You and Me
A/N: Yes, I know the title is grammatically incorrect, so sue me. It's the title of a song that comes from the musical Victor/Victoria, originally starring Julie Andrews. Anyway, that doesn't belong to me, and neither does anything from the Potterverse. I wrote this because I wanted to try something a little darker than I normally do.
Albus Dumbledore sat at his desk in his office, marking an essay, when a knock disturbed him. Not looking up from the essay he was marking, he called, "Come in."
The door opened and closed. Brisk footsteps crossed the room. "You asked me to come, Professor?"
"Yes, Minerva." He glanced up at the young witch with a smile before indicating one of the chairs facing his large desk. "Have a seat."
He heard her robes rustle as she did so, but he had resumed marking the essay in front of him. For several moments, the room was silent, aside from the rustle of parchment and the occasional scratch of his quill on the parchment. With a flourish, he wrote the student's score at the top of the essay and set it aside. "Thank you for waiting."
"You're welcome, Professor," Minerva replied as he set his quill aside.
"I'm not your teacher anymore, Minerva," he reminded her gently, well aware of that fact himself. "I haven't been for over a year. There's no need for you to call me Professor when we're alone together."
"Yes, Sir." She nodded; the flickering firelight glinting on the lenses of the square spectacles perched on the bridge of her nose.
Albus stifled a sigh and changed the subject, more for his benefit than hers. "How are you settling in, Minerva?"
"I'm settling in fine, Sir," she replied with a smile. "Most of the students are well-behaved and respectful."
"Most?" he asked, raising an auburn eyebrow at her. "Have any of the students been giving you trouble, Minerva?"
"No, Sir," Minerva answered swiftly, perhaps too swiftly. Albus merely looked at her over the tops of his half-moon glasses. Minerva sighed and relented. "It's nothing I can't handle, Sir."
"Very well." He decided to drop the subject and they discussed other matters before he sent Minerva off to bed.
After she had gone, Albus leaned back in his chair and, propping his elbows on the arms of it, pressed the tips of his long fingers together, and sat quietly in the dying firelight, just thinking. Minerva McGonagall had finished at Hogwarts over a year before. She had begun to work on the Animagi transformation during her final year at Hogwarts, but had yet to succeed, though it was not for a lack of trying. Albus, who had been working with her on the project, had had to tell her to slow down at times before she hurt herself. After she had left Hogwarts, Minerva had corresponded with Albus on a regular basis, asking questions about the Animagi transformation and other matters. As the months had passed, her frustration with her lack of success had become increasingly evident, prompting Albus to suggest that she come to Hogwarts as the assistant Transfiguration professor so Albus could help her more easily. Minerva had insisted on checking with Armando Dippet, the Headmaster, and the board of school governors, before agreeing to the plan. She had arrived in time for the new school year and now spent her days teaching the younger students and marking assignments. In the evenings, she would meet with Albus for an hour or so to work on the transformation.
Tonight, however, they had agreed to take a break and not even talk about the transformation. It had been refreshing, for both of them. However, her reluctance to speak of difficulties with any of the students troubled him. Something had appeared in her dark green eyes for a moment, gone too quickly for him to read, but the single glimpse had disturbed him nonetheless.
Though he didn't like to admit it, he considered Minerva to be more than a colleague or student. A friendship had developed between them while Minerva had still been a student and had turned to him for words of comfort and encouragement. He had sent her a letter asking if she would like to attempt the Animagi transformation the summer before her seventh year and she had eagerly accepted. However, when she had arrived that September, Albus had been startled to realize how much the shy eleven-year-old with long black braids had changed when he came face to face with a young woman with a blooming figure that her black school robes couldn't completely hide.
Although student-teacher relationships were more common than most people thought, Albus was an honorable man and his actions towards his star student had been above reproach. Now that she had returned, as a colleague, he was free to pursue her if he wished to. In spite of this, he was still hesitant to do more than watch her from a distance. He knew she had caught the eye of several male students already, the Head Boy in particular. Albus sighed. He just did not trust Tom Riddle, for some reason. It had nothing to do with the fact that Rubeus Hagrid, who had been expelled the previous year, was like a son to Albus. There was just something too convenient about what had happened last year. Albus suspected that the Acromantula hadn't killed Myrtle Arden, but he didn't have any proof. He was content to merely keep a closer watch on Tom Riddle for the time being.
