A Small Experiment
PG – Romance – ADMM – Complete
Summary: "I believe the purpose of a ball is for you to dance, not hide in the shrubbery and hope no one can see you." ADMM. Oneshot.
Disclaimer: JKR's world.
A/N: This story will be a shock to those who have read my other HP fics because it's not at all in my usual style. Or characters. Or genre. Or anything. But if you're prepared to like ADMM romance, give it a try.
Set 1960-ish. There is nothing original or ground-breaking about this fic; in fact it's a very standard sort of a plot. (If you can call it a plot; a plotette perhaps.) But it's a plot I've never written before, so I figured I might as well try it. Plus I'm terrible at writing romance (it makes me twitch and I end up trying to pretend I'm not doing it or something) so I probably need the practice. It's always good to do things you're bad at and/or scared of doing.
Minerva looked around the bustling ballroom and sighed. She never felt comfortable in crowds – probably a legacy of growing up during a war. Crowds made her feel vulnerable, as though she was back in an air raid shelter waiting for the bombs to fall or stumbling in the frightened crowd fleeing an attack on Diagon Alley.
The people around her were the movers and shakers of the wizarding world, or at least the people who thought they were the movers and shakers, and she didn't fit in here. She was a school teacher, not a politician; nor was she elegant and shapely like the women who flitted easily and naturally through the room. This was not her setting and she strongly felt herself to be out of place.
Politely declining an invitation to dance, she moved to the poor hiding place offered by a potted plant and sighed again. She was only here because her father, in the spot-light once again (this time for his popular and well-received book on the nature of magic), had been invited. Now that her mother was dead Minerva was always 'and guest'. She'd seriously intended to refuse his invitation to accompany him (worded, in her father's usual style, as a statement of fact), but her boss had ordered her to attend, claiming that she needed to get out of the castle. Then he'd twinkled at her and told her it would be nice to know someone at the ball was going to be capable of intelligent conversation and she'd caved.
Albus Dumbledore was a menace.
She hadn't expected him to be. She'd been ten when the news came that Grindelwald was defeated and the war was over. She still remembered the parties and the celebrations and the sheer relief. No more bombs, no more attacks, no more killing. And the name on everyone's lips: Albus Dumbledore.
Minerva had written him a letter, about a week after the news had come. In it she'd thanked him with all the words in her ten-year-old's vocabulary; she'd thanked him for stopping the war and for making the bad things go away. She'd also, because she'd been taught how to write polite letters, asked after his health and hoped he was well. The letter was never sent and she'd never been brave enough to thank him in person.
She'd gone to Beauxbatons because her mother felt well brought up children ought to have a French education (though she'd clung on to her brogue from contrariness) and when she heard Albus Dumbledore had been hired to teach at Hogwarts she was jealous for a whole five minutes before returning to her books.
On leaving school she chose to become a teacher, mainly because it was about the only job her father hadn't tried (and thus, since he was Harold McGonagall, the only job he hadn't been wildly successful at). She'd done private tutoring, primary education – and then the DADA teacher had left Hogwarts and Minerva had shrugged and applied for the job.
She hadn't exactly made a good first impression, even if it was a memorable one. Although she'd arrived early for the interview the wards had let her in, so she'd gone for a short walk. Peeves had discovered her, been delighted at the idea of a new target, and discovered the hard way that Minerva had grown up with two brothers… Long story short, when Armando Dippet and Albus strolled down to find her, she and Peeves were in the middle of a mudfight, which was like a snowball fight only squelchier. Her mother would have been appalled.
Albus had laughed. Sometimes she wondered if she'd gotten the job because of the mudfight instead of in spite of it.
She hadn't really expected great things of Albus. Yes he was fêted as a hero, but thanks to her father's brilliance and her mother's connections, she knew a lot of 'great' people and frequently didn't think much of them. She certainly hadn't expected a man with a sweet tooth and a love of bright colours, constantly enthusiastic and never discouraged. He was as likely to challenge her to a game of tiddlywinks as to a game of chess, more likely to congratulate students on a prank than punish them, and made her laugh more than she'd ever thought possible. She hadn't expected brilliance, insanity, and the best friend she'd never dared to hope for.
It still seemed strange to her, even after nearly five years, that she was the first actual friend he had made amongst the Hogwarts staff. Armando had been a kind but vague father figure until his recent retirement, but the rest of the staff seemed to look at him as Albus Dumbledore, Hero. He got on with them well, of course, because he was Albus, but they didn't quite treat him as real.
