A/N: This is a slightly abridged and expurgated version of A Holiday with the Headmaster, which can be found in its full, unexpurgated MA (NC-17) version elsewhere (see my profile for links). The story has been both slightly shortened as well as very extensively edited for content and language. The first few paragraphs are adapted from the "Circadian Rhythm" drabble, "Presence." Multiple chapters of the original version have been combined to create the five parts posted here.
As always, reviews are welcome! ;-)
Not DH-compliant! Completely disregards DH. This story is a part of the Resolving a Misunderstanding universe, but may be read without having read that story. It is set in the last week of August 1957. Resolving a Misunderstanding can also be found here on ffnet. See my author profile for further information about RaM and my other stories. Because it is RaM-compliant, the birth years of the characters are the same as in that story and based on earlier available information.
Please note that if you are reading or plan to read Resolving a Misunderstanding ("RaM"), this story takes place between the chapters "The Silent Knight's Tale" and "Back to Hogwarts" at the very end of Resolving a Misunderstanding. You may run into spoilers for earlier chapters of RaM if you read this! Just FYI!
A Little Holiday
Albus turned in the darkness, waking when he encountered an unexpected fragrance, like jasmine and rose with a hint of spice. Reaching out, he found another surprise. Soft hair, soft cheek, bare neck, bare shoulder. Slowly, memory seeped into his sleepy brain; he smiled. He touched Minerva's cheek again, reassuring himself of her reality, her continued presence. Rousing to his touch, she breathed deeply, letting it out with a content sigh, and moved closer to his warmth.
Her arm around him, Minerva whispered, "You're really here."
"For as long as you will have me, my dear."
"Forever," she replied. "Forever."
The next morning, Albus stretched and smiled. Minerva was already awake, watching him, and when he turned toward her, she kissed his cheek. What a wonderful way to wake up, although he wished he had been awake first and able to wake her with loving touches.
"One of your special good-morning kisses, Albus?" Minerva asked.
He raised a hand and drew her closer. As his lips touched hers, his minty-fresh charm passed from his mouth to hers and Minerva deepened the kiss.
"I love you, Albus." The words seemed inadequate as she whispered them, but there were none others that she could find, and she emphasised them with a squeeze of her arms around him.
Albus turned his head and kissed her lightly, then he whispered, "And you, my dear Minerva, you are my breath, my light, and my sweet, sweet delight." He kissed her once more, sighing with contentment. How in his life he had come to have Minerva's love was almost incomprehensible to him, and he would never take it for granted, not for one moment, not as long as she wished to be with him, and if she ever left him, he would remain grateful for every moment.
"I am so very lucky," Minerva said.
"I had wanted to awaken you with a kiss, my dear, but you woke first," Albus said, raising his head and looking down at her with a smile. "Not quite fair to my idea of a perfect first morning together, but I don't suppose I will complain."
Minerva slapped him playfully and grinned at him. "You definitely shouldn't complain!"
"It is a nice day to begin our holiday, isn't it?" Albus said, kissing her nose.
Minerva's stomach growled and Albus laughed. "Ready for breakfast already, my dear?"
"Well, I was also lying here awake, watching you sleep for an hour," Minerva said, wishing her stomach would stop gurgling. It wasn't particularly romantic or attractive.
"Why don't you use the bathroom first, if you like, and I could find my dressing gown and call your house-elf to bring us something to eat?" Albus suggested.
Minerva thought a moment, then nodded. "I won't take long, though. I want to leave as soon as possible."
It hadn't taken very much to convince Albus that it would be nice if they were to take a brief holiday before the school year began, although the suggestion had initially surprised him, but deciding on their destination had proven more difficult.
"Your cottage," Minerva had said, pleased with her sudden inspiration. To her mind, it would be perfect: quiet, isolated, remote. "Perhaps we might go to your cottage, Albus. We could be alone and undisturbed, and just be Albus and Minerva together."
Albus shook his head. "I don't know, Minerva . . . What about Brighton? A little sea air? Some sun? The Muggle arcades can be quite amusing. It would be warmer in Brighton, too," he said as a particularly sharp gust of wind rocked the glider they sat in.
"Brighton? There would be crowds of people there. And I have nothing against Muggles, but I would like us to be able to relax, be ourselves. I can't do that if I have to constantly remember not to do any magic and try to figure out Muggle gadgets," Minerva replied. "I think your cottage would be perfect."
"No . . . no, I don't think so. What about Paris, then? It's a beautiful, romantic city. I know a sweet little wizarding pension where we could stay. There are wonderful Muggle museums, and the museum of magical history there is quite fascinating. It has exhibits from around the world. And we could visit Perenelle and Nicolas. I don't believe you have met them."
Minerva sighed. "That would be nice, some other time. I would like that and it does sound lovely. Perhaps next summer. But for these few days . . . I just would like to be alone with you."
"It isn't suitable," he said.
Albus laughed. "No, it's not – my old cottage in the Dales is perfect for Aberforth and his sheep and goats. And the other cottage suits me. But it isn't suitable for our holiday."
"Why ever not?" Minerva asked, baffled.
"Oh, it simply isn't suitable, my dear," Albus replied.
Minerva's eyebrows raised in surprise. "Not suitable? Why?"
"You deserve a nice, romantic holiday. Something special and perfect. What about Greece?"
