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Chapter Five: To Poke a Lion in the Eye

Dawn broke gracefully over the horizon and covered the magnificent castle in a harsh golden light. In the teacher's room, a witch with short gray hair and gleaming yellow hawk eyes paced before the fire. Her midnight blue robes swirled about her petite frame as she changed direction, the silver embroidery catching the firelight and refracting it over the room. She had been up long before dawn, trying distract herself by placing a huge order to restock Minerva's kitchen, then giving up on distractions and trying to think of a way to break the news to her boss. Although she had jokingly said she would give him the letter and run, she hadn't meant it, it was far too cowardly. However, sleeping on it led her to believe that this was the wisest course of action. Shaking her head and steeling herself against the inevitable fury of the headmaster, she threw back her shoulders and walked purposefully out the door.

She made it all the way to the stone gargoyle guarding the entrance to his office before she began to have second thoughts. . . again. Unfortunately for her, at that moment the gargoyle stepped aside to reveal none other than the headmaster himself.

With his signature blue eyes sparkling behind half moon spectacles, he greeted the flustered witch, "Ah, Amanda, how are you this morning?"

"I, um-" she began nervously.

"Come, walk with me down to breakfast, I hear the house elves have sugary danishes awaiting our arrival."

Amanda groaned inwardly - danishes were Minerva's favorite and he knew it. 'This is just a BRILLIANT start to my day,' she thought sarcastically. 'Now I have to SIT by him while he opens it.'

Amanda strode into the great hall half a step behind the twinkling Dumbledore who surveyed the high table serenely, until coming to the empty chair beside his own. He raised his eyebrows slightly, turning to Amanda and asked simply, "Where is she?" as the twinkle in his eyes slowly receded. Keeping her face calm while her brain was screaming "Run! RUN! MOVE QUICKLY!" she reached into her pocket and pulled out an envelope addressed to the headmaster in Minerva's neat script. Silently, she handed it to the headmaster and willed herself to walk - not run - over to her seat on the other side of Professor Sinastra.

Albus stood in the center of the Great Hall regarding the envelope with a puzzled expression. Shrugging inwardly, he began to open it as he climbed up to his seat on the dais. As he sat down, he pulled the letter out and unfolded it. Amanda watched him from four seats away as his expression froze, then settled into a neutral look. 'Oh, boy,' she thought, attempting to hide herself behind both Professor Sinastra's and Professor Snape's profiles, 'Here we go.'

"Madame Hooch, please meet me in my office," Dumbledore commanded quietly. Silently, he rose - his face still expressionless as he walked out of the Great Hall.

Professor Sinastra leaned over to Amanda and whispered, "What did you do?"

Glaring at her, Amanda rose from the table and followed the Headmaster out at a much slower pace. Severus Snape fixed her with his trademark superior smirk as she looked over the staff table for any form of support. Frowning when she met his gaze, she glared at him and dutifully made her way to the headmaster's office, all but shuffling moodily through the corridors.

Albus Dumbledore, one of the most powerful wizards alive, sat behind his desk in his circular office, staring at the piece of parchment before him. It lay in the center of the desk, mocking him as he read the words over and over again without processing them. The door across from the desk opened quietly, admitting a subdued flying instructor. Suddenly, he grinned, as if having an epiphany, gestured for her to sit and, true to form, offered her a lemon drop. He chuckled as she raised her eyebrows and politely declined, guessing why the usually active woman was unusually quiet.

"I'm not mad at you, Amanda," he said, eyes twinkling. "I think it's a very good joke," he chuckled calmly.

Staring at the headmaster, Amanda wondered to herself, "Has he always been so slow on the uptake, or is he being impossibly stubborn?"

"It's not a joke, Headmaster," she replied calmly, his calm and twinkling eyes giving her reason to believe he wouldn't kill her on the spot for speaking the truth.

"Oh?" he said with a trace of amusement, "And I suppose she's planning on taking care of the boy on her own, now is she? You can tell her I expect her back by Sunday, she has classes to teach once the students return."

