The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship
Minerva McGonagall shivered as she made her way toward the staffroom, inwardly cursing the weather. She entered to find Pomona Sprout virtually collapsed in one of the two comfortable armchairs, both feet on the coffee table, whilst her two arms dangled off the armrests giving her an almost ragdoll appearance. Behind her, Poppy Pompfrey leant her elbows against the staff table as she held her head in her hands. Minerva felt a slight pang of sympathy for the school nurse; to teach students was one thing, to be forced to mend their bodies – often because of their own stupidity – was quite another.
“Elegant,” she commented sardonically from the doorway, pushing her sympathy to the side. After all, she had a reputation as an ice-cold Professor to uphold. Besides, surely two highly-trained Hogwarts professionals couldn’t be dampened by someone like Dolores Umbridge? Yes, the woman was foul beyond belief, by they had got through worse. Gilderoy Lockhart for example. An involuntary shudder ran down Minerva’s spine as she thought of the former Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher at Christmas, when mistletoe had hung rampant around the school; mistletoe one couldn’t escape from unless...
One of Pomona’s eyes opened, interrupting Minerva’s increasingly morbid memories, and she glared at the Transfigurations Professor who walked calmly to the bench, opened one of the tines, and withdrew a ginger newt. Poppy didn’t bother opening her eyes, choosing instead to raise one hand in a brief wave before returning to her former position. Choosing to ignore Poppy’s response – or rather, lack thereof – Minerva sat down on the sofa and crossed her legs, eyeing Pomona over-top her glasses.
“Inspection?” Pomona said, covering a yawn with her hand as she sat upright in her chair thus making herself look slightly less like a collapsed drunkard.
“I’m sorry?” Minerva asked, confused, a feeling she was neither familiar nor comfortable with.
“You were inspected...” Pomona pressed.
“Oh, yes,” Minerva said, waving her hand casually. “What a farce.”
The Head of Hufflepuff beamed but faltered at the sound of footsteps and an all-too-familiar simpering voice from down the hall. It was amazing, really, Minerva thought as she watched Poppy and Pomona make themselves look presentable. In less than three seconds their posture was straight, and in five any trace of tiredness had vanished leaving the two women looking fresh and relaxed.
“You know, I could hit her with a trip jinx from here,” Poppy said softly, moving from the table to sit next to Pomona.
“It’s an appealing thought-”
“You’d be sacked before you could say ‘Hogwarts’,” Minerva interrupted, “and the idea of another Ministry Winged Monkey taking up residence within these walls is unappealing, so please, desist with that idea immediately.”
Rather than be offended by her sharp voice, both women beamed in her direction. It was mildly disconcerting, Minerva thought, watching as their expressions changed to ones of mild curiosity as the door swung open once more, just how good they were hiding their emotions. The temperature seemed to drop as the door closed behind the High Inquisitor, something which was not lost on Umbridge who walked to the table Poppy had just vacated and withdrew two pink envelopes from her handbag.
Finally, after much posturing, Umbridge turned to look the three women, though she quickly looked away. A sense of satisfaction washed over Minerva; it was pleasing to see that their intimidation skills had not wavered. Dolores, if Minerva remembered correctly (which she did) had been frightened of the patented ‘McGonagall glare’ during her own time as a student at Hogwarts, despite Minerva being three years younger. Though, Minerva reasoned, that might also have been because of the beater’s bat she had always kept close to hand that she might have hurled in Umbridge’s direction after hearing a particularly vicious insult towards a fellow Gryffindor. A pity she couldn’t do the same now, really...
“Your results, Professors,” Dolores said, thrusting the envelopes towards herself and Pomona.
Minerva held the envelope between two fingers, her lips curled in distaste, and didn’t spare Umbridge a second glance as she vacated the staffroom. She opened the note with a tap of her wand and caught the results before they fell onto the ground. Across from her, Pomona was two steps ahead, Poppy unashamedly reading over her shoulder, and she watched as the Herbology Professor’s expression fell.
“Oh, my,” Pomona said softly.
