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A Tabby and Her Kit

by ubergrasshopper (minervad_18 @hotmail.com)

Rating: PG

Fandom: Harry Potter

Category: Drama, Romance.

Spoilers: AU; Pre-Hogwarts

Disclaimer: Anything you recognize, from Privet Drive to the Burrow, belongs to the great J.K. Rowling. Anything you recognize that isn't from any of the books is probably from rotating fanfics, so take credit where it's due. Anything you absolutely don't recognize is mine. Lullaby is from *The Prince of Egypt* - "River Lullaby" sung by Amy Grant. Concept for binding spell from Tamora Pierce's *Woman Who Rides Like a Man*. Name of the inn mentioned later belongs to Tolkein. *The Cat in the Hat* belongs to the great Dr. Suess. Additional quote from *While You Were Sleeping*. Original concept for events in Chapter 17 comes courtesy of Daughter_of_Light.

Summary: Minerva stubbornly defies Dumbledore's command and rescues baby Harry Potter from his uncaring relatives. How will she handle raising him without the help of Hogwarts?


Chapter One: Rescued by a Lioness

In the perfectly normal muggle town of Little Whinging, Surrey, a heated argument was taking place on Privet Drive in the dead of night. The street lights had been snuffed out and two very strangely dressed adults stood before house number four. The woman was practically spitting nails, hands waving in every direction as she tried to make a point. The elderly man she directed her raving towards watched her serenely, as if he had expected the outburst.

"You don't mean - you can't mean the people who live here!" the woman cried, jumping to her feet and pointing at number four. "Albus - you can't. I've been watching them all day. You couldn't find two people who are less like us. And they've got this son - I saw him kicking his mother all the way up the street, screaming for sweets. Harry Potter come and live here!"

"It's the best place for him," said the man she had called Albus firmly, "His aunt and uncle will be able to explain everything to him when he's older. I've written them a letter."

"A letter?" she hissed angrily, proving yet again that Minerva McGonagall was a woman to be reckoned with. "Really, Dumbledore, you think you can explain all this in a letter?" Albus winced at the tone she used calling him by his last name. "These people will never understand him!" she continued vehemently, "He'll be famous - a legend - I wouldn't be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in the future - there will be books written about Harry - every child in our world will know his name!"

"Exactly," said Albus, looking very seriously over the top of his half-moon glasses. "It would be enough to turn any boy's head. Famous before he can walk and talk! Famous for something he won't even remember! Can't you see how much better off he'll be, growing up away from all that until he is ready to take it?"

Eyes burning furiously she looked away, trying to calm her buzzing nerves before she said something she knew she would eventually regret. Finally, she quietly replied, "Yes - yes, you're right of course." They stood in silence, waiting for the child to seemingly fall from the sky. A loud roar filled the air, heralding the arrival of baby Harry Potter. Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts gingerly hopped off a stylish motorcycle and greeted the two teachers, gently handing Dumbledore a small figure swathed in a soft blue blanket.

Minerva leaned towards the baby, stretching out a hand to smooth the soft black locks off of his forehead. "Is that where - ?" she whispered, tracing the cruel lightening shaped scar with a gentle finger.

"Yes, he'll have that scar forever," replied Dumbledore. He walked away, forcing the child's head to abandon Minerva's hand in mid-air. Stooping to place the child on the doorstep, he heard Minerva come up beside him. Straightening, he tore his gaze away from the small bundle on the doorstep, looked into his deputy headmistress' face, and was startled at what he found. Gaze fixed on the baby in front of her, her eyes were brimming with tears, her lips pressed into a thin line, but twitching all the same. Her hands trembled at her side. Knowing she would not thank him for noticing her distress, he turned and spoke to Hagrid.

Minerva fought valiantly to keep her heartbroken sobs silent, but a few unauthorized tears made their way down her cheeks.

"Well," she heard Dumbledore say, "that's that. We've no business staying here. We may as well go and join the celebrations."

She barely recognized the sounds of Hagrid leaving, waging a serious battle in her own head. Try as she might, she could not shake the feeling that this was a very bad idea. So caught up in her thoughts, she jumped when Dumbledore addressed her.

"I shall see you soon, I expect, Professor McGonagall," he said. Not turning, she nodded weakly, forcefully scrubbing the unbidden tears off her cheeks.

The man reached out as if to touch her shoulder, but changed his mind, turning and walking away from the scene. He pulled a shiny object out of his robes and clicked it once, returning the lights back to their respective lamps.

As soon as the street was light again, Minerva transformed into her animagus form, a tabby cat, and ran off around the corner. Albus watched her go, his heart heavy in his chest, as he silently pleaded for any deity to assure him that he was doing the right thing. Then, because he could not stand the situation any longer, he turned on heel and disappeared with a faint pop.

The tabby waited until she was sure the man was gone before she crept back to the sleeping baby. Sitting down next to it, she took in the tuft of black hair that was so like his father's and the offending scar on his forehead. The boy stirred, and she lowered her head to rub against his. Settling back with a quiet giggle, the boy drifted back into a deep slumber. Grinning to herself, Minerva lipped his nose gently and settled herself down next to him.

Minerva realized she must have dozed off, because the next sound she heard was a high-pitched wail from within the house. Opening one eye sleepily, she noticed that it was a little after dawn and that the neighborhood was beginning to awake. Getting up slowly, she stretched and turned her head slightly to regard the baby beside her. His eyes were wide open and staring fearfully around at his surroundings, but as soon as he caught sight of the tabby, he giggled and reached toward her. Minerva obliged and gave the boy her paw to entertain himself with as she sat down beside him once more.

'I'll just wait and see what happens,' she thought to herself, as she wrestled her paw away from the youngster and gently batted him on the nose. He giggled yet again and reached for her as she smiled and thought, 'I'll give it one day. I'm probably worried over nothing.'

The clink of milk bottles reached her through the closed door and she nuzzled Harry a quick good-bye. Minerva dived into the bushes to the side of the steps just as the door opened. A tall, gangly woman appeared. She stooped to put the bottles on the doorstep and froze, staring wide eyed at the green-eyed baby staring back at her. Slowly lowering the bottles onto the step, she reached for the letter beside the bundle.

'This cannot be Lily's sister,' Minerva thought savagely, 'She's far too horse-like. And why, pray tell, did she not pick up the baby first?'

For what seemed like ages, the woman stood there, her face paling by the second as she read the letter from Albus Dumbledore line by line. As she neared the end of the letter, a large, very fat baby crawled, or slid on his stomach, over to her. Seeing the strange new baby on his front doorstep, he reached a rough hand out to touch it. Noticing her son out of the corner of her eye, the woman reached down and swooped him up into her arms with a hateful glare at the baby on the ground.

"Duddy, dearest," she said in her annoyingly nasal voice, "you mustn't touch that thing." Minerva bristled and growled quietly. "You don't know where it's been." She reached down and grabbed a fistful of the blanket the child was in, holding the whole bundle out in front of her like it was a disease. Minerva scrambled up the steps as the woman kicked the door shut and poked a paw through the mail slot to see where the wench went. She peered into the muggle dwelling quietly and saw the woman disappear into a room at the back of the house.

Leaping off the steps, Minerva darted around the house to the back. She jumped up onto the windowsill, not caring if she was seen, and glared into the kitchen where the woman plopped the baby onto the table in front of the blob of a man who was her husband.

"Vernon," she began quietly as she gently placed her own son in his high chair, "This baby was on our front porch this morning."

Her husband looked up sharply, taking in the child with a shrew glance. "Why?" he asked bluntly, regarding the baby boy as if he was a piece of garbage that had found its way onto his kitchen table.

"It's Lily's baby," the woman replied neutrally, and continued nonchalantly, "She's dead and they want us to take care of it."

"WHAT?" Vernon thundered. "I am not having some freeloading infant dropped on our laps! I won't stand for this, Petunia! You write back to them and tell them they can bloody well take care of the thing themselves."

"Me?" she shrieked, "Why me? It's not my fault I was cursed with a freak for a sister. Besides," she continued maliciously, "They won't listen to reason, they have their own freakish way of doing things and I'll bet this child is going to grow up to be one of them."

As they went off, back and forth, ranting and raving about freaks and what should be done with them, Minerva watched from the window, her heart breaking for the little boy who was unceremoniously plopped onto the table by his last remaining blood relative. Her last reserves of patience were wearing thin when Petunia finallly ended the verbal bashing of the wizardring world with a prudent statement.

"Well, we'll have to keep it for today, we're having company over and there's no time to deal with this now."

"Quite right, quite right," Vernon replied, his moustache twitching fearfully as he thought of what his boss would say about all of this. "What should we do with it, then?"

Petunia thought for a moment before replying, "The cupboard under the stairs should do fine. I mean, we can't have it staying in Dudley's room, and the spare bedroom is for the rest of his toys and clothes."

"Yes," Vernon agreed. "And the guest bedroom is for guests not freeloaders," he stated, glaring, yet again, at the helpless baby on his table. "And he's certainly not staying in our room. Yes, the cupboard would be fine," he finished.

Over the course of this exchange, the tabby's mouth had dropped open and was now hanging weakly in a very un-cat-like manner. Minerva was convinced she must have misheard, for the glass windowpanes could distort the words coming through, but she was proved wrong as Petunia grabbed the blanket again and strode over to the cupboard under the stairs. Opening the thin door, she roughly placed the child inside and quickly shut the door again.

Fighting back a vengeful scream of rage, Minerva tried to force herself to sit quietly on the window and wait for the group to leave the kitchen. 'Forget waiting a day,' she fumed, 'that boy is not staying here a minute longer.' She pushed off the window ledge and ran around to the far side of the house. Finding a large rock about the size of a human fist, she transformed and flung it through the window of their living room, where there was a solid wall hiding the cupboard door from view.

Not waiting to see if they had reacted, she transformed back and darted around to the back door. Transforming again, she whispered an unlocking charm and hurried inside to the cupboard, ignoring the bellows of rage coming from the living room. She opened the door and stooped to enter. Baby Harry was curled up in a tiny ball beneath the lower stairs, his vivid green eyes clearly showing he was scared out of his mind. Cobwebs were now stuck in his hair as he had pushed himself into the tiniest corner he could find. His breath came in slow hiccups and his quiet sobs slowed as he regarded the woman staring down at him

Cursing the muggles under her breath, Minerva went down on her hands and knees and reached for the boy. He cringed as her hand drew closer and she stopped. Transforming into the tabby he had seen that morning, she trotted up to him. A small smile formed from beneath his dirty face and his tear-filled eyes lit up as she lipped him on the nose. She slowly sank her teeth into the sleeve of his now dust-covered shirt and tugged him out of the corner.

As soon as she was clear of the lower stairs, she transformed back and cracked her head on the ceiling. Biting back a shrill curse, she glanced down at the giggling baby at her feet. Grinning wryly to herself, she bent down and gathered up Harry and the blanket he had kicked out of. She stepped out of the closet cradling the child to her with one hand while shaking out the filthy blanket with the other.

The Dursleys had relocated to the kitchen where Petunia was on the phone with the police about the rock through her window. Luckily, her back was to the hallway as Minerva emerged. The witch made her way to the front door, putting the blanket over her shoulder as she proceeded to dust off the boy in her arms. Realizing that this was a futile task, she pulled out her wand and whispered a quick cleaning charm. Then she transfigured her outfit to muggle clothing: a long, thick gray woolen skirt, a white, button down shirt, and a black overcoat. She made her hat another blanket for Harry and wrapped him in both. By the time she reached the front door, she could pass as a muggle woman with her baby.

Looking over her shoulder, she saw the muggle woman fussing over her own chilid yet again while her husband reread the paper. She opened the door quietly, as to not draw attention, and shut it just as quietly behind her. From there, she apparated to the gates of Hogwarts. Only when she was halfway up the sloping drive to the castle did she stop dead and fully realize her actions. She had directly defied Albus Dumbledore.

 

Chapter Two: A Stronger Type of Love

Tensing, she tried to visualize the fight that would eventually take place in the Headmaster's office. A few seconds later, she felt a small pair of hands wind their way around her neck. Looking down at the bundle in her arms, she met the puzzled green-eyes of her charge. Smiling at his expression, she pulled him into a loving hug and whispered, "It will be all right, little one. I'll keep you safe no matter what happens." With that, the small boy snuggled into her embrace and she continued up the path to the castle.

In light of the recent defeat of Voldemort, the Headmaster had given the student body the rest of the week off in order to celebrate with family. Minerva opened the towering doors to the main entrance with a flick of her wand and stepped inside. The castle was, for the most part, completely devoid of life; the ghosts were probably down in the dungeons celebrating Voldemort's fall in their own way, even Flich had left with Mrs. Norris to join in the festivities. Her quick footsteps echoed throughout the cavernous halls, making her feel very small and insignificant against the grandness surrounding her.

She made her way to the Headmaster's office, where she supposed he was, holding the baby to her and steeling herself for an unpleasant meeting. The stone gargoyle that guarded the Headmaster's office stepped aside when it saw her, not even waiting for her to utter the password. Lifting her skirt with one hand, she climbed the spiral staircase up to his office. Once she reached the top, she knocked on the door quickly, before she could change her mind.

Opening the door, she saw the Headmaster sitting behind his desk, his elbows propped up on it, his hands steepled in front of his as he regarded her with flashing blue eyes devoid of their usual twinkle.

"Albus," she started quietly, not daring to do anything to enrage the wizard further, "I couldn't leave him there, his aunt - "

"This was not a decision for you to make," he replied, his voice rising dangerously as he continued, "His relatives provide him with the protection he needs, it was foolish of you to - "

"They don't love him, Dumbledore," she shot back, "Do you know what she did, his aunt? Do you even care?"

"Of course I care, it's just - "

"She tossed him into a closet!" Minerva yelled. Seeing Dumbledore open his mouth to question this, she continued, "Yes, she read the letter, yes, she realized that he was Lily's, but she didn't care! Neither of them did! They kept calling him 'it' and 'that thing' like he was a piece of rubbish rather than their nephew!"

"All the same, Minerva, he is pro- "

"I don't care if he's protected from Death Eaters there," she cried. "Who will protect him from his family? They don't love him, Dumbledore, and I refuse to leave him there," she finished, her chest heaving with emotion.

"As I said before," Albus stated, a dangerous edge to his voice, "This was not a decision you had the right to make. I have my reasons for leaving him with his relatives, there is - "

"Yes, yes," she cut in irritably, "There is an ancient magic you have set up to keep him safe through the blood of his relatives. I surmised as much."

Albus stood there, silently regarding the head-strong Gryffindor before him. Her cheeks were flushed in anger, but her hands were gentle as she cradled the small bundle in her arms. His eyes were drawn to the green eyes staring back at him with trepidation as his small hands firmly grasped the fabric of Minerva's coat, as if he could sense that the man before them sought to re-separate them.

'Perhaps there is a way,' a small part of him thought, 'Perhaps he could stay here.'

'And put the rest of the students in danger?' another part of him shot back. 'And what of the protection?'

'That can be dealt with,' the small part countered, 'There are magical binding spells that result in just as strong a bond as blood.'

'But they wouldn't work, now would they? Foster blood is not the same as blood blood.'

'Orphans adopted in our world go through it.'

'It is not the same, he's not an orphan yet. His family is still alive.'

'That doesn't matter,' the small part spat out, exasperated, 'they don't want him, didn't you hear her? They don't love him.'

'His protection is more important. The fate of the wizardring world lies with this boy.'

"Albus," Minerva started again, bringing him out of his reverie, "a child cannot grow up without love. Look at Tom Riddle."

He looked up sharply at the woman in front of him, wondering exactly why she had brought up that name. She was right, of course, a child growing up without love could have disastrous consequences. Still. . .

"Minerva," he replied gently, "the boy has far too much Gryffindor in his blood to turn evil. Tom Riddle was the heir of Slytherin, there was very little to stop it."

"I have a hard time believing in predestination, as you well know," she shot back. "Tom Riddle grew up in an orphanage without anyone to look out for him and love him. I refuse to allow the same to happen to Harry."

"It is out of the question," he uncharacteristically snapped. "There are too many lives at stake if he remains here. You know as well as I do that Voldemort will eventually return, it is only a matter of time."

"So you would sacrifice a boy's well-being for the sake of the greater good?" she snapped back. "And as for being a risk to the students if he were to stay here - what do you think is going to happen when he begins his schooling here? Do you honestly think the Dark Lord will just give up because the boy has reached the age of eleven?"

"So you would sacrifice the greater good for one child?"

"I know he can't stay here, Dumbledore," she spat, "I know the risks as well as you do. But the boy cannot stay with those people."

"And who would you leave him with?" he asked critically, "Sirius? You know that's out of the question. Remus Lupin? He will not be able to care for the child as he needs to be taken care of! Or have you forgotten his little problem that occurs during the full moon? Harry would not be safe with him. Besides, he's already taken off," he snapped his mouth shut, refusing to say more on that subject.

A tense silence filled the room as both realized the answer to the question.

"I will take him with me," Minerva stated firmly. Her stern glare told Dumbledore her decision was final.

Meeting her eyes stonily, he asked in a quiet, deadly voice, "And what of your teaching position?"

"Give it to someone without a child to care for," she hissed. She turned and strode out of the room without looking back.

Albus Dumbledore drew in a shuddering breath as she descended the spiral staircase and threw a disgusted glare at her retreating shadow. 'She'll come around,' he convinced himself, 'She won't leave.'

When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she slumped against the hallway wall. Sliding down the wall until she was sitting on the ground, she brought her knees up and leaned the baby against them.

"What do I do, bebay?" she asked quietly, begging for some type of answer. He stared up at her through huge, bottle-green irises, and reached out to her grinning.

"Ma," he said as he reached up.

She froze and stared into his eyes as he grabbed a few strands of hair that had worked their way out of the tidy bun she kept it in. She laughed as he tugged gently and gazed down at him.

"Well, I suppose that settles it," she stated with a smile. "But it isn't 'ma' dearest, it's Aunt Minerva."

"An merva?"

She laughed again, untangling her hair from his tiny hand and said, "Yes, sweet, Aunt Minerva. Come on," she stood up slowly, "Let's go pack."

As she turned the corner to the transfigurations wing, she slowed, trying to savor the last time she walked down these halls. In her arms, Harry stared around, twisting his head from side to side, trying to take in everything at once. Vast floor to ceiling windows lined one side of the main hall, rich fabrics in burgundy, gold, and royal purple framing them. A suit of armor stood between each window against the stone of the castle. Harry squealed in delight shouting, "Ma! Ma! Yook! Yook!" as the suits waved to him cheerily. Minerva chuckled, repositioning the boy in her left arm so he could look out the window without twisting around backwards.

As they turned the next corner, Harry let out a surprised yell, "Kiddif! Yook, Ma! Kiddif!" and pointed energetically out the window. Minerva turned to see what was making him so excited and almost fell down laughing.

"Yes, Harry, Quidditch," she repeated, walking over to stand next to the window. Down the slope of the hill where Hogwarts stood was the Quidditch stadium. Harry had spotted the brightly colored flags of the different houses flying beneath the tall hoops of gold. "Your father's taught you all about Quidditch, now has he?" she inquired, thinking wryly of the Quidditch-crazed student she used to know.

"Kiddif got free chathers, an doo beaters, an'a keeper, an'a seeker, an'a kaffle, an'a buggers, an'a goyen snit!" he stated proudly, looking up into Minerva's face for confirmation.

"That's absolutely right!" And, because she couldn't resist, she asked, "And who's the best Quidditch team?"

"Giffdor!" Harry yelled.

She smiled down at him. "Gryffindor," she muttered. "Of course your father and Mr. Black took care of brainwashing you, didn't they?" she asked as they proceeded down the hall.

Reaching a painting of a young scribe hard at work, she stopped. Harry, amazed at the figure scribbling furiously on a blank piece of parchment, called, "Heyo?" Startled, the figure in the painting looked up at the baby boy waving shyly at him from within the sturdy grasp of Professor Minerva McGonagall.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Professor!" the figure cried. "I thought you were out celebrating!"

"It's quite alright, Equin," she replied. "Elladorna"

The picture slid to the side revealing a large, sturdy, oak door with a black handle and black hinges. Twisting the handle, she pushed and opened the door into a spacious, inviting suite. She across the living room and into the bedroom through the door in the far right-hand side of the space.

The room was large, but sufficiently filled with a huge armoire next to the bed and shelves upon shelves of books, scrolls, and interesting knick-knacks acquired over the years. A large, queen-sized, four-poster bed stood against the wall on the other side of the door adorn in typical Gryffindor burgundy and gold. A small-ish fireplace was set in the stone directly across from the bed about three feet up the wall. Depositing Harry on the bed, she turned to open the drawer of her nightstand.

A stuffed Gryffindor lion, presented to her by the Headmaster as a joke, lay inside. She pulled it out slowly and handed it to the boy, who took it with a look of wonder on his face as the lion proceeded to roar and move its legs around as he held it.

Realizing that she had better pack fast before the gravity of the situation hit her, she pulled out her wand and opened the drawstring bag lying on top of the nightstand. With a wave of her wand, the books and other miscellaneous objects about her room flew into the bottomless bag. Next, her shrunk the contents of the nightstands and the armoire and waved them, too, into the bag, watching absently as her strict teaching wardrobe zoomed towards her. She left Harry on the bed as she packed up her bathroom, but picked him up and moved into the living room so she could keep an eye on him.

Soon, her rooms were empty, all of her belongings packed into the medium-sized bag she slung over her shoulder. Taking a deep breath, she looked around at her empty quarters for the last time, sweeping the room and coming to a stop on the small boy before the huge, burning fire. The sides of her mouth curved upward in a loving smile as he made the roaring lion in his hands fly through the air as if on a broomstick. He stopped moving, feeling her gaze on him, and grinned at her. Rising unsteadily, he teetered towards her as she went down on her knees and opened her arms wide.

"Come on, love," she urged. He came closer and closer until he fell into her arms and she scooped him up, whispering into his ear, "Let's go home."

Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a pinch of Floo powder and cast it into the fire. The flames roared and turned green. "Hang on tight, Harry," she said, and stepped into the fire calling, "Marian Cottage" and then they were gone.

 

Chapter Three: Ma'

They spun for what seemed like ages to Harry, as he clung to Minerva with every ounce of strength he possessed until they reached their destination. Gracefully, she stepped out of the hearth and into her home, soothing the small boy in her arms as he still held her neck in a vice-like grip. "Harry, it's over, you can open your eyes now," she softly spoke into his ear.

Hesitating, he lifted his head slowly from the crook of Minerva's neck where he had buried his eyes. Exhausted, both physically and mentally, the witch walked over to the couch and slumped down onto it. Sensing something was wrong with his new guardian, Harry, who had settled into her lap, pulled himself up by the fabric of her shirt, balancing his tiny feet on her lap. Fully standing, he peered into the tired face of Hogwart's former Deputy Headmistress. Seeing her eyes closed, he poked her right one, trying to get them to open.

Groaning, she caught the offending fist in her eye with a pale hand and pulled the tiny boy to her. Harry let his head fall onto her collarbone, wrapping his other arm around Minerva's neck and heaving a deep sigh. They stayed like that for a time, until Harry spoke, "Ma?"

"Aunt Minerva, Harry," she corrected. She was not sure why the boy insisted on dubbing her 'ma' but she wanted to discourage it. She was not his mother, and she thought it wrong for him to be able to replace Lily so quickly.

He sighed in exasperation then corrected himself, "An Merva?"

"Yes?"

"Tummy?"

"Oh! I'm sorry, Harry!" Minerva exclaimed, jumping up from the couch and hurrying into the kitchen. "I forgot you haven't eaten today."

Looking at the plain, muggle clock hanging above the sink, she saw that it was nearly lunchtime. She rummaged around the kitchen, opening cupboards and drawers, pulling out various items until she had bread, applesauce, and milk on the kitchen counter. It was not a wholly nutritious lunch, but it was all she had and at least it wasn't junk.

The meal was finished quickly, both Minerva and Harry making a feast of the few edible items in her home. When they were done, she cleaned the countertop with a charm - she was far too tired to use the muggle method as she normally would.

"Come on, Harry," she said, stifling a yawn, "It's nap time."

"Mkay," came the placid reply.

Minerva raised her eyebrows - she had never heard of a toddler willingly subject himself to a mid-day nap, even if he really was tired. Harry met her gaze sleepily and reached his arms up in a silent demand to be carried. Shrugging inwardly, she obliged, picking him up and walking out of the kitchen as he latched his hands together behind her neck. She trudged up the stairs and into the larger of the two bedrooms on the floor. Balancing Harry with one hand, she took off her coat and tossed to over the back of the chair in front of a small vanity in the corner. She sat down on the bed, kicked off her shoes, and lay back slowly, sinking into the many pillows decorating her bed.

Harry released her neck but remained glued to her chest as he made himself comfortable on top of her. Minerva's hands held him in place, on hand supporting his head, the other resting on his back, the pillows buoying her arms. They lay like that for nearly an hour, breathing each other in and memorizing each other's scents. His forehead leaned on the side of her neck, his right hand on the left side of her collarbone, and his left hand behind his head on her shoulder.

"Ma?" he whispered after a while.

Minerva sighed, "Harry, I'm not your ma." She sat up, placing Harry beside her as she stretched over the rest of the bed to her nightstand. She pulled open the drawer, reached in, and drew out a nearly full photo album. These were pictures of her favorite students, dating all the way back to Molly Gardner and Arthur Weasley in the fifties. These were the students she stayed in touch with, even years after graduation. She flipped to the last few pages, where her most recent students were. The last page held pictures of last year's Gryffindor Champions and their Quidditch Cup. There were Arthur and Molly's children, Charlie and Bill. Little second year Charlie standing next to his older, taller brother, grinning widely and clutching the tiny golden snitch in his hand.

"Kiddif!" squealed Harry pointing at the picture with glee.

"Yes, yes, but that's not what I want to show you." She flipped further back to the year 1975, when the infamous Marauders began their reign of pranks on Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The first picture was of James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew, the Marauders in their first year.

Harry immediately pointed to James and said, "Daddy!"

"Yes, that's your father, Harry."

"No more," he stated matter-of-factly, "Daddy up inna sky wif d'angews - Mummy set."

Minerva stared at the picture, her eyes watering as she remembered two of her favorite students, even as she smoothed the soft black hair on their son's head. "That's right, dear, your Daddy's up in the sky with the angels. He's always watching you. And so is your mother," she said gently, turning to the next picture. Here, the Marauders were in sixth year - Lily and James held hands shyly in the middle of the picture while the three remaining Marauders snickered behind them.

She pointed to the young girl with fire hair holding his father's hand. "That's your mother, Harry."

Harry reached out to touch the picture, recognition flashing across his face as he said, "Mummy."

Minerva turned the page yet again, to his parents wedding day, again, the litany was said. The last picture in the album was of Lily seated in a regal pose, her husband standing proudly behind her with a hand on her shoulder and their son perched on her lap. Minerva smiled as she watched James bite his lower lip in an effort to stifle his laugher at the ridiculous pose. Lily rolled her eyes at her husband's antics and the baby started laughing and clapping as his father fell out of the picture, standing up again only to collapse against the side of the picture laughing hysterically. Even Lily couldn't completely mask her giggles as a few broke through her stern demeanor.

"Mummy and Daddy nah hewe," Harry said suddenly. "Dey up inna sky wif d'angews?"

"Yes, Harry, but they will always love you, and they'll always be watching out for you."

"Ma?"

"Aunt Minerva."

"Ma," he stated firmly, poking Minerva in the nose, emphasizing his point.

"Harry, what did I just tell you?" she asked exasperated.

"Mummy up inna sky wif d'angews, Ma dow hewer wif me," he said seriously, folding his arms across his chest and glaring at Minerva as if daring her to argue with him again.

Minerva didn't know what to think. The fifteen month-old baby rationalized the situation differently than she had. He knew exactly what he was doing. His calling her 'Ma' was not him replacing Lily, but rather, him adopting a new guardian.

"Alright, Harry," she said finally, giving in to his glare and his reasoning.

A happy smile lit up his face as he reached out and triumphantly said, "Ma."

Laughing, she pulled him into a hug and laid him down on the bed beside her. She reached over him and pushed the photo album back onto the nightstand. Settling back into her pillows, she saw the baby asleep already, the ring finger of her left hand caught by his right and trapped in a death grip. She pried her finger out of his hand and he began to whimper. Smoothing the hair away from his forehead, she shushed him, humming an old song to him as he turned his head into her touch. Lying down, she set her head in the crook of her left arm and placed her right around the boy, going over his pudgy legs and reaching her hand up to touch his cheek with the tips of her fingers, fencing him in with her forearm.

Placing a light, loving kiss on the scar on his forehead, she drifted off to sleep, absently stroking his cheek.

"Ma," he muttered sleepily.

"Ma," she agreed with a smile.

 

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.

Sincerely,
Minerva McGonagall]

"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?'

 

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.

 

Chapter Six: Binding by Love

A thick coating of snow covered the land surrounding the quaint cottage and gave the windows a frosted, sugary look. Cozy lights blazed on the bottom floor, setting off a welcoming warmth. Inside, two women, four dogs, and a raven haired baby sat around a roaring fire.

"Amanda, all I need is one more person to take part in the ceremony, please?" Minerva pleaded.

"Absolutely not, what if I do something wrong?" she shot back.

"Nothing will go wrong, alright? I know the entire ceremony by heart. I'll say it - you just need to sit there and toss the dust on our hands before they stop bleeding."

"And that's another thing, you know I hate blood."

"Yes, that's why you played professional Quidditch for twenty years, because you hate blood," the black-haired witch said sarcastically. "Tell me, how many times were you bleeding and broken by bludgers?"

"That's different," the other witch said stubbornly, "it's the heat of battle, you don't feel anything then."

"Amanda, please? There won't be that much blood and I'll let you convince Harry that the Sussex Stars are the best team ever."

"No."

"Oh come on," she stated firmly, "I know exactly what I'm doing, and this is the only way I can think of to bind us properly so I can set the same protection around here that Dumbledore used on his aunt's house."

Silence. "Fine," Amanda said shortly. "But don't blame me if you both get blown up."

"Oh that's very funny," Minerva said rolling her eyes.

It was Christmas, the first Minerva had with Harry, and he was sitting on the floor enjoying his presents with the four dogs watching him warily as he waved a small broomstick around. Over the past two months, Minerva had been researching bonding magic used by the ancient Celtic tribes who bound themselves to virtually everything. A few weeks before Christmas, she came across an ancient spell used by her own ancesters. It was an arcane magic - not used, or even heard of in the modern wizarding world. But that didn't stop Minerva from being convinced that it would work.

"I swear it'll work," she said yet again, "My ancestors used it to bind themselves to those that married into the family and those who were adopted into it. It will work."

"Fine, fine," Amanda replied, too tired to argue, "Whatever you say."

"It needs to be done on the Winter Solstice, right at midnight, that's five days from now."

"Yes, yes, you've said that about a million times already."

"Alright, fine. I'll just get Harry up to bed now."

"Nu-uh!" the baby on the floor said, shaking his head energetically, "'m not sweepy."

He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand and Minerva scooped him up. "I'll be down in a minute," she told Amanda, then grinned mischievously, "help yourself to the liquor cabinet."

Amanda frowned at her friend's retreating back, who knew full well she needed a drink, but Minerva had no alcohol whatsoever in the house.

Minerva made her way up the stairs to the bedroom, cradling the sleepy child in her arms, humming softly to him as he settled his head on her shoulder. Instead of turning left into the master bedroom, she turned right, into the other room. She muttered a soft "Lumos," making the lights come on dimly as she settled into the rocking chair and gazed out the window.

Gently, she shifted his figure so she cradled him and rocked him to sleep. On the Winter Solstice, Harry would have been with her for two months. Taking care of the boy had come to her naturally - as if she had been ready for this responsibility her whole life. Every morning, she would wake before him, shower and change then spend the rest of the day entertaining him, a chore she never tired of. She knew that eventually her savings from when she taught at Hogwarts would run out, and she would have to look for work again. She wasn't worried tough, she had a plan to begin writing textbooks for students learning transfigurations, the texts they used now were pitifully inadequate.

Harry fussed in her arms and she leaned down to talk softly into her ear.

"Harry, go to sleep, love," she soothed, "It's alright, I won't let anything happen to you. I'll take care of you bebay, you'll be alright."

Half an hour later, she laid him down in the crib at the foot of her bed and covered him with a thick blanket. She tucked the sleeping Gryffindor lion in next to him and smoothed his hair away from his face as Tate walked in with two other dogs. The younger dogs were beginning to wean themselves away from the stoic bloodhound and now he was down to two shadows. Smiling as the trio made themselves comfortable at her feet beside the crib, she waded out of the mass and walked back down the stairs.

"Are you sure you can do this?" Amanda asked as Minerva walked back into the living room. The other witch took a seat in the armchair opposite Amanda and a small black and white blur hopped up onto her lap.

"Switch," she sighed, attempting to dislodge the dog from her lap, "you really shouldn't jump on the furniture."

"Minerva," Amanda said warningly, commanding her to answer the question.

The other witch looked up slowly, mulling the question over silently as she scratched the head of the dog in her lap.

"Yes," she finally replied, "I can do this. It's a part of me, Amanda, a part of my heritage. What?" she asked, seeing her friend's skeptical look, "You don't think I'm powerful enough?"

"For the binding yes," she replied, "For the other thing. . . no." They sat in silence for a while, both witched staring into the flames. Amanda sighed and said, "I know you're a very powerful witch, Minerva, but I can't see you focused enough to complete a charm as complex as that."

"Well, who else would do it? Dumbledore?" she spat out the name as if it left a bad taste in her mouth. "He would never agree to it. He never wanted me to take in the boy in the first place."

Amanda stared into the flames thoughtfully, wondering if Dumbledore could be convinced to place the spell on the cottage. Figuring that it was worth a shot, Amanda replied carefully, "Well, just don't do anything crazy, I'll see if someone else would be able to cast it."

"All right," Minerva sighed as Switch rolled over onto her back on her lap, her four paws sticking up in the air and her long ears flopped out to the sides of her head.

"Give me one week after the charm to find someone," requested Amanda, already deep in thought as to how she would convince the one someone powerful enough to cast it. She sighed inwardly; it was time for some mind games.

"Fine," Minerva agreed, "just make sure they know how to do it properly, alright? I won't know how to fix it if they botch the job."


Five days later, Minerva sat cross-legged in a symmetrical circle before the fire in her living room. Across from her in another circle sat a baby boy with bright bottle-green eyes. Amanda sat a little away from them, positioned right around the part where the two circles were closest.

"Are you ready?" Amanda asked quietly, as the minutes grew closer and closer to midnight.

"Yes," she replied steadily as the child watched her with eyes full of trust. Beside her lay a plain white dagger, made of the finest ivory, passed down through generation after generation of her people. In the past, Minerva had regarded it as nothing more than a family heirloom, but now understood and appreciated its importance. A bowl made of the same ivory sat in front of Amanda, filled with white sand from the seashore mixed with crushed amethyst, the most powerful binding crystal known to man. The soft purple sparkled calmly against the white of the sand, giving it an ethereal appearance. The sandy mixture was what formed the circles Minerva and Harry sat in.

"Harry," Minerva began as the clock would its way down to midnight, "This is going to hurt a little bit, but I need you to be a big boy and not cry alright?"

Harry nodded in response and Minerva took a deep breath. At the stroke of twelve, she whispered, "Lachemec" and the sand glowed with a soft white light.

Picking up the dagger, she pierced the skin on the palm of her right hand. Leaning over the outline of her circle, she reached for Harry's right hand and did the same to his palm. The baby's faced scrunched up with held back tears, but relaxed as the cuts began to glow in the same soft white as the circles around them. Gripping Harry's hand firmly, she placed her cut over his and intertwined her fingers in his. Squeezing his hand in reassurance, Minerva spoke the forgotten language to call upon the ancient magic of the land. Amanda's eyes grew wide as she heard a chorus of unearthly voices echo Minerva's words.

Faela di faela (Blood to blood)

Aiyan di aiyan (Heart to heart)

Reda coe aire ne coe immae (Bound by love and by fate)

Ni gienaire mente (Two separate now)

Lodonai ecren avae don mecha (Become one with each other)

Machen ne coen (Mother and son)

The circles began to glow stronger and white beams of light shot out from cracks between their joined hands. When she said "mother and son" the sands emitted a strong purple flash and Amanda tossed the sand in the bowl over their hands and Minerva said the final words of the ceremony.

"Garen salae."

The sand immediately vanished, swirling around the two sitting figures in a fading whirlwind before vanishing, leaving both Minerva and Harry glowing amethyst for a moment before all of the lights disappeared.

No one moved or spoke for a full minute, until Harry eased his hand out of Minerva's grip to study his palm. Nothing of the cut was left but a small white scar. Triumphantly, he held his palm up for Minerva to see. "All gone!" he said, his eyes twinkling despite the hour.

"It worked, didn't it?" Amanda demanded, wanting verbal confirmation from the castor.

Blinking, Minerva turned and looked at her. "Yes," she said, sounding surprised, "It worked."

Then she began to laugh. Harry got up and teetered into her open arms, wondering what exactly his new mother was laughing about. Amanda rolled her eyes at her friend's antics and announced that she had better be getting back to Hogwarts.

"Don't be ridiculous," Minerva said as she stood up without any trace of stiffness, "Stay the night."

"No, I'd best be going back. I have some work to finish up before the students come back." What she was really thinking was, 'Alright, one week. I have one week to convince Albus to cast that spell.'

After helping, or watching, Minerva put Harry to sleep (which was the work of about two and a half hours), Amanda Flooed back to the Three Broomsticks and waved hello to Rosemerta who was serving a late-night group of drinkers at the bar.

Pulling a toothpick and her wand out of her pocket, she walked outside and transfigured the former object back into her broom. Kicking off, she thought to herself, 'Mind games. I never was any good at them, but stubborn people can be stupid, and that stupidity can be manipulated.' It was with this thought that she approached the headmaster in his office late the next afternoon.

"Ah, Amanda, good evening," he greeted her cheerfully, his eyes twinkling with holiday cheer. "To what do I owe this visit?"

"Nothing negative, I assure you," she said wryly, remembering the last time she had something important to tell him. 'But I'm not _telling_ him this time,' she thought, 'I'm merely giving him a push . . . or energetic shove, in the right direction.'

Having rehearsed this conversation in her head and explored the different directions it could take, she began confidently, "I just came back from Minerva's this morning."

His face darkened almost imperceptibly. 'Bingo,' she thought. "Oh?" he replied, feigning indifference. "And how was she?" he asked politely.

"She was fine, but she had an eventful New Year's," Amanda chuckled, watching the Headmaster's face out of the corner of her eye.

Giving up his side of the charade, he questioned, "How so?" his voice barely succeeding in masking the stab of betrayal he felt for no particular reason.

Amanda knew exactly what he was thinking and threw him for a loop when she said, "She dug up some old binding spell and made Harry her son."

Albus stared at her in disbelief as his mouth dropped open. Giving a loud war-whoop inside of her head in congratulations, she continued, "You remember she's of Celtic descent, right?" and proceeded to airily tell him the whole story, finishing with, "She wants to perform that protection charms now so she can keep him safe. I told her she might as well since no one else with that kind of power would do it for her. She should be able to manage it, don't you think, Headmaster?"

Albus continued to stare at her in shock, his mouth dropping lower and lower until Amanda was sure his bottom jaw would snap right off. With a satisfied grin to herself, she bade farewell to the gaping headmaster. "I'll just send her an owl to make sure she's alright, she wasn't looking very energetic when I left. Good day, Albus," and walked out of his office with a definite spring in her step. She sighed happily and thought to herself, 'My work here is done.'

The headmaster sat behind his desk staring into space as Amanda left, unable to immediately process the information that was just dropped into his lap. He couldn't even think straight, his thoughts coming out in sputtered exclamations of surprise - not at all helpful. It was dark by the time he collected his thoughts enough to make one coherent sentence in his brain. 'Minerva is Harry's bound mother.' Even in his mind the thought seemed ludicrous, but he knew it was true. He'd known from the day she kicked him out of her house that she loved that boy enough to magically bind herself to him. He hadn't believed she would, a part of him refusing to accept the fact that she would give up everything she had for a boy she had just met.

Groaning, he folded his arms on the desk in front of him and dropped his head into the crook, remembering the fight that had preceded his ejection from her house. 'How could I have been so stupid not to see it then?' he bitingly thought to himself. He knew what would happen now - she would devote her life to that boy and, because he wouldn't let her bring him to Hogwarts, he would never see her again. 'Besides the parent-teacher conferences,' he mused with a dark frown. He had stubbornly refused to allow the boy to be protected at the school, backed by what seemed to be a perfectly valid reason at the time. He could not risk the lives of the rest of the student body. 'It still makes sense,' he thought stubbornly, sitting up straight, and realizing that this was the only way for everything to be alright. Sighing, he rose from his chair and swept out of his office.

Amanda watched him cross the grounds with a triumphant smile on her face.

The headmaster strode through the gates of the school and disapparated. He appeared on the road in front of Marian Cottage and stood still for a moment, taking in the crystal calmness of the evening. Glancing at his odd little pocket watch with planets and stars on the face, he saw that it was nearly eleven o'clock at night. Stuffing the shiny object back into his robes, he pulled out his wand and closed his eyes.

In his mind's eye, he saw the extent of the property, up to the road, back through the pond and the grove of trees, through the dense forest to the south, and across the vast plain to the north. Taking a deep breath, he began the intricate charm. He saw the two figures resting side by side in the large bedroom in the cottage and carefully drew on the strong tie of love, magic, and blood that bound them together. In his mind, the two figures glowed a soft blue/white hue, which was a good sign, the paler the blue, the stronger the bond, the more powerful the magic. Taking another breath, he muttered the ancient charm, watching as the cloud stretched and spread out over the entire cottage, over the property, and, since there was so much magic left over (as both were of magical descent), he placed a more dilute form of the cloud over the ramshackle house a few miles beyond the cottage. Opening his eyes, he saw the last vestiges of the magic fade into the snow.

With a satisfied twinkle, he whispered into the night, "Good luck, Harry Potter." Then, he turned on his heel, and with a swish of his cloak, he was gone.


Minerva woke the next morning to a soft tapping on her window. Forehead creasing in annoyance, she pried open one eye and glared out the window at a small, hyper-active tawny owl fluttering around on the other side of the glass. Pushing the window open, she snatched the letter off the creature's leg as it zoomed in. She ignored its prattle for a moment as she read the letter from Amanda.

[Dear Minerva,

A very good morning to you! Now don't go beating the stuffing out of my owl for waking you as I've grown rather fond of him. I just owled to let you know that the spell has been set around your house. It's a rather strong one, I'd imagine, given the caliber of wizard who set it and the strength of its two subjects. I wanted to get it up as soon as possible so you wouldn't try anything crazy on your own, and don't frown at me, you know you would have. Anyway, in case you wanted to send a thank you note to the castor, send it to Hogwarts, the headmaster's office, if you don't mind. And be cordial about it - he didn't have to agree to it. Cheers!

Your favorite flying instructor,

Amanda

PS: Give Harry a kiss for me!]

 

Chapter Seven: As the Years Go By

Four years and six months had passed since that first week of January in which unheard of amounts of magic passed through the cottage at Marian Hill. The living room of the cottage told the story of the years, photographs covering every flat surface and cascading down the walls. On the end tables, in a few of the oldest pictures, a small baby boy with jet black hair, bottle green eyes and a tell-tale scar on his forehead played. In one, he rolled around on a blue carpet with four protective dogs hovering around him. In another, he sat in the lap of an older witch with similar raven locks, giggling as she bounced him on her knee while writing something down on a piece of parchment before her.

More pictures were on the broad mantelpiece over the fireplace and showed the child growing older and more and more energetic, curious, and mischievous. In many of them, he was surrounded by a group of brothers and their sister, all with flaming red hair. A redheaded boy the same age as him accompanied him everywhere, sharing his brothers and his family with the black-haired boy. In one photo, the two of them sat in front of two older redheads on separate broomsticks, giggling madly as they performed loops and spins in the air as a redheaded woman stood below, yelling herself hoarse at them to get down. In another, they sat with a set of twins, trying in vain to hold back hysterical laughter as the twins put something soft and slimy down the shirt of another redhead only a few years older than them.

The pictures on the wall displayed the milestones of his young life. First, he was a pink newborn in the arms of a tired-looking redhead stretched out on a hospital bed, while a man with messy black hair in a hospital robe leaned over them protectively, a hand on the baby's head. Then, he was perched on the lap of his mother, the red head, while his father broke into spontaneous fits of giggles behind them. Then, he lay peacefully on a large bed next to a black-haired witch. In another, he slept soundly in her arms as she sat in a rocking chair humming softly to him. A gray-haired witch with eagle-like yellow eyes took him up for his first ride on a broomstick. He paraded around proudly with a small broom in his hand after he opened his presents from his fourth birthday. He smiled in triumph as he completed tying his shoes for the first time. He read slowly to the raven-haired witch, perched on her lap with a large picture book in his hands as he sounded words out, only asking for help occasionally.

It was nearing the end of June; a warm breeze blew through the open windows and ruffled the unopened letters sitting on the desk of the study, where a few more framed pictures held them down. In the kitchen, a small, chubby black dog lay in front of the refrigerator, inconveniently blocking the doorway to the living room with his stubby paws and rotund body. The small dining room lay uninhabited, the lacey drapery billowing softly in the wind. Out the back door, on a sturdy oak porch, a large gray bloodhound flopped lazily next to the stairs, his drooling snout hung over the top stair as he faced the top branches of a grove of trees a little way down the hill in the distance. His slit-like eyes that may or may not have been open fluttered every so often in the cool breeze. High-pitched laughs of a group of children, coupled with the energetic barks of dogs younger than he reached his ears as they twitched in recognition and his tail gave a lazy wag, then slumped back onto the porch.

Down the hill, through the grove of trees, was a broad expanse of water. The lake was shallow, only five feet deep at its deepest point. In that respect, it was more like an enormous pond, but the water was too clean, and the rocks at the bottom too rounded for it to be considered a mere pond. Six young children and a tan, short-haired bull of a dog splashed around in the shallows. About twenty feet into the lake from the east bank, the black-haired witch from the pictures sat on a wide, comfortable chair that used to be a piece of driftwood. A narrow catwalk led to the seat, which was raised out of the water by about six inches. A medium-sized black and white dog lay beside the woman on the chair, her head resting in the woman's lap. The woman wore a long, light, sleeveless summer dress which was pinned up above her knees as she dangled her feet in the water. Her black hair was pinned up into a bun on the top of her head and square spectacles were balanced upon her delicate nose as she leafed through a thick book titled, Advanced Transfigurations by Emeric Switch. She looked up often, keeping a sharp eye on the children in the lake.

"But I don't wanna be Viviane!" a small red-headed girl complained, "I want to be Nimue!"

"Fine, Gin," the tallest red head conceded, "But you're the only girl, so you have to be both, alright?"

She stood silently for a moment, considering the proposition as the water lapped at her toes. "Ok," she said finally, and announced, "I'm gonna wait for you guys in Avalon!" Then she hopped off the large rock she'd been perched on and swam over to the woman in the chair.

Minerva McGonagall looked up as she heard the announcement and grinned as the little girl made her way over. Reaching a hand down to help her onto "Avalon," she placed the book beside her and covered it with a towel she conjured up with the wand from her pocket.

"I'll be Merlin," announced the tallest boy, "and, Ron, you can be-"

"You always get to be Merlin, Perce," one of the twins complained.

"Yeah, why can't you be, Viviane?" the other twin snipped, and got the intended laughs from the other boys.

"I will NOT play a girl, Fred," the oldest snapped.

"When's Charlie coming back?" piped the small black-haired boy with them.

"Yeah," echoed the youngest red-head boy, "I wanna go play Quidditch."

The bickering continued for a few minutes, with added random comments from the two six year-olds (well, one six year old, and one almost six year old). Eventually, all involved parties grew bored and began a loud splash war that left each one of them water logged and sputtering through mouthfuls of water. Luckily, the witch was seated far enough away that she only got sprayed with the small of sprinkles from the fight.

The young girl who had climbed up onto the chair beside the woman sighed dramatically and flopped down onto the wood. Minerva smiled sympathetically and reached for the towel to dry the girl off.

"Aunt McGonagall?" the little girl asked. "Can I read here with you?"

"May I, Ginny," she corrected, wringing the girl's hair out gently. It was under the influence of their oldest brothers who had been taught by Professor McGonagall that the younger Weasleys refrained from called her Aunt Minerva, settling instead for Aunt McGonagall.

Sighing, the girl corrected herself, "May I read here with you?"

The woman's lips twitched, hiding a smile at the girl's exasperated expression as she replied, "Of course, what would you like to read?"

"What're you reading?"

"You don't wanna read that Gin!" the black-haired boy called, "Ma wrote that for older kids, even Charlie wouldn't get it!"

"Well, Charlie's not exactly the brightest crayon in the box, now is he?" one of the twins quipped.

"George," the witch reprimanded, "Your brother happens to be a very intelligent transfigurations student."

The twin grinned cheekily and continued to bombard his brothers and the black-haired boy with water. Ginny sighed and shook her head knowingly at her brother's grin, then turned and told the witch, "Mama says that grin will be the death of her. She says the twins will be the bane of Hogwarts when they go."

"I don't doubt that," Minerva replied wryly.

"Aunt McGonagall, who's Emeric?" the little girl questioned, changing the subject quickly as any five-year-old would. "I know Switch is Switch," she said, glancing at the black and white dog sharing the chair as her ears perked up at the sound of her name, "But who's Emeric?"

"Emeric was my grandfather's name," she replied, "He was the one who got me interested in transfigurations to begin with."

The group stayed outside until the witch felt the air get a little chillier. "Harry, Ron, Fred, George, come out now," she called. "Percy, will you help them?"

She walked along the catwalk carrying the book in one hand and holding Ginny's hand with the other as the little redhead led them to the bank. The bulky cream-colored dog stood at the edge of the water and shook energetically as the children made their way onto the bank.

"Beans!" they cried giggling. The dog's name was really Bruno, but Harry had reduced it to "Beans" by the time he was three. Shaking her head and laughing, the witch conjured towels out of nothing and draped them over each of the slightly shivering boys.

"Race you back to the house!" yelled Ron, and he and Harry tore through the few trees in their way up to the house with the twins on their heels, Ginny a step behind them, and Beans and Switch following her. Percy followed them at a somewhat slower pace, having picked up his belongings and trying to remind everyone and anyone that he was the oldest child in attendance.

Allowing herself a happy smile, the witch slipped on her sandals, unpinned her dress to let it flow by her ankles, and gathered the rest of the children's sandals and t-shirts. With long, catlike strides, she made her way through the trees and up to the house. Halfway across the sloping lawn that separated the trees and the house, she was met by the twins, who were panting heavily after their sprint.

Shaking her head, she held their things out to them as they gasped, "Sorry, Aunt McGonagall, we forgot." Then, in another race, no doubt, they tore back up to the house, sandals and shirts in hand.

Twenty steps closer to the house, she was met by her six year olds, also panting, and after similar excuses, they too sprinted back to the house. Another twenty steps and she met the baby girl, who very nearly collapsed when she reached her. Scooping her up, and balancing her on a hip with one arm, the witch scolded gently, "Ginny, you really didn't have to run all the way back, I was bringing everything up anyway. Next time, though, you should remember to get these before you take off, it'll save you a trip," she finished as the porch came into view.

