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?"
"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.'
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