Disclaimer: I have no rights to Harry Potter, or "Cat in an Empty Apartment", the poem reproduced herein. This story is written merely for recreational purposes, and no copyright infringement is intended. Also, parts of this are somewhat cliché. Ye be warned
Summary: ADMM. Based on a challenge by McGonagallsGirland the poem by Wislawa Szymborska:
Cat in an Empty Apartment
Die—you can't do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
in an empty apartment?
Climb the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here,
but nothing is the same.
Nothing has been moved,
but there's more space.
And at nighttime no lamps are lit
Footsteps on the staircase,
but they're new ones.
The hand that puts fish on the saucer
has changed, too.
Something doesn't start
at its usual time.
Something doesn't happen
as it should.
Someone was always, always here,
then suddenly disappeared
and stubbornly stays disappeared.
Every closet has been examined.
Every shelf has been explored.
Excavations under the carpet turned up nothing.
A commandment was even broken,
papers scattered everywhere.
What remains to be done.
Just sleep and wait.
Just wait till he turns up,
just let him show his face.
Will he ever get a lesson
on what not to do to a cat.
Sidle toward him
as if unwilling
and ever so slow
on visibly offended paws,
and no leaps or squeals at least to start.
-- Wislawa Szymborska
It was certainly not a desirable job, but someone had to do it. Someone had to sit at headquarters alone, coordinating the many missions and maneuvers of the Order of the Phoenix, on the hottest night of the year. That someone needed a strong organizational mind and exceptional loyalty. If the order wanted to coddle her, then it was so much the better. After all, it had to be done.
Therefore, that was how Minerva McGonagall came to be sitting in the kitchen of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, under the heavy summer air, attempting to ignore the stream of sweat that wound its way down the side of her face. The atmosphere was oppressive, stifling. Even breathing was difficult. She was miserable, not the agony of physical torture, nor the emotional anguish that had become an all too familiar companion. No, this time it was merely frustration, boredom and restlessness. This was more trivial, but just as maddening.
For what seemed like the thousandth time, Minerva cursed herself for not bringing correcting to do. She desperately needed work, something tangible to occupy her mind. The well traveled paths through essays that all sounded alike, the mind numbing scratch of a quill across parchment, even the inane spelling and grammar mistakes of a generation that thought spellchecking quills replaced proofreading all would have been welcome diversions.
Perhaps her assessment was a bit unfair. Minerva knew that she loved teaching. Her students did not deserve the sort of disdain she was expressing tonight. Professor McGonagall knew in her heart how deeply she cared for and adored her students. It was just that tonight she hated the world.
What could a woman do in an empty room? True, Minerva had heard of intellectuals who sought out solitude, pondered the greatest mysteries of the world, and returned wiser. She was not that kind of scholar. Nature's mysteries revealed themselves to her in people. A muggle first years standing amazing at the sorting, a seventh year mastering a difficult transfiguration, Albus Dumbledore, everything about Albus Dumbledore.
Everything always came back to Albus Dumbledore. She supposed it was natural, when one tried to be just friends with the love of one is life. Too late, she had learned the perils of allowing herself her affection and her fantasies. Once begun, her affectation had become too deeply engrained to ignore.
It was much too hot for this line of thought. "Kreacher," she called briskly. The odious elf appeared. Even Sirius had been allowed a mission tonight, an unimportant watch just down the block, a measure of how overworked the Order was, but Kreacher had been told to obey her in his place.
"I want you to bring me a glass of milk," she told the frowning house elf, "Cold, mind you. And just milk. You are to put nothing else in it, understand?" She did not really think Kreacher would poison her. At least, she hoped not. Merlin, she was starting to sound like Moody. It was just that she was so accustomed to sitting with Albus in the evening. He would always bring his cocoa and her milk to her room for her. They would sit for hours, laughing and talking. So, receiving the beverage from a hand that hated her was a little unsettling. That was all.