The fire had gone out completely and Albus conceded that it was time to go to bed, not that he was going to be able to get much rest. There was just too much on his mind at this point in time. Getting to his feet, he made his way to his rooms and got ready for bed. Once in bed, it was several long hours before the Transfiguration professor finally slept.
* * *
Minerva had returned to her rooms at her mentor's request, but sleep eluded her. Albus Dumbledore had been a second father to her since her first year at Hogwarts. Whenever she had turned to him for help or encouragement, he was there for her. He had shared her joys with her and her sorrows. When her parents had died in her seventh year, he had been there to comfort her and talk with her when she needed it. She'd jumped at the chance to attempt the Animagi transformation. She'd been dying to try it since he'd demonstrated his own transformation for the class in her third year. Yet, something had happened during her seventh year. She'd begun to notice him as more than a professor, or even a father. She'd thought nothing of accepting his offer to help her become an Animagi, but her deepening feelings for him had made it increasingly difficult to concentrate on her studies and she suspected that was why she had been unable to transform so far.
Giving a frustrated sigh, she rolled over and stared up at the canopy of her bed. She didn't know what to do about the situation she'd found herself in. She'd hoped being away from Albus would make it easier for her to master the transformation, but no such luck. When she was away from Albus, all she could think of was her mentor, not the transformation. When she was with him, she was far too aware of him to be able to concentrate properly. Either way, it was a no-win situation. Deciding that sleep was out of the question for the time being, Minerva got up and, pulling on her tartan dressing gown, left her rooms and headed down to the kitchens for a midnight snack. Since she was a professor now (well, almost), there was no need for her to sneak around at night. Sometimes, though, stealth was more advantageous. Minerva never did hear the whispered spell that sent her into the arms of Morpheus.
* * *
Albus woke with a start. Something had happened, of that he was sure. He just didn't know what had happened. After his eyes had adjusted to the moonlight filtering into the room, he let his gaze probe every corner of it. Nothing was out of place, so why had he woken up? His thoughts immediately turned to Minerva McGonagall. He wasn't sure why, but he suspected she was in danger. He climbed out of bed and pulled his long woolen dressing gown on over his nightshirt. Making sure he had his wand, he left his quarters in search of the assistant Transfiguration professor. He checked her rooms first, but she wasn't there, although it looked like she had gone to bed at some point. After ascertaining that Minerva was not in her rooms, Albus stood in the corridor, trying to decide what his next course of action would be. Where would Minerva go in the middle of the night? After remembering her tendency to visit the kitchens when she couldn't sleep for some reason or another, he decided to head down to the kitchens, hoping that he was just overreacting.
He was walking past one of the unused classrooms when a low moan stopped him in his tracks. He listened for a moment, unsure of what he'd heard. He heard the moan again and slipped into the classroom. It was pitch black. "Lumos." The tip of his wand glowed and he held it up high to light the classroom as much as possible. His heart nearly stopped when he saw what the wandlight revealed. "Minerva."
She was sprawled on the floor, her spectacles askew and her tartan dressing gown rumpled. Her long black hair, usually pulled back out of her face, was spread out on the floor beneath her. Her eyes were closed, the eyelashes dark crescents on the unusually pale skin of her cheeks. Albus knelt at her side and picked up her hand. It was cold and he realized she was shivering. He cast a warming spell on her dressing gown and the shivering eased somewhat. "Ennervate."
After a long moment, she stirred and opened her eyes. They were unfocused at first and she stared up at the ceiling in a bemused sort of way. Slowly, as her eyes focused, a frown appeared and she began to look around. Finally, her eyes landed on the wizard kneeling at her side. "Professor? What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you, Minerva," he replied, surprised at how shaky his voice sounded. "What happened?"
With his help, she managed to sit up and put a hand to her head. "I don't know, Sir. I was on my way to the kitchens for a snack because I couldn't sleep. Suddenly, it was all blackness, and then I woke up here."
"Nothing else?" he asked, pulling off his dressing gown and handing it to her when she shivered, having never bothered to tie it closed.
She shook her head, even as she pulled his dressing gown on over hers. "Just - blackness."
