A/N: This is an AD/MM fic! Get out now! Otherwise, for us oddities who remain truely dedicated, this is an incredibly soppy one-off. Enjoy!
This goes out to both April, for her opinion and to MaggieSmithFan1934, for beta-ing, and being nice about my Yahoo name, eep!
And Like a Lamb…
The bell tolled. In the courtyard, the wind scattered rusty leaves, snatching them high, high up into the steel grey sky, lost in a whirlwind of rain, a dash of sudden spirit in the dryness of a loveless landscape.
Nope, that was it. Minerva McGonagall, deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts put the magazine Lady's Choice back. Even the tedium of St Mungo's waiting room was preferable to over-emotional melodramatic angst. She glanced around the rectangular room, clean with straight backed chairs lining white walls, and leaflets in various stands: What To Do When Your Husband's On Fire (Cheer, thought Minerva acerbically) and How To Recognise A Malicious Wart. Apart from herself, there were only three other people present; a man with bandages wrapped around his head, a gruesomely bloated lady who looked to have fallen into a bath of Swelling Potion and a man who couldn't stop twitching.
She resisted the urge to twiddle her fingers and sat still, just as she would expect any pupil to do during class. Instead she let her mind wonder lazily to this evening, and the staff appraisals she was in the process of doing for Albus. It was not long before a voice filled the waiting room, calling her to the Healer's office.
'Miss McGonagall, please.'
The hallway through the door was as bland as the waiting room, white walls and shiny floors. Her Healer was a man in his late forties - she had insisted on one she had not taught at Hogwarts, the idea was just too …odd - his hair was already thinning but he looked puzzled as he waved her into his small cube of an office, an examining bed lying like a crouching predator in one corner.
'Miss McGonagall?' he asked, laying just a little emphasis on the "miss".
'Professor, please,' she replied crisply, seating herself by his desk, noticing as she did so that he had a young son and a plump, dark wife.
'Ah,' he said, and she felt an unreasonable surge of irritation at his tone. 'What do you teach?' he inquired, with no real interest.
'Ah. Well, now, Professor, how have you been feeling?'
'Fine, thank you,' she replied curtly, face impassive.
'No tightness? Difficulty breathing? Soreness or redness?'
'Well, if I could just have a look then.' He waved vaguely over to the examining bed, perilous on its thin metal legs and grey wheels. She got up reluctantly and unclasped her cloak, laying it over the back of a chair, glad now that she had chosen robes that unbuttoned down the front. 'Ah, and lie down, please.'
He was an experienced Healer, his hands careful and gentle, a frown creasing his face as he examined her scars, but she hated lying there on her back, defenceless and vulnerable, feeling exposed.
'You have some redness,' he said, finally drawing away, 'and I'm not convinced your lungs are fully recovered from the shock. I would like you to keep using the Healing Potion on your chest, and I'll prescribe EasyBreathe for your back.'
'My back?' Minerva asked.
'For your lungs,' he explained. 'Have someone rub it on twice a day, morning and night preferably.'
'What?' she said. He looked up, an eyebrow raised. 'No,' Minerva said. 'That's fine.'
'You have someone you can ask?' he asked.
'I will manage.' Minerva answered.
'It would be better-' he began, but Minerva frowned at him and he ceased mid sentence; Minerva McGonagall had a very forbidding stare. 'Ah,' the Healer said.
'Good day,' said Minerva, standing.
'Collect your prescription from the front desk.' he said.
'Good Afternoon, Professor.'
Minerva McGonagall had a very relaxing evening; having been wounded she was exempt from Order duty, and determined not to fret over it like a petulant child, she set to and finished the staff appraisals. Severus had scored an all time low, with a bad attitude towards fellow professors and all students who weren't in Slytherin, excessive point taking for often flimsy if not non-existent rule-breaking, and aggressive, un-encouraging teaching methods. She sighed and wrote:
Whilst possessing little patience, Professor S. Snape continues to demonstrate a steady performance in his subject. We cannot doubt his skill and dedication to his task. More empathy with students who have nervous dispositions would improve his overall achievement, but his classroom has certainly experienced less explosions and consequent injuries, than that of his predecessor.