And so the conversations continued, on and off, over the next few days, Minerva suggesting Albus's cottage, which seemed more and more ideal to her, and Albus thinking up alternatives, many of which seemed romantic, indeed – including Nepal, Egypt, and the French Pyrenees – but none sounded right to Minerva. She almost was ready to give up on the idea of a holiday altogether; the more that Albus insisted that the cottage was unsuitable, the more she wanted to spend their holiday there. It was perverse, really, and Minerva recognised that she was being somewhat unreasonable, but she couldn't understand why Albus didn't want to go to his cottage. She even wondered at one point whether he just didn't want to have her in his home.
"I know it's silly of me, Albus, but . . . I just would love to be alone with you, no one else around, just the two of us, and other than your cottage, I can't think of anywhere else. We could stay at Melina's, as she and Brennan will still be on their honeymoon and she has a room fixed for me, but that doesn't seem right, to be in their home before they've even had a chance to live in it together as a couple. Not to mention that Edinburgh, as much as I like the city, is not precisely the sort of setting I had in mind. Although I suppose we could Apparate and spend our days elsewhere . . . but in that case, we might as well just stay here," she ended dispiritedly.
"No, my dear, we will find a suitable destination, I am sure," Albus replied, taking her hand.
A few days later, after Albus had once again suggested Andorra, Minerva didn't even mention the cottage, having almost given up on persuading him, and feeling slightly rude that she had continued to harp on it when he had offered so many romantic alternatives.
The next day, Albus was suggesting that they go to Heidelberg, where she had done her apprenticeship, and Minerva pushed out of his embrace. "No. Not Heidelberg. I loved Heidelberg. I still love Heidelberg. But we both know people there. And we'd still be surrounded by other people, even if they were all strangers. Let's just . . . let's just stay here. Or we could borrow Malcolm's flat, I suppose. If he stays here at the castle for those days with Gertrude, I think he wouldn't mind."
Minerva was disappointed, but she didn't want to make Albus miserable about it, too. Malcolm's little flat in a wizarding cul-de-sac in the heart of Aberdeen was not precisely the retreat Minerva had been looking forward to, but they wouldn't have to go out. Or they could Apparate from there, take walks and picnics by her beloved cliffs . . . .
Albus was quiet for a moment. "If I still had the other cottage, Minerva, I wouldn't have been so hesitant. I lived there for decades, made it a home. It was large and comfortable. And at the time that I gave it to Aberforth, I was happy I had – and I still am. He is able to keep his goats and sheep there much more easily than he had, since the grazing is much better, and I rarely used it any longer, not since coming to teach at Hogwarts. It was a waste, really, to keep it for the few weeks a year that I spent there. And I do like the little cottage that he gave me in exchange. It seems well-suited for the occasional use I make of it. But it is much more rustic, and far less spacious, than the other one, although I have made a few changes to it. Since I have never spent more than a few weeks at a time there, though, it isn't . . . it isn't what it would be if I had made it my home, you see. I am afraid you wouldn't be very comfortable there."
"Albus Dumbledore! Please don't tell me that you are worried what I will think of your cottage! I never thought it would be like the Gamp family mansion, or even like our place. You don't think the McGonagall home is . . . is unsuitable, do you, just because it's modest and a little run-down?"
"No, not at all! I find the McGonagall house most charming! But it is quite large and rambling, and it has many conveniences that my little cottage doesn't possess," Albus said.
"Well, other than the very obvious difference in their sizes . . . the McGonagalls have multiple bathrooms. The cottage has one small loo and one bath. And the plumbing is almost completely Charmed, and there's no shower – which I don't miss, since I rarely ever used a shower until a few years after I began teaching at Hogwarts, always preferring baths as that's what I was used to. So there's only a tub."
"Are these facilities indoors?" Minerva asked.
"Oh, of course they are!"
"Well, as long as they aren't outdoors like some primitive Muggle farms I've seen, I don't see what you are apologising for. There's only the two of us, after all. And even if they were outside, I am certain I could manage for a few days. And I suppose that next, you'll wish to apologise for the inadequate nature of the kitchen, but I will stop you before you get that far. My culinary skills are barely adequate, and I doubt I would notice any deficiencies in your cooking facilities, let alone notice that they weren't up to the most modern wizarding standards."
"Very well, then! We shall go to the cottage. I am glad I did some maintenance tasks on it earlier this summer. And you needn't worry about cooking. I cooked for myself for a long time and quite enjoyed it. I don't cook very often anymore, obviously, but it will be fun!" Albus smiled brightly, now looking forward to the holiday at the cottage and for a moment seeming to have forgotten any of his reservations. "But you will tell me, my dear, if you are at all uncomfortable? We can always go somewhere else if you don't like it once we are there."
"I doubt that will happen, but yes, I will tell you if I would rather be somewhere else," Minerva promised, being unable to imagine that herself.
So that morning they were to leave for his cottage. Minerva was still unclear exactly where it lay, knowing only that it was the sole habitation on a small island, and she was eager to see it.
Minerva emerged from the bathroom, dressed and ready to start the day, and joined Albus in the sitting room. He had not only put on a dressing gown, she noticed, but also his nightshirt and slippers.
"Planning on returning to bed?" she asked with a smile.
"No, no, my dear, I simply thought that Blampa might be more comfortable if I were in something more than just a dressing gown."
"Of course. Blampa would be more comfortable." Minerva couldn't hide her amusement.
"And so am I," Albus admitted with a self-deprecating shrug and a smile. "Breakfast will be here shortly. I just asked her to bring whatever you usually eat."
