Authors note: I personally disliked HBP and DH – I think she could have done so much better, but hey. I am trying to keep as close to cannon as possible despite this, which is why the last chapter was short. There will be some minor changes to DH but should be fairly true to the original.
When I write a story I usually have an image in my head – this chapter fulfils the one I had for Watching From Afar. This will be continued in an as yet untitled sequel, if you have a title suggestion please let me know.
Hermione lay huddled in her sleeping bag across the tent from Harry; they were both missing Ron – in terrible danger while everything was falling apart. Everything was a mess, they were searching for the means to defeating Voldemort and trying to evade his forces but she and Harry were barely talking. More than that she missed Minerva more than she had ever thought possible, every night she dreamed about her. Since they left Grimmauld Place the sweet dreams had turned into nightmares of Minerva being in danger.
Harry's voice broke into her thoughts.
"She'll be ok you know."
"Professor McGonagall! She's very capable you know, she will be fine."
"How did you know?"
"You cry her name at night you know. When this all started you were moaning it but now you are screaming."
Hermione sighed and turned away from him, she cried herself to sleep as was becoming a habit for her. She breathed a good night to Minerva, knowing that her sentiment would be 'read' if not heard.
The day after the final battle
Many of the Hogwarts students had returned home to their families for a few days, wanting to spend time with the people they loved and to celebrate their victory. Ron had gone home with his family to grieve for his brother. Harry and Hermione were helping to clean up and repair the school along with quite a number of willing volunteers.
It was late that night that Minerva gave up and returned to her chambers. It was only when she was alone that she could let her tears fall. So many friends and students lost, so much waste. Death and destruction had been brought to the only place she had felt safe. So much had happened in this last year and she was reaching breaking point.
Even her personal rooms were damaged. Smoke and flames from other parts of the building had damaged all of her property. Stuff was strewn around the rooms from the force of some of the explosions that had struck the building. Sighing she knelt down and began to sort through the charred remains of papers and books, noting almost instantly the total destruction of her copy of the book of erisead. After about an hour of this she found a sheaf of papers that had survived suspiciously unscathed, snatching them up she unfolded the first sheet. It was the first letter she had received from her secret admirer seven years earlier. They were all here, all in perfect condition; obviously having been charmed by someone very capable.
Magically Minerva remade her bed and went to sleep clutching the letters to her chest.
A few months later
Hogwarts was repaired and partially rebuilt. Outside was a monument to those who died during the conflict, the list of names was extensive – as were the flowers and gifts piled at the base of it. The building would always bear the marks of the battle, they could have been erased but Professor McGonagall thought that there should be reminders.
Muggle born students and those that had missed school were offered the chance to take their NEWTS that year and could graduate if they passed or repeat the following year. The exams were marked before the end of term, unsurprisingly Hermione received the top grades in the school and in recent memory. Harry did rather well and Ron scraped through – none of them had made finite plans for the following year past having a much needed holiday.
Today was the day Hermione would leave Hogwarts, she was taking a tour around the familiar corridors and stairwells. Her nostalgia was mixed with pain, the last seven years had taken a toll on her and her friends. She had reached the astronomy tower and was looking out over the grounds.
"Trying to remember or trying to forget Miss Granger?"
Hermione turned around, smiling up at Minerva she sighed and leant on the balustrade. "How did you know?"
Minerva moved round to her side and took up an identical posture but she was obviously tense, her hands gripping the rails tightly.
"I saw the look on your face. So?"
"Bit of both really. Most of my time here has been wonderful. I look at those places and see the fun I had or the good things that happened. But I also spent a great deal of time terrified beyond belief; I've been chased by trolls, giants, werewolves, death eaters. I've seen Harry risk his life more times than I care to count, seen Ron dragged off and hurt. People have died, I saw you get hurt from up on this tower… And that's without the Quidditch!"
"Now now, you surely can't lump Quidditch in with your adventures."
The two women smiled at each other, "Ok perhaps not. At least I got to punch Malfoy."
"You did what?!"
"I punched Malfoy in the face."
Minerva laughed, "I'm sure you had a good reason. I suppose I should punish you for that?"
Hermione stood up and faced her professor. "I guess you should but I have to get ready."
"Yes of course. As highest scoring student you have a speech to make."
"No problem." Hermione smiled confidently, "I've been planning it for some time."
"Then I won't keep you, see you later Miss Granger."
