Summary: The staff of Hogwarts decides to throw Minerva McGonagall a surprise birthday party. Albus asks her to dinner to get her out of the castle while they prepare...romance blooms and when they come back surprises await...
Disclaimer: Alas, they're not mine. I'm merely borrowing them!
~Secrets, Plans, and Confusion~
The stern transfiguration professor and head of Gryffindor house sat at her desk and stared at the calendar before her. There were various meetings scheduled, Hogsmeade weekends noted on the appropriate days, even a weekly tally of the chess games she played with Albus Dumbledore. But there was one thing missing from the calendar this particular month…no notation of her special day. Taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, Minerva felt a bit melancholy. Usually, Albus had at least mentioned the fact that she would be getting another year older, or some other childish remark, by this time each year. However, it was only a week away and there had been no indication that he had remembered.
Minerva McGonagall had never made a big deal out of her birthday. To her, it was just another day and as long as Albus remembered the date of her birth, she was perfectly content to let it slip by unnoticed by the rest of the staff. And in reality, she preferred it that way. She was never the type to welcome the spotlight thrust upon her. She would much rather spend a quiet evening in the company of a good friend playing chess and relaxing. But, if he forgot her birthday, she was sure that no one else would remember, which would make for an utterly miserable day. Silently hoping that he would at least send her a birthday owl, she tried to push those thoughts aside and focus on the essays in front of her that begged to be marked.
This year, Albus Dumbledore had noticed several small changes in Minerva's overall outlook on life. She had grown far too serious, in his opinion, and he knew how much she detested a large affair over her birthday. Normally, he would have respected her wishes but for some reason, he wanted to make her feel special. He knew that she would not be expecting an elaborate affair and that was the beauty of his plan. He could seek the help of Minerva's trusted friend in planning a surprise party and then Minerva could see how much her colleagues cared. But he had to be careful. If she had even the slightest hint that something was being organized, she would show them all her Scottish temper and there would be none left unscathed.
"Headmaster Dumbledore, I could kiss you! It's about time someone put a wrinkle in her nose! She's absolutely going to hex us into oblivion, if she doesn't kill us first! So, since I've always been known for tempting fate, I say…let's do it!" Xiomara Hooch had been Minerva McGonagall's trusted friend since she had started teaching at Hogwarts. Minerva had attempted to take Hooch under her wing and point out the finer details of teaching, but Hooch had always been a rebel and did not like to conform to everyone else's standards. So the idea of pulling the wool over the eyes of the Deputy Headmistress seemed like the ideal challenge. But she would need help! Promising the Headmaster to oversee the details of an event worthy of his brilliant idea, she headed off to the dungeons to twist the arm of Minerva's least favorite person.
"Absolutely Not! I refuse to be dragged into this little scheme of yours. Have you considered how furious she will be when she finds out what you're planning? And what does Dumbledore have to say about all of this? There's no way he can keep a secret from her for long!" As Severus Snape glared at the short woman standing before him, he impatiently tapped his foot and waited for her answer. He had faced the wrath of Minerva McGonagall on more than one occasion and he certainly did not want to intentionally ruin her birthday. He had a healthy respect for her temper and having been on the receiving end of a verbal assault, he had no intentions of returning for another round.
"Severus Snape, you will help me and you will do it willingly. The Headmaster knows all about this. In fact, it was his idea and he instructed me to enlist the help of anyone I needed. And I need you to take care of a few small details. Now, would you like to explain to him why you are refusing to help me on this project?" Hooch had never been one to mince words. She was always the most outspoken at their staff meetings and today was no exception. "Now are you going to help me or do I have to report your refusal to the Headmaster?" Deep down Hooch knew that Snape did not entirely dislike Minerva. They merely had a difference of opinions on a great deal of subjects. And she had considered not even asking for his help, but he was the potions master at the school and for what she had planned, it was essential for him to pitch in and do his share.
"So help me, if she so much as twitches in my direction at this fiasco, I will make sure that your brooms never fly properly again! Do you understand me?" Slapping him playfully on the arm, she scoffed at his remark and went on her way to seek the assistance of two more people.
