It was very tough to sift through the impossibly tall and swaying stack of rousing moments Professor McGonagall gave us during Harry’s Hogwarts years. After all, the steely Head of Gryffindor house had always been a winning combination of no-nonsense and compassion: she was a character carefully crafted with light and shade all wrapped up in a neat, tight bun.
We’ve always enjoyed the subtle wink of Professor McGonagall, that wink that told us she wasn’t all strict – and despite her resolute veneer, she was actually one of the most supportive and considerate teachers in Hogwarts. When Neville Longbottom was dismayed with his O.W.L. results, McGonagall, in her very matter-of-fact way, supported him. When Harry Potter yelled at Professor Umbridge vowing Lord Voldemort had returned, McGonagall reacted to a student waging war with a fellow teacher by offering him a biscuit.
We must also commend McGonagall for being the rock that Professor Dumbledore needed. On the terrible night of Lily and James Potter’s deaths, for example, it was she who was by his side to deliver a baby Harry on to his new life.
Eventually, we landed on the penultimate chapter of tension in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, right before the Battle of Hogwarts, where McGonagall shone brighter than ever.
After a broken year at Hogwarts, with Severus Snape appointed headmaster, and the awful Alecto and Amycus Carrow replacing Professor McGonagall as deputy headmasters (don’t even get us started on this…), the Head of Gryffindor house was somehow still a tower of strength when we bumped into her again, on the cusp of a great battle.
It’s not actually the Battle of Hogwarts itself for which we choose to commend McGonagall, but those stolen minutes before Voldemort stormed the castle, when Harry returned and the revolt began. Before all of that got going, McGonagall had some staff restructuring to do.
As you know, for the majority of the books Professor McGonagall gracefully played second fiddle to Albus Dumbledore’s headmaster. After his death at the hands of her own colleague Snape (for reasons she didn’t realise at the time), we can’t even fathom how horrendous Hogwarts must have been during Harry’s would-have-been final year, especially having to work under the man who killed her good friend.
In the wake of Voldemort’s ascent, Hogwarts became a shadow of its former self, with the Dark wizard having more control over the wizarding world. This particularly came into play when we saw that the Carrow siblings were now employed at the school, a pair of Death Eaters whose teaching methods included encouraging Unforgiveable Curses and using Muggle Studies as a platform to try to teach students that those without magic were inferior.
After a year of hell, Harry returned to Hogwarts to hunt down a Horcrux in Ravenclaw Tower, inevitably leading Voldemort towards the castle. He quickly found McGonagall in a deeply unpleasant altercation with Amycus Carrow, whose sister Alecto had just summoned the Dark Mark. We saw McGonagall use only words against Amycus, as the abhorrent Death Eater worried about not being able to find Harry, and suggested blaming Hogwarts students for triggering Alecto’s Dark Mark accidentally. However, Professor McGonagall wasn’t having any of it.
‘Only the difference between truth and lies, courage and cowardice,’ said Professor McGonagall, who had turned pale, ‘a difference, in short, which you and your sister seem unable to appreciate. But let me make one thing very clear. You are not going to pass off your many ineptitudes on the students of Hogwarts. I shall not permit it.’
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
There must have been many final straws for the always astute Minerva during this year, but she somehow managed to keep her cool in the face of such horrors, even when Amycus spat in her face. A far more emotionally lax Harry (hidden under his Invisibility Cloak) couldn’t take this, though, and instantly cursed Alecto. Unsurprisingly, McGonagall didn’t seem phased, and even scolded Harry for putting himself in danger. Even in the path of such cruel mistreatment, McGonagall was still intent on protecting those around her.
However, Harry’s return seemed to ignite a fire in McGonagall, who quickly went to find her abhorred boss Snape to curtly inform him of events.
Before long, a frankly awesome duel ensued between McGonagall, Flitwick, Sprout and Snape, the three fellow professors chipping in to end Snape’s reign once and for all. Seeing our Hogwarts favourites all band together in such a riveting way really set the tone for the chapter to come: ‘The Battle of Hogwarts’.
We can’t decide what we love more: the steely way McGonagall approached Snape’s office, the ‘knowing look’ between her and Sprout (go Pomona!), McGonagall screaming at Snape that he was a ‘coward’ or this beautiful one-liner when Snape fled the castle:
‘Our Headmaster is taking a short break,’ said Professor McGonagall, pointing at the Snape-shaped hole in the window.
Had McGonagall ever been as classy and McGonagall-ish as she was in this chapter? It’s all about the words she used. From the way she steadily took down the Carrows to the way she confronted Snape, it was served ice cold, and gave McGonagall some much-needed catharsis without resorting to (too much) violence. Her stoic patience forged a careful defence strategy for Hogwarts, and she calmly worked with Harry to help him rather than bombard her absent student with questions.
In the next chapter, ‘The Battle of Hogwarts’ itself, we saw McGonagall put a plan in action, as she took back her rightful place as head of the school. Not only did she help coordinate the students leaving the castle, but also supported those who wanted to stay and fight.
However protective McGonagall may have been, she always had the faith in the students to push them harder where other teachers may not.
After all, when a young, first-year Harry Potter was set loose on his broom during a flying lesson, she recognised his potential to be on her house’s Quidditch team, rather than tipping all the house points out of the Gryffindor hourglass. Sure, Professor McGonagall wouldn’t let you get away with murder, but she would always have that special solidarity with her students, and a burning loyalty to whomever may need it.
Seeing McGonagall’s unyielding attitude during Hogwarts’ darkest year is pretty inspirational to anyone who feels lost in times of evil. And her response to the Carrows, using graceful intellect, is a lesson to us all on how to react to anyone who deals in the currency of hate.
Thank you, Professor McGonagall. And yes, we would like a biscuit.
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