Disclaimer – I sometimes close my eyes and wish with all my wishingness and yet, yet…
Summary – Traumatic experiences come in many forms. MM/AD.
"Dammit Albus! – I do not now, nor have a ever in the past for that matter, need you to tell me what it is I'm supposed to do!" Minerva said through gritted teeth. Rarely had the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry ever seen his deputy this angry, with him in any case, and she was nothing if she was not fuming now.
"Minerva, you misunderstand me…" he began in an attempt to placate her.
"There is nothing to misunderstand Albus!" came the clipped response. "I know what my duties are and you aren't about to convince me not to fulfil them on a whim."
"My dear, I'm only suggesting that you do not bother yourself by coming to a Ministry Garden party I know you shall detest."
"Whether or not I particularly enjoy events like this is beside the point. It's part of my job description to be by your side and to represent the school at such functions and I certainly don't need to be wrapped in swaddling, despite what you seem to think!"
Though he really had no intention treating her like a child – she had captured in essence what it was he wanted to do with all his heart and soul. He wanted to protect her, to keep her safe and away from harm, not because he didn't think she was capable of looking after herself, but as he knew he could never cope if she was hurt, whether physically or emotionally. After what had happened with Umbridge he had been so scared that he was going to loose her. She was much better now, recovered she would claim but he saw how much more quickly she tired and the way she would wince if she moved too quickly.
The Minister's Garden Party, which they were supposed to be attending that evening, would undoubtedly afford the Minister and his Under Secretary yet another attempt to try and make Minerva's life a misery and as this would he her first public outing following the farcical events of a few months previously, he just could not bare the thought of her having to deal with their incompetent insults. He was more than aware that it would take more than four stunners to put her down for long though and that her tongue could be as sharp as Severus Snape's if she so desired it, but even still he could not overcome his urge to protect her from this trial.
His frustration at his own inexplicable feelings as well as his general irritation at her stubbornness resulted in him snapping back at her when she finished her rhetoric.
"Confound it all woman! Why do you always have to make my life so damned complicated?!" his anger was uncharacteristic but there was no one who could rile him the way she could though.
"What is making it complicated Headmaster, is your insistence on treating me like a child, incapable of taking their own decisions."
"Well maybe if you would stop acting like one and taking everything so personally!"
"Now that's hypocrisy in its highest form – Albus Dumbledore calling someone else infantile. Well maybe if you don't want my company tonight you should do the adult thing and just come out and say so!"
"That is not what I meant at all Minerva." He said with a sigh, his anger fading as quickly as it had peaked.
"In that case I shall see you at the Ministry this evening then." She said, steely determination written on her patrician features. And with that she turned on her heel and left him alone to sink once more back into the well-worn seat behind his desk.
Well, he had probably addressed that in the most unproductive manner as he could have thought up if he had tried or at least with as little success that was imaginable. Not only would Minerva be attending tonight, he had worked her up into quite a state and she would undoubtedly refuse to acknowledge him all night. Knowing her the way he did though, he had an inkling that she would manage to do just that, and let him know that she was doing it, without making it obvious to the casual observer – it was a talent he had long admired, in an odd kind of a way. Knowing that he'd only make the situation worse by trying to get her t o change her mind, again, Albus settled down to do a little more work before getting himself ready for the outing to come.
As was usually the case at these events, the enchanting gardens at the rear of the Ministry and the glass conservatory that ran the length of the building backing on to it were already filled with various bureaucrats by the time the Headmaster arrived. Albus checked his cloak with the attractive young witch at the door, having already had his wand registered at the welcome desk before making his way towards the bar. It was only twenty minutes or so after his own arrival that his Deputy made her way down the ornate stone steps.
He couldn't help but wonder if there would be discussion about the fact that they had arrived separately, but was certain there might be more about the cut of the dress she had chosen to wear. Though the deep burgundy fabric, covered more than enough to be considered decent, it clung to curves that he suspected few knew she possessed and dropped so low at the back that well, there wasn't really any back to speak of at all. Albus had never seen the scars that the High Inquisitor and her cronieshad inflicted on Minerva's chest and abdomen, but he knew that it wasn't unusual in severe cases for there to be an echo of the damage done on one side of the body to be visible on the other. He also wouldn't have put it past Minerva to have chosen her dress to show these echoes off if it would make things more awkward for the already disgraced Umbridge.
Arthur, whom he had been talking to when she had arrived, certainly seemed to notice the difference that the loss of heavy robes and the exchange of a soft French roll for her usual harsh bun, made in her appearance. Albus had had to smile as the other man turned a shade of pink that clashed spectacularly with his hair and seemed to loose the ability to swallow. Eventually he took pity on him and clapped him hard on the back to help him.
The Headmaster continued to watch her progress around the room, watched as she made conversation with various Heads of Department and several Foreign Dignitaries working her subtle charms with each and every one.
It wasn't until Percy Weasley caught him in conversation about some inane topic or other that he even managed to pull his gaze away from her at all. The discussion though theoretically holding the possibility of interest did little to catch his imagination this evening and as soon as he was politely able, he extricated himself and moved on. He was subconsciously scanning the room for Minerva, an automated reaction at these events, and only just spotted her talking with a young gentleman he was fairly certain had graduated from Ravenclaw a few years previously, when he was introduced to someone whom he had actually been keen to talk with.