The four younger boys were flopped onto various porch chairs; Harry and Ron in an oversized wicker armchair with a thick, comfy cushion, and the twins on the long wicker lounge chair - Fred leaning against the back and George sprawled out on the flat part. Percy sat in a slightly more dignified manner on the other armchair. A long, low wicker table with a flat glass top (charmed to be unbreakable) stood in the center of the chairs: the lounge chair on the right, Percy's chair to the left, and Harry and Ron's chair in the center. Setting Ginny down, she told them, "You stay here and behave yourselves while I get you something to eat." Ginny walked over to Percy's chair and made herself comfortable in his lap as the witch entered the house, stepping over a comatose gray dog and around a tan Labrador roadblock with a dainty black and white spaniel at her heels.

Setting the book down on the kitchen counter, she tried to remember what she had in her house that would be suitable for children to eat on a summer evening. Sliding a chubby black ball out of the way, she opened the fridge and brought out a whole watermelon. Knowing she would regret the mess later, but giving in to the joys of summer, she placed it on a large platter and pointed her wand at it. Immediately, the fruit was sliced and she levitated it out to the porch. When the children saw it, their mouths began to water, and they went in for the kill as soon as the plate set down on the table.

A loud chime echoed through the house, announcing the arrival of a visitor by the Floo network. Making her way back through the kitchen, she walked into the living room to see who was calling.

"Oh, Molly, come right over," she said, seeing the familiar face in the fire. Waving her wand, she took down the wards that blocked her Floo connection from unwelcome visitors and let her former student in.

Molly Weasley spun into her living room, brushing herself off and addressing the older witch immediately, "Thank you again for watching my little imps, Minerva."

"It was my pleasure, dear," she replied, leading the younger woman out to the back porch. "And they were very good today."

"I'm sure," Molly replied, eyeing her juice-covered children with skepticism.

"We were good, mum!" Fred exclaimed indignantly.

"And we didn't nick the watermelon either," chimed George.

"And they only made fun of Charlie once," said Ron, earning a glare from the twins.

"I see," she said, narrowing her eyes at the two boys on the lounge chair. Seeing their cowed expressions, she relented and changed the subject, "So what did you lot do today?"

All six children launched into a vivid account of their day, all of them beginning with sandwiches for lunch on the porch, a swim in the lake, and watermelon to finish the day off. Each one of them embellished with their own adventures as the two women leaned against the railing of the porch and listened to their tales. When they were done, Molly announced that she and her children had to leave. They left by way of Floo one by one, Molly and Ginny first and Percy last.

Harry yawned hugely and climbed into Minerva's lap as she sat down in an armchair beside the fireplace. His feet dangled over the end of her knees and he leaned back to rest his head against her chest as her arms came up to wrap around him. He settled his little arms on top of hers and she leaned her cheek against his unruly hair. Breathing deep, they sat like that in silence for a moment, before Harry decided the quiet was annoying him.

"Ma, when's Aunt Manda coming over?" he questioned. Amanda always came over in the summertime to bring Harry to various Quidditch games while Minerva tagged along.

"Classes are over now, so I think she'll be by sometime next week, or maybe this weekend," came the reply. "But you mustn't badger her, Harry, she needs some time for herself. It's not always about you, you know," she teased, tickling his stomach.

He laughed and tried to wriggle out of her embrace, but she stood and swung him up onto her hip. "Come on, now, bedtime," she said, stifling a yawn.

"But Maaaa," he protested.

"You can read me a story before you go to sleep."

"Ok!" he replied enthusiastically. One of the things Minerva loved most about Harry, besides the fact that he was her pride and joy, was his thirst to challenge himself. At the age of four, he had practically bullied Percy Weasley into teaching him numbers and simple addition and subtraction. He learned to read by the time he was five, and could finish whole picture books by himself, with minimal help from Minerva.

Unfortunately, it wasn't solely academically that he challenged himself. He was always running off with Ron "borrowing" Charlie's old broomstick to practice Quidditch, or following a little runt of a bird halfway to the village to see if it needed any help. His numerous outings had left Minerva sick with worry, and the few gray strands of hair on her head proved that. Each time she would tell him off soundly and he would behave for a while. But a garden gnome biting one of the dogs would send him off on another mission and the cycle would begin again. After his first few escapades, she noticed that he never ran off for a silly prank or just to make her worry for fun. Instead, he always seemed to have a reason and, though it didn't stop Minerva from punishing him, it helped her to see how the boy thought. His mother was the same way, though she would have asked for the help of a grown-up rather than barrel headlong into a problem - that charming trait came from his father.

Reaching the top of the stairs, she put the boy down and told him to wash up and get ready for bed. As he ran to the end of the hall and into the bathroom, she made her way into his bedroom. She gazed wryly about the room, every avaible inch of wall space taken up by vivid orange posters of seven witches and wizards. Even though Amanda had attempted to make him a Sussex Stars fanatic, he had followed his best friend Ron's lead and adopted the Chudley Cannons. Minerva fleetingly wished that he had become a Stars fan - purple and silver were much easier on the eyes than orange.

The room itself had undergone yet another make-over, first being a "furniture graveyard," then a tranquil sitting room, and now a shrine to the Chudley Cannons. Minerva had flat out refused to make the entire room orange, and reached a grudging compromise with Harry. The carpet was a light gray, the walls a deep, rich shade of blue, and the cabinets were painted a cheery white. Bright orange posters covered the ceiling and the walls from top to bottom, but Minerva had made sure that there was at least an inch of wall between them all - it had a framing effect on the posters. The only non-orange hanging on the walls was the painting of the 1955 Quidditch final the hung over the bed, but even that was flanked by orange. Plain white curtains covered the windows, but were now tied back to allow the summer breeze to sweep through the house. Two narrow white shelves stood on either side of the bed, filled with books on a wide variety of subjects, but mostly storybooks with pictures. At the foot of the bed stood the old rocking chair, unchanged and inviting. The bed itself was about four feet wide and six feet long, two feet narrower and a foot shorter than Minerva's own, and completely covered in orange. A light, white blanket currently lay at the foot of the bed, a stuffed lion purring contentedly on it beside a small black bundle of fur.

Sighing, Minerva took three steps from the doorway to the foot of the bed, and lifted the black lump off of the bed.

"Spud," she reprimanded as she placed the little terrier on the floor, "you are not supposed to be on the furniture."

Tate, who had relocated from his position at the back door and was now sprawled out on the carpet next to the rocking chair, opened one eye lazily as the terrier strolled over and made itself comfortable on his paw. If dogs could roll their eyes, he would have, but instead settled for snuffing at the smaller dog and promptly ignoring it.

"Ma, can we read this one?" Harry asked as he ran into the room, pounced on his bed, and snatched up the book from the top of his nightstand.

Minerva raised her eyebrows at the book, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and commented, "I thought YOU wanted to read."

"Nah, changed my mind, so can we?"

"Alright, but just one chapter," she said firmly. The boy nodded and she moved to sit next to him on the bed. Crossing her legs Indian style, she leaned against the soft, padded orange headboard as he climbed into her lap. Once they were both settled, she began, "Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. . ."

By the time she reached the end of the chapter where Lucy meets a cheery little Faun, Harry was sound asleep, his head resting against her arm holding the book before them. Closing the book softly, she placed it back onto the nightstand, taking care not to wake the child in her lap. Gently, she lifted him off of her lap and laid him out on the bed. Unfolding the thin blanket at the foot of the bed, she draped it over his small frame and whispered "Nox". The lights in the bedroom promptly went out, leaving the room bathed in the soft glow of the moon. Placing a light kiss on the scar on the boy's head like she did every night, she smoothed his hair back from his face and left.

She made her way to the study, where her letters were waiting. They had arrived just as she was leaving for the lake with the children, so she left them on the table, anchored down with frames and other knickknacks. Thinking back, there had been one from Hogwarts, but she hadn't given it much thought, assuming it was from Amanda. Looking at the swirling script now, she recognized it immediately, but was still puzzled, she hadn't heard from this particular person for almost five years. 'Better to save that one for last,' she thought, and proceeded to open the rest of her mail. There was indeed a letter from Amanda, but it was the usual rambling: she couldn't take it anymore, hadn't had a decent flier since Charlie Weasley; Snape was getting on her nerves; a demand for her, Minerva, to come and visit her at Hogwarts; and an invitation for herself to visit the cottage sometime over the weekend. There was nothing out of the ordinary to hint at what the other letter contained.

Still refusing to let her curiosity win, she opened the letter from her publisher. Inside was a paycheck to be paid to the order of "Emeric Switch" a.k.a. Minerva McGonagall. Grinning, she set this one aside in her "to do" tray and moved on to the third and final letter. Breaking the seal with hands that trembled a little, she prepared herself for another bashing of her "nonexistent" mothering skills. As she read the first three lines, her jaw dropped in disbelief. There was no way this was happening, she thought, re-reading the lines, no way.

 

Chapter Eight: Admitting Defeat

A young man with dark black hair strode purposefully out of the headmaster's office, his black robes billowing behind him. His sharp black eyes scanned the corridor before him for his reluctant partner in crime as he made his way back to the dungeons. Turning around a dark corner, he nearly tripped over a figure that had nimbly stepped out of the shadows. Cursing under his breath and trying to slow his rapidly beating heart, he glared at the little witch, who glared right back at him with unwavering yellow eyes. Rolling his eyes, he curtly nodded once and then strode past her, continuing his decent to the dungeons.

Watching his figure disappear around the next corner, Amanda shivered. 'Dealings with Slytherins,' she mused grimly, 'What IS this world coming to?' Then, remembering the nod, gave a loud war whoop in her head, 'Ate it up, did he? MAN I'm good.' Making her way back to her chambers, she thought, 'This had better work. It's been almost five years.'

Back in the headmaster's office, an old man with long white hair and a matching beard stared thoughtfully into the flames in the fireplace, mulling over his late night talk with the youngest professor in the school. In his infinite wisdom, and an unbidden spark of inspiration, the headmaster had told the young, disillusioned man,

"The mistakes of our pasts can be corrected, but it takes a great deal of strength to admit to our wrongs. I have faith in you, Severus. You have proved before that you are able to accept that you have wronged, and that you are willing to make amends. There are some with less willpower than you, and their mistakes haunt them for the rest of their lives. In educating the future, you make up for the past. I know it seems difficult to bear, but you can do it."

The young potions master had come to the headmaster begging to be released of his teaching contract, unable to face the students whose parents, relatives, and friends had died at the hands of his former master. The two men had this kind conversation at least eight times in the first year the younger man had been hired. Albus thought they had resolved it years ago, but obviously not. However, this argument about uncorrectable mistakes had been a new topic. Sighing, he mused, 'He'll learn eventually. I always win in these little spats.'

Frowning immediately after he thought this, he remembered one dispute that he had lost, soundly. This particular "spat" had cost the school a brilliant professor, an able deputy headmistress, and had cost him an irreplaceable friendship. He opened the middle drawer of his desk slowly, and pulled out a short, curt note that summed up the current status of their relationship quite accurately.

[Thank you for setting up the wards, but that doesn't mean you're absolved. It means you now have a chance to apologize and be forgiven. . . eventually.]

Minerva McGonagall had been a headstrong woman for as long as he had known her. He watched her grow from a feisty first year into a beautiful young woman with so much potential. He was there beside her as she became a teacher and then earned her right to be called a professor. Loathe as he was to admit it now, she was the best in the business. She could command a student's attention with a look, and never backed down when she formed an idea in her head. The latter attribute was the reason she was gone and he was left without a suitable transfigurations teacher. Almost five years later, he was no closer to finding a replacement than he had been when she first left.

He had stubbornly not bowed to her request and she had not sent him another, cutting off all communication between the one-time friends. Albus stared into the flames again, his mind repeating his words to his potions master. ". . . it takes a great deal of strength to admit to our wrongs. . ." he had said.

In the back of his mind, a little voice had screamed itself hoarse telling him that he was a prick and had to apologize to the woman immediately. However, he had pointedly ignored it, stubbornly supporting his primary decision. He knew why she was upset - he had seen the injured look on her face when he said that she could not be a mother. He had seen her hand tremble with rage as she pointed him towards the exit. As the years passed, he had trouble remembering his reasons for saying what he did.

". . . it takes a great deal of strength to admit to our wrongs. . ."

He had been wrong. The realization struck him hard. He had been wrong all along and Minerva had been right. The boy could have been protected anywhere, if the right spells were cast. Hogwarts would have protected him, the ancient magic of the school would have been enough, not to mention that he himself would be there.

Groaning inwardly, he propped his elbows onto the table, took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes tiredly. He was a stubborn prick. How could he have let this carry on for so long? Why did he never attempt to salvage their friendship? With these thoughts rolling around in his head, he pulled out a piece of parchment and picked up a quill. He sat there writing, erasing and re-writing a long-overdue letter, never satisfied with the way the words came out on paper.

Finally, as the gray tinges of dawn crept over the horizon, he nodded in satisfaction at the finished product. Fawkes, his phoenix, gazed at him levelly before flying over to perch on the high back of the headmaster's chair. He had been watching his human struggle through the night, groping for words just out of his reach. He'd seen him erase the words on the parchment over and over again at least a dozen times, until he finally nodded. Giving the letter a once-over, he sighed, "It's about bloody time."

[Dear Minerva,

As you were never one to drag anything out, I'll come straight to the point. I am truly and deeply sorry for everything I said to you and accused you of on the day I barged into your house five Novembers ago. I was a stubborn prick (as I'm sure you've described me as) and was an even more stubborn prick when I refused to apologize until now. I know that nothing I say or write will ever take back the cruel words I said to you, but I need you to know that they were spoken out of anger, and not out of rational thought.

I am filled with even more regret as I realize how long it had taken me to try to mend the wounds I have inflicted upon you. I never meant for this to happen, Minerva. I never wanted to end our friendship and create such a rift between us.

Ironically enough, this epiphany came to me while I was doling out wisdom to a colleague. I was a fool Minerva, and I do not deserve your friendship. Though I have done nothing to earn it, I beg for you forgiveness. Please come back, we all need you to. Bring Harry, I was a fool to allow my bitterness at you contradicting me to prevent me from seeing that the magic of Hogwarts would protect him.

Please forgive me. I am sorry.

Yours truly,

Albus Dumbledore]

"It will have to do," he muttered darkly to himself as he rose and walked out the door. Folding the letter and sealing it inside an envelope with a spell, he made his way to the owlry, trying not to think about what would happen if she ignored his letter or refused to forgive him. "It's not as though I wouldn't deserve it," he snapped, mad at himself for allowing it to drag out and come to this, "I should be groveling on my knees and prostrating myself before her."

"Maybe that should be plan B," quipped a voice as he rounded a corner.

Starting slightly, he looked up and dragged his mind back to the present, coming face-to-face with Amanda Hooch. Groaning inwardly, he met her piercing gaze with one of his own.

"Amanda," he began shortly, "Fancy seeing you up at this hour."

"Is that what I think it is?" she asked in a tone that demanded an answer, ignoring his failed attempt to brush her off.

Sighing, he replied, "Yes."

"It's about bloody time, you know," she snapped, she clearly wasn't in a gracious mood this morning. He didn't know she was performing a crazy happy dance, complete with war-whoops and martinis, in her mind.

"I know," he sighed again, "that's just what I said to myself a moment ago. So why are you."

"Me? Couldn't sleep. Decided to write Minerva. Just finished her letter and now I'm off to the owlry."

"Do you think she'll forgive me?" he wanted to know.

"Hard to say," came the neutral reply, "the only person I know who's more stubborn than her is you. But, now that you've finally caved, who knows what'll happen?"

Rolling his eyes at her teasing wink, the pair continued to the owlry and sent their letters off. Amanda left as soon as the owl with her letter flew out the window (unable to contain her glee for much longer), but Albus stood rooted to the spot, watching the owl with his belated apology letter fade into the distance. All he could do now was wait.


The day came and went, and sunset saw the headmaster strolling around the Quidditch pitch - his mind briefly lost to the past. He and Minerva had always taken this route when the weather was pleasant, walking round and round the pitch talking about any miscellaneous thoughts that happened to be on their minds that were too private for the staff room. One such meandering walk stood out in his mind. It had been nearly twenty years ago, Voldemort was beginning to gain strong footholds in the wizardring world and his reign of terror had just begun.

They had walked in a comfortable silence for a time, each lost to their own thoughts, until Minerva spoke, "Albus, do you think we're ready for this war?"

"We will never be ready, Minerva, but we will have to deal with it anyway," he replied.

"What of the children? What will happen to them? How are we going to protect them?"

"Do you remember the time of Grindewald? It will be like that."

"But that was hundreds of miles away, not in Britain itself."

"It was the same concept, murder, riots, torture -"

"I know," she cut him off quietly, "I was there."

They fell into silence once more. Minerva had been there, just as Albus had. She was just barely out of school when the muggle World War Two began and Grindewald took up his stance along side Adolf Hitler. Her brothers had gone to the front as soldiers, she had followed as a medi- witch, determined to help where she could. She had spent five years at the front, until her brothers had died in battle and her parents ordered her home. She began to teach after the war ended in 1945, when Albus had gone to put an end to the terror and returned a hero for defeating the Dark Wizard Grindewald. Armando Dippet resigned a few years later and Albus took up the position as headmaster of Hogwarts, and that's how it had been since.

"Hogwarts will protect them," Albus stated firmly.

Minerva nodded silently as they rounded the far side of the pitch behind the stands, still lost in memories and a growing fear of the future. Sensing her fear, Albus stopped abruptly and stepped in front of her. Grasping her thin shoulders firmly, he looked her in the eye, his calm, confident blue eyes twinkling into her wary opaque irises.

"Whatever is coming," he began, "we will face it together. I will not leave you to fend for yourself. Whatever you need, a protector, a confidant, a friend, I will be here for you."

Minerva met his gaze, taking the strength she found in his eyes and making it her own. "And I will be here for you," she said, all traces of fear replaced with a steady courage. "Until you do something incredibly stupid," she continued, a teasing twinkle in her eyes, "Then you're on your own."

Grinning, he released her and they made their way back to the castle.

He could still remember the fiery look in her eyes as she pledged to watch his back. It seemed like eons ago to the old wizard as he trudged up the slope to the castle. Eons since they had shared a friendship of the strongest core, unwavering and untarnished.

She had not replied to his owl. 'But,' he reasoned, 'it hasn't even been a day.' Still, his heart was heavy as he got ready for bed, silently begging for her forgiveness.

 

Chapter Nine: Of Potential Changes

Minerva sat in shock reading and re-reading the letter at least four times. Halfway through the fifth time, she put the paper down very slowly, as if afraid it would disintegrate. Nearly five years had passed without any type of correspondence between the two teachers and now, out of nowhere, an apology note. Granted, it was long overdue, but it was there, lying on her desk, pleading with her to forgive, if not necessarily forget.

"Well, that was unexpected," she absently thought to herself. Remembering the cause for the need of such an apology, she bristled. "Five years," she began to fume, "Five years without any word whatsoever and he suddenly decides to drop this in my lap."

Scanning the contents once more, she focused on the words "come back." Come back to teach in Hogwarts. To teach. Oh, how she missed it. The challenges, the triumphs, the students. She missed it all with a fierce passion that arose whenever she was by herself, writing a book rather than correcting papers. Writing the texts had eased her pain for a time, but she had finished the final installment the year before and it was now in print. She sufficed her yearn for teaching by helping Charlie and Bill Weasley with their transfigurations homework over the summer, but Bill had graduated two years before, and Charlie had just completed his final year at Hogwarts. Percy wouldn't start for another year, so from now until next September, she would be thoroughly bored out of her mind. Granted, she'd been teaching Harry and the younger Weasleys the basics - math, science, grammar, reading, and writing - but it wasn't the same. She never allowed them to practice magic (though the twins begged her to), since they were not of legal age, and to tell the truth, she missed the half-transfigured teapots and turtles.

Even so, she wouldn't trade the last four and some years for anything in the world. She loved the life she had now - the relaxed pace was a welcome change, and Harry was her life, her whole life, without him, a part of her would have died. And now, Albus Dumbledore was offering her a chance to live both lives. To teach and have Harry with her. Still, she had her misgivings.

Almost five years of being a parent had led her to become more willing to swallow her pride and beat back her stubbornness. Plucking a long grayish quill out of its rest, she pursed her lips, trying to phrase her acceptance of his apology without sounding too pleased. After staring at a blank piece of parchment for nearly an hour, she heard light footsteps coming down the stairs. Placing the quill back in its holder, she rose and walked over to the foot of the stairs.

Harry, dressed in light blue pajamas, came down the steps slowly, alternately rubbing his eyes with both hands. "Ma?" he yawned, opening his green eyes just enough to make a hazy sort of eye contact. "'m hungry," he mumbled as he reached the third step. Stretching his arms out in front of him in a silent request, his eyes closed of their own accord and refused to open.

"I'm sorry, love," Minerva apologized, gently picking the small boy up. "I thought that watermelon would fill you right up, what with the dozens of sandwiches you had for lunch."

Making her way to the kitchen, she settled the boy on her left hip, her left arm supporting him as he locked his arms around her neck. She reached into the fridge and took out leftovers from the day before: macaroni and cheese with carrots on the side. Pulling out her wand, she pointed it at the plate and warmed it up. She levitated the plate into the dining room as she retrieved a fork and a glass of water. Absently, she sat down at the table with Harry in her lap and gave him the fork, which he accepted, slowly waking up enough to feed himself a very late supper.

As she sat in the dimly lit room with her son on her lap, Minerva's thoughts immediately returned to the letter. 'What will happen to us?' she wondered silently, 'Will we be able to live at Hogwarts? Will Harry accept the fact that he'll need to share me with almost eight hundred other students?' For the last five years, Harry had been the center of her life. She was always there to care and comfort him whenever he needed it. Not only would moving to Hogwarts take some of her focus away from him, but there were so many other things to take into account. There were no children his age there; he would be leaving his best friend behind, if only for a few months out of the year; and he would be deprived of a redheaded partner in crime.

Shaking her head, she looked down at her boy, resolving to talk about this with Amanda. Harry had put his fork down after finishing nearly half of the food on the plate, and was now leaning against Minerva, sound asleep. Picking up the fork, she played with the macaroni left on the plate, wryly noting that the carrots hadn't been touched. Forking some of the food into her mouth, she chewed and again thought back to the letter. 'He sounded so sincere,' she mused, 'but why now?' She absently stabbed at the plate again and again without coming up with anything, until she looked down and realized that it was empty, except for the carrots. Rolling her eyes at the "Eat your vegetables, Minerva" that echoed in her head, sounding suspiciously like her own mother, she ate the carrots without further complaint.

Rising, she deposited the plate in the sink and carried the soft bundle in her arms back up to his bedroom. Laying him down on the orange bed, she tucked him in once more and left, patting vigilant Tate and Spud on their heads, she crossed the hall into her room. Gently unwinding her hair from the thick bun, she summoned her nightgown and placed it on the bed. She changed and climbed onto the soft mattress, stretching out to her full length beside the black and white spaniel taking up the other half of the bed. Too tired to reprimand the dog, Minerva closed her eyes and immediately drifted off into a dreamless sleep.


Harry awoke at six the next day, surprisingly refreshed after his tiring day in the sun. Grinning at the black ball of fur beside him, he nudged it saying, "Come on, Spud, let's go get Ma." He nimbly slipped out of bed and tried to fold the light blanket neatly at the foot of his bed as the furry ball jumped onto the floor. The finished product was less than adequate, but it would do for now. Tip-toeing across the hall with the small terrier at his heels, he peered into his mother's room.

Minerva was stretched out on her back, hair covering the pillow beneath her head, her right leg bent with the foot resting behind her left knee. Her right hand lay beside her head on the pillow while her left rested on her stomach, rising and falling with each breath she took. A very thin blanket covered her from the waist down and a medium-sized spaniel lay beside her on her right. Her face was turned left towards the doorway and Harry crept up beside her. Changing his mind to wake her, he climbed into the bed, snuggling up beside her. With a small grin, Minerva rolled onto her side and snaked her arm around the small boy, shifting so that his head rested on her left arm. Sighing contentedly, the boy intertwined his fingers with the hand about his middle, tracing the veins and bones that made up the tanned, softly calloused hand.

Just as he was about to drift back to sleep, a sing song voice called, "Where's my favorite flyer?"

"Aunt Manda!" he yelled, leaping off the bed and barreling down the stairs, the spaniel, terrier, and bloodhound at his heels.

Groaning, Minerva pulled another pillow over her head, blocking out the noise and refusing to move. A few moments later, Harry bounded into the room and leapt onto her bed.

"Ma! Aunt Manda's here!" he said loudly, trying to pry the pillow from it's position, "You've got to go let her in!"

"Tell her to go away," Minerva groaned, "It's six o'clock in the morning - in the summer."

"Maaa," he started, "Please? I promise I'll be good for the rest of the summer. And I'll eat all my vegetables - I promise!"

Minerva cracked her eyes open and lifted the pillow off of her head so she could meet Harry's pleading gaze. Sighing, she sat up as he wheeled around and took off down the stairs yelling, "She's coming!"

Fumbling for her wand and yawning, she summoned her bathrobe and threw it over her before heading down the stairs to the living room. Without leaving the stairs, she leaned over the banister and pointed her wand at the fireplace, taking down the wards once again. A wiry witch jumped out of the fireplace and scooped up the giggling child before turning to grin evilly at the tussled witch on the stairs.

"Good morning, Minerva!" she greeted chirpily. Minerva frowned darkly before mumbling that she was going back to bed and retraced her steps to the bedroom. Turning to the boy in her arms, Amanda planted a very loud kiss on his cheek to which he responded with one of his own on her cheek. He giggled again as she batted her eyelashes at him then marched into the kitchen.

"Let's see what sort of grub you've got," she suggested, placing the boy in a sturdy-backed stool beside the countertop. She proceeded to rummage around the kitchen loudly, "accidentally" banging pots and pans together and shutting the cupboard doors far noisier than necessary as Harry giggled in his seat.

Upstairs, Minerva drifted back to sleep peacefully, having cast a silencing charm on her room, but knowing that it would only be a matter of time before her friend gave up and came upstairs to forcefully drag her from her bed.

Back in the kitchen, Harry pointed and asked, "Aunt Manda, what's that on your belt?"

Glancing down at the offending trinket, she sighed, "It's a snake, Harry." As part of her deal with Severus, she had to wear some sort of Slytherin ornament for the remainder of the Hogwarts term. Come the following Quidditch season, she had to give private lessons to the entire Slytherin team. Wincing as she remembered the deal, she took out her wand and transfigured the buckle into a plain one - she wasn't at Hogwarts anymore. "Don't tell your mother," she warned, knowing that Minerva would suspect something if she found out and the woman hated to be manipulated.

Grinning, Harry nodded, then pointed to the highest cupboard in the kitchen, above the refrigerator. Amanda let out a squeal of delight at finding her favorite breakfast in the back of the cupboard, behind the rest of the more nutritious cereals.

"Yes!" she exclaimed dramatically and Harry laughed at her wide-eyed expression as she pulled a bright blue box out, "Frosted Flakes!"

Summoning two bowls from another cupboard, she poured the pair breakfast, dousing the flakes in milk and an extra spoonful of sugar on hers. They spoke all through the meal, laughing and telling each other about their exploits since the last time they had seen each other during the Easter holidays. As they finished, Amanda sailed the bowls over to the sink and raced Harry upstairs to Minerva's room. Coming to a halt at the doorway, Harry stopped short, almost making Amanda careen into him. She caught herself just in time as Harry turned and looked up at her.

"Aunt Manda, Ma's real tired, we should let her sleep," he whispered, unaware of the silencing charm on the room.

"Nonsense, m'boy," she replied with a smile, "She wants to wake up, she just doesn't know it yet."

Lifting her wand, she muttered something and lifted the charms. "Come on, Harry," she whispered with a grin. Creeping over to the bed, she leaped, landing on the bed with a jarring thump and yelling, "Wake up!!!"

Minerva, who knew she was going to do something like that, didn't even stir, her eyes remained closed and the peaceful expression stayed on her face. Worried now, Harry climbed onto the bed and started to shake her softly calling, "Ma? Ma, wake up!"

Hearing the worry in her son's voice, she sighed and spread her arms wide. Smiling, Harry fell into her arms and spoke into her ear, "Ma, Aunt Manda's gone batty. Can you get 'er?"

Laughing, she sat up, setting Harry in her lap and reaching for her wand.

"Minerva, I swear I didn't mean it," Amanda said carefully, backing away from the bed as her friend raised her wand. She continued to coax, "Go on, now, back to bed." Meeting Harry's gaze as he giggled in her lap, mother and son shared a knowing glance. Pointing her wand at the cowering witch in the doorway, she muttered a charm. Immediately, Amanda's silver hair turned black and her robes turned a brilliant orange.

"Ack!" she yelled, mock-gasping for breath, "The Cannons! NOOOO! You shall pay for that little one," as she raised her own wand.

Harry scrambled out of range and dove behind Minerva, but not before the charm hit him in the leg. Emerging from behind the raven-haired witch, he glared and giggled at Amanda. His pajamas had turned a deep royal purple and his hair a shiny silver.

"Ack!" he yelled, mimicking his favorite aunt, "The Stars! NOOOO! You shall pay!" Then he nudged Minerva, whispering loudly, "Get her Ma!"

"All right, all right, that's enough you two," Minerva said sternly, and with a wave of her wand restored the original colors of the two combatants.

"I propose a truce, young wizard," Amanda said dusting herself off and extending a hand towards the bed. "Now let's get you dressed, shall we?"

"Ok!" Harry replied, hopping over Minerva's leg and jumping into Amanda's arms. Together, they left, animatedly chatting about their favorite topic, Quidditch. Minerva quickly dressed and hurried downstairs, remembering the letter she needed to discuss with her best friend.

An hour later, the two women relaxed on the deck, Amanda sprawled on the long lounge chair while Minerva sat comfortably in the chair next to her. Harry was playing fetch with the dogs, throwing what looked to be a tennis ball, but it's zigzagging course through the air suggested that it was no ordinary toy.

"That boy'll be a chaser one day," Amanda said, watching the small boy heave the ball as far as he could.

"No, he'll be a Seeker," Minerva commented, "He's got the eye for it."

They sat in silence for a while before Minerva pulled out the letter and passed it to Amanda. Keeping a neutral expression on her face, the other witch accepted the letter and read it. 'Wow,' she thought to herself, 'This is good. I knew he apologized, but this is really good.' Allowing her eyebrows to raise, she turned back to Minerva.

"So you forgive him then?" she wanted to know.

"Of course I do," Minerva replied, "I would have forgiven him even if it were half that eloquent, I'm not the stubborn prick he is."

Amanda refrained from commenting and instead asked, "What're you going to do?"

"That's just it," she sighed, "I don't know. I want to teach. I love teaching, but I love my life here as well."

"Well what wouldn't you have at Hogwarts that you have now?"

"Peace, quiet, friends, the Weasleys," she smiled as she remembered her "adopted" family, then added lamely, "My dogs."

"Minerva, you've left them by themselves before, when you used to teach - I don't think it will be that much of a change for them. Besides, maybe you could bring them."

The other witch snorted uncharacteristically, and replied, "Four dogs running wild about a school. I'm sure he'll be fine with that."

They sat in silence for a few minutes until Minerva spoke again, "And what about Harry?"

"What about him?"

"Well, he's grown up here, his best friends are all here. Do you think he'll ever understand if I take all of that away from him?"

"He'll have me," Amanda replied grinning, "And Hagrid really wants to meet him."

"The castle may be too dangerous for him, he's only five."

"He's almost six. And you know as well as I do Hogwarts is VERY well protected."

"There won't be any children his age to play with, he may not like it there."

"He'll always have you," Amanda pointed out quietly. They fell silent once again. Harry, his arm getting tired now, walked over to the two witches and climbed into his mother's lap.

"What were you talking about?" he asked. Both women turned to one another. Inclining her head towards Harry, Amanda silently suggested telling him.

With a sigh Minerva complied, "Harry, how would you feel about moving?"

His eyes opened wide and he quietly questioned, "Where?"

"Hogwarts."

"Where Aunt Manda works?" he asked, his face lighting up at the prospect, but then it fell. "What about Ron? And George? And Fred? And Ginny? And Percy?"

"Well, they won't all be there, Harry, but Percy will be starting in a year, and then the twins will follow soon after."

"Then it'll be your turn," Amanda put in.

Harry thought for a moment, then asked, "So you forgave him then? The headmaster?"

Throwing an exasperated look in Amanda's direction as the other witch ducked her head, she replied, "Yes, Harry, I've forgiven him." While she would have preferred to explain the situation to him herself, she was grateful Amanda had told him, she would have been able to give a far less biased description.

"Will we come back for Christmas and Easter and the summer?"

"Of course we will."

The boy fell silent, thinking hard.

"We don't have to make a decision right now, love," Minerva told him quietly, "We have plenty of time to figure out what to do, all right?"

"Ok," he replied softly.

 

Chapter Ten: A Child's Resolve

Harry James Potter was not a spoiled child. He had been raised in a quaint home by a strict but loving woman who frequently told him stories about his real parents. Near the village of Ottery St. Catchpole, he and his friends had grown up. Naturally, he was closest to Ron Weasley and his twin brothers as they were closest to his age and shared common young boy interests. There were other children he knew from the town, but most of them came from muggle families, not that it mattered much, as his adoptive mother had pointed out, because boys were boys and would be so until the end of time.

In all of his happiness with his life, his favorite part was his mother, Minerva McGonagall. He loved her somewhat less-than-sane friends as well, who had collectively adopted him as their nephew. Of all his adopted family, Harry had a myriad of aunts, but only a few uncles, only two of which dropped by regularly. Mr. Weasley, or Uncle Arthur, visited whenever he could, usually to collect his own children or to take the group on a "boys day out". The other uncle that frequently visited was Uncle Daniel Figg, whose wife, Aunt Arabella, was as crazy as her husband was kind.

The young boy swung lazily in a hammock that hung in midair a few yards from the house under a shady oak tree. He thought about the prospect of leaving everything he knew for a faraway school somewhere up north. He was only six years old, so deep ponderings naturally gave way to more interesting thoughts as a friendly butterfly alighted on his knee.

Minerva watched him from the kitchen window as she absent mindedly cut an apple into slices over the sink. Amanda rattled on in the background about some hair-brained plot she'd hatched up to smuggle a few not-quite- illegal flying carpets into the country to sell on the black market, just for a lark. She was on a quest to annoy the Ministry of Magic more than any one person had the right to. Minerva listened minimally, her thoughts on the proposed teaching position she had received the night before.

"They'd have a hard time tracing that one wouldn't they?" Amanda asked, studying her friend's face as she leaned on the countertop beside her. The other woman replied with a faint nod and continued to stare out the window. Giving up, Amanda focused on something else, for it was obvious the other witch's mind was miles away.

Minerva had changed, Amanda noticed not for the first time. Being a mother was good for her. She was less likely now to send back a single sentence snipe to the headmaster berating him for his tardiness, just as she was more likely to graciously accept the man's apology.

"Accepting the apology isn't even an issue is it?" Amanda mused out loud.

Shaking her head, Minerva turned away from the window and met her friend's eyes. "No, it's not," she stated, placing the last of the sliced apple onto a plate. "I've already told you I forgive him. It's the job that I'm thinking about now."

"Harry will understand. He's a smart boy."

"And what exactly will he understand?" she demanded, "That I'm taking him away from everything he knows? That I'm dragging him to the other end of the country so I can have a change of scenery?"

"You know he won't think that," Amanda shot back, hawk eyes glittering dangerously. "You don't give him enough credit-"

"He's six years old," Minerva snapped, "He won't even start there for another five years."

"Ma?" came a timid call from the doorway. The two witches whirled around to meet the serious green eyes of the boy peering up at them from beside a huge gray bloodhound. "Can I talk to you?"

Amanda meant to retreat to the study quickly so the two could try to work things out alone, but settled herself behind a wall in the dining room to listen, just in case.

Sighing inwardly, Minerva followed him out onto the back porch as Amanda tiptoed over to the window above the lounge chair. Harry crawled up onto the long chair as Minerva sat at the foot of it and passed him the plate of sliced apples. He ignored it at first, apparently preparing to ask something very important. 'Like how good the Gryffindor team is,' Amanda thought with a grin.

"Ma, if we go to Hogwarts," he said seriously, "will you be happy?"

Amanda's head snapped up to stare at the boy (through the wall) as Minerva stared at him in shock. Trying not to tear up, she gave him a small smile, "Yes, Harry I would be happy, but I'd be happy here as well."

"Do you want to teach?" came the next candid question.

With a sigh, she replied, "Harry, this is not about what I want, it's about what you want."

"No it's not," he stated with a stern expression identical to the one she gave whenever someone was lying. "What do you want to do?"

"I want you to be happy, Harry."

"I am happy."

"And what do you propose we do?"

"I want to go," he replied firmly.


[To Headmaster Albus Dumbledore,

I, Minerva McGonagall, accept the position to teach the subject of Transfigurations at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for the upcoming school year. Myself and Mr. Harry Potter will be arriving in Hogsmeade on Monday the 18th of August via portkey at noon.

Sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall

PS: I am returning to Hogwarts to teach, but Harry is still my son. Yes, my son. If anything happens to him, take that incident as my two weeks notice. I hope you will put whatever prejudices you have against my boy behind you and treat him as you would any other student.]

Albus Dumbledore read the letter once more and nodded. A month and a half ago, he had received a letter from his former deputy informing him of her decision. A week before that, he had received another letter from her that he had folded neatly and placed it in the middle drawer of his desk.

[Dear Albus,

Firstly, I would like to point out that it has taken you the better part of five years to admit to your error in judgment. Secondly, I would like to inform you that we, as in Mr. Potter and I, have been doing very well despite your initial misgivings. The final point I will make is that you are forgiven.

Albus, I would have forgiven you if you had simply written "I'm sorry" on a scrap piece of parchment and sent it to me. However, your epic was also sufficient. We were both idiots. You more so than I, but that's beside the point. I could have stayed to reason with you, instead, I left and never looked back. But the night you came to my house and criticized my decision was unforgivable. Setting up the wards graduated you from unforgivable to possibly forgivable. And now that you have apologized, you are forgiven.

For all you are forgiven, you cannot expect everything to go back to the way it used to be. We are both different people now, and, while I think this time apart has done more good than harm, we have both changed.

Yours truly,

Minerva]


"Ma, come on! The taxi's going to be here any minute!" a young boy yelled up the stairs. Six suitcases stood outside on the porch by the door as a redheaded woman did a last-minute sweep of the house. Four redhead boys and one girl sat on the front steps of the porch as a black-haired child walked back out of the house and plopped down between the twins and their youngest brother with a sigh. He wore a lightweight, pale blue wizardring robe over a crisp white tee-shirt and clean blue jeans. Round black-rimmed glasses sat upon the bridge of his nose as he propped his elbows up on his knees and held his chin in his hands. The twins began badgering him to tell them all about Zonko's - the famous joke shop in Hogsmeade. From there, the conversation turned to pranks, with the twins presiding and Percy reprimanding them sternly (and was completely ignored).

In the master bedroom, Minerva stood before a long mirror, carefully studying her appearance. She had told the headmaster that they had both changed, but she never fully realized just how much she herself had. As a result of having a rambunctious child, she spent many days outside in the sun. Her skin was no longer milk white and creamy, but a healthy tan - not overly dark, but a very light bronze type of glow. Her hands were rougher than they used to be, soft calluses covering her fingers and palms from working outside in the garden. The back of her hands were still relatively smooth, the veins rising up minimally to create a patchwork effect. Her nails were still manicured to perfection, thanks to a handy charm Reina Diggory had found. Her once blue-black hair had been bleached by the sun and was now a very dark brown, rather than opaque, and contrasted handsomely with a few scattered silver hairs. Her tresses were pinned up in an elegant braided knot, perfectly centered by Molly Weasley. She wore a light, square neck princess-cut summer dress in pale green that reached down to the toes of her shoes. The shoes were a rich, creamy color with a two inch heel that, Arabella claimed, helped with her posture and made her glide rather than simply walk. Minerva was skeptical of her friend's description, but looking in the mirror she had to admit it: she looked good. A dab of makeup and a flowing cream-colored robe and matching hat completed the ensemble. Grabbing a purse, she charmed it to match the color of her dress and made her way down the stairs.

Tate, who immediately recognized the activity and the packing as a sign that his human was leaving again, had been sulking and refused to come near her. Instead, he sat with the children on the steps, enjoying the attention as Ginny scratched him in a hard to reach spot behind his ears. Switch had been following Minerva around as always, uncertain of what the unusual activity around the house meant, but had worked it out eventually and was now sulking quietly next to Tate, receiving the same attention from Percy. Bruno, or Beans, was never one to have his spirits deflated and was energetically barreling back and forth across the front yard, leaving torn up daises, roses, and lilies in his wake. Spud, ever dedicated, lay at Harry's feet as the boy reached down to moodily scratch his ears.

"Don't look so down, mate," George said brightly, "There'll be a ton of stuff to do when you get there!"

"Charlie says the castle is so big, it's almost its own country," Fred put in, giving Harry, who sat beside him, a brotherly shove.

"You'll have loads to do," Ron piped up, "And you'll get to see real live Quidditch almost every week once the season starts."

"Ron's right, Harry," Minerva said gently as she emerged from the house, "Maybe Ron will even be able to come to a few games and watch with you."

"That's everything, then," said Molly as she walked onto the porch. "Charms are on the dog dishes so they refill once a day, same for their water. Windows are all closed, curtains drawn, stove off, refrigerator completely emptied [here, she shot a look at her twins and youngest son, all who grinned back innocently], and the taxi should be here any moment."

No sooner than she said it, a bright orange taxi appeared with a loud bang on the other side of the trees, turned into the drive, and careened up to the house. Screeching to a halt a few feet shy of ruining the begonias, the vehicle stopped and a short young man hopped out.

" 'Morning, 'mum," he greeted, touching the brim of his silver bowler smartly. "All set to go then?"

As the children said goodbye to each other and promises of frequent owls and status reports were exchanged, Minerva turned to the luggage by the door. With a hasty wave of her wand, they shrunk, became feather light, and floated into her purse. Kissing Molly on the cheek and giving her a hug, she thanked her for everything.

"Don't mention it, Minerva," she sniffed, trying to hold back a stream of tears as she returned the older woman's embrace.

As she released their mother, the Weasley children crowded around her. Ginny threw her arms around her waist as the boys restrained themselves.

"Now you two mind your mother and behave yourselves," she addressed the twin sternly, before leaning down to give them each a kiss. They grinned at her innocently and she shook her head as shr turned to address the next Weasley.

"Take care of things, Percy," she said as she chucked his chin affectionately. He nodded mutely and she turned to Ron, who was having a harder time than his brothers at keeping his tears in check.

"We'll be back soon, Ron," she said softly as she embraced him over his little sister, who was still securely fastened to her waist. "Save us some food for Christmas, will you?" she winked. Sniffing loudly, Ron nodded and stepped back.

Meanwhile, Molly had seized Harry in a bone-crushing hug and demanded weekly owls and told him to take care of his mother. "And don't let that old headmaster pick on her, alright?" Harry nodded and sniffed, "Yes Aunt Molly," as they finally broke apart. Turning around, he saw his mother trying to dislodge a very distraught Ginny and the taxi man tapping his foot impatiently as he stood beside the open back door of his vehicle.

"We'll be back before you know it, Ginny," Minerva softly spoke into Ginny's ear, "And we'll owl every week, all right?"

"Ok," she sniffed as Minerva succeeded in unlatching the girl's arms. "Bye Aunt McGonagall, bye Harry," she said trying to keep the quiver in her voice to a minimum. The others followed suit, echoing the girl's goodbye as the dark-haired pair stepped into the taxi, the young boy calling back his own farewells.

"Send us some stuff from Zonko's!" yelled the twins and they ducked out of reach of their mother's swipe at their heads. Harry did his best imitation of the two aspiring pranksters' grins as Molly shook her head.

The car careened down the driveway and around the trees to the main road before disappearing with a loud bang. Minerva cringed as the car lurched, remembering why she hated all aspects of wizard cabs. However, though a tad expensive, they did have their advantages - they transported their customers almost instantly to their destination and did not involve the soot and mess of Floo travel. One of the disadvantages, besides the breakneck journey, was that it only took one so far. Minerva and Harry were taking the taxi to Diagon Alley, London where they would take the noon portkey to Hogmeade.

"Leaky Cauldron, 'mum," the driver announced as the car screeched to a halt in front of the establishment. Paying the man, she and Harry quickly stepped out of the vehicle and hurried into the building, avoiding drawing the muggles' attention as they were dressed in wizarding robes.

They made their way through the inn and the magical barrier and stepped into Diagon Alley. Harry's eyes lit up at the stores and the people. Even though he had been there many times, he could never cease to appreciate the variety there. Seizing Minerva's hand, he dragged her over to Quality Qudditch and pressed his nose up against the window. Grinning, she let him gawk at the brooms and uniforms in the display for a minute and glanced at her watch. They had fifteen minutes to spare so she let him gawk a while longer - he was all but drooling at the Cleansweep 5, the newest model. Finally, at five minutes to noon, she peeled his slight form away from the window and hurried down the street to catch their portkey. Beyond Gringotts was the portkey station, a large roped-off area that resembled a paddock. Joining the line for the Hogsmeade portkey, Minerva fished around in her purse for their tickets. The wizardring town was always crowded at this time of the year, so Minerva had acquired tickets to make sure that they were not shunted aside.

As the "conductor" announced, "Noon to Hogsmeade," the throng of people moved forward. Grasping the end of a length of rope, Minerva scooped Harry up so she wouldn't lose him when they arrived. Harry latched his arms around Minerva's neck, taking care not to muss her hair, and watch the great green clock off to the side.

"Five. . . four. . . three. . . two. . . one. . ." he counted down, gripping Minerva's neck tighter - he hated portkeys. Suddenly, they were swept up from Daigon Alley and plunked in a green meadow just outside Hogsmeade. Minerva, who had excellent balance (privileges of being a cat) was one of the few people standing. A man in bright blue robes came forward to collect the portkey and help the other witches and wizards up as Minerva and Harry made their way into the town.

Keeping Harry's hand firmly in her own, she led him down the main street and couldn't help but smile at his star struck expression. He insisted that they stop frequently, ducking into various shops (Zonko's of course, the post office, Honeydukes) before Minerva finally took him to Three Broomsticks to grab a quick lunch.

As they sat down at a corner table with a plate of sandwiches between them, Minerva heard a familiar voice exclaim, "Professor McGonagall?!"

Turning, she meet the surprised, but happy face of Rosmerta, the owner of the place. Harry looked up in surprise, for it was usually himself that people exclaimed about. Minerva greeted the witch with a smile, "Hello, Rosemerta."

"Well, just look at you, professor! You look wonderful! What brings you back to Hogsmeade?" she gushed, clearly delighted at seeing the other woman. "Oh, wait," she said, her face lighting up even more, "Are you taking up your position at the school again?" Minerva grinned and nodded as she helped herself to a small bite of a ham sandwich.

The two women continued the conversation for a few minutes and Minerva managed to eat three halves of sandwiches by the time the other woman left. Looking at the plate that was full just fifteen minutes ago, she saw nothing but crumbs. Looking up, she noticed Harry's innocent grin, his cheeks puffed up full of bread, cheese, lettuce, and ham. Eyes twinkling, she shook her head and said sternly, "Finish chewing and drink your milk. We want to be up at the school by this afternoon."

 

Chapter Eleven: The Downfall of Resentment

It was well past two in the afternoon and Amanda Hooch was growing more impatient by the minute. True to character, she paced at the foot of the main stairs that led up to the castle's main entrance, light robes swishing as she turned. Behind her, Poppy Pomfrey adopted a more relaxed method of waiting as she sat patiently on the bottom steps, gazing placidly down the drive, she jingling foot the only clue to her own impatience. The two witches waited in excited anticipation for one of their number to return from an extended leave of absence. The same could not be said for the wizard sitting five stories above them in his circular office.

Albus waited, just like the others, but his was an apprehensive kind of anticipation, rather than excitement. Granted, he was looking forward to seeing the woman again, but he couldn't help but wonder just how much she might have changed. In truth, he had no idea what to expect in reply to his apology, but the candid letter of acceptance threw him. As Amanda Hooch had put it, the only person more stubborn than himself was Minerva McGonagall. Her immediate forgiveness was puzzling, but very much appreciated. Popping another lemon drop into his mouth, he sat and waited. Finally, at a quarter after two, he rose, sensing her presence at the gates. As he emerged from the castle, Amanda spun around and met his eyes.

Poppy rose as Amanda let out a very loud war-whoop and sprinted down the drive, intercepting the pair as they came into view. Poppy followed the other witch at a slightly slower pace, but still hurried down to greet them.

"Hello, Minerva," Amanda greeted cordially, as if she didn't know the witch very well.

Rolling her eyes, Minerva replied, "Hello Amanda," and pecked the other witch on the cheek. Amanda grabbed the other woman around the neck in a rough hug and released her abruptly, causing the taller witch to stumble slightly.

"Harry, m'boy!" Amanda yelled needlessly, and swept the giggling child up into a bear hug, placing a loud, slobbery kiss on his cheek, to which he replied "Eeeeew!" and bestowed one upon hers.

"It's nice to see some things never change," Poppy remarked wryly, smiling as she embraced Minerva. "It's good to see you again, dear."

"Poppy, it's only been a month," Minerva replied, eyes laughing.

"Hi, Aunt Poppy!" called Harry from his place in Amanda's arms.

"Hello, Harry," she smiled gently and placed a quick kiss on his head.

"Poppy, that's no way to do it," Amanda scolded playfully, eyes dancing with a mischievous twinkle, "like this." And she proceeded to place loud kisses in long succession on the boy's cheek as he squealed and wriggled in her arms.

"Stop!" he yelled giggling, "Aunt Manda, that's gross!"

The four of them laughed as they made their way up to the castle. Albus watched them draw nearer jealously. He could have been down there, greeting her with open arms if not for the fight. It had changed everything between them. Sighing, he trudged down the steps to greet his returning transfigurations teacher. As she drew closer, he had to consciously refrain from gaping at her with his mouth hanging open. She was radiant. He had never seen her more healthy and relaxed. The dress she was wearing flowed around her as she positively glided up the drive. She did not have the look of someone returning from a self-inflicted exile, though, Albus reasoned, it could hardly be called that. It was more like coming back to work after a five year vacation - relaxed, refreshed, and tan.

Even though he wasn't gaping, Poppy saw the look in his eyes. Glancing over at Amanda, she caught the other witch's eye over their friend's head and gave a subtle nod in the direction of the headmaster as she engaged Minerva in conversation. Amanda grinned as she saw what Poppy saw and met the other woman's eyes with a triumphant gleam.

"I told you the dress was a good idea," Amanda quipped.

"Arabella was right about the shoes, too," Poppy observed. The group was still a good forty feet from the headmaster, so it was unlikely he heard, not that he would have listened anyway as his attention was drawn elsewhere.

"Should have worn earrings like I said."

"She looks fine without all of that gaudy jewelry you suggested."

"Are you saying I have bad taste?"

"No, it's just not very flattering on anyone other than you."

The banter continued and Minerva gave up trying to keep up with it, plucking Harry from Amanda's arms and letting him walk. Instead of running off like he usually would have when a grassy plain was in sight, he took Minerva's hand and held her back a moment, letting the other two walk up to the castle ahead of them.

"Ma, is that the headmaster?" Harry whispered.

"Yes, it is," she replied, "that's Albus Dumbledore."

Harry regarded the man as the group came to a halt before him. He didn't look like anyone he would need to protect his ma from. He had a calm, gentle face with twinkling blue eyes and he winked at Harry when he saw him staring.

"Welcome back, Professor McGonagall," he greeted with twinkling eyes. "I'm glad to see you've both arrived safely."

