Chapter Four: Of Work and Friendship
Marian Cottage was a humble dwelling, miles away from the nearest town of Ottery St. Catchpole. A thick line of trees blocked the view of the house from the narrow dirt road and traced the property's southern boundary around the house. The cottage itself was seated at the top of a small rise facing east. To the west, behind the house, the land leveled off for about an acre before gently sloping down towards a shallow lake, its east bank shaded by a small grove of trees.
The stone walls of the cottage were mostly gray, with a few dull red and orange stones mixed in. The shutters and tiled roof were a deep burgundy shade contrasting richly with the light oak wrap-around porch. Flowers and green plants accented the front of the house while a small vegetable garden grew to the side of it. A large gray dog was plopped on floor of the porch next to the back stairs, its head resting on its paws with its eyes closed - the picture of relaxation. On the grassy lawn, three smaller dogs chased each other energetically, frolicking playfully in the late afternoon sun. The cottage and its surroundings were the perfect picture of tranquility.
"Minerva Anne McGonagall!" a shriek pierced the calm stillness around the cottage. Immediately, the gray dog sprang into action, barreling through the large doggy door and through the kitchen to skid to a stop before the fireplace in the living room, barking loudly at the familiar furious face in the hearth. The three smaller dogs had followed the larger one inside and now slid to a halt next to it, wagging their tails excitedly and joining in the cacophony.
Upstairs, a woman with raven black hair sat bolt upright in bed, awoken from a peaceful sleep by an angry yell. Scrambling over the side of the bed, she grabbed her square glasses and wand from the nightstand and dashed into the hall. She careened down the stairs and into the living room, where her four dogs were madly barking at the head in her fireplace. The said head was just as madly shouting back.
"Quiet! Tate, stop it! Go find Minerva!" it yelled.
The woman rolled her eyes as she recognized the voice. "Tate, get back," she commanded, and the big gray dog bounded over to her, closely followed by the other three. She greeted each of them with a pat on the head and shooed them out of her way as she knelt before the fire to talk with the head.
"It's about time," the head spat. "Please, please, PLEASE tell me what Albus said isn't true."
"What did he say, Amanda?" Minerva asked warily, not wanting to re- ignite her friend's already strained temper.
Taking a deep breath, Amanda Hooch replied, "He said you were taking some time off to take care of something, and that we were not to contact you until you came to your senses and returned."
Raising her eyebrows, Minerva replied, "He said all that, did he?"
"Well, not in so many words, but it was implied."
"Well, what did he say?"
"I don't know, something like that, but tell me," Amanda said, eyeing her friend and colleague suspiciously, "what are you doing? What exactly are you taking care of? And why didn't I find out about this before he did?" she ended in a pout.
Minerva stayed silent, not knowing how to tell her friend that she had virtually kidnapped The-Boy-Who-Lived. With a sharp intake of breath, she spun around and sprinted back up the stairs to the bedroom. When she reached the doorway, she heaved a sigh of relief. The-Boy-Who-Lived was sitting up and rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. Looking up, he smiled sleepily and raised his arms out to Minerva.
"Ma," he called.
Smiling, Minerva walked over to the bed and lifted the little boy up and turned around, only to come face to face with the head from the fire, this time with the rest of the body attached.
"Ma?" she grinned evilly. "So this is what you've been up to. Minerva, you little vixen!" she teased.
Rolling her eyes, she replied, "Yes, Amanda, this is what I've been up to." As her friend's mouth dropped open, she continued, "However, it's not what you think it is. Come on, I'll tell you downstairs, I need a cup of tea."
Brushing past a gaping Amanda, she made her way down to the kitchen, where her dutiful watchdog lay in front of the oven.
"Some watchdog you are," she muttered as she transfigured a stool into a highchair for Harry, "where were you when I got home?"
As she placed the baby in the chair, Amanda walked in, still looking shell-shocked. Pointing her wand at the pair of teacups beside the sink, she turned to her friend, "Amanda," she began as the teacups floated over to them, "This is Harry Potter."
Amanda looked at her blankly for a moment, then turned to get a better look at the black-haired child next to her. Her eyes took in the jet- black hair, the vivid green eyes, and, most importantly, the lightening bolt shaped scar on his forehead, but her mind was refusing to process what she was seeing.
"You're joking," she said flatly.
Nearly stomping her foot in exasperation, Minerva replied, "No, I'm not joking! Look at him! Look at his scar!"
"But how-?" Amanda started.