A gentle drizzle, which Albus noted with slight amusement, the garden could have been shielded from with a simple charm, led to the guests making their way indoors to the conservatory, where a string quartet had struck up. After the Transylvanian Ambassador he had been left with Fudge, not something he had been aiming for, but years of practice meant that he hid it well. By the time he was done though, he was tired, fed-up and more than ready for a breath of fresh air. Once again he began to search for his closest friend but caught himself before he had any success and headed out to clear his head.
He didn't bother to cast a shielding charm but was quite appreciative of the damp air that surrounded him as he stepped out into the night. He stood and watched the sky, taking the time he so rarely had these days, to marvel at the celestial show above him as he made his way slowly down the steps and onto the paved pathway that wound it's way through the gardens.
Albus walked and contemplated, revelling in the solitude if only for a few minutes. That said he was not overtly surprised when he saw the shadowy figures of two individuals some way off the garden thoroughfare, or by the sound of a male voice murmuring quietly into the ear of who-ever it was that he was whose company he enjoyed. He was however more surprised by what he saw when a wispy cloud was blown away from across the moon, allowing it's silvery light to break through.
It wasn't that he had assumed Minerva had been celibate in all the long years he had known her, but he certainly hadn't thought differently, but the sight of her wrapped in the arms of another stung in a way he could never have predicted. He stepped back behind an overly tall conifer so that he was out of sight without loosing his own view while he decided the best way to proceed. The male was still talking, his words interspersed with the sound of his lips making contact with soft flesh, as he seemed to press Minerva up against the wall behind him.
Albus only noticed after she had broken her silence how unnatural it had seemed and the moan that uttered from her lips didn't equate with the pleasure he would have been expecting. If anything it sounded as if she were in discomfort. Shifting himself to improve his line of sight, he began to see the whole affair in an entirely different light.
The gentleman, if he could be called that, seemed to have her pinned her against the harsh stone, what at first glance he had assumed were gentle caresses came into a whole new light as she seemed to try and bat him away. He wrestled with himself, surely if Minerva didn't want to be in that position she would have done something to get out, she was after all a woman who could look after herself. The way the young man's voice changed though as he could see her seem to loose more and more of her coordination and strength, was enough to ensure he acted though.
Creeping forward as silently as he could, he wrapped his right hand firmly around his wand. He looped to the right, away from the Ministry hoping to be able to sneak up on them from the side. As he neared he saw that Minerva's own legs were not holding her up, but a knee braced between them was all that was stopping her from falling. He might have thought, if this had been anyone else, that they were simply a little the worse for wear – but he knew for a fact that Minerva hadn't touched alcohol in nigh on forty years.
"There's a good girl." Hissed the voice he could not place. "Don't go too far under just yet – I want to take you at least once before you're totally lifeless…"
That was all Albus heard as as soon as that monster let go of her chin and her head rolled to the side, he could see that his gut feeling that something was definitely not right had been more than true. Her half-lidded eyes were open enough to let him see the pupils dilated to an unnatural extent, and he was unable to hide the panic he felt wash over him.
Albus had his wand out and was casting, before he had even processed the thought. The simple stunning spell hit its target and the other man flew through the air, through the smaller branches of several conifers and in the direction of the Ministry conservatory. He dashed forward and caught Minerva's head before it hit the ground but she was already out cold by the time he settled her on the grass.
A few hours later and Albus Dumbledore could barely recall all that had happened in the manic chaos that had seemed to break out as soon as he had sprung into action. One minute he had been alone with Minerva, scared beyond his wits end with thoughts chasing each other, one after another through his head as he tried futilely to make up his mind as to what he should do next and then there had been people all around them.
Witches and wizards from the Magical Law Enforcement Agency swooped down on them, quickly followed by many of the guests present at the Minister's invitation. Now, he was pacing up and down the corridors of St Mungo's trying to think clearly enough to formulate some kind of plan of action. He had been assured by the medi-witch who had insisted that he put Minerva in their hands and allow them to take her to the hospital, that she was in no immediate danger. But whatever it was that had happened, it had left her completely unresponsive to his urgings, both vocal and physical and to the medical staff's initial attempts to rouse her with magic.
At Arthur Weasley's rather sensible suggestion he had contacted the school letting them know what had occurred, hoping to prevent them any undue panic when the nights events hit the news, which undoubtedly they would considering how many society reporters had been at the gathering. He would have liked to ask Poppy to come but knew that she already had a few patients of her own to look after, and he did realise that the professionals here were just that, and more than capable of doing anything that was needed.
He looked up from the floor to see Molly Weasley bustling down the corridor towards him. She was still dressed in her formal wear from earlier in the evening but now she carried two cups.
"Tea?" She said with a gentle smile proffering one of them to him and the other to her husband.
"Thank you." He said automatically taking the cup and saucer from her.
"I'm sure she'll be fine – but she has you to thank for that. We all do." She said quietly placing a comforting hand on his back. He struggled to repress a shudder at the thought of what could have happened if he hadn't happened to have found them when he did.
Though it felt an age, all the timepieces he could lay his eyes on showed that it was less than half an hour later when a familiar medi-witch came back out to see them.
