Minerva McGonagall looked over the Hogwarts grounds from her office window. Soft white cotton clouds glided across their pale azure background. A cool breeze tossled the fresh Spring flowers and brisk grasses. Minerva needed a break from preparing lessons, grading tests, and the other routine normalities of her tedious lifestyle, but her dreams seemed out of reach like those of a dove trapped in a cage. Peace brought her boredom, but chaos brought her pain. She was never quite satisfied, and her life felt empty somehow. Minerva often wondered what she was missing, but she always failed to produce an answer.
A sudden knocking at the door shook Minerva from her reverie. She cleared her throat.
"Come in," she called.
The door opened gently, and Albus Dumbledore entered. Minerva felt a small tug at her insides but disregarded it quickly.
"To what do I owe this pleasure?" she asked.
"I was on my way to lunch and I wondered if you would join me," Albus said with a smile.
Minerva looked down at the scattered parchment upon her desk. So much to be done, but it could wait, at least for now.
"I'd love to," she said.
Albus extended his arm to her, and she took it. As they walked, they talked of students and classes, Quidditch games and the latest news as headlined in the Daily Prophet. Albus found joy in Minerva being the only individual to actually listen to his seemingly pointless discussions of sherbet lemons and lemon drops, and Minerva was grateful for his helpful advice and endless wisdom for anything that was on her mind. It was a rarely spoken but commonly known fact that Albus and Minerva were happiest when they were together. They seemed to be made for each other, even if they did not realize it themselves.
As they entered the Great Hall, all eyes seemed to focus on them. Minerva dropped her gaze to the floor and loosened her grip on Albus's arm. The last thing she wanted was for rumors and speculations to begin. She could live with being nothing more to Albus than a friend and his Deputy, but to ruin the best companionship she had ever had... Well, she could not, would not risk it.
They sat down at the table together and began their meal.
"What was that about?" asked a grinning Rolanda Hooch.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Minerva said sternly, refusing to look Rolanda in the eye.
"You know perfectly well what I'm talking about, Minerva," Rolanda retorted.
"I don't want to talk about it," Minerva said.
"Mmhm," Rolanda muttered.
Minerva shot her the death glare and continued to concentrate on her meal. Albus, who had almost finished eating, admired the way the sunlight pouring through the glass windows glistened against Minerva's milky skin and dark hair. Albus leaned over into her ear.
"You're beautiful," he whispered.
Minerva turned and looked him in the eye. Her expression seemed shocked, hurt even. Albus had not expected this reaction. What had he said or done wrong? She threw her fork onto her plate with a loud, ringing clang and stormed out of the Great Hall. Albus stood to follow her but was held back by a hand on his shoulder.
"What happened?" Rolanda asked.
"I-I'm not sure. I only told her that she is beautiful."
Albus winced at the words. They seemed empty, careless, now even hurtful. How could that be? Rolanda's face softened.
"I'll talk to her," she said and followed.
Minerva sat on the bed in her locked room. She shut her eyes tightly to fight stinging tears. Albus had played with her emotions and then mocked her. She was a fool for ever thinking there was something deeper to their relationship. Oh, the time she had wasted wishing, hoping, and praying that he loved her the way she loved him! How could one ever love another without a mutual feeling? What had she done to deserve this? There was a knock at the door, but Minerva kept silent. Maybe if she said nothing the person would go away.
"Minerva, it's me. We need to talk," Rolanda spoke through the door.
Minerva sighed. There was never any way to hide from Rolanda.
"Come in," she said irritably.
Rolanda entered and looked cautiously at her. Minerva had one of the worst tempers she had ever seen, and upsetting her now would do no good.
"Why did you leave?" Rolanda began.
She could think of no other question to ask but hoped that it would help break the ice.
"I'm sure you heard," Minerva said bitterly.
"He cares for you," she said.
"He cares for me! What is that supposed to mean? If he cared at all he'd be here, not you."
"You know you wouldn't have talked to him. Why-"
Rolanda's words were cut short by yet another knocking at the door. Minerva groaned as Albus stepped into the room. He turned to Rolanda.
"Would you mind if I speak to Minerva alone?" he asked politely.
"Of course," she said and left, closing the door behind her.
Albus looked at Minerva, but she avoided his eyes.
"I apologize for what I have said. I do not know how I have offended you. Perhaps I was too forward. I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me," he said.
Minerva gritted her teeth and looked at him. She was suprised at his expression. She knew this expression. She had comforted it many times. Albus was hurt. Had he truly meant what he said? Albus, after all, had never lied to her.
"What did you mean earlier by what she said?" she asked.
"I mean what I said. You're beautiful."
Those words again... They had always seemed so foreign to hear, but to hear them spoken from Albus was like hearing a new word for the very first time. Minerva opened her mouth, but the words were slow to form.
"It's just that... no one has said that to me except my parents since I was a little girl."
Albus could not believe what he was hearing. Minerva was by far the most beautiful woman- inside and out- that he had ever known. How could no one tell her this? He sat down beside her on the bed.
"Minerva, I do not know what to say, except by repeating what I said to you before. You are beautiful. You're the most beautiful person I have ever lay eyes on."
Minerva mouthed a "thank you" as tears welled up in her eyes. It pained Albus to see this. He embraced her and held her tightly, giving her strength. She so rarely sobbed on anyone's shoulder, but here and now, it was perfect. She finally felt free, and everything about the world was beautiful.