"I don't know as I have a usual breakfast," Minerva said. "I will be interested to see what she decides to bring."
A few minutes later, the two sat down to an enormous breakfast. Apparently, Blampa had interpreted the instructions to mean, "bring anything you've ever served her for breakfast." There was porridge, eggs, both boiled and fried, toast, scones, apricot preserves and lemon curd, fruit, haggis, potato cakes with butter, and grilled tomatoes and mushrooms – and, of course, a large pot of tea. Minerva chose fried eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, haggis, and toast. Albus muttered something about bacon, and Minerva called Blampa and asked that she bring bacon for the Headmaster.
"I should have asked for fried bread, too," Albus said after the cheerful house-elf delivered the bacon, taking a piece of toast, instead.
"Apparently, that's not considered part of a usual breakfast for me – though believe me, I don't normally ask for all of this at once!" Minerva said, thinking that Albus really didn't need the fried bread with his fried eggs and fried bacon, for all he seemed healthy enough. She was trying very hard not to fuss too much over him, as he seemed to appreciate a little fussing but a little went a very long way. Instead, she tried a more subtle approach. "Would you care for some fruit, Albus?"
He quirked a grin at her, seeing through her attempt at subtlety. "Yes, Mother McGonagall, though I thought I would finish this first."
As they ate, Minerva said, "So, you never said where this little island is, or what it's like, other than that it's rocky."
Albus shrugged. "It's to the west of Muck and north of Tiree and Coll. As I said, it's fairly small, rocky, mountainous. There is some wildlife, and you can see seals on one end of the island. It has been a wizarding island, I suppose you might say, since about the eleventh century, and is uncharted by Muggles. But it is a small bit of rock, anyway. It's also unplottable, and I added to the wards, so it would be very difficult, nigh on impossible, for anyone to gain entry but myself or Aberforth, unless we were to bring the person by Side-Along or Portkey."
"It sounds something like the island where Grandmother Siofre's family all comes from, Tiree Beag. That's just to the north of Muggle Tiree."
Albus nodded. "It isn't far from there, I suppose. But it has never had more than one family living on it at a time, not for several centuries, anyway, unlike Tiree Beag."
Minerva finished packing as Albus dressed in the bathroom. He had left the door slightly ajar, and she could hear him singing to himself. It sounded a bit like nonsense to her, but he had a nice voice, and she wished she could hear him better. She didn't want to make him self-conscious, though, so she didn't open the door further.
When Albus emerged from the bathroom, Minerva said, "I'm all packed, and if you're ready, we can leave now. Are we Apparating?"
"No, my dear. I thought I would make us a Portkey rather than have everyone in the castle know within five minutes of our departure that the Headmaster and his new Head of Gryffindor House were seen leaving the grounds together, complete with luggage," Albus explained. "I doubt anyone will notice our simultaneous absence, as there are others coming and going over the next few days, but I would just as soon not have people speculating about the fact that we both left at the same time. And someone with sharp eyes might notice if I give you a Side-Along, which would be necessary, as neither are you acquainted with the island nor are the wards set to recognise you. We can Apparate on our return, however, and I will set the wards for you so that you may come and go as you please."
Minerva nodded. They had already agreed that it would be wise to remain discreet about their relationship, something that had bothered Minerva initially, but now she actually could appreciate the value of discretion, especially as she was now the new Head of Gryffindor. Best not to have people speculating about the extent of their personal relationship and how it might have affected her selection as Gryffindor's Head of House – despite the fact that their relationship had little to do with it, and they had only been friends at the time she had agreed to serve as the next Head of House.
"That sounds fine. Have you made the Portkey already?" Minerva asked.
"No, and there's one last thing that I need to do before I leave," Albus replied. "If I might make use of your study? Or I could Floo to my office – "
"No, don't do that. Of course you may use my study!" Minerva was certain that if he went to his office, he would become distracted or someone would find him, and their departure could be delayed by hours.
"I just need to write Gertrude a little note and let her know that if there's an urgent message for either of us, she can send Wilspy with it, as Post Owls won't be able to reach us," Albus explained. "I also thought I could have her tell your brother that I will prepare his rooms as soon as I can after the staff meeting on Wednesday."
"Yes, well, I don't think he or Gertrude object to sharing," Minerva said with a smirk.
"We gave him a set of guest rooms yesterday afternoon, just for the sake of appearances with more of the staff present now, although I won't inquire as to whether he spends any time in them at all," Albus said with an answering grin.
Fifteen minutes later, Albus had written his note to Gertrude and called on Wilspy to see that it was delivered. When he finished, he took the quill he had been using and charmed it with the Portus spell, then he, Minerva, and their luggage Portkeyed away to spend a few days in peace before the beginning of the school year was upon them.
Minerva looked around her. "It's beautiful, Albus!" From what he had said about it being rocky, she had thought there would be no vegetation, but that was far from the case.
Albus smiled. "I am glad you liked it. I brought us to the highest point on the island so that you can get a sense of the place, and we can Apparate down to the cottage from here."
"It's quite a bit bigger than I'd anticipated, too," Minerva said.
"It's only about a mile or so wide at its widest point, but it's almost three miles long. In theory, it wouldn't take very long to walk around its perimeter, but because of these cliffs here on the west side of the northern-most point, I have never attempted it," Albus explained. He pointed to the south. "Along there is where the seals come up on the beach. There's a somewhat sheltered cove there, as you can see, but you can also see the seals and porpoises playing in the water from almost anywhere that you can see the sea."