"It doesn't matter how," Minerva cut in firmly, "he's staying here and that's final."
"Why?" the gray-haired woman in front of her questioned, the tea on the counter forgotten.
"Because I couldn't leave him where he was," she replied quietly, reaching out to gently brush the baby's hair out of his face.
Amanda watched the action silently, noting her friend's softening features as she looked on the child. A tiny smile worked its way onto her face as the small boy grasped Minerva's hand tightly, tugging her closer and whispered urgently, "Ma, hu dat?"
"That's my friend, Amanda," Minerva replied, leaning down to speak softly in the boy's ear, "Why don't you say hello?"
"Hi," the boy shyly said in a soft voice.
"Hello, there," Amanda replied, unable to stay peeved at the boy for costing her friend her job; she could see why Minerva wanted to keep him.
"Amanda coaches Quidditch at Hogwarts," Minerva told Harry. Turning to Amanda, she said, "Harry knows all about Quidditch."
"I'll bet," Amanda muttered, remembering the boy's Quidditch-loving father.
Minerva stepped back and picked up her cup of tea as Amanda "talked" Quidditch with Harry. She knew why her friend had come, to convince her to return to Hogwarts. Watching Harry wave his hands around energetically as he described a chaser's job, she knew she could never go back, not when the tiny boy before her needed to be taken care of.
Amanda stayed for dinner, much to Harry's delight as he had taken to the witch as soon as he learned that she was, by his standards, well-versed in Quidditch. Over a makeshift feast of pasta and chicken, Minerva gave Amanda the details of how Harry came to be at Marian Cottage. As the moon came up, Harry's eyelids began to droop and his yawns grew bigger. Motioning for Amanda to wait in the living room, Minerva scooped the boy up and carried him up the stairs.
His head dropped down onto her shoulder as she made her way into the bedroom. Laying him down on the bed, she pulled out her wand and cast about for something to transfigure. Pushing her coat off of the chair beside the vanity, she picked up the chair and placed it at the foot of the bed. She pointed her wand at it and turned it into a sturdy crib. Tossing one of the many pillows on her bed into the crib, she transfigured that into a soft mattress and threw another one in to make it a soft pad to encircle the inside part of the crib.
She crawled up onto the bed and over to the baby fussing on it. She picked him up and tried to place him in the crib, but he grabbed a handful of her shirt and refused to let go. Sighing, she sat back and cradled him and began to softly sing to him.
[Hush now, my baby,
Be still love, don't cry.
Sleep like you're rocked by the sea
Sleep and remember my lullaby
So I'll be with you when you dream.
Drift on a river that flows through my arms
Drift as I'm singing to you
I see you smiling so peaceful and calm
And holding you I'm smiling too.]
Amanda watched her friend sing to the baby from the doorway, holding a stuffed lion in her hand. In the thirty years she'd known Minerva, she had never seen her like this. True, Minerva always had been headstrong and stubborn, traits of a true Gryffindor, but she had also always been the one to look at a situation objectively and not get personally involved. It was obvious to Amanda that her friend would stick to her decision. Still, she had to try, seeing as how she was under strict orders from Dumbledore to convince her to come back.
Harry was fast asleep in Minerva's arms by the time she finished the song. Rising to her knees, she made her way across the bed and laid the sleeping child down in the crib. Silently, Amanda walked over to them and placed the Gryffindor lion next to the boy as Minerva summoned a thick blanket from the bedroom across the hall.
Tate strolled in after the blanket, jumping up onto the bed next to Minerva and peering into the crib. She reached her hand over to scatch the big dog behind his ear and his tail wagged in appreciation. Apparently satisfied with what he saw, the huge bloodhound jumped off the bed and trotted to the other side of the crib. He turned in a few circles before settling down on the thick carpet to the side of the sleeping baby, resuming his self-apppointed job of "head watchdog". A small smile made its way onto Minerva's face as the rest of her dogs came in and sprawled out to the left and right of Tate.
Motioning for them to go back downstairs, Amanda walked out the door. Minerva followed quietly after another glance at Harry, and met her friend down in the living room.
They sat in silence for a while before Amanda started, "Minerva, why did you take that boy in? And don't feed me that bull about not being able to leave him with his relatives," she snapped as the other woman opened her mouth.
Minerva thought for a while, but, finding no real answer to her friend's question, she replied, "I don't know."