"On the risk that I may lose my job," Amanda said, jumping out of her chair and raising her voice as her notorious temper flared up, "you are being a complete ass about this, Headmaster. She's not coming back so I would strongly suggest finding a replacement transfigurations teacher."

With that, she stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind her. 'Minerva was right,' she fumed as she headed back to the Great Hall, 'he IS a stubborn prick.'

Back in the circular office, Albus sat staring at the door that had slammed in Madame Hooch's wake. Without another word, he stood and stalked over to the fireplace to the side of the desk. "Marian Cottage," he snapped as he threw a pinch of Floo powder into the flames. In an instant, he was gone.

Minerva had not slept well. Harry had woken up screaming at four o'clock in the morning, scared out of his wits and crying hysterically until she rocked him back to sleep, waking up and starting again every time she put him back into his crib. Her heart broke as she realized he must have been having a nightmare, and she could guess what it was about. She ended up laying Harry down beside her on the bed just as she had the afternoon before. She awoke again an hour later, a little before dawn. Unable to go back to sleep, she got up and placed Harry back in his crib, giving Tate and the others strict orders to watch him as she went to take a quick shower.

Climbing out of the shower fifteen minutes later, she threw a thick bathrobe around her and quietly walked back into her room. The bathroom was at the end of a short hallway that separated the top floor of the house. On one side was a smallish bedroom, and on the other was the slightly larger master bedroom. Minerva walked into the latter room and leaned over the side of the crib. Harry slept peacefully, his face relaxed and calm, without a trace of the terrified expression he'd worn just hours before.

Minerva rummaged through the closet that took up an entire wall directly across from her bed. Pulling out undergarments and socks quickly, she sifted through the robes and muggle clothing that hung side by side and some that were neatly piled on top of each other in functional cubby holes. She settled on a long, burgundy, a-line skirt and a cream colored turtleneck. When she was finished changing, she opened another door of the closet and pulled out soft calf-high low heeled boots that she wore with everything.

She looked into the crib again as she passed it on her way to the vanity on the side of the bed. Opening one of the drawers, she pulled out a brush and began to pull it through her medium-length wavy black hair. Seating herself on edge of the bed, she untangled her hair slowly, gazing out of the large window beside the mirror. The sky was just beginning to light up, chasing away the pink that had covered the horizon when she woke. 'It's so beautiful here,' she thought as she put the brush away and pulled out a black hair tie, 'I can't believe I used to willingly leave this every year.' She quickly plaited her hair and threw the finished product over her shoulder as she heard the soft stirrings of baby Harry.

"Well, good morning, bebay," she crooned, lifting him up as he reached for her. She walked back over to the nightstand and slipped her wand into the deep pocket of her skirt. An idea forming in her mind, she walked across the hall and muttered "Lumos" and the lights in the smaller bedroom flickered on. Amanda used to call this room the "furniture graveyard" for all the odds and end that filled it. In the absence of an attic, this extra bedroom was where all miscellaneous items she had collected over the years came to take up space and collect dust, or as Amanda put it - to die.

With a quick wave of her wand, the dust disappeared and the room was left virtually spotless, with the notable exception of the clutter. Pointing her wand at a hideous-looking lamp from her mother, she transfigured it into a quick high chair. Setting Harry in it, she glanced around the room, deciding where to start.

"Wait just a moment, dearest," she soothed as he began to fuss at losing contact, "Ma'll be finished in just a moment."

Pursing her lips, she pointed at various useless objects and created a new, more inviting space. With a final wave of her wand, she sent a large pile of newly-transfigured diapers into the empty built-in closets behind her, followed by a few sets of baby clothes. "Don't worry, we'll go shopping soon," she told Harry, with a small grin on her face. It wasn't that Minerva normally enjoyed window shopping, but she felt a strong desire to look at all the adorable baby things in the shops.

