Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Characters/Minerva McGonagall
|Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Character|
|Related Family||Elphinstone Urqhuart (deceased husband), witch mother, Muggle father, two younger brothers|
|Loyalty||Order of the Phoenix, Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore|
Minerva McGonagall is the Transfiguration professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. She is also Head of Gryffindor House and Deputy Headmistress. McGonagall also has the distinction of being one of the seven licensed Animagi of the 20th Century, being able to transform at will into a tabby cat (with distinctive markings around its eyes, similar to the square-shaped spectacles she wears).
Professor McGonagall is described as being tall, severe-looking, and has dark hair usually tied up in a bun.
It is never mentioned in the series if McGonagall ever married or had children, but her entry on the Pottermore website has more information. She was raised in Scotland, the eldest of three children born to a witch mother and a Muggle father, a Presbyterian minister. Being Scottish, she often wears tartan.
McGonagall attended Hogwarts and was sorted into Gryffindor House. She was an exceptional student, particularly in Transfiguration, studying under Professor Albus Dumbledore. After graduation, she worked for the Ministry of Magic for several years, then declined a big promotion to instead teach at Hogwarts, staying there for the remainder of her career. According to the author, Minerva McGonagall's birthday is 4 October, and she is about seventy years old when the series begins.
McGonagall's wand is fir and dragon heartstring.
Role in the Books
Minerva McGonagall, who we first see in her cat shape, meets with Albus Dumbledore as baby Harry is brought to Number 4, Privet Drive. As they discuss the recent events that have brought Harry there, McGonagall unsuccessfully argues against Dumbledore leaving the infant with his aunt and uncle, calling them, "the very worst sort of Muggles." McGonagall also suggests that Hagrid might not have been the best choice to carry the infant Harry from his now-destroyed home in Godric's Hollow.
Ten years later, McGonagall greets the first-years at the school's entrance and escorts them into the Great Hall for the Sorting Ceremony. Harry quickly realizes she is the wrong person to ever cross. However, he nearly does just that when he is almost late to his first Transfiguration lesson.
During Harry's first flying lesson, McGonagall spots him flying "like a natural" and recruits him for the Gryffindor Quidditch team, even though first-years are normally ineligible. Against school policy, she provides him a new broom – a Nimbus 2000.
At Hallowe'en, Harry and Ron defeat a mountain troll that was about to attack Hermione Granger in the girls' bathroom. To cover for them, Hermione tells McGonagall that she intended to tackle it herself, but that Harry and Ron came to her aid; McGonagall penalizes Hermione five House points while rewarding Harry and Ron five points each—for sheer dumb luck.
When Harry is caught wandering the halls after hours and for "making up some cock-and-bull story about a dragon," it is McGonagall who metes out punishment. She penalizes her own house 50 points each for the three involved students, Harry, Hermione, and Neville – 150 points – as well as assigning detention. She similarly penalized Draco Malfoy for wandering the halls.
Harry startles McGonagall when he reveals he knows about the Philosopher's Stone, but when he presses to see Professor Dumbledore, she says he was summoned to London. This results in Harry, Ron, and Hermione deciding to go through the trap door to protect the Stone.
McGonagall's part in guarding the Philosopher's Stone was to create a giant enchanted chess set, that forces Ron to play a game through, before it will allow Harry and Hermione to pass on to the next barrier.
When Harry and Ron crash into the Whomping Willow with the flying car, Professor Snape sends for Professor McGonagall and Professor Dumbledore. After hearing their story, Dumbledore leaves Professor McGonagall, their House Head, to determine their punishment. She gives both boys detentions but does not dock any House points. The detention she issues them, some few days later, is for Ron, under the supervision of Filch, to polish all the trophies in the Hogwarts trophy cases, while Harry has to assist Professor Lockhart answer his fan mail. Harry appeals to her to switch their assigned detentions, but Professor McGonagall says Professor Lockhart had specifically requested Harry.
Harry, following a voice that apparently only he can hear, finds himself in the second floor hallway. Words are scrawled on a wall and Mrs. Norris, Filch's cat, is hung off a torch bracket. In Professor Lockhart's office, Professor Dumbledore examines Mrs. Norris and determines she is only petrified, not dead. When Filch demands that someone be punished, Snape says that he believes Harry knows more than he is telling and suggests suspending him from Quidditch. McGonagall refuses to accept such severe punishment, and Dumbledore reminds Snape that Harry is innocent until proven guilty.