Looking out to the west across the water, Minerva smiled to see sea eagles soar and dive, and she could just make out a pod of porpoises playing near the standing waves of a whirlpool. "And you said it was rocky, Albus, and I suppose it is, by some people's standards, but the way you talked, I had thought that it was some barren rock in the middle of the sea with nothing growing on it at all." She looked south down the length of the island. "It is hardly very different from the area around the McGonagall Cliffs, though there seem to be fewer trees."
"Oh, well, I suppose I was comparing it with the green, lush, rolling hills of the Dales, where my other cottage was," Albus said. "There's a lot of gorse – you can see there," he said pointing at a long patch of bright yellow flowers against the darker green foliage, "and there's heather, as you can see, and a large stand of yew on the slope behind us. There are small red deer that forage on the tender tips of the plants. Since Aberforth removed his goats from the island, the deer population has doubled." He frowned. "I am concerned about how the island will support so many deer, especially through the winter."
"Let's go for a walk first off. And before we leave, I want to circumambulate the entire island at once. Perhaps tomorrow?" She looked over at Albus eagerly.
He grinned at her. "Perhaps tomorrow. We do get rain here, though it tends to blow over very quickly, so you may find that we have to Apparate back to the cottage at intervals and do the walk in stages."
Minerva nodded. "I'd prefer not to, though, if we don't have to. I don't mind getting a little wet, or using an Impervius Charm."
Aberforth says that there is no place along the coast that is impassable, so in theory, we should be able to walk around it in just a few hours, but I think it will take longer than that," Albus replied.
"We can bring a picnic," Minerva suggested. "If we leave early, right after breakfast, we can stop and have our picnic whenever we choose."
"Very well, my dear! A picnic and a walk tomorrow, weather permitting," Albus said with a smile. "Now, you can see the cottage and you could Apparate there on your own, since the wards only prevent others from Apparating to the island, not from place to place on it nor off of it altogether, but this first time, I would prefer to bring you by Side-Along, since you are unfamiliar with the island. I will add you to the wards before we leave, as I promised, and you will be able to come here whenever you like."
"That's fine, Albus," Minerva replied. She enjoyed having him bring her by Side-Along Apparition, and she was more comfortable with that idea, anyway, even though she could see the cottage from where they stood.
"I'll bring the luggage, then return for you, if that is all right with you," Albus said.
"As long as you give me a kiss first!" Minerva said, pulling him around to face her.
"Ah, the burdens you place upon me!" he said with a dramatic sigh, his eyes twinkling.
Albus bent his head and his lips brushed hers for a moment, then he kissed her lower lip, drawing it between his own, before deepening the kiss as his arms tightened their embrace. A few minutes later, he looked down with a smile at Minerva as her eyes opened and she blinked at him.
"Is it safe to let you go now?" Albus whispered. "Or will you fall over?"
Minerva blinked again and stepped back, still holding on to him. "I, um, I'm fine." She swallowed. "That was quite adequate to sustain me, I believe."
"Adequate to – ! The cheek of this witch!" Albus said with a laugh. "You just wait – I will show you 'adequate'!"
Still laughing, he grabbed up all their luggage but the smallest carpet bag and Disapparated with a light pop. Less than a minute later, he was back.
"So . . . are you ready, Minerva?"
"Of course! I am eager to see it," she replied.
"Well, I hope you haven't very high expectations," he said. "It may be less adequate than my kiss was."
Minerva chuckled. "Well, considering the general quality of your kisses, it would be difficult for any abode to be quite that adequate."
Minerva closed her eyes as Albus put his arms around her, and she smiled to feel the humming vibration of his magic. With barely a whisper of a pop, Albus Apparated them several yards in front of the cottage. Minerva smiled happily when she opened her eyes and turned to see the little house.
"Oh, Albus! It is utterly charming! It's salt-and-pepper!"
Albus grinned at her appreciation of the little cottage and its walls of black and white stone blocks, which created a pleasing patchwork design. "I am glad you like it so far, my dear."
Minerva just shook her head at that.
"So, are you going to show me the inside?" she asked after they had stood there a minute.
"Of course. Um, this is the front door, rather obviously," Albus said unnecessarily as he walked forward and opened it for her.
Minerva started toward the cottage, but Albus shouted, "Wait!"
Startled, Minerva said, "What is it?"
"Well, it's old-fashioned, and really rather a barbaric practise, if you think about it very long, and hardly even appropriate under these particular circumstances, but – "
"What are you trying to say, Albus?" He almost never rambled, usually only doing so when personally embarrassed. As Poppy liked to say, the wizard meandered a bit, but he wasn't a rambler, so when Albus began to ramble, Minerva felt it best to cut right to the heart of the matter.
He opened his mouth, blushed, then said nothing.
Minerva raised her eyebrows. "Yes?"
"Never mind. It was a silly idea . . ."
"Now you must tell me, even if it was a silly idea," Minerva insisted, though gently.
"It's just . . . it suddenly came into my head that . . . that I should carry you in. You see, I told you it was a silly idea," he said, not waiting for her reaction, but bending to pick up one of the bags by hand in order to avoid her gaze.
Minerva didn't move, and when she didn't say anything, Albus looked over at her, wondering if he had offended her with his foolish notion.
"Are you carrying the bags in first, then?" she asked softly. She had a slight lump in her throat, though she wasn't sure why. She stepped closer to him.
"It's not as though you are my possession, or that I feel you are," Albus said.
"I know that."