Setting permanent charms on the remainder of the room, she surveyed it critically. One of the only things that remained the same was the thick baby-blue carpet covering the entire floor, which had only needed a few cleaning charms to restore. A plush, inviting, navy blue loveseat that used to be a large, black desk, sat almost against the near wall, facing a pair of huge bay windows and the amazing view through the glass. A small, narrow table, formerly another hideous lamp, stood between the wall and the loveseat, coming up to within two inches of the top of the back of the chair.

In front and to the left of the loveseat was a comfortable looking, honey-oak rocking chair, another piece that remained the same. This was an old piece, handmade and shipped to her from a former student who was currently a carpenter in Switzerland. On the far wall behind the rocking chair was a low bookshelf of the same wood as the rocking chair that used to be a useless baroque-style curio cabinet. On the shelves sat a variety of plush toys that used to be figurines, empty picture frames, and the like.

Five oil paintings, the only other original inhabitants of the room, hung along the walls in a somewhat straight line. Lifting Harry out of the high chair and gently placing him on the floor, she studied the paintings. These were also gifts from students, each reflecting their different attitudes and personalities. The largest painting was done by her Gryffindor seventh years from 1955, Arthur Weasley's class. Besides James Potter's class, they were her favorite, able to surprise, challenge, vex, and amuse her throughout their time at Hogwarts. Theirs was a painting of a Quidditch game, Gryffindor versus Slytherin, just as it had been during their last Quidditch final. The tiny scarlet clad figures zoomed around the painting, scoring again and again against a disgruntled Slytherin team. The other paintings were done by individual students: a black and white picture of Hogwarts from Remus Lupin, a busy scene of Hogsmeade from Frank Longbottom, a colorful garden scene, complete with pixies, from Sarah Sprout, currently Herbology teacher at Hogwarts, and finally, a stunning portrait of Viviane, ancient high priestess of Avalon, from Grace Alden.

A loud giggle brought her back to the present and she looked over to Harry. He sat in the center of the room, between the sofa and the window, surrounded by three very curious dogs. Tate sat behind him, supporting his back as his three shadows sniffed the boy all over, their cold noses producing shrill bursts of laughter from the boy. Smiling, she turned around to the closets behind the door. These were nearly identical to the ones in her rooms, only more slender, given the room's narrower width. Opening the door that hid the diapers and other baby items, she pulled out the rolling changing platform she'd put in.

"Stay," she commanded her dogs as she summoned a giggling Harry to her, "I'll give him back in a minute."

Laying Harry on his back, her years as oldest sibling kicked in as she placed her wand back in her pocket and removed his now soiled diaper with ease, her mind and body remembering the almost forgotten task. Looking at the slobber-covered infant before her, she shook her head, grabbed a clean diaper and a set of clothes, and carried him to the bathroom.

Placing him in the tub, she turned the water on, filling the bottom of the tub as she pushed her sleeves up past her elbows. She tested the water continually, making sure it wasn't too hot or too cold. Once it reached his stomach, she turned the water off and summoned a large plastic pitcher from the kitchen. Lathering a soft washcloth with mild soap with her left hand, she caught the pitcher in her right as it sailed into the bathroom. Slipping her wand back into her pocket, she filled the pitcher with water and carefully poured it over Harry's head. It was the work of a few minutes to get the tiny baby clean.

She had finished drying him and was in the process of re-diapering him when an angry yell echoed up the stairs. Rolling her eyes, she sighed as Harry giggled, and strapped his diaper on securely. "Let's go see what the old coot's got to say, shall we?" she said wryly as Harry giggled. She dressed him in a warm, long sleeved shirt with a gray dog chasing its tail on it, baby trousers, and tiny socks and sneakers, then drained the tub and rose. "Alright," she muttered picking the boy up, and stole a phrase from Amanda, "here we go."

An irate headmaster stood in her living room before the fire as her dogs surrounded him, tails wagging cautiously, not knowing what to make of the new emotion radiating from the normally good-natured headmaster. His arms were crossed over his chest and he glared at her, his scowl deepening as she entered.

