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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.


"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.


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