"It's just . . . just that I cherish you, my dearest one."
She smiled up at him. "Please do cherish me, Albus."
Minerva put her arms around his neck and kissed him. "Mmm. I love you," she said softly. "I love you forever."
Albus kept one arm around her as he slipped the other under her knees, bending slightly and lifting her easily. She rested her head on his shoulder.
She carded her fingers through his long hair as he turned and carried her into the little cottage.
Albus set her on her feet, but left his arm around her. "Welcome to my very humble abode, Professor McGonagall."
Minerva looked around her in delight. The fireplace and chimney were of the same black and white stone blocks which the rest of the cottage was built of; the walls were plastered and limed, except for the back wall and the partial wall beneath the staircase leading up, both of which were panelled with a pale wood, only slightly darkened with age. There was a large, overstuffed sofa at a convenient spot in front of the fireplace, an old rocking chair nearby, a faded cushion on its seat, and a low table of the same wood as the panelling there by the couch. Across the room, there was a good-sized table, plain, but well-crafted, and two matched wooden ladder-back chairs. Where Minerva was standing, the surface was slate, but the rest of the room was floored with wide, close-fitting planks, and there were a few colourful hooked rugs adding warmth to the room.
"It's wonderful, Albus!" She walked over to the old, scarred table by the far wall, and ran an appreciative hand over its surface. "I have no idea why you were apologising!"
Albus looked pleased, but he said, "You haven't seen the rest of it yet. Remember, it hasn't had much done to it in years."
"Let me get the luggage and we'll go upstairs. I'll show you . . . I'll show you where we'll sleep." He couldn't understand why he was blushing, but he could again feel warmth rising in his face. The thought that lovely Minerva wanted to be with him, that she would love him, want to touch him, to sleep with him . . .
Minerva smiled brightly up at him. "Wonderful! And then we can take our walk!"
Albus couldn't help but return Minerva's smile, and he waved his hand to Summon their luggage from outside the door. He took her hand and, their bags following along smoothly, he led her up the stairs.
They reached the landing at the top of the stair, and Albus gestured at a very small door behind them. "There's a small storage area there, a sort of attic, actually. And here," he said, opening the larger door in front of them, "is the bedroom."
The room was large, and there was no ceiling but the roof itself; four gabled windows looked out east and west, and a large, low bed rested between the two east-facing windows. It was covered with a patchwork quilt of many bright colours, and four downy pillows in sunny yellow covers lay at the head of the bed. One low, two-drawered stand was beside the bed. There was a large, old wardrobe on the north wall beside a small fireplace, and a tall chest of drawers stood against the south wall. There was another door almost directly across from them, next to the fireplace.
"You may unpack and use whatever space you find convenient, my dear," Albus said, overcoming his nervousness. He Levitated their bags over to the foot of the bed. "And the bathroom and loo are combined." He walked over to the other door and opened it. "It is primitive, compared with what you are used to, I am afraid, but – "
"Really, Albus! I am not a hothouse flower!" Minerva stuck her head into the bathroom. There was a very large claw-foot bathtub along the wall as soon as one entered the room; the toilet was in the far corner, and there was a washstand on the inside wall. A small bench stood along the wall beside the basin. "This looks fine. Quite civilised. Not primitive. Just not luxurious. Which is certainly not a requirement in a bathroom. But," she added, "I do love the bathtub. It's huge!" She turned to him with a grin. "We may just have to see if it fits two!"
"We can unpack, perhaps take a little nap and have a cuddle, then we can take our walk, if that suits you," Albus said.
"That sounds excellent. Let's begin with the nap and the cuddle," Minerva said. "I want to test out the bed."
An hour and a half later, after having used the loo then puzzled over the separate hot and cold taps, one of which didn't seem to work and Albus having to explain that he had altered the Charmed plumbing so that the water mixed, and so she only needed to use one of the faucets, Minerva began to unpack as Albus hummed to himself in the bathroom.
"Do you have a preference for drawer space?" Minerva called out to him.
"Not at all," came his reply. "However you wish, my dear!"
The wardrobe was very basic, with no drawers or shelves, she noted, so she simply hung her robes in it, placed her shoes in the bottom, and put the rest of her things away in the dresser drawers. It would be nice to have a dressing table, she thought, and a mirror in the bedroom. There was a small one over the washstand in the bathroom, but none at all in the bedroom. Without a vanity, Minerva placed her hairbrush and other items on top of the dresser, leaving half of it free for Albus. She had put the little jewellery she had brought with her in the musical box that Albus had given her the night before they left Hogwarts, and she left that and her hairpins in it, as it seemed a sensible place to keep the small items while they were there at the cottage.
The few toiletries she had brought with her, and her one small vial of perfume, she left in her small carpet bag, placing it beside the wardrobe for lack of a better place for it. When Albus was through in the bathroom, she could perhaps find a spot for them on one of the shelves on the wall beside the washbasin. She had noted that there was soap and shampoo of some sort there, but not much else, so there should be room for her toiletries.
Albus emerged from the bathroom, pink-cheeked and bright-eyed, his hair and beard brushed and fluffy, dressed in robes of earth tones, sandy colours mixed with dusty greens and muted blues, the same ones he had worn on the breakfast picnic he had brought her on early in the summer, before they had realised that they both felt the same way about each other. Minerva loved the robes on him, particularly the way that they emphasised his long legs and broad chest. The skirts of the robes looked narrow, but there were deep pleats on either side that allowed Albus to walk and move freely.