Flitwick and Sprout had been easy to convince. Flitwick always welcomed a chance to show off his mastery of various charms and Sprout was more than happy to offer her best flowers for a good cause. Now that they were offering their assistance, Xiomara had to come up with the master plan. Dumbledore had given her a few major guidelines and things he wanted done but the rest was up to her. And she wanted to give her best friend a birthday to remember.
Over the next two days, the observant Professor McGonagall noticed her colleagues huddled together in quiet corners. And she noted that they immediately ceased their conversations whenever she entered the staff lounge. But the most curious thing of all was the interaction between Severus Snape and Xiomara Hooch. She meant to discuss these little annoyances with her friend but had never found the time and she was late for her game of chess with Albus. But she would make it a point to confront her on the matter at the earliest possible moment.
As she entered Albus' private sitting room, she saw him sitting at his desk, pouring over several sheets of parchment. Clearing her throat so as not to startle him, he jumped as she approached and he swiftly moved to tidy up the papers he had spread out before him. She noted that it was very unlike him to be so secretive, but she chalked it up to being Ministry work and let the thought pass from her mind. Settling down in her usual chair, she conjured one mug of cocoa and one mug of tea and waited for her opponent to take his seat.
The game progressed slowly, as they usually did and eventually Minerva drifted away into her own musings. Moments passed in silence as she stared at the familiar chessboard. Her pieces, which had grown impatient, began tapping their feet loudly and muttering under their breaths about taking her sweet time and they weren't getting any younger. But, they weren't the only ones to notice the distracted demeanor of the skilled player.
"My dear, do you plan on making your move tonight or am I to wait until tomorrow to finish this game?" Drawn back from her thoughts, she weakly smiled at Albus and apologized for her lack of concentration. When she absent-mindedly directed her queen into a dangerous position, she never heard the uproar of the chess pieces nor did she hear Albus question her decision. Reaching across the table, Albus took her hand in his and led her away from the table to the small sofa near the fire. "Now, would you like to discuss what has been on your mind or is this some sort of new strategy for playing chess?"
"I am sorry, Albus. I admit I am a bit distracted." Turning her gaze from the fire to look him squarely in the face, she spoke again. "Have you noticed anything strange around the castle lately? With the staff, I mean?"
"No, I can't honestly say that I have. Do you have a particular incident or person in mind?"
"Maybe I'm making something from nothing but I've seen Severus spending quite a bit of time with Xiomara lately. I haven't had a chance to speak to her about it but something tells me that they've become very close lately. Albus, do you think that they're falling for each other?" In some ways, that last bit pained her to say. She wanted her friend to be happy but at the same time, if that were the case, she was a bit jealous. She had longed for someone to spend her time with. Sure, she had Albus but he only thought of her as a trusted friend and colleague. Yet she felt so much more for him. If he only knew…and if her friend and the head of her rival house were to fall for each other, her life would be even more difficult.
Albus had considered the possibility of Minerva wrongly interpreting things she would see this week and it was extremely hard to stifle the laughter bubbling inside. Never in his wildest dreams would he have assumed that she would think such a thing about Snape and Hooch. Those two were like oil and water and yet if he told Minerva that she was seeing things, it would only make her more suspicious. So, he chose the only option he had…try a diversion. "I have not noticed any change in their behaviors lately. But surely that isn't all that's bothering you, is it? That seems too trivial to send you into such a mood. Now, tell me what is really bothering you." Conjuring another cup of hot tea for her, he settled back against the plush cushions and patiently waited for her response.
Taking a deep breath and a soothing drink of the warm liquid, she continued. "You're right. It's not just that. I have also noticed that the other faculty members seem to be distancing themselves from me and I'm left to wonder why. Just yesterday, I went to the greenhouse to speak to Professor Sprout about a plant I have in my rooms and she acted as if I had caught her in the middle of something. She has never been anything but nice to me and we've always gotten along famously, but she was almost rude. It was as if I had done something to offend her, yet I have no idea what it could be. I haven't been around her enough these past two weeks to have upset her."
