Minerva walked down the dark corridor heading to her private chambers. For Merlin's sake, she thought, what had happened in Albus' office just a few minutes ago? He had asked her to stay. Not to play chess, he had made that quite clear. Why had she run away? She was scared. Of what, she didn't know. Maybe it was the idea of having her feelings reciprocated that had made her realize she wasn't ready for this. But did he felt anything for her? Suddenly she wished she hadn't left. She could be up in his office, talking to him and even having fun, instead of in her rooms, alone. But no, she couldn't stay there without the risk of making a fool out of herself. Everything had been fine while they were only playing chess and making small talk, but it would be a whole different situation if she had to look into his eyes for a conversation. She was afraid and unsure about many things, but most of all she was afraid of losing control. Through all the years she had spent away from Hogwarts, away from him, she had never even once stopped to think what she was supposed to do if she discovered he loved her too, or worse, if she discovered he felt nothing but friendship towards her. She had never had to face a situation like this one, where her heart was at stake. She didn't know what the right thing to do was, and the things she couldn't even think of doing. She had never felt what is like to be in love, until now. She realized she loved him right after she left Hogwarts, but this was the first time she had to be face to face with Albus since she discovered the nature of her feelings for him.
Up in his office, when she had looked up from the chess board to meet his eyes and the world seemed to stand still, she knew she wasn't ready for it. It didn't matter if it was love or rejection; she wasn't ready for neither of them. So she ran away. She left him there, probably wondering what had gotten into her. She would have to face him in the morning and explain why she had acted that way, but until then she would have the time to come up with a good excuse.
In her chambers, she changed into her nightgown and curled up in a chair in front of the fire to read. Immersed in the world of Transfiguration, she didn't notice the hours going by, or the fact that she had forgotten completely about Albus for the first time that day. It seemed a lifetime ago, but it had only been a few hours, that she had arrived at Hogwarts and seen him for the first time in all those years. When their eyes met for the first time, she was sure she could hear her feelings coming back and settling in for a longtime stay.
She heard a knock on her door and glanced at the clock on the wall; it read 12 o'clock. Who would be at her door this late? She had told Albus she would meet Poppy and Pomona that night, but she had lied; they had agreed to meet the night after. Wand in hand, she slowly got up and opened the door.
"Hello, Minerva. Did I wake you up?"
"No, no. Please, come in" she opened the door further and waited for him to get in and sit down on the couch.
"I didn't know if you'd still be with Poppy and Pomona" he said
"Oh. Well, our meeting was postponed" she muttered uncomfortably
"Really? Why?" he asked
"Pomona, uh, she didn't want to leave her plants for the night. She was, is, working on some kind of experiment, I believe" she said, amazed at herself for having found an acceptable excuse in record time.
"Is she?" he smiled, and if he knew Minerva was lying.
Minerva didn't answer. She stood near the fire, looking anywhere but at Albus.
"Minerva?" he said after a long and uncomfortable silence.
"Yes?" she said, not looking at him.
"Please, sit down, Minerva"
She did as she was told, not for once questioning what he was doing.
"Look at me" he said again, and this time she was more reluctant to obey. When she finally did, after a full minute of debating with herself if this was safe, he continued "I want you to trust me, Minerva"
"I trust you."
"I don't mean now. I mean that I want you to trust me for as long as you live. I want a friendship to grow between us, a friendship based on trust. I want you to trust me as much as I trust you. Do you think you could ever do that?"
"Yes." She said, still unsure of what he meant.
"Good. So now can you tell me why did you run away from me?" he asked, looking deep into her eyes.
The time to explain had come sooner than she thought.
"I was late to meet Poppy and Pomona"
"No, you were not. You'll only meet tomorrow" he said calmly.
She had never been able to understand how Albus always seemed to know everything there was to know. "Albus…"
"Trust me, Minerva"
"I trust you, Albus! Good Lord, I took Animagi lessons with you. Do you think I would put my life in your hands if I didn't trust you? We both know how dangerous the Animagi training can be"
"Then tell me, Minerva."
