Albus sat in his favorite chair and looked around. The picnic basket was full of tasty treats for a healthy lunch with charms in place to arrange itself at the appropriate time. The fireplace held a crackling fire and he had moved Minerva's chair a bit closer to it since he was sure she would be cold when she arrived…if she arrived. He stood up and started to pace from one end of the room to the other. She should have been here by now. Fawkes had arrived nearly fifteen minutes ago to alert him that she was on the grounds.
As he paced, he thought over what he was going to say. Ever since he had realized his mistake last night, he had played in his mind various scenarios of how to apologize. He had seen the error of his ways, of his words, but he could not seem to figure out how to make everything right. A simple I'm sorry would not be enough, for him or Minerva. She deserved more, a lot more than he could offer, but then he was never a man to waste an opportunity once presented.
A knock sounded and had him racing to the entrance of his rooms, nearly causing him to trip on a rug. He took a deep breath as his heart pounded madly and opened the door. Minerva stood in the hall and Albus asked her inside.
"Thank you for coming," he managed to say through his nerves.
She came inside without a word and moved toward her usual seat. Albus noticed her cheeks were flushed, probably from her time outside, and her hair was windblown with pieces hanging wildly around her face. She was more beautiful than he ever remembered. The flowers he had so carefully suspended in the halls were clutched in one hand but hanging loosely at her side.
"Would you like a vase," he asked as he gestured at the bouquet.
An odd expression crossed her face but she nodded her agreement and he soon had the bundle situated on a table nearby. They both looked at each other awkwardly and then moved to sit in their respective chairs. Minerva looked toward the fire while Albus studied her face. Saying what needed to be said was going to be harder than he had imagined.
They both laughed which broke through the thick tension that had gathered in the air. Albus smiled to see Minerva looking happy for the first time in several days. He took a deep breath and continued.
"I wanted to apologize," he began. "I should have realized what I had done right away. I should never have said it in the first place." He realized he was rambling and coughed to cover his uncertainty with the situation. "What I am trying to say is that I am very sorry for saying anything which might have made you feel as if you were a child or that I would not take you seriously. I never meant my words to come across in such a way."
Minerva frowned as she spoke. "How exactly did you think I would take it?"
Albus had the grace to blush. She was right, as she very often was. "I wasn't thinking, not clearly at least. My statement had little to do with her mental abilities and more to do with her interest in me. I am very old Minerva and she, and you, are still young, full of life and a vibrancy that only youth can provide."
"You are the most vibrant man I know," Minerva stated. "If you are not interested in a relationship with someone so young then that is your business but do not act as if it is because you are some old and feeble codger."
She was getting angry again and Albus felt at a loss as to what to do. He clearly did not know what to say to make things right between them. He needed to stop stalling and simply say what needed to be said, ignoring any pride lurking around which may be holding him back.
"Minerva, I respect you and your opinion above all others. You are the most intelligent witch I know. You are loyal, caring, loving, honest, witty, beautiful and no man I know deserves you."
Albus paused when Minerva looked away. He wasn't sure if had upset her even more but he decided to continue anyway. He could only hope she would see the truth in his words. "I spoke only with the intention to stop the professor's from gossiping and used a very poor excuse and example. If there is anyone who is my equal, someone who outshines me in every way, it is you."
Minerva continued to stare at him, her eyes blinking fiercely as if she was trying to decide if what she was seeing and hearing was real. The man who had wounded her heart and even her pride several days ago was now telling her things she never thought she'd hear, especially from him. And what's more, his eyes were hiding nothing from her. His cerulean eyes locked with hers and though lacking their infamous twinkle, she could clearly see he meant every single word of his argument.
Now she was torn between her options. While on the one hand she was flattered and even happy he had admitted the truth and sincerely apologized for hurting her. Then again, it was hard for her to let go of the anger she'd been nurturing for the past few days and nights. Despite what her heart was advising, her mind was waging another battle, each dead even in their attempts to sway her actions. In the end, it was her sarcasm that won out and spilled from her mouth.
"And how much firewhisky have you been drinking today, Albus?" She inwardly cursed her barbed tongue for striking back at him so hotly when he was bearing his soul to her. From the surprised look on his face, it was a response he was not expecting.
"I haven't had a drink since that night at the bar. In fact, I've barely eaten in the last few days. I was too distracted by this argument between us and until I worked it out, it consumed my thoughts. I've been into my pensieve many times to observe that night from a different perspective and I've come to some very startling yet pleasing conclusions, if not scary at the same time."
Minerva desperately wanted to ask what he had learned but at the same time she was afraid. Her mind raced through the evening in question and she was somewhat nervous as to what he might have discovered if he'd spent any amount of time studying her expressions or actions. Even she had known that her eyes held a different regard for him than any other male in her presence. The way she leaned in to hear what he was saying, the way she envied the glass that touched his lips every time he took a drink, even the way he spoke softly to her as if sharing some great secret sent her entire body reeling with the warm effects. Had he noticed any of that? And if so, was that what was so scary to him? Was she scary or the prospect of something like her fancying him that repulsive?