"Thank you, Albus," she said pointedly (when she said things changed, she didn't mean that much), "It's good to be back. I'd forgotten how much I've missed this."

"I'm glad to hear that, Minerva," he replied smiling.

"I don't believe you've meet my son. Albus, this is Harry Potter," she said as she tugged Harry to stand in front of her. "Harry, this is Professor Dumbledore."

"It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Potter," Albus said, extending his hand and smiling at the boy. "I've heard many good things about you from your Aunt Amanda."

Harry grinned, "Hello Professor Dumbledore."

"Come in, both of you," he said in his joyful manner as he led them up the stairs, Harry beside him and the three witches following. As they entered the castle, he led them through the great hall and up a flight of broad stairs. "Your new rooms are very close to your office, which is in the same place, and your classroom will be a few doors down from your old one," he said to Minerva, "we had to move you to a larger room because the classes are growing larger. We had eighty first years last year." Reaching a new painting of a small knight in shining armor, he announced, "This is it. We had to change portraits a few times because none of them wanted to have to deal with another new teacher. And your old scribe has taken up residence in the library, says it's too noisy in this corridor for him to get any work done. Now, if you ladies would like to unpack, I think I'll give Mr. Potter a tour of the castle, show him the fastest route to the kitchens and the like, unless you'd like to stay here, Harry," the headmaster said twinkling again.

Harry looked from the old headmaster to the three women facing them, two of whom had a mischievous gleam in their eyes. "I think I'll go with Professor Dumbledore, Ma."

"Alright, we'll just unpack then," Minerva replied, "Have fun, and don't eat too many sweets before supper. And don't give him any lemon drops, either, Albus."

Grinning, Harry grabbed the headmaster's hand and dragged him away, knowing all too well the possible consequences of that gleam in his aunts' eyes.

A small smile graced Minerva's face, making her look years younger. Amanda and Poppy made eye contact behind her and looked away quickly before they burst out laughing. As Minerva turned, both took on a neutral expression so as not to raise suspicion.

"Do either of you know the password?" the raven haired witch demanded.

"Bringer of conflict," they said together.

Minerva glared at them as they shuffled inside, avoiding her eye and biting back laughter at her very peeved expression.

"And whose creative idea was that?"

"Hers," they said together, pointing at each other at the exact same time.

The new transfigurations teacher rolled her eyes and opened her purse. Drawing out her wand from the pocket of her robe, she summoned the suitcases out of the bag.

"Ooooh! What did you bring me?" Amanda said eagerly, eyeing the bags with excitement.

"Will you stop your childish behavior?" Poppy said, more of a command than a question. "Minerva's just arrived, can't you give her a moment's peace?"

"It was just a question," the hawk-eyed teacher retorted, "It did not need to be followed by an immediate action. Just a simple yes or no would do."

"No," Minerva said calmly as she surveyed the room.

Size wise, the living room had not changed. However, the fireplace had been manipulated somewhat. Instead of the boring, traditional mantle it used to have, it was now surrounded by stone blocks that varied in color and reached all the way to the ceiling and covered the entire wall. The room was bare, as it had been completely cleaned out by the house elves. The shelves beside the large fireplace were still in tact, but desolately empty. Four feet of stone separated the top shelf from the ceiling, leaving room for pictures and other wall hangings. Directly across from the fireplace, which was dead center in the wall, was a large nook about a quarter of the size of the room it branched off of. Here was a kitchenette with a shiny metal sink, refrigerator, and a dozen burgundy cupboards and drawers with thin gold trimming.

One of the first things Minerva noticed was the hallway the disappeared down the far right corner of the room. The hallway was about six feet wide and ten feet long. At the end of it was a beautiful floor to ceiling window that took up the entire wall. Through the window in the distance were the tall golden hoops of the Quidditch pitch. Minerva was sure it was an illusion because once one exited the rooms, the stately windows across the corridor showed the exact same view. There were two sets of double doors on either side of the hallway.

On the right, the doors were ornately carved in a Renaissance style. Through the doors lay the master suite. Dark built-in closets covered the longer wall directly across from the door. A huge four poster bed was on the far wall handsomely dressed in rich fabric of varying shades of red and gold. Nightstands that matched the closets stood on either side of the bed. Lights lined the tops of the walls like molding, giving a very royal effect. A soft, think cream carpet covered the entire floor inviting whoever walked on it to take off their shoes and sink their toes into it. An attractive fireplace stood across from the bed flanked by a pair of empty bookshelves. Before the fire were two plush, oversized armchairs, both of a different style and model, but in the same rich burgundy. Tall candelabras stood beside each of the chairs arranged in a sort of semi- circle around the fire. To the far right (from the door) an opening about five feet wide took up the space between the back wall of the kitchenette and the wall of her bedroom.

Curious, she walked down the short hallway and through a glass-like door. Gasping, she took in the master bath. The walls looked like they were made out of wavy glass bricks with sunlight pouring in. The sunlight was artificial of course, but it did not take away from the overall effect of the room. A comfortable-looking hot tub sat on a raised platform in the center with a separating wall between it and the privy behind it. The steps leading up to the tub were of the same material as the walls. The tub itself was made of a soft, somewhat squishy material with tiny pinprick holes all around it.

"I knew you'd want the jet streams at the end of the week," Amanda grinned as Minerva touched the tub. "And there's a shower massage kind of thing in the corner," she said, pointing to a glass enclosure. "The towels are in here," she continued opening a narrow closet next to the shower stall filled with soft, thick towels. "And the sink is right here," she gestured to the ivory sink embedded in a stone countertop directly across from the hot tub. Above the sink was a huge mirror with white Gryffindor crests painted delicately in the corners. The ceiling and floor were the same stone as the counter, as was the platform the hot tub was on. Beside the tub, golden bars hung in midair "For your towels," Amanda explained. "So what do you think? I did it myself," she stated proudly.

Poppy recognized Minerva's still bewildered expression and explained, "Amanda was in one of her moods, so I decided to spare Harry an overly done luxury room and traded with Amanda. Besides," she added under her breath so only Minerva could hear her, "I didn't think Harry would appreciate Amanda's romantic theme."

"It is a bit overdone, Amanda," Minerva said, still staring around in wonder, "but I think it's beautiful."

"Really?" the gray haired witch squealed, "You're not going to transfigure everything into something boring?"

"Not until all this starts to get on my nerves," she laughed. "Well what did you do with Harry's room, Poppy?"

Grinning the mediwitch replied, "I don't think either of you will like it much, but I'm sure Harry will love it." Grabbing Minerva's hand, she dragged her out of the royal bathroom.

A little over three hours later, the three witches were sprawled out on comfy couches before the fire in the living room. They had just finished unpacking and putting the room together. Even though they had used magic for most of it, they were still exhausted. A new coat of polish was put on the light oak floors and a beautiful blue and silver rug lay before the fire. The bookshelves were completely filled, books taking up every inch. They hung a huge wall tapestry made by Minerva's mother on the wall over the fireplace. A large desk stood before the wall separating the room from the master bath. That corner of the room was covered floor to ceiling with bookshelves. Books, scrolls and maps took up the entire space to make to look like a scholar's corner.

"I wonder were those two have got to. . ." Amanda said, only now remembering that Harry was with the headmaster.

"I just hope they haven't stirred up any trouble," said Poppy as she sipped her tea.

Placing her own teacup on the coffee table before her, Minerva stood and suggested, "Why don't we go down to the Great Hall. It's nearly supper time and I suppose Albus will just bring him there after their tour."


Albus chuckled at the boy's eagerness to learn everything there was to know about the castle. As promised, the old headmaster showed him the shortest route to the kitchens and showed him how to tickle the pear to enter. Next he took the boy to the library and the hospital wing where "Aunt Poppy" worked. Harry insisted on going outside to have a look at the Quidditch pitch.

The child stood in awe in the center of the pitch, staring up at the stands, the hoops, and the brightly colored flags, forcing his wide eyes to take everything in.

"Wow," he said, barely above a whisper as he sought to keep the sanctity and silence of the field in tact.

Albus watched from a few feet away as Harry sat, stretched out on the ground and lie still. Smiling, the headmaster walked over and sat down beside him. Leaning back, he propped himself up with his elbows and gazed up at the sky, watching the simple clouds chance each other across the infinite blue. In spite of everything, he mused, he had immediately grown attached to the boy. Granted, those eyes were hard to resist, but there was a complete and unassuming innocence about him that Albus couldn't help but like. As soon as he had seen him earlier that afternoon, all anger he had inadvertently directed towards the boy vanished, leaving him with a light heart and a chance to get to know him.

"Professor Dumbledore?" Harry began.

"You needn't call me that, Harry, I am not your teacher," the headmaster replied gently.

"What do I call you then?" the boy wanted to know. "Ron and his brothers call my ma Aunt McGonagall, and Cedric and Leena call her Miss McGonagall."

"What would you like to call me, Harry?"

The boy fell silent for a moment, pondering the question silently as he stared up at the sky. "Can I call you Uncle Albus? Or maybe Uncle Dumbledore?" he suggested hopefully as he sat up to look the man in the face.

"I don't know if your mother would approve, but I would be very happy if you were to call me Uncle Albus."

Harry grinned and said simply, "Ok," and reclined back down on the grass. Albus followed his lead and sank down onto the soft greenery. They stayed like that in a comfortable silence for a few minutes before Harry piped up again.

"Uncle Albus, did you used to pick on my ma?"

Raising his eyebrows, he craned his neck around so he could look at the boy, "Who told you that?"

"Aunt Molly and Aunt Bella said not to let you pick on her, but I don't think you would," he explained, "So did you used to?"

Sighing, Albus remembered Molly Weasley and Arabella Figg as students, and, in light of Harry's orders, they hadn't changed a bit. "No, Harry, I never used to bully your mother. But we did have a big row a long time ago."

"Aunt Manda told me," Harry nodded, "She said it was your fault."

Shaking his head, he chuckled hollowly, "Yes, I suppose it was. I was too stubborn to see her side of the story and then she left and I never spoke to her again, until now, that is."

"What did you fight about?" Harry wanted to know. That part of the story was always glossed over whenever Amanda told it.

"She didn't tell you?" the headmaster asked and Harry shook his head. "It's not my place to tell you, Harry. Your mother will tell you when she decides you are ready."

"But I'm ready now, I wanna know."

"Then she will tell you when she feels ready."

Harry sighed, "Ok." It was almost the exact same response he got from his Aunt Bella. They sat in an uncomfortable silence for a few moments, before Albus remembered something Amanda had told him about the boy's second love.

"So what do you think of our Quidditch facilities?"

"Facilities?"

"Our field, the pitch, the stands."

"Oh! They're great! I've never seen anything like it," he bubbled happily, "The Cannons have got a place something like this, but it's much bigger. I like this one - you can see everything from anywhere!"

Albus chuckled at the boy's enthusiasm. "Yes you can," he agreed. Pointing to the teacher's box, he said, "Do you see that box there?"

"The highest one?"

"Yes, that one. That's where I sit to watch the matches."

"Wow! Can I sit there with you?"

Their discussion carried on for a while and it was nearly five by the time Albus noticed the sun beginning to set. Pulling out his pocket watch, he commented, "We should be heading inside now, the house elves are about to serve supper."

"What's that?" Harry said as Albus helped him to his feet, pointing at the watch.

"This?" Albus said, holding it out to the boy who took it gently. "This is my pocket watch."

"But where are all the numbers?" Harry demanded as Albus took his hand and led him back to the castle.

Albus tried to simply explain the way the planets and stars were to be read, but Harry was none the wiser by the time they made it to the doors of the Great Hall.

"I've saved the best for last, now, Harry."

"Even better than the Quidditch pitch?"

Albus chuckled, "Yes, even better than the Quidditch pitch." Giving the doors and small push, they swung open soundlessly to reveal the magnificent hall.

Harry jaw dropped and he was struck speechless. He soon recovered though, and positively bounced beside the headmaster as they made their way to the high table.

"WOW! Look at the ceiling! It looks just like the sky! The candles are floating! It's so big! I bet you can fit a hundred zillion giants in here!"

Minerva smiled down at him from her seat beside Amanda. She missed the look of disgust the settled over Severus Snape's features as he regarded the boy beside the headmaster. Amanda, who had stolen his seat, did not, however, and leaned over to speak to him in a low voice.

"Upset that boy in any way and I promise you'll die a most painful death," she growled, and proceeded to mimic counting on her fingers, "fifty eight times. And that's including whatever Arabella Figg would do to you," she added with an evil grin, "She always thought you had a rather cute tush."

Giving her his most menacing death glare he could manage, he shot her a look that bordered on mortification and anger. Unable to stand the sight of two very strangely conflicting emotions on his face, Amanda burst out laughing uproariously, banging her fist on the arm of her chair as she continued.

Minerva ignored her friend's obvious insanity and rose to meet the small boy barreling around the high table. He jumped into her arms and started to speak very quickly.

"Ma, have you ever seen the Quidditch pitch? It's huge! Can I fly on it, please? You can watch, I promise I won't go too high. Are the teams any good? When do the matches start? Uncle Albus said I can sit with him in the top box for the games. Do you think Ron can come?"

Minerva raised her eyes and turned to Albus, a small smile in her lips. "Uncle Albus?" she grinned.

He replied with a smile and pulled her seat out for her. Smiling back her thanks, she sat with Harry still in her arms, He settled himself in her lap, picked up her utensils, and cast about for any trace of food with a puzzled look on his face.

"Ma, where's the grub?"

"Food, Harry, food. It's not grub," Minerva corrected, shooting an annoyed look at Amanda. The other witch grinned back at her innocently.

"Aunt Manda says it's grub."

"Your 'Aunt Manda' is an uncivilized buffoon," came a snide reply from two chairs down.

Leaning forward to get a better look at the speaker, Harry grinned, "Ma says that all the time."

A look of horror came over Snape's face as he was accused of saying the same as McGonagall, a Gryffindor - the head Gryffindor. His reaction sent Amanda into another fit of loud laughter as Poppy, who sat on the other side of a twinkling Dumbledore, shook her head in amusement. Minerva closed her eyes in defeat and slumped back in her chair.

"WOW!" a surprised shout brought her out of her brooding and she opened her eyes. The food had arrived and its sudden appearance had given Harry a start. Checking himself before he dove at the huge slab of steak on the other side of his plate, he turned to her.

"Ma, can we start now?"

"May we, Harry," she corrected with a smile. For all his referring to food as "grub," he was still a very polite little boy. "And don't ask me, ask the headmaster."

"Uncle Albus, may we eat now?" he asked with huge, irresistible bottle green eyes.

"Of course, Harry, tuck in," he replied with a smile as he literally drew a chair in midair and set it down between Minerva and himself. Harry scrambled out of Minerva's lap and onto the new chair that happened to be just high enough for him to see and reach everything on the table. Minerva gave Albus a warm smile and nudged Harry.

"Oh," he said through a mouthful of mashed potatoes, "thank you Uncle Albus."

"You're very welcome, Harry."

'Well this is all starting out very nicely,' Minerva thought, watching Albus cut Harry's meat. 'This just might work.'

 

Chapter Twelve: Prodigal Son

Minerva had been wanting to take a look at her new transfigurations classroom, but hadn't gotten a chance until three days after her arrival. So, as soon as she got away from the "welcome back"s from the other staff members who had arrived in increasing numbers over the past few days, she and Harry made their way back to the transfigurations wing. Harry bounded in and out of open classrooms until he came to a set of large double doors that were too heavy for him to push open.

"Ma, what's in there?"

"I think you've found my new classroom," she replied as she pushed the door open.

The room was lit by large glowing white stones set in the wall at foot long intervals along the corners of the ceiling, making the entire room bright as day. In the front of the room was a platform, raised about six inches off the ground, on which sat a very large, sturdy desk. Fourteen double desks stood before the platform in two neat rows, seating a maximum of twenty eight students.

'Twenty eight students,' she mused quietly, 'That's ten more students in each class.' Of course, there would be some classes were there would be less than that, but twenty eight was still a large class, especially for a private school.

A large blackboard took up most of the wall behind the teacher's desk and low bookshelves covered the wall below it. A number of single shelves were attached to the wall at varying intervals. The room was depressingly bare, waiting to be arranged. A large pile of boxes took up half of the back wall, covering it from one corner to the door.

Minerva walked down the broad middle aisle and stepped up onto the platform. Taking a seat in the deceptively uncomfortable-looking chair, she leaned back and gazed over the classroom. Harry took a seat in the front row and looked up at her expectantly.

"Now what?" he wanted to know.

"Now we see your ma turn into the strict Professor McGonagall we all know and love," Amanda said from the doorway. Minerva gave her a patented stern glare and the other woman laughed. "See?" Harry giggled and ran to Amanda who said, "Come on, let's go have another look at the library. There're a few Quidditch books I think you might like. We'll just leave you to bask in teacher-mode," she said to Minerva, "You need to practice," as she winked and led Harry out the door.

Shaking her head, she allowed herself a small smile. "Teacher-mode," she said wryly. Summoning the boxes from the back of the room, she arranged them around the desk and brought one of them onto the top. Opening the first one, she found an array of books, many of which she had been in her classroom before she left. Looking through them one by one, she lost herself to memories of teaching. She remembered the students' rapt attention on their first day of classes. She remembered the pride she felt as they eventually succeeded in transfiguring their first turtle into a teapot. She also remembered the blank looks on many of their faces as she explained animagus transformations to them. She remembered the looks of horror on the faces of the fifth and seventh years as they realized that they would indeed be taking their O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s at the end of the year. So caught up in her thoughts, she didn't register another person in the room until he cleared his throat before her desk.

Startled, she looked up into a pair of twinkling blue eyes. "Albus," she acknowledged and continued to rummage through the papers and books.

Twinkling, he commented, "I was under the impression that you may need some assistance and I have come to offer my services."

Grinning slightly, she advised him to make himself comfortable and placed a rather large box before him. They worked in a companionable silence for a few minutes, browsing through old texts and sorting through miscellaneous papers.

"Albus?" Minerva ventured, itching to ask an important question that had been bothering her for a very long time.

"Hmmm?" he replied, not looking up from his work.

"Have you heard from Remus Lupin lately?"

The headmaster looked up sharply, and met the searching eyes of his transfigurations teacher.

"I received a brief letter from him informing me that he was leaving the country. That was right after he heard of Sirius' betrayal."

"And nothing since?" she pressed.

"Nothing."

They fell into silence again before Minerva explained, "It's just that Harry has only ever heard about his parents from a teacher's point of view. He doesn't know what they were like as friends, only students." Albus remained silent, absently leafing through a particularly thick stack of papers. "He needs to be here for Harry. He's the last of his father's friends and I know James would want him to be here, to tell Harry about him and Lily. And the infamous Marauders," she added as an afterthought.

Minerva studied the heamaster's face, looking for anything that might give away the fact that he knew where the lone werewolf could be found. She hadn't bothered voicing her own worries about the boy, now man, who had disappeared from her life five years ago. Then she saw it, a brief flash of regret and sorrow that overshadowed the twinkle of his eyes. "Where is he Albus?" she demanded, none too gently.

"I am not at liberty to say, Minerva, he specifically requested for you not to be informed."

"Oh really?" she said critically, "And why, pray tell would he request something like that? Could it possibly be because of the urging of a certain bearded headmaster?"

Albus cracked - he could never hold his own during one of Minerva McGonagall's interrogations. "He came to me the night after you took Harry. Peter had been killed, Sirius locked up, and he didn't know what to do." He paused, unsure of how to continue. Vouching for the truth (she would find out anyway), he pressed on, "He was frightened and angry, filled with a keen sense of guilt and betrayal such as I had never seen before. He wanted to leave, to run away from all of the. . . pain. I told him to go, but to come back when the pain had lessoned and to send frequent owls."

"And?" Minerva demanded when Albus paused for a second too long.

"And he has not complied with any of my requests," Albus finished, meeting her gazed defiantly.

"Do you take me for a fool, Albus?" she questioned in a deadly whisper, her voice gradually rising to a normal level, "You know exactly where he is. Or do you really expect me to believe that one of the men that respected you more than anything just cut you out of his life? Like he did me?" she finished, her voice cracking with emotion.

Sighing, Albus said, "He asked me not to tell you. And, no, it wasn't because of me," he said, cutting her indignant retort off.

"Why?" she whispered, trying to mask the hurt that threatened to overwhelm her.

Remus had been like a son to her. When he had first come to the school, he was a scared, quiet first year, terrified that at any moment his deepest secret would be found out. She had stayed with him during his first few transformations, keeping him company in her animagus form. After that, the war with Voldemort grew more and more intense, and Minerva was unable to stay for every single one of his transformations. Still, they remained close. He confided in her when he thought his new friends, James Potter, Sirius Back, and Peter Pettigrew would figure out his secret. They found out eventually, and remained his friends, even going so far as to perfect their transfigurations skills so they could keep him company, as Minerva discovered one full moon during their sixth year.

Seeing as how it was one of her first free nights on the full moon in a very long time, she had decided to surprise her pupil with a visit. However, she found that a stag, a dog, and a small rat had beaten her to it. She watched them play from a distance, proud of her students for mastering human transfigurations so well, and bursting with thanks on Remus' behalf. These feelings thankfully overwhelmed her rage at having them out and about with a werewolf, but she reasoned that they weren't parading around outside of the school grounds and wouldn't harm anyone. She let it slide, thinking 'boys will be boys'. Since graduation, he had kept in touch with her, but after the deaths of Lily, James, and Peter, and Sirius' imprisonment, she had lost all contact.

Albus knew of the bond the two had formed and stated quietly, "He didn't want you to be disappointed."

"Disappointed?" she asked in disbelief, "Why on earth would I be disappointed? He didn't betray Lily and James, he didn't kill one of his best friends!" she exclaimed, jumping up out of her seat and shaking uncontrollably.

"He ran," the headmaster replied, rising from his seat and coming to stand beside his friend. Putting a calming hand on her shoulder, he continued, "He ran away instead of staying to battle his demons - he didn't want you to be disappointed."

She turning to look at him, a helpless expression that was rarely seen, and never seen by anyone but him, took over her features. Her eyes were bright with held back tears and a haunting look of complete helplessness and vulnerability filled her usually strong, stern, and certain irises. Unable to stand by and wait for the look to dissipate, Albus drew her into a hug and gently rubbed her back in calming circles, whispering words of comfort into her ear. Minerva barely registered the gentle "it wasn't your fault" and "he needed to get away" and "he loves you so much, he didn't want to see you disappointed." Instead, she remembered each roguish half-smile the boy she knew flashed at her after his detentions were finished and buried her eyes in Albus' shoulder. Silent tears fell down her cheeks in regret and guilt. They stayed like that for a few minutes, her hands against Albus' chest as he held her. For those few minutes, it was like nothing had changed.

Minerva pushed away awkwardly, unsure of how to proceed from that place. Then Albus passed her a soft handkerchief and said, "He's in Quebec. He moved there six months ago." Nodding, she sniffed and wiped the tears from her face. "There's still two weeks until school begins," he pointed out, "And portkeys to Quebec are surprisingly easy to come by."

Giving him a small smile, she passed back the soggy handkerchief, which he dried with a quick charm. "I think he would be happy to see you," he said quietly as he drew a piece of parchment out of his pocket and pressed it into her hand. Then, he turned and left, sweeping through the double doors of the classroom to leave the witch alone.

Opening the folded piece of parchment, she grinned wryly and thought to herself, 'He knew I'd beat it out of him.'


The twenty-fifth of August saw Minerva McGonagall standing outside of a warm, inviting pub in the middle of the wizarding district of Old Quebec City. Looking at this section, muggles saw nothing but a sheer cliff face that abruptly dropped off into the river below. Little did they know that the cliff was an illusion. There was a drop, but it was only about twelve feet down, with magnificently carved marble staircases, much like the Spanish Steps in Rome, leading down from the top at ten block intervals. The steps led down to a bustling, cobblestone street that stretched along the cliff face for at least a mile. Shops and restaurants stood against the cliff in a quaint little line, their old world fa硤e well kept and welcoming. The street was as wide as the stairs were tall and were roped off at the edge of the real drop of the cliff.

Minerva stood before L'h?lerie du Cheval Caracole, taking in its warm appearance and steeling herself for what promised to be an uncomfortable reunion. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she opened the door and stepped inside. Her eyes were immediately drawn to a young, handsome waiter patiently taking the orders of an elderly magical couple as her breath caught in her throat.

"Non. . . non. . . non. . . Ah oui, nous voudrions le poisson, s'il-vous-pla puis. . . quoi d'autre?" the elderly wizard turned to his wife. Minerva nearly grinned at the barely concealed look of exasperation on the waiters face as he patiently waited for them to finish their order. Feeling a gaze on him, the young waiter looked up and blanched as his pale blue eyes met Minerva's dark ones. Excusing himself from the still debating couple, he waved a fellow waiter over and thrust his pad of paper and short quill at him. Informing the other man that he was taking a short break, he quickly came up to Minerva, grasped her elbow firmly, and steered her out of the inn through the side door into a short alleyway between the buildings.

"How did you find me?" he demanded quietly.

Minerva, relieved at having found him alive and well stood still, silently regarding the young man before her. The barest hint of crow's feet branched out from the corners of his eyes - eyes that used to be a bright, inquisitive blue, now a mere shadow of color and emotion. Lines of worry and of age were beginning to settle around his jaw, and his hair had much more gray in it than before. She reached a trembling hand up to touch his face, but he jerked away, grabbing her hand and forcing it down.

"How did you find me?" his voice was a deadly whisper. Hard blue eyes met pained black as he released the captive hand. They were little more than a foot apart, and the tension was building, beginning to suffocate them. The older witch couldn't take it anymore and flung her arms around the man's next, holding him close as the tears flowed down her cheeks.

"You're alive," she whispered. As soon as she wrapped her arms around his neck, Remus Lupin had tensed. It had been so long since he had seen this particular witch, and even longer since she had demonstrated this much emotion in front of him. Realizing that the vice-like grip on his neck would not be released for some time, he relaxed, and tentatively wrapped his arms around the woman. They stood like that for a few moments until the woman pulled back.

Remus, thinking all was well, was caught completely off guard by the hard, resounding slap across his face, accompanied by an enraged yell, "How could you do this to me?!" Never one to understand a woman's violent change of moods, he stared at her as she continued to rant, "Five years without ANY word! Not from you, not from Dumbledore! I had no idea if you were alive, if you were safe, if you were injured! You could've died and I would've never known! Letting me think you had vanished off the face of the earth without a trace! How could you?!"

And then, without any warning, she flung herself on him again. This time, Remus didn't hesitate, but wrapped his strong arms around her and spoke to her gently, "Professor? Minerva, ssh, it's all right. I meant to write, I just. . . I didn't know what to say."

"You could have said anything," she whispered.

"And what would you have said about one of your own Gryffindors running away?" he asked, "What would you have done if I told you I couldn't take the pain?" She didn't answer immediately, but pulled away and looked him square in the eye.

"What would you have done in my place?"

Remus didn't know what to say to this and pulled the woman into another hug. She wrapped still trembling arms around his waist and closed her eyes as she leaned her forehead on his shoulder. "Harry's been asking about you," she said after a while.

She felt him tense at the boy's name, stepped back and explained, "He sees you in nearly every picture of James." When he remained stonily silent, she continued, "Why didn't you think of Harry? He needs someone there to tell him about his parents. What they were really like as people, not just as students."

"He looks just like James, doesn't he?" he asked quietly.

"Yes, he does," she replied, "but he has Lily's eyes." They stood in silence again until Minerva ordered, "Now, seeing as how you are welcome back to Hogwarts at any time, I expect to see you there by the time Christmas comes around, understood?"

Shaking his head and grinning wryly, he replied, "Yes, Professor McGonagall."

"It's so good to see you again, Remus," she said reaching up once again to touch his face. He leaned into her hand rather than recoiling. However, after a moment, he grabbed her hand again and turned it palm upwards, examining the soft calluses.

"My dear Professor McGonagall, what have you been up to?" he asked, eyeing her for further changes. He saw them all then, from the silver streaks in her slightly lighter ebony locks to the bronze glow of her skin.

She snatched her hand away from his inspection and said, "Visit by Christmas and maybe I'll tell you."

Throwing up his hands in mock defeat, he gave her his patented half- smile and replied mildly, "As you wish, Madame." Pausing, he studied her face, then quietly said, "I really am very sorry I put you through all of that."

"It's in the past," she said, giving him a rare smile.

"Well, in that case, come have something to eat, I'll bring you up to date about everything that's happened," he said as he opened the door and bowed her inside.

 

Chapter Thirteen: Reintroduction

Harry squirmed under his mother's intent gaze as she straightened his dark green robes and attempted to flatten his hair. It was the first of September and Harry was anxious to see the students. He had loved the last two weeks of flying with Aunt Manda and talking with Uncle Albus and meeting all of the other teachers. Hagrid was the only member of the staff who was more like a student than a teacher, and Harry enjoyed spending time with him meeting new animals and such. Still, Harry wanted other children to be around, even if they were a little older than him. He had just turned six years old in July, so in his eyes, he was not much younger than the first years.

"Ma, can I be Sorted too?" he asked for the tenth time.

Sighing, Minerva replied, "Harry you're too young. Once you start school you can be Sorted."

"But I already know what House I'll be in too!" he said proudly.

"And which one is that?" she asked as she took his hand and led him out of their rooms.

"Gryffindor!" he exclaimed, excited with the zeal of a six year old.

Grinning, Minerva asked, "And what will you do if you're Sorted into another House, hmm?"

"That's not gonna happen, Professor Snape said so."

"Oh did he now?" she asked warily, "And what else did he say?"

"He said I was the etipone of Gyrffindor standers."

"The epitome of Gryffindor standards," she corrected as he nodded, "he would say that wouldn't he?"

"But I don't mind if I'm put in Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff," he continued, "As long as I'm not in Slytherin. Professor Snape said he'd quit and leave if I was put in it."

Minerva grinned, realizing that this must be the reason for the odd occurance this morning. She mock-gasped, "No! And what did you do?"

"Well, I said he can't leave and then I hugged him to make sure he wouldn't. And then he took me to you, remember?"

Minerva nearly giggled as she remembered the events that took place that morning.

A few hours after breakfast Severus Snape was found pounding on Minerva's door. He stood there, in her doorway, livid, with Harry Potter, the son of his worst enemy, clinging to his leg as if the man might vanish if he released him. It was one of the funniest sights she had ever seen.

"I do believe the boy's quite taken with you," she commented neutrally, refraining from losing her composure completely.

Glaring at her, he turned to the growth on his leg and snapped, "Release my leg, Mr. Potter."

"Are you gonna go away?" the boy demanded as he looked up with huge, pleading green eyes.

The potions master closed his eyes then (Minerva could virtually see him repeating a calming mantra over and over in his head), and bent down to unclasp the boy's body from around his leg. Harry, however, had other plans and wrapped his arms around the man's arm instead. Sighing in resignation, he straightened and steadied the boy in his arms.

"I promise I won't leave," he said through gritted teeth and attempted to dislodge him once again.

"Even if I get put in Slytherin?" the boy demanded and tightened his grip.

"On the unlikely event that you are Sorted into Slytherin, your father will be rolling around in his grave and your ma will throw an epileptic fit. But, if you insist, I will stay, even if you are placed in my house," he sneered.

Minerva couldn't help but notice that his sneer wasn't half as vengeful as it normally was, and that his features were just slightly softer as he gazed at the persistent child in his arms. Covering a small, satisfied grin with the back of her hand, she had said, "Let go of Professor Snape now, Harry, I'm sure he has much to do before the students arrive."

As they entered the staff room, Harry grinned at all of the teachers and released Minerva's hand as he ran and leapt into Amanda's lap. The witch was seated beside Severus, who cringed as the boy leapt onto the woman. She caught him with ease, as if he were nothing but a quaffle, and continued to converse with the ever bubbly Professor Sarah Sprout on her other side. Harry smiled his infectious smile at the surly man beside him, who couldn't help the upwards twitching of his mouth, no matter how hard he tried.

"Will you be bringing up the first-years, then, Minerva?" Albus asked from beside her. Tearing her gaze away from the impossibly adorable sight of Snape and her boy, she met his amused eyes.

Grinning slightly as his knowing gaze, she gestured to the tiny professor seated across from Snape and asked, "Shouldn't Filius do it?"

Professor Flitwick had replaced her as Deputy at the school and had since taken over that particular honor, among other tasks.

"Haven't you missed it?" he inquired, again leveling her with his omnipotent twinkle.

Only barely restraining herself from rolling her eyes at his non- answer, she turned to Harry, "Stay with Uncle Albus, alright, Harry?"

"Where're you going?" he asked, looking up in alarm.

"I'm just going to get the first years, I'll only be a moment."

"Ok," he nodded as she swept out the door.

"Don't you think you're be hitting the older kids with a sense of d骠 vu a little too enthusiastically, Albus?" came Amanda's wry comment. The headmaster twinkled back in silent response.

Professor Minerva McGonagall made her way down to the steps leading up from the lake to lead the first years into the Great Hall. Peeking into the Hall as she passed, she saw the stool, the Sorting Hat, and a thick scroll on the dais before the high table. The older students were already making their way up the front steps and into the Great Hall. When she reached the top of the steps decending to the shore, she could already see the first of the new students clamber out of their boats, gazing around in awe at the magnificent castle above them. They reached the top of the stairs before Minerva in a huddled mass, each face bearing a look of varying degrees of terror. Once they had settled down, which was a very short period of time as soon as they caught sight of the stern witch at the top of the stairs, Minerva began a well-remembered speech.

"Welcome to Hogwarts," she said, not needing to raise her voice as they were all staring at her intently, "Now, in a few moments you will join the other students and the feast will begin. But first, you will be Sorted into your Houses. The Houses are Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Each house has produced outstanding witches and wizards and has its own unique history. While you are here," she continued steadily, "your house will be like your family. You will have classes with your housemates in your year and you will sleep in your house dormitories. Triumphs will earn you house points, while any rule breaking will lose points. The house with the most points at the end of the year is awarded the House Cup."

She paused for a moment, giving it a minute to sink in, then said, "Wait here quietly while I see if we are ready for you."

Leaving the first years alone in a new environment was never an idea she supported, but no harm had come of it as yet, so she was not at liberty to voice her opinions. Peeking into the Great Hall again, she saw rows upon rows of black-clad students speaking to each other in low voices creating a rumbling sound that echoed off the walls. Glancing up at the head table, she saw Harry sitting next to Albus and chatting eagerly and grinned. Turning, she made her way back to the first years.

"Make a line, now," she commanded, "and follow me."

She led them up through the entrance and through the huge doors of the Great Hall. The older students virtually sighed as one when they saw the first years, knowing that it would be only a short while longer until they could stuff themselves. The sixth and seventh years paid no attention at first, they had seen plenty of Sortings during their time at Hogwarts. However, one Gryffindor seventh year did a double take at the tall witch leading the first years, puzzled at first, then whispered hurriedly to his neighbor. Soon, the two senior classes of the school had all craned their necks in order to get a glimpse of the woman.

As Minerva reached the dais, she told the first years, "Line up along here, please." As the Hat began its song, she glanced up at the rest of the student body. There were at least a hundred pairs of surprised eyes on her and at least that many hanging jaws. Beating back an amused grin, she turned slightly to catch Albus' eyes. He twinkled secretly back at her and she turned back around, resisting the urge to laugh aloud. The Sorting Hat finished its song and she told the only slightly-less terrified newcomers, "When I call you name, you will come sit on the stool, I will place the Sorting Hat on you head, and you will be Sorted into your houses."

And then the list began.

"Adams, Joanna."

"HUFFLEPUFF"

The young girl with curly blonde hair almost jumped out of her skin as the hat shouted her house. Minerva had always pitied the first of the year, as they more often than not had no idea what was going to happen.

"Ashton, Micheal."

"RAVENCLAW"

The mass of children at the bottom of the dais shrunk slowly as she passed the R's. Already, twelve Gryffindors, twenty two Ravenclaws, twenty Hufflepuffs, and fifteen Slytherins had been Sorted. Behind her, she heard Harry whisper to Albus quietly, as to not disturb everyone else.

"How much longer, Uncle Albus?"

"Not much, Harry," came the amused reply.

"Sanderson, John."

"HUFFLEPUFF"

"Sommers, Reginald."

"GRYFFINDOR"

"Stanton, Elizabeth."

"GRYFFINDOR"

"Talucci, Lorrain."

"SLYTHERIN"

"Taylor, David."

"How much longer now?"

"Harry," she turned and admonished quietly. Seeing him clap his hand over his mouth, she winked and put a finger to her lips as the Sorting Hat announced,

"RAVENCLAW"

"Vedinia, Richard."

"SLYTHERIN"

"Westing, Corbin."

"GRYFFINDOR"

"Wood, Alexander."

"GRYFFINDOR"

With that, the Sorting ended and Minerva picked up the stool and the hat and made her way to a door to the side of the dais. She grinned as she heard Albus say, "There is just one important announcement I would like to make before the feast." Minerva emerged from the side room and walked over to Albus, who beckoned her to his side. "I would like to welcome back Professor McGonagall - " the rest of his sentence hung in the air as the Great Hall erupted into applause, the younger students following the elders' example. Harry, bursting with pride as the strangers cheered for his ma, clapped as well, beaming at her from his spot behind the headmaster. Once the applause died down, he continued, "Professor McGonagall will be returning to teach transfigurations and will also be returning to her posts as Head of Gryffindor House and Deputy Headmistress. And so, without further adieu: poggledrum, eclectia, mordone." He grinned as he sat back down and motioned for Minerva to sit on his right hand side.

Fuming quietly, Minerva sat stiffly on the offered chair and told Harry, "Go sit with Aunt Manda for a moment." Recognizing the pent up flashes of anger in her eyes, he scooted out of the way and ran to his aunt, seated on the other side of Snape. Although the new location was only a seat away from his peeved caretaker, he felt better with Snape's body shielding his slight form effectively.

"Deputy?" Minerva questioned levelly. "I do NOT remember being approached with this."

"Minerva, I didn't want you to refuse, so I told you tonight, in front of the students, so I would be out of immediate danger," he reasoned, still twinkling merrily. "I promise these duties will not interfere with your teaching schedule or with Harry."

Shaking her head in resignation, she gave up and settled back into her role of Deputy Headmistress. 'Oh what joy,' she thought bitingly.

Severus was about to begin his meal when a soft tug on his right sleeve made him look up. "Professor Snape, is it ok for me to go back by my ma now?"

Turning to Minerva, he said silkily, "Your son wishes to know if you are finished beating our beloved headmaster to a pulp."

Narrowing her eyes, she met the saucy glare of the young potions master sitting next to her. "Tell him he can come back now."

Harry didn't need to be told twice, and he rocketed around Snape in a flash, scooting up onto his chair between Albus and Minerva.

"Is classes gonna start tomorrow?"

"Are classes, Harry."

"Yes, Harry, the classes will start tomorrow, and your ma will need to teach."

"Can I go exploring?"

"May I, Harry. And absolutely not."

"Minerva, he's a boy, he needs to explore."

"And I can take care of myself, Ma."

"Now, Harry, I didn't say that," Albus said in an effort to quell Minerva's stern glare directed at him, "Of course you can't go exploring all by yourself."

"Then what do I do?" he asked, his lower lip trembling.

"Would it be acceptable if he spent the day with Hagrid?" the headmaster suggested tentatively.

"Actually, I have a proposition concerning Mr. Potter's schooling," Snape commented from Minerva's other side. Turning to the young man beside her, she raised her eyebrows.

"Oh?" she questioned.

"Seeing as how you intend to teach Mr. Potter the basics on your own, I have discussed an alternative plan with a few select members of the staff and they seem to agree."

He paused, baiting her, and gave a satisfied smirk when she snapped, "Well, what is it?"

"Minerva," Professor Flitwick called from Dumbledore's other side, "some of the other teachers and I would like to help you teach young Harry." Seeing her impassive look, he added, "It was all Severus' idea."

"And what would you teach him?"

Severus shot an annoyed look at Professor Flitwick and the tiny man immediately shut his mouth and turned his attention back to his food. Picking up the explanation, he replied, "I would teach him mathematics, Professor Sprout - science, Professor Flitwick - basic Latin, the headmaster could teach him history, and you English and grammar."

"Why am I, and not our esteemed Professor Binns, teaching him history?" Albus inquired, immediately interested in the idea.

"I had considered allowing the boy to spend an hour everyday with Professor Binns, but his previous students' academic failures led me to believe that those lessons would not be entirely fruitful," he replied sarcastically.

"You really have put a lot of thought into this haven't you?" Minerva questioned, her gratefulness evident in her eyes.

"Yes, well I did not want to boy to start here in five years and not be able to read and write because he received no proper schooling," came the drawling reply.

Minerva bristled at the suggestion that she would allow her son to become illiterate and was about to snap, but Harry chose that moment to pipe up, "I already know how to read and write."

"Oh really?" Snape sneered. "And I suppose you know your numbers and histories as well?"

"The history not so much," he replied brightly, ignoring the man's condescending sneer, "but Perce taught me my numbers."

"Perce?" Snape inquired, looking at Minerva.

"Percy Weasley, Charlie and Bill's younger brother."

"There are more of them?" he asked in disbelief.

Amanda, who had remained surprisingly silent throughout the exchange, chuckled at his tone and said, "Of course there're more! There's Charlie and Bill, whom you've already had the pleasure of teaching, and then there's Percy, Fred, George, Ron, and little Ginny."

"Indeed," he commented evenly.

"I like the idea for Harry's schooling," Minerva cut in, barring Amanda's uncouth retort. Shooting a stern glare at her friend, the deputy headmistress drew Severus' attention away from the impish witch. "When would he be learning all of this?"

"Each of the teachers has a free hour set aside during the day to tutor some students or simply grade papers. The way our teaching schedules have mysteriously worked out this year," here he shot a hostile glace at the twinkling headmaster, "all of our designated hours are staggered. It works out so that the times would come out like this." He reached inside his robes and brought forth a piece of parchment with a tentative schedule scribbled upon it in Severus' miniscule handwriting. Frowning at the chicken scratch, Minerva accepted the piece of parchment and fished around the pocket of her robes for her glasses. Slipping them onto her face, she read as Harry stood on his stool and read over her shoulder, squinting at the words, but not making any sense of them.

"What does it say, Ma?" he asked.

She turned to him, ignoring Snape's muttered, "And he says he can read and write."

He climbed into her lap as she read, "9 o'clock - science with Professor Sprout, 10 o'clock - mathematics with Professor Snape, 11 o'clock - history with Professor Dumbledore, 1 o'clock - Latin with Professor Flitwick, 2 o'clock - English and grammar with Professor McGonagall."

"This is very well planned, Severus," Minerva commented as Harry tugged on her sleeve.

"Ma, Professor McGonagall, that's you, isn't it?" he asked with wide eyes.

Albus chuckled and Minerva replied, "Yes, that's me. And I'd like you to start making a habit of calling me that during your lessons, all right? I can't have you calling me 'Ma' during your first year of transfigurations."

"Yes, Ma," he answered dutifully, smiling his winning smile at her. Grinning, she shook her head at his lovable nature and kissed him lightly on the nose.

Supper had been cleared away and dessert was being finished as the headmaster turned to Minerva and nodded. Giving Harry her spoon, she said, "Tap the glass cup there gently, Harry. No, a little harder. That's it," she praised as a royal ring sounded through the hall. Harry grinned, put the utensil down, and leaned back onto his mother as he listened to the headmaster's beginning-of-the-year speech.

"Before you all trudge off to bed, I have a few more start of term notices to give you. All students please note that the Forbidden Forest is strictly out-of-bounds. I have also been requested to remind you that no magic is permitted in the corridors. Quidditch trials will be held during the second week of term - all interested student please see Madame Hooch for the details," he gestured to Amanda, who waved, and continued, "And finally, I would like to introduce you to a young man that will be staying here at Hogwarts, Mr. Harry Potter." Harry blushed and waved shyly at the students straining to get a good look at him, earning a few "aaaw"s from the majority of the female student population. "That is all. I wish you the very best of luck in the coming school year. Now off to bed with you."

Harry giggled in Minerva's arms as she sighed and leaned back in her chair.

"Uncle Snape?" Harry asked, tugging on the tall man's black robes. Minerva bit back a giggle while Amanda choked into her pumpkin juice.

"Professor Snape, Mr. Potter," he snapped.

"Severus," Minerva said warningly.

"Professor Snape?"

"Yes, Mr. Potter," he sighed, following Minerva's example and leaning back in his chair. He placed an elbow on the arm of his chair and rested his chin on his fist as he regarded Harry with a mixed look of annoyance and amusement.

"When do my classes start?"

"With everyone else's I suppose."

"Will you teach me mutications?" he asked excitedly.

"Multiplications?" Severus repeated faintly, "Shouldn't you learn your numbers first?"

"Harry, why don't you go get some hot chocolate with Uncle Albus while I talk to Unc- Professor Snape, all right?" Minerva interrupted. With an enthusiastic "Ok," he jumped out of his seat and trailed after the headmaster, taking his hand as they exited the Great Hall.

"Severus," she said in a tone that forced him to sit up straight and look at her, just as it had when he was a student, "I do not, under any circumstances, want to hear of you tormenting my boy during his lessons."

"Damn straight," Amanda concurred, putting her uninvited two cents into the conversation. "And if I hear otherwise, I'll - "

"Amanda," Minerva said sharply, "would you mind leaving us alone?"

Muttering "sorry" the gray haired witch collected the hapless Professor Flitwick, who had been listening intently to the conversation, and left the two persons in the cavernous hall.

"It's not just because he's my son, Severus," she continued in a slightly gentler tone, "He's six years old and you'll see he tries so hard. You can still be yourself, just please don't belittle him. Challenge him, yes, but there is a fine line between your interpretation of challenging and terrorizing. Just try to be less harsh, he's just a child. I promise when he begins to have lessons in Potions you can teach him however you deem necessary. Please give him a chance, Severus," she finished, studying the younger man's face for any form of expression.

Finally, he nodded, "I'll try, Professor."

With a grateful smile, Minerva replied quietly, "Thank you."

They rose together and walked out of the Great Hall, their footsteps echoing in the empty space. As they began to part ways, Minerva stopped and called, "Severus?"

Turning, he answered, "Yes?"

"I never got to tell you this before all the. . . Well, what I wanted to say is that. . . I'm very proud of you," she finished in a soft voice. He stared at her and she at him for a long time. Suddenly, he gave a curt nod and briskly walked away, but not before Minerva caught a glimpse of over bright black eyes and a minute upwards twitch of the corner of his mouth. She smiled at his retreating figure with sad eyes.

"I tried to be there for him, for all of them," came a low voice from the shadows.

She nodded silently and turned to the speaker, saying "I know you did, Albus."

The figure came forward and offered the woman his arm with all the gentlemanly gusto of the Victorian era. Chuckling she accepted the arm and they slowly strolled towards the transfigurations wing.

"I can't help but worry though," she continued.

"I know, neither can I, but we must believe in them and their abilities."

"And then what?" she asked quietly.

"Then we hope. We hope that we have taught them enough to live, and to live well. We must remember, Minerva, that we are not always the ones at fault when things do not turn out as planned. Life has a rather aggravating tendency to throw us off course on a number of occasions."

They both knew exactly who the other was referring to and walked on in silence.

"I never, in all my years knowing him would have thought-."

"I know," he responded quietly, "And neither would I. It is decisions like his that make me question my abilities. . ."

"I still can't believe it," she said resolutely, "There has to be another explanation. We just haven't looked hard enough for it."

"Minerva, you have to stop rationalizing his actions," Albus said firmly, coming to a halt in the middle of a deserted hallway, "He did it and there is no other explanation."

"Where did we go wrong?" she whispered.

Grabbing her firmly by her shoulders, the tall man gave her a little shake, "We did nothing to push him to Voldemort. He chose that path on his own."

"But why," she snapped, not at him particularly but to the past, pulling away to stand before the huge window overlooking the lake. "Why did he do it? He had so much in his future, Albus. It just doesn't make any sense!"

He came over to stand beside her, staring out the window at the waning moon. "Why has this come out all of a sudden?"

"You know very well why. I saw Remus, he is coping as well as can be expected. And now every day I see Severus Snape. They both remind me of him."

"Then do what I do," he told her gently, "remember the good times. Remember Sirius the Marauder. Remember Sirius Black, master prankster."

That drew a soft laugh from her. Together, they continued their walk up to her rooms in silence.

"Where's Harry?" she asked suddenly, realizing her charge was last seen with the headmaster.

"I left him in your rooms with Amanda. I believe he wished to write a letter to the Weasleys."

Shaking her head, she replied, "He's been sending them owls nearly every other day and getting one back each and every time."

"He misses them?"

"More than he cares to admit. But he's adjusting here much more easily than I had anticipated."

"He's a strong boy. You've done a good job with him."

"Thank you," she replied blushing slightly, "It means a lot to hear you say that."

"I'm sure," he replied twinkling. "Just as I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that you have now officially made me eat my words."

Laughing, they came to a halt before the painting of Sir Cadogan.

"Good evening, fair lady, noble sir," the short knight greeted as he bowed low in the saddle. "All is well in the castle, sir?"

"Yes, indeed, Sir Knight," the headmaster twinkled and turned back to Minerva, "Good luck with your classes tomorrow, not that you'll need it. Goodnight, Minerva."

Smiling, Minerva replied, "Goodnight, Albus." Then she turned to the knight and muttered "Bringer of Conflict."

Albus, contrary to what many believed, had excellent hearing and guffawed loudly upon hearing Minerva's password. Trying to muster up a stern glare, she failed and joined in the laughter, waving a last goodnight to the headmaster before stepping into her rooms.

"What's so funny?" a voice came from her desk.

"Nothing, nothing," she replied absently, noting the mess that covered her once organized working space. "Amanda, what are you doing?"

"We're writing a letter, Ma," Harry stated from his seat in Amanda's lap. "Aunt Manda's writing it for me and I'm telling it. We've got two pieces of parchment already!"

"I hope it's one-sided," she said wryly.

"Don't worry, we're almost done."

"Good, because it's almost time for bed."

"Aaaw, but Ma," Harry protested weakly, knowing it was useless.

"Harry you've got your first real lessons tomorrow, you want to be wide awake for them don't you?" Minerva reasoned.

"Oh yeah! Just one more thing," he replied, "I'm gonna tell Ron about that."

"All right, all right," she sighed, and went into her own rooms. Twenty minutes later she emerged, clad in a warm cream-colored nightgown, an open green tartan robe and slippers. Her hair was draped down her back, reaching three inches past her shoulders, brushed out and shining in the warm glow of the fire. "Come on, you," she said to a widely yawning Harry, "Off to bed."

Amanda rose from her seat behind the desk and passed the already half- asleep six year old over, kissing him on the forehead and saying, "Goodnight Harry" and received a murmured, "NightanManda."

"'Night, mummy," she teased and side stepped a swing at her arm as she stepped out the door.

Shaking her head, Minerva balanced Harry in one arm and pulled out her wand with the other. With a quick muttered charm, her desk was back in order, the letter and suspicious-looking accompanying package sitting on the bare center.

Walking back down the small hallway, Minerva pushed open the door to Harry's room. Poppy had been right in saying Minerva wouldn't appreciate it. The entire room was a bright, sickeningly vivid orange. Everything from the thick comforter with "CC" embroidered in black letters to the dozens of Quidditch posters on the walls was a shrine to the Chudley Cannons. Charlie and Ronald Weasley would have been proud.

Thankfully, Amanda had thought ahead and Harry was already dressed in his pajamas, so Minerva simply laid him down on the bed and tucked him in. After she kissed his scar as always, she made to leave, but was stopped by a murmured, "Ma?"

"What is it, love?" she whispered, sitting down beside him.

"Will you stay 'till I fall asleep?"

