Minerva awoke the next morning feeling rested and relaxed for the first time in days. She sat up, smiled at the photographs, and set about her morning routine. A half hour later found her in the kitchen nibbling on a piece of toast. As she ate she blatantly ignored the copy of The Daily Prophet sitting on the edge of the table. She had taken one glance at it earlier, saw the headline about Hogwarts students leaving school a week early, and had set it aside. She felt it was wrong for the newspaper to take advantage of the students at such a hard time. They were shocked, sad, upset, devastated, and not in any condition to be torn apart by a heartless reporter.
She was worried about the students coping with the death of their beloved headmaster and what would happen if Dumbledore’s predictions about Voldemort were correct. It had been bad enough returning for her final year in school after the Chamber of Secrets had been opened during her sixth year. As Minerva finished breakfast and began to clean the cottage for the summer, she recalled the events from her seventh year. If only she had known then what she knew now…
It was early September in 1943, and the seventeen-year-old Minerva McGonagall was sitting at her usual table in the secluded back corner of the library, already overloaded with homework. It had been a rough summer. Not only had that girl, Myrtle, been killed last year, but Rubeus Hagrid had been expelled for the attack. Hagrid had been in Minerva’s house, and though she didn’t know him well it had been a shock when he was blamed for opening the Chamber of Secrets. She highly doubted that Hagrid was the real culprit, he had always seemed a kind and good-hearted boy.
Receiving the Head Girl badge with her Hogwarts letter had been the only positive part of the summer. Her parents had been incredibly proud. Though they had been in different years during their school days, they had both served as Head Boy and Girl. Over her farewell dinner, Minerva’s father had announced that the Minister of Magic was impressed with her accomplishments in school and thought there may be a position for her with the Ministry when she was ready. There had been a hint in her father’s tone that he expected her to consider this statement. Her parents had always held extremely high expectations for her, but sitting in the library surrounded by books with Head Girl duties and Quidditch practice to worry about tomorrow, Minerva felt that she had had enough.
A chair leg scraped across the floor, interrupting her thoughts. Looking up, she watched as Tom Riddle took a seat at the only other table in her corner. He caught her gaze and gave her a small smile. She and Tom in the library together was nothing new: both were intelligent and devoted students, and last year no other students had dared to sit in “their corner.”
“Have a good summer, Minerva?” Even if Tom was reserved and mysterious, he was also charming and polite.
“It was decent, I suppose. You?”
“I’m always glad to be back,” Tom evaded the question easily. Minerva recalled with a jolt that he lived in a Muggle orphanage, and she regretted her simple question. However, Tom didn’t seem to mind. He nodded at the badge on her chest and said, “Congratulations on Head Girl.”
“Thank you, Tom. I’m sure you’ll get Head Boy next year.”
He raised his eyebrows at her, smirked, and said, “We’ll see.” With that, he opened the first large book on his table, and Minerva returned her attention to the Potions essay she was supposed to be writing.
She had really wanted to ask him why he had accused Hagrid last year, but she didn’t have the nerve. Tom Riddle did not encourage many relationships. Minerva knew that while all the girls in school hoped for a conversation with him, she was one of the very few that he actually acknowledged. She knew that it was only because they had both been Prefects last year and they were both favorites of Professor Slughorn. Slughorn had his own motives however, and had often tried to sit them together at his parties. “My best and brightest should sit with each other,” he would say with an obvious wink. Professor Dippet had seemed to entertain the same notion in assigning them Prefect duties together. No doubt teachers thought they would be the perfect couple: both intelligent, exceptionally skilled, well liked, attractive, and they would even encourage house unity! Minerva had always tolerated the implications but never took them seriously, and she was sure that Tom felt the same way.
As the weeks passed, however, Tom Riddle came to occupy a very large part of her mind. Every evening they both sat in the library engrossed in their work. While Minerva worked on essays and homework assignments, she grew curious as to what Tom was up to. From the glances she stole at his table, he never seemed to have a textbook out. Instead, he was always in the Restricted Section, bringing back ancient and heavy books. He seemed to be studying outside of the Hogwarts curriculum, and Minerva had no idea why.
Finally, one night in November she couldn’t stand it anymore. “What are you researching over there?” Tom looked up sharply at her question, and Minerva drew back slightly at the hard look in his eyes. The question was outside their normal realm of exchanging pleasantries; he obviously felt affronted by it. For a moment he was silent, and she wondered if he was going to bother answering her.
“It’s not for school, really,” he said with his eyes still trained on hers. “I’m hoping to be involved with a few studies with the Ministry when I finish school, and I want as much background information as I can find while I’m here.” Minerva frowned internally. He hadn’t been very specific and she really wanted to ask which subjects he was interested in, but his continued stare was making her uncomfortable.
“That’s smart of you to get as much done now as you can.” She smiled at him and turned back to her Transfiguration homework. However, she continued to feel Tom’s gaze boring into the top of her bent head.
After that night, Minerva saw much less of Tom. He rarely joined her in the library corner, and if he did he never stayed long. When they passed each other in the corridors, he only acknowledged her with a nod of hello. As she saw less of him, she was surprised to find that she thought of him more. Where was he now spending his evenings? Had her question really offended him, or was he simply preoccupied with other business? However, she couldn’t shake the feeling that he was watching her. She would sense the same uncomfortable feeling that she had felt in the library when he was looking at her. But when she looked up, Tom was always engrossed in conversation with his Slytherin friends.