He could almost hear the wheels in her head spinning out of control at something he had said and knew that if he didn't speak up quickly, yet another argument would follow. "Scary was the wrong choice of words there. Perhaps I should have said 'unexpected'. Yes, that word fits better with what I wanted to convey." Her eyebrow shot up towards her hairline and Albus still wasn't convinced he was out of the Forbidden Forest just yet.
"I know I am going to regret asking you this, but if it will save us any time and further disagreement…what could you possibly have learned that night that was so…unexpected or scary," she asked, daring to use his previous choice of words?
This was it…the moment of truth. She had asked him point blank what he had been making reference to and there was no way he would ever dare lie to Minerva. He'd never done it in the past and to do so now would be to ruin everything their friendship had been based upon. Instead, he looked up and softened his expression, looking rather sad and pitiful. "Don't you know already? I was certain I saw the same thing in your eyes that night and even on other occasions. I didn't just go back to that memory, Minerva, but an entire series of memories involving you…us."
Suddenly Minerva found it very hard to swallow and to hear over her heartbeat pounding in her ears. Maybe he truly had discovered just how deeply he had wounded her heart while doing his soul searching. Surely Pernelle never would have betrayed their discussions even though she loved Albus like a son. "Why don't you tell me what you mean and I'll let you know if you're on the right track? After all, I'm not the one who misspoke while trying to avoid some silly gossip."
Words flashed through his mind like lightning bolts in a summer storm. He had already tried words and that only seemed to cause even more confusion. His flowers had obviously not been as appreciated as he would have hoped, given the way she was carrying them in her hand and his picnic basket had yet to be revealed to her. Taking a deep breath to steel his nerves, he rose from his chair and took the few steps towards her before dropping to her side.
Minerva turned to face him and could feel the tension between them as he knelt beside her chair. He had been this close to her before, much closer in fact, but this time there was something different in his eyes. She wanted to say something or do something to break the strained air between them but her mind went completely blank. The only thing she could process was the fact that his face was moving closer to hers, he had just darted out his tongue to moisten his lips and his strong arm had crossed her lap to rest on the opposite arm of the chair.
Knowing he would soon feel complete elation or utter rejection, Albus slowly closed the distance between himself and Minerva. He waited until her eyes had fluttered closed and her lips had parted slightly in anticipation before he drew her bottom lip between his teeth, giving a slight nibble before pulling back. Thrilled that she had not slapped him senseless or hexed him into oblivion, he felt emboldened and went back for a second kiss. This time, his lips slanted across hers, letting all of his emotions and desires pour through him. He desperately wanted her to know the depths of his heart and mind and to understand exactly what he had discovered over the last few days. When he felt her begin to return his kiss, he smiled.
His arm dropped from the arm of the chair and settled on her hip, his thumb beginning to rub small circles through the fabric of her robes. His free hand slowly traveled up her arm and worked its way into her hair, which he promptly released from the bun she wore daily. Even as his tongue danced across her bottom lip pleading for admission, she obliged eagerly and he could feel her trembling hand ghosting across his neck and into his hair as he deepened the kiss.
Albus leaned back and Minerva opened her eyes at the breaking of their kiss. "So am I forgiven," he asked.
The twinkle in his eyes had returned full force and Minerva smiled "You are forgiven."
"Then I have a question for you, if I may," he started tentatively.
Minerva tried not to look worried. After all they had suffered through many complications of late because of words. Besides, the kissing was much more to her liking at the moment. However, she nodded her head and watched as he picked up one of her hands between his own.
"Minerva, I would like to have your permission to court you formally," he asked.
She looked at his face and saw that he was being serious. Her lips curled into a smile and she tried not to blush. She had never been asked to be courted. Men were never so courteous anymore. With a heart full of joy she answered, "I thought you would never ask."
The look that overcame his face was one Minerva would never forget. He stood and pulled her up into his arms before dipping her towards the floor and kissing her senseless. When he stood them back up Minerva gripped him tightly. Her mind was swirling from the sudden movement and from the kiss. She smiled when he laughed and looked up.
"You must be hungry. I prepared a small lunch for us if you would indulge me," he asked. "Consider it a first date."
"In that case I would love to stay."
They settled down to eat, each lost in the other for the next several hours. They never noticed the heads peep into the room through the fireplace. Pernelle smiled fondly as she watched the couple with their heads close together talking and laughing softly to themselves.
"They are a beautiful couple," she whispered to her husband.
"Yes, much like another couple I know."
Pernelle blushed and looked once more toward Albus and Minerva. They would be happy together for the rest of their lives. She wasn't sure how she knew it but even the air seemed different around them, the feelings they had for each other palpable. Happy that the man she considered a son was finally settled she looked at her husband and they both withdrew to leave the happy couple in peace.
A/N: Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and review our story. We sincerely enjoy hearing your thoughts on what we write and we're always looking for new ideas and ways to improve what we do.