Grinning, Minerva lay down beside him and brushed his hair away from his face. Her son was growing up, but he was still her bebay.

 

Chapter Fourteen: Still Got It

"Transfigurations is one of the most important branches of magic know to man and it is essential for a witch or wizard to gain some semblance of mastery over the subject," Minerva drilled her third year Ravenclaw- Hufflepuff class. They were her fourth class of the day, a double session now, and had learned from the previous classes that the new professor was not one to be tampered with.

Her first class of fifth-year Gryffindors and Slytherins had learned that the hard way. A few students in the class, the trouble makers, strolled in five minutes late and she took fifty points from each of their houses, ten for each minute they were late. Most of the class settled down after that, and even more were silenced after her strict opening speech. Her Gryffindors were proud of her, in their own way, for being an immovable force against adversaries. However, the Slytherins were infuriated with the new teacher who could command a class as easily as their own Head of House.

Erlik Malfoy, self-appointed "king of the house" and nephew of Lucius Malfoy, refused to be mollified by some mudblood Gryffindor witch, and foolishly said as much, but not in those exact words (he wasn't suicidal). Minerva, remembering the sparse times over the years when this had happened, did not snap. Instead, she called him forward to stand with her before the class.

"Mr. Malfoy, I understand that you are under the impression that you are far superior in your abilities in transfigurations. Is that so?" she leveled him with an ominous glare reserved for the occasions when she needed to discipline difficult students.

The blonde boy paled visibly, but refused to back down, and met her gaze, flinching slightly.

She narrowed her eyes and continued, "Perhaps you would like to demonstrate your skills."

She passed him a smooth rock and gestured for him to get on with it. Erlik, who did indeed have admirable transfigurations skills, took the stone and sauntered to the top of the dais. Minerva stood in the aisle of the room, keeping her face completely neutral.

The boy pointed his wand at the stone and furrowed his brow in concentration. After a few minutes, the rock had turned into a menacing dog, a pit bull, snarling and foaming at the mouth. With a satisfied smirk, he turned to Minerva and met her level gaze with a patronizing look.

"Very good, Mr. Malfoy," she said without blinking. With a barely perceptible wave of her wand, the docile quill on one of his fellow Slytherin's desk roared into the head of a huge, ancient reptilian creature that craned its neck and snapped up the dog in a second then transfigured back into the quill. The entire class stared at the quill open-mouthed and Malfoy was visibly shaking - the head had come within inches of his own body. They slowly turned to gape at their transfigurations teacher as she commanded firmly, "Now sit down." He walked back to his seat trembling and nearly fainted into his chair.

By lunchtime, the entire school had heard of the incident, and she was immediately a legend - revered by the Gyrffindors and scorned quietly by the Slytherins. The sixth and seventh years could be heard saying something along the lines of, "See? I told you she was good!" "Good? She's bloody brilliant!"

The result was placated classes after lunch, such as her present third years. It amazed her how a single day of teaching was all that was needed in order to return her to a pristine "teacher mode."

"For homework," she announced as the class drew to a close, "I want a two foot summary of chapters one and two, answer the questions on the board, and read over chapter three for the next class. You are dismissed," she finished at the exact same time as the bell rang.

As the students filed out of her classroom, Minerva sank gratefully into her seat behind the heavy mahogany desk and breathed a soft sigh. She smiled to herself as she heard excited babble near closer and closer to her door. Harry rounded into the classroom, talking animatedly with Professor Flitwick, who was nodding and grinning at the young boy's enthusiasm.

"Ma!" the boy exclaimed running up to her after bidding farewell to the other professor as the man nodded to Minerva, "Guess what I learned today!"

"What did you learn, Harry?" she asked dutifully, lifting the boy up and placing him in her lap.

"Professor Sprout's plants can eat people, but some of them can help you too, and Professor Snape's teaching me adding, and Uncle Albus - er - Professor Dumblebore said that history is the most exciting subject because we can know the future mistakes from it, and Professor Flitwick says I have a very good accent in Latin and that I won't have trouble with the spells I learn when I start with the magic."

The boy said all of this very quickly, without pausing for breath. Now he looked up at Minerva with huge pleading eyes that begged to be taught.

"Can we do English now, ma?" he asked, then quickly corrected himself, "I mean Professor McGonagall."

"Well, Harry, I have to admit I don't have anything planned for today. I didn't find out about any of this until yesterday. So," she told Harry, fighting to keep an amused smile off of her face, "I suppose we will have to improvise."

"What's improvise?"

"Improvise means when you make up a plan as you go."

"Oh! Like wingin' it?"

Minerva cursed Amanda Hooch in every language she knew. She had not counted on having to wipe out the horrible, nearly American, grammar her friend had instilled in her son over the years.

"Harry, when you are in my classroom, I don't ever want to hear any of Aunt Manda's sayings, understood?"

"Yes, Professor McGonagall," he answered solemnly.

"All right, then," she said, placing him on the floor, "take a seat and let's get started."

Harry ran eagerly to the pair of desks in the front row, sliding into the aisle seat and looking up at her expectantly. First, she quizzed him on words that he should know already, like "cat" and "dog." She grinned as he scribbled furiously on the sheet of parchment before him, brow furrowed in concentration as he remembered his letters and sounded the words out. After she dictated five, she paused and summoned the paper up to her desk.

"Very good, Harry," she commented with a smile, "Now for a few harder words."

'Colors,' she thought, Harry was an avid color-er and took much pride in being able to sound out the names of the crayons he used. Ten colors later, she sat beside him and read over his answers. All of them were correct, but the "w" in "yellow" looked a bit off. She had him write the word again, and saw his difficulty with that particular letter. Just to check that none of his other letters were warped, she had him write the entire alphabet, which he had learned by the time he was five. She noted a few letters that had extra loops or neglected lines. Drawing out another sheet of parchment, she wrote the letters 'f', 'j', 'q', and 'w'.

"Do you know which letters these are, Harry?" she asked patiently. He read each one correctly as she pointed to them. Then she questioned, "Do you see what you did wrong here?" pointing to the line of letters he had written. The line was crooked, rising and growing larger by the end, but otherwise neatly written, for a six year old.

"Oh!" he said triumphantly, spotting his mistakes. "The f's got a curly thing on the end, that's not right. And the j's curved the wrong way. And the q looks funny - too many circles. And the w is only supposed to have two loopy things, not three."

"Very good," she said again, nodding. "Now write them again ten times each, and leave space between each letter."

Obediently, he wrote the letters down correctly, pausing now and again to cast over his work. When the task was done, he looked up at Minerva again with those eyes. Resisting the urge to kiss him right on the tip of his adorable button nose, Minerva looked at his letters and nodded approvingly. She then had him write the alphabet once more, and, satisfied that it was near enough to perfect, she summoned a book from the side drawer of her desk.

It was a bright blue book with the picture of a cat wearing a red and white stripped hat. A distant cousin, Rosilande Gretan, now Rosie Cummings, had moved to the United States over a decade ago and lived there with her husband and three children. Once she got wind of Minerva's adoption (via Amanda), she sent a long letter to the witch, recommending books and offering her advice. Minerva had found much of her cousin's advice border- line ridiculous, such as "give him some slack so he doesn't hate you" and "you are his mother, but you're his friend first", but had to admit that her recommended books were excellent. After breezing through a few of Dr. Seuss' books, she was amazed, and was even more impressed when she found that his stories had made it into muggle society. She had kept the books hidden, waiting until Harry could read them on his own before letting him see them.

"We're done writing for today, but now I would like you to read this to me," she told him as he gazed at the book with a keen interest. Picking up the book, he giggled as the cat on the cover tipped its hat to him and winked.

On the first page there was a bright orange house, with a sickly looking tree to the side. In the window, two small children sat looking properly dejected as the rain came pouring down in sheets.

"The sun did not shine," he began slowly, his finger following every word, "It was too wet to play./ So we sat in the house/ All that cold, cold, wet day." He continued on at the same, slow, steady pace giggling slightly as he read when the cat made his entrance and performed his tricks and gasped when he fell and everything he held plummeted straight to the floor. He grinned as the knowing goldfish ordered the troublesome cat away, and read with wide eyes as the cat refused. "'I will not go away./ I do not wish to go!/ And so,' said the Cat in the Hat,/ 'So/ so/ so./ I will show you/ Another good game that I know!'"

He read with such enthusiasm that Minerva chuckled as she tugged the book out of his hands. "Class is over for today," she said firmly when he began to protest. "We'll finish reading this tomorrow."

"But what's the cat gonna do, Ma?" he asked with wide eyes. He spun around when he heard a low chuckle from the back of the classroom.

"Uncle Albus!" he exclaimed, jumping up and running to the headmaster. Belying his elderly appearance, the tall man with a sweeping white beard scooped the child up with as much ease as a man years younger. Without any trace of stiffness, he straightened and chuckled as Harry began talking a mile a minute, telling him about his day and everything he had learned. Minerva, presently rising from her seat in the first row, had received the abridged version at the very beginning of the lesson, but it seemed that Albus was getting the full-length account.

She grinned at the pair thinking, 'Who would have thought? Five years ago he practically despised the boy's very being.' No, despised wasn't the right word, she corrected mentally, but was unable to come up with exactly the right word to describe the man's prior feelings towards Harry. She involuntarily frowned as she continued to wonder about the correct phrase, but realized that her confusion must have been written all over her face when Albus met her eyes with a very puzzled look. She grinned and shook her head, both to answer his silent question as well as to rid the thoughts from her mind.

Picking up the book, she walked up to her desk and put it back in its place. Turning back to Harry and Albus, she caught the headmaster's eye and froze. However, she was not given much time to analyze, for as quickly as the mystery look was there, it vanished, replaced by his usual jovial twinkle. The moment passed quickly and she made her way to them, the look shoved viciously to the back of her mind.

Albus smiled his calming smile at her and she couldn't help but grin back, tuning in to Harry's report, which had been going on none stop for the last few minutes.

"And Professor Flitwick taught me how to count to ten in Latin!"

"Oh did he now?" came the headmaster's amused response.

"Unus, duo, tres," Harry said confidently, continuing all the way up to ten. By the time the students for her next and final last began to arrive, Harry had recounted all of his classes, and was in the process of describing his math lesson with Professor Snape. The two adults listened contentedly to the boy's chatter, interjecting the proper exclamations and encouragement in all the right places.

"Professor Snape is a little grouchy, but he's ok," Harry spoke on, oblivious to the amused grins exchanged over his head. "He says I'm promising with my numbers and he's gonna teach me adding soon. Not just the little numbers like Perce did, but with really big numbers!"

"Harry, I think we need to leave, your ma needs to teach now," Albus told the boy gently.

"Are you gonna be done soon?" Harry asked, his eyes watering slightly.

"I'll be done very soon," she replied, smoothing his ever- unmanageable hair. "What will the two of you do in the meantime?"

"Can we go see Professor Kettleburn?" Harry immediately asked, turning his head to Albus for confirmation.

The headmaster glanced over at his deputy who smiled and nodded, then answered, "I do believe he will be preparing a few Kneazels for his classes tomorrow."

Minerva grinned at Harry's ecstatic expression and said, "You behave yourselves, both of you," she added, giving the headmaster a stern look. He twinkled back at her and she shook her head, turning back to her class.

"Six year Gyffindor-Slytherin," she groaned inwardly, keeping her face neutral, "I don't have the strength for this."

"Good afternoon class," she stated firmly. Even if she was a bit drained, she wasn't about to let it interfere with her teaching. "Please take out your textbooks and turn to page thirteen," she commanded, walking to the front of the class. She heard the rustle of bags and papers behind her as the students pulled out their copies of "Advanced Transfigurations" by Emeric Switch.

The two figures watched her for a moment from the doorway. Then Harry tugged at the headmaster's beard and looked up at him expectantly. Chuckling quietly Albus repositioned the boy in his arms and they left to find Professor Kettleburn.


The sixth years filed out of her classroom an hour later, chatting about their class and homework. Albus waded through the students, Harry again in his arms as to avoid being trampled. Once through the throng, he put the boy down and grinned as he bolted up to the dais and gave the tired- looking witch in the seat behind the desk an affectionate hug. Smiling, Minerva returned the hug and leaned back in her chair, pulling Harry up onto her lap. Albus smiled at the woman and waved good-bye from the doorway, wanting to give mother and son some alone time. Minerva smiled in reply and mouthed, "supper" to which he replied with another smile and nod.

"What're we gonna do now, Ma?" Harry questioned, "Are your classes done?"

"Yes, Harry, all of my classes are over for today," she replied.

"Ma, are you ok?" he asked worriedly, he had never seen his mother so tired at this time of the day.

"I'm fine, love," she answered with a smile, "I just have to get re- used to all of this teaching."

The boy didn't look convinced, but complied as Minerva shooed him off her lap and rose to gather her papers. Harry crossed his arms and looked up at her with an annoyed look as she attempted to pile all of her papers and books into a pie to carry. Frowning, he tugged on her skirts and held a demanding hand up to her expectantly. She looked down at him questioningly and shook her head in resignation when she saw his disapproving glare. Pulling a folder out of a drawer, she placed a few papers in it and handed it to Harry, who looked at the contraption curiously. Gathering the three textbooks her classes worked from along with the rest of the papers balanced precariously on top, she motioned with her head for Harry to lead the way.

"Can we go to the staff room?" he asked eagerly.

"All right," she replied. "Why so excited?"

"Uncle Marcus said he was gonna be in the staff room later - and it's later now."

As they rounded the corner, they nearly collided with Albus. Grinning, the headmaster commented, "It seems we are all headed in the same direction," as he caught Harry before he fell over. Relieving the boy of his burden, he gestured him ahead and fell into step beside Minerva. Reaching over, he snatched the papers off the top of the pile before she could protest.

"How did you find your return to teaching?" he asked cautiously, not wanted to come outright and comment on her tired appearance.

"Albus, I'm fine," she said firmly, knowing exactly what he was getting at.

As they reached their destination, Harry reached up a small hand and leaned against the heavy door, pushing with all his might, while Albus pushed it open above him.

Harry clattered into the room, and greeted the two professors there. Professor Marcus Kettleburn of Care of Magical Creatures sat across from the young, courteous astronomy teacher, Arini Sinastra. The young witch greeted Harry with a warm smile as the gray-haired wizard ruffled his hair affectionately. Albus held the door open for Minerva as she smiled and sidled past him into the room.

"Starting a little early this year, are we?" Marcus commented dryly, eyeing the huge stack of papers in the headmaster's arms, knowing full well who they belonged to.

"I just wanted to see how much they've learned while I was away, it's nothing serious," she said calmly, stepping over to a long desk and arranging the quizzes into piles according to the students' year. Neither teacher in the room had papers to grade, but were going over their course outlines with the texts for their class beside them.

"I'll bet," the wizard snorted.

"Congratulations on your performance this morning, Professor McGonagall," Professor Sinastra said grinning.

Minerva blushed as Marcus gave a hearty guffaw and Albus chuckled - she had always hated to give the other teachers something to tease her about. The last time they had had any ammunition to use was when James Potter and Sirius Black had charmed her entire classroom a brilliant shade of pink for Valentine's Day during their third year. Needless to say, that was the last time they ever attempted to pull a prank on their Head of House, whose explosive temper had quickly become an infamous school legend.

"We were all wondering if you'd gone soft with this little rascal to look after," Marcus said, wrestling Harry with one arm as the boy fought back with all his strength. "But no, you've still got it."

"I still have what?" she inquired, curious to see where this conversation might go.

"You still have 'the way' of the super teacher about you," he said seriously, raising his right hand and pointing his middle and forefinger at his head as he mentioned "the way." Shaking her head amusedly, Minerva sat down at the long table and began to mark her papers. She quickly fell into an almost forgotten rhythm, her quill scratching over the papers in practiced measures, correcting mistakes and making suggestions. Five classes in one day was a tiring ordeal, and that wasn't counting Harry's hour. Three classes in the morning, an hour at eleven for lunch, a double sessions, another hour at two for Harry, and then her final class filled her entire day - from eight o'clock in the morning until four o'clock in the evening.

Albus and Marcus shared a knowing look as they regarded the woman working furiously in the corner. Marcus rose, picking Harry up and turning him upside down as the boy giggled. Marcus Kettleburn was very tall and built on sturdy muscles. His right hand was missing a pinky and ring finger, and his left arm from the elbow down was a flesh and metal substitute for his missing limb. A heart-throb in his younger years with bright blue-green eyes and a classical square jaw, he had retained his charming looks even at eighty. With the six year old boy upside down in his arms, he walked over to Minerva and stood before her.

"Minnie, dear, you can't be working so hard. The school year's only just begun."

He received an icy glare in response, along with, "These quizzes are hardly taxing, Marc. And upright my son this instant."

He hated to have his name shortened as much as she did and contemplated snatching her quill away from her just as he used to do when they were in school together. He thought better of it, knowing she could easily hex him into the middle of next week, and placed Harry feet first on the ground. The boy giggled and ran over to Albus, who had taken Marcus' seat across from Arini. Flopping down into the chair beside Minerva, the man stared at her shrewdly. Knowing that this was one of the easiest ways to annoy the woman, he settled comfortably in his seat and waited for the irritated shout. The reaction he was waiting for never came, however, and Marcus instead found himself under the full body bind facing the opposite direction.

"Don't you dare cast the counter course, Albus," came a somewhat amused voice from behind him. "Not until I'm done anyway."

Albus chuckled from his seat as Harry scrambled back over to Marcus and looked at him with a reprimanding glint in his eye. The boy shook his head knowingly and commented, "You should have known better, Uncle Marcus."

At that moment, Professor Snape and Madame Hooch entered. Amanda took one look at the frozen form of Professor Kettleburn and burst out laughing as Harry jumped out of the man's lap and over to the newly entered pair. Snape regarded the scene with apparent disgust and strode to a seat in the far corner of the room. Harry trailed after him quietly and sat beside him as the man began to work. Seemingly ignoring the boy, Snape began to grade the tests he had given his older classes, from the fifth year up. After the first paper, he fished about in his robes for something. Finding it, he held a small, positively cute garden snake out to Harry, whose eyes lit up and he began to chat animatedly with it. Fighting back a satisfied smile, the potions master focused back on his work, listening to the boy beside him hiss and whisper to the snake slithering about in his hands. All of the teachers there knew about the boy's ability and were not surprised when he sat down on the floor at Snape's feet conversing happily with the small green reptile.

An hour and a half later, Minerva laid down her quill with a triumphant smile. The papers were finally finished. With a wave of her wand, she released Marcus of the full body bind, but left the curse on his lips so she didn't have to listen to his ridiculous remarks. The man stood and stretched, throwing a pebble from his pocket at Amanda and gesturing to his mouth. With a wave of the other witch's wand, his lips were back to normal and he began to rant at the stern transfigurations teacher. She tuned him out easily and gestured to Harry, who sprang up and started towards her. Stopping after a few steps, he turned back to the potions master who was still at his papers. The boy offered the snake back to him, and grinned happily when the man waved him away, practically telling him to keep it. Harry scampered cheerfully out of the room with his mother and his new pet, as Minerva cast a scathing glare at the potions master. She hated snakes.


Long after supper was over, Minerva lounged before the fire in her living room, staring thoughtfully into the flames. Harry was fast asleep curled up beside and on top of her outstretched body, twitching ever so slightly as he lost himself in his dreams. Try as she might, her thoughts kept returning to that afternoon, just after her class with Harry had ended. "That look," she said to herself in a whisper. She couldn't get it out of her head, but as she tried harder and harder to remember that exact moment, another face took the place of Albus Dumbledore's. The face was square-jawed and strong, lit by laughing hazel eyes framed with long dark lashes. Light brown hair flecked with auburn brushed back from his forehead in a widow's peak and flopped into his eyes. Those eyes that so often gazed at her with the same adoring light she thought she had seen earlier that day.

Shaking her head to rid herself of that face, she gently shifted Harry into her arms and rose. Carrying him to his room, she smiled down at him. She placed him in his bed and tucked him in, kissing his forehead and brushing his hair away from his face.

She crossed the hall and climbed into her own bed with a silent prayer that memories leave her alone this night. But the look had reawaken feelings she had long thought buried, locked away in the back of her heart. As she buried her face in a fluffy scarlet pillow, she breathed a name unspoken for years.

"Kael."

 

Chapter Fifteen: Memories of the Heart

~ * December 12, 1939 * ~

"You're not going."

"I AM!" shouted a petite dark-haired witch. "Why is that so hard for you to accept? I am not sitting around at home waiting to hear from others that the people I love are dead and dying in some country hundreds of miles away from me! You know you can't talk me out of this, Kael. I want to do this - I need to do this."

"France is hardly hundreds of miles away, Annie," came the smooth reply. The speaker was a young man in his early twenties. Thick brown- auburn hair fell into his eyes as he glared at the furious witch before him. She was beautiful even when she was mad, he thought, taking in her angrily flushed cheeks and flashing black eyes. Cutting off a biting reply, he added, "And war is not for women - I know. Stay home, stay here."

"War is not for women," she spat, clearly not convinced, "What would you have me do? Knit? Sew? Raise a bloody family? I refuse to-"

"You cannot do this, Minerva!" he yelled. He had a mild temper, but explosive when pushed far enough. "Think of your future! What will be gained if you die on the battlefield?"

"I will not stay idle in safety while there is work to be done. I can help," she shot back, "I'm a trained medi-witch."

"So this is all about your pride is it?"

"That's not true and you know it," she snapped.

The couple stood in a tense silence for moments on end. They currently stood in the small living room of a humble apartment over a bakery in the middle of Bristol. The apartment itself was practically bare, with a few suitcases standing by the door. The woman stood next to a small, round table with a piece of muggle paper and a pen lying forgotten upon it. The man stood before a closed door that had been slammed shut no more than ten minutes before.

They made a handsome couple - everyone said so. The woman's perfect porcelain complexion was enough to make any man fall for her, given that they ignored the completely stubborn set of her chin. Irises the color of the black midnight sky accented a delicate nose and smooth rosy lips. She was not a tall woman, standing just under five feet five inches, but gave the impression of being much bigger than she was. Willowy limbs were covered in a dark green muggle military uniform and a white hat sat on her head, contrasting nicely with the ebony hair pulled back into a bun at the nape of her neck. Her elegant hands were clenched into angry fists as she stared defiantly at the man next to the door to her apartment. The man was tall, very tall, standing at six feet, with a muscular body from training in the military. He leaned on a sturdy wooden cane, favoring his left leg, which had been hit at some point during the beginning of the war. He had a strong face, with a classical square jaw, royal nose, and full lips. He was glaring stubbornly at the witch beside the table. Both were strong willed, and, knowing that a staring contest would get them nowhere, she broke the silence.

"It's my duty, Kael," she said stiffly, but in a much calmer voice than before, "It's my duty and I will not shrink from it."

He narrowed his eyes as he saw the firm resolve settle in hers. "Fine," he said in a deadly whisper, "Go and throw yourself into harm's way. Go give your aid to those who won't even remember you in a few year's time. Go give yourself up to nightmares that will never leave you."

"It's not like that," she replied, her voice only barely managing not to quaver. "I can help and I am going to. Nothing you say is going to hold me back."

"Don't go."

"No."

"Do you even care what other people will think?!" he exploded for a second time. "A woman going off into battle - flying away from her husband and her life to give an unwelcome helping hand."

"I don't recall being married," she snapped.

"Well maybe I was going to ask you!" he yelled "Maybe I wasted my whole life waiting for a woman who can't see the right path when it's lying down at her feet!"

"So that's it then?" she asked quietly, blinking back furious tears. "If I go, you won't wait?"

"Annie," he said, coming forward to hold her. Long ago she had told him that she hated the name "Minnie" and so he adopted her middle name for his own use. Usually the use of his nickname for her would coax a smile out of the stern witch, but not this time. "Annie, I love you. I always will. Be my wife. Give up this hero's quest and raise our family. Leave the war to someone else, you don't know what you were about to get yourself into. This isn't our fight."

She stiffened and drew away from him, meeting his eyes, and felt her anger flare up again when she saw the condescending look on his face.

"It is our war," she replied steadily, stepping away from him. "Grindewald is gaining more and more supporters by the day. He's allied himself with that Adolf Hitler and they are going to rip the world apart."

She pulled her wand out of the sleeve of her overcoat and pointed it at the suitcase beside the door, transforming it into a small bag and summoning it to her. Slinging it over her shoulder, she turned and met his now hard hazel eyes.

"Minerva, I swear if you walk out that door, I will never speak to you again."

Her eyes lost their anger then, and sorrow replaced it. She walked over to him and flung her arms around his neck. He enveloped her in a strong hug and eased his lips over her trembling ones. His strong right arm bound her to him tightly, his left still supporting his weight on the cane. He deepened the kiss, murmuring against her lips sweet nothings that barely registered in her mind. Minerva savored this kiss, believing deep down that it would be their last. Finally, she broke the kiss, breathless as she pulled away from him. Without meeting his eyes, she bolted out the door and left him behind, going to fight for a cause that was so much bigger than their love.

The image wrinkled and flowed away like water.

The next scene showed the same young woman bustling around a hospital tent. Her light, muddy green field uniform was covered in crimson blood. Her apron was covered in red with only small patches of white depicting its original color. She wore soft black boots covered in blood, but no one could tell that as they were so dark to begin with. One of the heaviest beatings the allied forces had taken happened that morning at dawn, and now the hospital tents were filled to the brim with the injured, dead, and dying. A hardened old soldier was striding around the tent, finding the dead and having them removed to make room for more patients. It was an hour after noon, and the attacks weren't getting any lighter. Dozens and dozens of soldiers came screaming through the tent flap in a steady, unyielding torrent of blood and agony.

It was the beginning of her second year in the field, and she had long ago proved that she could handle herself very well in a crisis. Being a woman, the commanding officers refused to allow her to travel with attacking troops, but eventually gave her a station just inside the defenses, near the front, where she tended to the most grievously injured from the battle.

By the end of the day, she was thoroughly exhausted. That day had been one of the worst she had ever seen, and promised not to be the last. As she collapsed onto a vacant cot, she tried to still her spinning mind. She almost didn't register someone calling her name.

"Nurse McGonagall? Nurse McGonagall!"

"What is it?" she answered wearily.

"A letter came for you last night," the very young man said, passing a mud-encrusted envelope to her and added in an undertone, "This one arrived this morning by owl," and passed a second mud-covered letter to her. Nodding her thanks as he turned and left, Minerva opened the first letter that had presumably arrived via muggle means. She recognized the handwriting immediately.

[Minerva,

I don't know how to tell you this, but Kael is very, very sick. The muggle doctors have no idea what it is, but your friend, Poppy, thinks it's some type of magical disease. She's been trying to find out what it is, but hasn't come up with anything so far. He's getting worse everyday. Even though I know you're not together anymore, you still mean great deal to him. Do what you will, and know that everyone over here is praying for your eventual safe return.

Love,

Adele]

Adele Reigns, Kael's mother, had always been close to Minerva, even though she was a muggle and did not understand the magical world, hence, her distrust in the owl post. Shaking, Minerva folded the letter back up and reached for the most recent, dreading what it might say. Inside the envelope were two letters. One was sealed and appeared to have something enclosed inside it. The other was folded once in half, clearly meant to be read first.

[Minerva,

He's gone. He wanted you to have this. Read the letter.

Adele]

Unable, or perhaps refusing, to accept or believe the contents of the letter, she viciously thrust them into her pocket and got up. She still had work to do, and no time to dwell on something that could not be helped or fixed.

Again, the scene shimmered.

It was dusk, the sun setting behind the huge manor at the base of a small hill. A lone weeping willow stood at the peak of the hill, overshadowing a dark granite gravestone. A weary witch trudged up the slope and sank to her knees before the headstone. Trembling, she traced the simple words carved into the granite.

Lt. Kael Aiden Reigns

No. 9 Squadron, British RAF

March 4, 1915 - April 14, 1941

Loving Son, Brother, and Friend

Minerva had put this moment off for four long years. She would have put it off longer and stayed with the army, drowning out her own sorrows with her call to duty. She held a slightly crumpled letter in her clenched right hand. Four years after being delivered, the seal remained unbroken. Steeling herself, she opened the letter and almost fainted as a small round object fell out. With a violently shaking hand, she picked the ring up and examined it. It was a beautiful, dainty, white gold band, crowned with two small opals flanking an elegant diamond. Holding the ring and the letter in one hand as she clapped the other over her trembling mouth, she began to read.

[Dearest Annie,

When I returned we rejoiced, and when you left I cried. You were, are, and always will be everything in my life to the day I die. I didn't mean the things I said to you that day. I thought I would have time after you came back to tell you the truth, but as it's turned out, I will not be able to do so. I love you so much, bebay. This ring is for you. I was going to ask you to marry me when you came back, and after I finished groveling.

I know why you went, and I understand, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. However, I am very proud of you - for doing everything right, even when I pressured you to do otherwise. There is no one I would rather have spent my life loving than you. You are the personification of perfection, at least you are in my eyes and should be in everyone else's. My heart will be yours forever.

Even so, I do not want you to dwell on our past and what could have been. Move on, Annie, my love. Tuck me away in the farthest corner of your heart and move on. There will be other men who love you as much as I have. Give them a chance, bebay. You have a long, wonderful life before you, and, as you always used to say, it does no good to dwell on the past. Keep this ring and remember me. Move on, live well. I love you.

With all of my heart,

Kael]

'Gone,' she thought numbly, 'He's dead.' With the last admittance, she dissolved into great heaving sobs that had been repressed for the last four years of her life. Incomprehensible cries of sorrow echoed over the landscape as the witch crumpled against the stone. Only one word made sense.

"Kael."


Minerva woke at two thirty to her own sobs, tears streaming down her cheeks. Burying her face in her pillow, she cried herself back to a dreamless sleep. Just before she lost herself to the bliss of sleep, she felt a small figure climb into bed to curl up beside her. Opening one puffy eye, she saw a pair of worried green eyes gazing up at her. Sniffing, she pulled him closer and whispered, "It was just a nightmare, dearest. Come under the covers and go back to sleep."

Four unbroken hours of sleep later, Minerva pried one eye open. Despite her fitful memories keeping her up for half the night, she was surprisingly well-rested. She shook the peacefully sleeping form beside her and grinned as he mumbled, "What time s'it?"

"It's time to wake up, Harry," she answered. When he refused to move, she reverted back to an old way of waking him.

"MA!" he yelled between bouts of uncontrollable laughter, "STOP!" she tickled him mercilessly until she was sure he wouldn't go back to sleep.

"Come on then, you," she said, dragging him out of bed and leading him across the hall to the bathroom. This bathroom was more ordinary than the luxurious one off the master bedroom, with plain tiled walls and a smooth limestone floor. She left Harry alone to begin preparing for the day as she trudged back to her own bathroom. Its majesty was lost on Minerva today, as she glared at her puffy face in the mirror.

"You look a wreck, dear," the mirror commented cynically.

Shaking her head, she was reminded again of another reason to kill Amanda - she _hated_ magical mirrors. They served absolutely no purpose other than to bring down one's self esteem. Grabbing a soft gold washcloth hanging beside the sink, she promptly washed her face with hot, then cold water. The swelling around her eyes began to go down immediately and she nodded in approval.

Fifteen minutes later (she was a very fast mover in the morning), she was helping Harry dress, slipping a forest green sweater over his head to go with his khaki pants and dark brown shoes. Stepping back, she admired her work. He looked adorable in those cloths, even as he scratched an itch on the back of his neck.

"Ma, look, we match today!" he exclaimed, noting her tartan green robes and his own green shirt.

"I suppose we do!" she replied. Taking his hand, they walked out of the room and to the Great Hall for breakfast. She was silent for most of breakfast, speaking only when spoken to and eating very little. After that, Minerva left for her classes and Harry remained with Albus.

The boy had not been able to get over the sight of his mother in tears. He could barely remember the last time he had seen her cry like that. He frowned, now that he thought about it, he'd never seen her cry like that, ever. There were a few occasions - he could count on one hand - when silent tears had fallen down her face, but he had never ever seen her reduced to heart-wrenching sobs.

The wise old headmaster noticed his pensive expression and asked, "What's wrong, Harry?"

He turned to the headmaster cautiously, not knowing whether to tell him or not. "Uncle Albus, can you keep a secret?" he asked very seriously.

"I won't breath a word to anyone," the headmaster replied twinkling. He didn't know what top secret information the boy was about to tell him, and, thinking it was probably something that any little boy would deem a secret - a prank, an accident, etc. Leaning down as Harry leaned over, he almost gasped when the boy told him.

"Ma cried last night."

Albus sat stunned for a while, staring at Harry in disbelief before asking, "What do you mean?"

"She had a nightmare and she woke up crying - I heard her all the way from my room," he explained in a hushed voice.

Albus was not so surprised about the boy hearing something from Minerva's room, she insisted on leaving all of the doors open, but was shocked at the fact that she had cried, over a nightmare.

"Was she alright this morning?" he wanted to know.

"I think so," the boy answered, unsure, "She didn't say anything about it, though." After a short pause, Harry added, "I think it had something to do with somebody named Kael."

The headmaster's head snapped up to look the boy in the eye and saw nothing but innocent truth. Sighing, he sat back and rubbed his eyes wearily. "Kael," he thought, "Kael Reigns."

After assuring Harry that his mother would be all right, and that it was nothing to worry about, the headmaster walked him to his science class with Professor Sprout, promising to pick him up from Professor Snape's dungeons in two hours. That done, the man walked out to the school grounds, rather than going up to his office to reminisce about the boy that had stolen his deputy's heart all those long years ago.

Kael Reigns was a third year Gryffindor when Minerva began her first year at Hogwarts. They met properly during her second year, when she became a chaser for the Gyrffindor Quidditch team. He was the keeper - strong, muscular, handsome and perfect in the eyes of the majority of the female population. He'd had an ill-concealed crush on Minerva since she was in fourth year, as Albus remembered, but didn't muster up the courage to tell her so until nearly two years later, a month before he graduated. Their relationship had started out light and fluffy as all teenage relationships do, and it only grew stronger as the years passed. They'd had their shared of fights, a particularly nasty one when their relationship was still young, in the summer after Minerva's sixth year that caused them to split up for a while, but it was resolved eventually, and he was there to cheer for her during her graduation.

Albus shook his head, amazed that he remembered all of this in such detail. Kael had gone off the join the military directly after his graduation. He returned to England shortly after the war began, being one of the first sent home injured, but alive. A few months later, Minerva left for the war. Two years after that, he died.

Minerva lived in a state of denial for four years following the event, never truly coming to terms with his death until she herself returned after the war. She would have stayed with the army and trained for the next war, if not for her brothers' deaths. Her parents had commanded her to come home, and she was honorably discharged from service with the army. She returned a sergeant, with high honors for her medical work in the field.

Albus did not know the intricacies of their relationship, nor did he venture a guess as to what the war did to them. He was curious to find out what could have prompted the sudden remembrance of the man. 'It could have been any number of things,' he reasoned, 'They both went to school here, came back to visit during Quidditch season, they planned to send their children here,' the list went on and on. He froze suddenly, thinking, 'What if it's stress? What if teaching is too much for her?' Abruptly, he stood, having taken a seat at the edge of the lake, and resolved to check up on Minerva later on in the day.

 

Chapter Sixteen: On the Rocks

"Minerva?"

The transfigurations teacher looked up from her nearly completed stack of summaries and met the headmaster's eyes questioningly. His voice did not have the usual amount of benign amusement, his tone matching the concerned state of his blue eyes.

"Yes?" she answered warily, unsure of what he was so concerned about.

He approached her office desk quietly, not knowing how to phrase his question. However, he stopped abruptly when he saw realization dawn and her eyes hardened immediately.

"Harry told you," she said. It was a statement, not a question. When he nodded in reply, she shook her head and told him, "Albus, I'm fine, it was just. . . I just remembered everything in one go, that's all."

He sank into a chair before her desk and looked her over. She seemed fine physically, but then again, it happened just last night. He was Albus Dumbledore, though, and saw the sorrowful shadows behind her eyes when no one else could.

"Minerva, talk to me," he said, taking her hand in both of his, "tell me what's wrong."

She stood and ripped her hand out of his grasp, desperately trying to ignore the sudden shooting tingles up and down her arm his touch brought. Placing her hands on the surface of the desk, she leaned forward. "I'm fine, headmaster," she said stonily, meeting his concerned gaze defiantly. "And I would appreciate if you didn't nose into my affairs."

"I was hardly nosing about," he shot back, annoyed at her denial. "Harry was worried, so he told me. You can't blame him for being concerned about your welfare."

"It's none of your concern," she snapped.

"But it is, Minerva, it is," he replied calmly, rising and mimicking her position on the other side of the desk. Leaning forward, he said quietly, "I worry when I see you so upset."

There it was again, Minerva was sure of it this time. The look - filled with such concern and tenderness that she had to look away. Albus had no idea what he'd done to make her eyes water as she turned her head away.

"Why are you doing this to me, Albus?" she asked in a halting whisper.

Fear coupled with the concern in his eyes, and he shot around the desk to stand beside her. "Minerva, what are you talking about?" He gently reached a hand out and made her look at him.

The look was gone, replaced with the old, concerned look of a dear friend. She was confused, not knowing if the look had truly ever been there or if it was her imagination running wild on her again, bringing _his_ face up wherever she turned.

He saw the raw pain in her eyes and his own widened in surprise. "Minerva? Minerva, please," he pleaded softly.

"Oh, Albus," she whispered, and turned away again to weakly sit in her chair. "I don't know why all of a sudden. I - I keep seeing him," she said quietly, her breath hitching in her throat.

An icy grip squeezed his heart mercilessly. "So it wasn't the stress," he concluded silently, "It really was him." Even in his mind he spat it out as if it were poison. He had no idea what prompted the heightened resentment he felt towards the other man, and shook his head to clear his thoughts. He knelt before his distraught friend and took her hands in his, resting both pairs on her lap.

"Minerva, it's over, it is in the past, it's all right," he soothed, gazing up into her tormented face.

"It's not," she whispered sadly, "He died before we could resolve. . . anything."

He didn't want to press her, but ventured a soft inquiry, "What do you mean?"

Albus didn't think anyone had heard the entire story of their final split. He himself thought that Kael had completely broken it off at some point before he died.

She refused to meet his eyes as she began. "When he first went off to join the army, right before my sixth year, we had a huge row. We refused to talk to each other until the following Christmas. Then he came home, we settled it, and he went back to training with my love." Albus' eyes darkened at this, but almost immediately returned to their prior expression. She was still speaking to their hands and didn't notice, "We wrote to each other constantly, but I never told him that I was training to go over myself. He found out once they sent him back, after he was shot. Right before I left, he came storming into my apartment and ordered me to stay. I couldn't. He said he wouldn't wait for me if I went, but I did." She took a deep breath at this point in an effort to still the raging memories in her mind. "I went, he died, and then I came back. He wrote me a letter before he died," she continued haltingly, "He said he still loved me, he proposed."

Drawing her hands out of Albus', she reached for the dainty chain around her neck. She pulled it out from beneath the collar of her dress and showed the beautiful engagement ring to the man before her, oblivious to the torrent of emotions sweeping over him as he regarded it.

'He proposed to her,' he said to himself numbly. Shock, jealousy, anger, pain, resentment, guilt, and hurt clouded his mind in a thick, confusing cloud of rivaling sensations.

"Albus?" Minerva called softly, seeing the glazed look in his eye. She dropped the ring and it swung softly back to her chest. Taking up Albus' hands once more, she squeezed them gently, looking for a conscious reaction. "Albus?"

His eyes refocused and locked on to hers. He heard the worried question coupled with sadness in her voice, a small quaver that betrayed her emotions. He favored her with a small, half-hearted smile and spoke, "It's good to talk about this, get it off your chest. I'm glad you told me, Minerva." A part of his mind screamed 'LIAR!' but he hushed it and asked her, "Are you feeling better now?"

"I don't know," she replied quietly, the memories still threatening to overwhelm her, "I suppose I'm just being hit with nostalgia again. Strange how it's never really affected me before."

"It's completely normal, Minerva," he said honestly, and then added, "I know he would be proud of the way you've handled all of this."

"All of what?" she asked on the verge of tears, "Living? Breathing? Refraining from breaking down every time I think of him?" She looked at him critically, even through unshed tears, waiting for him to explain.

"And Harry," he added calmly.

"I didn't do it!" came a voice from the doorway. Minerva's head snapped up and Albus spun around, abruptly breaking contact with Minerva's hands as he rose.

"Ma?" Harry questioned, distinguishing a strange look of sadness in her eyes. Seeing the headmaster standing nearby with a somewhat awkward look on his face, Harry narrowed his eyes. "What happened?" he asked, eyeing both inhabitants of the room.

"Nothing," the two adults chorused, a little too quickly to be believable. Harry knew a fib when he heard one - he'd practically been trained by the Weasley twins in spotting (and manufacturing) such things.

"What were you talking about?" he drilled.

"Harry," Minerva sighed, "Go get ready for supper, I'll met you back in our rooms in a moment. Go on," she rose and shooed him out of the room before he could protest. As he left, she closed the door and turned to Albus. "I think you'd better go now," she said quietly.

"Minerva," he began.

"Albus don't," she said, closing her eyes and raising a trembling hand before her as if shielding herself from his words. "Just don't. I'll deal with this myself. It's easier that way."

Not daring to press her further and thus push her away completely, Albus nodded and strode out the door. Minerva closed it behind him and pressed her forehead against the cool wood, trying to think of nothing at all. Down the hall, Albus turned a corner and nearly tripped over a small roadblock standing stubbornly in his path.

"What did you do?" demanded a stern voice, so reminiscent of his deputy that it could only belong to one child.

"Harry," Albus greeted. He stopped short - meeting the infuriated eyes of the small black-haired child.

"Were you picking on her?" he demanded again, more sharply this time, seeing as how he received no response to his first question. "Cuz Aunt Molly said not to let you pick on her and I'm not gonna let-."

The rest of the boy's tirade was cut short as Albus scooped him up and placed a hand over his mouth with a sigh. He walked down the hallway with Harry's mouth firmly corked as muffled sounds of indignation and reproach echoed behind them. Reaching the portrait of Sir Cadogan, Albus said the password and ducked inside. Setting Harry down after the portrait closed behind him, he crouched down to the boy's level looked at him seriously.

Harry, still raving about the obvious distress his mother was in, failed to immediately notice the pained expression that flitted over the headmaster's face at the mention of his mother. He looked up just in time to see it before it vanished and stopped, his mouth silent as he gazed questioningly into the older man's face. Sighing, Albus leaned against the doorframe, trying to put what he wanted to say to the boy into words.

"Uncle Albus, did you make Ma cry?" Harry asked seriously.

"No, Harry, I did not."

"Did you make her sad?"

"I was trying to make her happy again, Harry."

"Did it work?" Harry asked, believing the headmaster's claims, but skeptical about the success of the headmaster's endeavor.

"Not exactly," the headmaster replied heavily.


Amanda yanked the door to Minerva's office open in a thoroughly aggravated gesture. She had just been to see Poppy and had a hurried, agitated conversation with her about Minerva's strange behavior that day. Minerva hadn't spoken to either of them about what was bothering her. She hadn't been in the staff room, which only served to prove to Amanda that the other woman was avoiding everyone else. Seeing no one at the desk, she turned to go, but stopped short as she noticed the figure slumped on the ground next to the door.

"Why didn't you knock?" Minerva said crossly, but the demand lacked its usual spark.

Amanda's annoyance quickly turned to worry as she pulled the door closed behind her and sank to her knees beside the other witch. Minerva rose, though, and extended a hand to the flying instructor in a clear motion for her to get up. Amanda scrambled up, her movements made jerky in comparison to Minerva's grace.

"I was just looking for something, but I found it, and now I am going to get Harry for supper," Minerva said, reaching for the door handle.

Swooping in front of her to block the door, Amanda planted herself firmly and glared at her friend. "You're not going anywhere, missy," she said firmly, and steered Minerva to a chair.

"Sit," she commanded. Minerva sat.

"Explain," came the next command as she settled herself in a chair next to the cornered transfigurations teacher.

"Explain what?" Minerva asked innocently.

"Don't tempt me to ask Snape for Veritaserum. Tell me what's bothering you."

Minerva knew she wouldn't be able to get out of this one, although she knew it would be somewhat easier now that she wasn't under the all- knowing scrutiny of Albus Dumbledore.

"Just memories," she said in a quiet half truth. Amanda's eyebrow raised in a silent snort of disbelief. What memories could have possibly had this effect on the woman? Then realization dawned on her. She opened her mouth to verify the name, but Minerva nodded and spoke before she could get it out.

"Yes him."

Amanda nodded. She hadn't known Kael Reigns - she hadn't known Minerva then, but Poppy (as well as a drunk Minerva on one crazy New Years many years ago) had told her about him. She still couldn't understand - and neither could Poppy - how one man, who had burned her no less, could still bring her so much pain as a memory.

"Come to Hogsmeade?" Amanda suggested.

"I don't drink anymore."

"Ah, but you don't drink any less either."

"I am not getting drunk, Amanda."

"But you need it," she pointed out.

"I'm fine."

"No you're not."

"Yes I am."

"You're not."

"I am"

"You're not."

"I am"

"You're not."

"Amanda!"

"Sorry, but that was fun, can we keep going? I didn't get a chance to mess you up yet."

Minerva couldn't help but grin at her quirky friend. Amanda congratulated herself on a job well done - for it was obvious that Minerva was not going to elaborate on her own feelings, so making her laugh again would have to suffice.

"Come, oh ye refusing drinks, it's time for supper! And I won that round fair and square," Amanda added with a grin. Her smile only broadened when Minerva rose with her, shaking her head and laughing softly.

Minerva followed after dutifully, taking the chance to leave her heartache behind for the moment. It was difficult to stay depressed around Amanda.


Supper was a tense affair at the staff table. Minerva flat out refused to look at the headmaster, who cast worried subtle glances her way throughout the entire meal. Harry sat between Minerva and Severus, rather than on his mother's other side, as he was still suspicious of the headmaster's role in his mother's sadness. The boy knew there was definitely something wrong when his mother didn't even blink when his snake (whom he'd snuck to supper) slithered onto the table. On his other side, Severus noted the lack of action taken by Hogwart's deputy raised his eyebrow at the usually uproarious flying instructor on his other side. Amanda shrugged innocently at the unasked question, feigning complete ignorance. He saw right through it, of course, but decided not to pursue the matter. If the Gryffindor head was having problems, she could deal with them herself.

As soon as she finished her food, Minerva left, rather than staying to sit and chat with the other teachers. Harry immediately followed her, grabbing her hand and trotting to keep up with her strides.

The headmaster watched them go quietly, regretting his decision to refrain from pushing the matter further. He wanted to help, to do something to take the pain away, but he, the great Albus Dumbledore was completely out of ideas.

Minerva's steps slowed as soon as she was out of ear shot of the Great Hall. A tight grip on her hand led her eyes downward to meet a pair of vivid green ones. He looked up at her questioningly. "Ma, are you gonna tell me what's wrong?" he asked.

"I can't, Harry," she said quietly as she picked him up and settled him on her hip, "Don't worry about me, I'll be fine."

"When?" he demanded.

Minerva cursed her use of the future verb tense and tried to cover it up, "I'm fine now."

"Liar."

She rolled her eyes and planted a swift kiss on his cheek, "I am not lying."

"You're doing it again."

"Harry!" she said in exasperation.

"Ma!" he echoed in the same tone of voice. She glared at him sternly, but he knew that her heart wasn't in it and dared to continue, "You told me not to tell lies and now you are."

Sighing, she shook her head at his determined glare. "Fine, Harry I'll tell you." His eyes widened in anticipation as they reached their rooms and entered. When she failed to actually elaborate, he tugged on her skirts once she put him down.

"And?" he pressed.

She sat down on the couch before the roaring fire of their living room and he climbed up beside her.

"My heart hurts, bebay," she told him softly.

"Do you need to see Aunt Poppy?" he questioned, wrinkling his brow in confusion.

"No, Harry, my heart hurts because of something that happened a long time ago."

His mouth rounded as he voiced a soft "oh" and climbed into her lap. He wrapped his arms around her neck and held on tight, placing a kiss on her cheek and he did so. Aunt Poppy had once told him that sometimes when people are sad, all they really need is a hug. He grinned happily as Minerva wound her own arms around him and held his slight form to her.

"Was it Uncle Albus' fault?" he asked after a while. He felt her heart rate speed up a bit, but it slowed down again as she answered.

"No, it wasn't his fault. It wasn't anyone's fault. It just. . . happened."

Partially satisfied with her answer, he snuggled back into her protective embrace and remained there until he fell asleep an hour later. Minerva carried him to his bed and laid him down gently. He stirred as she slid his glasses off of his face and pulled off his shoes. She changed him into his pajamas, tucked him under the vivid orange blankets, and sat down beside him. Smoothing his hair down once again, she watched him sleep.

A terrible, unbidden thought came to her mind at that moment: What if she had been forced to choose between Kael and Harry? She froze then, witless with fear for a second and her mind and heart screamed 'Harry!' until she realized that that question was completely hypothetical. Taking a deep, shuddering breath to calm her pounding heart, she considered her decision. One thing she had learned, both from experience and from Molly Weasley, was that a mother's love is the most powerful love in the universe. 'Lily' a part of her mind whispered and she agreed. Lily Potter had made the ultimate sacrifice, not for her husband, but for her baby. With her decision, hypothetical though it was, Minerva did the same, sacrificing one love for the other.

Placing a kiss on her son's head, she left for her own room and crawled into bed with that happy word on her mind, "Sacrifice."


"This can't be healthy," Amanda told Poppy over a cup of tea after supper. They were seated in the medi-witch's airy office overlooking the lake and the infamous Whomping Willow. "Pining after a man who burned her and who won't be coming back."

"I don't know," Poppy replied, remember days long past, "She loved him with her whole heart - it's not easy to just 'get over' something like that."

"But fifty years-."

"Do you really think love has a time limit?" Poppy asked shrewdly. Seeing her friend's cowed look, she continued, "And he truly did love her, I know he did."

"If he loved her, why did he tell her he wouldn't wait?"

"He was just as hard-headed as she is."

They sat in silence for a few minutes, sipping their tea on the temperate balcony garden outside her office. As it was only a day into the term, Poppy didn't have any overnight patients to tend to and was enjoying a relaxing night.

"What I don't understand is why this came up all of a sudden," Poppy fumed quietly.

"Well, let's see, they went to school here, they wanted to-."

"That's not it. She's been dealing with that ever since she started teaching," Poppy thought aloud. "No, it's something else. . . something. . . more."

"More what?"

"Just more. Something emotional. . ." the medi-witch stared into space, contemplating possibilities. Suddenly she gasped, "You don't think it's Harry do you?"

Amanda stared at her expectantly as Poppy stared back, waiting for an answer.

"Well?" the two witches demanded of each other at the exact same time.

"Well what?"

"How," Amanda demanded, not following the other witch's train of thought, "does Harry's presence have anything to do with it?"

"They wanted children, or course!"

"But she's had Harry for ages, why didn't it come up before?"

Silence again.

"I just don't understand."

 

Chapter Seventeen: Winter Antipathy

The first snow fell on the first day of the last month of the year, beginning in the morning in a slow, calm flurry of pin prick sized confetti that soon turned into fat flakes floating down in thicker and thicker clouds. Minerva tried to hold back a smile as she released her last class of the day and they thundered out of the classroom, anxious to christen the newly fallen snow with a snowball fight. She followed them out, locking the classroom behind her and readjusted the books and papers in her arms. She wore a long, warm dress of the richest midnight blue with a thick over robe in the same color lined with delicate gold lace at the cuffs and hems.

