Disclaimer: None of the characters or settings in this piece are mine. They all spring from the mind of J. K. Rowling. I'm just playing around with them for the fun of it. No monetary gain is sought.A Different Ending
The Headmaster rose from his seat in the quiet staff room and smiled down at his Deputy.
"I shouldn't be gone long. Just overnight probably…two nights at the most. I think we've covered everything that we need to for now. I know I'm leaving the school in competent hands whenever I leave you in charge, my dear."
Minerva rose as well, automatically smoothing down her skirt with a firm hand as she smiled up at the tall man in response. "Have a good trip, Albus, and don't worry about a thing. We'll be just fine here while you're away. Though we're always glad to have you back with us again, of course."
"I certainly hope so. I'm always a little afraid to go away for too long a stretch. If the Board of Governors learns what a good manager you really are, I could find myself out of a job, you know," he teased.
"Oh, don't talk nonsense. You know they'd be fools to replace you. Now, off with you," she exclaimed primly as she shooed him towards the door, but her face flushed an attractive shade of rose as she spoke.
With a final smile and a wink, Dumbledore turned and crossed the room, opening the door and walking out into the corridor beyond. Minerva stared thoughtfully after him not turning away from the door even after it had closed in his wake.
In fact, she remained as she was, thoughtfully staring at the door with a faint smile on her face until a voice startled her back to reality by asking in an amused tone, "Why don't you tell that man how you really feel about him?"
Turning with a start, she found Irma Pince, previously overlooked in the far corner of the room, smiling happily at her as she set her copy of the Daily Prophet aside and rose from her seat.
"What did you say?" asked a slightly flustered Minerva. She'd heard correctly, of course, but felt the need of a moment's reprieve to gather her thoughts from where they'd scattered widely in her surprise.
Irma's grin broadened as she moved closer. "You heard me. I asked you why you don't tell that man how you really feel about him."
"I don't know what you mean," stated Minerva firmly in that no-nonsense voice of hers that always stopped her students in their tracks. Of course, Irma was no student.
Tilting her head to the side, the librarian simply crossed her arms and said, "Really, Minerva. You can't evade the question that easily. Of course you know. We've all been friends for many years, and I've watched the two of you together. Now, I'm willing to admit that your public interactions with Albus are always very correct and businesslike, but whenever you gaze at him and you think that no one is watching, you get this look in your eye that I can only describe as…lovesick."
Minerva's mouth dropped open and her cheeks flushed brilliantly. Resisting the urge to cool them with her hands, she inwardly cursed this weakness of blushing in awkward situations that she'd never found a way to overcome.
"Lovesick! That's absurd," she protested vigorously.
"Absurd, is it? I don't think so," asserted Irma calmly.
The two of them simply stood there and stared at each other until Minerva finally dropped her gaze and looked away.
A small smile of satisfaction slid easily across Irma's pleasant face. "So, I guess I'll ask again then. Why don't you tell him how you really feel about him?"
There was a long weighty pause and just as the silence was getting thick enough to grasp, Minerva sighed and raised her eyes again.
"I did…once," she admitted reluctantly.
Now it was Irma's turn to be surprised. "You did?"
Minerva sighed, her face still rather warm. "Yes, I did. Obviously, it didn't work out too well."
"Why not? I'd have sworn that he felt as you do," exclaimed Irma. "What did you say? What did he say?"
When Minerva didn't answer, Irma persisted. "Minerva, you can't leave me hanging without telling me what happened."
Tightening her lips perceptibly, Minerva nodded once and straightened up, glancing around to make absolutely certain that this time no one else was lurking unseen in a corner of the room. When she was satisfied that the room was empty, she returned to her chair by the fire, and Irma joined her there, picking up a book that was lying on the seat of the chair across from her friend and setting it absently aside as she sank down onto the cushions to listen.
Releasing a deep sigh, Minerva leaned towards her friend just a bit. "All right. I'll tell you, but you have to promise not to breathe a word of this to a soul. Just remembering it is mortifying enough as it is."
