Jillian Patil and Sparrow Jones sat in chairs
before Headmistress McGonagall’s desk, at evening on a Thursday.
McGonagall adjusted her glasses. “Let me see if
I have Longbottom's report correct. You two experimented with
an unheard-of wand effect, and not only managed to achieve
silent spell-casting within the space of an evening, thereby setting an entire
tree on fire, your wands managed to turn the Priori Incantatem into a spell amplifier. And that this is why the
school is now missing a tower. Yes?”
Sparrow and Jill nodded.
“I am glad to know that you are now willing to follow
Miranda’s lead in telling your supervisor what you’ve done. I just wish you had
told someone what you were doing before you had tried this. Though I will admit, nobody could have expected the
result.” She steepled her fingers. “Nor did Professor Clearwater offer any
warning of the matter beforehand, so unless she had chosen to be extremely unprofessional and say
nothing, the events of the previous evening were not liable to put anyone in
you two are clearly playing with forces well beyond what you thought you
expected. I am tempted to lock both of your wands in separate iron safes at
opposite ends of the castle and ask Ollivander to give you new ones that are
less volatile, for everyone’s safety.”
Both girls paled. Such as they could.
“But I am playing nice, and assuming that this
is another avenue of exploration. I suggest you take it. I expect that you will
be much more careful with that Priori
Incantatem from now on.”
Jill looked confused. “You’re not mad that we
smashed a tower?”
“Firstly, there was no one else in it; secondly,
some structural damage is the price of giving wands to a bunch of children. The
castle can repair itself. I am more concerned for the remote possibility that
anyone was on the ground below the tower. But fortunately for you two, I have
not heard any reports of injuries, thereby bearing out Clearwater’s lack of
brought out her parchment and quill, and wrote upon it, You speak of playing nice, but I do not understand why you are playing nice with us. I know you
have chafed against the Statute of Secrecy for most of your life, but – why?
Why even before the events of the last few decades? The memories we saw in the
pensive – pardon me for mentioning the first one. Did it have something to do
with the Statute like the others did?
“That is somewhat personal.”
Scribble scribble. Shan’t bring it up again.
"I don’t mean…you know what, fine. I haven’t
spoken to anyone else about this since Dumbledore died." McGonagall drew her
wand and tapped the large wooden case on the table beside the desk. There was
the sound of many bolts sliding open. She lifted the lid and, with a slight bit
of effort, brought out a huge book. "And both of you need to understand the high cost of war anyway."
The book went thump as she placed it on the desk. McGonagall opened the cover and then tapped the pages with her wand. They flipped rapidly to the middle of the book and lay still. McGonagall spun the book around to face the children.
There was a man in the photographs, slightly shorter than McGonagall, with a face that resembled hers. In some pictures he was playing with his children in the garden. In others he was on a broomstick up in the sky, dressed in full flying leathers, the wisps of cloud flashing past the camera. Then as McGonagall flipped the page past the 1980 mark, the pictures were all of his children, and he appeared no more.
Save for a lone gravestone on a high hill, the wild wind bending the grass about it and blowing the clouds behind. On the stone was a carving of a bird with wings spread wide, and below it the inscription:
Robert McGonagall, 1935-1979. A free bird to the end, an angel in the darkest hour. Fly high, my friend. Fly on.
"Bit morbid to have a photograph of a gravestone in a family album," said McGonagall, "but there was a day of a strong gale, and I decided it would be a fitting to show the wind whirling about his grave. He would have liked that."
"What happened to him?" said Jill.
"Hard to say exactly how it happened," said McGonagall, "But we found one half of him with his broom on one side of a lake and one half on the other, three dead Death Eaters in the crater with him, twenty muggles in the woods beyond, five dead in the burning village across the lake, and the Dark Mark in the sky. If that thing hadn't been there...it's possible we might never have known where or why he'd disappeared. Maybe the muggles would have buried him and signed his death certificate as "John Doe", and he would have vanished out of our world."
"Where was his backup, then?"
"The other aurors. Did they abandon him? Was he just out on patrol or something and couldn't call for help in time?"
"He wasn't an Auror."
Jill and Sparrow raised their eyebrows.