When Justin Finch-Fletchley and Nearly Headless Nick are found petrified, Professor McGonagall escorts Harry to Professor Dumbledore's office, then leaves, allowing Harry and Dumbledore to speak privately.
When Professor Dumbledore is suspended as Headmaster, McGonagall becomes the interim Headmistress.
Professor McGonagall cancels a Quidditch match after Hermione and Penelope Clearwater are found petrified. She takes Harry and Ron to see Hermione in the hospital wing, and asks if they know anything about what has been happening; they are unable to answer. She informs the Gryffindors that security restrictions have been enacted.
Ignoring the restrictions, Harry and Ron sneak off to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom where they suspect the Chamber of Secret's entrance is hidden. When they encounter McGonagall along the way, Harry claims they were going to visit Hermione in the infirmary. Touched by this apparent concern for their friend, McGonagall allows them to continue, only now they must actually visit Hermione. In her petrified hand, they discover a clue revealing the Chamber's secret. While waiting in the staff room to tell McGonagall what they have found, an announcement orders all students to their Common room. As the teachers enter the staff room, Harry and Ron hide in a closet. McGonagall tells the other teachers that Ginny Weasley has been abducted. McGonagall assists in goading Lockhart into entering the Chamber to find the Monster and rescue Ginny, as he has claimed to know where it is and what the monster is. Once he leaves "to prepare," she details plans for closing the school.
In Professor McGonagall's office after their return from the Chamber, Harry and Ron describe what happened in the Chamber and the events leading up to it. Dumbledore sends McGonagall to arrange a celebratory feast. Later, to the now-revived Hermione's dismay, Professor McGonagall announces that all final exams have been canceled.
Following Harry's unpleasant encounter with a Dementor on the Hogwarts Express, Professor McGonagall takes him and Hermione into her office. She summons Madam Pomfrey, who is glad that they now have a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher (Remus Lupin) who actually knows some medical remedies (chocolate being the antidote to the after-effects of Dementors). Professor McGonagall suggests he rest, but Harry insists he is fine and requests permission to attend the Welcome Feast. McGonagall consents but asks to speak privately with Hermione. Harry does not discover why until later.
During Transfiguration class, McGonagall lectures about Animagi and is surprised that students fail to react when she transforms herself into a cat. When told that Professor Trelawney had predicted a student will die soon, she seems to have to restrain herself from criticizing another teacher or subject, but she reassures them by saying that Trelawney predicts a student's death every year and none have yet died.
When Harry asks McGonagall if he can go to Hogsmeade for the weekend outing, despite lacking written permission from Uncle Vernon, McGonagall refuses. She will not stretch the rules that far.
Fred and George Weasley give Harry a magical parchment called the Marauder's Map that shows secret passageways in and out of Hogwarts. Harry follows a tunnel into Hogsmeade, meeting up with Hermione and Ron. Together they visit the Three Broomsticks, where they eavesdrop on a conversation between Professor McGonagall, Professor Flitwick, Hagrid, Cornelius Fudge, and Madam Rosmerta. Harry learns that his godfather, Sirius Black, is believed responsible for revealing his parents' secret whereabouts to Lord Voldemort—information that led to their murders. He also learns the circumstances surrounding Black's arrest and later conviction.
When Hermione informs McGonagall that Harry received an expensive Firebolt broom from an unknown person for Christmas, McGonagall confiscates it, saying that Professor Flitwick and Madam Hooch will inspect it for any concealed Dark Magic.
After several months, and much nagging by Gryffindor Quidditch captain Oliver Wood, Professor McGonagall returns the Firebolt, saying it is believed to be clean. Harry flies a marvelous match on it. The match is marred only by apparent Dementors arriving on the pitch, though Harry is able to defend himself from them by use of the Patronus charm that he has learned. The Dementors turn out to be Draco Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, and Marcus Flint, the Slytherin team captain. McGonagall gives all four of them detentions and penalizes Slytherin 50 House points.
