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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?]



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 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."


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.


"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?]


[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?}


"He said yes."


"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.


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