Albus would be pleased, she thought wryly. The school Governors read these, and the Ministry also had access, though at the moment they'd be pushing their luck to try and do so. She signed her name tidily at the bottom, the letters legible and neatly looped, her surname was too long to make a flourish out of it, much to her teenage self's despair.
Her sitting room door opened and clicked shut quietly.
'Good Evening, Albus,' she said, closing her inkwell.
'Good Evening, Minerva. How go the staff appraisals?' he asked politely, moving to her cold fireplace and briefly picking up a small glass replica of an elephant, a swirl of blue inside, its trunk raised in salute.
'Well. As usual.'
'Indeed,' he replied vaguely.
'How went the meeting?' she asked, curious for news on the Order's activities.
'Well,' he dead ended her.
'As well as all that!' she exclaimed, and he smiled. 'Are you staying for tea?' she enquired.
'Hmmm,' he hummed. 'Yes. I could murder a cup of tea.'
'Something I heard Madame Hooch say yesterday. Isn't it a simply marvellous saying?'
'How can you murder a cup of tea?' Minerva snorted. 'Soon you'll be saying 'cool' and 'wicked!''
'But I'm neither cold nor wicked,' he said blithely. She ignored him and ordered tea from a house elf.
They sat down in their seats on either side of the now cold fire, an oval coffee table between them, sunflowers resplendent in a glass vase, clashing with the candle light, a window opposite had not yet pulled its curtains shut and the evening sky was blue and dusky.
'What did the Healer say?' Albus asked finally, breaking the peace of the quiet.
'I'm fine,' Minerva replied automatically.
'Wouldn't doubt it for one second,' he assured her. 'What did the Healer say?'
'An extra salve, for my lungs.' she admitted, grudgingly.
The tea appeared in a brief wink of light; Albus' favourite bright pink tea pot, fat and steaming mid plates of almond tarts, bread and butter, jam and several slices of Victoria sponge.
Minerva McGonagall looked at the display disapprovingly. 'You're going to be a fat old man.' she warned him. Albus Dumbledore patted his lean stomach; as he was of the thin and wiry build this was doubtful, and he knew it, he reached for the bread and spread some raspberry jam on it.
'Poppy's gone on holiday,' he said, through a mouthful of food.
'Don't talk with your mouth open,' she chided.
'No, dear,' he smiled, eyes twinkling.
'And what's Poppy got to do with anything?'
'Were you not going to ask Poppy for her help?'
Minerva was silent for a moment, she had indeed been going to ask the school nurse to help her out with the EasyBreathe salve. 'I'm not going to ask how you knew that,' she said huffily, and poured the tea.
'Your prescription is on the mantlepiece,' he informed her helpfully.
'You've just gone and ruined your reputation for omniscience,' she said tartly.
'A pity,' he said sadly. 'Cake?'
'No thank you,' she said, and then took the piece he handed her without comment.
'I could-' he began hesitantly.
'No!' she practically snapped at him.
'Well,' he said, over the rim of his tea cup. 'There's always Hagrid.'
Minerva glared at him, and then unwillingly laughed. 'I'll manage.'
'Double jointed, are you?'
'I'll manage, Albus!'
They munched away in companionable silence, Albus had been looking careworn of late, tired and exhausted from his efforts in the Order and at the Ministry. With Fudge's abrupt reversal of heart and the public awareness raised, there had been a level of panic amongst the people that had almost reached hysteria. Only with Albus' guidance had the Ministry managed to stop short the fall into chaos and anarchy, a situation that would have no doubt suited You-Know-Who down to the ground.
'It's going to be all right, Minerva,' he reassured her, sensing the direction of her thoughts.