Following the Quidditch victory celebration, the House is awoken during the night by Ron's screams—Sirius Black was in his dorm. Sir Cadogan, the guardian of the Gryffindor tower, tells McGonagall that he granted access to someone who had a password list. McGonagall is furious to discover it is Neville Longbottoms's list, cancels his Hogsmeade weekends, and forbids him from having the password. Other students must now let him into the Gryffindor common room. After Black's break-in, Professor McGonagall tells Harry what he already knows: Black is trying to get to him.
Harry learns that Professor McGonagall gave Hermione a Time-Turner at the beginning of the year so she could attend extra classes (taught at the same time). Harry and Hermione use it go back in time to save Buckbeak from being destroyed and to free Sirius Black, who Harry has learned is innocent. Exhausted from the heavy workload, Hermione drops her extra courses and resumes a normal class schedule. She returns the Time-Turner to Professor McGonagall.
As the returning students enter the entrance hall, Peeves welcomes them with water balloons. Professor McGonagall orders him out. At the Arrival Feast, when Dumbledore announces that the Triwizard Tournament is being revived, Fred Weasley is heard to exclaim, "You're joking!" This apparently prompts Dumbledore into telling a (perhaps inappropriate) joke, which Professor McGonagall interrupts by pointedly clearing her throat.
When Draco Malfoy attempts to Curse Harry, Professor Moody Transfigures him into a white ferret, bouncing him in the air a few times, much to Harry's and Ron's amusement. Professor McGonagall, arriving on the scene, forcefully warns Moody that transfiguration is never used as punishment, and transforms Draco back. McGonagall then tells Moody that he must instead talk to Professor Snape, head of Slytherin. Moody heads off to the dungeons with Draco.
Transfiguration class seems to have more homework than the previous year; Professor McGonagall explains that the increased homework the fourth-year students are being assigned is to prepare them for next year's O.W.L. exams.
Shortly before the competing school representatives are to arrive, Professor McGonagall is heard exhorting her House to be on its best behaviour. In particular, she requests that Neville Longbottom conceal that he is unable to master even a simple Switching Spell.
When the Goblet of Fire unexpectedly chooses Harry as a fourth Triwizard Champion, he and the other three Champions meet with the competition judges: Professor Dumbledore, Professor Karkaroff of Durmstrang, Madame Maxime of Beauxbatons, and Mr. Crouch and Ludo Bagman from the Ministry. Professor McGonagall is present, as are Professor Snape and Professor Moody. McGonagall's contribution is limited; when it is suggested that Professor Dumbledore had drawn the age line incorrectly, allowing an underage Harry to enter his own name, McGonagall declares loyally that Dumbledore could not have made a mistake.
McGonagall, appearing tense and somewhat on edge, escorts Harry to the dragon enclosure for the first task, leaving him there with the other Champions.
During Transfiguration class shortly after the First Task, Professor McGonagall announces that a Yule Ball is part of the Triwizard Tournament. Fourth-year and above will be allowed to attend, as will younger students as their guests. McGonagall privately tells Harry that the Champions and their partners traditionally lead the way into the Ball and to have the first dance. Harry is shocked: he has only a month to find a date, learn to dance, and prepare to lead the schools into the ball.
At the Ball, McGonagall takes the four Champions aside to say they will be entering in procession after the other students are seated.
As Harry, Hermione, and Ron are researching ways that Harry can breathe underwater for the Second Task, Fred and George arrive to summon Hermione and Ron to Professor McGonagall's office. It is revealed later that they have been chosen to be charmed and handed over to the Merpeople as "hostages" that the Champions must "rescue" underwater for the Second Task.
Near the end of May, Professor McGonagall sends Harry to the Quidditch pitch to receive instructions about the Third Task.
Immediately prior to the Third Task, Professor McGonagall tells Harry that the Champions and their families are congregating in a small room off the Great Hall. Harry, not expecting anyone, remains in the Great Hall until Cedric Diggory, the other Hogwarts Champion, summons him. Mrs. Weasley and Bill Weasley have come to watch him compete.
Professor McGonagall, with Hagrid, Professor Moody, and Professor Flitwick, will patrol the maze's outer perimeter during the Third Task, rescuing anyone who fails the challenges.
