Chapter 1 : Imperfections
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Her lip curls in distaste as she passes a gaggle of giggling girls, all from her year, hovering delightedly over a copy of Witch Weekly. Didn't they know - but of course not. They only considered boys and appearances important, not OWLs, never OWLs. But Minerva McGonagall is not one of those girls. Neither giggly, nor in a gaggle, she had much more important things to do - like study some more for today's Transfiguration exam. She is determined to pass, determined to make it - this is one dream of hers that none of her older sisters never wanted, and for once, she can be the best.
Speaking of Frances and Harriet McGonagall, she sees them huddled in a corner, chatting excitedly to each other. They, too, are pouring over Witch Weekly. Harriet is the first to spot her, and with a graceful smile, she mouths "Good luck" at her younger sister. Frances follows Harriet's gaze, and sneers. It was no wonder why she had always loved Harriet best - not that she would ever tell anyone that. Minerva was never one for picking favourites.
She clutches her books tighter to her chest as she weaves effortlessly through the crowd. She can't be late - she can't fail. One of Harriet's many friends spots her, and is about to call her name - but she spots the red-and-gold tie at the last second and turns away. Disheartened, she bows her head. She has always yearned for acceptance with all her peers, but with all her family in Ravenclaw, Minerva was the black sheep, sorted into Gryffindor. Father was not proud.
Her steps quicken as the throng of students start diminishing, presumably heading towards class, but her foot gets caught in a stone, and her ink pots and books clatter to the ground as she tumbles. The girls who walk behind her laugh and point, jeering and calls christen her clumsy - but Minerva is not clumsy, never clumsy, and won't settle for any less. She stands up quickly and gathers her things - and holds her head high. She won't let them get her down. She wasn't sorted into the house of lions for nothing.
Her classmates shuffle into the classroom, murmuring among themselves, but one look from the stern examiner quells them. Transfiguration professor, Albus Dumbledore, has a much more gentle smile on his face, hands steepled together, and he catches each student's eye and in one look, wishes them luck. Minerva is last in line - and when Dumbledore catches her eye, he winks. She gives him a small, wane smile - Minerva never shows her emotions, no matter what.
She takes her seat in between March, Beatrice and Meadow, John and lays down her Anti-Cheating Quills in perfect order. Her ink is placed in the top right-hand corner of her desk, in perfect reaching distance, her hair is pulled back into a tight ponytail so that none will fall into her regal, set face, and her folded hands are ready, waiting, on her lap. Minerva had always been exact, from the day she was born, exactly October 4th, at precisely 6 am.
The stern examiner takes attendance, and her classmates call out before their turns - desires to get it over with take over their urge to be polite. But Minerva is anything but impatient - as John Meadow fidgets restlessly, she calls out confirmation of her attendance in an even tone. Beatrice March eyes her angrily, curly tendrils falling into her pudgy face, but she is not one to judge by appearance, or one to let others get to her calm exterior. She doesn't care what they think, not at all.
Nelson, Timothy is seated in front of her - he catches her eye and winks. Her heart thuds in her chest for a moment - but only a moment. She knows he has a penchant for withdrawn, unattainable girls like her, and she refuses to fall for his charming, coy act. He doesn't know what he's dealing with. None of them do, and she won't let some silly boy get under her skin and into her head. Minerva has always strived to be focused.
The examiner is finished with calling the roll, and gives them two hours to finish - she bets she'll finish half an hour early. Minerva had always been proud of her progress in school, and strives to do well - and succeeds at it. Olden, Judith is seated to the left of Timothy Nelson - and when she sees her look her way, she sneers. But she holds her head high - she won't ever let them get to her, especially not superficial girls like Judith Olden.
The class are allowed to begin - she takes her quill in her hand, dips it in the ink, and starts to write - but not at all hurriedly. Minerva never has the need to rush, always going at her own pace. Beatrice March is scribbling away furiously, and John Meadows is tapping the edge of his quill against the tip of his teeth. She wrinkles her nose in disgust - doesn't he know that could be poisonous? But, of course not. After all, this was the boy who caught dragon pox twice.
A new record - she is done forty-five minutes early. A serene smile on her face, she looks around the classroom - no one else is done. Not even Davies, Nora or Leinster, Margaret, two of the smartest girls in her year. But Minerva must always be the best alone. Growing up with Frances and Harriet, they taught her well. She won't let other girls get in her way, even ones as nice as Margaret Leinster or ones as timid as Nora Davies. She is the best on her own, and hopes for it to stay that way.
Time is up, which is met by her classmates' groans. The examiner collects the papers row-by-row, and her heart thuds maniacally in her chest as she hands up her exam and exits the classroom. She can't fail, she won't fail. Minerva is fallible to admit that she would cry if she failed - and she doesn't cry, she has never cried - not since her beloved grandmother died when she was twelve. That was four whole years ago, and she wants to keep it that way.
Carolyn O'Malley is waiting for her at the end of the hall when she finally reaches her best friend. Minerva is not friendless - just reserved, and Carolyn of all people should know that. The girls do not have much in common, only a love for books and growing up in the shadows of their siblings keep them together - but they were both there for each other when the other really needed a friend. Carolyn is the only one who remains a constant in her life - more so than her sisters or parents. She knows one day neither Frances nor Harriet will remain at Hogwarts, and that Mother is sickly and Father is growing old.
Carolyn begins to chat animatedly about which-boy-looked-at-who and who-spoke-to-whom, but she has no patience for gossip, but all the same Carolyn is the only one she has, so she tolerates the babble. Minerva always treats everyone equally, no matter friend or foe. The only one who gets the hint of any favouritism at all is Carolyn - after all, the girls are best friends, and have been ever since they met on the train ride to school.