Minerva read her own results quickly and looked up, sure that the other woman’s expression of mild horror was echoed on her own face.
“Ah,” Poppy said, breaking the tension-filled silence.
The Deputy Headmistress didn’t say anything, her silence saying everything that was needed.
Shock quickly turned to anger and a mere fifteen minutes later Minerva was tapping her nails irritably against her desk as she glared out the window. Her class - 2nd year Gryffindors and Ravenclaws - were attempting their assigned task with more enthusiasm than was normal, though she did admit that her declaration to ′demonstrate human transfiguration on the next person who so much as spoke out of turn’ may have had something to do with their docility. Her eyes narrowed as they focused on Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank’s Care of Magical Class which was being held next to the Forbidden Forest. She could see the squat form of Dolores Umbridge from her high vantage point (keen long vision was one of the benefits of being a cat animagus, despite what her spectacles may suggest) and the mere sight of the woman’s pink cardigan made her blood boil.
She, Minerva McGonagall, Minerva McGonagall, generally respected pillar of the wizarding community, was on probation. Probation! She ground her teeth together, eliciting startled glances from the two students in the front row, but her rapacious glare ensured they returned to their snails. She reached out and snatched the piece of pink parchment from her desk. Though she knew the content of the note by heart, she read it again.
As High Inquisitor, it is my duty to inform you that you have been placed under probation for an indefinite period of time.
The High Inquisitor
Minerva threw the note back on the desk, and folded her arms across her chest. Her gaze fell back to the window. Umbridge was walking back toward the castle, and by the way she seemed to bounce as if she had springs in her feet, Minerva knew that Wilhelmina had gone well during her inspection, making it much easier to sack Hagrid now she’d seen a more-than-competent substitute. The bell rang, and there was a mad scramble for the door. Her students jostled with each other, and elbows were used to great effect as they attempted to squeeze through the door simultaneously.
“One moment,” Minerva called.
There was an eerie silence as the jostling ceased, and she saw many of the students hunch their shoulders forward as if they expected her to curse them into oblivion.
“Homework. A three-foot essay on changing invertebrates into buttons.”
There was none of the usual groans of protest, and they immediately surged forward again at a pace that was nearly a run. Minerva leaned back in her chair. It was quite amusing if she were honest. Her gaze floated back to the note on her desk, and she hissed - another animgaus trait. Her glare must have been intense, for the parchment burst into flames. Minerva didn’t bat an eyelid, and the note soon burnt itself out, leaving a small mass of ash on the polished wood.
Minerva waved her wand and the ash disappeared instantly. Her next class of seventh years began to filter in, all looking rather apprehensive, and she knew that the second years had warned them of her mood. They sat down and Minerva cleared her throat.
“We will be starting to conjure live animals today...”
Her voice trailed off as Fred and George Weasley entered the room. Silence fell, but the two didn’t seem to notice.
“You two!” Minerva barked.
Her words were spoken with such vehemence that her teeth clicked together, and the twins jumped and turned toward her.
“10 points from Gryffindor each. Sit down.”
They obeyed instantly, and Minerva allowed herself a brief moment of satisfaction before returning her attention to the rest of the class.
“As I was saying...” She glared at Fred and George who looked suitably contrite. “We will be starting to conjure live animals. By the end of this lesson, I want everyone to have successfully conjured a rat. Twenty points to the person who does it first.”
There was flurry of movement as wands were withdrawn from bags, and the room was soon full of muttered incantations. Minerva rose to her feet and began to roam between the desks, correcting pronunciation and wand movements, when there was a loud ′crack’from behind her. She whirled around to find Fred and George embroiled in a cloud of dark smoke. They were coughing, and she waved her wand to clear the black cloud. Two identical, white rats were sitting on the desks, their conjurers beaming at them. Minerva allowed a small smile to cross over her face, and nodded her head.
“Very good, boys. 40 points to Gryffindor.”
