Disclaimer: These characters are owned by J. K. Rowling. I'm merely indulging in a bit of idle speculation.
Author's Note: This is my first fiction. Please be constructive.
Additional Note: If you have a problem with the idea of anyone over the age of 60 falling in love, and expressing that love physically, please do not read any further. If, however, you have an open mind, please continue.
Albus Dumbledore sat at his desk one early summer afternoon, contemplating the need for, and the price of, silence. One silence he had kept for too long, out of love for a boy who was like a grandson to him. Now, another love tempted him to remain silent once more.
When Minerva McGonagall was hit in the chest by four simultaneous stunners, and it was not clear whether she would live thorough the night, Albus Dumbledore realized with sudden, blinding clarity that, at some point in the last 36 years, he had fallen in love with his deputy. Therein lay his dilemma. If he told her, a strain would be placed upon a partnership that was more important to the wizarding world than his modesty dared admit. If he did not tell her, the openness that characterized all their private moments would be gone. A wedge would be driven between them that would both confuse and hurt this woman, who felt more deeply than most people realized.
Once again, his thoughts came to rest upon young Harry. Albus knew that the boy would need some time to come to terms with the conversation they had that fateful evening, but at least now there was truth between them. Heart-wrenching as it had been to finally tell this boy everything, it had also been liberating. Yes, he mused, the truth generally is preferable to lies. Albus made his decision. He would tell Minerva after the students left, when there would be more time for an uninterrupted conversation. Meanwhile, he would make no attempt to hide his feelings.
In her own office, on the same afternoon, Minerva McGonagall sat pondering silence as well. She was a woman who spoke her mind, usually tactfully, sometimes not. However, this time she hesitated.
After the attack, when she had been drifting in and out of consciousness, all Minerva could think about was Albus. At first she thought it was just loneliness exacerbated by her severely weakened condition, not to mention the stress they had all been under during his absence. When he came to see her though, she realized that what she was feeling went far beyond post-trauma fragility. She had no idea when it happened, but the undeniable fact remained that Minerva was in love with her best friend. Now she was in a quandary. If she told him, relations between them would become quite awkward, and that would affect both Hogwarts and the Order. If she didn't tell him, he would know she was hiding something. In time, he would either wheedle it out of her, or she would have to resort to the McGonagall facade of sternness, which she had always been able to drop when they were alone. That would hurt him and, for her, that was a far worse prospect than simple awkwardness. Surely, she mused, our friendship is strong enough to withstand a declaration of love? Minerva made her decision. She would tell Albus after the students left. In the meantime, she would make no attempt to hide her feelings. Loving a Legilimens would most likely make that a futile exercise, anyway.
Neither Albus nor Minerva seriously considered the notion that their feelings would be returned. Self-denial had become second nature to them, and they had each had more than their share of unhappy romantic attachments. Thus, the remaining weeks of the term took them both by surprise.
It was Albus who first noticed that something had changed. Minerva's voice had acquired a slightly lower pitch whenever she spoke to him, and the warmth that had always been there had become quite pronounced, a combination which he found rather…seductive. She smiled at him frequently too, even in front of students. Finally, whenever they were alone, not only was her manner markedly softer and gentler, she also touched him more – a hand on the shoulder here, a shy squeeze of the hand there. Initially, Albus attributed these changes to the attack and its aftermath. His own life experience had taught him that there was nothing like a brush with death to strip the veneer from a person. However, that same life experience had also taught him a great deal about women, and he didn't need Legilimency to see that this was a woman in love. That he was apparently the object of that love was a thought that both humbled and elated him. Thus it was that Albus reached the end of term with a lighter heart, and renewed determination.
Minerva had expected Albus to be especially solicitous of her health and well-being once she returned from St. Mungo's, so the hand he extended to help her to her feet, or the arm he proffered to walk her to class came as no surprise. However, she eventually began to notice that the hand remained in hers longer than was strictly necessary, and the arm would slide around her waist at the first opportunity. Whenever he spoke to her, his marvelous deep voice had a new timbre to it that made her tingle from head to toe. When he looked at her, which he did often, there was a kind of tenderness in his expression that had never been there before. Part of her wanted to believe what her senses were telling her; but the part of her that had been hurt too many times refused, attributing his actions to a perfectly natural need for extra closeness after the events of the past year. Thus it was that Minerva reached the end of term slightly confused, but nonetheless determined.
