A pair of woollen socks – Challenge #83

A/N.: This is a response to OSUSspings's challenge in which Albus had to tell Minerva about hi sister Ariana. But this turned out to be a bit more than that.

Thanks to Herzele for beta-ing.

A pair of woollen socks – Challenge #83

There he was again, the Boy Who Lived, gazing in the mirror. He knew that the eleven-year-old came here, night after night. And he also knew why. The young boy saw his family in the Mirror of Erised.

No surprise that he was here every night. Albus Dumbledore understood. The young boy's heart's desire was not so far away from his own. Nevertheless, he had to do something about it. The boy could not spend night after night gazing into the depths of a dream impossible to come true. He needed to show himself. He had to explain how this mirror worked and tell him that it was no good spending one's nights in front of it.

"Here again, Harry?" he asked and saw the boy stiffen.

"I – I didn't see you, sir" the boy said.

"Strange how nearsighted being invisible can make you" he said.

He slid off the desk, sat next to the boy and started to explain. While telling Harry about the secrets of the Mirror of Erised his gaze fell on the glass itself.

There she was again; thirteen, maybe fourteen years old, blond hair reaching her waist, blue eyes gazing into nowhere. He continued talking to the boy but he hardly noticed what he was saying. He went on telling Harry about the nature and the dangers of the mirror. In his thoughts, however, he was far away, at his parents' house with Ariana…

"What do you see when you look in the mirror?" the boy asked, forcing Albus Dumbledore to come back to reality.

What should he tell the boy? He could not say he saw his sisters for who's death he was responsible, could he? Of course not. So what could he wish for, Albus Dumbledore wondered. People often wondered about that. And then gave him books for Christmas. Everyone did. Except Minerva.

He thought back to her first year as a teacher at Hogwarts. When Christmas had approached she had stopped by at his office asking him what he wanted.

Caught in huge piles of Ministry papers he did not answer her.

"Heribert Hugfrid wrote a new book on -" she started suggesting.

"No" he interrupted her while trying to sort his papers, "Not another book."

Everyone gave him books. Probably the most unloving present one could think of.

"Well, then, suggest something you'd like", she retorted.

He felt her becoming angry but he had enough problems to deal with, already, without bothering about her well-being, too.

"Give me socks, then" he said not bothering being polite.

"Socks?" she repeated.

"One can never have enough socks" he said without looking up and dismissed her with a wave of his hand.

She had been so annoyed, back then, he remembered, she had not spoken to him until Christmas Eve. Dressed in a tight-fitting black travelling clock, she entered his office without closing the door.

"It's no need for me to come in" she said, remaining close to the door, "I will visit my family tonight and I won't be back before midnight." When he did not say anything she continued, "I just wanted you to know."

"Thank you, Minerva" he said quite distant.

He tried to fight the growing jealousy. This was just another Christmas without his family.

"Good evening, then, headmaster" she said and left without waiting for dismissal.

She had been away the whole evening as she had said. While Minerva had probably been at McGonagall Castle, the gigantic headquarter of Scotland's eldest pure-blood family, he sat in his rooms looking at his Christmas presents. Books, again. From everyone, except Minerva. She had not given him anything. No surprise considering his previous actions, he told himself.

A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts.

"Enter" he said, rather unnerved.

"Good evening" said Minerva McGonagall shaking off her travelling cloak.

"How was the evening with your family?" he asked trying hard to be more polite than he had been when they last talked.

"Fine" she said, fell into an armchair and placed the rectangular present she was holding on her knees, "I hardly see them, you know."

"You look rather stressed, though" he observed.

"Well, Charlie was jealous because Dylan got a broom and he did not" she explained, "It did not help that I told him six-year-olds are too young to fly on a broom. He started crying and said I favoured Dylan just because he's older. Derval did not want to let me go and Berenice stayed at Beauxbaton because she did not want to see me."

She placed her head in her hands and looked on the floor.

"I'm a horrible mother" she said all-of-a-sudden, "Leaving them with the nanny and only visiting them for half a Sunday every week. Derval is only three after all."

"Minerva, think about what you are saying" he said, "Berenice and Dylan are taken care off at Beauxbatons. Charlie and Derval are fine with their nanny and they see you every Sunday. Of course, you could stay at home. But you would not like it, would you, not to mention what a waste it would be."

"I know" she said, although she did not look like that.

"I know it's not easy for you" he said, "Teaching and raising four children on your own."

"Thank you" she said quietly, "And thank you for not telling the stuff about them."