Their mouths dropped. She had never so much as given them one point before, let alone forty in one hit. Minerva turned on her heel, and marched back to her desk. Perhaps this day wasn’t a complete disaster, she mused as she perused the homework she had taken from her fourth years earlier that morning. They couldn’t hold her attention for very long, and she set them aside neatly and looked forward. The class was working smoothly, and there were now six more rats sitting on the desks.
She looked back at Fred and George, and the corners of her mouth tightened. They had vanished their rats and were now absorbed by a piece of parchment they held between them. Minerva flicked her wand and the said parchment flew toward her. The twins’ heads jerked upright, and she saw them exchange a look of horror between them, before turning their attentions to her. Their eyes were wide and pleading as Minerva pocketed the parchment, and she gave them a cold look.
The bell rang, and they lingered behind. Minerva pretended to return her attention to her marking as they shuffled forward, looking down at the floor.
“Professor,” Fred said softly. “May we have our parchment back, please?”
Minerva looked down at them over the top of her spectacles. “Certainly not,” she said crisply. “I will not have you passing notes in class.”
“But ...” George interjected.
“No, Mr. Weasley. Now leave before I take points from Gryffindor.”
The two glared at her and jutted their chins forward. Minerva raised an eyebrow. The fact they thought they could intimidate her was laughable. They recognised that she wasn’t to be placated and left the classroom slowly, shooting her a malevolent glare as they left. Minerva withdrew the parchment as soon as their footsteps faded around the corner. She unfolded the paper, and a smile spread across her face as she began to read.
They were becoming more imaginative. She’d grant them that.
Minerva rested her feet on her coffee table, and let out a sigh of exhaustion. It was one o’clock in the morning and she was tired. The toad woman (Pomona’s nickname after the two had met again to grouse over their inspection results) had assigned her another midnight patrol, which she had only just returned from. Minerva’s eyes fell on the parchment she had confiscated from the Weasley’s and a smile flickered across her face.
If she helped them ...
She shook her head roughly. The idea was preposterous, ridiculous, ludicrous even, but maybe if she just gave them a push in the right direction... There was a loud ‘bang’ from outside her chambers, and Minerva hissed in annoyance as she leapt to her feet. She marched across the length of her rooms, and opened the door, her eyes narrowed as she scanned the halls.
There was definitely someone there. The faint scent of cologne was unmistakable.
She stepped out into the corridor, tying the sash of her dressing gown tightly around her waist. Her tread was light as she padded down the hall, her eyes darting left-and-right as she searched for the reason for the noise. She rounded a corner, and had to put a hand over her mouth to stop herself laughing.
Fred Weasley hung by one foot from a crystal chandelier. He glared at her, but the effect was ruined by his situation.
Minerva stepped forward, and with a flick of her wand Fred was standing upright. She raised an eyebrow in question and he looked down at the floor, his cheeks flaring a scarlet that clashed horribly with his hair.
“George and Lee,” he muttered.
He looked up at her and his eyes widened at the smile she was bestowing on him.
“Erm... Professor?” he queried.
She waved her hand, effectively silencing him, and gestured for him to walk alongside her. Fred hesitated for a brief moment, but soon fell into step with her long strides. Neither spoke as they walked toward the Gryffindor Tower, though Fred kept looking at her out of the corner of his eye. They passed a stature of Edward the Edwardian Elf when he grabbed her arm and pushed her down.
“Mr. Weasley...” she began, struggling to escape from his tight grip.
He shook his head urgently, and she fell silent when she saw the barely restrained panic in his eyes. They were crouched for several more pregnant moments before Fred nodded that it was safe, and pulled her to her feet.
“Can you explain...?” she asked softly.
Fred shrugged his shoulders. “Umbridge. She caught George and I last week and...” His voice trailed off, and he shrugged again.
“And?” she pressed.
“It’s nothing, Professor.”
Minerva raised a skeptical eyebrow, but Fred still did not speak. “You do realise,” she said eventually, “that because you were with me, she couldn’t have punished you?”
Fred’s eyes widened and color flooded to his cheeks. “Sorry, Professor...” he said, running his fingers through his hair. “I ...”