Minerva thought they were crazy. Albus was the most vibrant, alive, human person she had ever met.
"I believe the purpose of a ball is for you to dance," an amused voice interrupted her musings. "Not hide in the shrubbery and hope no one can see you."
She smiled at Albus. "You certainly didn't come dressed to be unnoticed." He was the only male she'd seen who wasn't wearing black, the latest fashion trend. Instead he had donned electric blue dress robes, embroidered with geometric symbols that were picked out in a red very nearly the colour of his hair; anyone but Albus would have looked an absolute fool in them.
"If one is to be noticed anyway, why not be noticed in the most outrageous fashion possible?" he asked, a definite twinkle in his eye.
"I have never doubted you were outrageous," she said primly, making him laugh. "Have you had enough exercise yet? You must have danced a dozen dances already."
His smile turned rueful. "One must be in excellent physical condition to survive these events. I don't think auror training could be much more severe."
"Albus!" The insistent voice made them both jump as a lovely woman about Minerva's age strode up to them. Strode was, in fact, completely the wrong word to apply to such an elegant walk and nothing could ever make this woman look hurried, but it was the closest Minerva could describe her purposeful step. This was a woman who fitted into her surroundings like a gem sitting in its carefully crafted setting. Minerva had never had much vanity, but beside this woman she felt her shortcomings keenly. There was nothing artificial about her – the flash in her eyes was real, her auburn hair fell gently about her shoulders, and if she wore makeup it was applied so lightly and skilfully Minerva couldn't detect it.
She came to a halt at Albus's side, her skirts swishing elegantly about her ankles, and gave Minerva a quick look over. Minerva flushed at the scrutiny and felt ready to wilt when the woman gave a satisfied nod as if to say 'Well, you won't be any competition'. "Albus, we need to talk."
"Candida," he said gently, "I am in the middle of a conversation."
"You always are." She flashed a smile at Minerva that was all the more shaming for being completely genuine. "I just need to borrow him for one minute." She hooked a proprietary hand into Albus's arm and dragged him away.
Minerva watched them have a whispered but intense conversation, Albus giving off subtle signs of agitation and defensiveness. They paused, both sides refusing to surrender, then the woman glanced at Minerva (who flushed again at being caught) and dragged him out of sight. Albus didn't even look back at her and Minerva's shoulders sagged. She turned away and spotted a side door. Sick of the noise and the heat she headed for the door, brushing off an offer to dance and a drunk's attempt to gift her with his wand.
Peace fell over her like a wave as she shut the door behind her to find herself alone in the dark garden. The heat and chatter of several hundred people dropped away and she closed her eyes, lifting her face to the breeze as she heaved a sigh of contented relief. She should have come out here much sooner – except that she had been looking for Albus, of course. Which thought reminded her of why she had come out here.
It wasn't that she minded him going off with someone else, at least not much. She was unselfish enough to be happy if he was happy. It was just that she was used to having Albus to herself, being the only real friend he had, and she had suddenly realised that it couldn't stay that way forever, that things were going to change sooner or later. He would find other friends and have less time to spend with her, and the insight made her feel low spirited.
She leant on the railing, looking down into the black water where lazy fish swam gently, their scales shining silver in the moonlight. The music was actually clearer from out here than it had been inside and she smiled to herself, shaking off her melancholy and happy to be where she was. After all, Albus was still her friend and always would be. There was no reason to fall into a fit of the dismals just because she didn't like balls.
The door opened and she tensed, only to relax and not bother turning when she sensed the familiar buzz of Albus's magic.
"So this is where you have been hiding."
"'Hiding' implies that I didn't want to be found." She smiled at him as he came to stand beside her.
"Then I am not intruding?" His eyes searched her face, looking for confirmation.
"You never intrude, Albus." She frowned. "Except for when I need you to," she acknowledged.
He chuckled. "I'm sorry I was so long. Candida may be my youngest sister, but she is far more bossy than Bianca ever was."
His sister, then. Looking to prevent him from forming friendships with the wrong people, perhaps? "Is Aberforth—?"
"The only one not to be named 'white'? Yes. I've always envied him that Mother failed to find another name beginning with A. But he didn't escape the alphabetical naming."