When Harry returns from the duel with Voldemort in the graveyard, Moody, against Dumbledore's instructions, escorts Harry to his office. Professor McGonagall, Professor Dumbledore, and Professor Snape rescue Harry by breaking down the door and Stunning Moody. McGonagall wants to send Harry to the Hospital Wing, but Dumbledore overrules her, saying that Harry needs to know what has happened and why. Dumbledore sends McGonagall to fetch a large black dog waiting in Hagrid's pumpkin patch and take it to his office. Moody's dose of Polyjuice Potion wears off, and when McGonagall returns, she is stunned to see Barty Crouch Jr. lying on the office floor.
After Barty's confession, Professor Dumbledore leaves McGonagall to guard him, and takes Harry to his office to see Sirius Black and discuss that night's events. Harry is then taken to the Hospital Wing, where Madam Pomfrey gives him a dreamless sleep potion. Professor McGonagall's noisy arrival awakens Harry. She reports that the Dementor that accompanied Cornelius Fudge to Hogwarts instantly administered the "Kiss" to Barty Crouch, sucking out his soul. Barty can no longer tell anyone anything.
Professor McGonagall is, if course, at the Arrival Feast and presides over the Sorting ceremony. She seems to be among the few teachers able to listen to Dolores Umbridge's droning "welcome speech".
On the first day of classes, Professor McGonagall hands out timetables. In Defence Against the Dark Arts class, Harry argues with Professor Umbridge about whether or not Voldemort has returned. He is given a note that he must take to McGonagall, where he learns he has been given detention every day for a week. McGonagall asks if he had understood Umbridge's welcoming speech, and Harry suggests it means that the Ministry was going to be taking a more active hand in running Hogwarts. McGonagall comments that she is glad Harry at least listens to Hermione. She then warns Harry to be cautious around Umbridge, especially in keeping his temper, to give her the least possible reason to punish Harry.
While leaving detention, Harry runs into Ron, who notices his cut and bleeding hand. Ron demands that Harry tell McGonagall, though Harry stubbornly demurs, insisting it is a personal issue between him and Umbridge now.
When Harry gets another week's detention, McGonagall additionally penalizes him House points, for failing to heed her advice to avoid antagonizing Umbridge.
When Hedwig is injured while delivering Sirius' message to Harry, he takes her to Professor Grubbly-Plank in the staff room. Professor McGonagall is also there, and she warns Harry that all communication channels in and out of Hogwarts are likely being monitored.
Draco Malfoy's taunts combined with an after-the-whistle Bludger from Crabbe result in a brawl after a Quidditch match against Slytherin. Harry and George Weasley are called into McGonagall's office and assigned a week's detention. But Umbridge, appearing with a new Educational Decree, overrules her, and instead imposes a lifetime Quidditch ban on the two boys and confiscates their brooms. Fred Weasley is also banned, even though he was not involved. Umbridge ignores McGonagall's protests that the punishment is out of line.
Just before Christmas, Harry dreams he is a snake attacking someone in a long hallway. Waking up, he tells Ron that his father is being attacked and needs help. Professor McGonagall takes Harry and Ron to Professor Dumbledore's office. After hearing Harry's story, Dumbledore sends two portraits, Dilys and Everard, to investigate. When the portraits return, reporting that the man was found but is badly hurt, Dumbledore sends McGonagall to fetch the other Weasley children. McGonagall asks about contacting Molly, but Dumbledore says that is Fawkes' job. Shortly after McGonagall returns with Fred, George, and Ginny, Dumbledore sends her to head off Umbridge. She evidently is successful, as neither appears in Dumbledore's office before the Weasley children and Harry have left.
Dobby warns Harry that Umbridge is on her way to catch "Dumbledore's Army". Harry alone is captured, and Umbridge escorts him to Professor Dumbledore's office. Waiting there are Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, Cornelius Fudge, Percy Weasley acting as scribe, and two Aurors, Dawlish and Shacklebolt. Marietta Edgecombe, a student, has also been brought as a witness. Umbridge claims Harry held an illegal meeting at the Hog's Head. When she says Willy Widdershins provided her the information, McGonagall comments that she had wondered how he had gotten off so lightly for all those regurgitating toilets. When Fudge attempts to have Dumbledore arrested, a bursting white light knocks out him and the other Ministry officials. McGonagall has pushed Harry and Marietta safely to the floor. Dumbledore makes sure the three are unharmed, then departs.