"A spirited young man, yes. Talented flyer, dashing and daring. A competent fighter, but he never liked that business very much. He handled the war far worse than I did. Couldn't stand the thought of people killing each other for anything. Never joined the Aurors, tried to stay high in the sky even by night. You'd think a pack of Death Eaters at night would have been hard to spot from the air but if they were setting houses on fire they would have been easy to see, and rather obvious with their Dark Mark in the sky. Usually Death Eaters cast the mark after they got the job done. Perhaps they were overconfident."
"What about the witness accounts?"
"Some twat had obliviated the lot of them before I got to the other side of the lake."
Jill's eyes lit up red. The air around her became noticeably warmer.
McGonagall looked only slightly perturbed. "Jill, if you would be so kind as to avoid setting my office on fire?"
Sparrow laid her hand over Jill's. The red light faded.
"Consider that it has been many decades since that moment," said McGonagall, "and that revenge served cold would be served to people who may well have tried to atone. Would you call these people guilty, or innocent?"
Jill hung her head, and said nothing.
"In this case," continued McGonagall, "it was standard operating procedure applied overzealously. Ruined the investigation. Inspector Grey was furious, and sacked the poor junior officer on the spot. But, too late. The damage was done. The Wizarding World never got a chance to know exactly what Robbie had done, nor did my family feel they had a chance to mourn him properly -- it would have been altogether fitting and proper to bury him in the village churchyard, but the muggles didn't even remember that he'd been there, just that there were a few houses caught on fire which caused a gas explosion. We didn't even have the chance to argue that they all had the right to retain their memory in this case."
I CALL THAT THEFT. ◊◊
"Theft," said McGonagall. "That's one way to put it."
THEFT FROM YOU, FROM YOUR FAMILY, FROM THE MUGGLES, FROM OUR WORLD, FROM THE ANNALS OF OUR HISTORY-- I DARESAY THAT THE TWENTY MUGGLES MADE IT ACROSS THE LAKE BECAUSE THE SPELLS OF THE DEATH EATERS COULD NOT TOUCH THEM, NOT BEFORE MR. MCGONAGALL'S DEATH NOR AFTER. ◊◊
"You think Robbie pulled a Lily Potter," said McGonagall.
◊◊ I KNOW IT. ◊◊
"Pity there's no clear evidence to support such a conclusion," said McGonagall. "Though if you call it theft, I can certainly see what you mean. A theft from personal history as well as public. I have often thought that Voldemort's use of posessions from the Hogwarts founders as horcruxes was a theft of our collective heritage."
“He put a horcrux in the locket of Salazar
Slytherin,” said Jill. “I wouldn’t call that thing my heritage.”
“Perhaps not,” said McGonagall, “though you might still find your heritage in the cup of Helga Hufflepuff, or the diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw.”
“Hers too?” said Jill. “Why on earth – ”
“He had a twisted sense of history, alas. And
thereby poisoned some of ours. It’s quite a bit difficult to destroy a horcrux
without destroying its vessel. Impossible as far as anyone knows. So, Harry and
his friends hadn’t any time to waste on experimenting, and we lost two
artifacts, as well as a thousand year’s worth of them in the Room of
“You could say it’s all junk,” said Jill. “Not
something to cling to when other people’s lives are on the line.”
"Perhaps not," said McGonagall. "Though if all I have left of the people I knew is bits and pieces, then for me those is the last bit of their life I can hold on to. And I am old, children. Most of the people I knew from my youth are gone. So I am far more inclined to hang onto 'junk' than you might be."
"Fair point," said Jill.
Sparrow linked arms with Jill, just to make it clear what she wanted to hang on to.
"Hold on to people," said McGonagall. "Aye, that's always the more important thing, isn't it. And yet — better to know what my people have been up to over the centuries, than to know nothing of them, eh? To have no roots and thus fall before the howling wind. And as for my roots...well, I could try to trace the origins of my mother's family, but they cut her off as soon as she married my father, so it's not as though I consider that a deep root. And as for my father's line, how am I supposed to look into the genealogy of a couple Irish weavers? Muggles don't exactly keep their records well or carefully. Malfoys and Ollivanders and Potters and McKinnons can trace their family histories back to the Middle Ages, sometimes even before, and claim very deep roots indeed. But not me."