'Don't say that!' she snapped, suddenly angry. 'Don't you lie to me, Albus. You haven't got a clue whether it'll be 'all right', not a clue!'
He wilted a little in his chair, suddenly weighted down by the responsibility of a nation sitting square on his broad, old shoulders.
'I have a clue,' he said quietly. 'A clue for hope, perhaps just a fool's hope, but a hope nonetheless, Minerva.'
'Harry Potter,' she voiced his hope aloud; he nodded solemnly.
'I believe in your hope,' she whispered, 'but don't tell me it will be all right Albus, we both know, it won't be.'
He was silent for a moment. 'No,' he agreed finally. 'It won't be all right. But one day, Minerva, one day… it will be.'
She looked at him and could feel the despair in her heart, and fought against it even as she accepted its inevitability. 'But will we be here to see that day?' she asked him.
'That I cannot answer, Minerva.'
'Don't die, Albus.' A childish protest against reality.
'I'll do my best not to,' he smiled, trying to lighten the mood, but his bright eyes caught the glimmer of tears in his colleague's eyes. 'I'm not going anywhere, my dear Minerva. Worry not.'
'Worry not?' she hissed, her eyes brighter but fierce. 'Worry not! Might as well tell Molly not to worry for her children, for her husband!'
'We all worry for those we love,' said Albus. 'It is the nature of human beings; to care is, after all, a dangerous thing.'
'That does not make it any better Albus. That does not ease the thought of seeing - of seeing -' she stopped, her tea cup was rattling on its saucer, her body was shaking.
'I also have those nightmares,' admitted Albus, quietly. 'Of seeing those under my protection, of colleagues, friends, and people I consider family, seeing them -dead. But that does not change the fact that this war must be fought, if only to protect some of those people I care about. In the long run -'
'Oh Albus, I do not care about the long run. I'm too busy living in the present!' interrupted Minerva McGonagall.
'Are you implying that I do not live in the present?'
'No, everything you do, have ever done has been for those who will be, not those who are.'
'Not so,' he protested, a frown further creasing his brow.
'Yes so, Albus. You were born to do good, and you do it, but in the process you deny yourself a life, and you deny the people who work for your cause, their lives.'
'I do not!'
'Oh Albus. Are you not willing to sacrifice all and anybody to help Harry Potter achieve his destiny?'
'Well, yes, but I won't-'
'Yes you will. You will do what is necessary, and you know it! This does not make you a bad man, Albus, just occasionally blind to the realities of the present time.'
'I disagree! I tend to have a very good idea of what is going on in the here and now! How could I do what I need to do, if I did not?'
'That is not quite what I meant, Albus. There is, after all, more to life than politics and war.'
'And emotions, relationships…'
'I have numerous friends. You among them,' Albus corrected her. Minerva smiled, a little bitterness tinged the expression.
'Albus, if it was required you would sacrifice me, with barely a moments hesitation, for this war.'
'- Because I know you too well. I would not blame you Albus, I would even volunteer.'
'This is insane! I would never sacrifice your life to Voldemort!'
'To end this war, Albus. You would do anything, and you would do that.' She said it with some finality.
'I cannot believe that you would think this of me,' said Albus Dumbledore, placing his cup back down on the table a little more firmly than usual. 'That you could think me so cold and callous, so calculating! As to throw away a dearly beloved friend's life for one advantage in a war that will wage on anyhow?!'
'To end the war, Albus, to end it, would you not?'
'I would not!' he practically roared at her.
'I think, that should the time come, the chance to end the war with my life, you would ask it of me. And I would say yes,' said Minerva, lifting her head to meet his furious eyes, the angry set of his mouth.
Albus Dumbledore did not immediately answer, his thoughts in turmoil, and a vague threatening whisper in his head, a traitorous truth that would not let him open his mouth to contradict her outrageous claim. He put his head in his hands, overwhelmed. Minerva was calm in her seat across from him, this reality she had already known, and did not fear to know.
