The Marvels Of Minerva McGonagall

Via The Mary Sue comes the news that Steve Kloves, the writer behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, initially planned to replace the duel between Minerva McGonagall and Severus Snape with a duel between Harry and his long-time professorial nemesis — but that J.K. Rowling fought to keep the scene in and eventually won the day.

I’ve always loved the way Deathly Hallows opens up McGonagall to us in a pair of scenes — it’s some of Rowling’s leanest, tightest writing. We’ve known for years that she has been Dumbledore’s ally, affectionate towards the Potters before their deaths, a tough, fair teacher even given her Gryffindor partisanship. But it’s in those two scenes that we get to see her be a Gryffindor — and a real person. First, there’s the duel, the moment when she gets to stop being patient and gets to stand up in defense of her values. We get to see her be a superior witch in a non-academic setting. And after she wins, there’s that terrific line when she explains what’s happened to the school: “He has, to use the common phrase, done a bunk.” That line alone is just perfect, her shaking off her formality and declaring her allegiance. And it’s glorious.

Then, there’s the scene when Voldemort and his cronies return what they believe to be Harry’s body to Hogwarts (which I think may have been the most botched thing in the whole second movie), and McGonagall almost breaks down. One of the things that’s interesting about Rowling’s depiction of Hogwarts, and which made her revelation that Dumbledore was intended to be gay simultaneously gratifying and a little disappointing, is that none of them have personal lives that we know of. They socialize with each other in the Three Broomsticks. Professor Trelawney may have a bit of a drinking problem. They’re affectionate toward certain students, but always in a teacherly capacity. But we don’t really see them outside of their official capacities — the revelation in Deathly Hallows that Dumbledore was someone before he was Hogwarts headmaster is surprising not just because of the contours of his biography but because it’s hard to think of him as a person at all. So when McGonagall cries out for Harry’s death, we’re seeing a veil fall away: she loves him, as a student, as a symbol, as a person. She gets to be more than a strict spinster, more than a sexless female member of a conspiracy. She gets to be a woman, even if it’s just for a moment, and she gets to be a warrior. I’ve joked that if there were Pottermore spinoffs, the one I’d most like to see is a Young Minerva McGonagall story. Because the woman is amazing. And I’m so glad that Rowling fought for her right to fight for Harry, and for Hogwarts.