Harry meets with McGonagall to discuss his career plans to become an Auror, only to find Umbridge is also there. Umbridge continually interrupts McGonagall, claiming Harry's "criminal" record will prevent his becoming an Auror. McGonagall, outraged, vows to do everything possible to help him achieve his goal. Harry leaves as their argument escalates.
With Dumbledore's departure, as well as Fred and George Weasley's exit, the school has become largely unmanageable. In silent rebellion, the teachers do nothing to help Umbridge regain control. At one point, McGonagall walks, apparently uncaring, past Peeves as he unscrews a crystal chandelier, though she might have told him that it turned the other way.
Umbridge, accompanied by multiple Aurors, attempts to sack Hagrid. Apparently attracted by the confusion and wand flashes, McGonagall runs to Hagrid's aid, but is simultaneously hit by four Stunners. When Harry envisions Voldemort torturing Sirius Black, he attempts to speak with McGonagall, the only Order member he can think of, but she has been taken to St. Mungo's Hospital. As a result, Harry attempts to contact Sirius directly by using Professor Umbridge's fireplace, and is caught.
Harry, distraught over Sirius' death, nearly gets into a duel with Draco Malfoy, who blames Harry for his father being sentenced to Azkaban prison. Professor Snape intervenes, then prepares to penalize Harry House points, only to discover the Gryffindor hourglass is empty. Professor McGonagall happens to return from St. Mungo's, recovered but still physically weak and using a walking stick. She sends Draco and his cronies off, then awards House points to all students who participated in the battle at the Ministry. She then subtracts the points that Snape intended to deduct.
When Peeves chases Umbridge from the school, Professor McGonagall is upset because she unable to get outside to cheer Peeves on without her walking stick, which Peeves is using.
At the beginning of the year, Professor McGonagall hands out timetables to the sixth-year students. The process is complicated because the courses that students can take are limited by their OWL scores. Hermione gets her courses straight away. Neville cannot take Transfiguration with only an Acceptable OWL, but his Charms grade is high enough for that course. While Neville is reluctant, saying that his grandmother believes Charms is a soft option, McGonagall comments that Augusta having failed her Charms OWL is no reason for her to argue against it. McGonagall informs Parvati Patil that Firenze and Professor Trelawney are splitting Divination classes. Harry's lost hope to become an Auror revives when Professor McGonagall tells him that Professor Slughorn accepts lower OWL grades than Professor Snape did for NEWT-level Potions classes. Both Harry and Ron enroll. Professor McGonagall also hands Harry a list with prospective Quidditch players for the House team.
Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Leanne carry a necklace that cursed Katie Bell back to the school. McGonagall has Professor Snape inspect it. Harry, over Ron and Hermione's objections, states that Draco Malfoy must be involved. McGonagall says that Draco was serving detention in her office during the attack.
We see McGonagall briefly in the Quidditch match following Ron's birthday. Luna Lovegood is commentating, and while the school seems vastly amused by her announcements, McGonagall is heard correcting her several times.
When Harry, defending himself against Draco, uses Sectumsempra, Snape gives him detention every Saturday for the remainder of the year. It is mentioned that McGonagall agrees with Snape's setting this amount of detention.
While we never see her in the battle with the Death Eaters, she is in the Hospital Wing after Dumbledore's death while they figure out what had happened. She is so shocked upon hearing that Dumbledore was killed by Snape, that Madam Pomfrey conjures her a chair. She said that Dumbledore had always said he trusted Snape, for good reason. Harry says that he knows the reason Dumbledore trusted Snape: Snape had carried the prophecy about Harry to Voldemort, and then repented of that to Dumbledore. McGonagall blames herself for sending Professor Flitwick to fetch Snape.
McGonagall reports that when Dumbledore and Harry left for the sea cave, Bill Weasley, Lupin, and Tonks had been on patrol. Harry tells McGonagall that the Death Eaters entered through the linked Vanishing Cabinets in the Room of Requirement.
