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.
"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.
"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.
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