It was just before the ceremony that Minerva found the note in her robe pocket, just like old times. Secreting herself in a window box she hastened to open the note.
Against that time, if ever that time come,
When I shall see thee frown on my defects,
When as thy love hath cast his utmost sum,
Called to that audit by advis'd respects;
Against that time when thou shalt strangely pass,
And scarcely greet me with that sun, thine eye,
When love, converted from the thing it was,
Shall reasons find of settled gravity;
Against that time do I ensconce me here,
Within the knowledge of mine own desert,
And this my hand, against my self uprear,
To guard the lawful reasons on thy part:
To leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws,
Since why to love I can allege no cause
Minerva began to tremble, her hands shaking the parchment in her hand. She wanted to flee to her office away from the crowds of students and parents. Was she shaking in excitement or fear, she didn't even know anymore. The moment she had been waiting for was going to happen soon, she was going to learn the identity of her secret admirer. She started looking around, assessing the people passing. Would she be given another letter or would her admirer came and talk to her directly? Lowering her eyes back to the parchment Minerva read deeper the emotions of the writer, her admirer was intending to reveal herself but was convinced that she would be rejected.
A subtle bell rang signalling the start of the graduation ceremony; hastily Minerva stuffed the note back into her pocket and rushed to take her place on the stage.
Speeches were given and students were presented with certificates, for the first time this ceremony was held during term so the hall was packed with students, staff and guests. The teachers gave the stage to the students, some of whom like Hermione had speeches to make. Minerva was sat facing the stage, barely listening as Harry made a speech and several others made theirs – she was thinking about her letter.
Poppy nudged her, "Hermione will be next."
Straightening up Minerva gave her full attention to her protégé. Wearing her red and gold graduation gown Hermione looked stunning.
"I always knew that I would be here giving this speech on graduation. Though it's not exactly the way I planned, I am still here – we are all here, we prevailed over evil. My years at Hogwarts have meant a great deal to me, I met some great friends especially Harry and Ron you both know what you mean to me. Being here has changed the person that I am and everything that I will become.
Traditionally I should give a reading about moving on and the infinite chances now available to us. However I feel that there is only one topic to logically base it on. Our world has now changed forever and it is only right to reflect upon what has happened.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
Recognising the prose Minerva sat up straighter staring at Hermione who was keeping her gaze focussed on the parchment she held in shaking hands.
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste.
Then can I drown an eye, unus'd to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,
And moan th' expense of many a vanish'd sight.
Then can I greive at grievances forgone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
Finally she raised her head, locking her gaze with Minerva's.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor'd, and sorrows end.
There were claps and tears from the audience and her classmates but Hermione kept her eyes on one face. A face that displayed shock more readily than any other emotion. Harry and Ron picked up Hermione and carried her off of the podium in a hug and that was the last time Minerva saw Hermione at Hogwarts.
"Thanks guys." That was something she had planned in advance, finally revealing herself to Minerva – seeing the shock in her eyes, Hermione knew that she would have just stood on the stage staring at the woman she loved like an idiot. She also made sure that she left the castle before Minerva could come looking for her; she KNEW that her mentors' initial reaction would be that of rejection. Better she had time to think about it and really consider what her reaction would be.
Later that day
Minerva walked into her study, a room that had housed all of her predecessors. Almost immediately she spotted the envelope on her desk.
"Albus!" She practically screamed.
"Yes m'dear." Replied the portrait of her late great friend.
"How did Miss Granger get in here?"
"Aaah she finally revealed herself?"
"She stood up in front of everyone and declared herself!"
"I very much doubt that Minerva. What actually happened?"
Minerva told him what had transpired in the great hall.
"So it wasn't a love poem per se?"
"Not as such."
"Did she declare that it was for you?"
"So in fact she was being as discrete as she has been for the last seven years?"
There was a pause from the Scottish Headmistress, "She has been rather, hasn't she?"
"She's conducted this with a great deal of thought and care. Not merely for her own sake but for yours."
"When did you find out?"
"I suspected from the start, I saw how she looked at you when no one else was there. Also, do you remember when we went to her home?" When she nodded he told her what had transpired in her kitchen all those years ago.
"How did she get in today?"
"I gave her the password some months ago."
"Albus…" She sighed, "What am I supposed to do now?"
"That's quite simple."
"Is it really?"
"I assume Miss Granger made herself scarce."