Minerva caught a glimpse of a cut on the back of his hand as his sleeve fell down, and though Fred tried to jerk away, she reached out and pulled the material aside.
“That conniving ...” she hissed angrily, her free hand balling into a fist, “I’m going to...”
Engraved on Fred’s skin were the words ′I will not undermine the High Inquisitor.′ She ground her teeth, and allowed Fred’s hand to fall to his side. “We’re paying Dolores a visit,” she spat.
Minerva glared up at him (a recent growth spurt meant he now topped her by a couple of inches, though it was doubtful he’d grow any taller) and folded her arms across her chest. “That’s blatant abuse, Mr. Weasley,” she spat angrily. “If you think I’m going to let her...”
Fred reached out and placed a hand over her mouth. “How long do you think it will be before she writes a decree saying anyone that opposes her will be sacked?” he said urgently, not moving his hand. “We can’t afford to lose you.”
Minerva batted his hand away, but she took his words to heart. “Fine, Mr. Weasley,” she said finally, “we may not be able to get rid of her, but we can make her life hell.”
Fred looked mildly apprehensive as she gestured for him to follow her, but when he saw the impatient look on her face, he soon hurried to her side.
“Where are we going?” he asked after several prolonged minutes of silence.
In answer Minerva drew to a halt, and opened the hidden door that led to her office and ushered Fred inside. He looked around apprehensively as she directed him to one of the chairs.
He did so and waited until she had sat opposite him before speaking. “Professor, can I ask what is going on?”
Minerva didn’t answer for a few moments and when she did she spoke slowly and deliberately.
“Dolores Umbridge is, as you obviously know, a person that no one wants at Hogwarts. Therefore I have no … qualms if you were to … increase the amount of catastrophe you and your twin cause.”
Fred’s eyes widened and he appeared momentarily rendered mute as he looked at her. Minerva cleared her throat, finding herself flustered.
“Well, thank you, Professor,” Fred said eventually, rising to his feet. “I’ll certainly pass the message on to George.”
Minerva nodded as she stood and crossed the room to the office door. Fred was about to move past her when she spoke again.
“The fireworks,” she said softly. “Imagine how much more effective they’d be if every time someone hit them with a vanishing charm they multiplied by ten.”
Fred looked at her and a smile slowly crossed his face. “You may have something there, Professor,” he said, giving her a look that plainly spoke ‘mischief.’ “And stunning charms?”
“I’d say that was up to you, Mr Weasley,” Minerva said, opening the door and ushering him out of her office.
The red-head agreed with a sharp nod of his head and stepped out into the corridor, Minerva close behind. He glanced at her in surprise as she fell into stride with him.
“Er, Professor?” he queried.
“I’ll walk you to the Common Room,” Minerva answered as they rounded a corner.
“There’s no need …”
Minerva raised an eyebrow and he fell silent. “If Dolores has taken a liking to mutilating my students, then I think I have a duty to ensure that she has as little chance as possible of being able to do just that, don’t you?”
Fred conceded her point as they drew to a halt outside the portrait of the Fat Lady who looked from him, to Minerva and back again before sighing wearily.
“Password?” she asked.
“Devil’s Snare,” Fred answered.
The portrait swung open, but Fred hesitated before he stepped inside. “Thank you,” he said finally, looking her in the eye. “For … uh ...” His voice trailed off, but Minerva nodded her head to show she understood the unfinished sentence.
“Goodnight, Mr Weasley,” Minerva said, stepping back.
Fred gave one last grin before the portrait swung shut behind him and Minerva turned slowly and walked through the corridors, not to her office but to her chambers. Godric Gryffindor, her chamber guardian, looked at her sympathetically as she approached.
“It’s one-thirty in the morning,” he said. “And you have to be up …”
“At six, I know,” Minerva said, waving a hand so the portrait swung open. “Don’t remind me.”
