Letting Love In

Summary: Set during OotP, after Albus was forced to leave the school.

A/N: I intended to write this for the Greatest Love of All challenge, but it didn't turn out quite right and I couldn't get the story to fit the lyrics.

Disclaimer: I think we've all heard of Jo.

Rating: T

Minerva McGonagall sat in her office, surrounded by piles of marked and unmarked essays. Thankfully, the latter pile was now considerably smaller than the former pile and Minerva hoped she would be able to finish them before she retired for the night. Either way, the next essay looked promising. She could tell just by the name scribbled on quickly at the top, 'Hermione Granger.' Ever since the girl had arrived at Hogwarts she had amazed her teachers with her attitude towards her work and her ability to grasp everything presented to her.

As Minerva read through the essay, a frown started to form, first crinkling her forehead slightly and becoming more pronounced as she read through more and more of the essay. The essay was long, longer than what had been asked for, but the points were underdeveloped and often contradicted each other. If it had been submitted by anyone else, Minerva would have been mildly annoyed that they hadn't taken more care with their homework, but as it was from Hermione she knew it represented a much larger problem. It wasn't surprising that the girl was having trouble concentrating, she had lost her parents just over a month ago, but at the time she had seemed to be coping. Now, Minerva wasn't so sure. Perhaps she had just bottled up her grief and now it was all coming out, or perhaps she had been struggling all along. Either way, Minerva wanted to talk to her, see if she could alleviate her suffering in any small way.

Glancing at the clock, Minerva debated whether she should go to the Gryffindor common room now. It was getting on for 10 and with the new curfew and decrees imposed by the new Headmistress there was little the students could do inside their common rooms or out, so Hermione could have already gone to bed. Deciding it was worth a quick look into the common room, even if it was just to make sure that everyone else was ok, Minerva left her office and set off down the corridor, hoping not to bump into Umbridge on one of her nightly patrols.

Arriving safely outside the common room with no sign of the foul toad, McGonagall muttered the password 'sherbet lemon,' a quiet protest against the change of authority, and the portrait of the Fat Lady swung aside to reveal her room of cubs.

Stepping inside she was greeted with smiles and nods from the older students and looks of absolute terror from the younger ones, which she chose to ignore, she scanned the room quickly for Hermione. Seeing no sign of her, but spotting her friend Ronald in the corner, Minerva assumed that she had already gone to bed.

"Professor McGonagall," greeted Eliza Muffledew, the raven-haired Head Girl.

"Eliza, I trust all is in order?" McGonagall asked, not unkindly.

"Yes Professor, all students have been accounted for." Eliza said in her business-like tone.

"Excellent," Minerva said, smiling at the girl. Minerva saw herself in her, so much so it was almost frightening. Her hair was almost the same colour that Minerva's had once been, and she seemed to be fond of the same severe styles Minerva had always favoured. Her face was round, pretty, where Minerva's had never been but she had the same look in her eyes that could leave a first year shaking at the knees. She even had a relationship with an older Slytherin prefect, scandalous to the younger Gryffindors, but when Minerva had first heard those rumours they had fiercely reminded her of her own shocking and short-lived affair with the Slytherin head-boy, Tom Riddle.

"Well, goodnight." Minerva said excusing herself and making her way back down quickly to her own rooms.

Later, she lay in bed, tossing and turning. After thirty years spent teaching, she had quite some knowledge of dealing with troubled teenagers and she shared the experience of losing her parents at a young age. But still, she didn't know what to do. She wanted to help Hermione come to terms with her loss, and make sure that she did not jeopardize her chances of passing her OWLs. She just had no idea how to approach the young girl. Normally, she supposed, she wouldn't have any trouble with it, but ever since Albus had left she had felt out of sorts and rather uncertain of herself, as if the mere suggestion of Albus' presence had been enough to validate whatever she did. And she hated that, hated that she looked to someone else for the answers, for validation. Even when she had been very young she had always been very independent, it hadn't gained her any friends but she had never cared much, she'd never needed anyone else. But now she needed Albus. It could be worse, of course, most people needed Albus sometimes, and he was the closest friend she'd ever had, but she still preferred to keep some distance, had never liked putting her heart on the line too much. She supposed that was a side-affect of losing her family so young.

