In her sleep, Minerva moved closer to Albus' body. He, in turn, wrapped his arms around her. That's how Albus woke up the next morning; with the woman of his dreams in his arms. He smiled tenderly and pressed a gently kiss to her shoulder, before he realized that she was actually real, not just another dream. Then he remembered why Minerva was there and his eyes darkened. Quickly but quietly he slipped out from between the covers and left the bed without waking up Minerva. He went into his living room and stood staring out the large windows, where the first gentle daylight was streaming in. He was so caught up in his thoughts, that he didn't even hear Minerva step into the room. For a second she just stood there, then she went over to him and put her arms around his waist, resting her cheek on his back. Albus smiled gently.
"Good morning, my dear," he all but whispered.
"Good morning, Albus," she yawned. She could feel it rumble through Albus' chest as he chuckled.
"Go back to bed, Minerva. It's only six a.m. and you need your sleep." He was surprised when his friend just nodded and padded back into the bedroom. 'She must be exhausted,' he thought. He shook his head and determinedly found a piece of parchment and a quill. Quickly he scribbled a note for her to find when she woke up again and with a quick swish of his wand, his dressing gown had been transfigured into a pair of golden and red robes. Quickly he combed through his hair and beard with his fingers and left the rooms. He walked briskly down the deserted halls of the place he called home. He was a man with a purpose, a goal. In no time he had reached the Hospital Wing and he wasn't the least bit surprised to see the medi-witch already up. As he entered her office, she looked up.
"Headmaster!" She sounded surprised. "Good morning. What can I do for you?"
"Good morning, Poppy," he acknowledged with a nod. "You can tell me if Mr Jones is ready to be discharged?" His eyes were hard and cold and Poppy shivered involuntarily.
"Well, he does seem to be okay. I've healed his cuts and bruises but he seemed in shock, which was why I kept him here…" She hesitated. "Headmaster… Albus… What happened?" She looked straight into his eyes, asking this question and she noticed how his bright blue eyes first turned even colder, then softened as he asked if he could sit down. Poppy indicated one of the chairs in front of her desk and waited as Albus gathered his thoughts.
"Well, as you know I was invited to a Ministry banquet a few days ago. I asked Minerva to come with me that night. I honestly didn't want to face it alone and I thought Minerva would enjoy a bit of fun. She joined me and we had a lovely time, talking when a young man, Mr Jones, came up to us and asked Minerva to dance…" Albus told Poppy the whole story without stopping. When he told her about the letter and the flowers Poppy couldn't help but burst out that she had thought that the flowers had been from him. Albus' voice lowered to a deep growl when he recalled the scene he had walked in on and how he had fought Edward Jones.
"And that, Madam Pomfrey, is why you have Mr Jones occupying one of your beds." Poppy sat like petrified with her hand clamped to her mouth and an almost frightened look in her eyes.
"Oh Merlin… Albus…" Albus looked at his hands.
"If only I hadn't asked her to come to that stupid banquet… none of this would have happened…" Poppy couldn't believe that he actually felt guilty about it and her voice became stern and not un-Minerva-like as she told him not to blame himself.
"Guilt won't lead to anything, Albus Dumbledore. What happened, happened, you can't change that. Just be happy that you were there both times. I don't know what Minerva would do without you."
"She'd survive, I'm sure," he said with a small half smile. But Poppy looked straight into his eyes as she answered, "I wouldn't be so sure. Minerva needs you, just like you need her. She needs your friendship. She needs to know that there's someone who will never betray her, to whom she can tell everything."
"But Poppy, that person is you." Albus looked utterly confused. Poppy chuckled.
"No, Albus, I haven't been that person for years. I don't mind though because Minerva and I are still very good friends. And as long as you are the person who occupies that special place in her heart, I'm okay with it." Poppy had to laugh at Albus' surprised expression and watery eyes. "Now get out of here so I can throw a certain patient out on his butt!" she laughed. But just as his hand was on the door knob, Poppy spoke again, "Minerva cares deeply for you, Albus." Albus turned around and looked at her with a peculiar expression.
"I care deeply for Minerva as well, Poppy." And with those words, he left. Poppy shook her head slowly at her friend. She couldn't believe they still hadn't gotten together; after all, it was so obvious to everybody else that they were in love with each other. 'But,' she thought. 'Thinking about that will have to wait… I have a patient to kick out!' She chuckled to herself.
Albus walked back to his rooms slowly as he thought about what Poppy had said. Thinking about it, he realized that she had only told him what he already knew. He knew how much his friendship meant to her, he knew that he was her confidante. He knew and he had known for quite a while without realizing it. And he knew that he felt the same way about her... and more.
When he entered his living room again, he saw Minerva sitting in an armchair by the fire, reading a book. She looked up when she heard him enter and her eyes were alarmed. They softened, though, when she realized that it was just him but her initial reaction had only made his contempt for Edward Jones bigger.
"Hello, Albus," she said softly. "Where have you been?"
"Just in the Hospital Wing, my dear. Making sure that a certain patient will soon be gone from this castle." He smiled slightly.