"Just to let you know that the Professor's awake and doing just fine."
"What…" Albus began. "What was it that…"
"It seems that she was drugged, from our preliminary tests we can tell it's some kind of benzodiazepine, probably flunitrazepam."
"I'm not familiar with it." He said by way of asking for a little more information.
"Hardly surprising considering – it's a muggle compound usually referred to as rohypnol. Basically it's a sedative, about 10x the strength of the same dose of something more common, it also has the added bonus, if you like, that it's pretty much undetectable if ground up and put in someone's drink; colourless, odourless and tasteless. That's one of the main reasons that it's become known as the most common 'date-rape' substance.
In any case – it'll probably be another 12 hours before it's out of her system but we've given her something to counteract it, which will give her a little more control. The chances are she'll be pretty drowsy for a while though."
"Can I…" He gestured towards the door from where she had just appeared.
"Actually…" She began, more hesitantly. "She asked that you don't." She paused.
"Understandably she's a little… off-balance I guess." Obviously his confusion was visible to the woman. "She's shaken. She knows and remembers for the most part, what happened and taking that into account then she's incredibly well composed. But
I think the best idea is going to be just to give her a little space. She's asked to be discharged and medically there really isn't any reason why she shouldn't be allowed to go, what she needs now is somewhere where she feels safe and comfortable.
Where she can have a little breathing room to come to terms with things but that there's someone there who can keep an eye on her, even if she doesn't openly appreciate it." He automatically recoiled at the idea of her being released from medical care so soon but he could see the logic in what she said.
As the healer left, Arthur came back into the room.
"They've charged him." He said, not needing to go into any more depth. The young man who, after Albus had stunned him had apparently flown through the air and crashed the glass wall of the conservatory before landing amongst the dignitaries, had turned out to be the former Ravenclaw student that he had spotted her talking with earlier. He was drawn out of his self-critical reverie when the door opened once again. Arthur and Molly had left only moments before, and he stood feeling strangely alone within the busy hospital.
"Minerva." He said quietly, wanting desperately to wrap her up within his embrace but yet hesitating all the same. She looked, well she looked like she was trying her best to stay awake while being totally exhausted, but he supposed that that was the effects of the drug that was still coursing through her system. Her dress was ruffled and marked, and her hair had obviously fallen down only to be hastily repined but she seemed to be more or less in one piece.
"Albus." She proffered him a small, wavering smile but it was plain to see she had no intention of letting her barriers down just yet. "You… you didn't happen to pick up my cloak did you?" She asked quietly arms wrapped closely around herself.
"Ummm, no my dear – I'm sorry it never occurred to me." He said already pulling his own off his back and draping it around her shoulders.
"Lets get you home eh?" He said receiving only a nod in reply before beginning to usher her gently down the corridor.
Albus was comforted a little when instead of shying from his touch, she leaned into his side, but she was a little unsteady on her feet and seemed to require some support to save from weaving down the hall way. He was not prepared, however for the barrage that was awaiting them in the lobby.
Though he had cast his mind briefly to the media he certainly hadn't been expecting this. When they stepped out of the lift they were literally mobbed by journalists – for one reason or another it seemed that this story was going to be flavour of the month. There really wasn't much of a choice involved for Albus as he only had two options as far as he could tell; he could blast/barge or otherwise force their way through the mass of people standing between them and the designated apparition point or he could temporarily punch a hole in the hospital shielding charms.
He knew it wouldn't need to be large, or last for more than a few seconds, leaving no long-term damage and he was certain that Minerva was in no state to deal with the crowd. Within a few seconds they were both standing outside the gates to the school. Though it may have only been a work of moments to get them through the barriers at the hospital it would take far more time and effort to do the same with the school that they had both put so much effort into the protection of. His dilemma was solved though as one of the symbolic horseless carriages came over the horizon. When it came to a halt, Hagrid stepped out and held the door open.
"Thought yeh might be need'n a ride." He said uncharacteristically softly.
"Thank you Hagrid," He said quietly and entirely genuinely as he helped an unnaturally quiet Minerva up and out of the cool night air. The half-giant shut the door behind them and they set off up the road. He found a blanket sitting on the opposite seat and picked it up and draped it over his Deputies lap. The journey only lasted a few minutes but by the time that they were nearing the castle she was leaning into his shoulder, his arm wrapped securely around her shoulder. He wasn't certain whether this was in an attempt to make her feel more secure or whether he was simply trying to reassure himself that she wasn't going anywhere.
Before he could think to shift her and open the door it was opened for him to reveal the quietly concerned faces of Severus Snape and Poppy Pomfrey. Severus stood back, letting Poppy and Albus help her down the step, before climbing the stairs and opening the heavy oak doors for them. The Headmaster remained silent as he took the opposite arm to that of the school medi-witch, and listened as she talked to her friend.
"I'm so sorry honey, but don't worry. You're back home now and you're safe, it's going to be ok." She continued to talk quietly, reassuring tones either a talent she had learned through her vocation or perhaps was one of the things that made her so good at it in the first place. "Now Pomona's keeping an eye on the ward, so we're going to get you upstairs and into bed so that so you can sleep the worst of that off but I'll stay so there's nothing to worry about and you'll feel more like yourself in the morning."