The morning sun woke her ten minutes before her alarm, but Minerva woke slowly. She didn't remember falling asleep, and she still felt tired. Stretching out her limbs she realised that was wrong - she wasn't tired; she was weary. Emotionally tired, she guessed from worrying about Albus, about where he was and when he was coming back, and of course about Hermione. As she stood and looked out her window, she realised it was Friday. Normally, she couldn't care less what day it was, but today she knew that tomorrow she could perhaps afford a slight lie in. A slightly longer break from reality. But today she was determined to talk to Hermione and see if she couldn't help her student, which meant first she had to get dressed - seeing her in any state of undress wasn't going to help any body.

Twenty minutes later she was dressed in her usual teaching robes and had worked her hair into a severe bun. She had decided that since Hermione was in her last class of the day she would attend her classes as usual and ask Hermione to stay behind at the end. That way, if Hermione became very upset she wouldn't have to go to anymore classes and could spend the evening and weekend relaxing a bit.

The day went passed very slowly, the only incident that got her attention at all was when one of her second years managed to Transfigure her pin cushion into a large spider which, even though it was certainly a most impressive demonstration of magic for a twelve year old, was not helpful in her classroom and it took Minerva several minutes to get some distressed girls down off their desks and it was even longer before they stopped sobbing hysterically.

In her lesson with Hermione she was somewhat distracted, just as the girl herself seemed to be. Normally, Hermione was the first one to manage to master anything Minerva presented the class with but today Harry beat her, something Minerva found rather disturbing.

At the end of the lesson as the rest of the students filed out, Minerva called out for Hermione to wait behind. She waited patiently while Hermione convinced her friends she would meet them at dinner and moved to the front of the room to stand in front of Minerva.

"Miss Granger…." Minerva frowned, if she wanted to get the girl to open up to her, she was not going to get it in a classroom where Minerva undoubtedly had all the control. She wanted Hermione to feel comfortable, and that was not about to happen here.

"Hermione," Minerva said, the name feeling strange on her tongue. "Perhaps you would like to take a walk?"

"Umm, yes Professor." Hermione said, clearly confused.

"Excellent, shall we go for a stroll around the lake?" Minerva asked, standing up and falling into step with the girl as she headed outside.

They walked in silence for a few minutes until they could see the lake and were well out of earshot of the castle.

"Hermione, I'm worried about you," Minerva said, uncertain whether she should be so forward with the student.

"I'm fine," Hermione replied, a little too quickly without looking Minerva in the eye.

They were walking past a bench hidden in a small seclusion of trees so Minerva suggested they should sit, she thought that perhaps it would be easier if she had the girl's complete attention.

Once they were sitting down, Minerva decided to try a different approach. "I know it's very difficult to lose someone you care about so much, especially when you're under so much pressure anyway. I know you can feel like…."

"Don't," Hermione said suddenly, angrily. "Don't presume you know how I feel. You don't know. No one does."

"Of course, I'm sorry," Minerva said gently. "I don't want you to think I think this is easy for you, that your feelings are simple, and I don't want to belittle your pain. But you're not the only one's who has ever lost their family. I mean one of your closest friends has no family to speak of and…"

"I know," Hermione said, her voice sounded rather choked. "I thought he would understand, but he won't talk about it, he will hardly talk to me at all. And if I'm on my own with him he makes an excuse and leaves. I thought he would understand." Hermione said, her shoulders shaking gently.

Minerva was reluctant to touch a student, she didn't want Hermione or anybody else to get the wrong impression, but there was no one else around and the look on the young girl's face was heartbreaking. "Sssh," Minerva said consolingly as she wrapped her arms around the still shaking girl. "I know it doesn't seem like it, but everything will be alright." Rubbing a hand up and down the Hermione's back, Minerva held her until her shoulders stilled and her sobs quietened. "When I was a little bit younger than you, I was in my third year, I lost my parents too."

"Really?" Hermione asked, she almost sounded hopeful. Minerva knew the girl was desperate for someone to talk to, desperate for someone else to understand, so she spoke of her parents and how she lost them for the first time in her adult life.

"Yes," Minerva said, slightly unsure of how to continue. "It was the beginning of the war with Grindelwald, my parents were good friends with the Flamels, and they joined them against Grindelwald. Unfortunately, they weren't as strong as the Flamels though, and he killed them." Minerva said, her voice shaking slightly but she did not cry, it was a long time ago and all of her tears had run dry.

