One Hundred Eight – Birthday Surprises; Elf Tails

"The students seem to be handling the cancellation of their Hogsmeade weekend well," said Dumbledore at breakfast on the day the trip was supposed to occur. "I thought there might be rioting."

McGonagall shuddered at the thought. "They've had time to adjust to the idea, and some of them have seen the wisdom of the decision," she said. "There were complaints here and there in class, but nothing that docking points didn't cure, when it started to get out of hand."

"Yes, I thought all the hour glasses looked a little lower," said Dumbledore in good humor.

McGonagall had been about to make a retort when her attention was grabbed, instead, by Slughorn waddling through the room as fast as his fat legs would allow, still garbed in his nightclothes.

"Minerva!" Slughorn puffed upon reaching the staff table. "There's been a terrible accident! Weasley – " here Slughorn paused to double over for a moment to catch his breath.

At the combination of the words "terrible accident" and the name of one of her students, McGonagall rose from her chair so fast it fell over. "Where is he?" she demanded.

"My office!" Slughorn wheezed.

McGonagall wrenched Madame Pomfrey out of her chair as she bolted out of the great hall.

"Well, what's happened now?" asked Madame Pomfrey, rather unphased by the rude way in which her breakfast was disturbed.

"Something happened to Weasley in Horace's office," said McGonagall, nearly bowling over a second year as she and Pomfrey turned a corner. "I decided not to wait for the full explanation before taking action."

"What would Weasley have been doing in Horace's office?" Pomfrey asked. "He's not one of the favorites, is he?"

"No, he is not," said McGonagall. She flung open Slughorn's office door to find Harry sitting at Ron's side, shaking his friend's shoulder vigorously and shouting at him.

"Ron! You've got to stay awake until – Professor McGonagall!" Harry exclaimed with relief.

McGonagall pulled Harry away from Ron as Madame Pomfrey fell upon the injured student.

"What happened, Potter?" she said sharply.

"Well, Professor, it's Ron's birthday, and I accidentally dropped – "

"Get to the good point, Potter," said Pomfrey as she tore into Slughorn's supplies.

"Ron accidentally took a love potion, so I brought him down here to have Professor Slughorn reverse it. Once Ron took the antidote, Professor Slughorn offered us some mead – "

"He did what?" McGonagall interrupted.

"Be angry about it later, Professor," Madame Pomfrey suggested.

"Ron drank the mead before anyone else, and then he started convulsing and foaming at the mouth. His eyes looked like they were going to pop out of his head!" Harry continued.

McGonagall felt as though she had been thrown into an ice bath. "And then?" she asked quietly. She felt she only had the power to speak because she already knew the story had an acceptable outcome, failing to result in the death of her student.

"Professor Slughorn was in shock, I think," said Harry. "I shoved a bezoar down Ron's throat and his breathing eased up, and then Slughorn ran out to get you."

McGonagall had to fight hard to keep her expression neutral. Her emotions were warring between intense relief at Ron's continued existence, and utter rage at Slughorn's actions. "Well that was very quick thinking on your part, Potter, and you probably saved Mr. Weasley's life."

"Definitely saved it," said Pomfrey, still at Ron's side. "We need to get him up to a bed."

McGonagall had drawn her wand to assist Pomfrey, but was distracted by a bottle on a table. "Is this the mead?" she asked.

"Yes, Professor," said Harry, though he was looking distractedly at Ron.

McGonagall found the cork, crammed it back into place, and stuffed the bottle into her pocket. "Off to breakfast with you, Potter."

"Professor!" Harry objected. "Can't I go with – "

"No, you cannot," said McGonagall harshly, only to keep her resolve. "You've done a great service to Weasley, and now it's time for Madame Pomfrey to take over. You can come see him in the hospital wing later tonight."

Without any more words exchanged, McGonagall helped Pomfrey whisk Ron away to the hospital wing.