◊◊ AM I MAKING YOU FEEL UPROOTED, THEN? ◊◊
"Oh no," said McGonagall. "Hardly. I see my roots as going very deep, children. Deep as the tunnels go below this castle, down to the walls full of pictures that whisper. My roots are here. If this is where I stand, no wind shall move me. So you can imagine how it felt to know that the cup of Helga Hufflepuff, the Diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw and the Locket of Salazar Slytherin had been extant after all, and yet poisoned forever. Living connections to the past, now only fit to be destroyed. Our history tossed into the void by fools who were so jealous of keeping our little world pure that they would break the past and tear down the future for that end -- and in that light, and in the light of Robert's demise, I have reason to agree with Sparrow that our world has suffocated slowly from its secrecy."
Jill looked intrigued. "And yet, your support of our efforts seems even more drastic than the effects of that war would merit."
McGonagall raised an eyebrow. "Are you playing Devil's Advocate, then?"
"I'm just saying, you do still have living connections to ancient history. The portraits, the Sorting Hat, the ghosts -- all was not lost with the horcruxes. If you hadn't shown those memories in the Painful Pensive I would remain confused as to why you were helping us at all."
"Ah," said McGonagall. "Well. Those are certainly living connections, which means they have their own opinions. I will show you how that goes." She rose, and strode away from the desk, leaving the two girls in trepidation as
she disappeared around a bookcase.
A minute later she returned with a battered old Wizard’s
hat, which she placed upon the desk. “Come on then,” she said. “Speak, you
ragged old chapeau.”
The hat seemed to shake itself. “Hardly time
for sorting anyone,” it said.
“Speak of Godric Gryfindor,” said McGonagall.
“Was he a kind man?”
“He was a brave man!” said the hat. “The
bravest and noblest! If you wished to fight a giant there was none better to
have at your side.”
“And how was he at talking to people?” said
“He wasn’t mute, child.”
“No, I mean – could you bring him your
“You could and he would finish them off with a
swing of his mighty sword!”
“No, I mean – fine.” Jill folded her arms.
“What about Helga Hufflepuff, what was she like?”
“A dumpy little kitchen witch! Never saw her
fight a giant. Pfah! She just fed the children sweets and fraternized with
Sparrow thumped her hands on the arms of the
YOU INSOLENT SCRAP OF RAWHIDE! TAKE THAT BACK! ◊◊
“Oh, of course, Miss Jones,” the hat sneered. “I
would have expected you to side with
"That’s quite enough,” said McGonagall. She
picked up the hat and carried it back to wherever it had been hiding, then
returned to the children. "You see what I am left to work with? The hat won't speak a word against Gryffindor. If I would know the truth of Helga Hufflepuff or Rowena Ravenclaw I would try to find it in the effects of their personal creations. But no." She sighed. "Both of those are gone. I wish I could say the same for Salazar Slytherin but leaving a Basilisk in the school made it very clear what he was about."
Jill pointed to the portraits and raised her eyebrows.
"Somewhat more trustworthy," said McGonagall. "Though unlikely to remember anything more than what their subject took care to teach them, alas."
BUT WHAT OF THE MAN IN THE MEMORY? WHO WAS THE MAN IN THE PLOUGHED FIELD? ◊◊
"Consider," said McGonagall, "that I have already shown you more of my personal history than I care to show anyone."
◊◊ AH. NEVER MIND THEN. ◊◊
"I was not finished speaking. What I mean to say is, the photographs I show you next will give you an indication of why my personal life remains private."
She tapped the book's pages with her wand again and they flipped to a slightly earlier section.
This page was full of photographs of one particular
man, a younger man. The same man Sparrow had seen in the pensive, the man of the ploughed field. Here, he was smiling as he rowed a coracle, or played hoop-and-stick, or mowed wheat with a
scythe. In all manner of everyday things he looked like the world could not bring him down.
Every one of the pictures was static.
The top of the page read “Doug,
Then McGonagall flipped the page, and there below where it said
"1960s" was the same man, dandling his children on his knee, tossing
balls to them, teaching
them their spelling, reading to them by the firelight. Like the last
page, this was the chronicle of a happy and prosperous life.
Then McGonagall flipped a few pages ahead to one marked "1970s", and
it was Doug again, only this page had fewer photos. There he was
bringing in the harvest, sending his children off to school, teaching
them to play the fiddle. The neat rows and columns had wider space
between them than the previous pages, as if whoever put this book
together had tried to stretch the arrangement to obscure the comparative
lack of content. Nevertheless, at a certain point on the right-hand
page, the photographs stopped halfway across.
“Did he not do much in the 1970s?” said Jill.
“Were his photos from that decade mostly lost?”
"Not lost," said McGonagall. "But past 1973 there was no chance to have any more."