He studied her for a moment, ignoring the chill that cut through the material of his nightshirt. She was holding something back. "Perhaps we should get you up to the hospital wing."
She nodded and allowed him to help her up. When she tried to take a step, she gasped and doubled over, her arms wrapping around her middle. "Minerva, what is it?"
"I don't know," she managed through gritted teeth. "It…hurts."
"What hurts?" he asked, worried, holding onto her when she would have fallen.
She squeezed her dark eyes shut, her face a mask of pain, her legs trembling. "I don't think I can walk, Sir."
"Very well." Without another word, he picked her up and carried her out of the classroom. She protested, but Albus was determined. He didn't put her down until he reached the hospital wing, where he placed her in one of the beds reserved for the faculty members. "Stay here, Minerva. I'll get Millie."
Minerva nodded and laid her head back against the pillow, her arms still wrapped tightly around her middle. Not liking how pale she was, Albus hurried down the ward to Millicent Arden' office. He knocked quietly, but insistently, on the door leading the school nurse's rooms and she opened it shortly. Her brown hair, usually pulled back into a knot at the nape of her neck, fell in a loose ponytail down her back. Her eyes widened when she saw who her visitor was. "Albus? What is it?"
"It's Minerva, Millie," Albus explained, feeling a pang for the woman's loss. Myrtle had been Millicent's granddaughter and the nurse had been distraught at the girl's death. "I found her unconscious in one of the unused classrooms. I think she's been hurt."
"Hurt?" Millicent asked, even as she grabbed a cardigan from a peg by the door and stepped out of her rooms. "In what way?"
He shrugged helplessly. "She wouldn't say, although she wrapped her arms around her middle."
"Oh, dear." Millicent hurried down the ward to where Minerva still lay on the bed. "Minerva, I'm here."
The young witch opened her eyes and Albus was surprised to see unshed tears glittering in them. "Millie, it hurts so much."
"Shh, Minerva, shh," Millicent whispered, easing Albus' dressing gown from Minerva's slender frame. When she handed it to the Transfiguration professor, he was surprised to find blood on it. Looking at the tartan dressing gown Minerva still wore, he saw that a large bloodstain had appeared on that as well. He wasn't the only one to have noticed. Millicent had gone very still, the lines around her mouth tightening. "Albus, please return to your rooms."
"But-" he began to object, but Millicent turned and gave him a look that brooked no refusal. "Very well, Millie. Minerva, I will be by to see you in the morning."
The witch barely nodded, her face still contorted with pain. Worried about his assistant, Albus left the hospital wing and returned to his rooms. He didn't sleep at all for the rest of the night.
* * *
Once Albus had gone, Millicent managed to remove Minerva's dressing gown, gasping at the sight it revealed. The white nightgown Minerva had worn was now torn and of no use to the witch. It was stained with blood and other fluids Millicent would not want to think about. "Minerva, did you keep something from Albus?"
The dark green eyes that met Millicent's brown ones were full of pain and shame. "I don't remember, Millie."
The medi-witch frowned, staring at her patient. "What do you mean?"
Minerva was trembling violently. "All I can remember is walking through the corridors to the kitchens, and then blackness." She frowned suddenly. "And pain. As bad as I imagine the Cruciatus Curse to be."
"Does it still hurt?" Millicent asked, even as she Summoned a nightgown from her rooms.
Minerva nodded as Millicent helped her pull off the soiled nightgown. "Strange, I was wearing underclothes before."
"I'm sure you were," Millicent answered soothingly helping Minerva into the fresh nightgown. "Now, where does it hurt the most?"
Minerva focused for a moment, and then shame filled her eyes. "Down between my legs."
Millicent nodded sadly. "I was afraid of this."
"Afraid of what?" Minerva asked, the tears she'd been holding at bay sliding silently down her cheeks.
Millicent's eyes were compassionate as she smoothed Minerva's hair back from her face. "I can't be sure yet, but I suspect you've been sexually assaulted, Minerva."
The younger witch gasped, withdrawing from Millicent. "It can't be. It just can't be. I would remember."
"Would you?" Millicent asked softly, grabbing one of Minerva's hands before she could pull away again. "You know as well as I do that there are many ways to hide a person's memory from them."