Before Albus could offer any comforting words though, Minerva had started to give another example. "And I saw Poppy speaking to Hooch in the corridor late last night but when I approached, they quickly ended their conversation and made feeble attempts to change the subject. Poppy and Xiomara, Albus…they're the best friends I have here, present company excluded of course. They made me feel as if they had been speaking ill of me. Have I done something to offend everyone at the school?"
In some small way it grieved his heart to hear such doubt and despair in Minerva's voice. Obviously the chattering in the corridors would have to cease and he made a mental note to speak to Madame Hooch about it at the first opportunity. Right now, he must try to alleviate her concerns and lighten her mood.
"Ahh, my dear. It must be that time of year again. I believe your birthday is in a few days and you have a tendency to become suspicious. I am sure that if Madame Hooch and Severus are on the verge of becoming more than friends, she will tell you when the time is right. Also, the staff members are aware that you have a great deal of responsibilities and they do not wish to burden you with trivial details. As for Professor Sprout…well Minerva, she has always been a bit different. Spending so much time in the greenhouse with those chemicals can't be terribly healthy for her." Offering her one of his famous Dumbledore smiles, she attempted to return the favor with a rare McGonagall one. Knowing that it was not as heartfelt as his own, he hoped that her surprise party would make up for the awful way she was feeling at this very moment. If his other plans were successful, it would be the best birthday she had ever had.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed and no longer in the mood for the game of chess, Minerva thanked Albus for the cup of tea and for listening to her ramblings. "I'm sure I'll feel better in the morning. It always helps to talk things over with you. You have a way of putting things into perspective and shedding light on otherwise difficult situations. I'm very lucky to have you as a friend. I think I'll go to my chambers and take a hot bath and try to put this all behind me. " Making her way to the large door leading to the private staircase, she was stopped in her tracks by a hand on her shoulder.
"Minerva, dear. I am sorry that you feel so uneasy. I'm sure everything will work out just fine and that it is a passing phase. Your colleagues respect you and your friends love you. I believe that in a few days, this entire conversation will be a distant memory and your outlook will be much different. But, I am always here for you if you need to talk or just to sit quietly with someone and stare at a chessboard." He had almost lost his control and told her about the entire affair being planned for later in the week but he had to focus on the bigger picture. If this party was to be a success, she would have to suffer a little uncertainty.
Madame Hooch was no stranger to being summoned to the Headmaster's office, either as a student or as a professor. So, it came as no surprise when she received an owl requesting that she report immediately to his chambers for a 'discussion'. By the way Minerva had been acting and the sudden meeting, Xiomara felt that their plans must be unraveling and she was not prepared to let that happen.
"You wanted to see me, Headmaster?" Taking the seat offered across from his massive desk, Madame Hooch noticed a worried look on Albus' face and by the two mugs sitting beside the chess game, she knew that it had something to do with Minerva. If truths were told, she had always suspected that those two were more than mere friends, but Minerva had vehemently denied any such talk. Snapping her attention back to the present, she tried to focus on what was being said.
"You see Minerva is having a difficult week. She has seen you and Severus huddled together on more than one occasion." Chuckling at the remembrance of Minerva's declaration, he decided to keep her speculations on their love life to himself. "She was also offended by you and Poppy in the corridor and Madame Sprout was put on the spot, which also caused Minerva to think that she had done something to insult everyone at the school. I am telling you all of this because I have seen the hurt hidden in her eyes and I wish for you to be more discreet in your planning." Albus went on to explain that he was not scolding them for doing as he had requested, only asking them to be more careful in how they go about arranging the little affair.
"I had no idea she felt that way. I had to give Snape several nudges on making a test batch of the special punch. I wanted to taste it beforehand and he was dragging his feet. He was reluctant to help in the first place and it has taken me several serious threats to get him to fully cooperate. He seems to believe that Minerva will be angry with us for the rest of her life. Considering their history together, I can't say that I would act any differently." Seeing that he understood her dilemma, she continued and addressed the situation with Poppy.
"Poppy and I were trying to decide on whether or not to go all out with Flitwick's decorations or to just request a few small things. She felt that Minerva would like just the bare essentials and I felt that if we were going to successfully catch her by surprise, we needed to really go over the top. I was just about to explain how rare this opportunity is for us when Minerva walked over and I had to change the subject quickly. I can assure you that we will all be more cautious and that nothing will spoil this day for her…nothing!"