Irma nodded; incredibly intrigued at the idea that Minerva had ever done anything that she considered mortifying.
Still obviously a bit uneasy, Minerva sat back and dropped her eyes to her neatly folded hands before raising them again and beginning her tale.
"I was living in some foolish romantic fantasy at the time, apparently. I'd made up my mind that I had fallen in love, you see, and I was determined to show him how I felt, fully expecting him to take me into his arms and declare that he felt the same. Nothing could have dissuaded me back then. I simply marched into his office one evening, locked the door behind me, and stripped off my robe, letting it fall to the floor as I stared straight at him and boldly declared my love."
She shifted restively in her seat as she reluctantly relived this scene from her past. "I'd already removed the rest of my clothing before I arrived, you see," she admitted quietly with a small upward tug at the corner of her lips; her cheeks brightening once more.
Oh, my," whispered Irma, her eyes opening wide at the thought. "You didn't."
"Oh, yes, I did," Minerva said with a sigh.
Irma laid a hand on her throat and leaned forward in her chair. "Well, what happened?"
"I told him that I was in love with him."
"I meant after that part."
"He just stared at me until I began to feel really awkward standing there completely naked. Then he got up from behind his desk, came around and picked up my robe from the floor, draped it very carefully around my shoulders, and sent me away. He told me that such a relationship between us would be highly inappropriate. That I was very lovely, but it was just impossible. Oh, you know…he said all the usual things one says when one is faced with something appalling and embarrassing. He was very kind, but by this time all I wanted to do was sink through the floor. I suppose I was lucky that I wasn't expelled."
"Expelled?" exclaimed Irma in surprise. "Minerva? When did this happen?"
Minerva squirmed in her chair but didn't answer immediately.
Suspicious now, Irma tried again. "Perhaps I should ask how old you were when this happened."
With a slightly disgruntled look on her face, Minerva admitted reluctantly, "I was seventeen."
"Seventeen! You were a student?" asked Irma.
"Oh, my word. How did you ever have the nerve?"
With a shrug, Minerva gave her friend a small wry smile. "The young tend to have plenty of nerve, though not necessarily the proper amount of brains to back it up with. I was Head Girl and pretty darned sure of myself, and…well… I had this book, you see…" Her voice trailed off in embarrassment.
Irma laughed. "Of course. I think I might have read the same book. I didn't act on it though."
Minerva snorted shortly and smiled. "I always knew you were the smart one, Irma."
"So, what did you do after he sent you away?"
Minerva glanced away into the fire, and her smile grew broader before she finally turned back. "I probably shouldn't admit this to a librarian, but that's the only book I've ever burned."
Irma stared at her for a moment, and then the two of them burst into laughter at the same time. Once they'd quieted again and were once more simply smiling companionably at one another, Irma spoke again.
"You know, that was a very long time ago now. A lot has changed since then, though somehow I have an idea that your feelings haven't. Why didn't you ever try again?"
A wistful expression crossed Minerva's face. "Oh, lots of reasons, I suppose. Embarrassment being the most prominent one. Once or twice over the years, when he's looked at me, I've been absolutely certain that he's remembering that scene in his office, and it always brings the mortification straight back. Just the thought of that incident makes me flustered and very determined not to make a fool of myself in his eyes ever again."
Suddenly, the door creaked faintly, and both women turned to see who might be interrupting them. As they watched in mild relief, Crookshanks insinuated himself into the small crack between the door and the wall and stepped gracefully into the room, pausing to say hello to the two startled women who were staring at him, before heading off to check his latest hunting spot near where the biscuit tin was kept.
Returning to their conversation, Irma nodded sympathetically and Minerva continued, "Then there was always the fear that if I made another move towards romance, and it failed, it could possibly destroy the wonderful friendship that we've achieved over the years. And, of course, there have been other involvements…both his and mine. When one of us was free, the other often wasn't. Somehow the timing has just never seemed right, and so time has passed on without us ever getting together."
Irma nodded in understanding. "I see, but you do still love him, don't you?"
"Yes. I always have, and I probably always will," Minerva stated quietly.