McGonagall opened the door to Dumbledore's office with a bang and quickly zeroed her glare in on Slughorn. "You!" she shouted.

"Now, now, Minerva," said Slughorn nervously, "it was all a big misunderstanding, really!"

"My student could have died, Horace!" McGonagall screeched. She hardly took notice of Sprout flying out of her seat to close the office door. "Fat lot of good you did, first poisoning him and then standing there like a slack-jawed idiot, leaving the saving to a sixteen year old!

"What were you thinking, giving an alcoholic drink to a student, anyway? It's completely inappropriate, no matter what angle you try to look at it from!" McGonagall continued. She finally turned her eyes elsewhere, to lock upon Dumbledore's. "I hope you've got something to say about all this, Albus!"

"Horace and I exchanged words earlier," said Dumbledore calmly, "and this will not be occurring again."

"I should bloody well hope not!" McGonagall snarled, once again swiveling her eyes onto Slughorn, who tried, though utterly failed, to make himself look smaller.

"The mead in question was not in Horace's office when we returned," said Dumbledore, drawing McGonagall's attention to himself again.

McGonagall slipped her hand into her pocket, then slammed the bottle onto Dumbledore's desk. She saw a seat open for her, between Snape and Flitwick, but was far too irritated to sit. She instead paced behind her colleagues as Dumbledore carried on.

"I should like to know when you procured this bottle, Horace," said Dumbledore.

"I picked it up from Rosemerta about a week before Christmas," said Slughorn. "To be honest, Albus, I meant it to be a present for you, but I forgot about it."

McGonagall's leg jarred and she very nearly fell, face first, onto Dumbledore's floor. She noticed Dumbledore and Snape exchange a look, then quickly took her seat before her legs gave out completely.

"Did you say as much when you bought it?" McGonagall asked, her hawk-like glare nearly boring a hole in Slughorn's head.

"Might have mentioned it," Slughorn mumbled.

McGonagall turned to look at Dumbledore so quickly her neck popped. "Well someone's got to go have a chat with Rosemerta!"

"We don't really believe that Rosemerta would try to kill Dumbledore or anyone else, do we?" Sprout asked nervously.

"Severus, I would greatly appreciate it if you would go to The Three Broomsticks and negotiate checking stocks with Rosemerta," said Dumbledore.

"And should I find anything amiss?" Snape asked, barely moving his lips. He seemed particularly infuriated. His face was nearly completely drained of color, and his knuckles were white on the arms of his chair.

"Should anything be wrong with Rosemerta's stores, see to it that she does not open for the night, then return to report to me," said Dumbledore.

Snape roughly shoved himself out of his chair and headed for the door. Before opening it, he turned back and seemed about to say something, then decided against it and left, slamming the door behind himself.

"Albus, I think you might be ignoring a crucial point in all of this," said Flitwick cautiously. "Whether it was Rosemerta or someone else using her, someone made a very conscious effort to try to kill you."

McGonagall's next blink was longer than necessary.

"It's not the first time such a thing has happened, nor, I am sure, will it be the last," said Dumbledore unconcernedly. "Besides, whoever it was could just as easily have been after Horace."

McGonagall refrained from scoffing with difficulty. "Horace, I assume this bottle of mead was not the only purchase you made at that time, am I correct?" she asked.

"If I'm going to make a trip, I try to make it worth my while," said Slughorn defensively. "Yes, I bought other things with the mead."

"And, again I assume, you consumed some of these things in the mean time, or gave them as gifts to others that consumed them?"

"That's also true," said Slughorn.

"Then, seeing as Horace hasn't kicked the bucket, we can eliminate him as the intended target," said McGonagall smartly, giving Dumbledore a pointed look.

"The Ministry ought to know, Albus," Sprout suggested.

"I see no need – "

McGonagall harshly cut Dumbledore off. "This is the second time someone's tried to kill you this year, Albus! Both efforts were poorly executed, I agree, but they have not been without consequences! Katie Bell is still in the hospital, and Ron Weasley was seconds away from death only an hour ago!" McGonagall inhaled sharply and then held her breath to keep herself in control.