The journey up to Minerva's own rooms took some time but on the way she seemed to wake up a little though and by the time they got there she was compos mentis enough to give the password. Before she went inside though she stopped and looked at him.
"Thank you Albus, for everything you've done tonight, but I think I'll be fine from here." The hard edge in her voice threw him a little and it took him a minute to take his cloak from her outstretched arm.
"Of course, if you… if you need anything be sure to let me know…" She smiled at him again gently but the dismissal was still heavy in the air. "Well, goodnight then."
He said and returned the apologetic smile he received from the healer as she followed the other inside.
He wondered in the general direction of his rooms, and tried to establish in his own mind whether her slightly stilted attitude was a hangover from their argument that felt like a lifetime ago? Or maybe it was hardly surprising considering what had gone on that evening and her heavily medicated state? His logical side argued that it didn't matter, for the moment all that mattered was that she was here and safe and had someone she trusted next to her.
He climbed the stairs up to his study with the weight of realisation heavy upon his stomach. It seemed only to have just donned on him what could actually of happened, what very nearly did – how very close she had come… The intense pain and anguish that filled him at this thought was soon transformed into a fiery anger that spread throughout him like flames through tinder. He through the door open and grabbed the first thing that came to hand and threw it across the room.
"Don't you think, that considering you spent a large period of time over the summer holidays repairing the damage our delightful Mr Potter did to your belongings that you should try and refrain from breaking them once more?" Severus' voice called from the shadows. Though he had noticed the man had not followed them after he closed the door, he had not been expecting to find the Slytherin waiting for him.
"Forgive me for raiding your drinks cabinet but I figured you could probably use a stiff one." For some reason he couldn't pinpoint why he found this statement incredibly funny to the point where he couldn't repress his laughter, no mater how inappropriate he felt it to be. His laughter soon tumbled into hysteria and before he knew what was going on he had all but fallen into his armchair by the fire and was sobbing his heart out.
Albus would never deny that he was an emotional man – he couldn't help but feel that anyone who cut themselves off from their feelings entirely was not a healthy and whole person, but he had learned to control them to a certain extend and certainly wasn't prone to episodes such as this.
"It could have been much worse Albus, and you're the reason that it wasn't." The other, generally uncouth man said as he put an arm around him.
"As one irritatingly wise man told me once – this is not the time for ifs and buts." Albus couldn't help but smile at this, and tried to banish his tears. "Here," Severus continued handing over a hefty brandy glass. "drink this, and then perhaps you too could do with getting to bed. After all, this has been a long night for you as well." Much as he might liked to have done otherwise, he had to admit that now the flow of adrenalin through his system was ebbing, he was hardly in any fit state to do anything but retire for the night.
Though he was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, his rest was not to last long. He woke only four hours later, drenched in cold sweat her name on his lips, images of her broken body echoing behind his eyelids. He knew there would be no point in trying to sleep again that night, so he rose with the first rays of the sun, glad beyond belief that it was a Sunday, allowing at least a little time for things to return to normal before they were thrown back into the school week.
The papers, which were already lying on his desk, evoked a series of reactions verging from anger to pity. The Prophet's headline spoke of the breach of security at the Ministry but the picture, had been taken at the hospital, and showed him in a light that was disturbing even to the headmaster himself. The look on his face suggested that he was ready to pounce, what he knew was protectiveness in his eyes seemed close to fury, the hand he had thrown out to deflect their questions in the few seconds that they had been in front of the assembled media agencies, in stark relief to the other arm draped around Minerva's shoulder.
The picture had obviously been treated in some way to prevent it's inhabitants from moving more than a little, for the only motions he made were to turn them both away from their uninvited audience. Minerva on the other hand seemed to have found the pose where she was least visible, as though she were trying to sink out of the picture, by burying her head in his robes. The others were much the same, all seeming to take great relish in painting him as the aggressive dominating figure, when that was genuinely the last thing he had tried to come across as.
Breakfast in the Great Hall was surreal in the quiet whispers that chased each other between the tables and even amongst the staff. Minerva did not appear but Poppy came and took the seat next to him when she did arrive.
"Good morning." She greeted quietly.
"Morning." He returned, pouring her a cup of tea.
"Pomona's up stairs and she's still sound asleep." She said as she helped herself to toast. Albus couldn't think what to say to this, so kept quiet. They sat in silence for a few moments before a thought struck him and he tried to phrase the question as gently as possible.
"Should I … that is… do you think it would be a good idea if… Well, do you think she'll be up to taking classes tomorrow?" He asked turning his face up to look at her from his own toast heavily laden with lemon curd. "I mean, it's not a problem if she isn't and I wouldn't want to push her but…"
"No, I know what you mean." The medi-witch said before taking another mouthful, obviously buying time to think. "From what I saw of her last night I think she's going to be typically Minerva about this. I suspect if anything she'd going to feel stupid for letting it happen…" Albus couldn't help but cut in.
"It wasn't her fault!"
"I know that and you know that, Dammit Albus she knows that she just might not be willing to accept it. In any case, I don't think she's going to let there be any major repercussions. If anything, I think she'll want to get everything back to normal as soon as possible. How successful she'll be I have no idea though."
