Author's Note: Deepest, sincere apologies for not only being out of season now but for the extremely long wait for the update. I have learnt from my mistakes, you'll be glad to hear. I was originally hoping to make this longer, but it seemed like an appropriate place to end a chapter, plus considering how long this one took … anyway, I hope it was worth the wait. I promise the next chapter will not take half as long!
Last chapter: "You need a potion and a good night's sleep and I'm sure by tomorrow you'll feel fine. And even if you don't, we'll make sure you have the best Christmas you've ever had. And," Lupin added in a sly voice that surprised the Trio, "I'm sure Albus will make sure you don't miss out on the mistletoe." Professor McGonagall hit him with the pillow. But it wasn't very hard.
Chapter Two: Unhappy Christmas
Christmas Day dawned bright and early. Hermione, thinking about "poor Professor McGonagall" all alone and miserable in the Hospital Wing, suggested the four of them spend the morning together, but they were in for a shock.
"Professor McGonagall was admitted to St Mungo's late last night," Madam Pomfrey wearily informed them. "Professor Dumbledore's with her now."
"Can't we visit?" Ron asked hopefully. Madam Pomfrey shook her head.
"Sorry, they won't let anyone else in."
It was a miserable Christmas morning. The Trio, not feeling much like present-opening, spent it chasing Crookshanks away from Scabbers and wondering when they would get news.
Minerva groaned. She felt like her head was splitting open. Squinting, she could just make out a figure sitting by her. Where was she?
"Minerva?" Slowly, the face came into focus. "How are you feeling?"
"Albus?" she croaked. "Where am I?"
He sighed. "You're in St Mungo's."
"What?" Minerva sat bolt upright, jolting her sore head. "Why? I'm not thatill, am I?"
Albus looked down at his hands. "The Healers aren't sure," he said quietly. "They're still running tests."
"Tests?" Minerva repeated faintly. Slowly she sank back into her pillows.
"How are you feeling?" Albus asked.
"Bit tired … bit dizzy," she answered.
"Minerva, you're lying down."
A silence stretched. Finally she said hoarsely, "Is it Christmas Day?"
Albus nodded. Minerva could tell from the expectant look on his face he knew perfectly well what was coming.
"Then what are you doing here?"
"I'm staying with you," he replied calmly.
"Albus, Christmas is a time for family."
"I know, and I personally would rather spend it in a hospital with you than trying to explain for the thousandth time the rules of Charades to Aberforth while Poppy burns the turkey to a crisp."
"That's not very fair."
"All right; I know – I should have just said it's not Christmas without you. We always spend Christmas together."
That was true. Ever since Aberforth Dumbledore had married Poppy Pomfrey – Minerva's best friend – the four of them had spent every Christmas together, whether at Hogwarts or elsewhere. It was coming close to forty years' worth of celebrations, and the small family had adopted quite a few traditions. Traditions Minerva loved to be part of. Including the one where Albus kissed her under the mistletoe.
The fact that this particular tradition was her favourite was something she was not willing to share with anyone, and especially not Albus.
"I'm touched," she said softly, "but I don't want your Christmas ruined as well as mine."
"Mina, Christmas is your favourite time of year, and I'm going to make sure you remember this one as fondly as all of the others." Albus leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. Minerva smiled to herself.
"You forgot the mistletoe, Albus."
He raised his eyes upwards, and Minerva followed his gaze to see a sprig of mistletoe attached to her headboard.
"Aberforth and Poppy will be here soon. We can open the presents and spend time together as always; and whenever you need to rest we'll wait." Albus squeezed her hand gently. Minerva's eyes darted around the ward, taking in the Christmas decorations. On her bedside table was a small Christmas tree, with shrunk presents clustered underneath. Her eyes began to water and she blinked fiercely.
"Albus …" she began, not really knowing what she was going to say. He smiled at her.
"Just take it easy, Mina. Why don't you go back to sleep, and I'll wake you when the lovebirds arrive."
"All right," she said faintly.
Albus remained by her side as she drifted back to sleep, to a state where her head no longer ached and her heart no longer jumped about at the memory of the kiss.
Christmas Day dragged by. The Trio ventured into the Great Hall at dinnertime, but with Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and Professor Lupin all missing, it was not the most cheerful atmosphere. Flitwick and Professor Sprout tried their best to keep everyone's spirits up, but it was a rather fruitless attempt.
In the evening, Madam Pomfrey paid Gryffindor Tower a surprise visit.
"Ah, there you three are," she said, and they all looked at each other, half-nervous.
"Madam Pomfrey, what news is there of Professor McGonagall?" Hermione asked.
"Well, firstly she wanted you three to know that she's touched you're so worried," Madam Pomfrey said with a ghost of a smile. "As for how she is, well, she's been sleeping most of the day and is rather weak when she is awake. The Healers are still working out what's wrong."
Three heads nodded, lumps in the throat.
Boxing Day came and went, and Minerva felt no better. The holidays were slipping by, while Healers dosed her with different potions that had no effect.
Her three favourite pupils were allowed in once to visit, but she was so tired it only lasted a couple of minutes. Harry, Ron and Hermione had come armed with enough flowers to keep even Pomona happy, and a stuffed tabby cat which made her smile. Once, she had opened her eyes to find Albus scratching it behind the ears as if it were real, and wished she had had a camera.
Eventually, having completely lost track of what day it was, she asked Albus.
"Ten days," he replied.
"Ten days?" Minerva wracked her exhausted brain, trying to work it out. "So, term's starting …"
"Will you teach my class, please Albus?"
"Of course, I always do," Albus said, his eyes twinkling.
"My notes, they're, you'll find them in my desk -"
"Minerva, my dear, I think as you no doubt recall, I canteach Transfiguration."
Minerva smiled drowsily. "You know you're always my favourite teacher." She closed her eyes and turned over, and her hand found Albus'. "You still are. Well, you're not a teacher, well you are a teacher but you're not my teacher, but you're my favourite person."
Albus smiled and kissed her head gently. "And you're my favourite person as well. Sleep well, Minerva."