Feeling much better about the planning stages and how quickly everything had fallen into place, Albus thanked Madame Hooch and reaffirmed his commitment to the plan. As she was about to leave, she turned and asked one probing question.
"Sir, if I may ask…have you considered the possibility that Minerva may wonder why we decided to do this for her? It's not like it is a major milestone as far as birthday's go. She will want a definite answer and if she asks me, I will quickly direct her attentions to you." Pausing to let her words filter through his brain, she threw in one last thought to ponder. "And we need to think of a way to get her away from the castle for a little while that evening, while we decorate." With a swish of her robes and a smirk on her face, she descended the staircase, assured that she had managed to stir up some buried feelings in the Headmaster's heart. Yes, it was certainly going to be a birthday to remember.
Staring at the large door as leading from his office, Albus never remembered Madame Hooch leaving through it. All he could think was what he would say if Minerva did wonder about the reasoning behind the party. Searching his own inner thoughts and feelings, he had to admit that he valued her far above friendship, yet the fearless Albus Dumbledore was afraid to tell her what was in his heart, just in case she did not feel the same way. Now, he had to think of a plausible excuse for getting Minerva away from the castle and that would be no simple task. When she set her mind to something, no amount of persuasion or intimidation could cause her to back down and if he did not handle this situation delicately, he might end up hurting her feelings further.
The two conspirators had no way of knowing that Minerva was sitting all alone in her rooms trying to piece together the strange things she had witnessed over the past two days. The more she thought about the recent happenings, the more depressed she became. This was going to be the worst birthday she had ever experienced. Albus had only made a passing mention of it, Xiomara never made great efforts to celebrate, the rest of the staff probably didn't even know what month in which she was born. Releasing a heavy sigh, she readied herself for bed and resigned herself to the fact that it was going to be just another day at Hogwarts on Friday.
At breakfast the following morning, the Deputy Headmistress was puzzled. Madame Sprout had come over to apologize for being so abrupt in her speech and offered her assistance with the plant in Minerva's rooms. She had stated that she was in a hurry because she was attempting to transplant a new breed of flytraps when a student knocked over an entire bucket full of magi-grow and the plants were threatening to eat every single flower in the greenhouse.
Shortly after that, Poppy appeared at her side and invited her to tea during her afternoon break. It was not unusual for the two to chat over tea and biscuits, but it was the sort of thing that just happened. They never really planned their afternoon visits. Poppy remarked that she had seen very little of Minerva lately and she wondered how things were going, so she thought the ideal thing to do would be to catch up over tea.
Those two incidents seemed to brighten her mood slightly but she still wondered about Snape and Hooch. She would not rest another night unless she knew for a fact whether Xiomara and Severus were on the verge of becoming a couple. It really wasn't any of her business but Hooch seemed extremely interested in Minerva's love life, or lack thereof, and it was high time the favor was returned. And if she could spare her friend the heartache of becoming attached to that Slytherin…then so be it.
Noticing the improved attitude of his Deputy, Albus could not help but smile inwardly. It appeared that his little talk with the flying instructor had done the trick and she had spread the word to the rest of the staff. It pleased him to see how they tried to mend the unbroken fences and lavish her with a little more attention. Yet, he realized that he too had been at fault. He had not really mentioned her birthday, except in passing, and that was unlike him. Usually, he would send her little owls poking fun at getting another year older, have the house elves bring her a glass of warm milk at night, offer to assist her to her classroom or carry her heavy books…things that she would pretend to hate but deep down inside she welcomed the attention.
As he chatted casually with her over the morning meal, Albus could not help but remember his talk with Madame Hooch the previous night. She had caused him to rethink his feelings towards Minerva and he wondered just what she felt for him. Looking at Minerva this particular morning as she smiled at him, he decided that it was time. If he was going to so much trouble to plan a secret party for her, when he hadn't done it for any of the other staff members, he might as well put his heart on the line too. But it sounded much easier than it would be. He was sure of that.