As was usually the case – Poppy was right. The inimitable Minerva McGonagall appeared back in their midst at lunch that day and though she looked exhausted and was more withdrawn than usual, there were none of the horrific consequences he had foreseen. She didn't shy away from friendly touches, nor did she avoid looking any of them in the eye. His relief was palpable but despite this, the unsettled feeling that the unpleasant coverage, which the incident had received, left him with, continued as did the reviews. He was criticized for his 'over-done alpha male' portrayal, accused of being confrontational and irrational that night both after he had found her and later in the hospital, taking no care for the safety of the medical facility when he 'tore down the shielding charms so intrinsic to it's safety'.
In fact they seemed to be paying more attention to his role in proceedings than to the perpetrators or even the victims, not that he would wish anymore of the coverage deflected onto Minerva. But, holed up in Hogwarts it was relatively easy to ignore them and politely decline the papers requests for interviews, and though he had seen her perusing the papers more than once his Deputy made no mention of the coverage they were receiving. The further their routine returned back to normal though, the more he realised that just perhaps things weren't quite as 'all right' as they had at first seemed. It wasn't dramatic; she obviously wasn't sleeping incredibly well but that was hardly surprising, there was more to it than that though but he just couldn't quite put his finger on it, at least not until the following weekend.
Albus had decided at breakfast on Saturday that Minerva needed some time-out, or at least time away from her desk. That said he also knew that she was unlikely to want to cooperate with his plan so he had thought carefully about how he was going to approach the task. After all he could hardly forget what had happened the last time he had tried to convince her to do something. This thought sent a shudder down his spine, no one had said it but he didn't need anyone to write it in bold face newspaper print – he knew that had he approached the matter differently, or had not approached it at all then they would have spent a large proportion of the night in each other's company or at least close by, that he would likely have realised something was wrong rather than having to rely on chance that he had discovered them when he had.
He pushed these thoughts to the back of his mind, knowing that he could not change what had happened in the past only do everything he could now to make it up to her. But this did not help the almost suffocating weight of guilt that had settled upon his very soul. Predictably, he found her working away on a stack of essays when he reached her classroom at about 11 o'clock that morning.
"Good morning." He said knocking lightly on the doorframe.
"Good morning Albus – what can I do for you?" She asked without so much as glance upward.
"I was wondering if you would care to join me in a picnic down by the lake?"
"Of course." She replied, shocking him more than a little. "When and where would you like me to meet you?" He was so dumbfounded that he couldn't bring himself to speak for several moments.
"What happened?" He muttered softly when he eventually found his voice. "Why are you…?" He couldn't seem to find the words to express the monumental realisation he had just encountered. She hadn't countered anything he had said in the last week. She hadn't protested, contradicted or complained about anything he had said in last week. Not once. She seemed to have lost the spark that had made her so decisively… well, so decisively Her. He could see she had realised that she had been caught out as she shifted the papers on her desk before standing and moving over to the window standing with her back to him.
"Oh My Dear, what has he done to you?" He whispered tremulously.
"HE hasn't done anything! – Is it beyond belief that I could chose to change!" She fired back at him. "Is it beyond belief that maybe I realised that once again I had refused to follow your wishes, your instructions even and that this time it backfired on you rather than me?! That maybe I decided that you do know best after all! Dammit Albus – I know it took a while but…but…" She had become progressively more worked up as she talked, her passion and vehemence scaring him to a certain extent.
She had worked her way through the gambit of emotions in just a few sentences, through irritated, outraged and ending up virtually hysterical.
"I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I'm sorry that I've done this to you, that I didn't listen to what you were saying, and that I didn't manage to do as you asked last year and keep my head and I'm so eternally sorry that my mistakes have done this to you, that they lost us Sirius…" She was barely comprehensible now was she slid down to the floor sobbing as tears poured down her face. "I'm trying… trying to do as you ask…I just want to do better…"
Albus had never felt so responsible in his entire life; to see this woman he credited with the strength of a titan crashing quite so badly left him aghast. But what hurt more was the obvious emotional, psychological and to a certain extent the physical pain it was she was in and it pulled at his heart so much that he thought it would burst. All of a sudden it was as though someone had attached him to an electrical current though, as he was spurred into action.
He crossed the distance between them in a few strides and all but fell to his knees next to her, wrapping his arms around her despite her protests, trying to protect her from the world that had done this too her.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry." She repeated over and over, as if there was anything for which she needed to apologise.
"Shhh…" He said pulling her into his lap, cradling her head under his chin as he would a distraught child, rocking them both physically.
"I just… I'm trying to do as you say… Trying to do the right thing…" She murmured, almost in a plea.
"Oh Minerva, trying to be something you are not is never going to be the answer." He said into her hair.
"But you…" She sniffed most uncharacteristically. "But every time I do something you've suggested I don't, every time I don't take what you say seriously enough, it all goes wrong. You're right so much of the time that it… that it's stupid of me not to…"
"And where would we be Minerva," He said sitting back and tilting her face to look straight at him. "all those times when you did point out the flaws in my logic? Who was it that spent the last five years telling me that maybe I ought to tell Harry something about the prophecy? Or that having Severus try and teach the boy Occlumency was a recipe for disaster?"
