cclxvii. the board's choice

In her thirty-nine years of teaching at Hogwarts, Minerva had witnessed her fair share of misbehaving students.

Most grew out of their unruliness once they left the school or as they reached their final years. Some needed only one or two detentions to learn their obstinance and disrespect wouldn't be tolerated at Hogwarts, and their behavior moderated. A few had difficulty adjusting to life in boarding school and acted out; Minerva anticipated this and, in the case of her own House, took steps to help or mediate.

She didn't consider any of the children she'd seen pass through those hallowed halls bad, even those who later became truly evil men and women. It was a tragedy each and every time the morning Prophet arrived and she opened it to read news about one of her former pupils being arrested. In the wake of You-Know-Who's first fall, when the Ministry busied themselves grabbing Death Eaters left and right, Minerva had dreaded seeing the pictures in the papers, unable to avoid the flashes of gap-toothed smiles and young, rounded faces flickering in her mind.

She always wondered how they'd failed them, what they could have done differently to lead those poor boys and girls to better paths. It was a tragedy whenever she looked at Severus and recalled her own negligence in his care, regret turning her stomach. She strove to be better for the students, no matter the circumstances engulfing their world; Dark Lord or no Dark Lord, she wanted Hogwarts' children to thrive and learn to the best of their ability.

She didn't have bad students, but Minerva thought Accipto Lestrange might be the closest thing to it.

The son of Bellatrix and Rodolphus Lestrange, the boy had been brought up in the household of his distant relatives Faucon and Ospra Lestrange—according to Albus. The Headmaster had confessed to Minerva he suspected it was a rather uncomfortable situation, the young Lestrange reared in the care of a butler and steward while Faucon and Ospra, two of the final members of the French branch of the family, spent much of their year in Cannes raising their own son and daughter. Both Faucon and Ospra had been suspected of funding You-Know-Who during the war and had subsequently distanced themselves from England and its Wizarding society. Taking in the son of a noted, infamous Dark witch had not been in their plans.

However, even taking into account his troubled upbringing, Minerva struggled to find sympathy for Accipto Lestrange. From the moment he stepped foot in the castle, he'd been a cruel, maligning little boy who thrived on delinquency and contempt. His youthful pranks had always held an edge of malice, and as he'd aged, his attitude had become progressively more and more aggressive, and he'd grown cunning in hiding his activities. Despite what the student body may assume, the faculty were not blind to Mr. Lestrange's abuse of narcotic potions, but they had thus far been unable to prove either his usage or possession of the illicit substance. No amount of detentions had ever dissuaded the lad, and his Head of House enabled his nefarious activities.

Still, never in Minerva's wildest imaginations would she have thought a student of the school capable of this level of maliciousness. Nor would she have expected the Board to be so willfully incompetent.

"There has been a clear and flagrant violation of the school's rules and bylaws," Albus said, directing his stare down the polished table toward the head of Hogwarts' Board of Governors, Thaddeus Grimwood. He was a long, slender wizard with gray eyes set above a thin and short, groomed beard. "Mr. Lestrange willfully attacked another student, both with magic and with a weapon, and left Miss Granger petrified until she was found by a fellow student."

Mr. Grimwood held a quill in his callused hand and stroked his thumb idly along the vanes, making no notes upon his parchment. "We understand your concerns and express our own regrets in seeing a pupil of this academy injured. Unfortunately, there are no witnesses to this alleged assault, Headmaster. We only have the word of those involved to go off and…well."

Incredulous, Minerva looked to Albus, whose brow rose toward his hairline. "Miss Granger is currently in our hospital wing with a rather awful slur emblazoned upon her arm. Do you imagine she did this to herself, Mr. Grimwood?"

The other members of the Board turned their heads like owls as they watched the conversation, the majority of the old, fastidious wizards pale and sweaty as the discussion devolved toward an argument.

"I wouldn't dare to presume, Albus. I simply have to express my apprehension in accepting the young witch's version of events."

"I beg your pardon?"

Mr. Grimwood paused to shuffle through the sheaves in front of him. "I have several reports from an agent of the Ministry in the school describing Miss Granger as, ah, 'resistant to Wizarding integration,' and—." He folded the top page, reading the one below. "A 'disoriented attention-seeker.' You can understand my reluctance to punish a young man whose praises have been sung by the Minister himself solely on the word of a potentially unstable little girl."

Minerva couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Miss Granger is not a little girl!" she snapped, ignoring the tempering touch Albus laid on her arm. "She is very nearly of age and could not be a more principled or upright student! No matter the opinions of Madam Umbridge!"

"Minerva," Albus said.