"Yes, Albus?" she asked, walking straight through the living room to the kitchen in search of something to eat. Amanda had sent out massive order for "real food," as she called it, as soon as she saw the state of Minerva's pantry the night before, and now her cupboards were fully stocked and devoid of stale food. Opening the cupboard over the countertop, she grinned. Stacks of baby food and formula mixes filled the space from top to bottom; fruits on the bottom shelf, vegetables in the middle, and the formulas on the top. Selecting a banana jar, she set Harry in the highchair and fished about in her utensil drawer for a desert spoon. Grinning again, she found that Amanda had outdone herself with a set of baby spoons beside her normal ones. She turned to find Albus still glaring at her, his frown deepening still when he caught sight of the grin on her face.

"And WHAT, pray tell, do you find so amusing?" he snapped.

Harry made an indignant noise that sounded suspiciously like, "Ole Coot!"

Minerva bit her bottom lip to keep from laughing at the expression on Albus' face and instead turned her attention towards opening the jar of baby food. It twisted open with a dull pop, much like the kind she herself made when she turned into her animagus form. She pointedly ignored the white-bearded man beside her and concentrated on feeding Harry, who glared at Dumbledore with as much malice his baby face could muster.

Albus, nonplussed by the baby's stare, continued to glare at Minerva, watching the way she fed the baby. She murmured softly to him, soothing his angry frame with her voice. Slowly, he relaxed and began to ignore the headmaster as well, eating the mush with apparent relish. An unbidden smile creased her face as she continued to feed the baby, gently scraping away excess food from his mouth. Albus' frown deepened even more as she continued to concentrate solely on the child before her.

When Harry refused to eat any more, Minerva re-capped the jar and placed it on the counter, dropping the spoon into the sink with a loud clang. Picking up an empty bottle waiting on the countertop (courtesy of Amanda), she took down the formula and proceeded to mix it, continuing to ignore the headmaster.

"Ma?" Harry began tentatively.

"Yes?" Minerva answered. Albus raised his eyebrows in disbelief, his surprise conflicting violently with the anger on his face.

"Hu dat?" he asked quietly, pointing at the tall old man standing in the doorway.

Minerva glanced at the headmaster and told Harry, "That's Headmaster Dumbledore. Why don't you ask him what he wants?"

Turning to Albus, the tiny boy asked politely, "Hea Dum'dore, wat you wan?"

Still glaring at his deputy, he replied icily, "You can tell the obstinate witch next to you I wish to speak with her."

"Ma," Harry relayed to her, "he wanna talk at you."

"I'm sure he does, Harry," she quipped, hiding a grin at the child's prudent choice of words. Picking the boy up out of the high chair, she nodded her head at Albus, presumably ordering him to follow her. She went around the back of the stairs, through a small dining room to the study. Sitting behind the desk in a comfortable swivel chair, she motioned for Albus to sit opposite her. She settled Harry in her lap as the headmaster perched on the chair.

They sat in silence for a while. Harry's baby talk to Tate, who had followed them into the room, was the only noise breaking the silence. Finally, Minerva said, "You'd better say what you have to say, Albus. And soon - I do not appreciate you glaring at me," she snapped back with a shrewd glare.

Harry quietly settled himself in her lap, favoring Albus with a glare of his own. The headmaster met Minerva's eyes evenly and stated, "You have to come back."

"Fine," she replied.

"Good, I expect to see you tomorrow. The students arrive on Monday."

"Yes, Albus, we'll be there tomorrow."

"We?" he questioned. Minerva nodded at the boy on her lap. "Absolutely not!" he thundered, jumping out of his seat, "We've already been through this, Minerva! He cannot stay at Hogwarts, it's too dangerous! You drop him back with his relatives and come back straight away!"

"I will do no such thing," came the steady reply. "I told you already, I am NOT leaving him with those people."

"Then find some other family to take him in," Dumbledore snapped. "He is not your responsibility."

Minerva stared at him furiously, her mind accepting that he could be right while her heart screamed that he was wrong. She fought down the frustrated yell that threatened to break loose yet again, and took a deep breath.

