sneaking around the castle at night.
She had thought it would be difficult to stay awake long enough for her plan to be successful, but her restlessness was enough that she was hardly able to lie still. Eventually, when she heard the rhythmic breathing of her six dorm mates she slipped out of bed – still in her robes – and picked up her wand and broomstick. She was entirely sure that every step she took would wake someone up and could hardly stop herself from forming long and complicated excuses as to why she was creeping down the stairs in the middle of the night with her broom.
“Thought you were going to chicken out,” Walter Davis said from the comfiest seat in the common room, looking up at her with a grin.
“Of course – I should never have doubted you,” Walter said.
Minerva resisted rolling her eyes and instead forced herself to smile at him. She took a deep breath before tapping herself on the head with her wand (feeling incredibly foolish for doing so). “How do I look?” She muttered, stretching out her hands –just as planned, they turned the exact colour of the carpet beneath her.
“Witty,” She commented dryly.
“Nervous?” He asked her.
“No,” She lied, glancing at the window and pursing her lips, “are you sure this will work?”
“Positive,” Walter said, jumping to his feet and pushing open the portrait door for her with a grin, “just don’t panic, Minnie,”
“Don’t call me Minnie,” Minerva said, stepping out of the Gryffindor Common room behind him with a pang of regret. She had managed six years at Hogwarts without leaving the common room after curfew and it was a tradition she especially wanted to break. She thought of the last letter from Peter, folded up in the wad of muggle paper at the side of her trunk – his voice seeping through her own disapproval and making it impossible to do anything but keep walking.
“What’s that?” Walter asked suddenly, pulling her back against the wall and into the shadows. She froze for second.
“It’s just a cat,” Minerva said after a few seconds, stepping out of the shadows, “Miranda’s cat,” she continued, crouching down as the cat approached her – winding around her legs and purring gently. Cats always reminded her of the Andersons, summer and Peter sat with her on the wall outside her house. Normally she would have spoken to the cat, but it seemed a much too personal and silly thing to do with Walter Davis stood behind her. In any case, they had things that they were supposed to be doing.
“Make it disappear,” Walter said uncomfortable, “if it meows loudly or something then we’ve got an issue,”
“Off you go,” Minerva said, the cat ignored her and stared up at her with bright eyes, “go on – shove it,” she said picking him up and placing him down at the top of the staircase. In the end she had to result in gently pushing the cat in the right direction, before he seemed to get the message and began to strut indignantly back down the staircase, “where’s the window?”
“We need to head over to the east side of the castle,” Walter said, turning sharply down a corridor that Minerva barely recognised.
“Is the corridor sloped?” She asked after several moments, looking at the portrait-less stone walls feeling disorientated by the lack of windows.
“I should think so,” Walter said, “it emerges on the fifth floor, most of the time; then you’ll only have to fly down two flights. Plus, you won’t pass any windows... and no one comes down here. You remember the plan? Dip down under the window to the potions supply cupboard, wait, summoning charm...”
“Yeah, Walter, I’ve got it,” She said, “and thanks,”
“It’s a great big wide window, easy to open – sometimes it doesn’t have glass in at all. You sure you can take off from a window?”
“It’s only five floors up,” Minerva said, “and I’d fall right past the hospital wing – so it wouldn’t make much difference, right?”
“Was that a joke?” Walter questioned with a grin, ducking underneath a low hanging beam that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. She could feel the corridor sloping more readily now and had to slow down her pace to stop her from falling over.
“Are you sure about this?”
“Walter,” Minerva said heavily, “its fine – good. What can go wrong?”
“You could get caught stealing potions in the middle of the night, for one,”
“Rhetorical question,” she returned sharply; she wanted to fold her arms, but the addition of her broom made it difficult to manoeuvre.
“What was that?” Walter asked, stopping dead in his tracks for a second time and glancing up and down the corridor.
“Probably just another cat,” Minerva returned.
“No, seriously Minnie – I swear I just heard something,”
“Walter, I thought you always snuck out in the middle of the night. If I knew you were going to lose your nerve I would have come alone,” but now her nerves were on high alert too and every shadow seemed to be imposing upon her previous confidence. She listened hard, swallowing back her fear, and concentrated – the castle didn’t seem as quite as it had before, with just their two solitary voices filling up the strange sloped corridor but she couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was. Suddenly the silence seemed loud and threatening. She blinked.
“It was probably nothing,” Walter said, but his previous confidence had dissipated slightly.
“It’s just dark and quiet,” Minerva said decisively, but neither of them moved for a few more long seconds.
“We’ll get caught if we stand here all night,” Walter said, glancing behind him for a long moment before continuing to walk down the corridor, “better to keep moving,”
“Are you okay waiting for me to come back?”