"Ma! Ma!" came an excited shout from behind her. Minerva turned around and grinned at her son as he raced towards her, Albus striding along behind him. "Come outside and play, Ma! Me and Uncle Albus are gonna make snow angels and then we're gonna go see Hagrid and then we're gonna go down by the lake and see if the giant squid is still ok, you know, because all the water's frozened."

She looked the boy over, making sure he was wearing enough layers. Satisfied with the two thick layers underneath a heavy green coat and cloak, lined brown boots, and a pair of lined gloves, she nodded her approval.

"I'll meet you out there all right?" she said and Albus lifted Harry up to receive a kiss from Minerva. She laughed, shook her head and obliged, placing a kiss on her son's head before he wriggled out of Albus' grasp and fled down the hall.

"Harry, don't make Uncle Albus run too much," she called to his retreating back. He skidded to a stop to turn around and infectiously grin back at her.

"Now I'm not that old, Minerva," Albus joked twinkling at the witch. Returning the smile, she turned and made her way back to her rooms. Their relationship was purely platonic as far as either of them was concerned, with a past love pushed to the back of her mind and locked away securely.

Dropping her stack of work on her desk for later, she grabbed a heavy cream colored cloak from the back of her chair and hurried out to enjoy what was left of the day. Ten minutes later found her sitting beside the headmaster by the lake on a large flat stone between the main entrance to the castle and the front gate. Harry was skipping stones across the not- quite-frozen lake with a few first years including Alex Wood, an avid Quidditch fan, although he and Harry had yet to agree about Puddlemere United. The first year had taken an instant liking to the little boy with big green eyes, and often sat with him to watch the Gryffindor team practices. Harry adored Alex, who treated him like a younger brother and took delight in teaching him the intricacies of Quidditch. Fellow first years Shea Branson, Reginald Sommers, and Patrick O'Reilly played with the two peacefully, although Pat had a mischievous grin on his face as he made eye contact with Reggie. Minerva smiled happily as she watched the boys skip, or in Harry's case fling, rocks into the lake.

Albus watched her from the corner of his eye, relieved and content to see her happy again. She felt his gaze on her and turned her head to look at him questioningly. As he opened his mouth to give some sort of explanation, she paled, eyes focused on a point beyond his shoulder. Albus whirled around and scanned the landscape for whatever it was that made his friend blanch. She swept past him before he picked up any abnormalities, yelling over her shoulder in a panicky voice, "Get Poppy down here now!"

Not questioning her request, he turned to the puzzled boys behind him, "Boys, please find Madame Pomfrey immediately. Mr. Wood, look for her in the infirmary. Mr. O'Reilly - the Great Hall. Mr. Branson and Mr. Sommers check the teachers' rooms - both of them."

The young boys sprinted up the steps of the castle, intent on finding the medi-witch. Albus turned around again as Harry came to stand beside him, and began his way down the drive.

"Albus, what is it?" Poppy called from the top of the stairs. As she hurried down the steps, she explained, "Mr. O'Reilly told me something was up, what happened? Is that Minerva?" she asked sharply as the pair hurried towards the witch. Poppy gasped in shock when she caught sight of the brown hair and raced down the drive.

Hiking up her skirts slightly, Minerva ran as fast as she could towards the figure lurching through the front gates of the school. She knew that hair, and recognized him immediately, her cat sight aiding her in determining his identity long before Albus even distinguished him. She saw him fall after three halting steps up the drive, hitting the ground with a thud that froze her heart. Putting on another burst of speed, she practically flew down the drive, skidding to a halt on her knees in the soft snow beside the fallen man.

Turning him over gently, she eyed him for the worst injuries. Blood matted his usually light brown hair and dripped down his face. He moaned in pain as she tried to settle his head. Waving her wand over his body, she couldn't find anything else seriously wrong with him, except for a long, shallow gash on the underside of his jawbone that was bleeding profusely. She frowned as she came across an abnormality on his neck. Carefully peeling the blood soaked muffler away, she swore. A chain of silver, like a dog's collar, was twightly wound twice around his neck. Quickly working her fingers across the deadly metal, she struggled to find the clasp. Finally, she found it and flicked it open, gently but rapidly unwinding it from his neck and flinging it to the ground a few feet away.

"Remus," she called softly to the werewolf threatening to slip into unconsciousness, "Remus, stay with me," she pleaded. She cast every healing charm she knew to slow the poison the silver left, but it had already spread throughout his body and was pushing in on his internal organs. "Remus, you must stay awake," she whispered, trying to keep the panic out of her voice.

Rapid footfalls announced the Poppy's arrival. Kneeling down, the medi-witch analyzed the situation quickly and magicked him onto a stretcher, telling Minerva, "He needs to go to the infirmary now."

"Ma, what's going on?" Harry asked tentatively as he and Albus arrived. He had never seen his mother look so distraught.

"Harry, stay with Uncle Albus," she said quickly, following Poppy's hurried strides to the infirmary.

"But, Ma," Harry began, looking fearfully at the figure lying prone on the stretcher speeding up to the castle. Albus clapped one hand gently over his mouth and one around his waist to keep him from bolting after the witches.

"Harry, come on," the headmaster said firmly, pocketing the silver chain he had picked up from the ground and lifting the child up. As he carried him towards the castle, he said quietly, "We need to find Professor Snape."

Minerva's heart was racing at a pace she knew couldn't be healthy as she helped Poppy undress the man. Scratches and shallow bite marks littered his lean body, a deep bite mark on his back stretched from his right shoulder to his lower back. Poppy darted into her office to gather healing medicines to stop the infections and others to heal the wide open wounds. Minerva's hands trembled as she removed his undershirt and trousers, unable to process the fact that this was her Remus, not someone else's.

The two witches applied the salves and potions quickly, Poppy taking care of the head wound and the burns left by the chain, and Minerva working on the lacerations on his body. They worked tirelessly for the better part of an hour before every wound was healed and bandaged. Minerva was leaning over the bed examining the wire-like cuts on his right wrist again when the doors to the infirmary burst open and the potions master swooped in with Albus and Harry in tow. Poppy went over to Severus and they conversed in hushed tones as Albus made his way over to Minerva. Setting Harry down, he pulled up a chair from next to another bed and held it out for Minerva to sit in. She responded with a shaky smile and accepted, perching herself on the very edge of the seat, never letting go of the man's hand. Harry looked up at Albus with huge pleading eyes that wanted to know what was going on. He twinkled back at the boy sadly and picked him up again, settling him on his hip as he placed a comforting hand on Minerva's trembling shoulder. Harry locked his arms around the headmaster's neck and leaned his head down onto the man's shoulder, all the while looking fearfully and curiously at the man on the hospital bed.

"Minerva," Poppy began quietly as she came forward, her discussion with Severus over.

"What needs to be done?" the witch replied stonily.

Poppy cast a helpless glance at Severus, who took over the conversation. "Headmaster Dumbledore showed me the chain that was found around the patient's neck and yes, it is pure, unaltered silver." Minerva closed her eyes in pain. "As you know, when a werewolf is exposed to silver, the results can be lethal." She drew in a sharp breath here and Poppy smacked the potions master across the back of the head, glaring at him for his blunt observation. He glared back as he continued, "However, I have been working on a potion that may reduce the side effects of such a poison. It is untested and untried, and has so far only worked in theory, and if anything goes wrong, it may only speed the poison. The headmaster wishes for me to brew the potion for the werewolf."

"What are the other alternatives?" she asked in a bare whisper, not trusting her voice to be any louder.

"There aren't any," Severus said with an air of indifference, earning him another cuff from the matron of the wing.

Minerva tensed and Albus could feel the fear radiating off of her as he gave her shoulder a compassionate squeeze. She placed her free hand over his, drawing strength from his presence as she nodded her assent. "When will it be ready?"

"A matter of days."

"Poppy, does he have days?" she asked, her voice cracking a bit with the effort of getting the words out.

"I don't know, Minerva," the woman replied in a whisper.

Albus gave his friend's shoulder another squeeze and said, "He will have days, Minerva. He will have days because he needs to have days."

"I'll get to the potion then," Severus said abruptly, and swooped back out of the ward.

"Come along, Harry," Poppy said, gesturing the boy over to her, "I think I'll need your help with a few things."

Shooting the matron a grateful look, Albus set Harry down on the ground again and lengthened the chair to sit beside his deputy. Reaching out to take her free hand, he was a bit surprised when she didn't recoil, but instead grasped onto it as if it were a lifeline.

"I can't loose him, Albus," she whispered hoarsely.

"Everything will work out for the best, Minerva," he replied shakily, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze. In a show of uncharacteristic weakness, Minerva leaned back towards him and rested her head on his shoulder. He shifted slightly so that her head rested more on his chest and the crook of his neck and his free arm could lie on the back of the chair, encircling the woman's shoulders as she gently settled their clasped hands on her hip. Leaning his head on hers, he heaved a deep, troubled sigh.

"I don't even know what happened to him," she choked out. Composing herself, she asked, "What do you think happened?"

"I can only assume as much as you can, that he was caught as a wolf during the full moon and probably picketed away somewhere."

"Why did they have to use silver?" she snapped roughly, her voice all but gone.

Albus' only response was to squeeze her hand again.

That was Minerva's entire weekend - a bedside vigil beside one of her favorite former students, who was so much more than simply that. Albus stayed with her, making sure she remembered to eat, to sleep, and to breath. By Monday morning, the ailing werewolf's condition had not improved. If anything, it had worsened. His breathing was hollow and ragged, his skin sallow and the burn on his neck had turned a frightening shade of pale green. On the up side, his wounds had completely healed, which was a good thing, according to Poppy.

"You see, now his body can concentrate on fighting the poison instead of spreading itself thin over the cuts and bruises," she had said.

Try as she might, Minerva couldn't concentrate on her teaching that day, her thoughts insisted on wandering back to the comatose body lying in the infirmary. So instead, she had given her students busy work, book work, to pass the time.

"Professor?" Miss Jones called for the third time, raising her voice a bit to get her teacher's attention - class was coming to an end. Minerva was staring at the paper before her on the desk, reading the same line over and over until she wasn't reading it at all. She was oblivious to everything until the doors to her classroom burst open to admit a tall seventh year Gryffindor girl.

"Miss Mullet what is the meaning of this?" Minerva demanded sternly.

"It's from Madame Pomfrey, mum," she replied in a distinctly Irish accent as she handed Minerva a brief note, "She says it's urgent."

Minerva's eyes flew over the note once then snapped back up to the rest of her class. "Dismissed," she barked. "Shannon, make sure the door's closed behind them will you?" she requested of the older student as she hurried out the door, ignoring the inquisitive looks directed at her as she made her way to the hospital wing.

She crept into the infirmary quietly and strode over to Poppy, who was busy checking Remus' pulse and heart rate. The medi-witch set his hand down with a sigh and turned to Minerva.

"Severus administered the potion this morning, as soon as you left, and don't snap at me," she said sternly as Minerva opened her mouth to interrupt. "It's better if you didn't get your hopes up." Poppy felt her mouth go dry, but managed to whisper, "It doesn't look good, Minerva."

Shaking her head in acute denial the teacher sank down into the long chair beside the bed and took up his hand once more.

"We should know by tomorrow morning if anything's going to change, so you sitting there pouring your heart and soul into him is not going to make it better," snapped a voice from the doorway.

"That's enough, Severus," came a deeper, more authoritative voice from behind the man.

Harry darted around Severus' legs towards his mother, but was halted in mid stride by a strong arm lifting him up. The boy looked at his mother worriedly, having not really seen her for the past two days since she spent most of her time in here. He had been strictly ordered not to come in and disturb the patient. Instead of time with his mother, he found himself spending more time with Marcus and Amanda. The two of them tried to keep him busy enough to forget his mother seated beside a near corpse in the infirmary, but it was all in vain. He struggled in Severus' strong grasp, fighting desperately to get to his mother until he heard a quiet voice in his ear.

"Stop wriggling," Severus said, "she needs to be with him right now."

"Who is he?" the boy demanded quietly, craning his neck around to look the potions master square in the eye.

Sighing, the young man met his gaze and said, "Let's go." Harry's last glimpse of the room was of Albus settling himself down beside Minerva and taking up vigil again. As the door swung closed, he tightened his hold on the potions master, trying hard not to cry. He had never seen anyone look so sad, and his mother had completely shut herself away. Suddenly, a thought, a frightening thought, came to his mind.

"Uncle Snape?"

Severus rolled his eyes, but did not correct the boy. Instead, he answered, "What is it Mr. Potter?"

"Is that Ma's real son?" came the whispered question.

Raising an eyebrow, Severus looked down at the little boy in his arms. "Why do you say that?"

A mute shrug was the reply. Then Severus understood. The boy was worried that Minerva was trading him in for someone she loved more. Ducking into an empty classroom, he seated the child on top of a desk and sat in the chair before him so they were nearly eye-to-eye.

"Harry, your mother loves you very much," he began in the gentlest voice he could muster (which wasn't very that gentle at all, but the boy appreciated his attempt), "To answer your question, yes, that is her real son - in the same way that you are her real son. You mean the world to her. Just because she is worried about someone else doesn't mean she loves you any less."

"But we didn't even play yesterday," the boy said as his lower lip trembled.

"You cannot expect her to be with you every moment of the day," he replied, in a harsher tone than intended. When the boy's lips parted to emit a soft sob, he regretted his words and tried to fix this as best he could. "She loves the man upstairs just as much as she loves you. He is very, very ill. That is why she's so worried about him."

Harry nodded and sniffed, wiping his eyes and nose on the sleeve of his sweater. Severus' lips curled in disgust and he fished out a Kleenex for the boy, who took it gratefully and tried to return it to him after using it. When he refused to touch it, Harry sighed and shoved it into his pocket.

"So who is he?"

"His name," Severus couldn't help but sneer, "is Remus Lupin."


Albus cancelled Minerva's classes for the rest of the day, informing the students that their transfigurations teacher had taken ill and was in the hospital wing recuperating. She spent the rest of the day there, thanking the deities that watched over Remus for every rise and fall of his chest, no matter how feeble.

Poppy found her there the next morning at dawn, having allowed her to stay the night beside him. The tall medi-witch trembled slightly as she regarded the pair from the open doorway, Remus was important to her as well - escorting him to and from his painful transformations had formed a sort of bond between them, nothing as strong as his and Minerva's, but solid nonetheless. If his condition hadn't improved, he would surely die. Poppy sucked in a quiet breath, imagining what that would do to Minerva. The dark- haired witch was presently sitting beside the bed, her head resting in the crook of her right arm on the bed. The fingers of her other hand were intertwined with Remus' own, lying very close to her mouth. Tears stained her cheeks, Poppy noticed as she moved closer, but her breathing was deep and steady.

Eyes narrowed in concentration, the medi-witch tried to study the man' breathing. He still looked like death, but his skin pale now rather than sallow, and his face was somewhat relaxed. He breathed deep in his sleep as well, but not moving. His left arm usually twitched in his sleep, if she remembered correctly. Praying that something was really happening and that what she thought she was seeing wasn't just wishful thinking, Poppy waved her wand over her patient.

The door creaked open quietly, admitting Severus and Albus. Immediately, they both went to Poppy's side, looking at her expectantly.

"There hasn't been much of an improvement," she whispered, her voice trembling slightly. "It's left some of his vital organs, but it's still a threat, and a very serious one at that."

"But there's definitely been a change?" Severus demanded harshly.

Albus grabbed them both by the elbow and steered them away from the bed and to the other side of the room.

"Yes, there's been a slight improvement, but it's not nearly enough to heal him," Poppy answered the potions master's question.

"Why do you ask, Severus?" the headmaster cut in.

Severus took a deep breath, groping for the right words to explain this to non-potions professionals.

"I only distributed a small amount of the potion to him yesterday morning," he held a hand up to cut off Poppy's scathing accusation and continued, "and we needed to wait until I could see the full side effects of that small amount on the patient."

"And?" she pressed, "Will you give him the needed dose now instead of just a bit here and there?"

"I am not accustomed to trying out new potions on human guinea pigs," he snapped, "I have no concrete evidence as to how much of this potions is safe for humans. Even simply trying it on him required a huge leap of faith."

Albus silenced Poppy with a look as she began to retort, and asked Severus, "Now what?"

"Since we are apparently finished waiting, I will administer the potion again in a slightly more potent dose," he replied carefully. "I have no wish to overdose him and create more problems," he snapped again, comment directed to Poppy, who was fuming quietly, rather than to Albus.

"What are his chances?" the old wizard inquired softly.

Here, Severus faltered, "I-I'm not sure."

"Guess," Poppy commanded.

"Taking into account anything that could go wrong," he bit back, thoroughly annoyed, "I would say slim, at best. The potion may have serious long-term effects, and we have no idea what it could be doing to his sanity. It may war with his antibodies and create a mass riot in his body, or cause his vital signs to fluctuate severely, and-."

"And if it works, Severus," Albus pressed, meeting the young man's neutral black eyes over the top of his half moon glasses.

"If it works according to plan, which is highly unlikely," Severus began, "and based on what it has done so far, I would say that he may be bodily healed by New Year's."

Minerva woke to the sounds of hushed whispers. Blinking slowly, she tried to focus on her surroundings, her bleary hearing making bits and pieces of the conversation. "What are his chances?" she heard Albus ask. Raising her head up slightly as to free her other ear, she shook her head in order to clear the grogginess and heard Severus' tentative reply, ". . . slim at best. The potion may have serious long-term effects. . . "

She leaned her head back down onto the pillow beside Remus's head and blinked furiously.

"You have to stay with me, dearest," she whispered quietly, "Don't leave me, I couldn't bear it." Rising slightly, she brushed his hair away from his face and kissed his forehead lovingly.

"Ma, can I play now?" a child's voice called from the doorway. Minerva spun around as the other teachers present started at the boy's outcry.

"Harry, sssshh!" she said in a hoarse stage whisper, putting a finger to her lips and shaking her head.

"NO!" he yelled, "I wanna go NOW!"

Albus made for the boy, but Minerva was faster. Reaching Harry who was still yelling at the top of his lungs, she grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him outside before shutting the door behind her firmly. She didn't release her firm grip on his wrist until they had made it to her office (which was closer to the infirmary than their rooms), and slammed the door behind her.

"What is the matter with you?" she hissed dangerously, black eyes flashing.

"I wanna go play," Harry replied in a far calmer manner than before.

"I told you not to come in and disturb the patient."

"I don't care!" he yelled, his face scrunching up in another tantrum, "He can die and I won't care!"

Pressing a hand to her laboring heart, Minerva took deep calming breaths even as the boy continued to yell that last sentence.

"Enough!" she roared. The breaths had kept her from striking the child, but they had done nothing to quell her anger.

"Why?" he asked insolently, "You can't tell me what to do!"

"I can and I will," she replied sternly, "You cannot-."

"I don't have to listen to you!" he yelled "You're not my mother!" He saw her pale and continued, "And I bet my real ma wouldn't yell at me for not doing nothing either! I HATE YOU!"

With that, he pushed her away - she had stooped down to dole out punishment eye-to-eye - and darted out the door, screaming the line over and over again. Back in the office, Minerva stared at the space he had vacated in shock for a full minute, her breath coming in shuddering gasps. Blinking back furious tears, she straightened and followed her young charge's flight out the door. She ignored the questioning stares directed her way by the early risers among the student body as she hurried after the boy.

By the time she reached the Quidditch pitch, he was already up in the air and zooming haphazardly across the pitch, barely in control of the broom he was on. Knowing it would be safer to simply summon him to her rather than convince him to come down, she pointed her wand and muttered "Accio". Boy and broomstick landed softly at her feet. She looked down at him ominously as he glared back.

Unable to hold her gaze for very long, he looked away and muttered, "I hate you."

She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from sobbing and just stood there for a little while. She could feel her stomach turn with the effort of keeping her emotions in check. Kneeling on the ground beside the boy, she reached a hand out to steer his chin so he would look at her. He keep his eyes defiantly focused on a bright yellow dandelion about a foot away and jerked his chin out of her grasp. Withholding a sad sigh, Minerva opted for a different approach.

"You have been a very bad boy this morning, Harry," she stated. He continued to ignore her presence. "Why?" she asked softly.

"What do you care?" he snapped.

"Harry," she began, "What's the matter?"

Silence.

"Is it because I haven't been there all that much this weekend?"

"I don't care if you're there or not," he said, stubbornly refusing to look at her. "I don't want to there."

She shook her head and tried to explain, "Harry, Remus is very important to me, I want him to get better. I want to stay with him so when he wakes up-."

"I don't care."

Changing tactics, she forced the sadness out of her voice, "Regardless, you have disobeyed me and you will be punished."

"You're not-."

"As punishment," she continued, "you will help Mr. Filch with whatever he needs for the rest of the week."

He continued to glare at the ground.

"Come along, Harry," she said as she rose and extended a hand to help him up, "You've got science in a bit."

He ignored her hand and brushed past her without a word, his quick steps taking him away from the Quidditch pitch and towards the greenhouses. She tried to follow, but her trembling knees caused her stumble against the doorframe of the entrance to the stadium. Twisting so she was nearly completely out of sight, she sank down and thrust a trembling hand into her pocket. Bringing out a thin cigarette, she brought it to her mouth and tried to take out her wand so she could light it. A shadow swooped down out of seemingly nowhere and plucked the cigarette from her lips.

"I thought you quit after we beat Grindewald," a lilting voice chastised.

"Which means I haven't had one in about fifty years. Now give it here," she demanded.

Amanda stepped out of the shadows and sat down beside the witch, pulling out her wand and summoning the pack from Minerva's pocket before the other witch could reach for another one.

"What happened?" she asked gently.

Haltingly, Minerva told her about her Harry. When she finished, she found Amanda staring at her with wide eyes.

"Minerva," she began seriously, "You know he didn't mean any of that."

"But it's my fault he said them in the first place," the nearly broken witch whispered.

"And how, pray tell, did you come to that twisted conclusion?" Amanda asked skeptically.

"I've been with Remus this whole time."

"He can't blame you for that!" she cried, "The man's dy-" she bit her tongue to keep the rest of that word in her mouth. "That's not what I meant," she recovered quickly, "I mean that he can't blame you for wanting to focus on someone else who means as much to you as he does."

"I still should have been there, Amanda," Minerva replied, eyes unfocused and staring out over the pitch, "Did you see how scared he looked when Poppy and I brought Remus up to the hospital wing?"

"It's not as though he's been alone for his entire life, Minerva," the flying instructor pointed out quietly, "He's always had you, and he always will."

They sat quietly for a while, until Minerva stood abruptly and said, "I have a class to teach. I'll see you later, Amanda," and stalked up to the castle. The wiry woman watched her friend leave and shook her head sadly. Pulling out a cigarette, she put it to her lips and lit it with her wand. She took a long drag, thinking, 'Well what else can go wrong?' Her eyes narrowed and she muttered darkly, "Oh, plenty, dearie. Plenty."

 

Chapter Eighteen: Complications

The old wizard walked slowly through the halls of his school, not quite in a daze, but if one looked closely enough, a faraway look in his eyes would become evident. When addressing his students, his blue eyes still twinkled, but whenever he entered the infirmary that week, his eyes became oddly shadowed as he regarded the still figure lying on a bed in the corner. During her breaks, Minerva was often found beside the bed, upon which occasions Albus would sit beside her and offer his silent support. When she was not there or teaching she was with Harry, but even that was rare. As much as she wanted to avoid another "I hate you" episode, she couldn't bring herself to be away from Remus for long. Instead, she sought to compromise, allowing Harry into the infirmary to sit with her as long as he didn't speak too loudly.

'Harry,' he thought with a sigh. The boy was impossibly stubborn. If Albus didn't know better, he would have said the child inherited it from Minerva - of course it was more likely that the woman's stubbornness had rubbed off on him. Harry was starved for his mother's attention, that was plain to see, but Albus had no idea what to do about it. His inclusion in a visit to Remus had not ended well, with Minerva close to tears and Albus heaving Harry up out of his seat and bringing him out of the infirmary. The boy was too young to understand death, only knowing that if someone died, they never came back. Likewise, he was too young to understand the concept of dying and why this was such a scary thing. Even so, Albus was not going to give up without a fight.

As he entered the dungeon classroom, he eyes fell upon a small figure facing the wall in a corner from which timid sniffs could be heard at varying intervals. Severus sat at his desk, hunched over a blank piece of parchment that was steadily covered in his untidy scrawl as his quill scratched away. He looked up as the headmaster entered and shut the door behind him quietly. Quickly, but calmly, as if his actions would escape notice, he slid a stack of ungraded essays over the paper he had been working on and began to mark them as if that was what he had been doing the entire time. With his idle hand, he closed the notebook beside him and covered that with a stack of quizzes.

"Severus," the headmaster nodded in greeting. "How has he been?" he asked in a low voice.

"Quiet," was the soft reply, "What happened?"

Albus' reply was a slight shake of the head. "I'll be taking him now, it's nearly time for supper."

Severus nodded in reply and turned back to his papers. The headmaster walked over to the little boy and said, "Come along, Harry."

Still sniffing, the boy slid off his chair and followed the headmaster out the door with his head bowed. Taking pity on the youngster, Albus ducked into an empty classroom to have a serious chat with the boy.

"Harry," he began, sitting the boy down on a seat as he turned another to face him. Sitting down, he continued, "Do you understand why you were punished and sent out of the infirmary?"

"Because I was bad," he whispered.

"Why were you bad, Harry?" Albus asked gently. He wanted the boy to open up because he wanted to, not because he was scared not to.

The boy shrugged and remained silent.

"Harry, what's been bothering you?" the headmaster pressed in the same gentle tone. "Please, m'boy, I want you to talk to me."

Harry's nose twitched slightly in a silent show of nerves, a habit he had picked up from Minerva. Taking a different approach, Albus began again.

"Harry, you made your mother very, very sad when you said those things to her. Do you know which things I'm talking about?" Amanda had told Albus the entire story - she had been in the stands above them, keeping an eye on Harry as he tried to blow off some steam on the broomstick.

"Yes, sir," he answered in a whisper with a nod.

"Did you mean them? Do you wish Minerva wasn't your mother?"

Harry's head snapped up in alarm and he met the headmaster's sad blue eyes with his own panicked green pair. "No!" he cried, then asked in a frightened whisper, eyes never leaving Albus', "Uncle Albus, does Ma hate me now?"

"Of course not!" Albus exclaimed, "Harry, why would you think that?"

"Uncle Snape said that was her real son up there," the boy muttered.

A raised eyebrow was the headmaster's response. "Oh really?" he pressed, "And what else did he say? Did he say that your mother could only love one of you?"

"No," came the quiet reply, "He said she loved us both the same." He made a face, "But it's not true."

Pleased as he was to know that Severus had not manipulated the boy's young mind, Albus still did not completely understand exactly what Harry was feeling right now. "What do you mean?"

His face darkened. "Ma never wants to play with me anymore. She's always up with him," he spat out the last word and spoke with such dislike that Albus' eyes widened in surprise.

"Harry, your mother does love you both!" he assured the boy. Harry looked unconvinced, so he elaborated, "She never wanted to have to chose one of you boys over the other," then added sternly, "and she shouldn't have had to." As the small boy before him lowered his head, Albus softened his tone and raised a gnarled hand out to turn the boy's chin, "Harry, your mother has more than enough love in her heart for both you and Remus. You will always be her baby boy, Harry, even when you hurt her feelings."

For the next few days, Harry came with Albus to sit with Minerva in the infirmary. The headmaster quickly realized that sitting there quietly was very boring for the young boy, so he softly entertained him with stories about the young werewolf before them. Minerva listened in to those stories with a sad smile, remembering all too well the trouble her favorite one fourth of the infamous marauders had gotten himself into. He had been so full of life, so energetic and passionate.

". . . and then he and Mr. Black popped out of nowhere and turned his robes bright pink with green polka dots!" Harry giggled at the mental picture.

Minerva didn't even want to know how Albus knew so many stories about their escapades.

And so it went on, Harry's visits became more and more frequent, though he still avoided Minerva as much as possible.

It was after one of these story time visits, as Minerva was helping Harry get ready for bed, that Harry addressed her directly for the first time in a few days.

"Ma?" he questioned quietly.

"What is it, love?" she answered.

"I'm sorry I said those things to you," he whispered.

Minerva looked at him levelly and pressed, "Which things?"

"All the things," he replied, "but 'specially the 'I hate you' part." He paused briefly, and then continued seriously, "I didn't mean it."

She nodded and smiled at him, "I know, dearest, but my heart hurts so much less to hear you say that."

Harry looked up in alarm. "I made your heart hurt?" he asked in a panicky kind of voice, clearly remembering what happened the last time his mother's heart hurt.

"Yes, but it's all right now."

"I'm sorry, Ma," he said again in a very soft voice.

"You're forgiven, love."

As she tucked him into bed, he had a request.

"Ma, can you read me a story?" he asked tentatively.

"What shall it be?" she asked, settling down on the bed beside him and summoning the book title he requested. She smiled to herself as she kissed his forehead an hour later. A part of her life was back to the way it should be.


"Albus, why isn't he recovering yet?" Minerva whispered frantically as Poppy fought to keep his rising fever down.

"Minerva," he began gently, leading her a few steps away from the bed, "Poppy, Severus and I discussed his condition earlier today. By the time he got here, the poison was well into his vital systems. The potion Severus has been making has not been working properly. Every time it dispels the poison in one place, it moves to another. The potion is only slowing the poison, and minimally at that." he finished quietly.

"What do you mean?" she asked, dreading the answer before she even heard it.

"Minerva, there is a very possible chance that he will not recover."

She turned and tried to walk back to the bed, but her knees gave way almost immediately. She would have slumped straight to the ground had Albus not caught her. She pushed him away and regained her footing immediately, staring blankly at his face, searching for another explanation.

As his words finally hit her, she sank to her knees slowly and hunched over, smothering her mouth with both hands, muffling the wails wracking her slim frame. Albus knelt beside her and drew her to him, one arm hugging her shoulders tightly, the other smoothing her hair in a comforting gesture. Minerva broke down - completely. Her hoarse, nearly silent screams of pain were more disturbing than any show of sorrow Albus had ever witnessed. She clutched at his shirt and buried her face in the folds of his robes, shaking violently, her slim body heaving with quiet sobs. Wrapping his arms around her protectively, he rocked her, whispering soothingly into her hair as she continued to cry.

Poppy left them alone, stunned as Albus - even she had never seen Minerva completely break down like that. It frightened her as well as comforted her - Minerva was no longer the one who kept everything in, who dealt with her own problems and never needed anyone. There she was, clinging to a dear friend as if he were her only lifeline. Bringing herself out of her reverie, she resumed her concentration on Remus.

"Albus, what am I going to do?" Minerva whispered into his robes a while later, when she was able to form a sentence. They had remained in the same position, Minerva cradled in Albus' arms, for nearly an hour.

"We'll pull through this, Minerva," he said gently, "We have to."

"What if I can't?"

"I will help you. You know I will."

"But it's so much."

"Minerva-."

"A mother should never have to watch her son die," she whispered bitterly.

"No," Albus sighed, "No, she shouldn't."

They sat in silence for a few moments.

"Come," he said, rising to his feet and bringing her up with him, "It's been a long day. You should get some rest."

"I'm not tired," she stated firmly, taking her hand out of Albus' grip. Shaking his head at her stubbornness, he walked into Poppy's office and emerged with a small vial filled with a purple potion.

"Here," he said upon his return to her side at the foot of Remus' bed, "Drink this, it'll help with your nerves."

She took the vial without question and downed the potion. As her eyelids began to droop, she glared at him and gasped, "Liar!" before falling into a deep sleep. Albus caught her easily that time, and carried her over to an empty bed beside Remus. He brushed a strand of hair out of her face as he laid her down, his fingertips lingering on her skin for a few moments longer than necessary.

"Glad to see that batch of Dreamless Sleep Potion hasn't lost its potency," Poppy commented from behind, making him start slightly and quickly retract his hand from Minerva's cheek, "It's been in that closet for over a month now."

"It should keep for another three," he replied absently, his eyes still on Minerva's face. "Do you have a blanket for her? It gets chilly in here at night, from what I've heard."

"Yes, there's one in my office," she replied, trying not to raise her eyebrows at this latest development, "Wait here, I'll go get it."


"Poppy, what's going on?" Amanda demanded in a harsh whisper. The two witches were again seated on the terrace outside her office, this time looking into a shallow bowl filled with water. Through it, they watched a wizard and a witch, both of them in a deep slumber.

"Watch."

"But I-."

"Will you just keep quiet and watch?!"

"Sorry," Amanda said as she rolled her eyes.

Just as the impatient gray-haired witch was about to question the purpose of watching them yet again, the door to the infirmary opened to admit another wizard. Amanda's eyebrow raised a bit as he glanced around the room to make sure no one else was there and made his way to a chair between the two occupied beds. As he leaned over and gently brushed a stray strand of hair off of the witch's forehead and tucked it behind her ear, Amanda's eyes widened in disbelief.

"Look," Poppy commanded quietly, tapping on the image gently with her wand. The water rippled and changed views, zooming in on the headmaster and Minerva. As he sat down beside her bed, he took up one of her limp hands in both of his, covering it completely. He watched her sleep for a time, absently stroking the back of her hand as he did so. After a while, he turned to look out to window, still holding her hand.

"Ah, it seems as though young Mr. Fawcett and Miss Holden are out and about again this evening," he remarked quietly as a pair of figures made their way across the snow covered lawn hand in hand. He sighed and shook his head smiling slightly, "I suppose I should go bring them in now, shouldn't I?"

Rising, he gently placed her hand back down on the bed side her and touched her cheek again, whispering, "Please get through this, Minerva."

Back on the balcony, Amanda's eyes nearly popped out of her head and her jaw was hanging slackly as she watched him turn to leave. With a soundless shriek, she turned and made for the door to confront the man. Seeing the crazed look in her friend's eye, Poppy tackled her before she got two steps and covered her mouth with a firm hand as they watched his shadow leave the infirmary through the crack at the bottom of the closed door. The smaller witch squirmed and sought to dislodge the taller witch, but she was practically in a headlock. Poppy didn't release her until she was sure the headmaster was gone, and quickly cast a silencing charm on the room just before Amanda began her rant.

"I DON'T BELIEVE THIS!" she burst out, her shocked silence quickly giving way for her temper. "Her son is lying in a hospital wing waiting for death and he has the gall to come onto her while she's SLEEPING! What?" she yelled, "What do you find so amusing about this?!"

"He's falling for her," she remarked calmly, with a wistful sort of grin one would find on a love-sick teenager.

"WHAT?! That's impossible!"

"It's not impossible," Poppy snapped, her dreamy look replaced by her old calculating eyes. "It's happening. I can't believe I never saw it before."

"What are you talking about 'before' they used to be friends, just friends, just plain old platonic friends!"

"A strictly platonic relationship between a man and a woman is impossible."

"That's ridiculous, Poppy, look at me and Marcus."

Poppy shot her a look that said, 'And your point is?'

Amanda rolled her eyes again, "Poppy, we're just - no, never mind, that's not even the point, the point is - the headmaster CANNOT fall in love with Minerva."

"And why not?" Poppy asked in a tone of voice that was clearly skeptical about that last statement.

"Well, because - it's - gross!" Amanda said haltingly as she groped for the right words.

It was Poppy's turn to roll her eyes, "What are you talking about?"

"He's almost fifty years older than her!" she yelled, "He's old enough to be her grandfather!"

"It's forty and that's insane."

"No it's not!"

"Yes it is!"

"It's not!"

"It is!"

"Not!"

"Is!"

"Not!"

"Is!"

"Not!"

"Is!"

"Is!"

"Not!"

A pause.

"Amanda, you're impossible."

"But I won and I'm right."

"Amanda, listen to me, he's falling in love with her and I'll bet anything she's falling in love with him."

"And how did you come up with that brilliant hypothesis?"

"Remember when she got so upset at the beginning of the year?"

"Yes," Amanda said, not quite following, then she gasped, "Oh! You don't suppose-."

"That he was part of the reason? Yes I do."

"But Poppy, that's crazy!"

"It's not."

"It is."

"I am not doing this again, just trust me on this one all right?"

The flying instructor sat down on Poppy's desk and drew her legs up beneath her, mulling over the situation and its implications.

"Fine," she said finally, "But now what do we do?"

"I'm not sure, we can't do anything, really, until. . ." she trailed off.

Amanda nodded knowingly and commented, "Well he could have at least had the decency to wait for the right time to fall in love."

"You can't choose when you do, you know."

"I know, I know." She paused. "How long do you think this has been going on?"

"How do you mean?"

"Has he been in love with her this entire time and we just never noticed, or is this a new development?"

Poppy's brow creased as she contemplated the question. "I have no idea."

"Well, now what do we do?"

"Keep it to yourself. Don't say anything to anyone. And I mean that Amanda Juveniline Hooch."

Amanda cringed at her middle name and shot back, "Yes Poppy Bougainvillea Pomfrey."

They both cringed at that.

"Our parents were on crack when they gave us our middle names."

"That was a bit before their times-."

"Oh just go with it for once, Bouggie."

A pause.

"That's not funny."


"Is this going to work?" Poppy asked quietly from her place at the man's elbow.

"If I knew the answer to that, it wouldn't be called a test, now would it?" came the biting reply. Two pairs of eyes, one black, one brown, glared at each other with ill-concealed malice.

"Enough," Albus told them firmly, "Whenever you're ready, Severus."

The potions master nodded and tipped the bright cobalt potion down the still unconscious Remus' mouth. This was the fruit of his labor - his masterpiece - the ultimate healing potion. He had been working tirelessly on this potion for the last two weeks, but would never admit to having spent any extra time on something for the werewolf. Piles and stacks of conspicuous notes strewn all over his chambers, however, had given him away. Luckily, the headmaster had twinkled at him knowingly and kept that piece of information to himself, allowing everyone else to believe that the potion had mysteriously popped up.

Nothing had been working - the potion he had come up with in the beginning had proven to have only temporary healing abilities. So, as the days came closer and closer to the end of the winter term, Severus scrambled to perfect the potion and cure the insufferable man completely and for good. Two days before term ended and the students were sent home for the holidays, he had it. Even now, he couldn't remember how long he had sat there in his private study two days before, staring at a piece of parchment in disbelief, reading and rereading the results and observations of the potion that so clearly trumpeted his success.

This was his defining moment, he thought dramatically. Severus Snape had never been one for dramatics, but this occasion warranted it. He waited with bated breath as Poppy began her examination of the man's vital signs and such. He started as the man's eyebrow fluttered open slowly, and started again as Albus' hand clapped him on the shoulder.

Trying to desperately keep a giddy, satisfied smile off of his face, the potions master met the headmaster's gaze triumphantly. Albus grinned back at him and turned his attention back to the patient.

"Welcome back, Mr. Lupin," the headmaster greeted, his blue eyes twinkling happily. Poppy was beaming insanely, barely restraining herself from bouncing all over the infirmary with joy.

Remus stared at them with a puzzled look on his eyes. Pale blue eyes darted around the room, as if trying to find something familiar about the place.

"Do you know who I am, Mr. Lupin?" Poppy asked mechanically as she checked his pulse, finally calm enough to perform the necessary tests. When she received no verbal response, her head snapped up and her light brown eyes met his confused ones. "Oh, no."

She rounded on Severus, prodding him in the chest accusingly and demanding, "What did you do to him?! What happened?"

The potions master had paled slightly at Remus' reaction, or rather lack of reaction, to Poppy's initial question. Catching the livid woman's hand mid-poke, he met Remus' eyes and asked, "Do you remember anything?"

"A little," came the hoarse reply before he was overcome by a fit of dry coughs. Albus conjured a glass of water and helped him sit up to drink it.

"Can you sit up?" the headmaster asked quietly.

"I think so, sir," Remus replied weakly.

Albus arranged pillows behind him and helped him lean back as Severus began the inquiry again.

"What do you remember?" the seemingly irate potions master demanded, though he was more annoyed than anything else that his potion didn't work.

"Nothing that makes any sense," he replied in a strained voice, "What happened to me? Where am I? Who are you?"

"Severus, go find Minerva immediately," Albus commanded, "Bring her up here. I don't care if she has a class, get her up here now." Turning his attention back to the patient lying completely confused and a bit scared on the hospital bed, he told the young man, "Don't be afraid, you are with friends now. You are at a wizardring school called Hogwarts. Do you remember it at all?"

"No, sir," he replied softly.

"Do you know who you are?"

"I'm a werewolf."

"Is that all? Do you remember your name?"

Albus could see him struggling for a name, any name that was currently under lock and key in his mind.

"Moony," he replied finally.

Poppy frowned as Albus' mouth twitched into an amused grin.

"That's a good start," the headmaster said.

"Albus, what are you talking about? He's-."

"Poppy," he replied in a low voice, "it's better if he is able to remember it on his own rather than have us tell him."

"Don't be ridiculous," she snapped quietly, "His memory's shot - he needs all the help he can get."

"I don't suppose my name is Moony Lupin, is it?"

"How did you come up with Lupin?" Poppy asked, her face lighting up in hope.

"You kept calling me Mr. Lupin, mum," he replied.

"Oh," she said as her face fell.

"Sorry," he said quietly.

"Don't be sorry, this isn't your fault," she said. "Your name is Remus Lupin, you used to go to this school." She looked at him hopefully again.

"Remus Lupin," he repeated vaguely, then inwardly shrugged - the headmaster could see his frustration written all over his face.

"Remus, you said you remembered 'a little' before," the headmaster cut in, "would you mind elaborating?"

"Yes, sir, but like I said, it doesn't make any sense," he said, his voice becoming a bit stronger and his eyes loosing some of the glazed look that had been present when he awoke. He met Albus' eyes. Seeing the determination there, he sighed, "I remember a full moon, that I'm a werewolf, and-." He stopped, unsure of how to explain the other thing he remembered.

"And?" Poppy pressed. Remus got the impression that she wasn't a very patient woman, but from the back of his mind came a whisper that he should know that already.

"And I remember someone," he said, struggling for the memory just out of his reach, "but I don't remember what she looks like or what she sounds like or how I know her or anything."

"She?"

He stopped and thought again, then nodded, "Yes, she."

Albus sighed and Poppy came to stand beside him.

"Well, Mr. Lupin," he said, "I am Professor Dumbledore and this is Madame Pomfrey-."

"Albus, he's a grown man," the woman cut in testily, her nerves already at the breaking point, "he's already graduated. There's no need for him to keep calling us 'Professor' and 'Madame'. Remus, I am Poppy, and this senile old man is Albus."

"I also happen to be the headmaster and in charge here," he commented dryly. Poppy's retort was cut short as the door to the infirmary burst open and Minerva careened into the room with uncharacteristic gracelessness.

"You're alive," she panted as she swept over to the bed. Ignoring the worried look shared between Poppy and Albus, she leaned down and embraced the man gently. "Remus," she whispered into his unruly tuft of hair, "Oh dear heart, I thought I'd lost you."

As she pulled away, she saw a brief trace of recognition flit across his face. "I know you," he said in awe, not really processing the fact that he remembered something this clearly.

She nodded and smiled through happy tears and brushed his hair out of his eyes.

"Yes you do," she said in reply. Severus had burst into her classroom with a look of the utmost annoyance on his face, which could only mean one thing: Remus was awake. The peeved potions master had filled her in on the details as they practically sprinted up to the infirmary.

"What's your name?" he asked softly, remembering and knowing her touch.

"Minerva," she replied, "Professor Minerva McGonagall."

Severus lurched into the infirmary, a hand pressed to a stitch in his side as he took deep breaths to settle his racing heart rate. "Bloody cat traits," he muttered. He ran with her halfway to the hospital wing, only to eat her dust after he told her the details.

"Come along, you two," Poppy said as she ushered the men out of the wing, "I think our patient has had enough excitement for now."

"But-."

"No."

"What if-."

"No."

"May we-."

"Go," she commanded, and shut the door before either of them could utter another sound. As she bustled around the infirmary, collecting various potions and medicines, she grinned happily despite the situation - he was alive.

"Are you feeling tired at all?" Minerva asked, eyeing Remus for any signs of weariness.

"No, just a bit confused. . . and hungry," he admitted.

Laughing, Minerva commented, "Yes, you always used to be. One of you most famous traits was the ability to devour the entire Gryffindor table of food at Christmas."

"Minerva?" called Amanda from the doorway. "There's someone here to check up on you," she said as she nudged Harry over the threshold. Hearing Poppy storm through the room to the door, she threw a quick grin Minerva's way and ducked back out the door.

"Come over here, Harry, I want you to meet someone."

As Minerva cast about for a chair, Remus and Harry's eyes locked. Bright angry green eyes met placid, surprised blue.

Chapter Nineteen: Salvaging the Past

Remus raised an eyebrow at the hostile look he was receiving from the little boy in slate blue robes.

"Minerva!" Poking her head back through the door cautiously, Amanda called in a harsh whisper so as to not set Poppy's intruder radar off again, "Albus said to remind you that you do have a class waiting. Since it's your last one of the day, I have to agree with him. Just go back and give them homework or something."

Minerva sighed and turned to the two people behind her. "Harry, will you stay and keep Remus company for a little while? I just need to finish up my class."

"Ok, Ma," he replied with an innocent grin. Minerva smiled and kissed him on the head as he climbed into the chair she had turned to face Remus' bed. Then she reached for Remus' hand and gave it a small squeeze. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Behave yourselves," she told them sternly. "Poppy," she called and went over to the witch, "Will you keep an eye on them? I need to get back to my class."

"Of course," the medi-witch replied, "And tell Amanda that I really can hear her."

Minerva grinned at her and hurried out of the hospital wing.

"That's my ma," Harry told Remus with a possessive note in his voice as Minerva left.

"Is she really?" he asked, interested to learn more about the woman he vaguely remembered. "She's a very nice lady."

Harry grinned despite himself. "Yeah, she is."

"Does she work here?"

"Yep, she teaches transfigtions. . . transgurations. . ." the young boy struggled with the long word.

"Transfigurations?" Remus suggested.

"Yeah, that's it," Harry agreed, liking the man's tone - he spoke to Harry as if he were an adult and an equal, rather than a child. "She started in September, but Aunt Manda says she taught here before too. Did she teach you?"

The young man's face fell. "I don't know," he said quietly.

"What do you mean?" he asked, his face scrunching up in confusion.

"I don't remember," came the reply, "I don't remember anything."

"Like ameena?" the boy asked.

"Ameena?"

"Ameena," he said again, "Uncle Snape said that's what happens when somebody's memories get lost."

Remus still looked puzzled.

"He means amnesia," Poppy said as she brought a large tray of food over. "Yes, Harry, like amnesia. Remus forgot a lot of things, so we are going to try to help him remember."

"I feel empty, like my mind should be filled with memories, but it's not," the young man mused quietly.

"Well you remember some things," Poppy said, trying to boost his spirits as she placed the tray on a table, "You remember Minerva."

Harry's face darkened at this, but the two adults were too busy talking to notice. His dislike for the man came back in full force and he quietly stole out of the infirmary. He made his way towards the transfigurations wing slowly, wishing the man hadn't remembered anything at all. "No," he corrected himself, "then ma wouldn't leave him ever."

Slipping into his mother's classroom, he quietly stood in the back of the room, watching silently as she dismissed her students. As they filed out the door, Harry made his way to the front of the room, where Minerva was putting her papers into a neat stack to be graded.

She smiled warmly when he reached her and obliged when he lifted his arms in a silent request to be carried. Holding him close, she closed her eyes and wistfully thought of the days when all she worried about was the Weasley twins getting a hold of her emergency potions stash.

Sighing, she asked, "Harry, do you miss home?"

"Yeah," he said tightening his arms around her neck.

Wondering what to do for the holidays now that Remus was back, inspiration hit her.

"Harry, how would you like it if we had the Weasleys over here for Christmas?"

"Really?" he asked, his eyes widening in disbelief. "But you said we were going home for Christmas."

"Well, I think it might be better if we stayed here, besides, then we can stay with Uncle Albus and Uncle Snape for Christmas as well."

"It's because of him isn't it?" Harry asked, putting a lot of stress on the word "him".

"A bit, Harry," she admitted, "I don't think it would be a good idea to move him around so soon after he's woken up." Seeing that her son was clearly not convinced, she kneedled, "And I bet Ron and the twins would love to see Hogwarts for the first time." The Weasley boys had misbehaved grievously on Halloween, some type of prank, and were forbidden to go to the Quidditch match Harry had asked them to come to. Harry then sent them a blistering lecture, in writing, about how they should behave and not act so stupid, especially when a Quidditch game was at stake. The twins and Ron had replied with a cheeky letter reminding Harry who sent them the "brilliant" Zonko's stuff.

Minerva watched the wheels in her son's mind turn, weighing the pros and cons of the situation. After a few moments of that, he exclaimed, "Ok!" Not doubt thinking about all the trouble they could cause if left to their own devices in the huge castle.

Minerva grinned despite the implications of the mischievous glint in his eye, thinking how wonderful it would be to have everyone she loved together for Christmas.

"Harry James Potter!" yelled Poppy from the doorway to the classroom, "How DARE you! Sneaking off like that! You could have gone anywhere! I didn't know where you went or how long you'd been gone until I looked up and you were GONE!"

Harry hid his face behind Minerva whispering sincerely, "Ma, I forgot, I didn't mean to make Aunt Poppy worry."

"All the same, Harry, we've been through this before, you're far too young to be wandering about the castle alone without giving anyone a clue as to where you're going," she replied quietly as Poppy continued to rant.

"I'm sorry, Ma."

"All right, love, but you need to tell Aunt Poppy too."

"Of all the irresponsible-."

"Poppy, hush," Minerva commanded, "He's fine, see? He just forgot. Go on, love," she urged him.

"I'm sorry Aunt Poppy," he said softly his green eyes wide and apologetic, "I didn't mean to make you worry."

The tall gray-haired witch shook her head and smiled her acceptance - she had never been able to resist those eyes.

"All right, all right. You're forgiven," she said, throwing up her hands in defeat, "Now tell me, why did you run off like that? Didn't you want to stay and talk to Remus?"

"No," his reply was sharp and yielded no room for questioning.

Minerva raised her eyebrows as Poppy looked at him strangely.

"Poppy, I think we need a bit of a chat, would you mind excusing us?"

"Of course not."

Sensing a stern talk fast approaching, Harry sighed in resignation and laid his head down on Minerva's shoulder as she carried him to her office. Setting him down on her desk, she sat in her chair behind it and looked up at the boy perched on the edge of the table.

"Would you mind explaining what exactly is the matter with you?" it was formed as a question, but it was more of a stern demand. Harry remained silent, but not the defiant kind of silence that reigned during his "I hate you" stage. Sighing, Minerva plucked him off the counter and cradled him in her lap. He cuddled into her embrace with his eyes closed, and heaved a deep sigh of contentment.

"Well?"

"Ma, is he really your son?"

"In a sense."

"Is he your son like I am?" he ventured timidly.

"Not exactly," she explained, "I only met him when he was eleven. I've had you nearly your whole life."

"Is that better?"

"Harry what is this about?" she asked, silently demanding a full and complete answer, "Are you jealous?"

"No."

She heard the blatant lie in his speed to answer and sighed again, trying to find the best way to explain this one. "Harry, you know I love you, am I correct?"

"I love you too, Ma."

She tried to hold in a grin and said, "And you know I'd do anything for you?"

"Yes," he answered dubiously, not sure where this conversation was going.

"And you know I care for you very, very much?"

"Yes."

"That's the same way I feel about Remus."

Harry's eyes narrowed in dislike and he sat straight up in her lap. "You can't."

"Why ever not?"

"Because I'm your son," he stated firmly.

"Harry, Aunt Molly has seven children, she loves them all the same."

"That's different."

"How?" she asked skeptically, interested to know where his train of thought would lead him this time.