"She didn't even wait for the train, she walked outside and apparated."
"Our Hermione is a very smart young woman, she knows you very well."
"I don't like people knowing me." Knowing she looked childish pouting, Minerva poured herself a firewhisky.
"That's a downside to loving and being loved my dear."
"So why do you think that she left?"
Dumbledore smiled, "She knows that your knee jerk reaction would be rejection – plain and simple."
"But, I believe that she left to make sure you had time to think."
"What can I say to her Albus?"
"What do you want to say?"
"Well I can't possibly…"
He cut her off, "She is no longer your student – very astute of her. Minerva take a few days, read the letter on your desk, read the old letters. Truly think about what you feel."
"Then I suggest you drop by her house and pay her a visit."
Minerva said nothing in response to this latest tit-bit of advice. Instead she finished her glass, staked over to the desk and tore open the envelope to reveal a very familiar piece of prose – it was the sonnet that Hermione had read aloud a few hours previously. She murmured "Hermione."
At the sound of her voice the letter lit up for a moment as part of a further sonnet appeared.
Say thou didst forsake me for some fault,
And I will comment upon that offence;
Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt;
Against thy reasons making no defence.
Thou canst not, love, disgrace me half so ill.
To set a form upon desired change,
As I'll myself disgrace, knowing thy will.
It was a few days later that there was a knock at Hermione's door.
She sat up straight on the sofa, putting her book down. It was after ten at night and with a storm raging outside the windows she knew that this was no ordinary visit from a concerned neighbour or similar.
She walked to the door. Standing by it for a moment she took a deep breath and opened it. Standing under the porch was the woman she loved.
"Good evening Miss Granger."
They looked at each other for a moment, Minerva was wearing muggle clothing which was a bit of a surprise – she looked good in it too, far more natural than most pure-blood wizards.
"Aren't you going to invite me in?" Hermione smirked at the sarcastic tone of her former professor.
"I'm sorry, where are my manners? Please come in."
She allowed Minerva to precede her into the hallway and closed the door behind her, "The first door on your left is the living room." Following instructions the older woman stepped into what looked more like a library than a living room – there were books practically everywhere. The coffee table and couch were bare though, there was an open book on the cushion and a half empty wine glass next to a bottle on the coffee table, an open fire burned in the grate.
Hermione leaned against the doorframe, allowing her former professor time to look around. "Can I get you a cup of tea or something?"
Minerva half-smiled at her, "Another glass perhaps?"
"Of course." She left and went into the kitchen.
Shrugging off her jacket Minerva hung it up on a peg behind the door. Crossing the room swiftly she picked up the bottle weighing it in her hand, trying to judge how much was missing, trying to judge the sobriety of her former pupil.
"I'm on my second glass."
Minerva closed her eyes for a moment before putting the bottle down and straightening up.
"Am I that transparent Miss Granger?"
"Not really." She sat down on one end of the sofa and gestured to the other. "Tell me, was that just habit or something else?"
Minerva sat down where the cushions were still warm from Hermiones body heat from earlier.
"Habit." Her voice was dry.
"Really?" Hermione could do a dry, sarcastic tone too.
"You really shouldn't try and read something into everything that I say…Hermione."
The younger woman reached forward and picked up her wineglass, she took a sip and said, "That wasn't so hard was it?"
Minerva copied her motion and leaned back into the sofa cushions, again closing her eyes for a moment trying to collect her thoughts.
"What do you want me to say?" There was a strange note in her voice.
Hermione reached out and for the briefest moment she clasped her loves hand before pulling it back, "I just want you to be yourself. You know how I feel Minerva."
"There's no rush. I've waited seven years."
"Why didn't you tell me before?"
"Oh come on! You know full well why not!"
"You think I would have rejected you?"
"Yes. Besides even if hypothetically you did take me up on an offer like that, I wouldn't have respected you afterwards."
Minerva raised an eyebrow inviting her to continue. "You are a woman of integrity and morals – if you'd have done anything other reject me – you wouldn't have been the woman I fell in love with."
The older witch shook her head slightly, slowly, "You really are incredible."
"I'm not sure, is that a good or bad thing?"
"It's an observation." Her sarcastic tone returned.
"This is going nothing like I expected."
"And what did you expect?"
Hermione blushed and looked away.
Strong, nimble fingers touched her chin, lifting her head up forcing eye-contact. "And what did you expect Hermione?"
