A/N: This is the last chapter! Yay for completed works!
A/n2: This was meant to be a short chapter, but the characters just wouldn't shut-up. I tired to direct them (as the end was set) but they just seemed to have a mind of their own, it's bizarre. So I left them too it. As long as they get there in the end, right?
Every time Albus talked to Minerva during the following week it was with renewed vigour. He never mentioned his plan, or his gift and still only exchanges pleasantries, but to the outsider it seemed as if Albus had suddenly forgotten everything that had been troubling him for the past months. The snide amongst them whispered that Albus has had his heart broken and had now taken a new lover, but this rumour languished when no one could find any evidence of another woman having spend the night in the castle.
Minerva was simply confused, she knew that in time both she and Albus would have overcome this hurdle in their relationship and become close friends again, but she was bewildered that he seemed to have snapped out of it so quickly. After thinking about it for a long time she concluded that Albus' love for her was only so deep, and probably amounted to simply lust. Now that he knew he couldn't have her he had simply accepted his life without her and moved on. In a way she was disappointed, but then pulled herself back together and was thankful that she hadn't given her heart away fully, openly and passionately to a summertime lover, even if he was the only one she had ever really loved.
Albus' gift took a while to prepare. He needed to have a long private conversation with the Gringotts head goblin about opening a vault that he had vowed never to remember that it existed let alone be opened again. This was a special favour, and one that could only be granted to Albus alone.
Upon leaving his appointment Albus had and extra bounce in his step and the twinkle was once again burning bright in his eyes, he could barely contain his excitement and it was all he could do to stop himself from apparating back to Hogwarts and presenting Minerva with his gift. The next week was terrible to bear. Albus alternated between feeling deliriously happy and sinking into melancholy when he imagined all of the ways Minerva could react to what he was about to do. It was one of the longest weeks of his life, desperately wanting to know the answer to the unspoken question this gift would raise, yet unable to answer without her. It was, he thought, like everything else in his life. No question could be properly answered without Minerva.
Christmas morning dawned bright and clear, and Albus was up at first light. He had envisaged many ways to give Minerva her gift, and the one he had decided upon meant waiting until tonight. It was impossible to give it to her in public. This was, after all, a very private affair. It was a tradition amongst the staff staying for Christmas that they would meet in the staff room for brunch and the exchanging of gifts. Upon entering the room, Albus was disappointed not to find Minerva alone. He would have to find some point in the day to invite her to play a game of chess later that night so he could get her alone.
Albus had combed through all the wizarding bookshops he could find (even apparating to France and Russia at various points during the week) to find a gift that he could give to Minerva in this public ceremony and had managed to find one of the oldest and rarest books concerning ancient transfiguration. There were spells in this book that hadn't been performed in centuries. Bewilderingly, Albus had stumbled upon it behind much newer books, and it had cost much less that he willingly would have paid to see the look on Minerva's face when she opened it. Her eyes lit up as she reverently stroked the front cover and she turned to him and threw herself into his arms, holding him tight and saying over and over "Oh Albus, it's simply divine, where on earth did you find it?"
Minerva had bought him a garish pair of sock and had spent a lot of time charming a sherbet lemon to walk and talk. The spell would wear off after a while, but he would get many years out of it, and Minerva was willing to wager that he would become sick of it's inane chatter long before it fell into disrepair. Albus was simply delighted and immediately began teaching the little fellow how to dance across the table.
When all of the gifts had been exchanged, and slowly people had drifted out of the staff room until it was just the two of them left behind. Albus sat on the couch next to Minerva and took her elegant hands in his and looked deeply into her eyes.
"Minerva, please hear me out. There are many things we need to talk about, and Christmas is a time for forgiveness and the New Year is a time for change and growth. I know that our relationship has been somewhat...strained, during the past months, and I would like to try and make it up to you. I have spent a great deal of time trying to come to terms with this change in our relationship, but you are the best friend I have ever had, and I cannot simply throw that away because you cannot love me as I would wish. Lover or not you are still the most important person in my life, Minerva McGonagall, and I hope you will forgive an old fool for taking so long to realise that any sort of relationship with you is better than nothing at all."
Minerva returned his gaze with equal intensity and, as tears filled her eyes, began to speak, "Albus, you are my best friend and the only man I have ever loved, thank-you for understanding and accepting me the way I am."
"The pleasure is all mine, my dear" Albus whispered huskily, and then gathering himself together said, "How about a game of chess tonight, a proper game, Minerva. And don't think just because I've got you back that I'll be going easy on you."
"Go easy on me Albus," she laughed, "You've never done that in your life, and I can still count the number of time's you've beaten me on my fingers."
Albus was nervous, there was no other word to describe it. He and Minerva had just gotten their friendship back on track, what if he was being presumptuous, and this gift ruined it all again. The next time he lost her it might be the last. But he had to chance it. He could not let her slip through his fingers again, only for her to be snapped up by some young bachelor and leave him broken hearted. He had set the room so it was lit only by candlelight, and covered in red and gold Christmas decorations. Admittedly, he had gone a little over the top, but he didn't think she would notice, he seemed to do that in everything in his life. Pacing the room, waiting in earnest, his hand slid into the pocket of his midnight blue robes and felt the small box that contained all his hopes for the future, and a small smile flitted across his aged face.