The day of the students' departure was a busy one for both Albus and Minerva. Between myriad end-of-year duties and Order business, they were kept completely absorbed until teatime, when Albus entered her office with a pot of Assam and assorted confections. They talked of many things – students, staff, Fudge's most recent missive (followed closely by a quick note from Kingsley) – until Albus sat back with a sigh. "It would appear that I am needed at the Ministry for a few hours," he stated ruefully.
Minerva's sigh echoed his. "Honestly," she observed, "Fudge is sending you more owls now than when he was first made Minister!"
"Yes," he agreed, "but at least we're talking." Albus rose and reached for her hand. "Minerva," he asked, "May I stop by your quarters this evening?" He began to gently stroke her knuckles with his thumb. "Poppy expressed concern that you might not be getting enough rest," he explained, "and I assured her that I would do everything in my power to make certain that you get to bed at a reasonable hour."
Minerva's eyebrows rose nearly to her hairline. "You wish to tuck me in?" she queried, in a voice rendered slightly breathless by his caress.
"Something like that, yes," came Albus' soft reply. He held her hand in both of his now, and was tracing intricate, invisible designs upon her wrist.
"You know the password." Minerva pointed out, in little more than a whisper.
"Until then," Albus responded, lifting her hand to his lips for a lingering kiss. He exited with a courtly bow, leaving a blushing, slightly befuddled, but very pleased witch in his wake.
It was, indeed, several hours before the latest mess at the Ministry was sorted out sufficiently enough for Albus to return. At eight o'clock he arrived at Minerva's door freshly bathed, and wearing new sapphire blue silk robes (he remembered her saying how much she loved the feel of silk next to her skin). He had rehearsed what he was going to say to her in front of Fawkes several times, and the loyal bird had been quite encouraging. However, when he spoke the password and entered her quarters, the sight that greeted him chased his carefully prepared speech right out of his brain.
After dinner, Minerva had treated herself to a long hot bath, both to relax her body and clear her head. Unfortunately, while she was now quite relaxed physically, her mind was in the same pleasant turmoil Albus had placed it in earlier that day. Sighing, she dried herself off, slipped into her new silk tartan dressing gown, and padded into the sitting room to open her recently arrived package from Flourish & Blott's. She was examining its contents when the door opened. Surprised, Minerva looked up and beheld Albus Dumbledore staring at her in a way no man had for a very long time.
The sight of Minerva McGonagall wearing nothing but clinging silk had rendered Albus temporarily speechless. However, he rallied, saying the only thing he could under the circumstances. "Minerva…you look beautiful!"
The blush that had already started when he first looked at her, deepened. "I didn't expect you so soon," she explained, feeling more than a little exposed.
"It's just past eight o'clock," Albus observed quietly, as he stepped closer to her.
"Precisely," Minerva nodded, "much too early for bed."
"Not too early for someone still recovering from four stunners to the chest," Albus pointed out with a gentle smile.
Minerva shook her head. "If I were to go to bed right now, I couldn't possibly fall asleep," she informed him. "I would toss and turn, and stare at the ceiling for hours."
"If you were to go to bed right now," Albus replied, "I would tell you a soothing bedtime story."
Minerva smiled. "Your stories are far too interesting to fall asleep to, Albus," she reminded him.
"Warm milk, then," was Albus' next idea.
"Ugh," Minerva said with a slight grimace. "Besides, I'd just have to get up again to brush my teeth."
"The sugar would keep me up even longer."
"Well," Albus was very close to her now, "I have one more suggestion, but I would need your permission to carry it out."
"Why?" she breathed.
"Because," he answered, raising both hands to cup her face, "It would involve me carrying you to the bed, slowly, gently, and tenderly showing you exactly how much I love you, then holding you in my arms while we both drift off to sleep."
It was Minerva's turn to be rendered speechless but, like Albus, it only took her a moment to recover. Winding her arms around his neck, she whispered the four words he most wanted to hear.
"You have my permission."