Opening his mouth to reply, he closed it, then opened it again, but closed it in frustration when he couldn't think of a reason. Minerva was amused, to say the least, as she watched him grope for an answer that didn't exist. Finally, he gave up and slumped back onto her with his arms crossed defiantly. "I still don't like him."

"Why?"

"Because you're my ma."

"Harry," she sighed, "we-."

"No, listen!" he cut her off. "When you're his ma too, I don't have a mother anymore."

A slight crinkling of the corners of her eyes gave away her distress, as did the tiny twitch of her nose. She pulled him closer and said, "Harry, I will always be your mother. I'll always be here for you when you need me. But you have got to learn how to compromise. Remus needed me before and he needs me right now so he can have his memories back. Do you understand that?"

So this was just a temporary absence of Minerva from his everyday life. He could deal with that. "Yes Ma. I understand."

"Good," she said with a smile.

"Can we go find his memories right now?"

Laughing, she stood with Harry still in her arms. He refused to be put down and latched his arms around Minerva's neck. Shaking her head, she commented, "You will eventually get too big for me to carry, you know."

Ignoring her comment, he asked, "Where're we going?" as they turned down a corridor that he knew didn't lead to the hospital wing.

"The library," she answered simply.

"What for?"

"His memories."

"Really?" Harry asked in awe. Minerva had always told him that books could take you on journeys and introduce you to new and wild discoveries. She never said anything about recovering lost memories.

She chuckled at his wide-eyed expression and said, "You'll see."

They entered the library five minutes later and Harry called a greeting to the seemingly stiff librarian Madame Pince in a very loud stage whisper. She winked at him and gave a quick half smile before returning her face to its usual strict, uncompromising demeanor. Minerva made her way to one of the far corners of the room and cleaned the dusty table there with a quick charm before placing Harry in a chair next to it.

"Now let's see," she muttered quietly to herself as she ran her fingers over the spines of books that looked as though they had never been opened, "1946, no, maybe the next shelf. 1968. ah, here it is, 1975." She grasped the book triumphantly on a shelf above her head, stood on tiptoes to pull it out completely and set it on the table next to Harry.

"Go on, love, see if you can find Remus in any of those pictures."

Harry opened the book carefully, wrinkling his nose at the lingering new-book smell and flipped through some of the pages.

"Ma, you've got the wrong book, these pictures are of my Daddy at Hogwarts."

She turned back to him (she had been trying to get the next yearbook from the shelf, but was having no luck) and gave him a mischievous, knowing look.

Harry's mouth dropped open, "He went to school with my Daddy?" When she grinned and nodded, he turned his attention back to the book, scouring the pictures of the first years for the mysterious young man.

Meanwhile, Minerva had given up on the muggle way of doing things and summoned the next six yearbooks from their place on the shelf. Placing them on the table, she leaned over Harry's shoulder and smiled sadly at the picture he pointed at.

"Where's this one taken?"

"This was their first flying lesson, it was back when they used to practice in the field next to the lake instead of in the stadium."

"There he is!" he exclaimed happily, "And there's my Daddy. And there's - hey, is that Uncle Snape?" he asked, his attention drawn away from the young redheaded girl to a small, hook-nosed boy with a frustrated scowl on his face.

"Yes, it is, they all went to school together."

"Wow," was Harry's only comment as processed this new information. Picking up the books, Minerva extended a hand to Harry, which he took, and led him out of the library.

As Minerva turned down the corridor that would eventually lead to the hospital wing, Harry tugged at her hand. "Not that way, Ma," he said, pulling her over to a tapestry of the Isle of Avalon, "Uncle Gus showed me this way last week. It's faster." He gently pulled away the tapestry and stepped halfway through the wall to reveal a hidden passageway.

'Wonderful,' she thought darkly, even as she was again amused at his title for Argus Filch, 'more places for him to escape to. And the Weasley twins - Merlin help us.'

The corridor was made up of stones that glowed brightly on the ceiling and on the floor, illuminating the small hallway. A minute or so later, they emerged from behind a dull, lackluster suit of armor a few yards down from the infirmary.

As they entered the infirmary, Poppy stormed out of her office, looking ready to hex the disturbers of the peace into the middle of next week. When she saw Harry, her expression softened somewhat, and nodded in an answer to his silent, pleading glance. He walked over to the bed Remus was in while Poppy complined to Minerva.

"Amanda's been hanging around all day - she won't believe that he's not remembering anything, keeps asking him about things - popping in whenever she bloody well feels like and trying to surprise a memory out of him," Poppy explained testily.

"Has anyone else been by?" Minerva asked softly as she watched Harry engage Remus in a quiet conversation.

"Just Albus really. Severus was by before, but he didn't really do anything except sneer and drop off another batch of potions for me."

"When did Albus come?" she asked, turning her attention back to Poppy.

Trying not to grin manically at the question, the medi-witch replied, "Oh, he was here when I got back from looking for Harry. He and Severus are trying to figure out what happened."

"Have they found anything yet?" Minerva asked in a low voice.

"Nothing. Albus is just theorizing now. Nothing solid."

Meanwhile, Harry approached Remus' bed cautiously, not sure of what to say. He was delighted to have found one of his father's schoolmates - he had so many questions to ask - but he was afraid he had made a bad impression with his warning glare a little while before.

"Hello, Harry," Remus greeted cheerfully, his spirits undoubtedly brightened by the huge plate of food Madame Pomfrey had presented him with before. It was practically licked clean now.

"Hi," the boy said shyly, then asked, "How did you know my name?"

"Madame Pomfrey told me."

Wrinkling his nose at his aunt's professional title, he said, "I thought she said for you to call her Poppy."

"Yes, she did, but I feel a bit odd calling her that."

The boy grinned at this, "Ma always said Aunt Poppy would have the students calling her by her first name if Uncle Albus would let her."

Remus returned his grin saying, "I didn't think she listened to much of what the headmaster had to say."

Harry giggled and climbed onto the chair beside his bed, replying, "She doesn't most of the time, but I think Ma told her not to do it too." He settled into the seat semi-comfortably - it would be much more comfortable if he was sitting on a lap - and opted instead to kneel at the edge, leaning on the side of the bed so he could talk to Remus quietly. Once he was settled, he looked up and met the young man's questioning gaze. "I'm sorry I looked at you bad before."

The corners of the man's mouth twitched upward and he replied, "It's all right. Just out of curiosity, why did you?"

"I thought you were stealing my ma," he answered quietly.

"I'm very sorry you thought that, Harry," Remus replied, not really knowing why the boy would think that, "Do you think we can forget it and start again? Maybe even be friends?"

"Really?" Harry asked. He had never had an adult friend before, only aunts and uncles.

"Really."

"Ok," he replied happily, "So what do I call you?"

"Remus," he replied, "And maybe when I figure out what 'Moony' means, you can call me that."

"Moony?" Harry questioned, giggling again.

"I think it was a nickname," Remus explained, making a face. "It's not a very good one, whoever thought it up."

"Well, perhaps these will help to jog your memory," Minerva said as she came to sit beside the bed. Placing the books on the edge of Remus' bed, she picked Harry up again and sat down, placing him comfortably in her lap. "They're old yearbooks, from when you were here," she explained. "I'm not sure if they will help or not, but Poppy said they might."

"Thank you, Professor," he said absently as he picked up 1975. As he flipped through the first few pages, he shuddered inwardly. It was unnerving, to put it mildly, to see yourself in different pictures, obviously with people who were friends, and have no recollection of them at all. He hadn't reached the actual class photos yet, only the collages and random pictures, when he stopped at a shot of two young boys. One of them was him, obviously, and the other was an equally short boy with a mass of unruly black hair who bore an uncanny resemblance to the boy seated on Minerva's lap.

"You're James' son aren't you?" he asked, eying the boy for more similarities. Yes: there was the hair, the nose, the whole face, really, but the eyes - the eyes were different, but familiar as well. He glanced up at Minerva's face and saw her smiling happily through over bright eyes. "What?"

"James," she said simply. "You remembered his name."

He paled slightly at that. Yes, he agreed, he had remembered his name. He hadn't even realized it. It seemed like the most natural thing, though, to match that name with this face. "Wow," he said, words escaping him.

"There were three of us," he said excitedly, "Me, James, and one other blonde boy."

"No, dear heart," Minerva said softly, "There were four of you." She took a silent breath here to try to calm her nerves. Harry felt her trembling slightly as she held him, and looked up into her face. It was closed completely, as was usual when something bothered her and she didn't want anyone to know. Deciding to wait for later to ask her about it, he settled down as she continued, "But you've got the first three down perfectly."

Grinning, Remus continued to flip through the book. He didn't remember much else, but did stop at a picture of Lily from 1980 and comment, "You have your mother's eyes, Harry," then added, "and her ears," before turning to the next page. Minerva couldn't help but notice that Lily's hair was down, covering her ears in that picture.

It was supper time by the time they had flipped through each of the yearbooks once. As Minerva and Harry left after bidding Remus good bye and good night, Poppy brought in another huge tray of food for him.

"Madame Pomfrey," he began, meaning to ask a question that had irked him somewhat since the beginning of Minerva's visit.

"Poppy, Remus. It's Poppy," she corrected, her patience wearing thin.

"All right, fine, Poppy," he began again, "Professor McGonagall-."

"Minerva," she interrupted.

"-said that there were four of us here," he said, ignoring her correction, "I remember James and a blonde boy, but who was the other one?"

Poppy's eyes darkened and she briskly put the plate down and stared out the window a moment before quietly answering, "Perhaps it's best if you don't remember that part."


"Ma, what was the matter before?" Harry asked as they entered the Great Hall.

"When before?"

"When you said there were four of them instead of three."

Silently, Minerva led Harry up to the high table and into a seat between herself and Severus.

"Eat you vegetables, Harry, they'll help you grow," she told him, sidestepping his question successfully as he muttered, "You say that about everything."

"Perhaps that's because it's all true," Severus suggested from his other side as the man spooned some green beans and broccoli onto the boy's plate. Harry glared at him and yelled, "HEY!" when Severus attempted to put a second huge scoop of vegetables on the boy's plate.

"That's enough Severus," Minerva said from her seat beside the headmaster.

Obediently, he released the handle of the serving spoon and reached for the salt instead as Minerva put a few chunks of roasted potatoes on Harry's plate.

Once Harry was ready, Minerva turned to her own plate, ready to load up, but found that someone had already done that for her - exactly the way she would have done, down to the white turkey meat drowning in gravy. She grinned her thanks to Albus, who returned it in his usual twinkling manner, and dug in.

"So how is our patient today?" Albus asked in a low voice so as to keep the conversation between the two of them.

"Fine, I suppose," she said and reminded him, "He did only just wake up."

"Point taken," he concurred.

"But I suppose he is doing well. He remembered a bit more this afternoon."

"Minerva, that's wonderful! What did he remember?"

"James. And a bit of Lily and Peter as well."

"And Sirius?"

"Nothing," she replied frowning, "Do you suppose he might be blocking that out? He was much closer to Sirius than he was to Peter, and even James."

"It's possible," Albus sighed after a few moments' contemplation.

"I hope he'll be all right," she whispered.

"He will be," he assured her confidently, "He's made it this far, hasn't he?"

She grinned half-heartedly at that in silent agreement.

 

Chapter Twenty: Yuletide at Home

The night of Christmas Day would have been a quiet one - crystal snow covering the land and twinkling gently in the lingering twilight. As it was, dusk of December twenty-fifth at Hogwarts was loud and filled with echoing cheers and laughter. Two figures could be seen in the stands of the Quidditch pitch watching the raucous, impromptu match below. Sitting in the front row of the stands, the younger of the two, a petit witch with silver streaked dark brown hair knotted into a loose bun, laughed merrily beside an older wizard with long silver hair. She was leaning on the rail in front of them, her hands and forearms overlapping each other with her chin resting on top in a very child-like pose. An involuntary happy smile graced her features as her eyes followed the players zooming across the field. Her attention was riveted on the scene below. However, the same could not be said for the man beside her.

He hadn't even noticed he was staring until she laughed. Quickly, he ripped his gaze away from her face wondering why he was doing so in the first place. Concluding that this was a perfectly natural, unassuming thing to do, he resumed his observation, though now consciously taking more frequent glances down at the pitch. Here, watching her children and her adoptive kin play, Minerva was at ease. Albus hadn't seen this side of the witch in a very long time and often wondered if it still existed. It did. That Christmas night proved it. Professor McGonagall was just that when she taught, but Minerva was different - only a shadow of the strict, stern, logical teacher her students knew and respected. Minerva was a kind, loving woman, who happened to be able to turn into Professor McGonagall when situations required it. It was strange, he mused, being able to know and understand both sides of the woman, though at times it proved to be minimal knowledge. A small, unnoticed smile came to the headmaster's face as Minerva heaved an exasperated sigh and tucked a few stray strands of hair back behind her ears, again.

"Do you ever regret coming back?" Albus asked suddenly, intrigued as to why she would ever want to return and lead two different lives with two different personalities. Turning, she looked at him sharply, and from the look on his face could tell that this question had been bothering him for a while. Moreover, he wanted an answer - a real answer.

'Do I regret this?' she thought to herself silently, sitting back in the chair and taking the question to heart, as it was meant to be. She loved her simple life at Marian Cottage, with the Weasley children popping in and out almost every day. She missed it terribly, but did she regret returning to Hogwarts? No, she decided silently, teaching was as much a part of her as being a mother was.

"No, Albus, I don't," she replied steadily and turned her head to face his thoughtful blue eyes.

"You don't miss this?" he pressed, gesturing out onto the Quidditch pitch.

"Yes, I do," she said honestly. Trying to suppress an amused grin as she noticed his eyes grow darker at her pronouncement, she elaborated, "But I wouldn't trade what I have now for anything."

He grinned at her and took up her hand, dramatically proclaiming, "And we would be lost without you, fair lady." She laughed at his ridiculous attempt at a serious, honest face and he grinned back, lifting her gloved hand to his lips for a friendly light kiss.

"You really are off your rocker, Albus Dumbledore," she teased, pulling her hand away and batting him gently on the arm.

"Ah, but would you have me any other way, my dear professor?" he twinkled.

"No," she said softly, meaning every word, "No, I wouldn't. I like this old coot just the way he is," she finished, covering his hand with her own. Their eyes locked for an instant and then she grinned, "At the very least I tolerate you to no end - I did say you'd be on your own if you ever did something incredibly stupid. And yet here I am, back again."

"You're boundless forgiveness is appreciated," he grinned back at her, then added quietly, "I truly am very sorry-."

She held up a hand and cut him off, saying softly, "I know, Albus. I know."

Nodding in silent acknowledgement, he squeezed her hand gently and broke eye contact, looking out onto the Quidditch pitch where the players stood on the ground for a timeout. It was getting too dark to see and the adults earnestly wanted to call it quits, but the children begged to finish the game. With a mischievous twinkle in his eye, Albus raised his wand and muttered a brief incantation. The entire stadium glowed in a soft, but strong white light, illuminating every corner of the pitch.

"Thank you Uncle Albus!" the younger children yelled as the adults threw dirty looks up into the stands. Minerva's amused laugh joined Albus' as the teams took flight again.

Harry, Ron, and the twins had received a joint Christmas present that year from Amanda, the Figgs, Marcus, Poppy, and Albus - a complete set of junior Quidditch equipment. Molly had sighed in resignation when they ripped off the colorful Christmas wrapping paper that morning. The set came with six brooms (that didn't raise more than ten feet off the ground with anti-collision charms on them), a quaffle, two safety bludgers and bats, and a golden snitch that flew a bit slower than a normal one. The teams at the moment were Remus, Charlie, and Bill versus all six of the younger children (on the new brooms) and Amanda. They had virtually shrunk the field so it wouldn't be as vast and shortened the hoops to about eight feet to make it easier for the younger ones to manage. They had been outside since after lunch, their noses and ears pink and their cheeks flushed from the cold.

"Albus, we really should get them inside soon," Minerva admonished quietly.

"Oh, Minerva, it's Christmas," he said, as if that simple fact warranted their unending play time.

"It's past their bedtimes," she said sternly, her professor mode rearing its unyielding head. Albus' shoulders drooped in exaggerated defeat and she rolled her eyes at him, pulling out her wand and subtly pointing at the evasive snitch Harry was in the process of chasing. Miraculously (or magically) the snitch veered left, right into Harry's outstretched hand and he pulled out of his dive with spectacular flourish. She allowed them one victory lap before calling for them to go to bed. The exhausted men raised a tired cheer at that, and the children giggled as they began to put the equipment away. "You too, old man," she nodded to Albus with a teasing grin, "I daresay it's past your bedtime as well." He rose quickly and dashed after her as she skittered away down the back stairs of the stands, laughing lightheartedly in spite of herself.

An hour later, Minerva swayed peacefully on the rocking chair in Harry's room, the little six year old almost fast asleep in her arms. She crooned quietly to him as she held him close, her cheek resting against his forehead as he struggled to stay awake and draw out Christmas Day. Remus watched silently from the door, noting the way her fingers combed through the boy's hair absently as she sang. He leaned against the doorframe, feeling awake despite the hour and the prolonged period of playtime that day. Smiling his half-smile as Minerva finally rose and deposited the small boy on the bed gently, he watched a little enviously as she placed a kiss on his forehead and smoothed his hair lovingly out of his face. He had been remembering a bit more over the last two weeks, not enough to fully recover all of his memories, but enough to understand why Harry thought he had been stealing his mother. Once upon a time, Minerva had been his mother too, in a sense. She still was, really - the way she treated him was reminiscent of the way a mother would handle a son. Despite his initial confusion, Remus had responded in the like - his instincts bullying him into accepting her love once more.

Grinning slightly as she walked towards the door, she laid a hand on Remus' arm and led him quietly out to the main room. As they seated themselves on the plush couch before the fire, Minerva conjured up two mugs of steaming hot chocolate. Placing her left hand over the low back of the couch, she bended her knees and tucked her stockinged feet into the space between the armrest and the cushion. Remus adopted a somewhat stiffer pose beside her, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees and clasping the mug between his hands. They sat in silence for a few minutes, just enjoying each other's presence and staring into the flames lost in their own thoughts. She watched him out of the corner of her eyes, seeing the stiff posture and the familiar brooding look in his eyes.

"What's on your mind?" Minerva asked quietly, setting her mug down and giving the young werewolf her full attention. She didn't like the way he'd been so quiet after they'd all come in. Granted, it could have been because he was exhausted, but she knew him better than that.

"It's nothing," he automatically replied, but saw the no-nonsense gaze she skewered him with and sighed. "It's just the full moon," he said, "It's tomorrow night." At her questioning gaze, he explained, "Albus said my transformation, since it's kind of a traumatic experience every time, could trigger all my memories to come back." Leaning back, he kept his eyes on the fire, and whispered quietly, "I'm scared."

"Of what?" she questioned softly.

"Something happened, something huge that changed everything, and all I remember about it is that it drove me away from here." He paused for a moment before thinking aloud, "What if it happens again? I don't want to leave this."

She nodded silently and placed her arm around his shoulders, drawing him down and closer. Vividly remembering this particular gesture, he grinned quietly and swung his legs up and over the armrest of the couch, settling his head comfortably in her lap. Looking up into her face, he flashed his half-smile and she laughed softly, brushing his hair out of his face and gently tweaking his nose in an old teasing gesture. He sighed again, this time, letting his fears and worries leave him as he blew out the breath. She felt him relax then and smiled as he closed his eyes. Combing out his hair gently, she watched him succumb to a deep slumber.

He was far too young, in her eyes, to have seen and dealt with everything he had been forced to in his past. He didn't deserve this life, none of them did, James, Lily, Peter, Sirius, well, perhaps he did. 'No,' she thought silently, remembering the lively young mischief maker, 'He doesn't deserve that place either.' Remembering them only made her more miserable and she silently wished for the thousandth time, 'I wish they all had another chance.' Like one other did.

"Albus, what will happen to him?" she whispered nervously to the wizard beside her. His only answer was a weak shake of his head as they returned their attention to the scene unfolding before them.

"Severus Snape, you are held under the charge of being a Death Eater. Therefore, you are also charged with the kidnapping, rape, and death of. . ." Bartemis Crouch continued to list the charges against the young raven haired man in front of the dais staring back up at him with a defiant look in his eyes.

"Albus, do something!" she hissed angrily, clutching the man's arm with a frantic hand. "He's innocent!"

"I can't, Minerva," he said sadly, "I cannot sway the judicial system. I have no evidence to prove his innocence. They wouldn't understand."

"You are the most powerful and respected wizard in the room," she whispered hoarsely, "Make them understand!"

"Minerva," he hissed back, "I don't like this any more than you do, but we must allow this trial to run its course, I cannot interfere."

"Albus you have to! You can't let them send him back there. They might sentence him to-."

"I am not at liberty to order the Ministry of Magic around," he snapped.

"But you do have a responsibility to take care of your students," she growled, her patience nearing its end, "All of them."

"You think I don't want to?!"

"Well that's the impression you're giving."

"Those students couldn't mean more to me if they were my own!"

"Then do something!"

"We must wait for an appeal if they find him guilty."

"He will not last another week in Azkaban!"

"Does Headmaster Dumbledore have something to add?" Crouch asked crossly from his seat on the dais. The two teachers incessant whispering was beginning to annoy him.

"Albus please," she begged with pleading eyes in a barely audible whisper, "We may not be able to save them all, but please, please help him now. He's just a boy."

Her eyes were bottomless pits of sorrow and regret, pleading with him to make a difference here, in this courtroom, at this very moment. He turned away from her and rose, and her hand dejectedly fell away from his arm, but he caught it and grasped it tightly.

"I do," he stated strongly. The brief flash of hope on Severus' face was all he needed to continue. "I would like to state for the record that I am aware Severus Snape was indeed a Death Eater. However," he said in a slightly louder voice over the faint murmur of the small crowd, "It is my duty to inform you that he is no longer in Voldemort's service." A ripple coursed through the room as every person present flinched at the Dark Lord's name. Meeting Crouch's skeptical gaze squarely as Minerva tightened her grip on his hand, he finished, "Severus Snape has my full confidence."

He heard Minerva suck in a quiet breath and squeezed her hand in reassurance as Crouch nodded his acknowledgement of Dumbledore's opinion.

"Thank you, Headmaster," he said neutrally and Albus returned to his seat. As the self proclaimed judge turned to one of his advisors on his right, Albus noticed the hand he held was trembling. At his questioning gaze, Minerva shot him a weak, unconvincing smile and he covered her hands with his, wishing he could do more to calm her quaking emotions. Turning back to Severus, he met the young man's eyes with a firm look that said, 'I will get you out of this.'

"We have reached a decision," Crouch announced. The witch tensed beside him and he couldn't help but stiffen as well. "The court issues a warning to Severus Snape, allowing him to remain free as long as he maintains in his present position at Hogwarts."

Letting out the breath she hadn't even realized she was holding, Minerva felt her eyes water with happy tears and her vice like grip on Albus' hands relaxed.

"A second chance," she muttered quietly, dabbing her eyes with a lacey white handkerchief from her sleeve. She could still remember the relief that hit her that moment - as if she had been suffocating and a breath of fresh air was poured into her abused lungs. Cradling the young man's head in her hands, she rose from the couch carefully and summoned a large fluffy pillow from her bedroom. Tucking it behind his head, she brushed his lank hair out of his face again and reached for a thick blanket on the adjacent armchair. In true motherly fashion, she cast an extra heating charm on the blanket so it would keep him thoroughly warm and tucked it around his still, sleeping form. He muttered incoherently in his sleep as she pulled the cover over him and she shushed him gently, tucking the edges of the blanket around his shoulders and under his chin.

"Good night, dear heart," she whispered as she placed a kiss on his forehead.

" 'nigh," came the sleepy reply.


"Will you be alright?" the woman asked softly as a witch behind her bustled about, making sure there was no way for the werewolf to escape. "Are you sure you don't want me to stay?"

"I'm sure," the young man replied and questioned skeptically, "How much difference do you honestly think a tabby cat will make on a fully grown werewolf?"

Shaking her head, she touched his cheek gently and said, "You know I hate to leave you like this."

"I'll be fine," he stated again, catching her hand and leaning in to peck her on the cheek. "I always am," he added with his half smile.

"Come on, Minerva," Poppy said as she came back into the bedroom, "Stop mothering him, he's a grown man. We've got to get back to the castle."

Planting another kiss on his cheek, with a whispered, "She's lying, you know - you'll always be my little boy," she tweaked his nose as she turned and left, following Poppy out of the shack and back towards the castle via the tunnel and the Whomping Willow.

The Shrieking Shack was alive again that night, for the first time in eleven years - the supposed violent ghosts in a particularly bad mood that evening. As the moon disappeared in the faint gray of early morning, the screaming ceased. Inside the shack, a young man with a few scratch marks on his body lay on the floor panting heavily. Not only did he wheeze out of exhaustion, he tried to regulate his breathing as a flood of memories broke over his mind with all the force of a released river. All of the missing bits and pieces were there. Dumbledore had warned him about this - a traumatic experience bringing his memories back to him. Scenes flashed through his head wildly, turning themselves over and over in his head to make up for the month they had been lost to him.

He was running, trying to escape capture, plowing haphazardly through bushes and over protruding roots of the forest. He was on all fours, panting heavily, a deep slash from a fight with a ferocious dog bled heavily over his back along with various bites and scratches covering his body. He could feel his strength ebbing from his body very slowly, a foreign substance on his neck was the source of the poison. It was nearly dawn, another hour or so until the sky lit up in pale grays. His body was failing fast, but he didn't recognize it, his animal instincts warring with his human thoughts of 'Hide!' as he continued to run from an unseen foe. His vision blurred slightly as he stumbled, his eyes missing a subtle change in the natural floor. Pain shot up his right foreleg as a thin wire wrapped around his limb. Out of his mind with pain, the creature struggled against the snare, yelping painfully as the wire cut deeper and deeper into his wrist.

Dawn finally broke and the werewolf transformed back into a young man, nearly delirious now from the poison. 'Minerva,' he thought weakly, 'Help.' Concentrating with very fiber in his being, he disappeared and the snare dropped to the ground. When he opened his eyes, he saw nothing but hills surrounding him and stretching over the land as far as the eye could see. Groaning painfully, he stood and sniffed the air. There it was - the scent of strong magic to the south east. With only one goal in mind, he trudged toward the valley to his left. Grinning wearily as he topped a rise and caught sight of a gleaming castle in the distance, he stregthed his resolve and concentrated on placing one foot in front of the other.

The highlands faded into a dark corridor.

"Moony, come on," a boy with messy black hair urged quietly, "We haven't even figured out the password to the witch yet!"

"Come on, listen to Prongs," echoed another dark-haired boy, "It might go all the way to Hogsmeade!"

"We've already got four detentions this week," the slightly sickly- looking brunette said sternly. "And we _do_ have to study for our O.W.L.s sometime this year."

"Oh, come on, the O.W.L.s aren't till the end of the year!" the second black haired boy said impatiently, "We've got months and months to waste on studying."

"Padfoot," Moony sighed in exasperation, "Studying for those exams aren't a waste of time - they could land us really good jobs-."

"Sshh!" a fourth voice hissed in a panicky voice, "Someone's coming."

Silently, the four boys ducked under a cloak and vanished.

The darkness brightened quickly into the kitchen of a small London flat.

A newspaper dropped out of his numb hands and he collapsed into a chair, clutching his head in anguish. A wizened old wizard placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off woodenly and rose, his back to the man sitting at the table.

"Why did he do it?" came his choked question. Dumbledore remained silent as the young man struggled to gain control of his raging emotions. The conversation that followed was full of nothing but would-be comforting words and a hollow acceptance of sympathy.

Finally, the scene shimmered and he found himself overlooking the quaint district of Old Quebec.

He was seated in a chair on a balcony over the bistro where he worked, staring not at the view, but at the curt letter lying on the table before him waiting to be sealed and sent.

[Professor Dumbledore,

I have no regrets about leaving - it was something I had to do. I am well and out of the country. Please tell Professor McGonagall not to worry. I couldn't stay. And nothing you say will convince me to return.

Sincerely,

Remus Lupin]

"I can't go back," he resolutely whispered to himself, "I can't - I'm alone."

The last thought echoed in his mind the loudest. He was alone - the last Marauder. Why did he stay here, at Hogwarts, in this place that held so many reminders of events from his lost childhood? It was too much for the young man to want to remember. He was there at her request. He remembered the sympathetic gazes she covertly shot him his entire stay. "Damn her sympathy," he growled, heaving himself off the floor as he ignored his protesting muscles, and made for the door. Before he had gone more than two steps, the door swung open to admit a far too cheerful medi- witch.

"Good morning, Remus," she greeted with a smile, "I take it the injuries aren't that serious-." Her sentenced was sliced off by the dangerous look in his eyes. "Oh dear God," she whispered.

"Yes," he hissed, "I remember. Why didn't anyone tell me this before?"

"We thought it would be better for you to remember on your own," came the quiet reply even as she held out a potion of her most potent healing potion. He downed it automatically, ignoring its vile taste and pushed past her.

"Remus wait," she said, hurrying after him, "Where are you going?"

"Away from here," he snapped in reply. Yes, leaving was the best idea he'd had in a month - he should have never come. There was nothing here for him but nostalgic memories of a childhood that faded too quickly into the harsh real world.

Minerva was sitting on the steps looking out over the lake and the Whomping Willow when its branches ceased moving and a figure stormed angrily out of the tunnel the tree hid.

"Remus?" she called as the figure came closer, "What-."

Her question died on her lips as his head snapped up and his pale blue eyes met hers in anger.

"I'm leaving," he snapped simply.

Ten minutes later, Minerva caught up with him after staring blankly at the space he had vacated when he said "leaving." He was in her rooms, his tattered old suitcase open (Albus had sent for a few of his old things a week before) and flinging his belongings into it furiously.

"Remus, please," Minerva pleaded, "don't do this, dear heart. Talk to me."

"Talk," he snarled, slamming his suitcase closed, "That's all you ever want to do - talk."

"Yes talk," she said, trying to keep her emotions and her temper in check. "I don't want to lose you again. Don't shut me out."

"I've told you how I feel and yet you insist on badgering me."

"A caustic 'I'm fine' does not constitute telling me anything of substance," she snapped.

"Then what do you want me to say?" his voice cracked, "That I feel lost? That I have to command myself to live a somewhat normal life? That I have to force myself to breathe every time I think about what happened?" When she failed to reply, he yelled, "What the hell do you want from me?"

"I want you to be happy!" she cried, "I want you to not have to force yourself to continue to exist! I want you to move on, not run, move on!"

"Move on?" he repeated stonily, "Move on and stop dwelling in the past, like you, is that it?"

"Yes," she whispered in affirmation.

"Hell, woman!" he shouted angrily, "All you do day in and day out is dwell in the past!"

"What are you talking about?" she questioned sharply.

"I'm talking about you not moving on, like you tell everyone else to," he barked bitingly, "You've never gotten over you're old boyfriend's death and you know it!" she paled at this and he continued, "So stop being such a bloody hypocrite and leave me the hell alone." With that, he snatched up his tattered satchel and stormed out the door, slamming it angrily behind him.

"Ma?" a sleepy voice questioned from the doorway, "What's going on?"

"Nothing, love," she said, guiding him back to his bed quickly, "Go back to sleep, I'll be back in a moment."

"M-kay," he muttered, immediately complying and passing out once again.

A striped gray tabby tore through the halls, following the scent of her oldest kit, pleading with him silently in her mind, 'Please don't go.'

He was already yards away from the castle by the time she reached the top of the front steps and she raced down them, her cat form more suited for the chase than her human form. Transforming, she pulled out her wand and cried, "Immobulus!" and froze him in mid-step. Taking deep breaths, she marched purposefully up to him and looked him square in the eye.

"You - are - alive, Remus Lupin," her words came out quietly, but with no small amount of force and conviction behind them, "That alone is reason to not throw you life away to rot in sorrow." With a flick of her wrist, the freezing spell dissipated and Remus set both feet on the ground. He stared at her for a few moments, not really knowing how to deal with the unconditional love in her eyes.

"I'm alone," he said softly as he shifted his gaze to his feet, "I'm the last one," his anger ebbing and being replaced with guilt, "The last Marauder and I don't know what to do."

He flinched a bit when her hands came up to gently cradle his face and force him to look at her.

"You will never be alone, dear heart. And don't you ever think otherwise." she whispered, and placed a tender kiss on his forehead. "Now come back up to the castle and eat your breakfast. You must be starving after last night."

Grinning wryly at the little witch fixing him with her no-nonsense gaze again, he allowed her to lead him back to the stone walls that housed a painful flood of memories.


Three sharp knocks brought Hogwarts' headmaster out of his reverie as he shook his head to clear his thoughts. He stood before the wide window in his office, gazing out into the picturesque setting. The moon was waning that night, bright but no longer full, meaning that three specific people would sleep soundly tonight. It was nearing eleven o'clock in the evening, the stars hidden behind ominous gray-black clouds that promised a heavy coating of snow come morning. He raised his eyebrows at the identity of the late night peace-breaker and called for her to come in.

"I'm sorry to bother you so late, Albus," Minerva began, but stopped when the headmaster held up his hand, staying her apology.

"It's no bother to see an old friend, Minerva," he twinkled at her, gesturing for her to take a seat in one of the plush armchairs by the fire. As she obliged, he couldn't help but watch her closely for any signs of what caused her to make this trip. The flickering flames of the fire cast shadows over her face, making her look older and more worn than he had ever seen her before. Her thick hair was pinned back in a gold hairnet and her green tartan bathrobe pooled about her feet (it had been her father's). "Hot chocolate?" he suggested lightly and grinned at her amused nod.

Setting down a steaming mug in front of her, he sat back in the chair opposite and peered at her over the rim of his cup with raised eyebrows, silently asking a question.

"Do I dwell in the past?" she asked suddenly. The wizened headmaster had not been expecting that - Minerva had never asked him questions about herself like this before.

"What happened?" he asked quietly.

"It was just something Remus said. . . about me being a hypocrite when I tell others to move on and -."

She cut herself off then, not sure where exactly she was going with this.

"Minerva," he spoke her name in a tone that forced her to meet his serious gaze, "You do not dwell in the past. You think of it often, but you do not let it overwhelm and overcome you." She didn't seem convinced, so he added in a low voice, "If you truly do live in the past, then why do you keep coming back here?" He paused for a moment, letting the question sink in. "I'll tell you why - it's because you work for the future - for the children, for Harry."

"The future," she echoed quietly. "I suppose I must, hmm?"

Grinning silently at her pensive expression, he confirmed, "Yes, you must."

 

Chapter Twenty-One: Plotting the Course

[You are absolutely out of your mind, do you realize that? Completely insane. Not only is this plan of yours doomed to failure, but now that you've so graciously filled me in, I might have to testify if it all blows up in your face and leaves you dead]

{Don't be ridiculous, Remmie-san. This plan is foolproof. They're both too caught up in denying it - they won't even realize what's going on until it's too late!}

[You're ideas are never foolproof. Know why? Because they were developed in the mind of a fool. Just stop. And don't call me Remmie-san, Ms. Juveniline]

{I hate that name. Stop it. How did you find out my middle name?}

[Marauder's privilege]

Rolling her eyes at the long piece of parchment before her, the gray haired witch sniffed distastefully and muttered, "Marauder's privilege my eye." The so called "Marauder's privilege" had been their excuse for knowing anything they weren't supposed to. Amanda scribbled back a reply, bringing the original topic back to the forefront of their written conversation.

QuillSpeak were a relatively new invention in the wizarding world. They were very much like muggle walkie-talkies, only written and came in pairs, therefore only those two parchments would be able to communicate with each other. It had been causing quite a problem in the classroom since its introduction to the market. Nevertheless, it served its present purpose well.

Thousands of miles away in a small room above a bistro in Old Quebec City, Remus glared at the witch's handwriting now appearing on the identical piece of parchment in front of him.

{It'll work. Trust me}

Dipping his quill in ink, the young werewolf tried to phrase his misgivings eloquently. After a moment he shrugged.

[No it won't]

{It will so!}

[She'll see right through it. And even if SHE doesn't, HE will. He always does]

{Not so. He's oblivious when it comes to loving her}

[How can you be so sure that's what this is? They HAVE been friends for a very long time. You may just be reading into this too much]

{Poppy thinks it's really it}

[She wouldn't happen to know about this little scheme, would she?]

{No}

[yep.]

She could almost hear him sigh in resignation and grinned as she wrote back,

{I still think it's a bit gross, but that's besides the point}

[Ah yes. The point. Which is?]

{They're prefect for each other! And I'm going to make this happen. It'll be good}

A pause.

[Please don't throw yourself headlong into this - you'll crack your skull open when you fall]

{I've got it taken care of - I've got a plan and everything}

Another pause.

[You're crazy]

{I know}


Singed grass occupied the short distance between the two card players as they attempted to play "Go Fish" with Exploding Snap cards. Their attempt was futile, to say the least, as the cards were all different and insisted on blowing up at the most random moments. Calculating her next move carefully, Amanda covertly eyed the young boy in front of her and asked a simple enough question.

"Harry, do you ever wish you had a daddy?"

The green eyed youth looked at Amanda suspiciously before answering, "Nah, Uncle Albus is a really good papa."

"Oh really?" she said to herself. "Have you ever thought about calling him Papa instead of Uncle Albus?" the gray haired witch needled.

"Yeah, but I don't think he'd like it."

"But you could always try you know."

"Why?"

"Why not?"

Harry narrowed his eyes. For all of his six years, he was no dummy. A brief flash of mischief crossed his aunt's face and his eyes widened. Looking around cautiously, he inched closer to her and said quietly, "What're you up to, Aunt Manda?"

"Harry," she said in an offended tone, "I am a grown up! I'm not up to anything!"

Rolling his eyes, he responded innocently, "Ok, maybe Aunt Poppy would know," and started to stand up. He gave a sharp squeal of laughter as Amanda's arm darted out to capture him and topple him onto her lap.

"All right, all right," she said and lowered her voice conspiringly, "You drive a hard bargain laddy boy."

He grinned at her and opened his eyes wide in a silent question, egging her on.

Hesitating, Amanda eyed the boy before her critically. If he squealed, her cover would be blown, on the other hand, with his help, this little shindig could move along quite nicely. Reaching her decision, she demanded, "You have to promise me right now you won't say anything to anyone - especially Aunt Poppy and your Ma, got it?"

"What is it?" he asked warily, the request sounding very familiar. It was the same type of request he had heard prior to countless mishaps and he had learned to never immediately give his word on an undisclosed topic.

"I'm not telling unless you promise," she said firmly.

Harry gasped and jumped up. "It's about Uncle Albus isn't it?" he yelled in triumph just before Amanda's hand clapped over his mouth.

"SSSSSSHHH!" she shushed loudly, hauling him back onto her lap. It was a beautiful Saturday morning in spring and luckily a Hogsmeade weekend. Minerva was out with the students in the village and, since Harry declined a visit, had left her son with Amanda. At the moment, Amanda and Harry were seated in the lush grassy area on the far side of Hagrid's hut, the game of Exploding Snap forgotten on the ground beside them. The older of the two looked around frantically as she hurriedly silenced her adopted nephew. Muffled giggling came from the little boy in her lap and she removed her hand for his mouth.

"You're gonna get in BIG trouble if anybody finds out about this one, aren't you?" he asked, giggles punctuating the question. She couldn't help herself - the boy's giggles were contagious.

"I will if you tell anyone," she giggled back at him. "All right, stop," she commanded, taking a deep breath to quell her fit.

"So what now?" Harry asked as his giggles quickly dissipated. "What's going on? Come on, tell me!"

"Do you promise?"

"Is it bad?" he asked dubiously.

"No, not at all," Amanda replied, "In fact, it could be very, VERY good."

"Ok, I promise," he replied, his curiosity overwhelming his senses.

"Do you ever see Uncle Albus looking at your Ma funny sometimes?" she asked conspiringly as she placed him on the ground next to her.

The boy's brow furrowed as he struggled to remember. "Yeah, he does that a lot," he nodded as he remembered a few incidents like that.

"When he thinks no one's watching, right?"

"Yeah, but I see it," he said with a triumphant grin, then added with a puzzled frown, "Ma looks at him funny sometimes too, but I almost never catch her." Seeing Amanda's grin, he asked curiously, "What does it mean?"

"I think it means -," she bent low to whisper in his ear and the boy's eyes grew wide.


Frowning at a piece of paper in his hand, Albus Dumbledore laid it down and rubbed his eyes in exasperation. Cornelius Fudge was at it again, badgering him for advice about running the magical community. Dragon regulation and goblin pensions were the latest agenda of the Magical General Assembly and the bumbling head minister wanted advice. He shook his head wearily and moved to pick up a blank piece of parchment and write a reply to the minister. Suddenly, he looked up, unseeing, at the door - someone was coming, having said the password to his office. His mind created an image of a small boy with big innocent eyes and he grinned, calling, "Come in, Harry," before the boy had a chance to knock. The smile immediately vanished from his face as the boy's downcast countenance came into view.

Sniffing quietly, Harry shuffled over towards the headmaster as the tall man made his way around his desk to crouch down by him.

"Harry, whatever's the matter?" he asked softly, trying to keep the alarm out of his voice. The young boy met the headmaster's concerned eyes and his lip trembled slightly. He didn't answer him. Instead, he wrapped his arms around Albus' neck and buried his face in the crook of the man's collar, breathing in the familiar smell of peppermints and sugar. Wrapping his arms around the boy in return, the headmaster rose and walked over to a plush armchair beside the fire and sat down. Quietly, he shushed the boy and held him close, willing the sudden sadness out of him. It was a good ten minutes later that the quiet sobs stopped and Harry spoke.

"Uncle Albus?" he whispered.

"Yes, m'boy," he whispered back, not wanting to release the boy when he was in such a state.

"I need a papa," he said in the same quiet whisper.

"Why do you say that, Harry?" he asked gently, his heart slowly going back to its normal pace.

"Ron's dad takes him and the twins everywhere," he explained softly, absently tugging at the white beard that seemed to be all around him, "And Alex's dad takes him to watch Quidditch all the time. And there's nobody to look after Ma," he finished in a nearly inaudible whisper.

"Harry, your mother is quite capable of looking after herself," the wizard chuckled, "And doesn't Mr. Weasley take you along most of the time?"

"It's not the same," the boy insisted, pulling away from Albus a bit so he could look the old wizard in the eye, "I want my own Papa, not Ron's dad."

A blank buzzing resounded in Albus' mind. He had no idea what to say. Correction, he knew exactly what he wanted to say, but wasn't sure if the boy would appreciate his suggestion. His only response was to absently smooth the unruly mop of hair on the boy's head and stare at him blankly.

"What do you propose to do then, Harry?" he asked finally.

"Will you be my Papa?" the boy stared up at the headmaster with huge unassuming eyes, begging for the old man to say yes. Albus stared at him, hearing the words, but not fully accepting it as reality. "Please?" Harry added as an afterthought, his eyes on the verge of more tears.

It was all Albus could do to not get a little teary-eyed himself as he drew the small boy into a tight hug and whispered, "Oh, Harry, of course I will."

A few minutes later the headmaster and his new son emerged from the office only to be accosted by a frazzled looking Madame Hooch.

"Oh, Harry, thank goodness!" she said dramatically. "I've been looking everywhere for you!"

Rolling his eyes before glaring at the seemingly over-protective witch, Harry turned his head slightly and whispered in Albus' ear, "Papa, I think Aunt Manda's gone batty."

"I do believe you're right, m'boy," the headmaster replied quietly out of the corner of his mouth, trying to mask the surge of pride he felt when the boy directly addressed him as 'Papa.' To Amanda, he said, "Amanda, I think the students will be returning from Hogsmeade momentarily, will you go and make sure everyone returns?"

Her eyes immediately lost their innocent, sparkling aura and she glared at him briefly before clutching her hands together over her heart and airily exclaiming, "A head count! Oh, headmaster, you've positively made my day!" Following her statement, she turned and skipped off towards the main entrance. As she turned the corner, she stopped skipping and straightened her robes with a frown on her face. Peeking back around the corner, she watched the pair sharply until Harry noticed her and gave her a quick thumbs up. Winking at him in reply, she smiled mischievously, her inner sergeant saluting and silently relaying to her brain at HQ, "Operation Mistletoe is a go. Phase one complete. Good work people."


The Hogsmeade weekend had been relatively uneventful with everything running smoothly. All the same, Minerva was relieved to get back to the castle - she could only take so many hours of teenagers let loose on the town. She had been looking forward to a peaceful evening reading or replying to Remus' letter, so when she caught sight of Amanda skipping towards her through the throng of students headed up towards the castle, her hopes were immediately dashed.

"Now what did you do?" the witch asked her bouncing friend crossly.

"Why is it that every time I appear to have an excess amount of energy does everyone immediately assume I've done something?" the petit flying instructor questioned indignantly.

Minerva shook her head and cast her eyes towards the heavens briefly before resuming her path through the castle doors to the peace and quiet of her rooms. Trailing her as silently as humanly possible, Amanda piped up when they passed the entrance to the Great Hall.

"Supper's this way."

"Amanda, I've just spent the entire day in Hogsmeade with those teenagers. I would like to at least EAT in peace."

"No such luck, dearie. Come on," she said brightly and dragged Hogwarts' deputy through the doors.

The chatter in the cavernous hall was louder than usual, the older students replaying their time in Hogsmeade as the younger ones listened enviously.

"Don't frown so, Minerva," Amanda reproached lightly as they made their way between the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables. "It's their last real vacation until summer! What with the N.E.W.T.s and O.W.L.s and all that rubbish coming up."

"Amanda Hooch, those exams are two of the most important exams these students will take!" Minerva's voice rose angrily. "They are not rubbish. It is imperative that they do well on them! Their very futures depend on it!"

"All right, all right, you win," she relented with an unconvincing grin as she took her seat beside Sarah Sprout at the high table. Minerva's frown receded somewhat as she continued along the table to her place between Albus and Severus.

"Albus, where's Harry?" she asked looking around a she sat.

Albus gasped and winked at her, "I have no idea!" Titling his head towards his left, he asked in a wondering tone, "Wherever could he be?"

Minerva grinned as muffled giggles came from the other side of Albus' chair and she said, "Well I hope he comes back soon. I'm terribly worried about him. I hope nothing's happened!"

"I'm sure he's all right," he twinkled back at her.

"I'm right here, Ma!" the boy exclaimed as he popped out from behind the headmaster and bounded forward into her welcoming arms.

"There you are!" she said happily and enveloped him in a hug, covering his cheek with kisses. "So what did you do today?" she asked as she settled him in his chair between herself and Albus.

"Aunt Manda and me played Exploding Snap, and then Papa took me for a walk around the lake and we said hi to the giant squid. Papa says it's getting nice and warm for the squid now so he's happy in the lake because it's not too cold anymore."

"Papa?" Minerva asked, a bit confused.

"Uncle Albus says he'll be my Papa since I don't have one anymore," the young boy explained simply.

Eyebrows raised in surprise, Minerva met Albus' twinkling gaze over her son's head and nodded once when he mouthed "later" to her.

"Ma, can I go swimming in the lake tomorrow?"

"I don't think so, Harry, it isn't warm enough yet."

"But it's already May!" the boy protested after he swallowed a mouthful of mashed potatoes.

"The water's not warm enough yet. You can go swimming when we go home for the summer all right?"

"But that's ages away!"

"Harry, you mother's right," Albus said calmly, "The water's still cold from the winter. Water takes a much longer time to warm up than air does."

"Why?"

Grinning, Minerva turned back to her meal and began to eat as Albus explained the basics of scientific properties to the wide-eyed youngster.


"So are you going to shed some light on this new development or allow me to wonder for the rest of my days?"

From across the chessboard, Albus replied, eyes on the pieces and waving a hand in a noncommittal manner, "Give me a moment, I need to concentrate."

Rolling her eyes at his response, she sighed and sank back into her chair. Amanda had relieved Minerva of Harry, promising to have him in bed by nine - a sentiment the deputy knew was untrue, but relented all the same. Besides, she needed to speak with Albus, and if it had to be over a mug of steaming mint tea, chess, and a plate of Honeydukes chocolate and sugar quills, so be it. However, said headmaster had been avoiding the topic spectacularly since they settled down before the roaring fire in his office nearly an hour before. She almost sighed again, this time in response to the peace and familiarity of the evening and her companion. How many evenings had they spent enjoying each other's quiet company? Their seats by the fire were virtually molded unto their bodies and his chess set knew her very well. They used to play chess all the time, even when she was a student. He was one of the few people with whom she could have a real, intelligent discussion with. And he was one of the only people who could make her laugh.

He used to be quite a looker, as Poppy once said. When he was teaching her, his beard was cut shorter, just an inch or two off of his face. It used to make him look much younger. Even now, with a long sweeping white beard that made him look more like Merlin himself than anyone else, he still had a certain attractive aura about him - when he wasn't playing the benign old headmaster everyone else knew and loved. Here, now, in the confines of his rooms, he was Albus - sometimes shrewd and calculating, but always powerful, playful, and funny. She was one of the only people who understood his jokes. They had shared many laughs together over the years. She was glad they were able to salvage their friendship after that fight. Nothing would ever be able to replace it. She shook herself out of her musings and tried to focus on something else, like the clock on the wall - which had read nine-thirty when he began this turn, and now read a quarter to ten.

Finally, when she thought she would burst with impatience, Albus nodded and said, "Pawn to C4."

Shooting him an exasperated look, she turned her attention back to their game. "Albus, sometimes I don't know why I bother. You have got to be one of the worst chess-players I've ever met."

"I'm not half as bad as you make me out to be," he twinkled back, "Undertaking a game of this against you, however, keeps me humble."

She tried not to show her amusement, but it was no use and she chuckled happily at his lighthearted demeanor. "So back to my question, Professor Dumbledore," she demanded sternly, although the laughter in her eyes remained, "What is this 'Papa' business?" Seeing uncertainty flash across his features, she added in a gentler tone, "I'm not mad, Albus. I'm just a bit confused."

So he told her of the afternoon's events and placed a hand over hers comfortingly when she sighed, "I wish he'd said something sooner. I had no idea it bothered him that much."

"And what would you have done, hmm?" he asked incredulously, "What could you have done? Harry took care of it in his own time, Minerva. And it's all worked out for the best."

"I suppose."

"Well, I know so," he said softly, squeezing her hand briefly before letting go.

"You don't mind, do you?" she asked, meeting his eyes, "I know it's not everyday you're adopted by-."

"Whatever would make you think I mind?" he asked, clearly surprised with the question. "I don't mind in the least! In fact, I'm honored. I'm so happy to have him call me Papa. I couldn't love him any more if he were my own."

"I'm glad you feel that way," she responded with a smile, "And I'm also glad you've put your ridiculous misgivings behind you."

Smiling broadly, he replied, "You commanded it, my dear lady. And your commands leave very little room for arguing."

Giggling again, she glanced at the chessboard and said, "Bishop to A8."

Shaking his head as her white bishop strode across the board and annihilated his last rook, he muttered, "And the unyielding head of Gryffindor House returns."

Half an hour later, the plate of sweets was nearly empty, Minerva's pieces had destroyed both of Albus' knights, rooks, three pawns and a bishop while the headmaster's army had crushed both of her knights, a rook and a pawn.

"Check."

"King to C7."

"Queen to F4," came a calm command, and the headmaster again watched helplessly as his bishop was pounded to dust. "Checkmate, Albus."

"That's not checkmate," he stated indignantly.

She grinned mischievously, "Just making sure you're paying attention."

With a sigh, he gazed at the board. He was trapped. There was absolutely no way for him to even think about winning this match. If he moved anywhere, he would either be taken by her rook or her bishop. Still, he refused to go down peacefully.