'This is ridiculous,' said Albus, raising his head. 'Harry Potter will fight Voldemort, your death could not end the war anyway, even if I was prepared to let you go!'
'That is not the point, Albus, and well you know it!'
'Why must you push this?' he asked, wearily, eyes sad.
'Oh,' she replied lightly, 'you know me, anything to prove a point.'
'Tenacious, stubborn witch,' he glared.
'Yes,' she concurred, a half smile on her lips.
'And why would you do this for me?' Albus asked. 'Why would you sacrifice your life at my request?' he looked straight at her, and all of a sudden, if his eyes were not deceiving him, she looked shifty and awkward .
'Because I believe in you and your cause,' she replied.
'Is that all?' he asked piercingly.
Minerva reached for the teapot and poured herself some more tea, ignoring his question, which made him think she had something to hide, and curious, he was not about to let it go.
'It's a little bland,' he pointed out.
'What?' she asked. 'The tea?'
'Oh,' she said, and gave him a look that had a twinkle to match his own. 'That's not my problem.'
He was amused by her comment, and not put off. 'Come, Minerva, I know when you are hiding something.'
She laughed then, a real laugh, rich with amusement. 'Oh dear! Ohh,' she chortled into her tea cup, and tried to curtail her obvious mirth.
'So,' he said, thinking hard. 'There is something you've been hiding for awhile, something I don't have the faintest idea about…'
Minerva stopped laughing abruptly, and looked half horrified and half amused. 'Give up Albus, it's nothing worth your while poking about for.'
'I have an innate feeling, that it is very worth my while.'
'What would you have me say then? In answer to your original question?' she queried.
'Something more close to this 'life' you spoke of earlier, something more real. I am not entirely blind, Minerva.'
Minerva McGonagall, looked at him, worried. She sincerely hoped he didn't have a clue what he was talking about; it would be dreadfully embarrassing otherwise.
'What do you mean?' she questioned him, intently.
'That your answer was textbook standard Minerva. Please, why would you even think of this appalling sacrificial lamb idea? Why would you do it for me?'
'When did I ever say it was for you?' she challenged, acerbically.
'You implied as such,' he said, taken back by the sudden introduction of a new idea he had not considered. 'Is it not?'
She was silent.
'If not I, then who? Who would command such unswerving loyalty from you?' he had to know who it was.
'Albus..' she shook her head, sighing.
'Is it… Alastor? Do you… are you?' he could not find a way to phrase it.
'Alastor?' she asked. 'Alastor what?'
'Do you love Alastor?' he queried, inside of him his heart was in flames, and he did not know why.
'Alastor!' she exclaimed, actually jumping in her seat. 'Good grief, Albus, no! No no no! No!' fervently as the thought entered her mind that Alastor had once shown her his shrunken dried eyeball, lost through a curse. Minerva shuddered.
'Whom do you love?' he asked.
'Why must I love anyone, Albus?' she snapped. 'Stop behaving so immaturely!'
'I beg your pardon,' said Dumbledore and sat straight again, having leant forward to hear her answer. 'But you will answer my question.' He allowed a note of authority to enter his voice.
'And why should I do that?' she was annoyed with him, her posture arrow straight and lips thin.
'Because I have just had to endure a lecture from you that broke my heart,' said Albus Dumbledore, softly yet clearly.
'Broke your heart? Such foolishness, Albus!' her cheeks were flushed.
'To be told you are a monster who will murder his oldest, dearest friend to give another person better odds in a fight?'
Minerva fell silent; she had indeed accused him of being able to do that. 'You've twisted my words,' she complained. 'That is not how I meant it.'
'It is what I heard,' he told her. 'And is that not what matters? For you, Minerva, are the one who gives me some semblance of 'life' in this time, this present, as I strive for the unknowing, uncaring future. You have always stood by me, stood up for me, and now you tell me that you will die for me. Why, why would you do that? When alive, your life is worth a thousand times more than it is in sacrifice!'