Maybe it was the way she said it or the light in her eyes whenever she looked at him, but after that statement, Amanda knew why, even if Minerva didn't. Resigned, she looked over her friend with a critical eye and remarked, "You know you ARE allowed to take care of yourself even if you have a baby in the house."
Minerva's hair was a mess, compared to its usual state of rigid tidiness, and her clothes were wrinkled.
"I know, I know," Minerva clipped, pulling her hair completely out of its bun, "I just haven't had a chance today."
"Are you ready for this?" Amanda wanted to know. "Are you sure you can handle all of this? I mean, you are only one woman."
"It is not uncommon for a woman to raise a child on her own," Minerva replied calmly, "Besides, I'm the oldest of nine children. I think I'll be able to handle one baby boy."
"Suit yourself," Amanda grinned. After a pause, she asked, "What are you going to do about Albus?"
"What about him?" Minerva bristled.
"Well, he seemed quite set on having his Transfigurations teacher back by the time Hogwarts reopens in three days."
"I'm not going back," she stated with an air of finality.
"I know you're not," Amanda conceded, "but what are you going to tell him? He doesn't seem to understand that yet."
"What does he want then?" she cried. "A formal letter of resignation?"
"It wouldn't hurt."
Silence. "Fine," Minerva said icily. "Fine."
With that, she rose and walked past the stairs to the study on the other side. Curious, Amanda followed her, wincing slightly as the other woman snapped viciously to no one in particular.
"Stubborn prick," she fumed, "wouldn't believe a bloody thing if it's not in writing."
"Now, Minerva, that's not fair - " the gray-haired witch began, but stopped abruptly as Minerva's eyes snapped up and glared at her. Sliding meekly into a plush arm chair in front of the desk Minerva sat behind, Amanda kept all thoughts and comments to herself. Minerva quickly scribbled something down on a piece of parchment and held it out to the other witch.
"Here, read it," she commanded. "Do you think it's clear enough?"
[To Headmaster Albus Dumbledore,
I, Minerva McGonagall, hereby resign from my position as Transfigurations teacher and Head of Gryffindor house at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I also resign from my administrative position of Deputy Headmistress at said school. Please accept my resignation as I am no longer able to perform my assigned tasks.
"Well?" she prompted.
"It's very abrupt, dear," Amanda commented, "But I think he'll get it."
"Good, will you take it to him?"
"ME?!" Amanda shrieked, jumping up from the chair and waving her hands around. "Are you out of your mind?!"
"Ssssh!" she hissed, "You'll wake the baby. And yes, you, and no, I am not out of my mind. You need to take it to him so he knows I'm serious."
Looking at Minerva with the utmost horror upon her face, Amanda gulped and nodded weakly. "Fine," she croaked. "But would it be alright if I give it to him and run, or just slip it under his door?"
"Amanda," Minerva groaned, "be serious. I need him to know that I will not be returning."
"Who will teach in your place?"
"Last time I checked, Dumbledore was a certified transfigurations teacher."
"Oooh - good point. But I'm still not waiting around for him to open AND read it AND tell him, so just put a post script at the end or something.
Minerva rolled her eyes and took the paper back. Thinking for a moment on how to word the suggestion, she shrugged and wrote:
[PS: If a substitute transfigurations teacher is unable to be found at such short notice, I suggest browsing through transcripts of past applicants, say, from 1906.]
"Minerva, do you really have to be so sarcastic? We're putting my life at risk here."
"Don't be ridiculous, it's fine, and you won't be in any sort of danger. You're going to hand it to him then run, remember?"
Amanda grunted, folding the paper neatly and putting it in her pocket.
"When are you going back?" Minerva asked.
"Right after I leave here, actually. I'll floo to Hogsmeade then fly over. I left my broomstick at the Three Broomsticks. Speaking of which," she said, glancing at her watch, "I'd better go now. I'll give it to him as soon as I find him, say, tomorrow morning, when I feel up to running?"
"Fine, just be sure that he gets it. Floo powder's on the mantle in the blue bowl."
A few minutes later, Amanda was gone and Minerva doused the fire. Making her way back upstairs, she wondered about her decision to resign. She wondered, for the first time, what would happen if she found another home for the boy. She would have her old life back, teaching students all about transfigurations and playing a random game of chess with Albus in the teacher's room. Leaning over the side of the crib, she watched Harry sleep. Then realization struck her in full force: she loved this child. She wouldn't trade this boy for anything in the world. She would sacrifice anything to keep him safe and happy, even friendship. 'Albus,' she thought, 'why do you have to be so stubborn?'
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