"You look wonderful," Minerva said with appreciation, placing her hands on his chest and running them up over his shoulders.
Albus pecked Minerva on the forehead.
"I'll just see about getting us some lunch, my dear. Something fast and simple, I think, since we do want to take a walk this afternoon," he said. "You just take your time."
"All right, Albus. I'll change then join you in a bit," Minerva replied.
Fifteen minutes later, Minerva, freshly washed and wearing her walking robes of Wedgewood blue, came downstairs to find Albus in the kitchen. It wasn't large, but there was room for a slate-topped work table, and there were a few cupboards and an old cooker that looked like an old-fashioned Muggle coal-fired stove, though she was fairly certain it had never seen life as such a thing. Albus was stirring something in a pot, then he raised the spoon to his lips and tasted.
He held out the spoon to her. "I think it needs a little salt, what do you think?"
Minerva took a taste. "I think it's fine, actually, but a little more salt would be all right."
"Please, have a seat. It will all be ready in just a minute!" Albus said. "You can wait in the other room if you prefer, though I would enjoy your company."
Minerva sat on a square stool, one of three in the kitchen. "Can I do anything to help?"
"When everything's ready, you can help me Levitate it into the other room, if you like. There's also lemonade in the cool cupboard – that's the one with the blue handle, my dear – and you could pour us each a glass, if you like."
Albus had set out two plates, two sets of cutlery, and two tall glasses. Minerva opened the small cool cupboard, the walls of which glowed so that she could easily find the jug of lemonade, and was surprised to see how well-stocked it was. She hadn't been aware that Albus had brought so many provisions.
"Did you bring this all today?" she asked as she poured their glasses.
"No, only a few things. Most of it I had Wilspy bring yesterday afternoon so that we would be well-prepared and I wouldn't have to think about it today," Albus replied.
He waved his hand to open one of the doors in the cooker; with another gesture, a pan emerged from the oven and settled on the cook top.
"I hope this will be satisfactory, my dear," he said, as he arranged the food on the plates and poured Hollandaise sauce over them. He had made some kind of open-faced sandwich, and melted cheese bubbled on top of them. Albus looked at them critically. "They could use a garnish, but I didn't think of that." He shrugged and turned to Minerva with a smile. "If you could get the lemonade, I'll bring the rest."
Albus Levitated their lunch into the main room and settled it onto the table, placing their silverware properly on either side, and including a napkin by each plate. Minerva brought the entire jug of lemonade with her and set a glass of it by each place.
"I will do something nicer for you for dinner, I promise," Albus said.
"This is perfect, Albus. And it looks very good," Minerva said, her appetite whetted. "We want to enjoy the rest of the afternoon, too."
They ate fairly quickly, although Minerva emphasised to Albus how much she enjoyed it. His Hollandaise was particularly nice, she thought.
"Just a pinch of nutmeg," Albus said, pleased that Minerva had enjoyed his simple meal. Cooking a nice sauce was a bit like brewing a potion, he had always found, and the right sauce with the right dish could work magic on an otherwise plain meal.
The two left the cottage, and Albus led her toward the southern tip of the island, in the opposite direction of the small mountain they had arrived on earlier that day.
"I thought you might like to watch the seals and porpoises for a while, and walk along the beach," Albus explained. "The beach where the seals like to gather to sun themselves is in a nice little cove, and the sand is soft and fine there. The other beaches, such as they are, are quite rocky. There's another one to the north, just northeast of where we arrived, that has some lovely smooth, flat rocks, though, and there are some nice quiet pools of water, as well."
Albus took her hand as they walked, and he pointed out various plants and animals to her, though often they didn't see the animal, only the trace it had left behind it, which Albus's sharp eyes caught. When they reached the sand where a few seals lay, warming themselves in the afternoon sun, Albus let go of Minerva's hand then bent and pulled off the light shoes he had put on in anticipation of their gentle afternoon stroll.
As he took off his socks, he looked up Minerva and said, "You should take off your shoes and socks, Minerva. The sand really is very nice, and if you don't, you'll just get sand in your shoes, which can be uncomfortable."
Minerva shrugged, then, holding onto him with one hand, she removed first one shoe and stocking then the other. She saw Albus watch as she rolled down her stockings to remove them, and she smirked.
"Want to help, Albus?"
"No, no, my dear! Just enjoying the view! I don't want to become too distracted," he said with a laugh. "And you don't want to tire me out too much, or I may simply fall asleep as soon as we go to bed tonight."
Minerva grinned. "Don't forget our bath! You did promise you would help me test the bathtub and see how well it accommodates two!"
"Of course, my dear, of course! I do try to keep my promises," Albus replied.
They spent the rest of the afternoon strolling along the beach, sitting on rocks and watching the porpoises and seals out in the water, and then, after putting their shoes back on, walking through some fields of mixed grasses and heather. They spoke of everything and nothing, and when Albus said that he was feeling like it was time for tea and they returned to the cottage, Minerva insisted on making it. After all, as long as she had the tea, the pot, and the water, her wand did the rest and she didn't need to know how his cooker functioned. She believed that Albus would wait on her hand and foot if she wanted him to – or let him – but she wanted to be able to do things for him, as well.
She emerged from the kitchen, the tray levitated in front of her, to find Albus sitting on the sofa, his feet up on a small stool, his eyes closed. They snapped open as she approached, however, and he smiled.
"I see you found the biscuits, too," he said as she lowered the tray to the table in front of him.