"Or stopped you from buying those hideous lemon robes." She added herself before chortling softly a little.
"Precisely – whatever you may think my dear, it is you who keeps me on the straight and narrow more often than not. Whether you're chiding me gently or yelling at the top of your voice I have always and will always appreciate what it is you have to say to me. Even when you're not there, more often than not you are the voice of reason I hear inside my head – my check and balance.
"For every time you have been wrong there has been another when I have been just as much at fault. Where my own stubbornness or ill-formulated attempts at coercion have resulted in you or others being hurt.
"Nothing that the press can say will harm me. There is absolutely nothing for you to be sorry about and little I would ever change about you. I love you for who you are Minerva, opinionated, stubborn side and all." He talked trying to sound as reassuring as he possibly could and before he knew it he had uttered the statement that had become as much of what he was as where he lived and worked. He loved her, with all his heart and soul, and he couldn't help but relish that she didn't draw away from him but once more leaned into his chest, physical and emotional exhaustion leaving her on the brink of sleep.
He couldn't bring himself to move her, so he sat, cradling her to his chest and rocking her ever so gently until he was almost certain that she was fast asleep. Even then he held her gently and couldn't bring himself to shift her, even when he lost the feeling in his arm. He only thought to move when there was an abrupt nock at the classroom door.
Before he could think what it was he ought to do, after all he hardly thought that it was an appropriate position to invite one of Minerva's students into the room. Just when he had decided that the best idea was to make no noise and hope that they would go away, when the door opened.
"Minerva?" Came Severus' distinctive voice. "Are you in here?" As he stepped far enough into the room to be able to look around the door for her.
"If you wouldn't mind keeping your voice down…" Albus said lightly, turning to look over his shoulder at the younger man.
"Oh," he said taking another step into the room. "Are you… is she… would you like me to leave?"
"Well…" He wasn't quite sure how it was he wanted to put what had happened. "No, no you needn't go. I'm afraid that we had a little… umm well in any case Minerva was rather upset. She's rather worn herself out I think."
"Is there anything I can do?" He asked quietly and Albus was touched by the genuine concern written all over his face.
"Perhaps…" Albus thought out loud. "I would really rather like to get Minerva to her own rooms."
"Well lunch has just started, I was just going to make sure that she was coming to eat…" He trailed off for a moment here, obviously having not intended to share that piece of information. "In any case, everyone's in the Great Hall, you shouldn't be seen."
"Thank you." He replied gingerly. "Would you be kind enough to request Poppy pay a visit as soon as she's able?"
"Of course." Replied the other man.
As he turned to leave Albus carefully moved so that he was kneeling, shifting his deputy so that he could lift her in his arms when he stood. She was far from heavy, never really had been and he barely struggled to carry her at all, but he found the way she shifted in his embrace, leaning her face into the crook of his neck to be slightly distracting. That said she didn't wake as they made their way through the corridors nor when he had a pleasant discussion with the portrait of a Victorian lady, surrounded by piles and piles of books, which guarded the entrance to her rooms. She did however stir when he laid her on her bed, gently slipping off her sensible pumps, and undoing her bun.
"Shhhh." He said, perching on the edge of the mattress. "Sleep my dear." He sat, softly, stroking her hair until she had settled again. With her guard relaxed she looked so innocent and her complete exhaustion was more obvious than ever. However, she was asleep now and if he had anything to do with it, she would be for some time.
When he was certain that she was not going to wake again shortly, he stood carefully and retreated, leaving the door ajar. He paused in her study noting that the inbox standing on her desk had another stack of essays waiting to be marked. Sitting himself down he took it in mind to do what he could to ensure that she wouldn't be stressed by knowing that it still needed to be done. Though distracted, he found a strange sort of solace in the familiarity of the task.
It must have been perhaps only half an hour and three or four essays later when he first had a feeling that something was wrong. It wasn't so much that he heard her tossing or turning, or her distressed calls but that he suddenly had a feeling that something was amiss. He pushed back his chair and crossed the room quickly, entering the darkened bedroom to see, in the shaft of light coming from the room behind him; Minerva twisted in amongst the sheets. Her hair was spread across the pillows, surrounding her anguished face a little like a halo.
Albus paused in the doorway, not knowing entirely what he ought to do. Once again he wanted nothing more than to go to her, to hold her close and banish her nightmares but yet it did dawn on him that approaching her while she slept might not be the greatest way to reassure her.
"No… Please no…" Her pained cry made up his mind for him though, and he was at her side in an instant. Her distress was quite obvious, she whimpered, taking handfuls of the sheets beneath her and clasping them for dear life.
"Minerva," He urged, kneeling beside her. "Minerva – It's alright, you're perfectly safe." But his words were not being heard so hesitating only slightly; he reached out and touched her gently on the shoulder. She calmed a little at his touch and he too relaxed a little, continuing to talk he did his best to reassure her.
"Listen to my voice Minerva. You're at Hogwarts, you're safe I will not let anything to you. It's only a nightmare, he is NOT here and I am." The stream of words came to him naturally as he unfastened her hand from the covers and took it in his own. He began stroking her hair once more but still she fought the invisible demons that haunted her. After several minutes though he realised that this was simply not going to work, that if anything she was becoming more anguished again. She looked positively petrified as she began to lash out more violently.