To Minerva everything appeared back to normal at breakfast but that feeling was not to last very long. As she rose to leave the Great Hall and make her way to her classroom, she couldn't help but overhear her friend telling Severus that she couldn't wait for Friday night and how much she was looking forward to the evening. Leaping directly to the wrong conclusion, Minerva's heart sank as she contemplated whether or not to confront Xiomara for not telling her about her new- found love or to just ignore the situation, as Albus had suggested. Deciding that she mustn't pry into other people's private lives, she stiffened her back, pursed her lips and swore not to give it another thought. If her best friend wanted to waste her time with Severus Snape, she wouldn't try to stop her!
And the day didn't get any easier from her other colleagues either. She expected to see Poppy Pomfrey in the staff room when she entered later in the afternoon. But as soon as Minerva walked through the door, she discovered that Poppy had completely forgotten all about her earlier invitation, thus leaving Minerva to spend her afternoon break alone working on her lesson plans for the upcoming week. The only bright spot in this day would be her time spent with Albus after the evening meal. Somehow, whether he realized it or not, he always made her feel better. His jovial attitude and calming demeanor did wonders for her stressful life and she appreciated his presence in her daily routine.
Everything was going according to plans but Hooch felt the need to keep Albus informed of her progress. She also needed to clarify a few things with him regarding the guest of honor. She needed some specific details about how things were to go on Friday night. So, with Snape in tow, the two made their way to the Headmaster's office for a progress report and any last minute instructions before crunch time.
"Headmaster, everything is falling into place. We have everything under control and I must say that Professor Snape has been most accommodating." Before continuing, Hooch smiled at her unwilling partner in crime, keeping the secret that he had to be threatened before going against the wishes of Minerva. "Professors Sprout and Flitwick will be helping us decorate the staff room and the house elves were more than happy to offer their assistance with the food. I believe that she will be completely surprised. Now, have you decided how to keep her away while we pull it all together?"
In truth, Albus had decided only minutes before their arrival that he would like to spend a few quiet hours alone with Minerva on her birthday. After all, it had become their custom to do so, but it was normally after the evening meal. This year, he would plan to take Minerva away from the school and serve two purposes at the same time…occupying her attention and fulfilling his wishes.
"Ah, Madame Hooch, I have my plans made. I intend to invite Minerva to dinner that evening. I will inform the remainder of the staff of my intentions to dine away from the school and the students will be told that Professor McGonagall and I are in a meeting. I am sorry to say that I can't give you any more details at the moment but as soon as I know, you will know." After thanking them both for helping him in this risky endeavor and for taking his earlier words to heart regarding Minerva's feelings, he reminded them that she would be arriving at any moment for a private meeting, thus signaling their departure.
On their way down the spiraling staircase, Hooch was trying to imitate the reaction of their esteemed colleague when she was confronted with a birthday party held in her honor. Snape, who had been coerced into helping in the first place assured the flying instructor that if Minerva learned of their little plan, there would be no one safe within the walls of Hogwarts. Taking this as her cue, Hooch began to speak in a mock Scottish accent, while threatening Snape within an inch of his life. As if that wasn't enough, she pursed her lips together and furrowed her brow as she attempted to mimic the transfiguration professor's famous death glare. As the stone gargoyle moved away and the two prepared to step into the hallway, the sound of their voices and Hooch's laughter had already reached the ears of the one they feared.
In an effort to recover quickly, all the while praying that she hadn't heard their discussion, Hooch tried to engage the subject of her giggles in idle chatter before having to answer any questions. "Hello, Minerva. I suppose you are on your way to see Professor Dumbledore. Severus and I were just on our way to…umm..the dungeons. He's going to help me brew a potion to keep the brooms looking as if they had just been polished. But don't let us keep you. Have a wonderful night at your meeting." Taking a chance, Xiomara shot her friend a knowing glance accompanied by the raising of her eyebrows. In some ways, those little jabs made Minerva wish she had never told Hooch of her feelings for Albus over that bottle of firewhisky so many years ago.
Minerva quietly rode the staircase up to Albus' welcoming office. She was torn between being angry at Hooch and Snape and being hurt that her friend was keeping something from her. And if she really stopped to mull over her week, she would have been really depressed. But she brushed all of that aside for the moment. She would focus on spending a lovely evening with her best friend and everything else could wait until tomorrow.