“Yeah,” Walter said, “we’re nearly there – sure you’re up to this, Minnie?”
“Do not call me Minnie,” she said through gritted teeth. She looked at her broom for a long moment.
The idea of getting back on her broom left a bitter taste in her mouth after the embarrassing Quidditch incident of a few weeks previously: she’d rather stupidly thought that her association in bringing about the female quota meant she had a guaranteed shot at the chaser position she so desperately wanted. If she’d really thought about it Minerva should have realised they would only include the minimum one female player, but even then she might have countered herself as in. She hadn’t counted on Jane having an unprecedented amount of natural talent; Tristan’s bias against her because the whole thing was her fault and losing to one of her closest friends.
Still, the entire purpose of her incessant flying had been towards this aim – for Peter’s sake, not for her own enjoyment or satisfaction or anything else. It didn’t matter that she’d been forced to endure Tristan asking her if she’d been for ‘a little fly lately’ at every Prefect’s meeting. However, she would rather not have had Walter bear witness to the moment when she got back on the horse, so to speak.
“Here we are,” Walter said, turning a sharp corner in the sloped corridor onto a level section. There were no portraits to see her misgivings, there were no classrooms branching out from the corridor in either direction and the bay window in question stretched the entire height of the wall.
“It’s perfect,” Minerva said slowly, glancing up and down the wall, “maybe you should disillusion yourself too,” She suggested, but she hardly listened to his response: already she was mounting her broom and psyching up her muscles for doing the craziest thing she’d ever done. Launching herself out of a fifth floor window to illegally acquire potions for muggle was certainly not an act she would have ever associated with herself – but there she was, pushing off from the window ledge and dipping below the cover of the window.
It was well into autumn, so she didn’t know why she found the cool of the night so surprising.
“Good luck!” Walter whispered after her from somewhere over her head, but then the wind whipped away her voice and she was left in a quasi-silence that unnerved her to the core – this sudden anxiousness couldn’t even be pushed back by the rush of rule-breaking adrenaline. She should not be doing this.
It would help Peter.
She dipped downwards, edging a little further towards the window that was her destination – trying to avoid the other little windows that might give away her presence to anyone inside. She considered that maybe she was being too cautious: she had the disillusionment charm along with the added bonus that no one would be expecting a sixth year Gryffindor to fly past the window. What could go wrong?
She took the final meter at a faster pace, dipping below the edge of the window sill and pressing herself as close to the wall as she could. She listened intently for a long moment. The silence that followed satisfied her enough that she took the final plunge – pulling out her wand and whispering ‘accio.’ One phial of potion flew from the shelf and hovered slowly, surely, towards her. She took her other hand off her broom to catch it, slipping it into her deep pockets and waiting again.
She bit her lip, half expecting some sort of alarm to go off before breathing a sigh of relief.
She was unsure of how many potions to take: she had slipped six into her pocket before she considered that taking too many would make their disappearance more obvious. At that point her confidence had reached a point where she no longer stopped and listened between each summoning charm – which was why she did not hear the footsteps.
“Get Florence,” a stern voice said from inside the hospital wing, shocking Minerva enough that she nearly fell out of the air. It was Dumbledore’s voice, she realised with a jolt, and she had never heard him sound quite so seriously, “get her immediately, Horace,”
“What’s wrong with it, Albus? What’s happened?” The young muggle studies professor demanded (Minerva had never learnt her name), “the writing, what does it mean professor?”
“The monster feeds on dirty blood,” Dumbledore said quietly.
“What’s happened, what’s going on?” The Matron asked, emerging from her quarters. Minerva flattened herself against her broom and clamped her mouth shut to try and quite her breathing.
“There has been an attack,” Dumbledore said gravely.
“Dumbledore?” Armando Dippet this time. Minerva felt her hands freeze on her broomstick with fear: suddenly her flawless plan had led her straight into the path of the Headmaster, her head of house and a multitude of teacher witnesses. Not only that, her heist seemed to have collided with some kind of Hogwarts emergency.
“A cat has been attacked,” Dumbledore said, “petrified, I believe. The cat belongs to our Head Girl, Miranda Goshawk. The attacker left another message, in blood – like the first,”
“The monster feeds on dirty blood,” The Muggle Studies professor squeaked.
“Hogwarts is no longer safe,” Dumbledore said, the quiet severity of his voice commanding all the authority in the hospital room for a few long seconds. Minerva, outside, shivered on her broomstick, “the chamber of secrets has been opened,”
“Walter,” Minerva hissed, landing on the floor of the fifth floor corridor with her eyes blazing, “we need to get back to the Gryffindor Common room right now,”
“What’s going on?” He asked, falling into her step as they half ran back up the sloped corridor, “just after you took off I heard someone scream, what’s happening Minnie?”