"NO! Please… just… please stop." She almost yelled, her voice wavering and cracking. It became clear to him that he was going to have to wake her up by any means he could. The tears pouring down her face, already glistening from the sweat that left her hand clammy within his own testimony to her level of distress.
"Minerva! Wake up." He said forcefully taking her by her shoulders and shaking her almost violently. A second later her eyes snapped open and any doubt he had had at her level of apprehension would have vanished the instant that he looked into them. He almost fell backwards as she threw herself into his arms sobbing uncontrollably for the second time that day. It was only natural to wrap his arms around her, to try and make her feel secure and safe, although once again he felt the benefit of the embrace almost as much as he did.
"I'm sorry." She mumbled into his shoulder. "I… I know I'm being ridiculous… I mean he never… Nothing actually happened…" He pushed her back from himself at this, holding her at arms length so that he could look her directly in the eye.
"What do you mean 'nothing happened'? You had an incredibly close call Minerva, an experience that I can only imagine how horrible and frightening it could be. Now would you please stop apologising?" He asked her seriously. "You have done absolutely nothing wrong, and after what happened it should be expected that you might suffer from nightmares, as much as it hurts me to see it. Now, would you like to talk about it?" He said relaxing his hold and shifting to sit next to her, extending an arm so that she could slip beneath it and sit up against his side.
She shook her head vociferously, and he decided not to push her. Perhaps today was not the day for that discussion, and perhaps she would feel more comfortable telling someone else. In any case, he had a fair idea of who or what had frightened her so.
Leaning up against the headboard he made himself comfortable hoping once again that she would simply fall asleep against him. As time passed though, he felt her stiffen rather than relax further and after only a few minutes more she shifted and made to get up.
"Minerva?" He queried softly.
"I'm sorry – but I… I'm not going to sleep again now. Besides it's the middle of the day." She added with a soft smile. He wanted to protest heartily at this but realised that this would no doubt only make her feel worse. He smiled gently in reply.
"Once again, my dear, there is nothing for you to say sorry for." Standing next to her he leaned in on impulse and taking hold of her face in both of his hands placed a kiss on her forehead. He rested there for a moment before withdrawing. "How about you go have a nice bath and I'll arrange for some refreshments? We missed lunch after all." She looked as if she were about to protest but did look longingly towards the bathroom. "That's decided then." He stated categorically before beginning to shoo her in the direction of a long soak.
It was Dobby who responded to his request for an elf and was more than enthusiastic, promising to create a banquet. He had dampened his ambitions just a little, reminding the elf that there were only going to be two of them eating, suspecting full well that Minerva would, if anything be put off by excessive quantities of food. He had always found it slightly odd that his colleague's appetite was so small that it verged on unhealthy even when there was no reason that she might be off colour.
Minerva was ever practical though and always ate what she knew her body needed but for someone who had a mouthful of sweet teeth and a penchant for snacking at all hours of the night and day he found it hard to comprehend it when she had tentatively tried to point out that she had never really eaten all that much.
At the present though he was more concerned about the fact that she obviously wasn't sleeping well, if at all, most nights and the fact that he couldn't see this changing greatly in the near future. Or at least not ceasing to be a problem of it's own accord. Albus settled down behind her desk again but if anything he was more distracted than previously.
He was fairly sure that the odd take on the situation leading up to the ball last week and what had happened that she had proposed earlier as the logic to her actions, would not be an issue any more. He had the impression that the incident, which could hardly be described as anything other than traumatic, had resulted in her skewed logic and that now that things had been talked through she would no longer see fit to blame her own nature for what had happened then, or what had happened on previous occasions but none the less he would keep an eye on the situation.
He was drawn from his thoughts by a knock on the door. He went to answer it, half expecting to find who it was that was waiting there. Poppy was standing moving from foot to foot, looking slightly nervous and clutched her muggle style doctor's case in one hand.
"Come in." Albus said, stepping back out of the doorway to let her through. "Minerva's taking a bath at the moment." He informed her gesturing that she should take a seat.
"Severus told me what he gathered had happened." The healer said sitting in the corner of sofa. Taking a deep breath he explained to the medi-witch what it was that had started the whole affair, telling her most of what happened. She shook her head at various points of his tale and listened carefully when he confided his worries about the nightmares.
"First off I want you to know that I think you did the best job anyone could have given the circumstances. I think if she's comfortable with you close that's all the better, especially if she's developed this odd complex. Overall I think you're right about that though, I think it's likely to have been more of a by-product." It reassured him more than he could say to have his feelings re-affirmed.
The sound of the bedroom door opening shifted both their attention round to see the woman in question enter the room. She had dressed simply in a dark polo neck and slacks, and turning the corner Albus repressed a smile at her bare-feet, she had always hated wearing shoes.
"Hello." She said greeting Poppy with a nervous smile before sitting in the opposite corner of the couch. There was a moment's silence as the professional took the time to look over her patient carefully. "You might fare better if you were just to ask me how I feel." She suggested dryly and Albus felt a rush of warm affection at the so typically 'Minerva' comment.
Poppy chuckled softly and then did as she had been asked.
"So how are you feeling?"