As she relaxed on the sofa in his private sitting area, Minerva noticed a slight change in Albus' demeanor. He seemed to be preoccupied with something and that worried her just a bit. Since he had always been so wonderful in listening to her problems, she offered him a listening ear as she motioned for him to join her near the fire.
"Minerva, there is a matter which I wish to discuss with you." Clearing his throat as images of the smiling transfiguration professor ran through his mind, he found his voice and spoke. "I would very much like to take you to dinner for your birthday. I promise it won't be anything elaborate, just a quiet meal for the two of us. What do you say?"
She had never been one to deny Albus Dumbledore anything he had requested and the fact that he wanted to make her feel special on her birthday meant a great deal. It was as if the events of the past couple of days had never happened at all. This was all she had wanted…for Albus to show her a bit more attention on her special day. Without a moment's hesitation, she gave him her answer.
"I would love to accompany you for a private dinner but won't that be a bit difficult for us to do since the students are still here?" Sensing that this change from their yearly routine might be a result of her problems earlier in the week, she felt appreciative yet slightly hurt. Did he think that she needed him to make a fuss over her merely because of a few minor incidents? Just as her hurt feelings began to give way to anger, Albus looked at her pleadingly and she willingly accepted his invitation. As the words left her lips, she could feel thoughts fleeing, but she was sure they would return once she was left alone to replay the situation in her mind.
Two hours later, Minerva felt it was time to retire to her own chambers and look over her lesson plans for the upcoming day. As she neared the door, Albus called to her and she turned to face him. A gasp escaped her throat as she whirled around to find him standing mere inches from her. She had not realized how close he was until she had turned.
As if in a dream, she saw him slowly lower his head as he placed a light kiss on her cheek. Catching her gaze with his own, he let his hand rest on her shoulder as a warming sensation traveled up and down her spine. "I look forward to celebrating your birthday with you on Friday evening. I will make all of the necessary arrangements. All you need to do is prepare yourself for getting another year older, my dear!"
A giddy feeling crept inside her stomach as she made her way back to her own rooms. In all their years of friendship, he had never once taken her out for her birthday. Normally, they shared a quiet dessert over a game of chess or just sat and talked while sipping tea. And to add to her pleasure, he had kissed her cheek. Sure they had shared little pecks before and even warming hugs, but this one seemed different somehow. This year birthday was shaping up to be something out of the ordinary. But to Minerva McGonagall, that was a good thing.
Albus had to sigh as she exited his office as he relived the way that simple kiss made him feel. His original plan had been to invite Minerva to dinner, but that had been before he had his brainstorm of the surprise party. Now that he had Madame Hooch planning a celebration in the staff room, there was a lot more involved in this simple affair. He would still be able to take Minerva out to a quiet dinner but once they returned, the real party would begin. He just had to hope that she would not be angry with him for masterminding the entire party. But he could worry about that later, after it was all said and done.
Back in her own chambers, Minerva went through her nightly rituals in as daze. She was still having trouble wrapping her mind around Albus' kiss and their dinner plans. Then it hit her like a rogue bludger and her mood darkened. Obviously Albus had forgotten that her birthday fell on a Friday this particular year and that meant he would not be able to carry through with his plans. She knew that he did not like to be away from the school during mealtimes. He had always felt that it was his duty to be at the head table unless there was some dire emergency. And her birthday certainly didn't fall into that category.
Pushing those thoughts aside and trying to focus on anything else, her mind wandered back to Severus and Xiomara. Their actions earlier in the evening had been somewhat confusing and yet at the same time, she felt she knew what was taking place. Obviously, Hooch and Snape had formed a friendship; a rather close one by the look of things, and her curiosity was peaked. What could they possible have to discuss with Albus that would leave them both in fits of good humor?
And getting back to Albus! What made him think that she needed his sympathy? Or was he doing this simply because he wanted to? And what made this year so different from the dozens they had shared previously? She wasn't sure if she should be angry and offended or thankful and gracious. Torn between the conflicting emotions and knowing that she would have to confront Albus with her thoughts the following day, Minerva finally fell into a fitful sleep, plagued with dreams and remembrances of birthdays past and future.