“Dumbledore said... the Chamber of Secrets has been opened,”
“That’s just a legend,” Walter said hastily, “it doesn’t exist – just some stupid story,”
“But Dumbledore said -”
“Dumbledore isn’t always right!”
“The writing on the wall!” Minerva said, “there’s more of it now and Miranda’s cat has been cursed or something and if anyone catches us out of bed they’ll think we’ve done it,”
Walter swore and they both sped up.
“But, Miranda’s cat... we must have been the last people to see it alive?” Walter said after ten minutes of walking in complete silence.
“And I don’t suppose that’s going to bode to well for our case if we get caught either, especially as I’ve got half the Hospital wing’s supply of potions stuffed down my robes,”
“It’s going to be okay,” Walter said quietly.
“There’s someone attacking people in Hogwarts!” Minerva snapped.
“It was just a Cat, Minnie,”
“Stop calling me Minnie, Walter Davis or I swear -”
“Shush,” Walter said, bringing a finger up to his lips and raising his eyebrows at her, “you’ll get us caught,”
Minerva couldn’t express how relieved she was to find herself back in a familiar Hogwarts corridor; the Fat Lady snoring loudly out of her portrait and the entrance to the Gryffindor common room in her grasp. She didn’t bother with a retort to Walter, instead choosing to sprint the last few meters – breathily declaring “patronus” to the fat lady before falling into the common room.
“See, we’re safe,”
“Only if no one catches us sneaking up to bed,” Minerva countered, one of her hands closing around one of the bottle potions in her pocket. The cold surface of the glass knocked some of the panic out of her. Somehow, they’d done – she had broken the rules in the most spectacular way she could imagine and had somehow stumbled into a debate between her favourite professor and her Headmaster as to whether the Chamber of Secrets even existed. She had secured potions that would help her best friend and she had not keeled over and died when the pressure had reached incredible levels.
“Send the potions to your friend first thing in the morning,” Walter said, “before they realise they’re missing and start a search party,”
“Right now I think they’re more worried about the cursed cat,” Minerva admitted, trying her best to smile at him before creeping back to her dorm. She couldn’t deny that there was something horribly thrilling about the fact she managed to pull it off. She’d held her nerd even when she had been centimetres away from inevitable expulsion and she, Minerva McGonagall, had broken the rules.
The next morning Minerva feigned shock at the attack; horror at the vivid read letters that glistened on the wall and incredulity at the whispered mentions of the Chamber of Secrets – she imagined she would have been incredibly doubtful about such a story if she had not heard the words come from Dumbledore himself (‘most legends have an element of truth, Armando, but if you do not wish to believe me I will not force the issue).
She used several school owls to send off her parcel of potions, accompanied by a heartfelt letter of joy that she had been able to help and exact instructions on how often he should use them (‘and remember Peter, Muggles aren’t exactly like Magical folk – so if anything reacts differently to how I’ve described stop using the potions immediately and send me a letter explaining exactly what happened. I don’t care if it’s embarrassing or something stupid, you need to tell me everything or I won’t be able to help you properly’).
It didn’t take much effort on her part to appear repulsed, however, as the words began to sink into her brain and twist around in her thoughts. It mixed with her feelings towards Muggle wars, towards ignorance and prejudice: the monster feeds on dirty blood.
Years later Minerva would suppose whether it was a twisted sense of nostalgia that drove Tom Riddle to attacking Mrs Norris first; she supposed that he had known that if, once again, he started with a cat the resonance of that first time would ring around their heads. There was a sense of horrible anticipation attached to it, a morbid kind of tradition; because when that cat was found strung up on that very same wall she knew exactly what horrors would be coming to greet her next. Sometimes she thought that his decision had been based solely around her – that the teenage Tom Riddle knew full well that reminding her of all her terrible decisions in that year of her life, the guilt and the lingering consequences of breaking rules would affect her more than she would have ever admitted.
Then she would remind herself that she was nothing other than a pawn to Tom Riddle: that he had used her as an alibi, that despite all her teenage belief in her own cleverness she’d somehow fallen into protecting his crimes and that she had been no better than her stupid friends charmed by his exterior, she had been worse in fact, because she’d seen those glimpses of his true character. And she had ignored every last one of them.
A/N - So I essentially sat and wrote this all in one sitting whilst pretending to be working on my English coursework. This is probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but I really enjoyed myself so I’m not sure if I can bring myself to care (maybe on the day of my coursework deadline... oh right, that was last week). This is only roughly edited but, never mind - life is a busy thing after all. Please review.
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