McGonagall, as acting Headmaster, must make decisions about the school's future. She summons the other heads of Houses, Professor Flitwick, Professor Sprout, and Professor Slughorn to meet in the Headmaster's office; she also asks Harry and Hagrid. There, under Dumbledore's newly-present portrait, before the others arrive, McGonagall asks Harry what he and Dumbledore had been doing. Harry demurs, saying that he had been instructed to keep their activities secret, and Dumbledore had not said he should stop following his orders if he died. McGonagall and the other teachers decide the school should remain open, but McGonagall asks if the students should be sent home early. Harry points out that many will want to stay for Dumbledore's funeral. The Hogwarts Express is scheduled for the day after the funeral. Seeing the Minister for Magic approaching the school with a delegation, McGonagall quickly dismisses Harry.
McGonagall is present at the funeral, but we do not speak with her.
It seems surprising that McGonagall, acting Headmistress following Dumbledore's demise in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Deputy Headmistress since the series' beginning, was not made Headmistress; however, given Voldemort's interest in Hogwarts, it was probable that only a Death Eater would receive the post, thus making Severus Snape's appointment as Headmaster logical.
Professor McGonagall remains unseen until the book's conclusion. McGonagall is called upon to unlock the Ravenclaw common room for Amycus Carrow, as the way to open the common room door is to answer a philosophical question posed by the eagle-head door knocker, and Amycus is unable to answer it. When Amycus finds Alecto lying unconscious in the Ravenclaw common room, he decides to frame the Ravenclaw students for her having summoned Voldemort. When McGonagall objects, Amycus tries to override her, spitting on her in the process. Harry, concealed under his Invisibility Cloak, curses Amycus, knocking him out. McGonagall quickly binds both Amycus and Alecto, then summons the other three House Heads as she and Harry, hidden under his cloak, head for her office. Severus Snape suddenly appears, demanding to know what is happening. Snape's suspicions of McGonagall's explanation escalates into a fierce duel. Snape breaks and runs when Flitwick and Sprout, followed by Slughorn, approach, and Snape crashes through a window, soaring away.
McGonagall orders the castle to prepare for battle. Harry, returning to the Room of Requirement, is unable to find Ron and Hermione. He heads to the Great Hall, hoping they will be among the other students gathering there. McGonagall informs the school that Professor Snape has "resigned," resulting in cheers from all but Slytherin. Underage students are to be evacuated, along with any older students wishing to leave. Voldemort's booming voice interrupts her, stating that if Harry is turned over, no one will be harmed, otherwise, at midnight, he will be forcefully taken. Pansy Parkinson, at the Slytherin table, aims her wand at Harry; the other Houses quickly jump to Harry's defence, and McGonagall orders all Slytherins to be evacuated. She then reminds Harry that he is searching for something.
McGonagall then marshals Hogwarts' defence, mobilizing the armour, along with other enchanted objects, to defend the school during the Battle of Hogwarts.
During a break in hostilities, Harry views Snape's memories in the Pensieve and sees that Professor McGonagall was present at Snape's Sorting, some twenty years before.
In the final battle, Voldemort is simultaneously dueling McGonagall, Shacklebolt, and Slughorn. When Bellatrix is felled by Molly Weasley, Voldemort sweeps the three aside to attack Molly, but is thwarted by Harry from under his Invisibility Cloak.
McGonagall is glimpsed at the victory celebration, but Harry is too tired to speak to her just then, and simply wants to get away.
McGonagall is a highly intelligent and powerful witch, particularly adept at Transfiguration. Although a strict teacher, she has her students' respect. Despite her discipline often being severe, it is always fair and even-handed, nor does she show favoritism to her own House, several times deleting points from any misbehaving Gryffindor student. Professor McGonagall possesses a tender side, and always considers the students' welfare to be her most important vocation, but she takes pains to conceal it.
McGonagall is extremely loyal to Albus Dumbledore and his causes. She was one of his most accomplished students in Transfiguration. Although she had a successful Ministry career, she wanted to teach at Hogwarts, where Dumbledore still taught.
In the final books, McGonagall shows she is an extremely adept and quick duelist. It is likely that if she had not elected to follow Dumbledore into education, that she would have made an excellent Auror, and she is likely a valuable Order of the Phoenix member.
