‘…And the Weasleys? They went to St. Mungos, then?’ asked Professor Sprout, her head bobbing up and down as she rummaged inside the storage units lining the bottom of Greenhouse One.
‘Goodness, no,’ said Madam Pomfrey, shaking her head. ‘From what Dilys told me, Arthur was in no condition to be seen by the children.’
Professor Sprout re-emerged with a pair of clippers in hand, panting. Smoothening the front of her robes, she placed it on the table with a loud thunk, causing Minerva to finally shake herself from her stupor. Seated with Poppy at a short table with only a potted plant -miniscule in the face of the other beasts the glass room housed- Professor McGonagall took a sip from her goblet.
‘And you say Harry was the one who found him?’ asked Sprout.
It took a moment for Minerva to muster a response. She nodded.
‘The things Potter finds himself in, I must say…’ she said, trailing off as she downed the contents of her goblet and reached for a musty bottle of wine under the table.
‘What did Dilys say, Poppy?’ demanded Sprout, pulling up a chair, wholly abandoning the task she required clippers for; Dilys Derwent, she knew, was flitting between her St. Mungos and Hogwarts portraits to report Arthur Weasley’s condition to Albus.
‘Oh, she said the wound was serious, very serious. Too much bleeding to be an ordinary bite-’
‘Potter said it was Voldemort’s snake that did the biting,’ said Minerva grimly. She left out the other things Harry had expressed in the darkness of the Headmaster’s office; she did not want to add to the boy’s troubles by letting them be known.
‘Surely a rare venom with a rare antidote to match,’ said Professor Sprout softly, her words a whisper in the silence of the Greenhouse.
‘But not an antidote Healer Smethwyck can’t find,’ said Madam Pomfrey confidently, a little louder than she had perhaps planned, though Minerva could see moisture gathering in her eyes. She too, hoped that Arthur would survive this, but there was little she could do but hope.
The snow fell softly around her as she walked back to the castle, her wand issuing steam as she held it out, melting a path. Keeping in step, Poppy was quiet, her face still red after the wine. The Hospital Wing, Minerva imagined, was a slightly more welcome place to be than the Staff Room. An ugly grimace appeared on her face as she remembered, as she did every day, who its likely occupant would be. She could be positive about a great many things, but Christmas with Dolores was not one of them.
After Poppy wandered off to find a staircase that would take her to the hospital wing, Minerva found herself trying to find reasons to not go back to the staff room. Fiddling with a stray string trailing from her tartan gown, she felt, admittedly, rather alone as she stared out at the snowy Hogwarts grounds. A broken line of students stretched out towards Hogsmeade; half of them littered the snow, their brightly colored scarves gleaming as they frolicked in the smooth whiteness. A smile nearly pulled Minerva’s lips apart, but she had a striking image of an old memory from not two years ago. She looked at the stained-glass window and the portraits around it she had stopped at; was this the same window? The very same window from which she and Poppy had watched Fred and George Weasley bewitch snowballs into their older brother Percy’s dormitory room?
Orange paint on a blank canvas, they were pasted like afterimages in her eyes. Again, the thought of the Weasleys clustered, unsmiling, by the fire in Grimmauld Place stung her. It was days like this that she regarded her profession with a bittersweet taste; the faces of her fiery-haired students over the years swam into her mind until she was forced to turn away from the window. Like the page of an open book unconsciously shifting in the wind, she gathered her skirts and climbed up the staircase that had swivelled around to meet her. Her face, in this short walk, transformed into fixed sternness, betraying none of her previous reflections. But once the door swung open in front of her, Minerva found an unexpected relief flooding her; her former stiffness gave way once again to the empty room.
Lying, folded and unread, on the surface of her desk, the Daily Prophet was among other paraphernalia that she surveyed with irritation. She vanished the parchment and the newspaper away before taking a seat behind the desk, but not before she locked eyes with the moving image of Harry Potter on the front page. She didn’t need to read; she knew Rita Skeeter well enough. She poured herself a cup of tea, finding the clink of china far more comforting than her own thoughts.
It had been several days since the attack on Arthur Weasley, and things had happened so suddenly and so quickly, but Harry’s clammy, pale face narrating the incidents of his dream remained with her ever since. She awoke early every day. The Christmas holidays began as miserably as she was sure they would end. Today was like all the other yesterdays. With no classes to prepare for, she dressed and departed for the hospital wing to get Poppy, who seemed to already know half of what Minerva knew through Dilys Derwent’s portrait. They found Pomona in one of her Greenhouses, tending to a Venomous Tentacula, ignorant of the details of Arthur Weasley’s hospitalisation.
Even as she answered questions, Minerva found her mind coming back, time and time again, to Harry. For a moment, engulfed in her distaste for Dolores, she had forgotten him, but Rita Skeeter had prodded her thoughts unknowingly. The truth was that Minerva had always been unsure of what to say to the boy. She tried to treat him like any other student, but it was impossible. From a ten-year-old frying bacon in Petunia Dursley’s kitchen to being splashed on the front pages of wizarding journalism, branded a liar, she had seen much of Harry Potter’s progression as a wizard, and his growth as a young boy. As she watched him that night, she was taken back a year, to how cold his arms were as she tried to pry them off Cedric Diggory’s dead body.
‘I was the snake,’ he had said. ‘I saw it all from the snake’s point of view.’
Minerva shuddered, shaking her head. She felt a great deal of pity for Potter. Year after year, there were new horrors he found himself a participant in. She had half begun to expect it; danger followed him like a curse. Albus, as usual, seemed to understand much more of this than she did. She frowned, attempting to suppress the curiosity that filled her. She took another sip of tea, and was dismayed to find that all that remained after her extensive thinking was a cold mass of dregs. At that moment, what she had judged to be a pile of clothes moved suddenly. Her eyes magnified by her large spectacles, Sybill Trelawney stared at Minerva like she was some newly discovered star-chart.
‘Minerva, does something irk you?’ she asked dreamily. With a sigh, Minerva folded her arms.