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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.


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