Falling Into an Arrangement
The dozen or so teachers were enjoying their breakfast. As it happened, the headmaster and his new deputy were not present. So, naturally, they were the chief topic of conversation.
Poppy's remarked. "I have my dress robes for the wedding all prepared. I do love weddings."
At one end of the table Professor Kettleburn spoke. "A wedding is it? I thought Albus was courting her still."
"He is but in secret." Poppy informed him.
"Minerva believes their union is an arranged one and not a love match."
"But he is utterly besotted with the girl. That is plain to any with eyes to see and ears to hear."
"That too is a secret, Niall," said Flitwick.
Kettleburn closed his eyes for a moment as if to clear his head. "It is a secret that he is courting her and it is a secret that he is in love with her. Is my understanding correct?"
"YES!" said everyone else around the table.
"But surely -" Kettleburn persisted.
"It is a secret FROM her." Flitwick clarified.
"Minerva does not know how he feels?"
"No!" said everyone once more in unison.
Flitwick buttered his toast. "Albus does not want Minerva to feel obligated to return his love as a condition of their marriage."
Kettleburn rubbed his temples. He could feel a headache coming on. "Does she love him?"
"YES!" Again in unison but with more feeling this time.
"But she hasn't realized it yet." said Poppy helpfully.
Professor Kettleburn's response was a muffled groan.
Poppy poked her head into Minerva's door. "There you are. Coming down for lunch?"
Minerva looked up from her desk where she was making notations on the kitchen inventory. "I think I will have lunch here in my rooms today."
Poppy stepped into the room and eyed her friend critically. "What's wrong?"
"Just because I am eating here instead of in the hall does not mean there is anything wrong."
Poppy made a great show of making herself comfortable on the sofa. She sat down. "I am waiting."
Minerva watched as Poppy levitated a book from her overflowing bookshelves and began to read. Poppy looked set for a long siege. For a time there were no other noises in the room save for the rustling of pages being turned or the rasp of quill against parchment. Poppy, knowing how stubborn Minerva could be, decided to do a little probing.
"Have I ever told you about my great grandmother?"
"I don't believe so," said Minerva not bothering to look up from her notes.
"She was married three times and all were love matches."
"How fortunate for her."
To the untrained ear, Minerva's dry response would have seemed disinterested, even bored. However, Poppy knew better. "She passed on some questions that depending on the answer to those questions, one could decide whether a beau was one for marrying or not."
Minerva looked up. "What kind of questions?"
"Oh, very simple ones. I used it on Charles and that's how I knew right away."
"You are toying with me. Nothing is THAT easy." Minerva scoffed. "And don't think I don't know what you're alluding to."
Poppy laughed. "Can you blame me? You have had two dates with Albus and have not seen fit to tell me of any details."
Minerva cleared her throat and sat straighter in her chair. "There is nothing to tell. We are getting to know one another that is all."
Minerva's neutrally worded explanation was sending off alarms in Poppy's head. "Well since there is nothing going on between you and I am bored to tears, can I ask you the questions anyway? It will just be for our own amusement."
Minerva put her quill down and stretched her arms out. "I suppose I could use a diversion from inventory and purchasing."
Poppy gestured for Minerva to take a seat on the sofa. "Now, the rules say -"
"I thought you said this was simple." Minerva sat on the opposite end of the sofa.
"It is, really. The rules are only two. You must answer each one honestly no matter how uncomfortable the truth may be. You must answer quickly. No overanalyzing the question, your answer or your feelings. Think you can follow those rules?"
"Would you stop if I said no?"
Poppy grinned in reply then composed herself to ask the first question. "Do you fancy him? Find his person appealing I mean. Yes or no?"
Do you wish to dally with him?" Poppy narrowed her eyes. "Or have you already, hmmm?"
"Just answer the question please."
"Yes, you wish to or yes you have?"
"Yes, I wish to dally with him," said Minerva primly but her eyes sparkled with amusement.
"Do you wish to dally with him casually or seriously?"
"Define casual and serious."
Poppy tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Casually implies dallying above the waist. Serious dallying occurs below the waist."
"Are you sure these questions were your great grandmother's?"
"Grandmother Hyacinth was a very liberated woman."
"Well?" Poppy waggled her eyebrows. Minerva flushed beet red. That was answer enough. "That good was he?"
Exasperated Minerva threw a small pillow at the mediwitch. "We have NOT gone that far. And as far as we HAVE gone, let me tell you he does not lack for ... for skill."
"So more than casual dallying with occasional pleasurable forays past the serious kind. Would that describe your answer?"
"Have you found yourself wishing to dally with him repeatedly and damn the consequences?"
Minerva stood up and stalked to a nearby window. She did not answer. She crossed her arms and stared out over the grounds.
"I shall take that as an affirmative, shall I?"
"I've lusted after men, Poppy. I have even given into lust a few times in my life. But it's different with Albus." Minerva sighed. "The more I'm with him, the more I understand him, the more I need to be closer to him."
"Last question. Do you find yourself needing him, thinking of him, long after the dallying?"
"If I answered yes, what would that mean?"
"What do you want it to mean?"