McGonagall is never portrayed as having any particular weaknesses. Her stern facade likely prevents anyone from getting close to her emotionally, with the possible exception of Dumbledore. We are led to believe that she prefers her solitude.
Relationships with Other Characters
It is hard to imagine the stern and staid Professor McGonagall "letting her hair down" to any great extent, which makes it difficult to imagine that she has many close relationships. However, she enjoys a warm friendship with Albus Dumbledore, and seems on friendly terms with the other Hogwarts teachers, including Severus Snape (up until Dumbledore's death) and Professor Slughorn, who becomes head of Slytherin. Also, her concern for Harry's well-being seems more than would be the result of his merely being a student in her House, or even his potential to cause Voldemort's final downfall.
The author has revealed on Pottermore.com, that the young McGonagall fell in love with a handsome Muggle, Dougal McGregor. She never revealed to him that she was a witch, and, unwilling to continually hide this from other Muggles, broke off their engagement after one day to fully pursue a Wizarding life. McGonagall understood the enormous strain on her parents' marriage caused by her Muggle father's eventual discovery that he had married a witch. This factored into McGonagall's decision to end the relationship with McGregor. McGonagall later had another suitor, her former Ministry boss, Elphinstone Urqhuart, whose many marriage proposals she continually declined throughout the years until much later in life, and then only after her first love, Dougal, had died. Their marriage was happy but short-lived, ending just three years later when Elphinstone was fatally bitten by a venomous tentacula plant. McGonagall had kept her maiden name when she married.
Professor McGonagall is portrayed as an older witch who takes great pains to hide her more sensitive side, perhaps fearing it will be construed as weakness and exploited against her. She is moderately successful at this, to the point that Harry is surprised when she shows him any special consideration. In particular, when Harry is sent to Professor McGonagall as a consequence of his first, disastrous Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson with Professor Umbridge, McGonagall offers him a cookie. Harry apparently considers this so uncharacteristic that he initially refuses. Harry is always surprised when he sees a lapse in her severity.
To a certain extent, McGonagall is a stock character, the "stern but fair" instructor. A staple in fiction of all sorts, but particularly in fiction about schools, this character often is seen as being in direct conflict with the strongly biased instructor who is opposed to the hero; in this series, of course, that biased character would be Severus Snape. The story arc requires that Snape's character be more complex than the stereotype allows, so he does get more time "on stage" than almost any other instructor; this means that Professor McGonagall is somewhat more in the background than usual for her role. Where McGonagall breaks away from the stock character is in her ongoing concern for Harry. We can see that McGonagall is deeply concerned for Harry's wellbeing, but knowing that she should not show favoritism for any student, she tries to conceal it as much as possible. We see it in small things: her warnings to Harry about dealings with Umbridge, and her stated determination to get him into the Auror program, for example. If we examine McGonagall's actions throughout the story, we see that in her public actions, such as grades, detentions, House points awards and penalties, McGonagall is fair almost to a fault. It is in her private actions, her concern for Harry's health after the Dementor episode, her meetings with Harry in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and the episode of the Nimbus 2000 in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, that we see her concern for Harry.
To a very small extent, McGonagall serves as something of a foil for Professor Dumbledore. The only time in the series that we see the two of them interacting directly is in the first chapter of the first book, where McGonagall protests Dumbledore's choice of a permanent home for the infant Harry. It is interesting there to see the obvious mutual respect between these two characters, despite the fact that they have taken opposite sides of an argument. That respect is also seen in other scenes in the series where Dumbledore and McGonagall are together. Generally, when McGonagall and Dumbledore are on stage together, apart from the instance mentioned above, they are together dealing with another issue which forms the focus of the scene; often, that focus is Harry. Despite this, we can see that there is still some interaction between Dumbledore and McGonagall, with McGonagall being a moderating influence on all parties, while exhibiting staunch loyalty to Dumbledore.
- Professor McGonagall, an Animagus, can morph into a cat. What does this animal reflect about her character?
- Why didn't Professor Dumbledore tell McGonagall more about Harry and his tie to Voldemort?
- Professor McGonagall eventually became Hogwarts' Headmistress. How might Hogwarts have changed during her tenure?