Godric shrugged his shoulders and the portrait closed, throwing the small hallway into darkness. Minerva flicked her wand, lighting various candelabras so she could see well enough to reach her living room where she flung herself onto the sofa and stared at the ceiling. She could well imagine the glee that Dolores felt as she watched a student, any student, writing lines using their own blood instead of ink. She knew that those she chose to punish would try not to let anything that indicated they were in pain show and she pictured them biting the inside of their cheeks, clenching the fist of the other hand, anything to stop sound spilling from their lips.
“Bloody hell,” she whispered.
She sat upright and bent forward, pulling her boots from her feet and flinging them into the corner. She curled her toes and sat her feet on the coffee table, conjuring a mug of hot chocolate which she sipped slowly. The fire was lit with a flick of her wand and she sank deeper into the sofa, merely looking at the flames as her thoughts ran like a roller coaster through her mind; Dolores Umbridge, blood quills, the Ministry, Voldemort and, Harry Potter who would undoubtedly have received the same punishment as Fred. She faltered; of course, it all came back to Harry Potter. The ‘boy-who-lived’, though she was sure the boy in Potter had died long ago. Sighing, she placed her now-empty mug on the coffee table and swivelled around, her legs now stretched out before her on the sofa. Reaching up, she pulled down the tartan blanket that resided on the back of the sofa and spread it across herself, finally allowing her head to rest against the cushion and her eyes to close.
Minerva groaned as the alarm went off, muttering a charm to give her an extra ten minutes. She rolled onto her front and buried her face into the pillow, not moving until the alarm sounded again. Swearing lightly beneath her breath she reluctantly pulled the covers away and swung her legs over the edge of the sofa. She stayed there for several moments, resting her elbows against her knees, head cupped in her hands before the alarm sounded yet again. She staggered to her feet, picking up her wand, and with a sharp ’flick′ the alarm had shattered into small pieces, spilling over the floor.
Now reasonably awake she moved through her bedroom, the kink her neck reminding her that it was a far better sleeping spot than the sofa, and crossed into the adjoining bathroom. It was only when she had shed her clothes that she remembered the night before and she paused as she reached for the tap.
Fred Weasley, Dolores Umbridge and … what had she agreed to exactly?
“Oh, god,” she muttered, leaning against the frame of the shower and looking down at the tiles. What on earth had she been thinking? Surely she must have been delirious and it was all a dream? A bizarre dream, but a dream nevertheless. Nodding to assure herself she turned the tap and stepped underneath the jetting hot water. Her muscles relaxed and she looked upward, drops pounding against her face. With the water came her memory and she faltered as she reached for the bar of soap. No, Fred had been in her chambers and she was helping him, but why?
The image of a recently healed cut, still red raw, surged forward and her fingers curled into a fist causing the soap to fall to the floor.
Dolores Umbridge. A blood quill. One of her Gryffindors.
The woman was lucky the Minerva hadn’t sought her out and blown her into next Tuesday.
She shook herself thereby returning to the present and turned the tap off. She stepped from the shower and wrapped a towel firmly around her waist. Her long, black hair was restrained by another towel and she walked back into her room and summoned her teaching robes from the wardrobe in the corner. She dried her hair with a flick of her wand and began the lengthy process of restraining the long tresses into its customary tight bun. Finally, the last hair pin was in place and she slipped into her robes; summoning her boots which she had kicked off in the living room and pulling them onto her feet.
A fluent stream of curses flew from her mouth as she glanced at her watch and discovered she was running late; a rare occurrence indeed. She marched through her chambers and wrenched the door open, stirring Godric who glanced at her briefly before closing his eyes and going back to sleep. Her heeled boots clicked against the stone floors as she hurried through the corridors and students looked at her in alarm as she approached; often turning and hurrying in the direction they had come. Finally, she reached the staff table and Albus looked upward and gave her a wary glance. She sat next to him and pulled a plate of porridge toward her, dousing it liberally in sugar and milk, much to Rolanda Hooch’s disgust. The Flying Instructor opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by a sickly sound Minerva was becoming more familiar with than she liked.
Minerva closed her eyes and tried to ignore the stout woman who was standing at her shoulder but they snapped open again almost immediately.
She looked to her left and raised an eyebrow at the High Inquisitor. “Can I help you, Dolores?” she asked, her hand curling around her spoon.