"But no more photographs of his children either?"
"Ah, well. I wouldn't exactly say that. There's one from the Glasgow necropolis." She flipped the page. "And one last photo from the memorial servie."
This time the page was even more sparse. In the center was a photo of six headstones, topped with snow, impossible to read in the twilight.
Below it was a photo of a placard that had been set up on a table, bearing a picture of Doug and a short epitaph:
Dougal McGregor, 1937-1973. Devoted father, adoring husband. May his memory be a blessing.
"He had asked me to marry him," said McGonagall.
"Oh," said Jill. "So all that was -- "
"I almost did, you know. He was such a kind man."
"Why not then?" said Jill.
"I had not told him I was a witch," said McGonagal.
"You couldn't do that?"
"Oh," said McGonagall. "I might have. And lost my damn job, and my career along with it. Or I could have married him and never told him, and thus run into the very pain that my mother faced for so many years -- I would have had to hide my magic away, to hope my children were not magical -- imagine what it feels like to hide yourself away from someone you have sworn to trust!"
Jill and Sparrow exchanged glances.
"I know the feeling very well," said Jill.
"Then you can understand why I had to break off the engagement," said McGonagall. "And why I couldn't explain myself to him."
"I did wonder why both of you looked so distraught in that moment."
AND YET YOU HAVE ALL THESE PHOTOGRAPHS OF HIM? ◊◊
"A gift of his father, after the funeral. Whatever copies he could make from whatever post-1953 negatives he could find. Doug and I had remained friends all those years."
YOU STILL LOVED EACH OTHER. ◊◊
"We did indeed," said McGonagall. "Though it was a few years before we actually reconciled. And afterward...there was always a little distance between us. I could visit his house on the summer
holidays, play with his children, and yet -- never tell him what I was,
nor tell him why I had shut him out, nor explain the moments when I could
not be there for him."
"What happened to him?" said Jill. "What happened to his family?"
"Death Eaters," said McGonagall. "A random attack, no different than what Robbie was trying to stop. I was not there to save the McGregor family. I should have been there. If I had just taken the risk and married Doug in full honesty then I would have been in a position to save him. But no, I could not be there. And so perished Dougal McGregor, and his wife Mary Coburn, and his children, Duncan, Alastair, Isobel, and little Fergus, all because I was a damn coward.
"So I have remembered the names of those children, because I must. Because they were stolen from me by the Statute of Secrecy, just as my future with Doug was stolen, just as Robbie was stolen, just as my heritage was stolen. Sparrow, you ask me why I am in on your little game now? Because I failed Doug and I failed his children. And because I failed you."
"I could have been guiding you on safe courses towards the end of the Statute years ago. But that afternoon last September, all I did was shut you down, and then tacitly approve of your efforts after all, without giving you real guidance, because I wanted you to do my work for me without having to bear the cost of your failure. I might lost yet another student to the Statute, when you died for making a mistake with the Animagus potion, or got blown to bits by a random reactionary, or...or I don't even know. If I had never tried to take the matter in hand, it would not be you alone I had betrayed, and I came very close to doing that. I am sorry."
DO NOT BLAME YOURSELF FOR MY FOLLY. ◊◊
"Should I not?" said McGonagall. "I am the head of a school, after all. This is where children are supposed to become less foolish. It is my job to ensure that."
"Hey," said Jill. "I've been trying to get Sparrow to put the kibosh on this business for three years. I failed her as well."
JILL, DON'T YOU BLAME YOURSELF TOO. ◊◊
"What else could I say of myself, for trying to stifle someone who could not be stifled?"
"You could say you were only slightly younger than you are now," said McGongall, "and that you have all forced each other to learn much over a very short period of time. Now, are you both satisfied with my explanation?"
Both girls nodded.
"But you both still look pensive."
YOU SAID THERE WERE DEEP TUNNELS? BELOW
THE DUNGEONS? ◊◊
“I would recommend you refrain from exploring
them,” said McGonagall, “until such time as you don’t have to keep a leaf in
your mouth. Talking of which, do you have any of the ingredients for that whole
Sparrow shook her head.
“Get them. You need to let the dew lay in
darkness for seven days and you only have so much time left. The moon is
already waxing towards the half. Let me know if there are any ingredients you
can’t find, and I will talk to Professor Longbottom. No further questions. Dismissed."
Both girls left the office looking as grim as they had entered it.