"That goes without saying, Minerva."

Of course he could not tell the stuff about Minerva's children without the risk of losing the best Transfiguration teacher he could find. Her fellow teachers would soon make her an outcast if they knew about her four illegitimate children.

"What is this rectangular box supposed to be, anyway?" he asked trying to change subject.

"Your Christmas present", she said handing it over.

"Thank you" he said a bit indifferently opening the book-shaped thing.

Her face was unreadable while she watched him unwrapping her present. When he finally got through the red-golden wrappings he found what he dreaded so much: another book. Bound in black leather and maybe about a thousand pages long it looked like the dozen other books he had gotten this Christmas.

"Interesting", he said not bothering to look at the title.

"Open it", she said with what he thought was a suppressed grin.

As he did so his gaze fell on the dedication written in a familiar tidy handwriting.

If knowledge is not what you seek,

then keep in mind,

this present is not what it seems.

"What do you…?" he started to ask but stopped when he turned the first pages.

The there was a big hole inside the book. Only the edges of the pages where still there, the rest was cut out. Inside he found what he had asked for: a pair of red woollen socks.

"Thank you" he said not quite believing his eyes.

"I haven't knit since I was sixteen" she said, "But I hope…"

"You did them yourself?" he asked.

"Yes. I thought when I get you such a stupid present I could at least do it myself" she said wringing her hands in her lap, "I mean, you said you wanted socks. I know you were not being serious. But I was really pissed off and…"

She stopped when she apparently became aware that he did not listen but was still starring at the socks in amazement.

"So, you're not angry?" she asked.

"Angry?" he repeated, "No, of course not. I really like them."

"You like them?" she asked looking confused, "They aren't even beautiful."

"To me they are" he insisted, "You did not just go to the bookstore, Minerva; you really made an effort -"

"It was no trouble" she said got up from her armchair and walked to the window.

"Of course it was" he said also getting up, "I know how much you hate this sort of work. I still remember how you cut yourself with the needles."

"I washed the blood off, this time" she said looking out off the window.

"You – blood?" asked, dumbfounded, "Minerva, you…"

"You already said you know I'm no good at this" she said, "But I managed the third try to be alright, I think."

"Minerva" he said, not knowing what to say.

He stepped behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. He felt her stiffen but he did not let go.

"You cannot imagine what this means to me" he said and his hands started wandering over her body.

"I'm quite aware of the result, though" she said, her voice a bit husky.

"You don't seem to mind" he said before placing kisses on her neck.

She did not answer but turned around in his arms so unexpectedly that he nearly fell over. A few streaks of black hair fell into her face and she looked at him with a strange mixture of affection and desire. Or was it love?

This was not right, he thought, he was her boss. He could not allow her to act on the feelings she obviously had for him.

"Minerva –"he began but she silenced him with a feverish kiss on the mouth.

All these thoughts were forgotten when her tongue stroke his. He wrapped his arms around her more tightly.

"Stay here, tonight?" he asked, although he knew he would regret it tomorrow.

"Ay" she said pushed him on the sofa and fell on top of him.

"I? I see myself, holding a pair of thick woollen socks", he said forcing himself back to reality.

The boy starred at him.

"One can never have enough socks" he explained, "Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn't get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books."

He was still quite lost in thoughts on his way back to his office, so he did not notice at once that someone was already in there.

"Minerva" he said, trying hard not to stare at her.

"Where have you been?" she asked him over a huge pile of papers that she had apparently just put in order, "I've been waiting for hours."

He told her about Harry and the mirror and that the boy had asked him what he saw in the mirror.

"And what did you tell him?" she asked, now sorting the papers in different piles.

"I said I saw myself holding a pair of woollen socks"

He could see surprise in her eyes, then the ghost of this long suppressed memory. For a split second he thought, he saw hope flashing in her eyes. Then she put the glasses back on she had put down for writing.

"And what did you really see?" she asked her face emotionless.

"My sister, Ariana" he said, "She died when I was young. A friend and I had a fight. It was an accident."

He saw her face twitch. Then it was blank again. Had she guessed that he was referring to Grindelwald?

"I never found out whether it was my curse that killed her" he said, "I-"

"I understand" she said but he could feel that she struggled hard to pull herself together.

She got up from his chair, squeezed his shoulder lightly while she walked past him and headed for the door.

"I better leave you alone" she said and placed a hand on the doorknob.

"Minerva" he said, "The socks – that night – that is…"

"That's a lie, Albus" she said and shut the door behind herself.

END

Constructive criticism is always welcome.