"No, Headmaster. I will not have one of my students depicted as a—a deranged deceiver!"

"But is Mr. Lestrange not your student as well, Deputy Headmistress?" Mr. Grimwood asked. "Allow me to present you with a scenario. A Muggle-born witch with a turbulent upbringing, bounced from one home to another, feels neglected and insignificant in comparison to her peers. She sees an opportunity to ruin the prospects of a promising young wizard slated for a career in the Ministry by inflicting minor self-harm upon herself—."

"Ridiculous!" Minerva cried, flabbergasted. "Miss Granger would do no such thing! And Mr. Lestrange's antagonism of our Muggle-born students is well noted in his record!"

"Neither my infirmary's matron nor I would describe Miss Granger's injuries as minor, Mr. Grimwood."

The loathsome wizard merely hummed, sorting through his documents. In the past, Minerva wouldn't have described Thaddeus as "loathsome." Difficult, certainly. A bit staid and partisan, of course, but Minerva couldn't always call herself impartial, either. He'd once been rather chummy with Professor Slytherin, but in recent terms, she'd noted his agenda had fallen more and more in line with the Ministry's, and his language changed to reflect that fluctuation.

The door to the meeting room opened. Mr. Grimwood shifted in his chair to see the entering Auror, adjusting his lapel so the golden pin there caught the firelight.

"Is the rest of the Board disinclined to argue with Mr. Grimwood's view of the situation?" Dumbledore asked the others arrayed at the table while Thaddeus was occupied. They shifted under his penetrating stare, and Mr. Goldstein cleared his throat.

"It's a complicated situation, Albus," he rasped. "You're asking us to make a permanent decision on supposition."

"I'm asking the Board to approve my earnest recommendation for the expulsion of a pupil who attacked another member of his own House." Had Minerva not been familiar with Albus and his tone, she would have thought his voice calm, but years as his friend told her his patience was running thin. "Dear Apollo, when did it become du jour to ignore flagrant violence in our school simply because the Minister expresses nominal interest in a student?"

Mr. Goldstein didn't answer, and the others avoided eye contact.

Minerva could count on one hand the number of incidents as extreme as this that she'd encountered while working at Hogwarts. Most had been the result of two boys attacking one another with Dark magic—twice because of a blood feud between the families, another time over a witch. Once, an older boy had assaulted a second-year in a heinous manner, and there'd been no doubt of his fate. The Board expelled him without conferring, and the Aurors arrived to bring him to Azkaban in the morning.

She knew the Board was bias. It always had been, as far back as Minerva's own school days, preferring to side with the old families and whoever had a voice among the governors—but never in all her years had they behaved so flagrantly and with such disregard for a student's safety. Had they really fallen so far? The bleak state of the world had rarely felt so overwhelming.

Inadequacy besieged Minerva, and she looked to Dumbledore. "They can't seriously mean to leave him enrolled here, can they?" she asked him in an undertone. "Not after Miss Black found Miss Granger in that state."

"It appears they've made up their minds, Minerva."

Mr. Grimwood nodded to something the Auror muttered in his ear, then addressed the Headmaster once more. "The Slytherin dormitories have been searched as part of this supposed altercation. According to Auror Dawlish, one of the fifth-year girls' luggage could not be accessed."

"Ah," Dumbledore said, clearing his throat. "That would be Miss Potter. As an apprentice to Master Slytherin, she is required to keep certain valuable texts of Ministry-controlled magic. Perfectly acceptable for her to have, but kept under a strong ward for protection of the other students."

Minerva really had to have a word with Miss Potter about her trunk and those snakes of hers.

Mr. Grimwood moved past the issue, uninterested. "The weapon was found." To Auror Dawlish, he crooked two impatient fingers. "Bring them in."

"Well, this should be all the proof we need, then," Minerva grumbled, shifting in her seat. "If they found the blade in Mr. Lestrange's luggage—."

The door opened again, but it wasn't Accipto Lestrange being led inside by another Auror, but instead a pale-faced Elara Black and her irritated Head of House. The Board visibly wilted in Professor Slytherin's presence, and his cold gaze cut across the room to Albus.

"What is the meaning of this?" the Headmaster asked, his voice low, collected, but serious all the same.

"The result of the Aurory's search," Mr. Grimwood said, accepting a covered item from the second Auror. Minerva sat forward to see better, and when Thaddeus turned his hand, he inadvertently flipped open the handkerchief, revealing the dark, obsidian blade inside. "This would be the weapon, as described by Miss Granger. And—would you look at that?" He lifted it higher to inspect the pommel, squinting. "It's inscribed with the Black family crest. An heirloom, I would say."