"Pawn to D6."

"You're only prolonging the inevitable, you know," his king quipped in an annoyed sort of voice. "Professor McGonagall, can you be black next time? My subjects are getting tired to losing."

She laughed aloud at this as Albus glared at his piece. "No one asked for your opinion, your majesty," he shot back, matching his piece's annoyance. Shaking his head as the little black king mimed locking his mouth, he glanced over at the still giggling woman across from him. She was beautiful when she laughed, he absently thought to himself, she looked so much younger, so carefree - no one could ever tell how many burdens she carried with her.

As she wiped a tear from the corner of his eye and looked up, the pensive look on his face vanished and he grinned at her, "Your move."

"Bishop to D5."

He heaved a long-suffering sigh as his queen was reduced to a pile of rubble.

"Your move," Minerva said brightly.

"There is absolutely no reason for you to be so thrilled about this."

"Of course not, Albus," she replied contritely, but the sparkle never once left her eyes.


"Harry, is there anything you want to say to Remus?" the witch asked, dipping a quill in ink and waiting for the boy's reply.

"Ask him if he's coming over for the summer," he called from his place sprawled in front of the fire, coloring a picture to be sent to the young werewolf. Jade, his pet snake, had grown over the year, measuring at least a foot long and was now draped across the back of his neck and shoulders, watching him draw her on the parchment.

Amanda heard the snake hiss and heard Harry giggle in response before hissing back. The Parseltongue had alarmed her in the beginning, now it was cute. Adorable, if you will. She could still remember the first time she had seen him speak it. It had been at least three summers ago. Minerva was working in the garden and she, in true summer fashion, was lounging in a hammock off to the side while Harry played in the mud. Hearing the boy giggle and make whispering sounds, she turned her head slightly and sat bolt upright at the sight that greeted her, falling out of the hammock and flattening a row of string beans in the process.

"Oh for heaven's sake, Amanda," Minerva had snapped, "I spent ages trying to get them to grow straight."

"It- he-snake-hiss! What?" stammering in reply, she had shaken her head forcefully to try to get the image of her nephew lying on his stomach conversing with a brightly-colored garden snake out of her mind.

"It's just Blinky, Aunt Manda," the little three year old had said calmly.

Amanda grinned at the memory, remembering it had taken Minerva the rest of the day, and then the week, to calm her down.

{Harry wants to know if you're coming for the summer. Are you?} she wrote to Remus.

[Is he right there?]

{Yes}

[Tell him to go to bed. It's nearly eleven!]

{Yeah, yeah. Well?}

[Tell him I'll be by]

"He says he'll be by," she called to Harry.

"Is he coming over for my birthday?"

{Will you be there for his birthday?}

[Yes]

"He said yes."

"YAY!"

"Yay what, Harry?" came a voice from the opening door, then added sternly, "And why are you not in bed?

"Uh-oh," said the two inhabitants of the room.

{Minerva's back! I'll talk to you again next week. KISSES}

Amanda folded the paper quickly and stuffed it back into the deepest pocket of her robes, coming forward and saying innocently, "It's so late, dears, I think I'll go now."

"That's the last time I leave you to put him to bed," Minerva stated crossly. Quick and efficient were two words that described her well, so not even twenty minutes later, Harry was fast asleep and tucked away snugly in his bed. Minerva sat at the edge of her bed, brushing out her dark hair as her thoughts drifted back to Harry's new 'Papa.'

She was glad her son had finally found someone to dub Papa. He was a boy and needed a father-figure in his life. Arthur Weasley was a caring man, but he only had so much time on his hands to devote to the boy, what with seven children of his own. She grinned as she remembered the way Albus' eyes lit up whenever Harry called him, or even referred to him as Papa. This would be good for them - both of them. She just hoped Harry wouldn't get the wrong idea about the two friends being his mother and father.

 

Chapter Twenty-Two: Requesting Backup

A triumphant smile creased the flying instructor's face as she beamed around the room. She had just finished relaying her ingenious plan for the summer to a select group of people she knew she could trust to either keep quiet or get the job done. Arthur Weasley sat at one end of the dining room table with his right hand massaging his temple as if the witch's words were too painful to bear. Molly sat at her husband's left staring at Amanda with a look of stunned disbelief on her face. Directly across from her, Remus shook his head knowingly at the obviously insane little witch. Daniel Figg wore an expression very similar to that of the young werewolf seated beside him. His wife, on the other hand, sat silent for a few moments, letting the words sink in, before throwing her head back and laughing hysterically.

"It's brilliant!" the little old witch yelled between cackles.

Molly Weasley glared at the uproarious woman beside her for a moment before meeting Amanda's eyes squarely. "It's crazy," she stated firmly.

"Perhaps crazy enough to work, hmm?"

"No, perhaps crazy enough to go completely wrong and end their friendship for good."

Arabella's laughter stopped immediately, her face becoming pensive as Amanda's grin wavered somewhat.

"Hadn't thought of that," she admitted in a low mutter.

"Well you should have," Molly snapped, not at all pleased with the proposed plan, "Not only are we putting their friendship at risk, but have you even given a thought to what it could do to Harry? If this falls through, Harry will probably lose Albus as a father. Minerva won't want anything to do with him, and/or vice versa. And the worst part about all of this matchmaking is that you've not even thought of how much Minerva has had to go through already. She's already lost one love of her life - and nearly two," she added with a quick glance at Remus, "Do you honestly think she can handle any more?"

"Not to mention if he breaks her heart, I'll break his neck," Remus growled softly, glaring at the table in front of him. When the buzz of Molly's words failed to continue, he looked up and met five startled pairs of eyes. "Sorry," he apologized sheepishly, "I didn't mean for that to come out."

"Well," Molly sighed, "I suppose that's that then."

"But what if they really are meant for each other?" Arabella protested weakly.

"If they are, Bella, then they will find each other on their own," the Weasley matron replied crisply. "The last thing they need is our meddling."

The others muttered their assent and rose from the table, rummaging through the kitchen for the snacks they were supposed to be gathering to take back down to the lake.

'They're wrong,' Amanda thought stubbornly as she levitated three pitchers of lemonade out of the refrigerator, 'They'll never see what's right under their nose unless someone tweaks it for them.' Trying not to grin at the mental picture, she silently thought, 'HQ this is base for Operation Mistletoe, Phase Two is a no go. Permission to revert to Plan B?' her inward grin faded slightly as she hesitated, remembering Molly's warning, but then strengthened her resolve, replying, 'Proceed with caution.'


It was hard to believe she had only been away for the better part of a year. Looking back, that year seemed much longer - more like an entire lifetime than ten short months. Minerva sighed wistfully, thinking, 'Well at least I get to relax now.' It was the end of June and Molly had insisted on having "a little get together" the day after she and Harry returned from Hogwarts. In light of the year's events and Harry's newfound family, she had asked Remus and Albus to attend and kick off their summers properly. At the moment, the tired deputy headmistress lounged beside her superior on the long, low-backed chair twenty feet out from the shore with her eyes closed, listening to the squeals of laughter coming from the splashing, noisy group of youngsters in the water.

A soul less familiar with the pair might think them married, or at least a couple. Albus sat comfortably in the wavy contours of the chair, dressed in plain muggle cloths of a lightweight button down white shirt and relaxed-fit khakis rolled up to his knees as his feet dangled in the water. His left arm was draped across the back of the chair, the other leaning comfortably on an armrest. The cuffs of his sleeves were rolled up past his elbows, revealing lean, but hard muscular forearms and his collar had two buttons undone. In fact, the clothing he wore now was much less bulky than his normal wizarding wear and inadvertently showed off his lean athletic build. His long, sweeping beard had been artfully braided into three confusing sections by little Ginny, but thankfully she had left the rest of his hair alone and in the neat ponytail at the base of his neck.

Like Albus, Minerva had discarded her robes for more practical summer clothes - an at-the-knee, sleeveless dress in soft blue with delicate lavender daisy print, and ballet neck collar. Her feet dangled in the water as well, although she had to slouch a bit in order for her toes to actually reach the lake. As a result, her head rested comfortably on the headmaster's bicep as she absently scooted closer to him in her attempts to find the most comfortable position. Albus shifted a bit and she settled herself with a soft grin. That kind of action, an unspoken message and compliance of their two persons was enough to lead anyone who didn't know them to the mistaken idea that they were together. Unfortunately, no one was paying attention to them, so their seamless interaction went unnoticed by all, including each other, yet again.

"What are those children doing?" Minerva asked idly as yet another light spray of water hit her.

"I'm not quite sure," came the thoughtful reply, "I believe they started out playing 'shark attack' but apparently Charlie and Bill caught everyone and now it's every man - and dog - for himself."

"It usually ends up like that," she chuckled. "Is Ginny still out there or did she go back up to the house with Switch?"

"No, she's sitting in the shade reading. Switch is with her. She's a very bright young girl," he commented. "She'll go far with that kind of drive."

"She'll be pleased. She's got very high expectations for herself for all she's only five."

"She's going to be six in a few months."

Groaning, Minerva's face scrunched up as she moaned, "Don't say that. I feel old enough as it is. My bebay's growing up so fast."

"Just four more years until he starts at Hogwarts," Albus pointed out impishly, "And not long after that he hits puberty."

"Albus Dumbledore," she said, sitting up and glaring at him, "I've got a good mind to knock you into that lake right now."

"You wouldn't!" he mock-gasped, "Not only am I your employer, I'm a feeble old man who can't take the cold! Surely you don't want me to catch a chill."

"Feeble old man, my eye," she grumbled, leaning back into the chair.

Chuckling as he loosely wrapped his arm around her shoulders, he refocused his attention on the screaming children, who had caught sight of a very playful werewolf careening towards them from the shore. Remus crashed into the water, sending huge splashes all around on his way to the center of the water fight. Stretching himself out fully before leaping into the water, he created a huge splash with a perfected belly flop. Albus saw the water coming and shielded most of himself with Minerva. Gasping as the cold water hit her, she turned slowly to glare at the headmaster, whose innocent expression grew more alarmed as he met the woman's eyes. The children giggled as Remus sought to hide behind them and the older ones silently referred all blame to the young man.

"That," she said slowly, "was not funny." Then, before he could register the mischievous gleam in her eye, she plucked out her wand and sent him flying into the water. Rising to his feet after hitting the water with a healthy splash, he stood glaring at the grinning witch as the water lapped at his waist and poured from his drenched hair. Reaching a hand into his pocket to retaliate, he scowled when he found his wand missing and made a face when he caught sight of Minerva waving it around tauntingly on the wooden catwalk. As he waded out of the lake, he shooed the children up onto the shore to eat - the food had arrived, along with four adults and Amanda. Minerva dried them each with warming charms and conjured blankets over them as they reached the shore, their teeth chattering as the breeze hit their wet bodies. She did the same for the older ones as well while Amanda stood beside her and teasingly made baby noises before Minerva silenced her with a quick charm. As a saturated Albus trudged towards them, she grinned apologetically and handed him back his wand as she performed a drying charm.

"I could fire you for that, you know," he grumbled, but his twinkling eyes belied his stern tone.

Laughing mockingly, she replied, "I know, but you wouldn't."

"Insubordinate," he muttered with a grin.

"Old coot."

"Now, now, children," Arabella cut in to their lighthearted banter, "There's no need for name calling."

"Boys, stop it," Molly snapped at the young men and boys stuffing their faces as they hovered around the sprawling heaps of food, "The rest of us have to eat as well."

"But Mum!" Charlie mock-gasped, "How could you possibly suggest that this little bit of food would feed us all?"

That day was a summer Sunday at its perfection. It was a lazy day, full of swimming, eating, laughing, and storytelling. The sun set shortly before eight that evening, with enchanting fireflies coming out to play in the gathering dusk. They were all seated at the back of Marian Cottage - Albus, the Figgs, and the Weasley parents relaxing on the comfortably padded wicker chairs. From their seats on the steps of the porch, Bill, Charlie, and Remus retold the best pranks ever pulled in Hogwarts history to their young, wide-eyed audience sprawled out on the grass before them. Amanda and Minerva were in the kitchen cleaning up - well, Minerva cleaning, Amanda flitting about rather aimlessly.

"Minerva?"

"Hmm?"

"How have you been lately?" the little witch questioned seriously. "I mean, everything's all right, right? Nothing bothering you?"

Quirking a surprised eyebrow at the other witch, Minerva replied, "Amanda, what on earth are you getting at?"

"It's nothing - I mean, it's something, but if you don't want to talk about it, that's all right too."

"Are you making sense yet?"

"Are you - I mean - do you still wear. . . that around your neck?" Amanda asked softly, adding, "I don't mean to pry, but I do worry about you." The transfigurations teacher had told Poppy and Amanda the whole story of Kael - from their fight to his proposal - shortly after the spring semester began.

The shorter witch watched concernedly as Minerva breathed a heavy sigh and waved her wand to pause the soaking, scrubbing, rinsing and drying of her plates. The tableware hung in mid-air, a bristly sponge frozen beside a greasy plate while soapy water dripped off another waiting to be rinsed and a striped blue dishcloth hovered over a third.

"No," she replied softly, tugged the thin chain out from under the collar of her dress. Holding the new pendant out for her friend to examine, she tried not to grin as Amanda eagerly leaned forward to study it. Instead of an unfulfilled engagement ring, a dainty charm of her family crest hung proudly from the chain. It was a small charm, only slightly larger than a pumpkin seed, but stunningly beautiful. A lean, regal Griffin was cast in unmoving muggle gold with a tiny but perfectly hewn sapphire as its eye. The block base of the pendent was engraved with her clan's age old adage translated into English, "Hope Guides Us."

"Oh, Minerva," she breathed, softly, "It's beautiful." Tearing her eyes away from the pendent, she continued, "So you're all right now?"

Sighing again, the witch replied, "Yes, I'm all right now. I've let go. You know it wasn't easy for me, but I did it. Remus was right in a way. And now I've finally done it. I've moved on and let it go. It's in the past and it's going to stay there from now on." Turning back to the dishes, she resumed their actions with a flick of her wand, shifting her focus back and forth through the different "stations" of the process.

In an effort to lighten the mood, Amanda pointed out, "You know we do have a charm for that," she couldn't help but be amused at her friend for taking the long way.

"I never get my dishes properly clean if I just use that cleaning charm. It's better this way."

Shaking her head, Amanda concluded that meticulous cleaning was just another one of Minerva's quirks.

"You never told me you family adage before," she commented thoughtfully, " 'Hope Guides Us.' It's beautiful. I once asked Severus Snape what his family saying was - know what he said? 'Surrender Only in Death.' Now there's an uplifting sentiment."

Chuckling softly, Minerva shook her head at her friend's impossibly upbeat personality and resumed her cleaning with Amanda's chatter in the background. Not a moment later, the rich chime heralding a message by Floo sounded throughout her house. Freezing the plates in the sink once more with and repressing another weary sigh, Minerva left Amanda in the kitchen to see who was calling. Amanda watched Minerva approach the fireplace through the opening between the kitchen and living room, frowning darkly at the prospect of having this perfect evening interrupted.

"Minister Fudge," Minerva greeted, successfully hiding her surprise with having the head of the Ministry of Magic in her living room.

'Mayday! Mayday!' Amanda's head yelled, 'We have a bogey in the fireplace. Repeat - we have a bogey in the fireplace!'

"Good evening, Professor McGonagall," Fudge said as he covertly studied the woman addressing him. 'Yes,' he decided silently, 'Summer is a very good time of year.' He was just a man - a sorry conceder to the baser workings of the human condition. "I'm terribly sorry to bother you so late while you're on vacation, but I was told Professor Dumbledore was here."

"He is, wait a moment, I'll go and fetch him."

"Keep your eyeballs in check Fudge!" Amanda angrily yelled from the kitchen.

"Stop it!" Minerva hissed as she swept past her onto the porch and trying to ignore her friend. The short witch glared at the fireplace menacingly, noting the cowed look on the minister's face and committing it to memory.

"Albus," Minerva called as she stepped out onto the porch, "Fudge wants a word."

Rising, the headmaster followed the woman into the house, but pulled her aside into the dining room as they entered.

"Minerva, are you all right?" he asked. She shot him a puzzled, questioning look to which he simply answered, "You were blushing."

"It's nothing," she replied hastily, unsuccessfully fighting down another blush and busying herself with untangling Ginny's braids from his beard.

Reaching up to aid the untangling of his beard, Albus said nothing, but raised his eyebrows at her blatant lie as they slowly made their way through the kitchen. By the time they exited the kitchen, Albus' beard was almost presentable and he worked out the last kinks alone as he walked to the fireplace.

Being who he was, he did not miss the extremely annoyed look in Amanda's eyes as she shot one last glare at the fireplace before allowing Minerva to tow her away. Piecing it together quickly, he repressed a glare of his own and leaned down to civilly converse with the minister.

"Yes, Cornelius?" he asked wearily, assuming that the man wouldn't bother him on vacation - especially at someone else's house - if it wasn't important.

"Ah, Albus, I'm so sorry to disturb you," he said in his slightly bumbling manner, "But I need you to come down to the Ministry. It's just a small matter about the school's budget."

"I fail to see what the Ministry of Magic has to do with Hogwarts' budget."

"Actually, Lucious Malfoy requested that I take a look, and I do believe there are some changes that can be made in order to gain more revenue out of it. He and the school governors have already presented me with proposals on how to do it."

Withholding a resigned sigh, he replied, "Of course, Cornelius. I will be there momentarily."

"Of course, Albus, take your time," the other man replied with a toothy grin. As the head vanished from the hearth with a 'pop', Albus frowned darkly.

"Lecherous old bat," he growled to himself as he turned around, and came face to face with a petite witch.

"Glad you agree," Amanda commented, her eyes still flaming dangerously. Calming down slightly, she asked, "So you're going?"

"Well, it is getting rather late," he said by way of excusing his departure, "I should be leaving anyway." And he walked past Amanda to the back porch.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she muttered darkly, "Stupid, meddlesome twit."

"Papa, do you have to go?" Harry asked minutes later as Albus lifted him up to give him a parting hug.

"I'm afraid I do, Harry," he replied, cursing Fudge over and over again in his mind.

"Harry, don't worry," Minerva comforted, patting his back as she shot a questioning look at Albus and continued, "I'm sure Uncle Albus will find some time over the summer to come over and visit."

"Papa," Harry corrected, his voice muffled by his face buried in Albus' shirt.

Minerva sighed inwardly - she still hadn't gotten used to referring to Albus as "Papa" for Harry. The implications of her being "Ma" and Albus being "Papa" were too much for her to handle.

"Of course I will, Harry," Albus confirmed Minerva's suggestion.

Two hours after Albus left, Arabella, Daniel, and Amanda returned home after bidding the remaining guests good-bye for at least an hour and a half. Not long after that, Molly and Arthur left with their three eldest and daughter, leaving the youngest boys for a sleepover at Marian Cottage after Harry's begging and Minerva's approval. After transfiguring the couch in the living room into a comfortable bed for Remus, Minerva herded the younger boys up to bed, admonishing their groans and sending them off to the bathroom to brush their teeth.

With a sigh, Minerva glanced around Harry's room trying to figure out where to fit the four boys. They had all grown - especially Ron - since the last time they all slept over at her house. Shrugging, Minerva shrunk the bed and conjured four plush sleeping bags in their favorite sickening shade of orange and laid them out on the ground. She stepped out of the way quickly as the four boys raced into the room and hurled themselves onto the sleeping bags.

"Thank you, Aunt McGonagall!" Ron said as he snuggled down into a sleeping bag.

After his brothers quickly echoed his thanks and Harry said his own, "Thank you, Ma!" she smiled and said, "Your welcome, boys. Now, are you sleeping bags soft enough?"

"Yes," they all chorused.

"Could we have some more pillows though?" Fred requested with a misleading innocent grin on his face.

Shaking her head with a wry smile, she conjured up a dozen more pillows and dropped them on the boys. "All right, lights out," she said and muttered "nox."

"Now don't stay up too late," she warned the darkened room.

"We won't," they promised unconvincingly.

She left the door open at Harry's request and walked across the hall to her own room. As she readied herself for bed, her thoughts meandered until uncomfortably settling on Harry's Papa as she pulled the covers up over her pajama pants and shirt.

Ever since Remus' brush with death, they had grown steadily closer - even beyond the friendship they had shared before "the fight". He had been there for her through her darkest days - a pillar of support when she thought she would crumble and die. Yet whenever she thought about their friendship too deeply, she became so confused that she'd give up and move on to the next topic. Granted, she was never one to give up easily, but there were times when their relationship scared her. Those times had been non-existent until May - when Harry decided to abandon "Uncle Albus" in favor of "Papa". She had been delighted at first - and still was, to tell the truth - but after further contemplation of Harry's new Papa, the thought frightened her. It was too intimate - even for a close friendship, even for their friendship. There were times when their relationship scared her. Even if she wouldn't admit it to anyone else, she could admit it to herself in her own mind. Just what exactly were they? Even though she ignored them completely, there were times when that look resurfaced. Her moody reactions to it were another problem source: sometimes her heart would leap in her chest before settling down, and other times her heart would turn to ice, a cold feeling of dread settling in the pit of her stomach. On top of that, she honestly couldn't tell if the looks had been there or not. Her imagination was playing games with her as she climbed up the age ladder - she just knew it.

Sighing, she cut off that train of thought, rolled over in bed, and looked out the window. Giving a low groan, she glared at the black rain clouds obscuring the night sky. The promised thunderstorm had finally arrived. With the first blinding flash of lighting and crack of thunder, the rain splattered down. Its pounding on the windows was drowned out, however, by a chorus of screams from across the hall.

"Three. . . two. . . one," she grumbled. The countdown complete, four shapes hurled themselves onto her bed and crawled over to her. The two smallest figures clung to her on each side, trembling slightly, while the other two curled up beside her on top of the sheets, resting their identical heads on her stomach and pulling the corners of the blanket up over themselves. Sighing, she shushed them gently, and started when a fifth figure careened into the room and lit it with the bright glare of a wand.

"What happened?" Remus asked, staring around with wide eyes for the source of trouble and panting from his flight up the stairs.

"It's just the storm, Remus," Minerva replied, squinting at the young man through the harsh light, "Go back to sleep." As he turned to retreat downstairs, she called after him, "You can sleep in Harry's room if you like. It's closer." He grinned sleepily as he turned back around and trudged into the boy's room, and she reached for her wand on her nightstand. In an instant, she conjured two smaller blankets and draped them over the twins who incoherently mumbled their thanks. The two youngest boys were already sound asleep and snugly curled up against her. The day may not have been a summer Sunday at its perfection, but it was close.

 

Chapter Twenty-Three: Lunacy's Companion

Slamming the door to his office to help him vent, Albus cursed the current Minister of Magic in his mind for the hundredth time that evening. 'How DARE he!' the headmaster fumed as he dropped a pile of folders on his desk and began to pace. 'How DARE he even suggest -.' The house elves, accurately sensing that this was not the right time for hot chocolate, Flooed a bottle of brandy up to the headmaster's office in response to his ordered, "Get me a drink" on his way through the school.

Snatching the crystal bottle out of the green flames, he moodily plopped down in an armchair before the fire. Albus had good reason for his uncharacteristic vexation. "How DARE he," he growled again.

He arrived at the Ministry of Magic at eight-thirty, conjuring a light wizard's robe to throw over his muggle outfit before entering. When he reached the minister's office, he opened the door only to find the shorter man hurriedly gathering his things to go home.

"Albus," he began, "Sorry I can't stay and go over these proposals with you, but I've got to run. If you could just look them over and get them to me tomorrow morning that would be splendid."

"Of course, Cornelius," he said, holding in another weary sigh and picking up the thick file labeled "Hogwarts".

"And that International Wizarding Association or whatnot's having another convention this year. You know they only do this thing once every seven years - we've got to be represented this year. I know You-Know-Who botched it up the last time, but I was hoping it wouldn't be a problem for you to attend."

Even as he reluctantly nodded, an inward groan was his silent submission to the request. He had completely forgotten about the Coalition meeting. That meant he wouldn't see Minerva or Harry until the end of August at the earliest. Cursing politics darkly, he tuned back in to Fudge's ramblings.

"Got to get home to the mistress, Albus," the minister continued, shuffling about his room in search of his belongings, and added with a chuckle, "But of course you know all about that, don't you old boy?" Albus stared at him blankly as he continued, "I must say, she's quite a catch. You wouldn't know with those robes she wears all the time, but she's a very attractive woman underneath it all. Pity she's taken. I'd say it's a good thing she works with you. Must make things that much easier, right old boy?"

Concentrating on keeping his breathing regular and refraining from dropping the file to fly across the room and throttle the man, Albus remained silent for a few moments before calmly correcting him, "Cornelius, you have been mistaken. Minerva McGonagall is not my mistress, she is a colleague and a good friend of mine. She is a woman of respectable repute and high moral values. As such, I do not appreciate your suggesting otherwise," he ended in a warning growl.

Fudge, never one to act tactfully or appreciate subtlety, rambled on, "Oh, come now, Albus, there's no need to cover it up. I'm not about to go blabbing to the entire wizarding world that you've found someone to keep your bed warm at night. Yes, yes, respectable woman and all that," he quickly added at Albus' glower, "But do you think there's any chance of -ahem- someone else swooping her up when the two of you are through?" he finished with a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows.

"Watch yourself, Fudge," Albus growled dangerously, fighting hard to keep the angry sparks from shooting out of his eyes and striking the man before him down dead.

Fudge paled slightly, then colored, a sheepish expression on his face as he sputtered an apology, "So sorry, Dumbledore, I meant no disrespect. Of course - yes, she's a fine woman - a respectable woman," he quickly corrected at Albus' glare, "It was wrong of me to have suggested such a thing - forgive me."

We are not seeing each other," he stated firmly, just barely keeping the menacing growl out of his voice.

"Of course not," he said quickly, "I mean, that- that would be improper, now wouldn't it?" he babbled nervously, edging closer to the door. "And besides, I mean, no - never could have happened. Of course not! Forgive me, Albus, I was out of line," Seething inwardly, Albus barely managed a curt nod in acceptance of Fudge's botched attempt of an apology. Taking heart in the fact that the powerful wizard in his office wouldn't kill him on the spot, Fudge hastily made a break for it, "Well, it's late, I must be going now. Thank you for taking a look at those proposals, Albus. Take as much time as you need. And don't forget about that wizard's convention. Umm. . . Good night!" Turning on heel, he all but bolted out the front doors.

'How DARE he.' Albus downed the rest of his glass of amber liquid. He was never one to brood, but there was no way he could help it tonight. About an hour later, he sensed someone climb the spiral staircase up to his office, but was in no mood to care.

"What is it, Marcus?" he called, trying to keep the snap out of his question.

Opening the door, the younger man entered and shut the door behind him. "Hagrid said the castle walls were humming," the tall wizard explained, "Wanted me to come check it out, seeing as how everyone else is on holiday and I was coming to check up on those cub nundus - they can get pretty edgy when left to their own devices." When the headmaster continued to glower into the flames, he questioned carefully, "Is everything all right, headmaster?"

Sighing, Albus replied, "Everything's fine, Marcus. You may go now."

"Right," Marcus said disbelievingly, taking a seat in the armchair opposite the headmaster, "That's why the entire castle was buzzing - literally. You know the entire school is tied to you. If you wanted to fume, you could have gone elsewhere and not given Hagrid such a scare." After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Marcus pressed again, "What's wrong?"

"It was really nothing, just something Fudge said," he reluctantly admitted.

"Now what did he do?" Marcus asked crossly, knowing full well the possibilities of disaster the Minister of Magic posed.

Albus hadn't meant to say anything - it was a trivial matter, really, just his protective instincts being thrown into action. It was nothing, but he spilled the entire story to Marcus anyway.

Marcus stared at Albus quietly as he quickly recapped his conversation with the minister.

'Why that slimy little piece of -,' Marcus cut off that train of thought quickly. He wasn't a violent person, but thoughts of wrapping his good arm around the minister's neck and squeezing with all of his might were parading around his mind with the promise of satisfaction. He and Minerva had known each other since they were very young. She was like his baby sister, even though he only had a few months on her. His was the sole right to annoy her to no end and he did not take kindly to anyone looking at her in that particular manner. He had only put up with Kael because of Minerva's insistence (threatening) and had nearly hunted him down and beat him to a bloody pulp after he broke her heart. Luckily, he was still on the front line and couldn't very well desert, and by the time he came back from the war, the other man had passed on. To this day, he still had no idea what really happened, but over this past Easter, both Poppy and surprisingly Amanda, had assured him that Kael wasn't really the spawn of Satan. He had yet to be convinced. Now, with the Minister of Magic himself leering at his Minerva, his brotherly instincts were kicking back into high gear again.

He followed Albus' example and glared into the flames, trying to calm his angrily boiling blood. From the look on Albus' face, he was just as angered by Fudge's suggestion as the gray-haired professor in the armchair beside him.

'But hang on,' Marcus silently halted his furious mental bashing of Fudge, 'Why is he so mad about this?' Giving his head a shake, he tried to pull himself out of the conversation and resume his fantasies - talking to oneself was better left to professional nutcases (like Amanda). However, the question pounded on the back of his mind, demanding at the top of its lungs to be let out and answered.

'Fine,' he snapped at the persistent thought, 'Why is he so ticked off? Because Minerva means a lot to all of us, that's why. She's beloved,' he finished, ending the conversation.

'The headmaster is brooding, the annoying little voice (that suspiciously sounded a bit like Amanda) pressed, 'He never broods. Why is he brooding? Why doesn't he just twinkle at this and let it go like he does everything else? Why is he glaring at the fire like it's threatening his entire existence? '

'Because she's beloved?'

'That's the second dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life.'

'I cannot believe I'm having this conversation with myself. I'm not the crazy one.'

'But you like the crazy one.'

'Do not go there.'

'So the boss is brooding.'

'Yes, he is,' he agreed, thankful for the change of subject.

Looking at the facts, the best he could come up with was that Minerva was beloved. 'Beloved,' he said to himself, 'belove-,' he choked on the word silently, even as the little voice in his head sighed and muttered, 'finally'.

"AAH!"

Albus was startled violently out of his irate reverie by a high pitched yelp, and snapped his head towards Marcus with an alarmed look on his face as the other man jumped up and clapped both hands over his mouth, staring at the headmaster in shock.

"Marcus," he started soothingly, trying to calm the younger man, "Are you quite all right?"

"I'm fine," the big man squeaked, then straightened quickly and cleared his throat. "I'm fine," he repeated, "I just remembered I didn't feed the kneazles. I've got to be going, Albus," he said, backing away towards the door, "Try not to entertain thought of killing Fudge for too long tonight - it might lead you to do something drastic. Just finish that bottle and go to bed. I'll come and check to see if you're alive tomorrow. Good night, Albus."

"Good night, Marcus."

Closing the door with forced calm, Marcus turned to the empty hallway and stared out the window at the end of the corridor. He was more confused than he had even been in his entire life. He didn't know whether to march back up to the headmaster's office and pummel him for even thinking that he might be good enough for Minerva or grin manically at all of this. Opting for a slightly more sensible middle ground, he made up his mind to bother an old friend with all the answers.


Groaning as she rolled over in bed, she pulled the pillow out from under her head and stuffed it over her ears, blocking out the loud pounding on her door.

"Amanda!" a deep male voice bellowed as the pounding continued on the door of her muggle flat. "Amanda! This is important! Don't make me blow this door off its hinges!"

Amanda gave an undignified snort into her pillow in response to the threat - not particularly caring that his voice sounded a bit panicked as it was well past one o'clock in the morning. A thunderous bang sounded through her apartment as the wards disintegrated and her front door shot across the living room and into her open bedroom. Tumbling out of bed with a yelled curse, Amanda thumped onto the floor as Marcus summoned her door back and quickly fixed the entryway.

"You were right!" he said breathlessly as he turned to face her, "You were right about him! I thought you were insane, but you were right!" He ignored her furious, but sleepy, glare and stared at her - still not knowing whether to beam like an idiot or let loose his explosive temper.

Rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand, Amanda shook her head and groggily tried to make sense of what her old friend was prattling about. Looking down, she realized she wore only an old pair of faded purple boxers and a matching threadbare shirt. However, she decided she was too tired to care and turned her attention back to her immediate problem.

'I'm right?' she thought to herself, her tired mind still trying to process his nearly incoherent babble. 'I'm right,' she repeated, slowly regaining consciousness, 'I'm right. I'm-.'

"YES!" she yelled, finally piecing together, "I told you! I told you I wasn't crazy!" With a triumphant war whoop, she threw herself onto him and choked him in a fierce hug laughing manically.

'Backup has arrived!' she mentally screamed even as Marcus pried her arms off of his neck and tried to still the bouncing little witch.

"I don't like it," he said resolutely, his serious demeanor immediately wiping the ecstatic smile off of her face.

She stood before him in silence for a few moments, unable to process the fact that backup had indeed arrived, but it was mutinying against her. Suddenly, she stamped her foot and gave an angered shriek, "NO!"

"Don't' tell me no, Amanda," Marcus snapped back at her, "They cannot be together."

"Why?!" she yelled furiously, "Give me one good reason why the bloody hell this won't work."

Meeting the witch's glare with one of his own, he remained silent.

"She's a big girl, Marcus," the petit woman said firmly.

"He's too old for her."

With an unladylike snort, she conceded, "That's what I said when Poppy pointed all this out."

"Poppy came up with this?"

"She didn't 'come up' with anything. This was there. It just took us a very long while to notice it."

Bristling, he tried to keep the growl out of his voice as he questioned, "And just how long has this been going on with him?"

With a sigh, Amanda slumped over to her couch and fell backwards over the back of it. She lay flat on her back on the cushiony seat with her legs leaning against and over the top as she stared at the ceiling. Marcus flopped over the back of the couch to mimic her position beside her.

"I don't know," she said quietly. "I know it couldn't have started while she was with Kael," she ignored Marcus' low growl at the mention of the former soldier, "And I don't think it was during her first few years after . . . him."

"Well, that narrows it down," he snapped irritably, "So this could've happened anywhere between 1950 and now."

"Yes."

"This is crazy."

"I know! But isn't it perfect?"

Marcus harrumphed at this.

"Just because it's taken you six months of me shoving it under your nose to realize it doesn't mean that it's any less perfect," she shot back tartly, then continued in a more serious tone, "He loves her - I just know it."

"Yes, he does."

"And she loves him - she just hides it much more effectively."

Silence.

"Are you sure about that?" he asked skeptically.

"Positive," she affirmed. "So are you in or are you out?"

"In or out of what?"

"You know, only you can make an innocent statement sound so dirty."

Sighing, he commented, "I hate it when you're in the crazy stage of being tired - you're even worse than normal then."

"Weeeeeell?"

"I'm in."

"WOOHOO!"

"Psycho."


An aggravated scream echoed through the castle.

"This is NOT happening!" a female voice shouted, the sound of tinkering glass accompanying her screech.

"Amanda," a male voice sighed, "This is hardly the end of the world."

The two figures were in the deserted headmaster's office, one slumped dejectedly in an armchair before the fire while the other waved his wand at a pile of glass shards that was once a magnificent globe. Amanda re-read the note left on the headmaster's desk in familiar loopy handwriting.

[Marcus,

I forgot to mention last night that Fudge has asked me to represent the British Wizards at the Coalition this summer. I am leaving early this morning so I can say good-bye to Harry before I go. I will be in Singapore until August 25 if all goes well. I'll see you then.

Albus]

"An entire summer in China for some bloody stupid international schools'. . . thing," she muttered darkly.

"It's the convention of the International Wizarding Coalition and it's in Singapore."

"Big sh-."

"Stop it," he snapped, "This is important. Besides, there's always next year. It's not like either of them is going to go and vanish off the face of the earth."

"They might as well," she grumbled.

"Stop being stupid. There will be plenty more chances for you to commence your countless 'flawless' schemes later. For now, we wait."

"I hate waiting."

"I'm well aware of that."

 

Chapter Twenty-Four: Surrender

July came quickly, punctuated on the twenty-eighth by one of the hottest days of the year. However, the inside of Marian Cottage was cool and comfortable - muggles would think it due to Air-Conditioning; wizards knew it was a simple cooling charm. The children were at Molly's - the other woman seemed to think Minerva needed some "alone" time. . . with good reason.

It had only been about a month since she had first started feeling down, and in the last few days that she had been downright depressed - and she hadn't the slightest idea why. Standing at the sink, she stared out the window at the setting sun as she methodically washed the dishes by hand - a process she found relaxing. As she scrubbed a wet sponge over another soapy dish, she tried to make sense of her most recent mood swing. Her mind had other ideas, though, and she resumed her recently developed pastime - worrying.

She had no right to, she reasoned silently, Albus was a grown man - he could take care of himself. She couldn't help it, though. It had been over a week since he last contacted them, via owl, and he was half the world away. 'What if something happened?' the treacherous part of her brain whispered, 'What if he's hurt?' Fighting down another wave of panic yet again, she tried to sigh the fear away, but couldn't. She was worried about him. It was an unreasonable fear. Not something that had any basis in fact whatsoever. All the same, she couldn't help thinking about him at random parts of her day. Those random times had been growing more and more frequent in the last two weeks, reducing her to a state of near-dread and helplessness that she had never felt before. She always had an answer. She always had a reason. Now, however, she had neither. Giving up on the dishes, she magicked them clean and banished them to their rightful nooks in the cupboards.

The fire in the hearth was lit, as always - it was difficult to contact anyone by Floo if it wasn't - as she walked into the living room and slid into her armchair. Picking up the book on the side table, she flipped it over and began to read the page it was open to, trying to take her mind off of the headmaster. She read the first two lines and rolled her eyes, turning the book over again to look at the title properly. It was one of Amanda's books.

'Hopelessly romantic, that one,' she thought mockingly, '"Love does not a man unmake, rather, completes the half. . ." honestly, woman, can't you find something a little more mind stimulating to read?' Even as she properly kept the page with a blue and gold bookmarker, she couldn't help but dwell on the words - one in particular. Switch chose that moment to waltz into the room and hop onto her human's lap. She had remained on the small size, yet still bigger than Spud, so she was able to fit in the chair along with the witch. Minerva grinned wryly and skipped the reprimand she knew would go ignored, instead allowing the black and white spaniel to rest her head on the arm of the chair and crossed her other arm over her body to scratch the dog's head.

"Love," she echoed her thoughts softly, murmuring them aloud now that she had a listening ear. "What is 'Love'?" Switch's ears pricked up minimally at the sound of Minerva's voice, but the dog quickly concluded that her mistress was talking to herself and sank back into her sleepy stupor.

The idea had been plaguing Minerva's mind for the better part of the entire past year. She loved Kael, but now had finally moved on. She loved Remus, who had finally re-accepted her. She loved Harry - now and forever. Involuntarily trembling a bit at the prospect of adding yet another man to that list, she gave a shuddering sigh and resumed her one-sided conversation with her canine.

"What is this, Switch? Why do I miss him so much? Is this just neurotic me, worrying about him nearly all my waking hours?" she asked softly, all the while gazing out the front window and absently scratching the furry head pinning down her left arm. "I have no idea what this is. We've known each other so long - I thought I knew him. But then he gets that look - I know I've told you about that - and now I have no idea." The brief intensity in his eyes during those times she had caught him were enough, even now as a memory, to make her breath catch in her throat and her heart pound loudly in her chest. "This is insane, girl," she began again, "I wish I had an answer. It's positively infuriating. You know me, yes, of course you do," she crooned as the dog rolled over and licked her hand in response. "I always know what's going on." She proceeded to thoroughly comb out the dog's somewhat matted hair with her fingers, turning over those same thoughts over and over again in her head.

Finally, a little while before she was due at Molly's, she quietly concluded, "I'm scared." She paused. "I don't know if I care for him like he does for me." She ended in a whisper, "I don't know if I can love like that anymore."


Being a studious boy in school, he had never mastered the art of sleeping with his eyes open, though he knew many on his own teaching staff that could rightfully claim that they had. As such, Albus was bored out of his mind and couldn't even catch up on his sleep while he listened to politicians drone on and on about trade and tariffs and other economically inclined topics. He had very little background in economics. He understood the basics, but the intricacies of the subject itself were classified as useless to him. He ran a school, not a country. He was a headmaster, not a minister - though he doubted Fudge would know any more than he did. The discussion of education and a proposal for a universal lesson plan for all schools to go by had already been brought to the table and shot down. Children need choices, he had reasoned, they need to decide what it is they want to study and how they want to learn it, and then choose the school that best suits them. It was pointless for him to be here now.

If he was perfectly honest with himself - his boredom wasn't the only factor contributing to his desire to leave the sunny island and return to Britain. Never before had he been hit with homesickness as hard as this year. Perhaps it was the monotony of his present trip, but he knew, deep down, he was homesick because he had a home to return to. Not a house, strictly speaking, although Hogwarts was practically "his" house. No, it was the people - two people - that provided him with something to return to: his son and his . . . Minerva. He succeeded in fighting down the blush that threatened to enflame his cheeks as he mentally slipped and nearly referred to Minerva as his wife.

'Minerva,' he thought silently. He knew he was going mad when he thought about her as often as he had during the last year. She was on his mind all the time. Not always in the forefront of his thoughts, but she was there. Everything reminded him of her. The dark green leaves of the trees were the same shade as the tartan robes she always wore to teach. The soft sands on the beach were the palms of her hands, a little rough, but warm. The stars in the sky were her eyes, sparkling and intoxicating. Swallowing his discomfort, he tried to think of something else. He couldn't do it, though - he missed her too much. He didn't understand it at all. He had always survived summers, and then five entire years without seeing her (though his heart had ached when he thought about her during those years), but here he was, a little over a month since seeing her and he could barely stand it. He missed her always close presence, her unwavering support and commitment. Yes, he was definitely going mad. Shaking his head to rid it of her to the best of his ability, his mind reluctantly released Minerva's scent and traveled to the other half of his home.

His feature's relaxed and he quietly quirked a half smile as a small boy with messy black hair took over the forefront of his thoughts. Harry's seventh birthday was coming up in a few days - that alone was reason enough to leave. Four more years until the little boy would begin at Hogwarts. Four years until his study in the magical arts would commence. Albus didn't want to miss another second of his life. He had already botched it so much that he missed the first six years of it, and he was determined not to miss more. That love was as frightening as it was fierce. It was unconditional, unyielding, and he knew it was undying.

'This is ridiculous,' he thought to himself crossly. Another speaker was standing to politely decline the first man's offer of. . . whatever it was. He neither knew nor cared what the present topic was. This wasn't his job. Barty Crouch was the International minister of Britain. He's the one who should have to suffer through this.

Rising with the crowd a few minutes later as a lunch break was announced, he gathered his things and resolved to go home.


A sharp rap on her front door startled her out of her musings and Switch leapt off of her lap to bark madly at the wood separating her from the new arrival. The rest of her dogs, on the back porch no doubt, had careened around the side of her house and joined in the cacophony.

Reaching for the handle of the door, she heard a deep, melodious voice chuckle and command the dogs, "Easy, boys, it's just me." The deafening barks were punctuated by high pitched, happy yelps of recognition.

Minerva couldn't help but smile with relief and joy at his voice. Opening the door, she smiled up into Albus' twinkling eyes.

"You could have Flooed and let me know you were going to stop by," she said sternly, but the smile on her face belied her tone.

"Forgive me, Minerva, I only just escaped the Coalition with my life and apparated here as quickly as I could," he replied seriously.

"What happened?" she asked immediately, the worry evident in her voice as she gave him a once over with her eyes and pulled him into the house. "Are you all right? Are you hurt?"

"Minerva, I was joking!" he exclaimed, catching her hands as they reached for the wand in her pocket. "I'm fine! I only meant I just escaped the monotony of the Coalition with my life. Nothing happened."

Heaving a relieved sigh, she turned stern again and reprimanded him, "Don't do that to me. My heart was up here in my throat!"

"I'm sorry," he said with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, "I didn't know I'd get that much of a reaction out of you from that."

She narrowed her eyes and fought to keep her mouth a taught, angry line as the corners of it forced a wry half grin half frown. "I've been so worried about you," she said, more to herself than to him, and wrapped her arms around his waist.

Convinced that this was all another one of his imagination's sporadic kicks into reality, he wrapped his own arms around her and teased, "Why, Minerva, I didn't know you cared."

"Of course I care, you miserable old coot," she whispered into his chest, "Of course I care."

They stood there a few moments, wrapped in each other's embrace, until their eyes snapped open at the same time and they hurriedly stepped back. Minerva kept her eyes on the ground, her cheeks flaming as she cleared her throat and fumbled, "Forgive me - it must be the heat. Shall I get us - I - I mean you, um - something to drink?"

"Yes, thank you," he replied, his facial expression identical to Minerva's as she briskly walked into the kitchen.

'What the bloody hell was THAT?!' Minerva screamed to herself as she collected glasses with forced calm. Her hands shook as she spooned ice into the clear vessels. She forced herself to breath. It was just a hug. A "welcome back" hug if you will. 'Oh sure,' her mind voice quipped slyly. It was just a hug. He was a very emotional person. The voice giggled like a lovesick sixteen year old in the back of her mind, 'Well if he's so emotional, why did you instigate that little moment?' Her nose twitched in agitation and her brow furrowed irritably as she pulled the pitcher of lemonade out of the refrigerator. 'And what was that "perfect" you thought to yourself as the two of you stood there. Don't bother denying it - I'm in you head - I know what you think.' Sweet Merlin, she needed a drink. 'It's your own fault there isn't any in this house.' She growled back at the voice quietly as she steadied her hand and poured the drink into the glasses, concentrating on the way the ice clinked together as the liquid spilled over them.

Albus' mind voice was a bit more accommodating to his immediate reaction - partially because his reaction was nothing but a blank, surprised buzz resounding over and over between his ears. 'Come on, Albus,' it coaxed as one would speak to a dog, 'Come on, just a little reaction here.' Wow. 'Eloquent,' it snorted. He hushed it and tried again. Perfection. That was the only other nearly coherent thought running through his mind. She had hugged him - she never hugged. He hugged her and she hugged back, but she never hugged him. Mind-boggling. It was perfect. Shaking his head, he called into the kitchen, "How's Harry?" He waited a few moments for a response, but didn't receive any. He heard her clinking around in the kitchen, so he knew she was all right, but went to check anyway.

"Minerva?" he asked slowly, leaning on stomach-high wall separating the kitchen and the living room.

She looked up from pouring the lemonade and replied, "I'm sorry Albus, I wasn't listening, what did you say?"

"I asked how Harry was."

"He's fine," she replied, then added with a small smile, "He was mad at you for not coming to his birthday, but he'll be thrilled you're here now."

"I'm glad," he said with a smile, accepting the glass from Minerva. "I couldn't help feeling horrible about missing it. I wanted to be here. Plus, I was bored as anything."

"Oh yes, do tell me about it," she grinned, trying to block the akward moment that had followed that pronouncement earlier as she continued, "I want to know exactly how bad this Coalition 'monotony' was."

They spoke there for a while, the wall between them, with brief silences interjected without intention until Minerva gasped.

"I was supposed to be at Molly's an hour ago!"

"I'm sorry, Minerva - had I known you'd had plans," Albus apologized.

She waved away his apology saying, "Don't be ridiculous, Albus. Come with me - Molly always cooks for an army and Harry would love to see you."


"Papa!" the boy yelled as the headmaster emerged from the inside of the Burrow into the backyard. Harry ran forward and launched himself into Albus' arms, hugging him fiercely around the neck as he told him, "Ma said you were going to be away until the end of August. Did you come back for my birthday?"

"That I did, Harry," he replied, hugging the boy back, "In fact, I'm back for the rest of the summer."

As Harry cheered, Minerva raised an elegant eyebrow and repeated, "For the rest of the summer? And who pray tell will represent Britain instead?"

"Barty Crouch - he's the one who should have gone in the first place."

"And does he know about this change of plans?"

"I haven't had a chance to inform him."

"But, Papa, what if they think you're missing?" Harry asked, cutting in before a scathing remark about responsibility could be thrown at his Papa by his mother.

"I've already told the minister I was leaving."

"What did you say to him, Papa?"

"Yes, Albus, what did you say?" Minerva echoed in a far sterner tone than Harry's inquisitive question.

"I told him I was leaving," at Minerva's level glare, he elaborated, "I told him I had family business to attend to."

Harry giggled, "Thank you, Papa. I really wanted you to come back."

How was she supposed to reprimand that? She sighed and shook her head at Albus' apologetic grin over the top of Harry's head.

'Amanda's drawing me into the insanity,' Molly thought woefully. She had watched the conversation between Albus and Minerva with growing horror. She saw, or she thought she saw something there. There was something familiar there. Their conversation was so much like one she would have with Arthur. 'She was right.' Now that she had been alerted to their chemistry, the signs were obvious as anything.

Albus, Minerva and Harry left after being properly fed - Albus to the ministry to further explain his desertion and Minerva and Harry to Marian Cottage. Molly ordered her children and husband to bed after every other word they spoke was interrupted by huge yawns. After she was sure they were all asleep, she threw a pinch of Floo powder into the fireplace and called, "Amanda Hooch."

Kneeling before the fire, she waited for the witch's head to appear in the flames. After a few moments of no response, Molly sighed and leaned forward to peer into the other witch's flat to see if she was home. The first site that greeted her eyes was Amanda hastily buttoning up her shirt and tossing a pair of pants that were too big for her into the closet. The short hawk-eyed witch yelped when she turned around and saw Molly's face smirking in her fireplace.

"Molly! Hello!" she said with false innocence.

"Company, Amanda?" the redhead witch asked evilly.

"Please don't tell Poppy."

Her smirk morphed into a full-fledged evil grin as she pressed, "Anybody I know?"

"Is there a reason you're calling me at eleven o'clock at night?" she demanded crossly, glaring at the grinning head in her fireplace.

"Oh, right," she said, "You're right about Albus and Minerva."

It was Amanda's turn to grin, "Told you."

"Yes, you did."

"Well."

"Aren't you going to give me a hint?"

"No."

"Please?"

"Go away."

"Oh, all right," Molly relented. "I'll see you for Harry's birthday."

"Bye."

Molly leaned back into her own house, but kept the connection up and listened hard.

"Is she gone yet?" a familiar male voice inquired.

With another evil grin, Molly cut the connection and giggled. "Amanda and Marcus Kettleburn. Who would have thought?"

 

Chapter Twenty-Five: Mission Failed ... Again

"- of all the irresponsible, idiotic, half-brained schemes you've ever come up with Amanda!" Poppy bellowed from behind the closed and warded doors of the hospital wing, "What possessed you to - how could you - AAH!" the enraged mediwitch bit off the rest of her tirade with an incensed scream.

In her fury, she towered over a cringing flying instructor whose only chagrined thought was, 'Busted.'

It was spring again at Hogwarts and the Easter holidays were about to start. One more day of classes, and then two blissful weeks of relaxation. The school would empty for the second time that year of all the children, save the fifth and seventh years taking the time for intensive studying for their O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s. Amanda, however, foresaw two weeks of constant nagging, glares that said "I told you so" and dark mutterings from the irate mediwitch currently fixing her with one of the sternest glares she had ever been exposed to, including Minerva's worst.

"I've told you time and time again," Poppy continued to rant, "they'll only push each other farther and farther away if they feel like they're being thrown together like this. And yet you haven't let up your would-be cupid victory since September! All of which have failed, by the way." As Amanda opened her mouth to indignantly defend herself, Poppy cut her off, "Don't you give me that 'It seemed like a good idea at the time' dung - you know very well they seemed as farfetched then as they do now."

Closing her mouth in temporary defeat, Amanda conceded that one point to Poppy and glared stubbornly at the tiled floors of the infirmary. 'They weren't _that_ insane,' she defiantly said to herself, '. . . all right, some of them were.'