In her own rooms Minerva was so nervous that she was nearly hysterical. About every five minutes she seriously considered flooing Albus and telling him that something had come up and she couldn't make it, but then she would talk some sense into herself and reason that this was the most significant relationship of her life, and while she was incapable of opening her heart, she should not be afraid to share a deep friendship with Albus, but why was she so nervous. Whenever she thought of his speech that morning she went weak at the knees, there was such an open honesty in his words and his countenance, that made her fall deeper and deeper in love with him. At that moment she had known that Albus' love for her was real, and that he treasured her so much that he was willing to sacrifice his own happiness in order to accommodate her. In the deepest recesses of her mind she knew that if Albus were to offer his love to her again that she could not refuse. Surely nothing required courage so much as love, she was a Gryffindor, and she could was equal to it.
Scant hours later a fist trembled as it knocked upon the door to Albus' sitting room. The door was opened with a smile and then he stood, as if petrified at the sight in front of him. Minerva was wearing not her usual black robes but ones of a deep crimson, which made her skin seem like a bed of pearls. Her hair cascaded down her back in loose ringlets like a fountain of ebony, shimmering and dancing in the candlelight. Albus' breath caught in his chest and he managed to stutter, "Minerva, you look..."
"Beautiful" she suggested, mocking him slightly.
"Ravishing...was more the word I was looking for" Minerva blushed deeply and lowered her head. Albus raised his hand and lifted her chin to look him deeply in his eyes, "You've never blushed at my compliments before," he asked, completely bewildered by this new Minerva,
"It has never before been so heartfelt, Albus. How else am I to react in the face of such emotion?"
Albus knew that if he didn't retract himself from this conversation then he may very well get carried away and forget that until he asked the question again, they were simply friends, although he had the distinct impression that something had changed with Minerva as well. He cleared his throat and tore his gaze away before he fell head over heels into her eyes. "Minerva, how about we have some hot chocolate?"
An hour later Minerva raised her hand in victory, and looked across the table at Albus. It would definitely be remembered as his worst defeat in almost a century. Each time he tried to concentrate the whisper of her robes, or the shimmer of her hair would distract him and he would inadvertently move a piece right into her line of fire. At one point, several moved before checkmate his bishop had snapped at him and told his, in no uncertain terms, and in language quite inappropriate for a man in his position to "Stop ogling the lovely lady and concentrate on the game!" another deep flush had graced Minerva's face, but Albus was unsure of whether it was derived from the bishop's comment, or the fact that he had barely been able to take his eyes off her.
After sitting in companionable silence for a few minutes Albus decided that it was time to present Minerva with his gift. "Minerva, I have another gift for you"
"But Albus, you've already given me a gift that is far more exquisite than I deserve, particularly the way I have acted in recent months."
"Minerva, it is not only your behaviour that has been at fault, but mine also. The gift I wish to give you is something that helped me realise how silly our falling out was, and to appreciate the possibilities of life again. I've already learnt the lesson, and thus, have no further need of the object. I'm giving it to you, in the hope that you might be shown the same revelation." Albus reached into his pocket and removed the meticulously wrapped box, and kneeling in front of her, softly kissed her cheek and whispered, "Merry Christmas, my darling"
Seeing Albus sitting in front of her, like an eager schoolboy she just had to laugh. It really was a comic sight. He may have one and a half centuries under his belt, but Albus Dumbledore had, in many ways, never really grown up. Opening the box her immediate response was one of shock and amazement, she looked at Albus and spoke, her voice dangerously low "Albus, I thought you promised to destroy this so that it could never again cause harm?"
"My dear, you misrepresent me. I merely said that that particular stone should be destroyed to avoid further harm, and there are many witnesses to attest to the fact that that stone was destroyed. But this stone, Minerva, has never been the cause of harm to anyone. It has, in fact, been kept in a locked vault in Gringotts, with strict instructions that only three people would be able to enter the vault, and that the contents should be destroyed with the passing of all three. Of course, the three people were Nicholas Flamel, his wife, and myself. Had I remembered at the time, this stone would have certainly been destroyed along with the other, but it seems that memory loss is sometimes beneficial." Peering intently at Minerva, and taking her hands in his for the second time that day, Albus' voice became suddenly serious, "My love, I may be eighty years your senior, but a fear of me dying before you has suddenly become irrational. If there is one thing I know for certain about you, is that you have never succumbed to irrational fears. I love you, Minerva McGonagall. You are my reason for living. Merlin, you are all my reasons."
"Albus," whispered Minerva, her voice heavy with ill-concealed passion, "I also have a gift for you, close your eyes and I shall give it to you," One of Minerva's warm hands was removed from his own, and Albus imagined her fumbling in her robes for a box. Instead he felt her hand cup his chin, her thumb softly stroking his cheek, and her soft lips brush against his own, and her soft moan at the contact. All at once it was as if all the blood rushed to his head and he pulled her to him and captured her lips in another kiss. It was Minerva who first opened her mouth and nibbled his bottom lip, seeking, needing to deepen the kiss, and Albus was suddenly aware of how much passion was concealed beneath her stern façade. This kiss was the accumulation of fifty years of pent up love and longing, and each felt a fire consuming them and making them whole.
Minerva pulled her head away and loosened the collar of Albus robes and started placing soft kisses along his collarbone and neck. "Oh Minerva," he moaned, "I could definitely get used to this,"
"Well then, get used to it" she whispered huskily, taking his hand and pulling him towards the bedroom, "we've got all the time in the world."
A/n: aww, a happy ending. Please review, and then I may get more little happy plot bunnies like this one! Cheers, Tess.