"I've been thinking about it, and I'm so scared Professor! I'm scared because everyone dies, and I know it sounds stupid but I'm scared that everyone I get close to will die. I'm scared for Harry." She admitted, and Minerva knew she had never told the boy himself this.

"I know. I know it's hard, and it can seem very…lonely," Minerva paused, she was afraid she might cry. She did not cry in front of students. Taking a deep breath she continued, "but you have to carry on, you have to let people in. Because if you don't, you might as well have died yourself."

Hermione was quiet for several moments, she seemed lost in thought, and Minerva was quiet too to give the girl time to absorb what she had just said. To Minerva's surprise Hermione stood up sharply, and when she turned back to look at Minerva, she seemed to have changed. She seemed a little brighter, and much more focussed.

"Thank you Professor, you've given me a lot to think about, and I think I should be with Ron and Harry." Hermione said, smiling at the older woman.

"Good," said Minerva, pleased she was going to seek out her friends. "And if you ever need to talk…"

"I'll know where to come," Hermione said, giving Minerva one last, grateful smile before she walked off back towards the castle.

Minerva sighed, it seemed like she had helped the girl more than she could have imagined. It would take time, a great deal of time, but as long a Hermione was with her friends Minerva thought it should eventually get better. Minerva just wished it was as easy to take her own advice.

She walked back slowly to the castle, her thoughts still on Hermione, but even if she had been looking she wouldn't have noticed someone watching her. After all, he did not need a cloak to become invisible. But what he was seeing now troubled him greatly, and the twinkle in his eyes seemed to diminish as he watched his beautiful deputy walk back into the castle. She looked defeated, and he had never seen her look defeated, even in some of her worst moments she had always shown a quiet strength that he admired so much. He had to get back into the castle.

Later that night, Minerva lay in bed. She had still not completely finished her essays. She had intended to finish them tonight but she had been unable to get her thoughts off of Hermione, and how different her own life could be if she was able to let someone in. She had been alone for so long, and even if she hated to depend on anyone, she thought it might be quite nice if someone else could take some of the weight of her shoulders, even if it was just for a little while. Despite being so wrapped up in her thoughts, the slight noise coming from her sitting room had her sitting up immediately and reaching for her wand. She knew all of the sounds the castle made at night, and that was not one of them.

Stepping gently out of bed she moved quietly to the door, her years as an auror allowing to move around easily without drawing attention to herself. From where she crouched, she could see all around her sitting room, and what she saw caused her to lower her wand and stand up straight.

"Albus," she greeted, surprised. "What are you doing here? Are you coming…?"

"Back? I'm afraid not, not yet. I wanted to see you, Minerva. I was in the grounds today and I saw you. My dear you looked terribly upset." Albus said, concerned.

"I'm fine now, Albus, I was just a bit distracted. You were in the grounds?" She said quickly, trying desperately to brush the subject off.

Albus raised an eyebrow. He was not fooled by her lie, nor by her attempt to change the subject.

As Albus did not say anything, merely stood there waiting for her to correct herself, waiting for her to tell him she was not alright. Minerva began to weaken; she had the insane urge to ask him to hold her, to lose herself in his arms, even if it was just for a moment.

Albus watched Minerva carefully. She did not say anything and he was far too polite to use Legilimency on her, but he did not have to. He knew how to make her feel better, it was instinct, and it was something he had always wanted to do. Moving closer to her, he waited for her to move away but she did not, so he raised his arms slowly and gently pulled her towards him.

"What are you doing?" Minerva asked, struggling gently, but seconds later she fell against him, weeping like a child. Placing a kiss in her hair, Albus comforted her much as she had comforted Hermione earlier.

She felt very foolish, but she knew that Albus would forgive her for being weak, would forgive her anything. "Please don't leave me," she whispered, wrapping her arms tighter around him.

"Never," he replied, and led her back to her bedroom. Lying down on the bed beside her, he shifted around until they were both comfortable, and then placed a tender kiss on her lips.

Minerva knew it would be difficult, but it felt so good to be held, to be comforted for once. She knew that she never wanted him to leave, even if that meant letting her guard down a little bit, she would do it. For him.