"He stole it," Miss Black burst out, the words strained as she pulled against the Auror's grip on her arm. "His mother stole it. The ninth knife has been missing from the set for as long as I've been alive, and he's been going about Hogwarts, showing it off—."

"How convenient for it to be found in your armoire, Miss Black," Mr. Grimwood said. "How convenient indeed, when you were the one to discover Miss Granger in the first place."

The young witch's face flushed an ugly red. "He planted it there."

"Male students cannot enter the ladies' dormitories. Surely you're aware of that."

"Then he had Vuharith do it—!"

"Enough." Mr. Grimwood sighed, shaking his head. "The picture is becoming clearer and clearer to me. If you mean to insist on the perpetrator being expelled, Albus, the Board needn't look farther than this room."

Miss Black let out a small, furious gasp. "He—!"

Slytherin waved his hand, a wordless Silencing Charm falling over the poor girl. "Are we done with this farce? No one of my House will be expelled today. The Headmaster won't press the matter and jeopardize Miss Black."

Indeed, Albus could only give his head a slight nod, his fingers pressed to his creased brow. Slytherin smiled—all teeth.

Mr. Grimwood had the good sense to lower his gaze when he addressed the other wizard. "I'm sure the Minister will be glad to hear this has all been a misunderstanding."

"Will he?" Slytherin stepped closer, settling one pale hand on the table's end as to angle his body toward the seated man. Grimwood stiffened. "How are things in your new advisory position in the Minister's cabinet? I hope it's everything you wanted it to be."

Grimwood's throat bobbed as he swallowed.

"How is your family, Thaddeus?"

"G-good. They're good."

"I'm sure."

Slytherin straightened, and he extended his hand. "I'll confiscate that, if you will."

Left without a choice, Mr. Grimwood extended the dagger from Slytherin to take, and he snatched it away with an aggressive motion. The exchange signaled for the rest of the Board to make their departure, not waiting for another word from the Headmaster. The Auror released Miss Black, and Minerva rose to go to her.

"Are you well?" she asked the frightened girl, laying a hand on her arm. Miss Black nodded, but Minerva could feel her shaking.

"His mother stole the dagger from the Black family," she reiterated. "And I don't—I wouldn't—." Her eyes darted toward their Defense professor, then away before she lowered her head. "We don't keep anything like that outside of Harriet's trunk."

"You should be keeping nothing of the sort anywhere in Hogwarts," Minerva said, though the comment lacked conviction even in her own ears. "We know you've nothing to do with what happened, Miss Black."

"But he'll get away with it, won't he?" she demanded, pulling away from Minerva's touch. "They won't touch a hair on his head simply because he's thrown his lot in with Gaunt, and anything that—that bastard says is law!"

Slytherin brushed past Minerva, but rather than offering comfort to his student, he slapped the flat of his palm against her chest, pressing the dagger there. "Take that and desist with your hysteria," he hissed. "If they see you with it, I will report it stolen."

Black winced as she backed away, rubbing at the forming bruise with one hand while the other held the dagger in question. Rather than listening to Slytherin, the girl turned her eyes to Minerva, waiting for dismissal, and Minerva saw no reason for her to linger.

"Go on, Miss Black. Mind Madam Pomfrey's visiting hours, and remind Miss Potter of curfew."

She nodded, then departed, the door softly closing in her wake. Minerva exhaled, ignoring Slytherin, and approached Albus once more where he still sat at the table's head.

"We cannot allow that boy to wander the halls unchecked," she told him, impressing every ounce of her earnestness into her tone. "I don't give a fig what those bawbags from the Ministry say! He's a clear and present danger to the other students, Albus!"

The Headmaster took a long moment to reply, wearing his age in his tired, upset expression. "We'll start with in-school suspension," he said. "That requires no outside clearance beyond our administration, and in the meantime, I will work on the more rational members of the Board and beseech the other Heads in my office to see if there is precedence in this matter." He lifted his head to look Minerva in the face. "But I must confess, in the current political climate, I do not feel hopeful."

Minerva's chest tightened, and her pulse raced. She'd never felt so helpless—her hands tied by the bureaucracy she'd once been employed by, the same government she'd served and lived under. One of the children under her care had been carved into like a jack-o-lantern, and she had to tell her the boy who'd done it wouldn't face any punishment?

"Albus," she asked, her throat almost too dry to speak. They were failing. They were failing every witch and wizard entrusted into their care, and she couldn't do a thing to fix it. "Albus—how are we meant to run this school if we cannot guarantee the safety of our students?"

"To the best of our ability, my dear professor. It is all we can do."

A/N: Remember, in this AU, the Board of Governors has quite a bit of power over the school and Albus' decisions.