"I am not leaving him," she said sternly, fixing Albus with a glare that would silence any argument, but unfortunately not his.

"Minerva, you are not a mother, you're a teacher," he replied, his usual calm back in place. Then, just as Minerva was starting to consider a compromise, he said, "And I am surprised at you, allowing the boy to call you 'ma'. I know you're attached to the boy, but you're not even blood related. You've never even had a child to raise before, so it's not as though you have the faintest idea what you're doing. What possessed you to think you could replace his mother? Aunt Minerva would have been far enough, but 'ma'? You have no idea what you're getting yourself into. Lily would have never-"

"Get out," she commanded, her cheeks flushed with emotion. "Get out of my house," her voice quivered with anger and her hand trembled as she pointed towards the fireplace. "I told you, I'm not leaving him. He goes where I go," she finished, her eyes blazing with fury. The air around her crackled dangerously and Albus knew he had stepped out of line. Refusing to verbally back down or apologize, he turned and left, calling, "Hogwarts" into the fireplace and stepping into the green flames. He was the only person with the ability to Floo directly into the school.

Minerva let out a ragged breath and leaned back in the chair. Sensing something was wrong, Harry pulled himself upright, balancing his feet on her lap and peering into her face. Minerva peered back, wondering if anything Albus had said was true. Was she unfit to call herself a mother? Was she brainwashing the boy?

"Ma?" Harry asked.

"Yes?" she whispered, afraid to speak louder, knowing the emotions pushing against her throat and stinging her eyes would break her if she gave them an inch.

"Ma, I love you," he stated simply and he wrapped his little arms around her neck, holding her tight.

Minerva's tears came freely then, as she chocked out, "I love you, too, bebay." She held him close and cried into his tiny shoulder, her worries and second thoughts about her decision flowing out of her, leaving her confident and determined. "I love you, too."

Amanda was waiting for Dumbledore to return from his little escapade. She knew exactly where he had gone when she came up after breakfast to check on him only to find his office empty. She had made herself comfortable in one of the chairs before his desk, turning it so she faced the fire. After a while, the red flames in the hearth turned green, and the headmaster of Hogwarts stepped out, absently brushing ashes off of his robes. He saw Amanda sitting placidly in his office and scowled.

"She's not coming back, and you still have your job," he said heavily.

"Well, in the light of my still having my job, I will refrain from saying I told you so."

Dumbledore sighed wearily. "But why?" he murmured to himself. "Why won't she let him stay with someone else?"

"Are you kidding?" Amanda asked skeptically. "Didn't you see her with Harry?"

"Yes, she's got the child calling her 'ma'," he frowned darkly. "I can't believe she lets him."

"She's got a good reason, well, he's got a good reason anyway," she paused, taking in the headmaster's downtrodden expression, then asked warily, "I hope you didn't voice your opinion to her, did you?"

"What, about the 'ma' title?" he asked, looking up and meeting the woman's yellow hawk eyes. "Of course I did, it's not right for-"

"Albus Dumbledore, you blundering idiot!" Amanda yelled, jumping up out of her seat. "Can't you see she loves that boy with everything she has? Are you really that blind?"

"How can she love him?" he snapped. "She's only known him for two days."

'He's jealous,' Amanda realized with astonishment, watching the headmaster's face darken as he recalled the moments she was with the baby, 'He's jealous and he doesn't even know it!' She almost laughed aloud before she caught herself and looked him squarely in the eye. "You know what you have to do, don't you?" she asked, daring him to refuse, "You need to apologize for whatever idiot thing you said to her."

"I didn't do anything, she-"

"If you don't apologize she'll never speak to you again," Amanda threatened, knowing her friend's stubborn nature. "I highly doubt she'll ever speak to you again as it is."

"I'll apologize when I feel I have done something for which to apologize," he snapped. Then, with a ghost of the usual twinkle in his eye, he commented, "On your way out, please tell Severus he can come in."

Shaking her head, she turned and left, stalking straight through Snape without looking at him. This was going to be a LONG year.


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