"But who would do such a thing?" Minerva asked, her tears spilling freely down her cheeks now. "Who in this school would want to do this to me?"
Millicent gave the witch a reassuring smile. "I've heard many of the older boys talking about you, Minerva. It seems they find the assistant Transfiguration teacher very attractive, if a little stuffy."
Minerva stared at the medi-witch, her tears stopped for the moment. "Do they really?"
Millicent nodded, "I've seen quite a few male eyes watching you when you weren't looking."
"Goodness," Minerva settled back against the pillows, her anguish forgotten for the moment. "I never thought anyone would find me attractive."
Millicent eyed the younger witch for a moment. Minerva had been pretty as a teenager, but had kept her nose buried in a book most of the time and hadn't taken many pains with her appearance. Now that she'd had chance to mature, there was a sort of regal beauty about her that Millicent knew would be hard for most men to resist. How could she not see how attractive she could be to the opposite sex? Millicent shook her head. "Believe me, Minerva, there are plenty of men, and boys, who will find you attractive in the coming years."
Minerva's face turned bitter. "And someone acted on that attraction."
Millicent nodded sadly and began a Diagnostic spell. Minerva hadn't really stopped trembling and tears continued to leak from her eyes. With a sigh, Millicent terminated the spell when she was done. She met Minerva's eyes were her own. "I'm afraid I was right, Minerva."
Minerva's horrified gasp echoed in the confines of the hospital wing. "Oh, Millie, how can I ever face Albus again?"
Millicent's face grew stern. "Now, Minerva, you should know by now that this sort of thing couldn't possibly be your fault. You are the victim and I'm sure you did what you could."
"Why would anyone wish to do this sort of thing, Millie?" Minerva asked, tears streaming down her cheeks as the medi-witch moved to treat her.
Millicent shook her head. "The Muggles theorize that the people who commit these sorts of crime do it for power more than anything else."
Minerva moaned softly as Millicent made sure that the younger witch would not end up pregnant. "Millie, please don't tell anyone."
"Albus at least should know," Millicent pointed out, understanding why Minerva wouldn't want an attack like this to become common knowledge. "He's the one who brought you down here."
Minerva shook her head frantically. "Not even Albus. Especially not him, Millie. Please?"
Millicent sighed and nodded. "I won't tell anyone, Minerva. You have my word."
"Thank you, Millie."
"You're welcome, Minerva."
* * *
When Albus arrived the next morning to see Minerva, she was still asleep, but Millicent gave him permission to sit and wait for her to wake up. Albus sat in a chair by her bed and just looked at her. She was wearing a high-necked nightgown and her black hair nearly hid the pillow beneath her head. Albus had never realized before how much hair she had. With it pulled back, he'd never gotten a chance to find out. Her skin wasn't quite so pale, but it certainly was far from being it's usually healthy color. A closer look at her face told Albus she'd been crying, for some reason. The thought made him uncomfortable and he longed to take her in his arms and hold her. He sighed and shook his head. When her eyelids fluttered, his breath caught in his throat. He watched as she slowly opened her eyes. Their dark green depths were cloudy at first, but they slowly cleared as sleep abandoned her. She looked around for a moment, confused, before her gaze came to rest on him. "Professor?"
"Good morning, Minerva," he replied, feeling his heart sink a little. Why did she insist on calling him that? "How are you feeling?"
"Better," she informed him as he held her glasses out to her. She accepted them with a shaky smile and put them on. "Thank you for bringing me up here."
"You're welcome," he answered with a smile of his own. She met his steady gaze, but dropped her eyes after a few heartbeats. That wasn't like Minerva at all. "I'm guessing Millie will want to keep you here for a day or two?"
Minerva nodded, not lifting her eyes. "Yes, she feels it's for the best if I don't move too much."
Albus nodded in response. "Don't worry about the classes you were supposed to teach. I can handle them without a problem."
"Yes, Sir." Minerva agreed, still not looking up at him. "She also feels it would be for the best if I abstained from my other project as well."
"Understandable," Albus replied, wishing she would look up at him. "Minerva, is there something you're not telling me?"
Her head snapped up and she stared at him for a moment, dark green eyes wide. Slowly, reluctantly, she nodded. "Yes, Sir."