"Exhausted." She replied. "Look – I'm as keen to get some sleep as I'm sure you are to make sure I do and quite honestly the last thing I want to have is someone spiking my tea to make sure it happens."
"We would never…!" Albus approached though the thought had crossed his mind fleetingly and in the past he had in fact resorted to similar methods.
"I know that." She said leaning forward and placing a hand on his knee. "It's just, as much as I dislike these things – I would rather take something and have some degree of control over the situation. I'm fed-up with not having a say in what's happening to me."
Poppy smiled softly at this statement and hoisted her bag up onto the seat.
"Well I'll tell you what, I'll leave you with a couple of doses of Dreamless Sleep that you can take, or not take, as you see fit. That said, I think it would help a lot if you talked to someone, about what happened that night, about your nightmares. I doesn't have to be one of us, it could be a professional but I really think it would help. Just think about it ok?" She added, the hesitance in the Gryffindor's face quite plain to see.
A few moments later Dobby appeared with two trays laden with food and Poppy took this as her cue to leave. Once they were on their own again Minerva leaned forward and began to pour tea. Everything about her was so different from the new side of her he had seen that morning, she seemed much more like her old self as she handed him his cup and saucer and an empty plate. They sat in companionable silence as they ate, interspersed with the odd remark or bought of amusement. Albus vanished their dishes down to the kitchen after they had both had what was more than an elegant sufficiency before suggesting a game of chess.
"I really ought to get on with that marking…" Minerva said.
"Nonsense – it'll wait." He said receiving a smile in return.
"Always willing to put the serious stuff to one side aren't you Albus?"
"Not always." He pointed out, pouting ever so slightly.
"No just most of the time." She said shaking her head in amusement. "Oh well, I suppose we might have a game." He was out of his seat and ferreting out the board and pieces before she had even finished her sentence.
They were usually fairly evenly matched, but this afternoon for obvious reason's Albus won but still they revelled in the familiarity of routine. That said, by half way through their second match, Albus could see that Minerva was struggling even more to concentrate, her head resting in her hand, propped up by the arm of the chair she had drawn up next to the table. Leaning forward at his next turn he knocked his own King face down on the board thereby forfeiting the game. She looked up at him, raising an eyebrow.
"Perhaps it's time I left you my dear?" He suggested. "After all you do have quite a bit sleep to be catching up on I believe."
"I suppose so." She countered, sounding far more hesitant than he had expected. He watched as she leaned forward picking up the small potion bottle and played with it listlessly.
"If you preferred," He began hoping that he wasn't taking the wrong track entirely. "I could stay…"
"Just till I'm asleep." She jumped in, an innocent hope bright in her eyes. "I mean… unless you have something you ought to be doing…" She started backtracking
"If it will make you more comfortable, of course I'll stay." He told her leaning across the table and cupping her face gently with his hand. They stayed like that, as though the moment were frozen until with a gentle shudder she withdrew, a gentle blush colouring her cheeks.
"I'll… I'll just go change." She said, standing and retreating back through to her bedroom.
A few minutes later she called to him that she was ready and, leaving his outer robe, that he had abandoned earlier lying, across the back of his seat, he entered the room.
The curtains were drawn once more so when he closed the door the only light came from the soft glow from a candelabra, over by the window. Minerva was already ensconced under the covers, her hair braided at the nape of her neck, loosely enough he figured that she could have it lying over her shoulder. Pulling a chair up, he sat down and smiled softly at her.
"Taken the potion?" He asked quietly. She nodded in response but as he took her hand in his own and once more placed a fatherly hand atop her head he could feel the tension radiating from her. He wasn't certain what was making her so uptight, whether it was his presence in her bedroom, again, the fact that she was once more under the control, to a certain extent, of a sedative or at the thought of the nightmares that had been plaguing her.
When her posture didn't relax any after another few minutes he realised that he would have to do something or otherwise she would never sleep – sedative or no. He was rather startled by her reaction though as he stood.
"Don't go!" Came her almost plaintive call. He turned to face her before sitting on the edge of the bed again.
"I'm not going anywhere, my dear, but we are going to have to do something to make you relax a little." He toed off his boots and removed his silver socks as he spoke. "Now how about you shift over and make room for an old man." She looked slightly perplexed but not overly anxious so when she moved over he laid on top of the covers. "Right, now, how about you make yourself comfortable?" He asked opening his arms.
This earned him another small smile and a little to his surprise she quite gladly rolled back towards him, pushing his beard to one side and laying her head on his chest. She took his right hand in her left and intertwined his fingers with him, as if trying to make she was firmly anchored to him before shifting slightly only once more. By the time that Albus had processed what had actually happened it seemed that the potion had at last kicked in if the steady rise and fall of her chest was any indication.
The emotional turmoil of the day so far and his own lack of sleep soon caught up with Albus and he too was drifting into sleep. He couldn't help but enjoy the feel of a warm body next to him for the first time in so long but was careful not to pen her in, in any way, the contact was solely up to her. She was in control. He only hoped, just as he slipped into sleep, that this helped her stave away the fear and that though undoubtedly they still had a way to go, Minerva would now know she was not alone.
A/N: well this is one that's been on the burner for a while. Thanks muchly to Selmak who, as ever, is amazing.
I would love to know what you think.
With a cherry on top?