"The total's higher than two, actually," said Dumbledore mildly, "but I digress." He continued on quickly before any of his staff could interject, "Rest assured I am looking into the matter and will see to its solution."

"You've got so much on your plate, Albus," said Sprout quickly. "Maybe it'd be better if myself or Filius looked into the matter." She looked hopeful and apprehensive for Dumbledore's answer at the same time.

"Your focus should, I think, remain with the students," said Dumbledore.

"Might I speak to you in private, Albus?" asked McGonagall. She could no longer hold her tongue, but refused to further argue with the headmaster in front of other members of the staff.

Exchanging nervous looks, Flitwick, Sprout, and Slughorn all left the office. Anyone that entered the room from the time of the trio's departure to when dinner started could easily have been shocked senseless by the raised voices of both professors and the things they said to each other. Small issues that had been building up all year, and the not-so-small issues, all came spewing forth from both sides without consideration for how the words would affect the emotions of the other.

Though McGonagall and Dumbledore came to compromise on several things by the time their discourse came to an end, the rift between them had only grown. Being professionals, they agreed not to discuss their argument with anyone else, nor to treat each other differently, at least in front of others. When Mr. and Mrs. Weasley later arrived to see their son, the headmaster and his deputy were able to present a united front.

It took a few days of puzzling random bits of information together before McGonagall nearly collapsed in her office from the intensity of her realization. Dumbledore's seemingly uncaring attitude towards attempts on his life resulting in collateral damage to students, Snape's ignoring of Malfoy's issues, and Malfoy's rapid and continual deterioration in combination with his family history led McGonagall to the only logical conclusion she could find: Draco Malfoy was the one trying to kill Dumbledore. Whether he had undertaken the task on his own volition, McGonagall could not know. What she did know was that she now understood the actions of both Snape and Dumbledore, and that she now had to join them in turning a blind eye or risk Draco being completely and utterly destroyed, within the law or outside it. The thought made her sick, and she cried for the dark fate of the poor boy. There was no way for him to win, and, sooner or later, his actions would catch up to him in a horrible fashion.

Everything seemed to deteriorate following Ron's poisoning. The staff was on high alert, fearful that anything the students ingested might be poisoned, or that someone would manage to sneak in a cursed object. McGonagall, Sprout, Snape, and Flitwick had spent several of their nights awake, silently checking the possessions of their students for dark objects that might have gotten through all the security measures.

Snape, in particular, seemed irate and would snap at anyone that so much as offered him a greeting. McGonagall had noticed him give Dumbledore hateful glares occasionally, and became increasingly concerned. Dumbledore, however, did not spare Snape's moods any extra attention, and instead made sure he was available at the drop of a hat to hear any information his Heads of House might be able to provide.

Madame Pomfrey, in a fit of rage after taking care of Ron for two days, had purged Slughorn's office of all alcoholic beverages, and demanded that he test any sitting potions for poison. The pair had had a marvelous row, which Pomfrey ended up winning by sheer force of will. Slughorn had pouted for days before taking some time to sneak off to Diagon Alley to restock; unfortunately for Madame Rosemerta, the staff had collectively decided to boycott her bar until the matter of the poisoning was resolved entirely.

When all was said and done, McGonagall felt as if she had not slept in weeks.

"Something's got to change, Albus, or the staff's going to implode," she told the headmaster in his office one night.

Dumbledore took off his glasses and ran his good hand down his face before replacing them. "Much as I'd like to say differently, there's not much we can do to change what's going on."

McGonagall bit her lip to keep from revealing to Dumbledore that she knew about Draco, and offering to help in some fashion to restore peace. She felt such a declaration would not go over well.

