Professor Minerva McGonagall is one of the first characters we meet in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, we first see the character as a cat before she returns to human form when Albus Dumbledore arrives. Not long after entering the wizarding world, we realize there's a lot beyond McGonagall's transfiguration abilities to love about this Hogwarts professor. There's more than one reason she topped our list ranking Hogwarts professors, after all!
Born on October 4 to a Muggle father and a witch mother, McGonagall, played by Maggie Smith in the films, is a skilled, kind, and wholly intelligent witch. The deputy headmistress is trusted by Dumbledore and her other colleagues as well as her students. She stands up for what’s right and risks her own life to watch out for her students when danger arrives at Hogwarts.
Thinking about all the magnificent moments McGonagall had in Harry Potter, there are almost too many to list! Since it's the professor’s birthday, though, there's no better time to highlight at least a few of her many unforgettable scenes throughout the series. Here are 10 of McGonagall's best moments.
Choosing Harry for Quidditch
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, McGonagall sees Harry on his broom when he’s not supposed to be. We believe her to be angry at first about Harry breaking the rules, but we soon learn that catching Neville Longbottom's Remembrall was the best move Harry could have possibly made. She takes him to see Oliver Wood and announces that Harry will be the new Gryffindor seeker, claiming he’s “a natural” and she’s “never seen anything like it.”
Harry is shocked as McGonagall reiterates that she wants to hear he’s training hard or she may change her mind about punishing him. She then smiles and says his father would be proud because he was an excellent Quidditch player, too.
It might not exactly be within the rules, but McGonagall isn’t going to ignore talent when she sees it! She speaks to Dumbledore about bending the first-year rule and even goes so far as to make sure Harry gets a Nimbus 2000. The movie version is slightly different, but in both book and film, it’s clear that McGonagall wants Harry to be able to use his talents and wants her house to succeed.
Getting Gilderoy Lockhart out of the way
After Ginny Weasley is taken into the Chamber of Secrets, the Hogwarts staff discusses what must be done next. McGonagall tells the gathered professors in the staffroom that they need to send the students home because things have become too dangerous. Then Lockhart barges in.. When the other professors call Lockhart out on his earlier bragging that he could defeat the monster, McGonagall firmly says that they'll leave it to him as they make sure everyone is out of his way. The Transfiguration professor assures him he can now tackle the monster by himself with "a free rein at last."
As soon as he leaves, McGonagall is back to business saying "right, that’s got him out from under our feet." Then it’s on to the next steps of informing the students and watching out for them. McGonagall knows Lockhart is incompetent and will only get in the way, so she takes it upon herself to get rid of him. The scene happens differently in the movie, but watching Smith deliver the lines that made it in is one of her best deliveries in the films!
Anytime she transforms as an Animagus
McGonagall was taught by Dumbledore to become an Animagus, a talent that comes in useful in Sorcerer’s Stone when she can give Vernon Dursley a stern look while in cat form.
Even McGonagall knows her skills are impressive, as evidenced in Prisoner of Azkaban when she transforms in class and her students don’t react. She asks "what has got into you all today? Not that it matters, but that's the first time my transformation’s not got applause from a class." We see McGonagall in her cat form a few times in the films, though the best scene is this one from Sorcerer’s Stone when she catches Ron and Harry arriving late to class.
Teaching students to dance
In the Goblet of Fire book, McGonagall is much more disapproving of the Yule Ball than she is in the film, during which she imparts the Ball's traditions to her students. She states she "will be most seriously displeased if a Gryffindor student embarrasses the school in any way."
I love that this was taken a step further in the films to the point where she doesn't want her students embarrassing her on the dance floor! That's why she teaches them how to dance here, with Ron as her hilarious example partner.
Taking Dumbledore's side
Things at Hogwarts go from bad to worse over the course of Order of the Phoenix, and it all comes to a head when Dumbledore's Army is discovered and the headmaster takes the blame. He states the club was a result of him plotting against the Ministry of Magic and Minister Cornelius Fudge. While Fudge wants to arrest Dumbledore, the headmaster says he won’t go quietly. McGonagall chimes in that "he will not be singlehanded" and plunges her hand into her robes for her wand. While Dumbledore insists Hogwarts needs her, McGonagall is willing to fight the Ministry at Dumbledore's side if necessary. It's a great moment that shows McGonagall won't quietly stand by when such injustice is happening.
Standing up to Umbridge
In Order of the Phoenix, McGonagall stands up to Umbridge. In the movie, they have one confrontation, but in the books, we see McGonagall go further. When Umbridge is evaluating her class and interrupts her with a "hem hem," McGonagall "in a cold fury" asks how the woman expects "to gain an idea of my usual teaching methods if you continue to interrupt me? You see, I do not generally permit people to talk when I am talking." Umbridge doesn't expect someone to stand up to her and looks like she's been slapped in the face as a result.
Then when McGonagall is discussing potential careers with Harry, she ignores all of Umbridge's interruptions other than to ask if the other woman needs a cough drop. Umbridge says Harry will never be an Auror because of his poor marks in her class. McGonagall stands up for Harry, responding that Harry achieved high marks in all Defense Against the Dark Arts "tests set by a competent teacher." She even declares that she will assist Harry in becoming an Auror if it's the last thing she does.
Defending her colleagues
Umbridge attacks the professors as well as the students in Order of the Phoenix, and McGonagall steps in to try and help her colleagues when she can.
When Umbridge publicly tries to fire Professor Trelawny, McGonagall comes forward to support and comfort the woman. She may think Trelawny's subject is rubbish, but that doesn't mean she won't help her when she's in need. McGonagall tells Trelawny she won't have to leave Hogwarts and helps her back inside. When Umbridge forcefully goes after Hagrid next, McGonagall steps in again, putting herself in danger and taking on Umbridge and five other wizards.
Looking out for her students
In Order of the Phoenix, she looks out for Harry even when Umbridge isn't present. She warns him about crossing Umbridge and how it can cost him "more than House points and a detention" because of where she comes from and who she reports to. She also warns him that communication in and out of Hogwarts might be watched. In the Half-Blood Prince film, we also see her make a smaller but no less important gesture by reminding Harry that potions class is important if he still wants to be an Auror. Whether it's career advice or dueling Death Eaters, McGonagall does whatever she can for her students, which is what makes her such a great professor.
In The Deathly Hallows, when Harry's task is clear and they know Voldemort and the Death Eaters are coming, McGonagall immediately moves forward with a plan to protect Hogwarts and organizes everyone. She directs students to use their skills in the best ways possible and gathers the professors and the Order of the Phoenix to get their defenses ready. McGonagall uses the spell "piertotum locomotor" and in the film, Smith portrays the joy the professor gets from using the spell amazingly. McGonagall remains in the fight throughout the Battle of Hogwarts, even fighting Voldemort himself alongside Slughorn and Shacklebolt at one point, showing she will give her all to the school's defense.
We get to see McGonagall in action fighting Death Eaters and even Voldemort in the series, but neither of those are as satisfying a moment as when she takes on Severus Snape.
His motivations are not quite revealed at this point, as we along with McGonagall, only know what we think he's done. In the book, Harry sees her move faster than he could have believed as her wand slashes through the air at Snape and she sends fire flying at him form a nearby torch. In the film, it's just as noteworthy as she stands in front of Harry to face the former potions professor and eventually drives him from the school. It's perhaps McGonagall's most epic moment in the series!