"Yes, and you included ginger newts. That was very thoughtful."
"If I had forgotten them, I am sure that Wilspy would have remembered," Albus replied.
The two sat and drank their tea and munched on their biscuits, and when Minerva arose to find her shawl, Albus asked if she were cold.
"Just a bit chilly. After all the exercise in the sun, it feels a little cool now," she said.
Albus nodded, and when she returned from fetching her tartan shawl of blues, greens, and greys, she found that Albus was standing and he had started a fire, which was already blazing beautifully, thanks no doubt to his magic and to his skill with fire, and the room was much warmer. The flames reflected orange and red against his face as he turned to her with a smile.
"I supplemented the fire with a Warming Charm on the room. I don't know if you will still need the shawl – though it is a very pretty one," Albus said.
"Thank you, I don't believe I do need it," Minerva replied, placing her shawl on the back of the sofa. She walked over to him and put her arms around him, looking up into his face. "You are quite wonderful, Albus."
"You bring out the best in me, my dear, that is all," Albus said softly, but he bent his head and kissed her, returning her embrace. "You are my love," he whispered, "my love and my life."
That evening after a lovely dinner of broiled cod with herbs and lemon, fresh sweet peas cooked with dill, and creamy, buttery mashed potatoes, Albus showed her the one little bit of the cottage she hadn't seen before.
He opened the door under the stairs, which Minerva had presumed was simply a cupboard, and beckoned her to follow him. The space had, indeed, once been a cupboard, and the low end still had a space where a few old cloaks hung, but now it led into another room, a small room, to be sure, but when Albus waved his hand and lit the lamps in the corners of the room and candles in the simple wrought-iron chandelier blazed, Minerva smiled in delight.
There were bookshelves on all four walls, and only the rear wall contained a window, which was set into a door opening out to the back of the cottage. There were two chairs, one a relatively small upholstered armchair and the other a large, but low old rocker of unusual design, and between them stood a narrow library table, just the right height for setting a heavy book on and perusing it while standing up.
Albus smiled at Minerva's reaction. "This is the largest change I made to the cottage. Aberforth had a bookcase in the main room when he lived here, and that was sufficient to his needs, but I thought it might be pleasant to keep a small library here, books I don't need at Hogwarts, some old novels, pleasant for reading when on holiday, and a few books that I prefer to have in a more secure location than even Hogwarts provides. The more . . . difficult of those are on the lower shelf of that bookcase," he said, indicating the only stand-alone bookcase in the room, each shelf protected by glass doors that swung up and slid back to provide access. "If you choose to look at them, please do so with care, and only if I am in the cottage – there are a few that may be . . . troublesome, depending on how they are handled."
Minerva was happy that he would trust her to look at them on her own, only having him nearby in case something went wrong; nonetheless, she thought she would wait and have him show them to her. But she nodded and said, "It's a lovely little library, Albus. And quite a surprise!"
Albus was visibly pleased. "It was difficult to get the stonework pattern to look right outside, and I hadn't done any wizarding building or architecture in decades, so although it wasn't an intricate job other than that, it took longer than I had anticipated when I began. Above, I only expanded the storage area, rather than make the bedroom larger, as I thought it sufficient as it is. But if you would like to make use of that space in some other way, we can make plans to make alterations next summer."
Minerva smiled and put her arms around him. He was already thinking about next summer, and assuming that they would spend it together. Given how many times Albus had voiced the notion either that she might tire of him or that she would find she needed something other than what he could offer her, it warmed her heart to hear him plan ahead.
"I can't think of anything at the moment, but we can consider it together," she replied.
"The only thing the room is really missing is a fireplace, although another window might have been nice, but I didn't want to sacrifice the limited wall space, and when it is cool, I either cast a Warming Charm in here, where it is effective for quite a long time, since the room is small, or I bring my book into the main room." He opened the back door. "And I did want this additional exit, as well," he said, leading her out onto a small slate terrace.
Albus drew his wand and waved it, conjuring two garden chairs with colourful padded cushions and a small round table.
"Now, my dear, you may find yourself something to read, if you like, and I will fetch us our pudding."
Albus left her sitting in one of the chairs and returned to the kitchen to get their dessert. Minerva considered getting a book, but she was enjoying just relaxing there in the ell formed between the kitchen and the back of the main part of the cottage, looking out eastward over the gently sloping land as it approached the sea. She could hear bird calls, sea birds of different sorts and, she thought, some grouse in the heather down below. A few minutes later, Albus emerged from around the east side of the house, having left through the rear kitchen door, two plates and two cups and saucers floating in front of him.
"I made us some coffee. I added cream to yours, but no sugar – is that right?" Albus asked. Minerva rarely drank coffee, and he hadn't been sure.
"I thought the coffee would go well with our pudding – Deep Chocolate Enthralment from Madam Puddifoot's," he said with a grin.
He had once brought her some of that wonderful dark chocolate, buttery whipped cream, and cherry torte as a way of apologising for being "crotchety," as he put it at the time – much to Minerva's displeasure, as she said it made him sound like some doddering, ill-tempered old man.
As he set the plates on the table, Albus added, "I have plans to make you a dessert, too, but I know you like this."
"You needn't spend a lot of time cooking, Albus," Minerva said. "I'll eat just about anything."
Albus raised an eyebrow. "Was our dinner not satisfactory?"