"Perhaps we could organize a casual staff dinner?" McGonagall suggested. "You and I could make something, ourselves, and we could all gather for a few hours and just try to enjoy each others' presences. It might be just the break we need – " McGonagall stopped and sighed as Dumbledore looked at her over the edge of his glasses. "You're right, that'd never work for a whole host of reasons."

Dumbledore slightly bowed his head in acknowledgement.

McGonagall slouched in her chair and exhaled carefully. "What are we going to do, Albus?" she asked smally after a moment.

"Our best," Dumbledore answered, sounding as though he were half asleep.

"That doesn't seem to be enough."

"It has to be."

McGonagall looked Dumbledore over keenly. He had always been thin, and to those that did not know him so well as herself, he might look normal, but she had long since noticed a distinct shrinkage in his person. His eyes were dull and staring blankly ahead. His withered hand hung limply over his chair. He seemed to have more flyaways in his hair, and his moustache was not as well trimmed over his upper lip as usual. She could only imagine what state of dishevelment she was in; she had given up on looking in mirrors, as viewing the bags under her eyes only made her feel more tired.

"I think we're due for a game of Exploding Snap," McGonagall said decidedly.

"Don't be ridiculous," said Dumbledore. "You positively detest that game."

"We both need something mindless and amusing to do to give ourselves a break," said McGonagall, flicking her wand and summoning the game. She neglected to specify what they needed a break from, largely due to the fact that they needed a distraction from the now constantly present strain on their friendship.

After the first card exploded, resulting in a slight singeing of Dumbledore's beard, both he and his deputy collapsed in a fit of hysterical laughter that lasted far longer than it had any right to do. From that point, the pair devolved into a set of giggling children, bickering over the rules of the game and whose turn it was.

Though the reprieve was brief, it buoyed the spirits of both educators, and each was able to sleep better than they had in weeks, for they had relieved a great deal of stress through their merriment. Both had sore sides the following day.

"Nothing like Quidditch to get the whole school excited!" said Flitwick jovially on the morning of the match.

"Yes, my Gryffindors are especially excited to soundly shut Zacharias Smith up after his commentary from the last match," said McGonagall, raising an eyebrow at Sprout.

"So I've heard many times in class," Sprout said, her eyes flaring. "Honestly, your students are being ridiculous, Minerva."

"Are they?" McGonagall asked. "I can't imagine why they'd be so bothered after the commentator insulted every member of their team."

"Oh, keep your sarcasm to yourself," Sprout huffed. "Let's let the playing do the talking, shall we?"

"With pleasure," said McGonagall, settling herself into her seat.

"Who's commentating today, anyway?" Sprout asked.

"Luna Lovegood," said Flitwick pleasantly.

Sprout straightened and turned slowly toward McGonagall. "You're letting Luna Lovegood do commentary?"

"We could all do with a laugh, and she'll certainly provide," said McGonagall defensively.

"I agree," said Sprout, a smile slowly creeping over her features, "but that'll be because we'll be laughing at your attempts to control her and the uncomfortable expressions on your face."

McGonagall decided not to indulge Sprout in arguing the point, and instead engaged in a conversation with Flitwick. She grew more and more nervous as time went on and Lovegood did not show. Finally, the girl appeared with only a few seconds to spare before the teams were to be introduced.

McGonagall soon found herself having to very purposely ignore Sprout's smug looks as Lovegood began her commentating.

"And that's Smith of Hufflepuff with the Quaffle," said [Lovegood]. "He did the commentary last time, of course, and Ginny Weasley flew into him, I think probably on purpose, it looked like it." McGonagall remembered the incident quite clearly and could say, with confidence, that Ginny had flown into Smith on purpose, though she had been unable to prove as much, and so had to let the incident go. "Smith was being quite rude about Gryffindor, I expect he regrets that now he's playing them – oh, look, he's lost the Quaffle, Ginny took it from him, I do like her, she's very nice…."

McGonagall looked at Lovegood apprehensively. The girl's candidness had positive and negative affects, and McGonagall began having the same conversation she had had in her head when she agreed to let Lovegood try commentating, weighing the possible consequences.