"Obviously, you don't want to talk about it," he commented with a half-smile. She smiled weakly in return. "I understand, Minerva, but, please remember that I am here for you and don't want you to think you can't tell me anything."
Minerva's smile grew stronger. "Yes, Sir. Thank you."
"Please," he murmured, his smile disappearing, "call me Albus."
Minerva's smile flickered for a moment. "Very well, Albus."
His smile returned. "Thank you, Minerva, but now I must be going to breakfast. I'll be back later today."
Minerva nodded, but did not speak. He squeezed her hand reassuringly and was gratified to feel her squeeze his hand in response. Nodding to himself, he left the hospital wing. Armando Dippet was already in his seat when Albus arrived for breakfast and immediately asked how Minerva was doing. "She's fine, but confined to the hospital wing for a few days."
"Do you know what happened to her, Albus?" Armando asked, worry in his hazel eyes. Though Armando was getting on in years, he still cared for his staff members, and the students under his care.
Albus sadly shook his head. "No, she didn't tell me."
Armando studied his younger colleague for a moment. "But you have suspicions?"
Albus nodded this time. "Yes, but I do not want to voice them at this time."
"Very well," Armando agreed and turned to eat his breakfast.
When Albus did the same, he found he didn't have much of an appetite, for once. He couldn't stop remembering the sight of Minerva's unnaturally pale face as she'd stared at him. There had been fear in her eyes; fear that he would force her to confess. He could never do that to her. Conceding that he wasn't doing much more than pushing his food around on his plate, he got up and left the table to prepare for the day's lessons.
* * *
It had been several months since Albus had found Minerva unconscious. She'd recovered physically, but mentally was another issue altogether. Albus had become increasingly concerned for her. Her face had become drawn and pale and Albus suspected that she had lost weight as well; though it was difficult to tell because of the rather voluminous robes she wore. Millicent had finally told Minerva she was free to resume work on the Animagi transformation. Minerva had returned to the project with renewed vigor, throwing herself into their sessions with more enthusiasm than was strictly necessary. She'd been trying hard before, of course, but now there was a sort of desperation in her that Albus hadn't seen before. It worried him, but Minerva always managed to evade any questions he asked about it.
On the last Hogsmeade weekend of the school year, Albus couldn't ignore the signs. "Minerva, you're going to make yourself sick if you don't slow down."
There were tears of frustration in her dark green eyes when she looked up at him. They were in the Transfiguration classroom and the heat was stifling, despite the fact that all of the windows were open as wide as they could go. Minerva was drenched with sweat, visibly trembling from several long hours of trying. In those hours, he'd seen her go through every possible human/feline combination without resting between each attempt. "I can't help it, Albus. I've been trying for over two years and still haven't succeeded."
"I know." He had learned that physical contact with him made Minerva flinch, but he couldn't stop himself from pulling her into a comforting hug. "However, working yourself to death over it isn't the answer. Perhaps it's time you took another break?"
Minerva had stiffened at first, but slowly relaxed. At his suggestion, though, she pulled away, wrapping her arms around herself defensively. "Albus, please, don't make me stop now. I've been trying for so long and--"
"And you're on the brink of a nervous breakdown," he inserted quietly. Their hug had told him that her robes were damp with sweat and confirmed that she had lost weight. "Please, go to your rooms and get some rest. Take the rest of the weekend off and we'll come back to this on Monday."
"No, Albus, let me try one more time?" Minerva entreated, her eyes wide and pleading. "I can't stand the thought of giving up now."
"You're not giving up, Minerva," he told her sternly, feeling a pang when she shrank from him as if he had struck her. He softened his voice before he continued. "You're just taking a break. Remember, it took me a couple years before I managed to succeed."
He was astonished when she lifted her head to meet his gaze and saw tears of anger in her eyes. "You don't care! You've no idea how important this is to me, why I want to succeed so badly! You don't care about me!"
He gazed at her sadly. "Minerva, I do care, more than you think."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked angrily, swiping at the tear tracks on her cheeks.
He felt his cheeks grow warm and was instantly glad that his beard was red. "Never mind that, Minerva. I want you to stop because I don't want to see you in the hospital wing again."