Christmas came and passed, and upon returning to Hogwarts Minerva found an addition to the school and staff. A small wooden house had been built on the grounds near the edge of the Forbidden Forest, and the story circulating through the Great Hall during breakfast was that Rubeus Hagrid was living there as the new gamekeeper. There had been rumors in the fall that the young boy accused of the attack last year had been living in Hogsmeade, taking instructions from the Transfiguration professor on how to care for the school grounds.
One Saturday after Quidditch practice, she was walking back to the Gryffindor common room when she saw Hagrid up ahead in the corridor. “Oh, hullo Minerva!” He said brightly when he saw her. “Quidditch practice, eh? Are yeh goin’ to win the cup this year?”
“Hopefully, if we keep playing well. How are you?”
“Well, I’m as good as can be I s’pose.” Minerva pitied the boy as he looked down at his feet, clearly embarrassed. “I’m off ter see Professor Dippet. Somethin’s killin’ plants in the garden, and I need permission – “ Hagrid stopped suddenly, his face reddening as he looked behind Minerva. She turned and saw Tom looking at them with a strange gleam in his eye.
“Hello, Tom,” she challenged him. It was the first time they had spoken in months.
“Good afternoon, Minerva. Hagrid,” he nodded to each of them in turn. There was an awkward pause, and then he looked Hagrid in the eye. “I suppose you’re enjoying your duties as gamekeeper? You must have been thrilled to be out of Azkaban so soon.” Minerva’s eyes grew wide with shock and Hagrid’s face flushed purple.
“Don’t you dare insult me, Riddle! We ruddy hell know this is yer fault!” he shouted, raising his large fist in the air.
“I don’t believe you are in the position to give me orders, Hagrid.” Tom spun on his heels and walked away.
“Come back here!” Hagrid yelled down the corridor and began to set after him. Minerva leapt in front of him and held her wand out to stop him.
“Hagrid, no! He’ll just make things worse for you. Go to Professor Dippet like you were planning; I’m Head Girl and I can deal with Tom.” Hagrid finally lowered his fist, and looking defeated, walked away. Minerva ran down the hall in the opposite direction. Just around the corner, she found Tom casually leaning against the wall. “You arse! How dare you talk to him that way after what you did!”
Tom rolled his eyes. “Calm down, Minerva. You and I both know that if Dumbledore didn’t meddle into this business he would still be in Azkaban. He’s lucky that he’s even allowed here.”
“It doesn’t matter! You and I both know that Hagrid wasn’t the one responsible for the attack last year.”
“Do we?” Tom stood up straight and glared at her, his eyes gleaming. Did his eyes really just flash scarlet or was that the torchlight?
“Yes, we do.” Minerva’s heart pounded in her chest, she had never seen Tom this way before. He was standing at his full height with his eyes still flashing daggers at her. With his jaw clenched and mouth set in a grim line, thin nostrils slightly flaring, his perfect face looked distorted and almost ugly. Up close, his skin seemed paler than usual and as unnaturally smooth as marble. She was afraid; she didn’t understand him and didn’t know what he was capable of. His eyes bore into hers for another moment, and then he smirked at her as if he knew something she didn’t and walked away.
The remainder of Minerva’s final year passed innocently enough. She spent all of her days with her friend and roommate, Augusta Rosier, who insisted that Tom was a madman and Minerva shouldn’t be alone. She even quit her usual study table, grudgingly sitting with Augusta in the Gryffindor common room and trying to ignore the rowdy younger students. Tom Riddle grew distant in her mind as she and Augusta studied for their N.E.W.T. exams and began planning a world traveling excursion for the following year.
All too soon, Minerva found herself ready to board the Hogwarts Express for the final time. Looking back across the lake, she took in the castle for the last time. Despite a few rough spots in the last two years, she had truly enjoyed her time there. Hogwarts had given her friendship and knowledge, courage and happiness. With all she had accomplished in those halls, she knew she had a bright future ahead of her. The whistle blew, and she hurried onto the train to find a compartment with Augusta. As they began to pull out of the station, she looked back once. The sun was gleaming on the softly rippling lake, and the many turrets stood out against a bright blue sky. Minerva took a picture in her mind, thinking it would be her last look at Hogwarts.
Back in the present, Minerva sat down roughly on the couch. Other than his future followers, she had been one of the closest people to Tom Riddle back then. Looking back, it was so easy to find the signs that foreshadowed what he was to become. Or, rather, what he had already done; she knew now that it was he who had opened the Chamber of Secrets. She closed her eyes. Merlin knows what he may have done to me the day I challenged him. She could still see him standing above her, eyes gleaming. Now, she realized that he had been using Legilimency to see if she knew the truth about him. There is nothing I can change now, she tried to console herself. As she walked to the kitchen to make tea, another thought gripped her. What had he been researching in the library? By the time she had learned that he was working for Borgin and Burkes, she had forgotten about that particular conversation. What if it was important? For the rest of the evening she brooded over her tea, wondering if she was right to worry or if it was simply another skeleton to add to her already overflowing closet.
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