"…but now that big Hufflepuff player's got the Quaffle from her, I can't remember his name, it's something like Bibble – no, Buggins – "

McGonagall felt Sprout's nails digging into her forearm, begging for Lovegood to be corrected. "It's Cadwallader," [she said] loudly from beside [Lovegood]. The crowd laughed. McGonagall began to miss Lee Jordan cruelly.

A few seconds later, Cadwallader scored. Sprout hooted along with her house as Lovegood related the news in her unique way. McGonagall was distracted by the spat Harry seemed to be having with McLaggen, and especially by the telltale sign of anger Ginny was displaying by her reddened ears. Ron was still too ill to play, and so McLaggen, one of the most prideful students McGonagall had ever taught, had been brought in to sub.

"And Harry Potter's now having an argument with his Keeper," said Lovegood. McGonagall, with difficulty, resisted the urge to put her face into her hands in dismay of Lovegood drawing attention to the fact. "I don't think that'll help him find the Snitch, but maybe it's a clever ruse…."

McGonagall rather thought Lovegood had redeemed herself, as Harry veered away from McLaggen to resume his job of searching for the Snitch.

The two teams continued to play a fairly normal game. Gryffindor scored twice, and then Hufflepuff again, leaving both teams with twenty points. Zacharias Smith, however, was playing rather poorly, never keeping the Quaffle for long. McGonagall supposed it might have had something to do with the fact that the entirety of her house would start screaming any time the ball came into contact with Smith's hands. Lovegood made the suggestion that Smith was suffering from "Loser's Lurgy."

Despite Smith's supposed ailment, Hufflepuff pulled ahead. Lovegood, however was so distracted by everything but the game that she failed to report the score, instead trying to get the crowd as interested in passing clouds as herself.

"Seventy-forty to Hufflepuff!" barked Professor McGonagall into the megaphone. She had been unable to take the girl's prattling any longer without something being said about the game.

"Is it, already?" said [Lovegood] vaguely. "Oh, look! The Gryffindor Keeper's got hold of one of the Beater's bats."

McGonagall felt rage flare through her. McLaggen was being an incredibly poor teammate, and she was determined to have words with him after the match. Practice might be one thing, but to take a Beater's bat in the middle of a game to try to instruct said Beater, when said Beater had been doing just fine, was inexcusable. What's more, McLaggen was not the team captain, nor even a permanent member of the team, and it was not at all his role to –

McGonagall's thoughts jarred completely as McLaggen took a swing at the Bludger and, either on purpose or by accident, caused the Bludger to hit Harry in the head. She was on her feet and yelling before she even fully processed the fact that Harry was falling off his broom. Luckily, Coote and Peakes were quick thinkers, and the pair abandoned their Beater's bats to catch Harry.

By the time McGonagall made it onto the pitch, Madame Hooch had called a time out and Harry was laying, unconscious, on the ground.

"You idiot!" Ginny screeched, landing and advancing on McLaggen. "You absolute, bloody idiot! How are we supposed to have a fighting chance in this game without our Seeker and captain?"

Demelza Robbins, thankfully, had enough sense to work with Coote, one of the Beaters, to restrain Ginny from actually taking action against McLaggen. "He's not worth it, Ginny!" Demelza declared, even as she glared murderously at McLaggen.

"If he'd stayed where he was supposed to, he wouldn't have been in my line of fire!" McLaggen defended himself.

"He wouldn't have had to concern himself with your line of unpredictable fire if you'd been minding the goalposts like you were supposed to!" Ginny spat. "What were you doing with Peakes's bat, anyway?"

"He wasn't doing it right!"

"Oh, well you sure showed him," said Ginny with an incredible amount of sarcasm. "Make sure you aim to take out McLaggen next, Peakes! We'll play better without him getting in the way. Use the same swing he showed you on Harry!"