"You know, I've had the feeling for some time that he feels the same way," said Irma.
Minerva frowned faintly, but didn't answer.
"Perhaps the timing is finally right to try again," Irma suggested gently.
"I don't know. I wouldn't want to ruin the relationship we have now by trying to change things. I'm afraid that it's just too late for Albus and me. The time for that sort of relationship is long past."
A few evenings later, Minerva sat at the desk in her office and stared off into space with her chin in her hand. She hadn't been able to get her conversation with Irma off her mind since they'd had it. Albus had returned to the school a couple of days later and thanked her for watching over things for him. They'd discussed his trip and the school, nothing really personal, yet all she'd been able to think about during their entire conversation was, should I try again? Could Irma be right?
A knock at her door broke into her thoughts, and she turned away from them with a faint sense of relief. If something else was going to claim her attention then she could put this frustrating decision off for a little while longer.
With a firm voice, she called out for her visitor to come in, and was surprised and pleased to see that it was Albus.
The Headmaster entered the office swiftly; then to her amazement, and without saying a word to her, he turned and locked the door behind him, removing his robe to reveal his naked body beneath the star patterned garment. Minerva's eyes opened very wide, and she sat up much straighter in her chair.
Unlike her younger self, Albus didn't discard his robe on the floor with a confident hand, though. With a slightly self-conscious smile, he gathered it into a mass of fabric, which he held strategically placed in front of him, as he shrugged his shoulders and looked rather nervously at her.
"I was inspired by the past," he offered with a smile. "Your gesture that night was the most touching and unique declaration of love that I've ever received. I wouldn't want you to receive any less. However, life and years, haven't left me with exactly the same sort of beautiful body that you so generously offered to me all those years ago, so I thought I'd spare you the sight of all of it unless you wished to see more."
"Do you?" he asked hopefully as she continued to stare at him in amazement.
"You were at the door, weren't you?" she suddenly asked with dawning comprehension. "We heard it open but thought it was just the cat."
Reluctantly, he nodded. "Yes, I was. I'd left a book in the room and was on my way back to fetch it when I overheard you and Irma talking. When I heard my name mentioned, I didn't want to interrupt, but I couldn't stop myself from listening."
He looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry. Listening was wrong of me, I know, but I'm glad that I did it. What I heard gave me the courage to finally approach you. I've wanted to for a long time, but as you said, somehow the timing was never quite right."
She nodded slowly, a wistful expression on her face.
Albus continued softly. "I've never forgotten that beautiful young girl who offered herself to me with love, you know. I was never so tempted by a student…before or since. The girl became a lovely woman with the passage of years…one of my dearest friends…and one whom I've always loved. Though it took me far too long to realize just how deeply."
Minerva's throat tightened as she listened to him speak about his feelings. Tears prickled at the corners of her eyes, and she fought with herself to keep them inside.
"Is it too late for us, Minerva?" asked Albus honestly.
She just stared at him for a long moment, then clearing her throat roughly, she sat up and raised an eyebrow as she answered. "As I recall, you thought a relationship between us wouldn't be appropriate, Professor Dumbledore."
A faint smile spread across his anxious face. "Well, I might have been a trifle hasty, Miss McGonagall. Time does lend perspective if nothing else."
Slowly, she rose to her feet and walked around her desk to face him.
Still slightly unsure, Albus asked, "Is this where you give me back my robe and show me the door?"
A smile spread across Minerva's face, as she reached out and grasped the heavy fabric in her hands, pulling it away from his grasp and discarding it on the floor as she once did her own garment. Sweeping appreciative eyes over his body, she then stepped closer, slid her arms around his neck and murmured, "Let's try for a different ending this time. Shall we?"
As Albus slid his arms around her to pull her body against his, he lowered his mouth to hers and murmured against her lips. "Yes, let's." Before they both abandoned themselves to a moment that fate had finally decreed was right.
Author's Note: The edit/preview function wasn't working for me when I uploaded. Any formatting errors will be fixed when I can use this function again. Thank you for your patience.