'Albus, please,' she was crying, and hated herself for it. She had not cried in years and years; she did not cry!
'Why would you die for me, Minerva?' Albus asked her once again.
'Why must you ask me this!' she wiped away her tears with the back of her hand, yet still some fell, despite her best efforts at control.
'Because I must know,' he said, 'what it is in me that drives the closest person to me to such destructive behaviour.'
She turned her head away from him. 'What do you think, Albus? What do you think?'
'I do not know,' he said, honestly unknowing. 'I do not know.'
'Then you are blind. And that is all I will say Albus, all I can say.'
'Albus! It is time for you to leave.' She was firm, her voice steady again. Albus Dumbledore stood and then fell to his knees at her feet. She was more than shocked, she was scared. 'Albus! Get up! Get off your knees!'
'If I am blind, then you are my eyes. Tell me what you see!' he lifted a hand to turn her chin to face him, there were tears in his eyes, and a grief, a grief so deep and old it cried out to her.
She shook her head, lips sealed, and his blue eyes burned in a fury that was spectacular and unmatched by any memory.
'I will ask you one more time, Minerva, for the last time, and if you do not answer I will leave, but ne'er again will I darken your doorstep or your heart.' Minerva made to speak but he silenced her with a glance. 'Why would you sacrifice your life for me?'
'Why not?' she retorted, then fell silent; it was an inane answer. For a long time, for what seemed an infinite moment no words were spoken, as Minerva McGonagall wrestled with a long-held and suppressed secret.
'Why?' he whispered.
She bowed her head, 'Albus,' she murmured, a tear dripping off the end of her chin, falling to darken her grey skirt. 'You would shame me like this?'
'No, Minerva, I would never shame you. There is no shame in telling truth.'
'You are such a stubborn old fool!' she snapped.
'You and me both,' he smiled faintly. 'Don't prevaricate. Why?'
'Loyalty,' she replied.
'Loyalty,' he repeated sceptically. 'Minerva-'
'And love,' she added quietly, ever so quietly.
Albus grinned, relieved. 'Well, that is not so shocking, loyalty and love are very strong reasons.'
'Yes,' she agreed, pale to the point of whiteness.
'And I return them both you know -' he stopped mid sentence. 'I see no shame in this. What are you still not telling me?'
'I have told you everything!'
'But then, I still do not see - I mean, I - I …Minerva!'
'Yes?' she was barely audible.
'Say again, why.'
'No, I have said it once. Leave Albus, this evening's torment is over!'
'Say again, why,' his voice was curiously gentle, and again , he lifted a hand to take her chin and lift it up to meet his steady, intense gaze.
'For loyalty and love.' she said obediently, hating him for making her do this.
'Loyalty and love,' she repeated, her voice catching.
'Why, Minerva, my dear. Why?' his voice was soft.
'Because I love you,' she said and could not hold his gaze any longer, she pulled her head away and buried it in her hands, in her lap, miserable and ashamed.
'Because you love me,' Albus said to himself, and tears glittered ready to fall in his eyes.
'More than life itself,' Minerva mumbled from behind her safe place, and then her Gryffindor courage naturally asserted itself. Now the worst was over, now it was in the open, and she uncovered her face and looked at him. 'I am in love with you.'
'I never even dreamed,' he murmured, his eyes wide, shock written in every line of his face.
'I know,' she whispered and a tear fell. 'I have always known you would never love me.'
'No…' whispered Albus. 'I just didn't see! Why didn't you say something, Minerva?'
'Like what?' she rejoined sharply. 'Morning Albus, pass the milk, I'm desperately in love with you?!'
'Oh well,' Albus couldn't help a twitch of his lips. 'It certainly would have made an excellent start to the day!'
Minerva glared at him, and his smile grew broader.