Well, this was it. She had managed to put off the dreaded talk with Albus all day and she was finally on her way to his office to get some answers. She breathed deeply before knocking on the large door and hearing his wonderful voice from the other side. " Come in Minerva. It is so good to see you this afternoon. To what do I owe this pleasure? I didn't expect to see you until dinner in the Great Hall…not that I'm complaining, though." Albus motioned for Minerva to accompany him to the armchairs in a cozy little nook of his private sitting room. Taking the offered chair, she settled in and took a deep breath, almost afraid to voice her feelings for fear of offending her best friend.
"Albus, something has been puzzling me. We have been best friends for so many years and never once have we spent a birthday apart. But, we have made it a ritual to celebrate our special days together in private. And now, for no apparent reason, you want to dine alone with me away from the school. It is unlike you to be away from the school with our students still here and my birthday happens to be on Friday. If we were to go through with your plans, both of us would have to miss the evening meal, leaving the staff and students to speculate on our whereabouts."
Raising a hand to silence the perceptive witch, Albus had to laugh. Sometimes his Deputy Headmistress was too intelligent and cautious for her own good. "My dear, I have already considered the reactions of the staff and students. They will be told that we are in a very important meeting and must not be disturbed. I will tell Severus that we will be away from the school for a period of time, just in case someone needs to reach us. That should be enough to satisfy their curiosity and they are all aware that from time to time we must attend wizarding councils." As he tried to read the emotions flashing in her eyes, Albus was unsure if she had completely agreed with his little deception but he hoped his answer would placate her for the time being.
As if he read her musings and felt her uneasiness, he desperately tried to change the subject before she started asking more detailed questions, which would require more specific answers. "Now, you let me worry about the reactions of the staff and students. I want you to have a wonderful day. You work so hard throughout the year with little or no thanks and for once, I would like to see a carefree smile caress your features. So, Professor McGonagall, this barmy old codger will pick you up promptly at 6pm on Friday? I am not prepared to tell you where we will be dining, but I assure you it will be an adventure."
Yes, well. That answered one question but what about the change from the routine? She had hoped and wished for so long that he might care for her as more than a colleague. But year after year, she had only seen little glimpses of what might become more. And then this year, he decides to go the extra mile to make her feel special. That part still puzzled her and she would not rest until she had her answers. Once again, she found herself fighting with the butterflies in her stomach and at the same time, struggling to release them.
"Albus, that is very thoughtful of you and I must say that I am looking forward to the evening but I feel that there is something you're not telling me. Am I mistaken?" She really wasn't sure what she was hoping for. A declaration of love, a simple answer to her question, an admission of something…anything…just to put her mind at ease. They had been friends for far too long to let this unsettle her nerves, and yet it had done just that.
Finally, he began to explain his motives. "Minerva, as you have said, we have been friends for many years. In that time you have grown closer to me than anyone. As your birthday draws near, I wanted to celebrate our friendship and show you just how much that means to me. I want to take this opportunity to spoil you a bit." Looking into her eyes, Albus saw the true Minerva unveil herself as a single tear trickled down her cheek. Wiping it away with his thumb, he smiled at her. "My dear, you are not supposed to cry on me. It is a happy occasion."
She couldn't help but cry. Those were the most beautiful words she had heard spoken to her in ages and they came from the one and only Albus Dumbledore, the man who held the keys to her heart and didn't know it. "I'm sorry. I never meant for you to see me shed those tears. I have had a difficult week and I suppose your words struck a sensitive nerve." Fighting back more tears, she quickly rose and made her way to the door. Before exiting, she turned and offered him a rare smile. 'I will see one barmy old codger at my door on Friday, then. And thank you once again for everything."
As she left, Albus sighed deeply and thanked the gods that the conversation had ended. He feared that if she lingered, he would be forced to tell her about the party and maybe even about his feelings. Fortunately for him, she had been satisfied with the answers he gave and now all he had to do was make the final arrangements for their dinner and then worry about getting her to the staff room without any suspicions. Chuckling to himself he couldn't help but think how relieved he'd be on Saturday…once everything was over.