"What would she have named a fifth child?" Minerva enquired curiously. "Are there any words for white that begin with a D?"
"I shall have to think about it," he admitted. "And in answer to your unspoken thought, yes, she was a most strange woman." She gave him an amused look and he added, "She used to say that her children were called A, B, C, and Get-out-of-there!."
"Aberforth?" she guessed.
He smiled. "Aberforth. There never was such a child for getting into scrapes – and naturally dragging his twin brother, namely myself, along with him. He always had to know why things worked and what would happen if he did something. Brilliant, even as a child. Just absolutely no common sense."
"Probably because you took it all," she said sarcastically.
"I have common sense!" he protested.
"You have no sense at all," she retorted. "Or need I remind you of last year's Yule Ball surprise?"
He had the grace to look sheepish. "Perhaps not one of my finer moments," he admitted. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"I'm sure," she said dryly, making him laugh.
"I seem to remember Miss Sensible McGonagall appearing at Hogwarts covered in mud."
"I was perfectly clean when I arrived, thank you. Just not for long afterwards."
"And then, of course, there was her first class when—"
"If we're going to start listing each other's moments of stupidity," she warned, "I can assure you that I will certainly win."
He hesitated, then ruefully agreed. "After all, I didn't come out here to discuss my shortcomings."
"Albus Dumbledore, shortcomings?" She raised an eyebrow at him. "Sacrilege!"
"One day," he said thoughtfully, apparently to the fishes, "someone is going to wring Minerva McGonagall's neck." He looked at her slyly. "I shall, of course, plead self-defence."
"They wouldn't convict you anyway," she pointed out reasonably. "Not the great Albus Dumbledore. You can do no wrong, remember? Obviously they haven't seen you tangled up in self-winding tinsel and unable to get yourself free."
He laughed. "I thought we weren't going to start listing moments of stupidity."
"We can if you wish, it's just that I shall win."
"Ah, yes. In that case," he said hastily, "let's not. Would you like to know what Candida had to say?"
No. "Shouldn't you be getting back inside? There must be an entire gaggle of women looking for you by now and hoping for a dance."
He smiled at her. "Yes, but the only woman I want to dance with is out here."
She blushed hotly and turned away.
"What my sister had to say was most enlightening," he continued as if he hadn't said anything unusual. "She was most abrupt, of course, but Candida often is. It's always refreshing to be called a coward." He paused, then when she didn't respond he said her name. She looked up at him and he said, "She told me that I should talk to you instead of just looking at you with my heart in my eyes."
Minerva trembled and clutched blindly at the railing because he was doing just that, staring at her with speaking eyes. "I feel dizzy," she said weakly, and his arm came up over her shoulders, pulling her to his side and preventing her from falling. She leant her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes, relaxing into the contact and trying to regain her equilibrium.
"I hope you're not going to faint every time I tell you I love you," he said with amusement.
"I have never fainted in my life," she said tartly.
"Good." He loosened his grip on her and turned her so that they were facing each other, leaving his hands warm and heavy on her shoulders. "Minerva, I'm in love with you. Sometimes I think I've loved you since the moment I first saw you, covered in mud and unembarrassed, and sometimes I feel as if I've just this moment fallen in love, but I never doubt it for a second. I love you." His eyes searched her face. "Do you think you could love me too?"
"I know I love you, you're my best friend, but…" She frowned, giving the matter serious thought. "How do I know if I'm in love? I've fancied myself in love before, but I never was." She gave a little chuckle, shamefaced. "I must seem terribly missish."
"Why, because you aren't grateful the great Albus Dumbledore has fallen in love with you?" He touched her nose with his finger. "I much prefer you as you are, Minerva."
"But how do I know?" she asked anxiously. She wanted to be able to answer him; she wanted to be able to give him the answer he wanted.
"If I might try a small experiment?"
She nodded trustingly, wondering what possible form an 'experiment' could take, then didn't have to wonder because he was bending his head down to hers. It was a chaste kiss, but when he pulled away from her her heart was fluttering and her eyes were closed. She managed to open them to see him smiling at her.
She cleared her throat. "I, uh, I think the experiment was a success."
His eyes lit up and her breath caught in her throat at the look of joy on his face. "You—"
Talking was highly overrated, she decided, and silenced him with a second kiss.
(Yeah, I'll just crawl back under my rock now...)