She stared up at him, tears still glistening on her cheeks. She held his gaze for a long moment before finally conceding defeat. "I suppose I'd better go get some sleep."
He nodded and watched her go. As he stood there, replaying the session, a sudden thought occurred to him: Why does she want to succeed so badly?
* * *
Albus waited beside Armando Dippet on the front steps of Hogwarts. Twelve years had passed since Minerva McGonagall had successfully performed the Animagus transformation, registered with the Ministry, and left Hogwarts. She'd seen and done much in those years. She had written to him regularly, but had steadily evaded his requests to meet face-to-face. He couldn't help wondering what demons had sent Minerva running from Hogwarts. He had his suspicions, but chose to keep them to himself.
"Ah, here she comes." The Headmaster's voice broke into Albus' thoughts and the younger wizard looked down the winding drive. A tall, slender figure in a tartan traveling cloak was walking briskly up the drive. "Good Lord, she has changed quite a bit."
Albus silently agreed with Armando. Neither wizard moved as Minerva approached. She had grown and matured a great deal in the last twelve years. Gone was the slightly unsure young woman who'd turned to him time after time for words of comfort or encouragement. In her place was a calm, poised young woman who could stand on her own, if necessary.
"Professor Dippet, Professor Dumbledore," Minerva greeted them when she was within earshot.
"Hello, Professor McGonagall," Armando replied as he shook her hand. "Welcome back."
"Thank you, Sir," Minerva replied before turning to Albus.
"It's good to see you again, Minerva," he told her quietly as he clasped her slender hand with both of his.
"Thank you," she tried to free her hand, but he didn't let go until she added, "Albus."
He smiled as he released her hand, but didn't miss the fact that her dark green eyes were carefully shuttered, hiding her thoughts from him. Armando didn't seem to notice the exchange between Albus and Minerva, because he said, "Well, Albus, why don't you show our new professor to her rooms?"
Albus nodded. "Minerva?" He noticed a slight tightening in the lines around her mouth, but she preceded him into the castle nonetheless. As he escorted her through the castle, he wondered what had happened to make her so self-contained. Stifling a sigh, he pushed those thoughts away as they continued through the castle.
* * *
Minerva lay awake that night, wondering how she thought could possibly go through with this. The mere sight of Albus Dumbledore had set her heart pounding in her chest. He was as handsome and distinguished as ever. She hadn't seen a single strand of gray hair in and amongst the auburn. She had no idea how she was going to work alongside Albus for the better of a year. She sighed and decided to head down to the kitchens for a midnight snack.
She was surprised to find Albus waiting for her in a familiar corridor. "Good evening, Minerva."
"Albus," she replied curtly, ignoring the fact that her stomach was twisting itself into knots.
As she brushed past him, he fell in step with her. "Are you going anywhere in particular?"
"The kitchens," she managed through gritted teeth.
"I'll join you," he stated cheerfully.
"Fine." She fought back a shiver of pleasure that he would be joining her.
In no time at all, they were sitting at a small table in the kitchens, she with a slice of rich, warm chocolate cake and he with a large mug of hot cocoa. Both remained silent, comfortable with each other, despite how long it had been since they had last seen each other.
Albus finally broke the silence. "Minerva, why did you run?"
Her comfort vanished. "I don't know what you mean, Albus."
"Yes, you do," he countered quietly. She kept her eyes on the half-eaten cake in front of her. "You practically jumped at the chance to leave here twelve years ago and you've avoided seeing me face-to-face until today."
She sighed and lifted her gaze to meet his. "Have you ever considered that it might be none of your business?"
He smiled sadly. "No wonder your Animagus form is that of a cat."
She glared at him. "Albus."
He held his hand up soothingly. "Calm down, Mienrva. I have been worried about you."
She softened and reached across the table to cover his free hand with hers. "I'm sorry, Albus, but there are some things that need to be faced alone."
"You're not alone, Minerva," he told her, turning his hand face-up under hers and clasping it tightly. "I will always be here for you."
His gaze held hers for a long moment. "Thank you, Albus."
"You're welcome, Minerva."
* * *
The years rolled by and the two regained the closeness they had once shared. Their fellow staff members noticed this, but none commented. The students noticed, too, and rumors about the pair circulated furiously. One or two reached their ears, but neither made any attempts to quash them. They knew it was better to let the rumors run their course.