"Professor McGonagall's milk" Kreacher said unceremoniously, shoving the glass at her. He walked away, muttering, "She is working at Hogwarts, for the blood traitor Dumbledore. They is defiling my mistress's house. Kreacher hopes they pays for it."
Perhaps it was the heat, or her Scottish upbringing, but Minerva completely lost her temper. "Listen," she snapped, stepping in front of Kreacher to block his exit. "Say what you want about me. By your definition I am a blood traitor and proud of it. I suppose I am paying for it right now. But should you ever speak against Albus again, so help me I will hex you into the next century. Albus is the best wizard of the century, the absolute best, and I will not let you threaten him."
"She is saying he is the best," Kreacher muttered rebelliously. "Kreacher is thinking she knows firsthand."
"I wish" Minerva answered, unthinking. Catching herself, she added vindictively "Kreacher go scrub the upstairs corridor, with a toothbrush."
Another hour of sitting alone had done nothing to improve Minerva's mood. Eventually, she began to feel furious at Albus. How dare he leave her in the room, night after night, as if she had no other function. And this of all nights, the night the Order was to fetch Harry, she could be of use.
The night dragged on and on, but still no one returned. It really was still too early to go to sleep, but Minerva could think of nothing else to do. Albus would be expecting her to be cheerful when he returned, happily welcoming him back. Well, not tonight. She would not even say one word to him. That would teach him to leave her alone all night. He would learn he could not do this to her, she thought as she dozed off in the chair.
"Minerva, I'm back." Albus said pleasantly, gently shaking Minerva awake. Minerva looked at him dourly for a moment, and then closed her eyes again. She had seen the morning light glowing in the window behind Albus, and she realized she must have missed last night's meeting and dinner. Clearly, nothing had gone wrong, since no one thought to wake her. Figured. Anger at herself for oversleeping fought with anger at Albus for keeping her in the dark. Anger of Albus won out. She didn't deign to look at him.
"Minerva, are you alright?" Albus asked in a worried tone. Minerva glanced up at him and nodded, frowning. "Are you angry at me?" He questioned, nervously.
"Why would I be angry with you, Albus?" She asked sourly, "You only left me sitting watch all night on an empty house while the entire rest of the Order was retrieving Harry Potter or filling in the posts."
"Minerva," Albus began in surprise, "I…"
"I have just spent an entire evening with the most repulsive creature ever born, just because you did not think I was strong enough for a mission."
"Minerva you need…"
"And I'm left here to wonder if you even made it through the night, while you stand in for no less than five Order members at once. I could have helped you. I could have watched out for you and you did not see fit to take me with you! Do you have any idea how hard waiting is?"
Minerva suddenly crossed the room, threw her arms around Albus, and began to cry into his beard. "If you die," she sobbed, "If you die, I don't know how I'll…" Albus gently wrapped his arms around her, and patted her back reassuringly.
Albus brought his head down and whispered in Minerva's ear. "It's alright, my love. I feel the same way about you."
Minerva raised her head and sniffed, hardly daring to believe. "Your love?"
"Unless I overstepped, Minerva." Albus replied.
"You didn't overstep," she answered, just before she kissed him.
A few moments later, much too soon by Minerva's estimation, Albus pulled back. "Minerva" he stated. "You need to know that Harry is standing directly behind you." Minerva spun around wide-eyed. "He arrived last night while you were asleep, and I believe he may have wanted to ask something."
"Mr. Potter…" Minerva stammered, "You…Your question… it was…?"
The wide eyed teenaged jumped as if waking from a reverie. "I think I'll just be going now" he said much too quickly his eyes jumping frantically back and forth between his head of house and headmaster, "I won't tell anyone professor…. That is… I mean… I'll just say I couldn't find you." He all but ran from the room.
Minerva watched Harry exit with a wry grin on her face. Then, she felt Albus take her hand. "Join me for breakfast, my love?" he asked. He brought her hand up and gently kissed it.
"I was angry at you, wasn't I?" She asked, in mock sincerity.
"It must have been a lover's quarrel, my dear." He replied.
"Oh." She answered sweetly, joining him in walking out the door.