“I was just wondering if you’d read your inspection results?” Dolores asked, a simpering yet cruel smile playing at her lips.
“Oh, yes,” Minerva answered in a syrupy voice that made the other members of staff do a double-take. “It made such interesting reading.”
Pomona tried to suppress a snort but failed and Umbridge turned toward her, fixing the Herbology Professor with a glare.
“Did yours also make ‘interesting reading’?” she demanded, jutting her chin forward.
Minerva’s long-time friend glanced over Dolores’s shoulder and winked, before turning her attentions back to the shorter woman.
“No, I’m afraid not,” Pomona answered. “Then again, Minerva and I have always had different tastes in reading material.”
By now all members of staff (including if she wasn’t mistaken, Severus who was amused by next-to-nothing) were trying to hide smiles behind their hands and Umbridge sniffed and looked forward, turning her attention to her breakfast, knowing that particular verbal battle was lost. Minerva nodded to herself. So long as Dolores Umbridge never got the upper-hand, which in Minerva or Pomona’s presence was highly unlikely, then there would always be a way to bring her back down to earth, preferably in a fashion reminiscent of a meteor smashing into the ground.
Minerva glanced up from her desk to find both Fred and George Weasley looking at her from the doorway; the former grinned at her, while the other looked mildly frightened. Not surprising really; she wasn’t known for her high tolerance level of miscreants. Minerva leaned back in her chair and placed the quill she had been using to scribe the latest letter to the Ministry down and beckoned for them to come in. The red-heads bounded into her office and sat down when she pointed them toward the chairs opposite.
“Professor,” Fred began, not bothering with such things as a greeting, “the only way that we could charm the fireworks to multiply by ten when hit with a certain array of spells is to use an ‘infragilis’ potion …” His sentence trailed off into mid-air, much to Minerva’s surprise.
She nodded. “Yes, that sounds correct.”
“Well, some of the ingredients are fairly lucrative …”
The Head of Gryffindor bit her lip as she read through the oblique lines that Fred was painting. She could not believe she was contemplating this; no, she definitely wasn’t going to allow this; it was simply ridiculous; she was not going to do this; she simply couldn’t do this; no, she was not going to do this; and yet...
“And you need to raid Professor Snape’s private stores?” she said, ignoring the continuing reprimands in her mind.
Fred nodded, looking somewhat apprehensive. “Yeah... pretty much.”
Minerva sighed and tapped her fingers against the desk, briefly assessing various options, before making a decision.
“All right,” she said, holding her hands together and resting them atop her desk. “You need to get into Filch’s office. Professor Snape has put a password on the door to his private stores, which Filch keeps in the top-right drawer of the filing cabinet closest to the door. Get the ingredients and then...”
“We’ve got a place to make the potion,” Fred said hurriedly, “so don’t worry about that, we just needed to know how to get into Snape’s private stores.”
“All right, that’s settled-”
George cleared his throat (thankfully not a hem hem) thereby interrupting her, and she raised her eyebrows in question.
“There was one thing Fred didn’t tell me, Professor,” he said, his brown eyes boring into her grey. ”Why are you helping us?”
Minerva eyed him for a moment; George Weasley was certainly a Gryffindor, next-to-no student would ever presume to question her, especially with such brashness. George didn’t bat an eyelid as she deliberated her answer.
“Dolores Umbridge stands for a government I have no faith in,” she said, leaning back in her chair. “Her utter incompetence grates on my nerves and...” her voice trailed off as she sought for the right words. “… and I have never been one to suffer fools lightly,” she said eventually. “And, I’m sure you’ll agree, I have yet to meet a fool quite like Dolores Umbridge.”
George eyed her shrewdly, before giving a sharp nod. “Makes sense.”
“I’m glad you think so, Weasley,” Minerva said brusquely, reaching for quill again, the dismissal clear. “And boys?” she added as they got to his feet and crossed the length of her office.
“Yes, Professor?” they asked simultaneously.
“This conversation never happened.”
They both grinned.