"It doesn't matter what I want. He doesn't love me. Out there is a woman that he could love and who would love him, as he deserves to be loved. It is not fair to her for me to ... to be in the way."
"Who is to say that that woman may not be you?" Poppy approached her friend.
Minerva turned around. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears. "I have worked here for four years. Never ... not once in all that time has he ever expressed an interest in me. How can you expect me to believe that I could ever be that woman to him?"
"Minerva, he does care very much about you, loves you and -"
"As a friend." Minerva interrupted. Her voice had a bitter edge. "As a valued colleague, an indispensable helper."
"When he looks at you his eyes hold more promise than simple friendship."
"Physical attraction burns hot and fades quickly." Minerva sniffed. She leaned into the window frame. "I know I said I was willing to settle for the comfort of an arranged marriage but that was before ... before Albus became more than a friend to me."
Poppy embraced her friend. "And now you want to be that woman."
Poppy had to strain to hear Minerva's reply. "More than anything I've ever wanted."
Poppy looked over her shoulder for the tenth time. If Minerva knew what she was about, her life would be forfeit. She ascended the staircase up to the headmaster's office. She opened his office but found it empty. She called out. "Albus!? Are you here?"
A door opened in the far end of the office. Albus came into his office. "Yes, Poppy? I hope this is not urgent. Minerva is expecting me shortly."
"She is the reason why I am here." Poppy collapsed into an armchair. "We have a problem."
Poppy proceeded to tell Albus the paraphrased version of Minerva's problem. As Poppy went on, Albus' smile grew wider and wider. At the end of her tale, she looked at him expectantly. "Now it is your problem, Albus."
"Yes and I know just the solution." Albus smiled back her.
Minerva had just closed her door when the house elf Widdy duly informed the deputy headmistress that the headmaster was delayed. Would she please come to his office to wait for him? Minerva went to Albus' office directly.
She found him piling canvas bags one on top of the other. Each bag bulged with their contents, whatever they were. Albus put a bag down and greeted her. "Ah, Minerva, I forgot the time and left these things too late. It won't take me but a moment to dispose of these."
"It's quite all right. The school comes first, of course." She noticed the deep frown lines on his forehead. Minerva surveyed the bags. She counted five overfull bags. "What is all this, Albus?"
"My mail today." Albus moved to his desk and was busying himself with copying and folding pieces of parchment.
"Oh," Minerva said quietly as her heart plummeted. She noticed fully that the bags were bursting with pastel colored envelopes some in the shape of hearts. She realized the bags were full of posts from love struck women.
Albus straightened a tall pile of envelopes and another pile of the copies parchment. Magically, every empty envelope opened and a parchment slipped inside it. "Now, if you could take one bag and attach my response to each letter in the -"
"You respond to each one!?" Minerva exploded.
"Of course. They took the time to write to me and so I choose to return the courtesy." Albus levitated one bag to his desk. "All you have to do is hold up one letter and stick my response letter to it." He demonstrated. "After you have matched the letter to the response, place both in this pile here." He pointed to a small paper mountain on the floor.
Dazed by the sheer quantity before her, Minerva softly repeated her words. "You respond to each one."
"With both of us doing the matching, we shall be done very quickly and we can go out to dinner." Albus made more copies of his response letter. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Minerva edge over to his desk.
Minerva took a letter from the bag and affixed a response letter to it. Casually, she tossed the pair towards the general direction of the mountain.
"I have found my love." The words floated to her ears. Surprised, she looked at Albus. But the sound did not come from him. His back was to her as he piled yet another bag on to the chair. You are imagining things, she thought. She threw another pair towards the mountain.
"I have found my love." The masculine voice was faint.
Minerva head whipped up and her eyes darted all over the room. Albus dropped another full bag in front of her.
Minerva swallowed. Her throat felt suddenly constricted. "Did you say something?"
"Like what?" Albus expression was innocent.
"Did you say I have ... I found ... I must be hearing things." Minerva shook her head and matched up another letter and response. Albus turned away to get another bag.
As the toss landed on the pile, the voice came again. "I have found my love."
Minerva was stunned. Her gaze traveled from the bags of letters to the responses and then to the pile on the floor. Hesitantly, she took a letter and attached a response to it. She was about to toss it to the pile to confirm her suspicions when she caught Albus looking at her. Without taking her eyes off him, she threw.
"I have found my love." came the voice once more.
Minerva matched and threw another dozen in close succession. The voices blurred into each other again and again. As the last voice ended, Albus approached her. He placed kisses on her eyelids and on her lips. Then he said, "And my love has found me."
"I love you, Albus." Minerva wrapped her arms around his waist.
"Will you marry me now?" Albus teased.
"On one condition." Minerva smiled though tears glistened in her eyes. "A very short engagement period."
Albus thought for a moment. "Is one day too long?"
"It's just right." Minerva placed a kiss on his nose.
The two embraced and forgot the world for the rest of their evening.
A/N: Many thanks to reviewers and readers for their wonderful feedback which has helped to make this story better all around. I've revised areas to minimize plot holes, sharpen dialog and to smooth over some rough patches. Let me know what you think of this story, like it or hate it. Enjoy!.