"Ease up, Ginny," suggested Dean, who was still subbing for Katie Bell.

"Don't tell me to ease up, Dean!" Ginny raged. She broke free of Demelza and Coote and would have punched McLaggen in the face if McGonagall had not quickly stepped between the pair.

"That's enough, all of you!" said McGonagall firmly. She saw that Ginny was tempted to continue to argue, and so quickly grabbed the broom the girl had thrown to the ground and shoved it back into her hands. "Back into the air – not you, McLaggen!"

With a satisfied smirk, Ginny mounted her broom and led the rest of her teammates up into their air.

"I'm glad someone can be reasonable about all this," said McLaggen, his chest puffed out.

"Oh, I am beyond displeased with your conduct, Mr. McLaggen, and expect to see you in my office after this game," said McGonagall. She could feel that her nostrils had flared to the fullest extent and was sure her lips were nearly invisible. "Now, you get back on your broom and you stay by the goalposts. You mind your own business, and if you so much as touch another player or their equipment, I will see to it that you're scrubbing classroom floors with your personal toothbrush from now until you graduate! Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, Professor," said McLaggen tightly. Breathing heavily, he took off.

"Oh, it doesn't look like Professor McGonagall is too pleased with MacLochness, does it?" asked the magically magnified voice of Luna Lovegood. The students roared their approval of the accidentally given nickname.

McGonagall rolled her eyes, knowing none of the students would be able to see such a thing from their elevated seats, and turned to Madame Hooch, who was still examining Harry. "What's the verdict?" she asked.

"He's got to go see Poppy," said Hooch with a sigh. "That Bludger caught him right in the side of his skull. Lucky it didn't get him at the temple, really."

McGonagall swore under her breath. "Well I've got to stay and make sure the rest of the team doesn't kill McLaggen, now," she said exasperatedly. She turned and signaled to Flitwick, who arrived at the scene before long and, upon being asked, agreed to see to Harry's getting to the hospital wing.

The match only got worse. McLaggen let in goal after goal. All of Gryffindor jeered at him each time, and Ginny even started to exchange high-fives with the Hufflepuff Chaser that made each goal, while still being furious at McLaggen for letting each ball through.

With no Gryffindor Seeker, the game ended as being an absolute slaughter in Hufflepuff's favor – three hundred and twenty to sixty.

McGonagall spent nearly forty-five minutes after the game chewing out McLaggen in her office, ending with her absolutely forbidding him from playing for Gryffindor again, and explicitly telling him that if he were to try out for any professional teams, she would be unable to give him a positive recommendation after his poor sportsmanlike conduct displayed that day.

McGonagall knew she would have to spend the next several days keeping her students from ripping McLaggen apart, limb from limb, in the corridors. Displeased as she was with the boy, she did not wish him harm, nor did she wish to fill out the paperwork that would be required if any harm did come to him.

As she was obliged to do, McGonagall sent a note to the Dursleys explaining what had happened to Harry, and even sent it via Muggle post to keep them from getting angrier with Harry than necessary. She was sure they cared not a single jot what happened to Harry at school, or any other time for that matter, but had sent the letter as she had all the others every time Harry did something to cause injury to his person.

Not for the first time, McGonagall wondered why she continued to torture herself by being a teacher as she got ready for bed. When she finally began drifting off to sleep, however, her brain reminded her of all the reasons she loved what she did, despite all the associated difficulties.

Author's Note

Holy hell, it hasn't even been a week since I last updated! Also holy hell, this story has now been up on this site for six years! "OMG, six years and you're still not done?" Yeah... Rome wasn't built in a day. Sorry, friends. My goal is to finish writing book six in the next few months.

Aaaaaanyway, leave a review letting me know what you think of this, the latest update! Have a good weak, my lovelies.

5/31/17 - Once upon a time I realized that I managed to not post an entire chapter from Goblet of Fire... my bad. If you want some (sorta) new material, it's now up in chapter 72.