"There is nothing to tell, really, Albus. You're making a fuss out of nothing"
"We were doing absolutely fine until you said it was getting late and hurried away"
"Albus" she moved closer to him and looked intensely into his eyes "Alright, you win. I left for a reason. But I'm sorry; I cannot tell you what it is"
"I'm still figuring it out myself"
He smiled at her and nodded. "Do you think you will be able to tell me when you are ready?"
"Why does it matter?"
"Answer my question first"
"Well, I don't know, I guess it depends on the answer"
"Very well, now I shall tell you why I am preoccupied with this. Let's simply say that it matters because I want to know about every little thing that bothers you"
There was a long silence before Minerva found her voice to ask "Why?"
"During your Animagi training, we became what you could call friends. Unfortunately we didn't have much to work on this friendship because you left. I would really like to take it from where we stopped; the chess games, the late talks, the occasional walk on the gardens. I want this friendship to grow"
"Yes, you said that"
"What do you say about it, then?"
She smiled, looking into his eyes. This time, she didn't feel insecure or scared, and when she spoke, her voice had back the firmness which was characteristic of her.
"I say let's do it"
He smiled and kissed her hand the second time that day. And she blushed, the second time that day. It was amazing how many emotions a human being could feel in a matter of hours. When she left his office, she was afraid, and had set her mind to try to avoid being alone with Albus any longer than necessary. Now, their eyes locked together, his hand still holding hers, and the promise of a friendship hanging in the air, she felt warm and secure. All of it because of Albus.
"I should probably go" he said, regretfully letting go of her hand
"Or early, depends on your point of view" he smiled and got up. He bid her goodnight and walked to the door. He paused, his hands on the doorknob, and turned to face her. "There's something I've been meaning to ask you, Minerva"
"You know, it has been an awfully long time since I last saw you…" he tried to choose his words carefully "Since the last time I saw you in your…" he looked away, frustrated, still trying to say what he wanted. When he looked back at Minerva, she was smiling knowingly.
"You shouldn't be ashamed to ask, Albus. After all, it wouldn't be possible without you" she said, and before he could speak, on the spot Minerva sat was a grey tabby cat.
"Do you read minds, my dear?" he walked over to her "Or only mine?" he sat beside her and stroked her neck, receiving a purr of delight from the animal. "I have forgotten how beautiful you are. Both in animal and human forms" before the tabby cat could react, Albus was already at the door. With his hand on the knob, he said over his shoulder "Goodnight, my dear" and left.
For minutes after he had left, Minerva had stayed on her Animagus form, having forgotten to transform back, due to the state of shock she had seemed to slip in when she heard Albus saying she was beautiful. He hadn't only said she made a beautiful grey tabby cat, but also that she, Minerva McGonagall, was beautiful. She was sure she had heard him saying that. It couldn't be her imagination, could it? Finally managing to transform back, Minerva closed her eyes and replayed the night's events on her mind. Albus had come down to her chambers and said that he wanted a friendship to grow between the two of them. Not to grow into a romantic relationship, but to grow, simply. Basically, he had said that he wanted them to be great friends, maybe even the best of friends. But she had lost track of the conversation when his hand came in touch with her skin, in a much more intimate way than by simply kissing her hand. What does he want?, she thought, getting up and walking over to her bed, where a restless night's sleep waited for her.
A.N.: I know it has been an awfully long time since my last post, but I was not very happy with this fic. I thought about giving up on it, but decided against it; instead, I've changed a lot of things, so this fic is not going to take the course I had in mind when I started writing it. But, anyway, all you need to know is that the fic is back, and I fully intend to finish it. I want to thank my lovely reviewers: Minerva M McGonagall, Merciful Heavens, T, stsgirlie, skrewtkeeper, SylvaDragon, Mania4ka, Junora.