She raised her own hand taking hold of Minervas wrist gently but firmly.
"I'm not sure. Silly I know given that I have had so many years to think about it… part of me wanted you to walk through the door, throw yourself into my arms and say that you loved me too." The last part came out in a forced rush, she took a breath and continued, "Mostly I expected you to walk in and say that this wouldn't work, that you didn't feel the same."
Minerva removed her hand, placed the glass on the table and turned back to her former student hesitating for a moment before taking both hands in her own. "I'm not going to reject you out of hand Hermione but I won't lie to you either, I don't know how I feel, I don't know if this is right or wrong or if what I am feeling is real."
"What do you feel?"
There was a moment of silence before Minerva sighed, "Hermione."
"I'm not trying to push you, I just want to understand."
"I have had a five or six year infatuation with a person I didn't know. That person turned out to be you and I don't know how to feel about that."
Hermione finished her glass of wine and looked at Minerva, waiting patiently for her to continue. "Hermione… I'm not good at this."
"You're doing fine."
"I figured out a few years ago that 'my admirer' was a female student. I couldn't figure out who it was. Then you were standing there…"
Minerva shook her head obviously confused.
"Is there someone else you'd rather it was?"
There was a brief pause, "No."
Hermione smiled, "That's good to know."
"How can you be so calm?"
"Believe me I'm nervous too Minerva. I've done what I set out to do, I don't know where we will go from here – there's no plan anymore."
Dropping Hermiones hand Minerva poured them another glass of wine.
"Did you have a future plan?"
"No, not as such, I always assumed that we would figure it out together."
A slight frown creased Minerva's brow, "That's a strange attitude."
Hermione reached out and ran a finger down the side of Minerva's face, inwardly smiling madly as the older woman closed her eyes. "I tried very hard not to think about that. I didn't want to plan for a future that probably wouldn't happen."
There was a great deal of tenderness in the look that Minerva turned on the younger woman.
"What on Earth do you see in me? I'm so much older than you, I have crows feet and wrinkles."
"There's no easy answer to that. Loving you is as natural as breathing, I can't imagine not loving you or even remember a time when I didn't."
There were tears in Minervas eyes, "Hermione…"
"You have the most beautiful eyes, even when you have your guard up – they are still expressive as hell. I love your dry sense of humour, I love the way your lips twitch when you are being sarcastic. The way that you always think of others and your courage. Your sheer intelligence and the joy you take in your work. The excitement and exhilaration that makes your eyes sparkle when we argue about research…" Her voice trailed off.
Minerva just stared at her, more than a little shocked by the younger womans candour. A very scary thought occurred to her for the first time, I could love this woman. She leaned over and gently brushed her lips over Hermione's, the younger woman was shocked into immobility and Minerva pulled back.
Her answer was a smile as the older woman leant back in for another kiss, this time Hermione kissed her back. The kiss was short but sweet; they were both accustoming themselves to this new sensation and aspect of their relationship. When they broke the kiss Hermione rested her forehead against Minerva's, looking deeply into pools of vivid green. This lasted for a timeless moment until almost imperceptibly Minerva stiffened. Hermione pulled away and shared the remainder of the wine between the two glasses and handed one to Minerva with a smile.
"How do you do that?"
"Do what?" Hermione raised an eyebrow, being deliberately obtuse.
Minerva gave a slight nervous chuckle in response. She wasn't about to talk about her insecurities at this stage, having spent most of her life hiding them.
The phone rang interrupting them, "That'll be Harry, excuse me."
Minerva finished the wine placing the glass back on the table and leant back into the cushions looking up at the ceiling. She heard some of Hermione's conversation, as she comforted her best friend but was thinking about her own situation and Hermione. About ten minutes later she opened her eyes as the younger girl sat back down.
"How is he doing?"
"He's struggling and has been for a while now."
"You all went through a lot last year."
"Everyone did, I think he will be fine given time."
Minerva smiled, the teacher in her wanting more information but she knew Hermione was not going to break that confidence. Knowing that her immense compassion was surpassed by her loyalty and her courage.
Looking deeply into those expressive brown eyes she took a breath, "Yes."
"Yes… I want to try this…us."
Hermione practically threw herself into her mentors arms, feeling them wrap around her without reservation. Knowing that Minerva felt the same as she did – otherwise she would have never said anything; knowing that she had achieved her dream, after seven long years she would no longer be watching from afar.