Beatrice has followed in Carolyn's footsteps, and is chattering away with her usual posse - Dorothy Edwards and Joyce Daniels. Nora Davies is hanging on to every word, but when she sees herself and Carolyn, shrinks back - almost as if she had never been there. She sees the guilty expression on Nora's face before she hears Beatrice's words - "Oh, what a nerd! She is so clumsy, isn't she? And I saw Timothy! She is just playing hard-to-get, I know. And she isn't really smart - I saw her look at Meadows' paper." But she doesn't care what Beatrice has to say. Minerva will tolerate gossip about herself without shedding a tear - what else are Gryffindors for?
Margaret Leinster is studying a book while walking behind Beatrice's posse, but she hears her cruel words, too, and gives her a pitying look. The guilty expression is still on Nora's face, and Carolyn has turned to her with sympathy in her eyes. But Minerva turns away - she had grown up strong and proud, and won't accept anyone's pity. She doesn't want anyone's sympathy, even if it does show that Carolyn and Margaret and Nora do care for her - even if they show it only by feeling sorry for her.
Carolyn talks about proclaiming "vengeance" on Beatrice and her posse, but she just shakes her head and smiles. She doesn't believe in getting revenge, but she appreciates the gesture nevertheless. Minerva is everything but smarmy, and she secretly likes how Carolyn feels the need to defend her, in her name - even if she doesn't need it. She is strong-willed, but may appear fragile and delicate to outsiders - but she can fight her own fights, without anyone's help. She is strong. Tough. She can handle it.
She and Carolyn pass her twin sisters and their friends once more - Harriet is turned away, and does not see when Frances gives her a sickly smile. She narrows her eyes back at the older girl, and Carolyn stiffens beside her. Frances asks her a seemingly innocent question.
"Did you do well, Minnie?" Minerva's cheeks flush angrily. Frances, as her sister, knows she hates that nickname, and any other shortening of her name.
"Of course." Her voice is icy, but the words polite. Frances' grey-green eyes, so much like hers, narrow.
"Indeed. Teacher's Pets always have to do well." Tears brim at her eyes for a brief moment. Frances is her sister, and shouldn't be speaking to her like this, but no one stops her because Harriet is always turned away.
She and Carolyn hurry away from the scene, but her friend stops before they turn the corner. She stops, too, curious as to what she has to say. When it came to serious things, Carolyn usually didn't have much to say.
"You should be nicer to each other," the girl says quietly, her head down and dark auburn hair falling into her pretty face as they walk. "One day she won't be there anymore."
"How would you know?" The question is childish, and Minerva knows she's being careless and contradicting herself. She also knows she's treading on thin ice - but isn't sure why. She isn't an emotional kind of person, like Carolyn or Harriet. Carolyn isn't facing her, but she knows her eyes have hardened.
"You're lucky to even still have a sister," she continues softly, her back stiff and stride slow. Minerva can't help but feel a little confused, but she would never admit it if you asked.
"Even one as bitter as Frances?" she scoffs at her friend, tossing her head. "No one would like her for a sister." Carolyn answering was unexpected, her answer itself even more so.
"I would." She stops in her tracks, and eyes her supposed best friend angrily.
"Haven't you heard what she says to me? Teacher's Pet! Stuck-up! Snob! Smarm! Kiss-up!" She manages to imitate Frances' voice perfectly. "Frances is no sister to me." She knows she has said the wrong thing when she hears the distant sound of someone crying - most likely Frances. Carolyn looks up, and there's hurt and fury in her eyes, and Minerva can't help but feel irrevocably guilty, especially when there's nothing to be guilty about. Frances had always made her cry.
"Look what you've done, Minerva!" Carolyn's voice is sharp, and it's strange to hear her friend sound that way. "You've made her cry! Some sister you are!" She senses a storm looming - but it won't be a thunderstorm.
"You've seen me cry, too, Carolyn!" She doesn't understand why she sounds so desperate, so needy for her friend to understand. Minerva pleases no one but herself. "You wouldn't understand! You - you don't even have a sister, not anymore." She regrets the words immediately, and claps a horrified hand over her mouth. Carolyn's face is furious and hurt, and she walks away quickly - but not before she sees the tears rolling down her cheeks.
She hurries to a place of solace - the deep confines of the Library, and she realises now what she has done. Minerva had never known it until now, but she came off to everyone but herself as impulsive, and far too proud - and now it's driven her only friend away. It won't be long until Harriet or her mother hears, and it's their disappointment, along with her loneliness and Carolyn's tears, that will hurt the most of all.
She stands up. She can't just sit down and sulk for herself. She needs to fix this. After all, she is Minerva - always willing to do what's right, even if it means letting go of her proud exterior for a minute. She knows where Carolyn will be - in the quiet confines of the Owlery. She doesn't understand why her friend has picked such a dirty place, but she will sacrifice her love of being clean for her friend.
"I'm sorry." Minerva had never imagined hearing herself say those words - but it's for a good cause. "I didn't mean to hurt you, nor Frances. I wasn't thinking. I was trying to be witty, and sharp-tongued, but then I insulted the both of you. I'm sorry, Carolyn."
"It isn't me you should be apologising to," Carolyn sniffles, wiping at her eyes. "Frances is more hurt than me - but thank you. And it is true. I don't have a sister anymore. I'm all alone, now. You were right." She stuns herself and Carolyn by replying.
"No, I had no right to say that to you, especially with her death only a week ago." She and Carolyn both flinch at that. Minerva had never liked the thought of dying, only accepted it. "And you're not alone, Carolyn. You've got me."
And it's true. One day, all their siblings would leave them, whether they meant to or not, but neither of them are alone. After all, they had each other, and always would have. She is not the biggest fan of love, but she loves Carolyn in the way she understands love, and maybe that's enough.
Minerva McGonagall has never grown up so much in one day.