When Armando Dippet died during the winter holidays, the board of school governors appointed Albus as the new headmaster and left it up to him to choose people to take over his former duties. Fortunately, he knew whom he wanted to take over those duties; it was just a matter of convincing them…
"No, Albus, absolutely not," Minerva answered sternly, sitting across from him in his new office.
"Come, come, Minerva," he coaxed. "You and I both know Transfiguration has always been your best subject. The only reason you've been teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts for the last fourteen years is because I have been teaching Transfiguration."
"Cocky git," she muttered, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "Very well, I'll teach Transfiguration."
"What abut the other two positions?" Albus asked, raising his eyebrows at her.
"No, I will not take over as Head of Gryffindor as well," she immediately replied. "Can't Xiomara take the position?"
Albus shrugged. "Technically, yes, but the students need someone stable to be their Head--"
"--and Xiomara is too flighty to be stable," Minerva finished. "Albus, surely there is someone better suited for the job."
"Aside from myself?" He thought for a moment. "No, I can't think of anyone."
She sighed. "Very well, but I refuse to be your deputy. "Ask Filius, or Sylvia."
"Why must you fight me about this, Minerva?" he asked soberly, no twinkle in his bright blue eyes now. "There is no one I trust more than you to help me run the school the way it should be run."
She blinked back tears. If only he knew. "Don't press me right now, Albus."
He studied her for a few moments. "Very well, but don't take too long to decide."
She nodded jerkily and left his office. Would he still trust her if he knew what she'd been hiding from him for the last 26 years?
* * *
He was startled awake by the feel of something soft and furry nudging his hand. He looked down at his hand and smiled: a sleek silver tabby cat gazed up at him with somber eyes. "Hello, Minerva."
Minerva appeared in the cat's place, kneeling beside him on the bed. Her long, black hair was pulled back into a ponytail and her somber dark eyes were rimmed with red. When she spoke, her voice was hoarse and scratchy. "Hello, Albus."
"What's wrong?" he asked, alarmed, as he sat up. Tears spilled down her cheeks. "Minerva?" He opened his arms and she crawled into them, burying her face in his auburn beard, now liberally streaked with silver. He held her as she cried, stroking her back and whispering words of comfort.
When she stopped crying, he reluctantly let her pull away. When she mopped at her face with the sleeve of her nightgown, he plucked a handkerchief from the nightstand and handed it to her. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." He watched as she mopped her face with the handkerchief, and then blew her nose. "Can you talk about it now, Minerva?"
She nodded, balling the handkerchief up in her hand. "I think so, Albus." He waited patiently for her to begin. "Do you remember the one night you found me unconscious? When I was your assistant?" He nodded, remembering the fear that had filled him when he'd found her. "Well, after you left the hospital wing, Millie examined me and found that I'd--I'd--"
She faltered, burying her face in her hands. Albus watched her for a moment before speaking. "That you'd been raped?"
Her head snapped up and she stared at him, dark green eyes wide. "How did you figure it out?"
"That's what all the evidence
pointed to Minerva," he explained quietly. "You just confirmed it for me."
She bowed her head and whispered, "I'll understand if you want me to leave."
He caught her wrist as she started to get up. "Minerva, wait." She stopped and turned back to him, her bottom lip caught between her teeth. "No matter what has happened to you, I couldn't bear it if you left."
"Albus, what are you saying?" She stared into his eyes with a mixture of fear and hope in her own.
He took a deep breath. "Minerva, I love you." She gasped, one hand flying up to cover her mouth. "I have for a long time."
She lowered her hand. "Why tell me now? Why haven't you told me before?"
He lifted one hand to cup her cheek. "Because I wasn't sure if you would accept my love."
"Oh, Albus." Blinking furiously, she threw herself into his arms. "I love you, too."
Relief flooded through him at her words, closely followed by joy. "Does this mean you'll agree to take on the duties of being my deputy, along with teaching Transfiguration and becoming the new Head of Gryffindor?"
She laughed. "Yes, you crazy old coot."
"I'm glad he murmured, raising his other hand to cup her other cheek.
"So'm I," she murmured back, her own hands rising to cradle his face between them.
At long last, they shared their first kiss.