"Thank you," she said.
"You're welcome, Minerva," he answered.
A little while later they walked down to breakfast together, arm in arm as always. But as they entered the Great Hall, Minerva's eyes flickered nervously and her grip on Albus' arm tightened. Albus took her hand and squeezed it reassuringly, his insides burning with red-hot anger. Minerva relaxed and her eyes fixed on her seat at the head table.
As they ate their breakfast, Minerva and Albus spoke with each other, just like always but Minerva's head snapped up when she heard the owls come flying in. Her eyes were wide and she was shaking slightly. Albus noticed this and put a protective arm around her shoulders.
"Don't worry, love, he's not going to bother you again," he whispered softly, the endearment slipping out before he could stop it. Fortunately Minerva didn't seem to have noticed it and she visibly relaxed again.
Minerva made her way to class after breakfast alone. When she entered her class room everything was normal and she relaxed, sure that everything would be okay. And she was right. Her classes went perfectly fine with only a minimum of accidents.
When her last class before dinner left, Minerva smiled as she brought out a stack of essays to mark. However, after a little while she looked up startled as an owl flew through her window. Her eyes widened as she saw that it was carrying a parcel. It landed on her desk and let her untie the parcel before it took off again and left Minerva alone with her thoughts. She could see a letter, but she couldn't see the writing on it and she wasn't too keen on unrolling it to find out who had written it. Finally she reached for the rolled up piece of parchment and with shaking hands she unrolled it, only to let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. It was from Albus. Quickly she read it, casting the parcel a sideways glance.
I took the liberty to buy these for you and I sincerely hope you'll enjoy them. They reminded me of you and your pride in your ancestors.
Minerva looked curiously at the parcel and unwrapped it. She laughed softly to herself as she saw a small tin in her family's tartan colours. She opened the lid and her smile broadened. It was filled with her favourite biscuits, Ginger Newts. She picked one and took a bite. As she slowly chewed it, she saw another piece of parchment lying among the biscuits. Carefully she lifted it out of the tin and unfolded it.
Minerva, my dear,
These are for you to enjoy, a small gift from me. I hope you know how much you mean to me, my dearest. Your friendship has been what kept me going through so many bad and dark times. I've drawn so much strength from you for so many years. Thank you for staying by my side for so many years and for allowing me to stay by yours.
By then end of the note, Minerva was in tears. She had never known how much she meant to him. Sure, he meant exactly the same to her but she had no idea that he felt that way. There was only one feeling she wished he would also feel for her… She shook her head to get rid of those thoughts. But the tears continued to run down her cheeks and for some reason she didn't brush them away.
In the Great Hall, dinner was almost finished and the Deputy Headmistress had yet to arrive. Albus was beside himself with worry for her and as soon as he could, he got up and walked out of the Great Hall quickly. He was at Minerva's class room in a flash and entered it, only to find Minerva sitting in her chair at her desk, face in hands and the tin of Ginger Newts he had bought her standing right next to her. Her shoulders shook slightly, though she made no sound. Albus moved to stand behind her and put a hand on her shoulder as he crouched down beside her.
"What's wrong, Minerva?" he asked, his voice thick with worry. Minerva looked up and when he saw her tear streaked face, he pulled her into an embrace.
"What is the matter, Minerva?" Albus whispered. Minerva mumbled something into his chest.
"What was that, dear?"
"It was just that… that note…" Minerva whispered. Albus closed his eyes briefly, wondering if he had gone too far.
"I am so sorry, my love, I never meant to upset you, I just wanted you to know how much you men to me and…" He stopped when he saw the look in Minerva's eyes. "What?"
"Nothing… never mind, I must be hearing things…" Minerva shook her head gently. Albus reached up and dried away her tears with his thumb.
"What did you think I said, Minerva?" he asked tenderly.
"Nothing, Albus, really," Minerva insisted weakly.
"Please tell me, Minerva… it must be important to bring on that look of disbelieving hope onto your beautiful face." Minerva looked down but Albus lifted her chin with two fingers, making her look into his eyes.
"What did you think I said?" Albus' voice was quiet and Minerva lowered her eyes so she wouldn't have to see the look of disappointment and shock when she told him.
"Love," she whispered to the floor. "I thought you called me 'my love'." Albus was shocked, but certainly not disappointed.
"Please look at me, Minerva," he whispered. Slowly, oh so slowly, Minerva's eyes averted from the floor, up his chest, to his mouth, his nose and finally to those bright blue eyes that she loved so much.
"I did call you 'my love', Minerva." The tenderness in his voice was unmistakable and Minerva's jaw dropped slightly. Albus' hands caressed her cheeks softly and his eyes twinkled with a whole new brilliance. Slowly he leaned down, inching their faces closer and closer together. For a short moment they shared the same breath and he changed his course and kissed her softly on the cheek. Minerva let out a frustrated sigh. She pulled his face down to her lips with a mutter that sounded suspiciously like, "you and your gentlemanly ways".