"It was lovely! Very good, indeed! And it didn't take you long – I just don't want you to feel you have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen trying to make me some perfect meal, that's all," Minerva replied. He had let her shell the peas after she had demonstrated that she could do so deftly using her wand, but other than that, he had insisted that she sit and just keep him company.
He was quiet for a moment, and then he said, "I enjoyed cooking for you, Minerva. I enjoy doing things for you. You bring so much to my life . . . I simply feel moved to do these little things for you. I know they aren't very significant, but for me, it's important." He quirked a slight smile. "But if you'd rather we eat cheese and pickle sandwiches at every meal, and share equally in slicing the bread and spreading the pickle, that's fine, too."
Minerva laughed and took his hand. "I did enjoy the dinner very much. And I'm looking forward to seeing what else you come up with – and not just in the kitchen!"
Albus did smile at that and nodded. "I have a few things in mind beyond our meals, my dear, and all of those things include your active participation." His smile grew.
"What things, Albus?" Minerva asked, picking up her fork and beginning to eat her torte.
He chuckled, sending a pleasurable shiver over Minerva. "You will just have to wait and see! Surprises are most enjoyed when they are unexpected, I would say." He grinned at her over his coffee cup. "That is, after all, the nature of a surprise!"
She agreed, though she feigned impatience, teasing him just to see him smile again.
After dessert, he led her down one of the narrow paths that led to the southern-most tip of the island. They stood on a slight rise, looking down at the sea, and Albus turned her to face the sun, now low on the western horizon. He stood behind her, his arms around her, and kissed the top of her head.
"It is beautiful, Albus."
"More beautiful now than on any other day I have been here, more beautiful with you here with me," he murmured, his voice low in her ear. "Thank you, my dear."
She cocked her head, trying to look up at him. "For what?"
"For being here, for convincing me, for being with me here or anywhere," Albus said softly.
She held his arms to her and leaned back against him. "You are welcome, but it makes me happy, as well, all of it, being with you . . ."
They were silent for a while, feeling the sea breeze, listening to the waves below them and the birds above, then Albus spoke again. "Tomorrow, or the next day, I will bring you to the top of the mountain to watch the sunset."
"The view from there must be wonderful," Minerva replied.
"Mmm, it is, but I want to bring you there for another reason. It is said that from there, at sunset, for just a moment, Emain Ablach is visible, if you look at just the right place on the horizon," Albus explained. "I have never seen it, but Aberforth claims he did once. Only once, though, after many years of living here, and he never saw it again. But it is mentioned in some of the papers that came with the house." Albus shrugged. "Perhaps it is true."
"Emain Ablach? But that's . . . that's just a myth, isn't it?"
"It is a myth now, yes, but it was once truth. What we know of the place is filtered through more than a millennium of stories, and distorted, too, by the stories that the inhabitants once spread themselves, to hide the truth," Albus said. "But the place existed, and likely still exists, unless it was somehow destroyed. It is likely that it has been uninhabited and uncared for, for many centuries. The wards that protected it were strong, stronger even than those at Hogwarts, and older by far. They still protect it, though those who lived there have long before passed beyond their need."
Minerva thought about it a moment, then she said, "I would like that – tomorrow, then, and the next day, if we don't see it. And any day that we visit here."
Albus chuckled. "Very well. Would you like to Apparate there now? The visibility is good, and we can see the horizon clearly; not all days will provide such good weather for seeking a ghost island."
Minerva didn't even need to turn in his arms, and Albus Apparated them to the top of the mountain they had arrived on that day, the highest of three peaks on the island, and the one furthest north.
"Here now, we look out to the west, and supposedly, if the conditions are just right, we will be able to see the island appear," Albus said.
"You say that Aberforth saw it – what did he say he saw?"
"A shadowy shape on the horizon, a shape that mirrored this island in a way, he said, with three larger mountains and some rolling hills. Aberforth said it was all in shadow, though, a grey-blue shape, although other reports claim seeing verdant land and the remains of a stone edifice on the highest of the mountains," Albus said. "You may have better luck than I, my dear, since of all those that were recorded in the small book that came with the house, most of the sightings were by women. Aberforth added his to it, and if we see it, we shall do the same."
"Hmmph." Minerva wanted to believe, but the sceptic in her caused her to say, "Either the women have much better eyesight or much greater imaginations."
Albus chuckled. "Perhaps both, perhaps both."
They stood watching the horizon for a while as the sun sank lower, disappearing, then Minerva asked, "How long has this book been kept?"
"Oh, only three hundred years or so, although the first pages record some of the apocryphal sightings of earlier times."
They were quiet a short while longer, and the twilight grew.
"You know, Albus, you never said, but does this island have a name? Your island? We could always call it Emain Albus if it doesn't," she joked.
Albus chuckled. "Then people might confuse this little island with Scotland, and where would we be then?" he replied with a laugh, referring to the old name for Scotland, Alba. "But yes, it does have a name, Eilean Tèarmunn."
"Refuge Island? That does seem apt. There is a feeling of peace, of sanctuary here." Minerva gave a sigh of contentment. "Well, it does not look as though Emain Ablach is going to show herself today. We will try again tomorrow!"
Note: Please be aware that some of the locations mentioned in the story are actual places, but many are fictional. In addition, lest anyone mistake this story for a treatise on the flora and fauna of Scotland, do not take it as an infallible source for information about the real world, whether botanical, zoological, geological, geographical, cultural, social, literary, or otherwise! I strive for verisimilitude and borrow from the real world, but verisimilitude is different from strict accuracy. ;-) Thanks for reading!