~ * September 1 * ~

A strange sight greeted Albus' eyes as he stepped into his office to retrieve the Sorting Hat for the ceremony. The students were due to arrive in a few hours and the headmaster, with nothing better to do, had volunteered to bring down the hat. As the door swung open, Albus raised his eyes and tried to reason away what he saw.

Amanda sat in his chair behind his desk with her feet propped up on the far corner of the table. The Sorting Hat itself sat on her head, covering her eyes as it had when she had first been sorted into Ravenclaw many years ago. As he stood there trying to make sense of the sight, he had no idea that the little witch was trying to plot against him, for his own good, of course.

'Now come on,' she pleaded silently, 'it won't take much, just a few hints dropped here and there. Something about truth and love and unfolding hearts and the like - you can even give it your own beat.'

'Absolutely not,' the hat replied, 'I take no orders, requests, etc. from anyone. I am the Sorting Hat. I came off the head of Godric Gryffindor himse-.'

'I know,' she snapped, 'you've only sung about it ten times in the last decade.'

'Don't you know that it usually doesn't help your cause if you snap at the one you want on your side?' the hat questioned patronizingly.

'You're trying my patience.'

'I'm sure that can't be that difficult to accomplish.'

'Would you really like to take this to a fire?'

'You wouldn't dare,' the hat gasped melodramatically, 'You'd never get away with it.'

'I would so. No one would have to know it was me.'

'The headmaster would figure it out.'

'Well Albus isn't here to save you sorry skin now is he?'

'Yes he is,' the hat smugly corrected.

She whipped the Sorting Hat off her head and met the bewildered gaze of said headmaster.

"Albus! Hello!" Amanda greeted, masking her surprise at getting caught with overly fervent enthusiasm. "I was just testing this old sack."

The hat opened it's "mouth" to retaliate, but Amanda clapped her free hand over it and continued to smile at the headmaster.

"I'm sure I don't want to know," he said calmly, cautiously moving to take the hat from an obviously unstable Amanda.

"Well, you'll be needing this won't you?" she asked brightly, holding the battered old hat out to him. Grinning at him as he took it, she brushed past him with an airy, "See you at the feast!" and left.

"I don't know about that one," he confided to the bemused paintings on the wall.

Albus' puzzlement only grew as the Sorting Hat sang its song later that night.

Welcome, all, to magic school,
Where four noble founders
Did many years ago begin
This place of learning for you all
To grow and laugh and train.
Here we have four houses,
Noble, proud, and sane.

First off we have the house
Of Godric Griffindor
Where those of courage go.
Slytherin claims those proud few
Of cunning and of guile.
To gentle Helga Hufflepuff
Go the loyal proud and strong.

Then comes the house of intellect,
Rowena Ravenclaw's invent,
Though surely to produce a loon
Was never her intent.

Prudent though it is to remember
The fine line between
Genius and insanity,
I urge you to close your mouths
And open your minds
And drink in the knowledge
There is to be had.

Be mindful of the varied lessons
You'll learn here in this school,
And please admit at any time
A fear of looming madness.

So come and let me do my job
And I'll leave you to yours,
For I am the mighty Sorting Hat
No ifs, ands, or buts.

From his seat beside a fuming flying instructor, Marcus bit the inside of his cheek to keep from breaking into a violent fit of laughter. The students' giggles subsided quickly and the Sorting began, but it wasn't until "Weasley, Percy" was Sorted into Gryffindor that the Care of Magical Creatures professor got a hold of himself. Leaning over slightly, he spoke quietly into Amanda's ear as Albus rose and quickly greeted the students.

"I take it the hat wasn't game, hmm?"

A low growl was her only answer and she glared at him before viciously stabbing a piece of chicken and shredding it to pieces with a very sharp knife. Smirking, he let his gaze wander along the table and locked eyes with his little adoptive nephew five seats away between the deputy and head of the school. Harry had leaned back to try to catch Amanda's eye and caught Marcus' instead. One glance was all it took for him to piece together what he already knew. Clapping both hands over his mouth, he buried his face in the sleeve of Minerva's tartan green robes. Marcus gave an ungentlemanly snort as the boy's shoulders shook in silent laughter, but quickly sobered at a second, more lethal glare from Amanda.

At the center of the high table, Minerva shared a confused look with Albus as Harry buried his head in her robes.

"Harry, what on earth-?"

Giggling as he pulled his now red face out of Minerva's sleeve, he replied, non-too-convincingly, "Nothing, Ma." Meeting her stern, disbelieving glare, he opted for a change of subject, "Can I go sit with Percy?"

Sighing, she replied gently, "Harry, Percy might want to be with his year mates now, he hasn't had a chance to be with children his own age in a while."

"Please?" Harry prodded, meeting her eyes hopefully, knowing full well she could never resist his pleading eyes when she was in a good mood.

Albus chuckled from Harry's other side and he grinned innocently up into his mother's eyes and gave a happy yelp as she sighed and nodded her assent.

"If I didn't know any better, Professor McGonagall, I would think that boy's got you wrapped around his little finger," the headmaster teased.

"Well it's a good thing you know better then," she replied absently, watching her boy approach the Gryffindor table to congratulate Percy. A slight frown creased her forehead as Percy curtly accepted his praise and re-engaged in conversation with the third year to his left. Harry, slightly put out, started to make his way back to the staff table when Alex Wood hailed him and introduced him to his newly-Sorted younger brother, Oliver.

"I'm sure he didn't mean anything by it, my dear," Albus said, trying to verbally sooth the troubled expression on his deputy's face.

"I worry about that one, Albus," she said quietly, her eyes lingering on Percy for another moment before turning back to Albus. Meeting his concerned gaze, she forced a smile and said lightly, "It's probably just me. I have a hard time seeing them all grow up." Seeing that he was as convinced by her story as she was by Harry's, she brought the topic back to her original question, "What do you suppose brought up the 'insanity' chant with the Sorting Hat?"

"Amanda," he replied simply, hiding a grin at her raised eyebrows. "She was having a conversation with it just before I brought it down, I believe."

"Yes, well, that would do it," Minerva said tartly, casting an exasperated glance down the table to her friend.

"All right, so the Sorting Hat wasn't a good idea," Amanda muttered darkly as Poppy glowered over her.

"Oh?" the mediwitch questioned, regally arching an eyebrow, "And the truth potion on Halloween was?"

Amanda cringed as she remembered that one.

~ * October 30 * ~

"Aunt Manda, what if they don't drink this one?" Harry whispered, tugging on his aunt's purple robes.

"They will, trust me - it's the only one here," she muttered out of the corner of her mouth, stealthily drawing a small vial of liquid out of her pocket.

"Then what if somebody else does?" he said sternly, still in a hesitant whisper. Then he gasped, "What if Uncle Snape figures out? Do you have any idea how dead you'll be?"

"Nonsense, Harry, it's his own fault I stole it," she replied. Harry rolled his eyes and glared at her, his vivid green eyes clearly demanding to know how she came to that round-about conclusion. Catching the fierce glare her nephew was giving her, she sighed and reasoned softly, "If he had cooperated in the beginning and helped us like I asked him to, he wouldn't be at risk, now would he? Now keep a lookout, I'm going in."

Wincing, Harry snuck a glance out from behind her robes at the rest of the staff room. The headmaster and Snape were across the room, farthest away from Amanda and the soon-to-be-spiked punch bowl. Minerva, Madame Pomfrey and Professor Sprout were in deep discussion a few feet away from Albus. The rest of the staff took up space nicely between his mother, father, and the punch. The only person to notice anything suspicious was Marcus, who did a double take at Amanda and Harry while trying to look interested in Professor Trelawny's predictions for the rest of his year. Harry met his eyes helplessly and tried to stealthily convey "don't drink the punch" to the older man. Acknowledging his antics with a nod and trying to bite back the grin and snort threatening to escape, he turned back to the fortune teller as she predicted a painful loss of his leg to a chimaera.

"Ok, it's done, let's say we find a test subject, hmm?" Amanda whispered, ruffling Harry's hair affectionately.

"Hello there, Sybil darling, how are we this fine evening?" Amanda greeted as she and a tailing Harry made themselves comfortable on the couch next to Marcus, forcing him to shift to accommodate the two newcomers. "Here you are, doves," she said with smile, handing the two professors drinks.

Sitting between the two, Harry poked him in warning and he nodded and winked. "Why thank you, dear, that was very thoughtful," he said as Sybil bid them farewell and left, drink in hand. Leaning over Harry he whispered to her, "I am not drinking that."

"Traitor," she grumbled with a dark look at Harry, whose only response was to grin back.

"Did you tell her this is a very bad idea?" Marcus asked, surveying the room nonchalantly.

"Yes."

"I think it's brilliant! All I have to do is wait for them to get a drink and then get them together and ask them a few simple questions!"

"I see oh-so-many things that could go wrong here."

Harry's attention floated away from the argument occurring over his head and looked around the room once more. His eyes widened and he poked the two adults beside him hard in their sides. They followed his gaze and Marcus paled in horror even as Amanda grinned. Burrowing into the relative safety of Marcus' dark blue robes, Harry cringed as Hogwarts' mediwitch took a sip of the punch.

"Did you spike the punch, Madame Hooch? How unoriginal," a condescending voice commented. Severus took a seat in the armchair beside Marcus and sneered at the witch.

"Yes, I did, but I think it's pretty good," she smirked back at him.

"Oh, no," Harry moaned, peeking out as Marcus silently gripped his shoulder in moral support. Albus and Minerva, in deep discussion, started making their way to the refreshments.

"How many drops did you put in?" Snape asked severely, glaring at Amanda with ill-concealed disgust.

"Only a dozen," she replied, "I was going to put the whole thing in, but I didn't think you'd be very pleased."

"And why is that?"

"Because it's your veritaserum," she replied mildly, holding the small vial out to the now irate potions master.

"My veri-! How dare you nose into my private stores!" he hissed.

"I did ask you nicely, but you refused."

"With good reason!" he spat back quietly, "Do you have any idea how much trouble this could cause?"

When she grinned innocently in reply, Harry poked her in the ribs, "Aunt Manda, you said this was going to be for their own goods!"

"And it will be, dear boy," she answered, positively bouncing on the spot as she watched Minerva and Albus take sips of their drinks. "I'm off - wish me luck!"

"What do you see in her, Kettleburn?" Severus questioned critically, dubiously eyeing the little witch as she made her way to the couple.

"No idea," the other man sighed. Accepting the inevitable, he leaned back into the couch and tried to look innocent and oblivious. Snape, on the other hand, had other ideas and rose to "mingle".

"Hello doves!" Amanda greeted as she bounded over.

"Hello, Amanda," Minerva replied calmly, ignoring her friend's ever manic mood.

"Good evening, Amanda," Albus greeted, slightly apprehensive as he eyed the overly-cheerful witch.

"How are we this evening?"

"Bored," Minerva said, then immediately shut her mouth with a confused look on her face.

"Fine," Albus replied after casting a surprised look towards Minerva.

With a notorious grin, Amanda continued, "Oh good, good. So what were we talking about? Anything interesting?"

"Of course not, it is a staff party, after all," Minerva sniffed, before clapping her hand over her mouth and staring around in horror.

"What did you do?" Albus demanded sternly.

"Oh for heaven's sake, Amanda, can't you ever function like responsible adult?"

"I didn't do anything!" she said indignantly.

Glaring at her, Minerva pointed to Sybil Trelawny, who was in the middle of a very odd conversation with Severus Snape.

"Ah yes," he said with a sneer, "So you're not a real seer at all are you?"

"No," she replied airily, "I'm afraid my great-great-grandmother was the last true seer our family has ever seen. However, one must work in order to eat in order to live, so I applied for a job here. Of course," she tittered, "It's a good thing my great-great-grandmother really was a seer - otherwise no one would take me seriously.

"Well that certainly explains a lot," he muttered as Trelawny glided away, then cursed as a small, angry fist collided with his arm.

"Thanks a million, Snape," Amanda growled, "You just blew my cover."

Looking past her into the furious face of Minerva McGonagall and the slightly amused countenance of Albus Dumbledore, he smirked and said, "I have no idea what you're talking about, Madame Hooch. I was merely asking my co-worker a simple question."

Her jaw dropped and she stared at his retreating back, then spun to face the two people behind her. "But I - it wasn't - but he -," she fumbled for an explanation as Marcus and Harry shook their heads and quietly snuck out the door.

"She'll have to be checked into a mental institution, you know," Minerva seriously told Albus a few hours later as they patrolled the halls for troublemakers on this dreaded night of pranks, Goosey Night. As the wizened headmaster chuckled, Minerva turned to him, without the barest trace of a smile and said, "I'm being serious, Albus. There is something wrong with her." Only the small, nearly imperceptible twinkle in her dark eyes gave her away.

"Of course, Minerva," he replied solemnly, "I'll look into it immediately."

"She was always a bit off, but never this bad. Putting truth serum in the punch," she shook her head, "What was she thinking?"

"I thought it was funny," he commented calmly.

She rolled her eyes in response, "You would."

"Minerva, you need to try to look at the bright side of things. For instance, no one was hurt, and no real secrets were exposed."

The deputy head gave a soft snort, "I suppose not. Sybil's incompetence in 'seeing' is hardly a well-concealed secret."

"Precisely, but you didn't hear that from me."

"Of course not," she grinned.

The sounds of soft laughter and deep chuckling echoed over the walls, mingling together richly before fading into the silent night.

"Or what about the mistletoe fiasco in December?"

"All right, that one wasn't even my fault," Amanda shot back irritably.

 

Chapter Twenty-Six: An Inspired Event

"Or what about the mistletoe fiasco in December?"

"All right, that one wasn't even my fault," Amanda shot back irritably.

"Oh yes," Poppy said, rolling her eyes, "That was all Molly Weasley's fault."

"It was!"

"Do you honestly expect me to believe Molly Weasley, mother of seven and responsible adult, would have the time to come up to Hogwarts and put enchanted mistletoe over every doorway in the school?"

"First of all, it wasn't every doorway. Secondly. . . well fine, she didn't come up here, but it was all her idea."

"She told you to put mistletoe everywhere?" Poppy asked skeptically.

"Well no," Amanda muttered, "But she did say that over the entrance to the headmaster's office would be a good idea."

"Only you put it at the entrance to every classroom in the castle!" Poppy counted the most memorable on her fingers, "The Great Hall, the greenhouses, the gardens, the infirmary, the dungeons, the towers, and worst of all, right over their seats at the high table!"

"Well it-."

"No, Amanda," she raged again, "It did not seem like a good idea at the time. Any fool could have told you - and this particular fool," she prodded Amanda in the forehead, "should have known - that they would rather die than do anything of that nature in front of the entire student body and staff. Not to mention what the rest of us had to go through."

"It wasn't that bad," she said defensively. Poppy's only reply was a derisive sniff.

~ * December 22 * ~

Minerva rubbed her eyes wearily as she trudged towards the Great Hall for supper. Though it was the end of the last day of classes before the Christmas holidays, it had been a long week. Of all the trivial matters that could have ruined her week, she had never imagined mistletoe would be the culprit. Mistletoe. And not just any type of mistletoe, oh no, this mistletoe was enchanted. All week long pairs of student and faculty alike had been captured by the enchanted sprigs and forced to kiss, or in the teacher's case blast the plant into oblivion, in order to free themselves. Minerva, along with the rest of the staff had spent the entire week ridding the school of the plant hung in nearly every available doorway, nook and cranny in the castle.

Needless to say, she was exhausted. Even overnight shifts scouring the halls yielded few results. They were a nuisance and she was determined to get rid of them before they spoiled her entire holiday. The staff was so worn out that they had given up trying to find the culprit and safely blamed it on Peeves, who had acknowledged the mistletoe as a brilliant idea.

"Do you think it's over?" a voice that sounded as tired as she felt inquired.

"Possibly," she answered with a wry smile, "but probably not."

"I was afraid of that," Albus muttered, and linked Minerva's arm through his own.

She grinned quietly at his ever-present gentlemanly ways as she settled her hand into the sturdy crook of his elbow. They made their way to the Great Hall in a companionable silence, the halls oddly quiet as the majority of the students were already starting their evening meal.

An evil grin to challenge all evil grins broke over Amanda's face as she watched the two professors enter the Great Hall. The students in the hall might have missed the subtle withdrawal of the deputy's hand and the reluctant lowering of the headmaster's arm, but Amanda missed nothing.

"Stop that," Marcus sternly commanded from her right.

"Stop what?" she asked innocently.

"Whatever you're plotting in that twisted mind of yours."

"Oh Amanda, please don't," young Professor Sinastra begged from Marcus' other side, clearly remembering the incident at Halloween. "At least wait until the castle is completely empty before you do anything."

Amanda quirked an eyebrow at the other woman and said, "Arini, what do you know of my evil plans? And why are you so worried? I'd never endanger the students."

The flying instructor grinned again as the proper young woman resisted the urge to roll her eyes and instead fixed Amanda with a reproachful look before turning back to her plate.

"I mean it - don't," Marcus said again.

With a spiteful look in her eye, Amanda folded her arms across her chest and testily frowned at his uncooperativeness. Little did he know, the evil plan was already in place. Glancing covertly up at the yawning sky, she spotted her tiny evil plan amidst the clouds dotting the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall. Quickly averting her eyes and trying to plaster an innocent expression on her face, she concentrated on her supper.

The pair winked and waved at Harry, who was sitting with the Gryffindors, happily enjoying the meal with his friends. He had started sitting with the Gyrffindors only a few months before, having grown bored with eating with his elders at the staff table.

"I'm surprised Harry's made so many new friends," Albus commented as they rounded the corner of the high table and made their way to their seats, "He's always been rather quiet around strangers."

"He wasn't so quiet around you," Minerva pointed out, all but collapsing into her seat as Albus pulled it out for her. "You became 'Uncle Albus' almost immediately."

"And Severus became Uncle Severus fairly quickly," the headmaster pointed out with a teasing twinkle. The young Potions master shot him a glare and started to rise.

"Oh, Severus, he's only teasing," Minerva placated with an exasperated look at the headmaster, "Sit back down and finish your supper." The young man grunted in reply, but obeyed. "Really, Albus," she chastised as she passed him the potatoes and accepted the butter, "You are supposed to be a role model, you shouldn't provoke your employees."

"Of course, Minerva," he replied contritely, "It won't happen again." Shaking her head at his blatant lie, she began her meal.

Nearly an hour later, Minerva delicately wiped her mouth and rose to collect Harry from the Gryffindor table. As she took a step away from her chair, she felt herself pass through a paper thin, tickling wall of magic before she was jerked back towards her seat. Only her quick reflexes prevented her from falling right over her seat and into the table. With a sharp intake of breath, she flung out her arms and caught herself before she toppled over. Trying to reset her feet under herself, she balanced precariously for a moment before two strong hands helped her upright.

"Minerva, what happened?" Albus asked, a hint of worry in his voice, "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Albus," she replied, puzzled at the invisible wall apparently preventing her from leaving. Tentatively reaching a hand out before her, she felt a jolt go through her as her palm met the wall.

Four seats away, Amanda tried to stifle a smug grin as she noticed the position of the two entrapped professors. Albus' hand had drifted from Minerva's upper back to her waist as he solidly stood behind her. His other hand, having grasped her hand to help her stand, remained enclosing hers, the whole position making them look like dancers frozen in mid-movement. However, she wasn't fast enough covering up the look on her face as Marcus spun to stare at her.

"You - It - This is all your fault!" he accused in an incensed whisper. Flashing him a winning smile, she averted her gaze from his eyes and back to the action.

"Albus, what in the world. . . ," Minerva trailed off, then sucked in another breath as realization dawned.

"What is it?" he asked quietly, his breath tickling her ear. Her breath caught in her throat - she hadn't realized he was so close.

She didn't answer him right away, instead tilting her head back and squinting up at the enchanted ceiling. With a muttered "Oh no," Albus followed her gaze and groaned quietly as he caught sight of a small sprig of delicate-looking mistletoe hanging beside a star.

"Of all the immature, childish pranks," Minerva ranted under her breath. Removing her hand from Albus' hold, she fished her wand out of her pockets. "Stand back," she ordered quietly. He didn't need to be told twice and stepped back to sit back down in his chair, only now noticing the curious stares the remaining students were sending towards the staff table. Before he could think up an excuse and send them all to bed, Minerva muttered "Finite Incantatum" and flicked her wand up towards the offending mistletoe. She didn't even get a full step this time as she was lifted off her feet and yanked back to Albus' side. She fell back into her seat with a muffled curse and glared up at the innocent looking vegetation. Turning to Albus, she started as she found his face a mere foot away and her chair scant inches from his. Puzzled, she was sure their chairs hadn't been this close to begin with, she stuck a hand out again. This time, she wasn't even able to fully extend her arm as her hand collided with it barely a foot away from her body.

"I don't think that worked, Professor McGonagall," a drawling voice commented.

She glared at Severus. "This is the thanks I get for sticking up for you, is it?" His smirk only served to annoy her further.

Luckily, her tirade was cut off by Albus' quiet comment. "I'm impressed - this is a very complex spell. I didn't think our students learned chain-reaction charms until they study them in the seventh year N.E.W.T.s class."

"Well that narrows it down, doesn't it?" Minerva asked, immediately calling to mind every student in the N.E.W.T.s Charms class.

"Not exactly," Albus mused, "I don't think any of our N.E.W.T.s students would be so childish as this, seeing as how they've all been called into duty to rid the school of these."

"So who. . .?" she said quietly. Then comprehension dawned. "I'll kill her myself," she growled, "'I'm too tired to do rounds' my foot."

"Minerva, we mustn't jump to conclusions," he told her calmly.

"Jump to conclusions?" she repeated in disbelief, "Albus, who else could it be?"

Glancing down the staff table, he noticed that most of the staff, including their number one suspect, had fled - most probably from the infuriated look on Minerva's face. Severus remained, but clearly he was enjoying the display, and Filius Flitwick was standing up on his chair beside Albus glaring up at the plant and muttering counter-hexes under his breath.

"Amazing," Professor Flitwick marveled aloud, "Absolutely brilliant! I'll have to make certain I find the student that wove this together! Every spell you throw at it shrinks the area the enchanted two are in. It's brilliant! I'll make sure whoever did this is transferred to my N.E.W.T.s class immediately!"

Ignoring Minerva's "Dead. She'll be very dead once I'm through with her" Albus turned to the tiny professor and asked, "Is there any way to counter it?"

"The only way I see is if the two of you. . . you know," he said, trying to hide a blush, "If we keep throwing spells at it, it won't make much of a difference."

Minerva ceased her dark muttering to stare at Filius mutely, schooling her face to blankness rather than give in to the flush threatening her countenance. Albus stared as well, hiding his blush as well as the woman beside him as Severus' smirk doubled in malice.

"Professor McGonagall!" a panicked voice called. A young Gryffindor second year sprinted up to the high table as the remaining staff members jumped to their feet and followed his flight with concern, except Severus (of course). As the boy came to an unsteady halt before the teachers, he gasped, "Professor - come quick - common room."

As she made to dart around the table and up to Gryffindor tower, she again collided into the wall.

"Oh for heaven's sake!" she fumed. Then, quickly rounding on Albus, she pressed her lips to his quickly. Albus was taken aback by the abruptness of it, and the kiss had barely registered in his mind before Minerva stepped back, a pink flush creeping into her cheeks. Refusing to look anyone in the eye, she hurried out of the Great Hall, pointedly ignoring the way every head turned and followed her through the doors. The students' expressions were all the same - jaws hanging open with looks of pure disbelief on their faces. Albus, however, was preoccupied with the sharp, tingling sensation still filling his body, and the sweet, honey taste of perfection lingering on his lips. The headmaster missed the pale hand coming up to cover Severus' amused grin and the laugh-turned-cough from the same potions master. Filius chuckled lightly and brought down the mistletoe from the rafters and rose to retire.

"Good night, headmaster," the tiny professor said cheerfully.

Turning to him with a blank expression on his face, Albus distantly replied, "Good night, Filius."

Smirking as the little professor left, Severus commented dryly, "You seem a bit lost, headmaster."

The dry voice brought him back to reality and he blinked, trying to bring the Great Hall into focus once more. Most of the students had left after the curious display - no doubt the whole school would be talking about it by tomorrow - and the room was now nearly empty, save for himself, his potions master, and a few young Gryffindors. Albus blinked again, Harry. The boy had a strange expression on his face as he quickly scuttled after his friends to meet Minerva in their common room. The headmaster, if he had been in his right state of mind, would have recognized the expression as one of pent up laughter, and if he had been listening harder, he would have heard the thrilled laughter faintly echoing down the corridor. As it was, he stood rooted on the spot until Severus cleared his throat in order to regain his attention.

"I-," he began, he voice breaking ever-so-slightly. Gulping then clearing his throat, he opted instead for, "Good night, Severus." And left.

"Not bad, eh?" a lilting voice questioned as soon as the headmaster was gone.

"You'd better plan on removing every one of those infernal plants from the school before morning. I guarantee Minerva will kill you if she finds one more."

"She knows?" Amanda asked, coming out of the shadows, with a slight tremor in her voice.

"Oh yes, she deduced it rather quickly as soon as she had all the facts."

Staring at the younger man shrewdly, Amanda realized he wasn't joking and felt her jaw drop. "I'm doomed," she said, her hawk eyes widening, "Well, dear Sevvie, I'd best get to work! Cheers dear!"

As she dashed through the halls obliterating mistletoe as she went, Amanda had no notion of the kinds of thoughts running through Minerva's head as she banished the dung bomds in the common room and made her way back to her rooms.

Sending Harry off to bed, Minerva shrugged out of her robes and into a comfortable nightgown. She fell back onto her bed with a happy sigh, a shy smile playing on her lips as she recalled the incident after dinner. 'I never dreamed his lips would be so incredibly soft,' she mused, too tired reprimand her mind for such thoughts. Snuggling under her thick covers, she fell asleep almost immediately with a contented grin on her face.

"Well at least it wasn't a complete loss," Amanda pointed out, "They did kiss each other."

"You're just lucky it didn't cause too much of an uproar," Poppy snapped. The students, after their initial shock, credited the incident to the inspired placement of stubborn mistletoe and write it off as a brilliant finale to the mistletoe episode. Minerva, however, was not pacified, though Albus passively agreed with the majority of the student population. The next day Amanda received such an earful that her ears continued to ring hours after the telling-off.

"It didn't cause much of anything," she muttered crossly. After a week, the incident seemed to be forgotten and Amanda was again back to square one.

"And to top it all of, there was today."

Amanda giggled insanely, "I suppose chucking them in the broom closet wasn't one of my better ideas." She immediately sobered at Poppy's glare. Having run out of ideas, energy and creativity, Amanda, in defiance of her imminent surrender to the inevitable, literally locked them in a closet. Needless to say, Minerva was not pleased when she blasted the door apart seconds later and punched Amanda right in the nose. The petit flying instructor was saved from further bodily harm by the headmaster, who quickly sent her to the hospital wing as he tried to pacify the irate transfigurations professor.

"You're lucky all she gave you was a bloodied nose," Poppy commented calmly, "But if it were up to me, you'd be incapacitated on one of these beds right now."

"Do you think she suspects anything?"

"She'd be completely daft not to."

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Nothing Personal

"Amanda, what on earth are you doing?" Minerva inquired suspiciously as she made her way to the kitchens. She had a break now and had the most ridiculous craving for a mug of hot chocolate with a pinch of hot pepper.

The flying instructor's head snapped up at the sound of Minerva's voice and she nearly dropped the pile of things in her arms.

"Good afternoon, Professor McGonagall," Albus greeted with a grin, poking his head out of the closet. He'd been passing Amanda buckets and giant hoops and all other manner of "stuff" out of the broom closet.

"Spring cleaning, headmaster?" she teased, holding back a most unladylike snort of amusement.

"Oh no, I was always hopeless at that," he replied, "Madame Hooch has need of a few items for an obstacle course she was planning."

"The first years really are hopeless," the petit woman said with a sigh, masking the devious wheels turning in her head, "I've tried everything to teach them how to steer, but nothing seems to be working. So," she finished, raising her over laden arms by way of explanation. "This should do the trick," she added as she gave a flick of her wand and banished the items to the Quidditch pitch.

"I had no idea such a small closet could hold so many useless effects," Minerva commented wryly, leaning on the entrance to the tiny space.

"It's not so small," Albus amended with a twinkle, "It's just big enough for a headmaster."

The adrenaline seemingly pounded in Amanda's ears as she made a split second decision that would prove to be a very bad idea. "And a deputy headmistress," she added.


Harry knew better than anyone that Minerva McGonagall's temper was under heavy lock and guard in the very back of her mind. Before his last class of the day, Harry hurried through the corridors to the kitchens for a snack. Quickly scrambling back out of the kitchen, the house elves cheerful send-offs echoing in his wake, the young boy stuffed a second pumpkin pastry in the pocket of his robes as he bit into the first. With a satisfied spring in his step, he turned up the corridor leading to the main school.

He was about to call a greeting to his Aunt Manda when the broom closet she had only just slammed shut blew apart and his mother came flying out through the wooden splinters. Immediately, his mouth fell open in shock and he could only gape soundlessly as he saw an angry fist reel back and then fly forward to painfully collide with Amanda's nose. Nearly choking on his pumpkin pastry, he ducked behind a short stone outcropping and peeked timidly over the top. Miraculously, his Papa had suddenly appeared and seemed to be restraining his mother from inflicting more injuries on her supposedly former friend. He was too far away to hear anything, but, given his aunt's history, he could guess what just happened.

Suddenly, his eyes watered and he felt a violent sneeze coming on from the sawdust now scattered over the hallway. As he took soundless gasps and held his breath to try to avert the sneeze, he could make out his mother's yells and his father's soothing voice trying to calm her. When at last the sneeze abated, Harry opened his eyes only to find the hallway empty once again. Sighing and shaking his head, he made his way through the short corridor and down to the dungeons for math class.


"Let go of me, Albus," Minerva snarled, lunging after Amanda's hastily retreating figure.

"Minerva, calm down," he soothed calmly as he restrained her in a vice-like grip. Luckily, the corridor was empty of students, otherwise, they would have become very confused with their usually composed transfigurations professor's temper snap. Though she appeared willowy and delicate to the untrained eye, Minerva was putting up an admirable struggle against her superior's hold. With a sigh, Albus cast about for somewhere inconspicuous to pacify his deputy. For the most part, the hallway was just a thru-way, a shortcut between the kitchens and the main stairwell. 'Well,' he sighed to himself, 'There's nothing else for it.' Minerva gave a loud yelp as she was hoisted up off of her feet and carried back to the now door-less broom closet.

"Put me down right now, Albus Dumbledore!" she yelled angrily, trying to unlock his grip around her waist. "Put me down this instant - oof!" Reaching the broom closet, Albus unceremoniously dumped her inside and quickly mended the door with a wave of his wand. "What do -," Minerva's tirade was abruptly cut off as a wizened hand covered her mouth and corked her raging. Shutting the door behind him, Albus waved his wand again and the small space was illuminated by a soft yellow light. It was cramped, but it would have to do.

"Minerva, look at me." She glared at him. "I'm going to take my hand away. When I do, I don't want to hear anything louder than a whisper come out of you." Slowly lowering his hand, he eyed her warily. When she remained silent for a few moments looking pensive, he dared to hope, but then she spoke.

"I am going to kill her," she hissed with a vengeful gleam in her eye, "What is wrong with her? Why the bloody hell is she so insanely upbeat this year? There is absolutely no excuse for it!"

"Minerva, I'm sure it was just a bit of fun for her," Albus tried to placate the fuming woman before him. "We've all had a hectic year," he continued quickly, trying to reason away Minerva's lethal glare, "She just needed to let off a bit of steam. I'm sure it was nothing personal."

After glaring at him a moment more, she lowered her head in defeat and relented, "I suppose you're right."

"That's my girl," he murmured with a grin and reached down to gently squeeze her hands.

Tingles ran up her arm as he held her hand and her head snapped up to stare at him. Her lips parted slightly and she drew in a short breath in surprise at his touch. She had never been so close to him in private before. She was suddenly keenly aware of everything in that broom closet.

Her hand trembled slightly in his warm grasp. Her heart thudded loudly against her chest. His eyes never left hers, maintaining the quiet, caring look they had always held, but also filled with such an overwhelming emotion that she had to look away in order to breathe. His own breath was warm and shallow, disturbing her eyelashes ever-so-gently. His right hand was pressed up on the wall beside her left shoulder, supporting his weight and keeping him from tipping over into her. Even so, mere inches separated them, and when she looked up, they were almost nose to nose.

She was terrified. Her mind was buzzing at a nauseatingly fast pace, conflicting emotions colliding and disintegrating again and again until there was only one coherent thought left in her mind. She looked up to meet his eyes again, but whatever she was going to say died in her throat. Her eyes locked with his and she couldn't bring herself to look away.

"Nothing personal," Minerva echoed Albus' words in a quiet whisper.

"I think I may have lied," he replied in an equally quiet murmur. Her lip trembled a bit at his pronouncement, but she still couldn't look away.

"Albus," she whispered, keenly aware of his lips a breath away. Seemingly against her will, her head slowly tilted upwards and for one brief moment, they breathed together, yet apart.

Then their lips met and she gasped softly, her eyes fluttered shut. She didn't know who moved forward first, but it didn't matter - she finally knew exactly what she wanted. She wanted him to look at her with that unbridled adoration she had grown accustomed to seeing. She wanted him to have those moments when he treated her as if she was his entire universe. She wanted this. And from the way he kissed her, she had no doubts that he wanted this as well. Tentatively, she kissed him back softly, trying to match his gentle tenderness with her own. The few moments that passed as they shared their first real kiss seemed to last a perfect eternity, though at the same time, not nearly long enough.

He drew away first, his breath coming quickly as he stared at her, as if completely taken off guard by her response. Their hands were still intertwined and suspended at their sides. Her left hand still hung limply at her other side, now visibly trembling as she was filled with such powerful raw emotions. His right arm still pressed against the wall beside her, but now seemed to be barely able to support his weight.

"Minerva," he started in a low voice, but couldn't continue. There were no words to describe how much he hoped she wouldn't pull away. At the same time, he couldn't think of anything he could say to make her stay. He, Albus Dumbledore, was at a complete and total loss for words. He wanted to touch her face, to make sure this vision standing before him wasn't just a figment of his imagination. He wanted to hold her and kiss her again to make sure she really did respond.

Minerva tried to draw deep breaths to calm her racing heart, but it was useless. Her eyes opened slowly after he pulled away, afraid of what she would see. Would he leave now, say it was all a mistake? Only her valiant efforts kept her breath from hitching in her throat at the thought. It was not a mistake. It couldn't be a mistake. Looking into his eyes, she realized something that scared her more than anything. She didn't just want his love - she needed it.

Albus' heart shattered as he saw the panic and fear briefly flicker across her porcelain features. "I'm sorry," he apologized immediately, letting go of her hand and reaching for the doorknob.

"Don't be," she whispered immediately, reaching up a tentative hand to his face and turning his head slightly. His fingers were inches from the handle when he froze at her voice. Then the hand he had abandoned reached up to cup his cheek and gently turned his head to face her. Reaching up with her other hand, she held his face steady with an almost child-like innocence.

Slowly, she traced the contours of his face with tender fingers, moving over his strong jaw line and his cheekbones. With a small half-grin she traced the crooked line of his nose, a lasting reminder of his first encounter with the Whomping Willow. At last, she gazed into his eyes and absently traced the deep ridges stemming from the corners.

"Don't be," she repeated in the same quiet whisper, though now a warm smile gave the words life.

Scarcely believing his ears, Albus mirrored her smile. Leaning in again, he pressed his lips to hers once more, gathering her slender form to him and pouring all of his heart and soul into this moment - their moment. Her hands remained on his face, pulling him nearer and caressing the worn skin of his cheeks. Her left hand trailed down to his beard and stayed there, her graceful fingers threading through the silky silver shroud. They lost all comprehension of time and space until the bell heralding the start of classes tolled.

Minerva pulled away from him breathlessly. "I have class to teach," she managed to whisper, before Albus again claimed her lips.

"Let them wait," he muttered.

She laughed merrily at this and pulled away, putting a finger to his lips to quiet his protests. "We'll talk later," she promised him softly.

He nodded reluctantly and stepped back, his hand reaching up to gently caress her face. Closing her eyes, she leaned into his touch and smiled. His thumb tenderly traced the creases along her mouth and briefly ran across her smooth lips before he dropped his hand to his side.

"Tea then?" he suggested. "After your last class perhaps?"

"Perhaps," she replied with a small smile, and swept out of the closet.

It was a wonder she kept her head at all on her way to the transfigurations wing. She was so happy she was surprised she refrained from beaming around her classroom with unbridled joy. As it was, she was the stern transfigurations teacher and managed to be just that for the duration of her lecture to the third years. As the Ravenclaws and Slytherins filed out of her classroom, she allowed herself a small, contented smile. Everything seemed perfect. Too perfect, she mused to herself, but she'd be damned if she started to fret about that now.

"Ma?" Harry called from the doorway. Minerva looked up and waved her boy in, clearing a space off on her desk for him to work. As he approached, Minerva realized his eyes were alight in frustration. Before she could question him, her last class of the day, fourth year Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, began to file in.

"Mr. Lowell, please collect last night's homework," she ordered. As soon as she was sure her directions would be followed, she turned back to her son, who was now moodily slouched in her chair and glaring at a seemingly inoffensive roll of parchment in front of him.

Sighing inwardly, Minerva asked, "What did he do now?" for it seemed that her boy had had yet another run in with his math tutor.

"He gives me these questions and doesn't even tell me how to figure them out!" the child ranted quietly, though with no small force behind his words. "And then he tells me 'I suggest paying attention in this class, Mr. Potter. I have given up valuable time in order to attempt to fill your otherwise vacant mind,'" he mimicked archly. Calvin Lowell, who had finished collecting the homework, snorted at Harry's distinguishable impression, but quickly turned it into a cough at Minerva's glare.

"Pass out that box of hedgehogs," she orderly sharply, her austere expression warning him not to say a word. As he hastily went to do her bidding, she turned back and reprimanded her boy, "Harry, that is quite enough." When he opened his mouth to defend himself, she cut him off, "I know you and Professor Snape have very different ways of looking at things, but the least you can do is show him the proper respect."

"Can you help me then?" he questioned with pleading eyes, "I just don't understand this."

"Of course," she replied gently, smoothing his hair in a pacifying gesture, "Just let me get the class started. I won't be long."

Half an hour later found Minerva standing at the back of her classroom overseeing her student's progress from a different vantage point. In this particular class, there hadn't been any major mishaps since she began teaching them the year before. They were all very careful students, even though most of them lacked a natural talent in the subject, and made their classes, for her, a bit boring. Rather than stare unseeingly into space and let her mind wander to earlier that day, she focused on the small boy sitting at her desk and barely suppressed a doting smile. The quill in his hand tapped impatiently as he worked out the complicated addition. Severus, never one to delay, had started him on word problems that, in Minerva's opinion, were a bit too advanced for the boy. Nevertheless, she let it pass and explained the problem to Harry as best she could, deciding that if he didn't understand by the time her class was over, she would see Severus about the issue.

Her face nearly broke into a grin as the boy's nose gave an agitated twitch - it never ceased to amuse her to see how many peculiar habits they had gained from each other. She saw him sigh and push his hair out of his face and Minerva's good mood all but evaporated. As he scribbled down another set of numbers, an errant lock of hair innocently brushed upon the scar that forever made her want to burst into tears. Biting the inside of her cheek to keep her bitter thoughts in check, she tried to think of something else, but to no avail.

In the general hustle and bustle of everyday life, she could forget that that boy, her Harry, was the Boy-Who-Lived. Yet it was in these quiet moments when she was caught off guard that she ever contemplated what it all meant for her baby boy. Voldemort would come eventually, she knew, to settle his score with the young lad who channeled his mother's love and defeated him those many years ago. She knew Voldemort, the one time Tom Riddle, and knew that he would use every advantage over Harry to defeat him. Everyone close to Harry was a liability, and it didn't help matters that the only wizard he ever feared was like a father to the boy.

Albus knew the risks as well as she did. Minerva had taken in the boy out of pure love, though she hadn't realized it at the time, and Albus had done the same. For the first time in the last three hours, Minerva frowned at the thought of the headmaster. It was bad enough she was a way to get to Harry, the last thing she needed was to be a way to get to Albus as well.

'It's all so unfair,' she thought bitterly, 'every ounce of happiness I have that monster can destroy without even existing properly.'

Dragging herself out of her heartbreaking thoughts, she swept down upon a nervous Hufflepuff before his inexpertly transfigured pincushion attacked him. As she dismissed the class as the bell tolled, she heard Harry give a triumphant shout.

"I got it Ma!" he said with a radiant smile, and added with a smirk, "Now I can tell Mr. Tall Dark and Lanky I'm not such a hopeless dunderhead."

Had he been less anxious to escape the classroom and therefore avoid reprimand, he would have noticed Minerva's quiet brooding as he raced out. Slowly releasing a sad sigh through her nose, she sat in a now vacant student desk and stared into space, paying no heed to the noisy chatter of students as they made their ways to their common rooms. Resting her elbows on the desk, she dropped one forearm across its length and rested her cheekbone on her fist - the very picture of dejection.

Fifteen minutes passed before she moved, rising abruptly out of her seat. Straightening her robes with now-steady hands, she strode purposefully out the door to find the headmaster. As she had learned long ago, certain sacrifices must be made in order to preserve the common good. And in the case of the welfare of Harry Potter, Minerva was prepared to sacrifice everything and anything.

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Yielding to Greater Forces

Amanda shuffled through the halls sullenly, her head bowed in defeat. Contrary to popular belief, she did acknowledge defeat, though the times she did so were few and far between. Her nose was healed, Poppy had seen to that a short time ago, and now she wandered aimlessly, lost in thought.

Glaring at a portrait of a redheaded witch as she passed, she muttered darkly to herself, "She'd be so thrilled to say 'I told you so.' Damn that woman and her omniscience." Molly Weasley, while she was never one to gloat, was the new topic of Amanda's simmering rant. " 'They need time' she says 'Let them come together on their own' she says 'Don't be a pain in the ars-,' " amending her words as a group of second years passed, she caught herself, "-snic. Arsenic." The students, as they learned in their first year, were completely unfazed by their flying instructor's bursts of randomness and bid her "Good afternoon, Madame Hooch," as they passed. The fake grin she favored them with fled as they rounded the corner and she continued her brooding.

"I don't know what you're so upset about," a deep voice sounded further down the corridor. "If it was meant to be, it will be," Marcus tried to reason.

"Shouldn't you be wrestling something?" she asked crossly, "Like a giant spotted unicorn with razor sharp fangs?"

"Sorry to disappoint," he answered with a grin, only making her scowl deepen, "My current project is a little thing, with crazed, gleaming yellow eyes and right pain in the rump."

"Go away," she snapped, "If you hadn't noticed, I am in no mood for this."

"Well, I would, see," he said jovially, "But I'm under strict order, by way of contract, to keep my animals from wreaking havoc in this establishment."

His grin was as charming as it was infuriating.

"If I were any more miffed, you would be a hedgehog right now."

"Of course, my love," he countered graciously, and, gathering her into a hug, he planted a lingering kiss on her forehead and swept her off onto the grounds, where she would be less likely to damage anything.


Three crisp knocks broke the relative silence of Albus' office and he smiled as he sensed Minerva's presence. His smile wavered slightly, however, with her first words.

"We need to talk."

Barely repressing a weary sigh, he motioned her into a private chamber off to the side and watched quietly as she took a seat in one of the armchairs next to the fire. Ignoring the portraits' protests, he signed a last piece of parchment before sealing it and placing it on a precariously balanced pile of similar letters before following her footsteps into the other room and closing the door behind him. He didn't know why the words bothered him so, she had mentioned the inevitable "talk" before. Perhaps it was in the way she met his eyes - full of resolution, as if she had reached an ultimatum that yielded precious little to their new. . . relationship. It would have been one thing had the look in her eyes told of resignation, but a resolved Minerva McGonagall left little room for argument. As he rose from his desk to sit beside her, Minerva forced her hands to remain on her lap and refrain from knotting a stray piece of thread in agitation.

"What is it, Minerva?" he asked seriously, taking one of her hands in both of his.

Willing her eyes to remain dry, she met his gaze stonily and told him, "We can't go on like this." Disbelief and sorrow came in waves over the man's face as he strove to find a reason for the madness. "It's too dangerous," she whispered by way of explanation.

"Minerva," he began, his voice an emotional rumble, "what are you talking about?" he continued, keeping the panic in his voice under wraps, "Danger from what?" He loved her, she loved him. . . or at least he thought she did. . . in any case - the headmaster didn't see a problem. Unless. . .

"You-Know-Who," she replied quietly, "He'll come back - you know it as well as I do." Albus' face darkened and she continued, "He'll come for Harry and then he'll come after you. And I-," her breath caught in her throat as she struggled to find the words to voice her fears. "I cannot - will not - be a liability to you. He will not use me to get to you," she finished, not meeting his eyes for fear that the look in them would change her mind.

"So you think yourself a burden," he reflected aloud. As her head drooped minimally and she started to rise, he caught her hand in his and gently guided her back to a seated position. "Minerva McGonagall," he address her seriously, "You are the farthest thing from a burden to this old man. You are my reason for. . . well, anything and everything, really," he said lamely.

"But what if -," she protested.

"We can 'what if' ourselves to death, but the fact remains that I love you."

His pronouncement was met with silence as Albus' words sunk in. She was speechless, too overcome with emotions to think clearly. Joy, excitement, and a small tremor of fear warred within her mind as she stared at him in shock.

As his heart shattered, slowly he released her hands and he fought to keep at least their friendship afloat. "However, I suppose if you don't - well - we should still be friends in any case. Anything less would look a bit suspicious," he attempted to lighten the mood with a smile.

Minerva bit back a hopeless sigh, thinking, 'Well it won't do any good to break his heart, now would it?'

"Albus," she began, taking his hands back in hers, "Just because I refuse to be a burden doesn't mean I don't still love you," he looked up at her, his eyes filled with hope and she elaborated quietly, "with all my heart."

Without warning, their lips met and all doubts fled their minds.

"My dear Professor McGonagall," he began as they broke their kiss, "Would you be at all interested in a secret relationship with yours truly?"

He spoke with such seriousness that she couldn't help but giggled quietly. Swiftly, she leaned forward and kissed him tenderly by way of an answer. As she sighed wantonly into his mouth, she mused, 'To think that this is Amanda's doing.'

She froze and Albus leaned back and looked at her questioningly. He saw her mind putting together pieces of some intricate puzzle unknown to him and decided to wait it out. She face flushed in agitation and annoyance as she finally glared at him and said, "Amanda."

"I beg your pardon?" he asked, confused, and with good reason.

"This is her doing! How DARE she manipulate us like that!"

"But, Minerva-," he protested weakly as she leapt up and began pacing.

"Don't you see, Albus? She's been at it the entire school year!" Albus slowly came to understand the concept of the one-sided conversation as she continued, "Every opportunity she got she threw us together, and when one didn't present itself, she made an opportunity! The MISTLETOE!" she yelled suddenly, making Albus jump slightly.

"Minerva, please calm down," Albus implored, rising to halt the woman as she spun mid-pace. Taking her by the shoulders, he bent his head down and kissed her deeply. He felt the aggravation flow out of her as she responded in kind, leaning against him and wrapping her arms around his waist. When he broke the kiss, she sighed and leaned her head against his chest as he wrapped his arms around her and settled his cheek on her head.

"Well I suppose I can't fault her for it," she grumbled half- heartedly after a few moments. She grinned as she felt Albus' chest rumble with a silent chuckle. "I just can't stand it when she gets the better of me," she complained.

"Has that ever happened before?" he inquired.

"No," she replied haughtily, "And I am in no position to allow her to win this one either."

While her attributes overwhelmingly outnumbers her faults, Minerva was never one to admit defeat, especially not to Amanda Hooch. Albus could see the devious side of her mind hatching a plan, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know what it was.

"Minerva," he started, infusing his voice with seriousness, "Let it go."

Even as she glared at him, she knew he was right.

"All right, fine," she relented.

Albus grinned and kissed her soundly.


Later that night, Amanda quietly seated herself next to Marcus and repressed a sigh. As she watched Minerva and Albus enter and take their seats, she wondered how much longer she would have to wait in order to hear wedding bells for them. The hour before supper, Minerva took her aside and explained, in a surprisingly calm fashion, that there were to be no further attempts on Amanda's part to throw the headmaster and the deputy headmistress together in a romantic relationship.

"It has gone on long enough, don't you think?" Minerva had demanded sternly. "We're just friends, very close friends. Nothing more, nothing less, and it is high time you accepted that."

As Albus pulled out Minerva's chair for her, Amanda sighed wistfully.

"Don't," Marcus ordered.

Again, the energetic woman sighed in defeat. "Don't worry," she told him in dejected tones, "I won't."

And so, in giving up her cause, Amanda refused to see things Molly would say weren't even there. Like the way their chairs seemed closer that night, or the way their hands found each other and clasped beneath the table, or even the way they looked at each other when no one was watching.

 

Epilogue

"I don't know why I'm so nervous, Albus," Minerva admitted, fumbling with the pins to keep her knot of hair together.

"Well I think I may know," Albus replied, coming up to her from behind and grinning at her flustered reflection in the mirror. Putting his arms around her waist, he dropped a feather kiss on her collarbone and rested his chin there.

As she finished with the pins, she tried to duck out of his hold. "Albus, stop it," she giggled, "You know that tickles." However, the pins that held her knot together also pinned the headmaster to her. She gave him an exasperated look and he chuckled, tugging at the silver stands of his hair binding him to her.

Methodically taking out the pins with a serious air, he set them down on the dresser and ran a gentle hand through her hair. With all the care of a lace maker, he threaded her hair together as she watched quietly in the reflection. When he finished placing the last pin back in her hair, he stood back, frowned, and made to take out the pins again.

"Don't you dare," she reprimanded, catching his hands before they could redo the braid. "It's beautiful."

"It is, isn't it?" he said playfully, and kissed her before leading her to the door of her chambers. "I do believe you have first years to greet," and with a final kiss, they went to welcome the students.


Even though he knew fully well what the Sorting entailed, Harry still felt his stomach give a leap as his mother explained the ceremony to the new first years. Ron Weasley stood at his right, his face a bit green with nerves, but all the same, the redhead gave Harry a wavering smile of support. Harry felt himself give a smile back, every bit as apprehensive as Ron's.

Minerva watched the exchange and stifled a grin as she called the first new student forth. The list went on without a hitch until "Longbottom, Neville" was called forth. As the hat and the boy sat there quietly, Minerva wondered at the hat's indecision. Both of the boy's parents had been in Hufflepuff, and from the little she had seen of him, the boy seemed suited for that house. However, the hat surprised her (yet again) and shouted,

"GRYFFINDOR!"

Resisting the urge to raise an eyebrow at the decision, Minerva continued, reading off name after name until she came to the one she had been waiting for all night.

"Potter, Harry," she said and gave her boy a small wink before the Sorting Hat dropped over his eyes.

As the seconds ticked by, Minerva's nervousness came back in full force and she cast a glance at Albus. As always during the Sorting Ceremony, he sat with an aggravating air of omniscience and flippancy, refusing to give away anything. Narrowing her eyes at him as he gave her a wink, Minerva turned her attention back to her son and the Sorting Hat. As it opened its "mouth," Minerva waited with bated breath.

"GRYFFINDOR!"

Behind her, she heard Severus give a derogatory snort, as if to say, "And you were expecting. . . ?"

.

THE END

 


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