Headmistress McGonagall was nowhere near as controversial as her predecessor. She was given a thankless task, but rose to it with aplomb. Her work rebuilding the school was lauded even by the Prophet. And she never once had a salacious biography published about her early romance with some budding Dark Lord. Young wizards and witches mourned the loss of her presence when she gave up her post, cheered her retirement, and toasted to her good health. Their parents, however, raised some complaints. McGonagall had a habit of hiring young, untested staff. Longbottom for the Herbology position. Thomas to cover a year of transfiguration. Granger as a contentious visiting professor of Muggle Studies; she stuffed the children’s heads with anti-establishment notions, and proved to be difficult grader, besides. And, as if this was not bad enough, sometimes these young radicals did not merely visit or stay for a year. Longbottom was gifted Head of Gryffindor in short time and proved to be a fixture, patient and smiling and impossible to oust even at the efforts of school governors who swore up and down that his wartime actions were a fluke brought on by desperation. In truth, screamed parents and governors, he had very little magical power, quantitatively speaking, and ought to have been driving the Knight Bus, not handling magically powerful children.
But nothing could induce Professor McGonagall to fire him. And so too with his fellows, for Thomas and Granger came and went as they liked; and, worst of all, on the eve of the Headmistress’s retirement, flighty adjuncts Vane, Chang, and Brown were awarded tenure.
Awful! Vane was a bubble-headed creature, as arrogant as her name suggested, who was far too gossipy to be an effective librarian. True, she seemed to know instinctively which books which children desired, but often these were books on young love and skincare and fashion, not the proper thousand-page Instructional Tomes of yesteryear. And Chang was given to emotionality; everyone knew that. As flying instructor, people whispered that she let her adoration for a long-lost Hufflepuff override natural house pride. Accordingly, she was distressingly fair when it came to judging matters of Quidditch, putting down anyone from any house who looked to spice up the game with a little cheat here or there. And besides, she seemed more interested in teaching escape tactics and defensive flight from Dark wizards than manly feats of derring-do like the Wronski feint; blending flying and Defense in ridiculous new ways, entirely ignoring the Ministry-approved syllabus. As for her friend, that near-werewolf Brown? She used Divination not so much to foretell the future as to instruct the children on how to weed out charlatans and liars. She whispered that the point of teacups and tea leaves was fun, and also knowing when someone was having you on. She claimed that nine out of ten prophecies had no real point; they always came true, whether you knew about them or not. But knowing where to find the excitement in magic, where to let yourself enjoy it, even if it was wooly? She could teach them that.
Oh, these girlish beings were unbearable. Governors and parents could not abide them; it was not simply that they failed to care much about testing and studying, but that they were failures as witches. They did themselves up in Muggle fashions instead of pointy hats, flaunted boyfriends (and girlfriends) in Hogsmeade, and cheerfully gabbed to students about using Mugwort to make lipgloss, of all silly things! It was terrible of the Headmistress to lock them into their positions. The Headmistress! Formerly so sensible.
Of course, in the year leading up to the Headmistress’s retirement, she had considered gently sending them away. She did not dislike them, but they were not as clear-headed, as stiff-lipped as her favorite students. They had recommended that she hire Daphne Greengrass (of the very much still blood purist Greengrasses) for the Potions position, purely because they’d met and admired her hair at some mixer in Diagon. And they went to mixers in Diagon! They did not don long, professorly nightshirts and patrol the halls like the staff of yesteryear. They tossed on dangly earrings and danced the night away in these new nightclubs, and then quaffed hangover remedies and exhaustion-curing potions before their morning classes. True, they knew their subjects and taught them well. But this was still very cavalier behavior.
But then, over Christmas, Yasmina Yaxley went missing.
Yaxley was a silly little Slytherin. Her family was dreadful, her father imprisoned, and yet the daffy little creature seemed not to notice. She floated through the halls discussing Witch Weekly to anyone who would listen; she cared very little about politics or current affairs; and she had begun a strange kind of dungeon sorority that ran on networking and gossip. It occurred to the Headmistress that of course Yaxley would go missing for no reason; Yaxley was just the type to cause trouble like that, not at all a rational, sober, and shrewd child.
Protocol was followed by most teachers. Search parties dispatched to the forest. Owls sent home. Students send to their dormitories. Rote, sensible procedure, carried out with methodical accuracy.
But Vane, who’d had long, girlish talks with Yaxley and seen her check out books on the war alongside books on haircare, immediately conferred with Chang. And Chang had lent an ear to Yaxley when she’d seemed down, and helpfully flown her near a certain still-cursed section of the grounds that Yaxley had seemed particularly interested in. So she suggested they take what they knew to Brown. And Brown confirmed it. Yaxley saw particularly morbid things in tea leaves; she had a kind of secret fixation she rarely revealed to her fellow students, but she would come out with it, if you happened to be her favorite professor.
So Vane seized up her owl to send for help should they need it, a sensible notion. And Chang grabbed her broomstick to get them to where they had to go – also very clear-thinking. And Brown? Just to make sure, she cross-referenced school records, and also brought along a certain book by Horace Slughorn, a book not much noticed in these postwar days, for it discussed the role of Slytherins in the war, and the truth was: much of the Wizarding World longed to pretend the worst of the war had never happened.
Then, when they found Yaxley, they gave her the book, and also cocoa, and also they looked each other in the eye. They privately decided that, the student having been unhurt, despite straying into a place very badly affected by Dark Magic, and in fact no one having been hurt, perhaps they ought to take this cause up with the Headmistress. Perhaps, in this case, it would be fairer to leave off point-taking and detentions.
“She’s really not so very silly when you get to know her,” said Vane to the Headmistress. “The truth is, the silliness is a bit of an escape.”
“Speaking of,” said Chang, “That’s just what her brother did. You know, in the war. Escaped. And then after that he was struck down here at the Hogwarts grounds, blown to pieces by some curse.”
“Slughorn has the time and place of death recorded,” said Brown, “And it appears to be right where Yasmina likes to go. Of course, she didn’t realized the full extent of the trapping hexes there, and she got herself caught by one.”
“Well, that is foolish in the extreme!” said the Headmistress. She was horrified and angry, scarcely able to believe that some child in her care was obsessed with the resting grounds of a Death Eater. Silly Yaxley had probably made an idol of him, as foolish little girls were wont to do. “An in-dungeon suspension should–”
“Deter her not at all,” said Vane.
Chang gave a delicate cough. “Begging your pardon, but it didn’t deter her brother. After you sent him and his housemates back down to the dungeons, he came right back up. And fought. For us.”
All words dried up in McGonagall’s throat.
“Speaking as someone who was there, professor, you weren’t wrong,” said Brown. “But you rather are now. See, sometimes I think we assume we know the measure of people, when really all we know are silly little details. Houses. Colors. What they read. Not who they are.”
“So we recommend tutoring in hex defense,” said Vane.
“And therapy,” said Chang.
“And perhaps a shoulder to lean on, a fellow Slytherin. It’s been so long since we had a Slytherin on the staff,” said Brown. “Still longer since we had a nice one with nice hair.”
In the end, McGonagall decided to keep these three girlish creatures on a more permanent basis. They were new thinkers, in their way. Good for the school. And Yaxley received her tutoring and therapy. And Greengrass, in short time, was hired.
Which was lovely, because she made an excellent hangover remedy.