'An excellent start,' he emphasised.
Minerva frowned, 'What?' she asked.
'You have always been my 'life',' said Albus. 'I believe I mentioned earlier how much I needed you to keep me grounded.'
'Well, yes Albus, your sanity is after all always in need of some support, else it might escape us entirely.'
'Then it is a good thing I shall have you around to keep it safe,' he beamed.
'Hah!' Minerva snorted.
'By my side,' he added.
'As ever,' she said tightly.
'Shouldn't I be putting that EasyBreathe salve on your back about now?' He pretended to check his watch.
'I don't think so!' she disagreed, uppity.
'I do,' Albus stood and helped her up with a gentlemanly hand.
'Albus, you are confusing me.'
'Oh good, I shouldn't like too many things to change,' he replied merrily. She gave him an exasperated look.
'Be my life, Minerva.' And he was utterly serious. 'Be my love, be in my heart, by my side, all my life and thereafter?' It was a question she was too flabbergasted to answer.
'Albus,' her voice was rough. 'You need to think - you don't - don't do this if - I don't want you to feel …obligated-'
'Minerva it is impossible for any man who has known you for as long and as well as I have not to love you. Impossible for me to deny that I have always had love for you simmering beneath my dimwit, half-fuse, emotionally Neanderthal brain.'
She laughed, and he held his breath in wonder at the joy this sound gave him.
'I beg of you, Minerva Georgina McGonagall, give me a chance to love you, to be in your life, to hold you as my own, and mine alone.'
'How can you love me now, when half a minute ago you did not?' she asked.
'I have always loved you Minerva, with what I thought of as a different kind of love, friendship. I did not realise how much I truly cared until tonight. You said you would die for me…and I -I felt my heart lurch, off centre, off kilter, wrong. The world, a world, any world without you is no world I can live in. Yet to admit it meant living in this moment, this time, and therefore risking more pain and grief than I wanted to know. I fear I was cowardly.'
'Flowery speeches,' she said, acidly.
'Yes,' he smiled at her expression of distaste. 'Direct action would seem to be in order.'
'What do you mean, direct action?' she asked suspiciously.
'I'm going to kiss you. Don't hurt me too badly.' He grinned roguishly.
'Shush!' Albus crooned, and leaning in cautiously placed his hands on her waist, easing her closer before dropping a light kiss on her soft lips, and when she closed her eyes, he took confidence and did not withdraw. Instead he kissed her harder, holding her tighter, closer, body to body, her lips responding shyly beneath his own.
When they drew apart finally, Minerva's cheeks were flushed; she had not been kissed like that for a very long time, and Albus was running through his eight times table in his head.
'Did I mention yet, the part where we make love? Spending the night in each others arms, so that I can wake in the early morning to watch you sleep and kiss you unawares,' he murmured into her ear. Her cheeks flushed even brighter and he suspected he would have been hit had she not been so completely off keel by his unexpected kiss.
'Stay with me,' he asked the woman in his arms. 'I know I'm old, and barmy, but stay with me, for I love you now with a passion I doubt any man or immortal being could match.'
'Will you love me even if I say no?' she asked him.
'I will never stop loving you,' he told her, and this time she kissed him and he was caught unawares.
'Nor I you,' she whispered after. 'My heart is yours.'
'No more despair,' he said to her stroking her cheek.
Minerva smiled, a full smile, 'No more despair,' she assented, happily.
And right then and there before a glittering night's sky and a cold marble fireplace was born between them a union of love so strong it would last through the best and the worst of days to come. A partnership to envy, a friendship blossomed into a fulfilling romance and a taste - for sherbet lemons!
A/N: Obviously stole a phrase from RotK (film) there, and cheerfully mutilated Charles Dickens famous opening line from A Tale of Two Cities.
I was tempted to make this a death fic, I'm sure you can see how) but the romantic in me protested and so this is the result, slightly OOC, but… well, did you like it?