Disclaimer: Last time I checked my driver's licence it did not, sadly enough, read J K Rowling. What I mean is that I don't own anything you recognize.
A/N: I've recently got hooked by the wonderful world of MMADness. The idea came to me when I was sitting on a train (as all good ideas do) and I just couldn't help writing it. I'm afraid I don't know very much about the railway system in England in the 1960s though; never mind trying to figure out where Albus' summer cottage is, because I don't know. It's probably unplottable, anyway.
Sherbet Lemons and Pumpkin Pie
Minerva sighed. She decided that the idea had been doomed from the start. It usually was when wizards tried to do things the muggle way, and Minerva should have known that this would be no exception. Travelling was a field in which the muggle methods were best left to the muggles themselves; things usually went wrong at some point, mostly because wizards didn't know how to behave and what exactly to do – not that it had been a problem on this occasion – and it took so much time. Muggle travel was tedious.
She had to admit that the day had started well enough. She had flooed to Albus' summer cottage right after an early lunch, and they had discussed the upcoming school year over a nice cup of tea. Then they decided to go to a chamber music concert in London and have dinner in town before the concert would commence. It wasn't the first time that they made such plans; they had gone to numerous concerts together. They may only be colleagues to the students, but in private, they were good friends who treasured each others' company and enjoyed the same things – transfiguration, quidditch, and chamber music, for example.
But while Minerva certainly enjoyed the headmaster's company, she didn't want to enjoy it under circumstances like these. Oh, how she wished that they would have gone by floo, taken a port key, apparated – or even taken the Knight Bus. With exception of the Knight Bus, they would have been in London hours ago and they could have enjoyed a walk in St James's Park, Kensington Gardens, or even Hampstead Heath before dinner.
Instead, they were stuck on a train with dozens of muggles, in the middle of a field with no roads anywhere in sight. Apparently, the cargo train that had gone before them on the single track had gone of the rails and the load of cargo – some obscure, indefinable muggle products from one of the factories in Bristol – had been spread out all over the track. There was no getting their train past the other one, and the ticket-collector had told them it would probably take another hour to get a machine to the place to move the cargo. Then, it would take hours to clean up the mess, get the carriages back on track, and mend the broken tracks.
"Will we have to wait here all that time?" Minerva had asked with exasperation in her voice. The ticket-collector had glared at her and said that if they were lucky, the train company might send some carriages from London to take the passengers onwards.
As the man walked off to give the same information in the other carriages, Minerva turned to Albus: "I hope you're pleased now."
"Not particularly, no," Albus said. "Should I be?" Despite claiming not to be pleased with the situation, his eyes twinkled merrily. Minerva huffed.
"It was your silly idea to start with." She mentioned what they could have been doing instead of sitting there, in a train carriage with hot and sultry air and muggles all around them.
"Ssh, watch your tongue." Albus smiled and patted her hand. She withdrew it immediately with an irritated look at him and went on:
"I agreed just because you seemed to find it so bloody exciting," she said. "I joined you only to humour you. I see now that I should have apparated" – here Albus had a not too credible fit of coughing – "directly to London and waited for you there."
Albus wisely decided that this wasn't the best moment to try to cheer her up with one of his jokes, so he remained quiet. They each looked out through the windows on either side of the carriage – it was one of those old fashioned ones with two seats in the middle and room to stand and walk, or store luggage in, between the seats and the windows on both sides.
After thirty minutes, in which Minerva had kept glancing at her watch and Albus fairly successfully, most of the time, had prevented himself from humming out a merry tune he had heard on the wireless – something about a foggy mountaintop by an American group of singers – nothing had happened. The ticket-collector hadn't yet returned with any news, and Albus could see that although Minerva tried to keep the lid on her temper, she grew more and more irritated with every passing minute.
"You don't suppose we could –" she started, and Albus shook his head.
"No, I fear the ticket man would notice your absence, and even though he would probably be relieved to be rid of you" – Minerva's green eyes got something seriously dark and decidedly dangerous in them – "after your show of temper a while ago. You can inspire quite a bit of… respect, dear."
"I wish I could have the same effect on you."
Albus just smiled. 'If she only knew,' he thought.
Minerva, on the other hand, hadn't yet grown weary of complaining. "I'm hungry," she informed him, with a look that seemed to ask why Albus hadn't prepared a picnic basket.
"Dinner wouldn't be bad," he agreed.
"Need I point out that we could have –"
"No, you needn't, dear," Albus interrupted. He started searching the pockets of his jacket, and Minerva continued her tirade:
"And I absolutely hate these clothes." She indicated her knee-long, green skirt and white silk blouse. "I feel so exposed and bloody cheap in a skirt this short, and this blouse… I never liked dressing up as a muggle."
Albus, pausing his rummaging in his pockets, looked at her. He decided that this wasn't the right moment to tell her how well the muggle attire suited her, how lovely her figure was, and particularly, how nice it was to see her figure, for a change. He was aware that she was uncomfortable with the fact that men looked at her whenever she dressed like this – but why would they not do that? She was a beauty, even at forty. She, however, dressed like this only for her wish to attend a muggle concert, and she longed for the moment she could change back into the safety of her long and modest robes. She was the only one he knew who wore her teaching robes or something resembling them every day in the summer holidays.
He didn't say anything, however, and soon continued rummaging his pockets. Finally he cracked a smile. "I knew it!" he said as he fished up a little tin jar. "Sherbet lemon, dear?"
Minerva stared at him in disbelief. "Sherbet lemons? Couldn't you think of anything more nourishing?"
"I'm sorry. But you know how much I love them – and a little sugar won't hurt either of us right now, I'm sure."
Minerva wasn't convinced, but gave in to the twinkle in his eyes. She took one of the sweets out of the jar, held it between her fingers and looked at it critically. "Aren't they usually bigger?"
"Yes, but these are from another producer. Same taste, though."
Without another word, she popped the sherbet lemon into her mouth. Then her eyes grew wide with surprise as she felt the sweet swell and change consistence and taste. Eventually she managed to gather her wits and started chewing, and finally, she swallowed.
"Pumpkin pie!" she exclaimed, and Albus hushed her with a chuckle.
"Not so loud," he said. "There isn't enough for everyone, and the surprise element might be too much for them. How did you like it?"
"Not bad," Minerva admitted.
"Perhaps another one?"
"If you don't mind…"
After they'd had several bites of pumpkin pie each, Minerva noticed that the tin jar refilled itself. The new sherbet lemons were of normal size, though, and without uttering words that might have been conspicuous to muggles, she asked how he did it all.
"Oh, it's a nice little transfiguration charm," he whispered. "Quite handy, actually. The tricky part is to make the transfiguration take place only after the sweet's been put into the mouth. And then of course, there's the swelling aspect – it swells much more than is comfortable, so I had to shrink the original sherbet lemons to begin with."
"The big ones wont' change, then?" Minerva asked, also keeping her voice down.
"No, since they weren't there when I put the spell on them."
"It's ingenious!" Minerva said and smiled for the first time since they had boarded the train.
"Thank you, dear! I rather pride myself with the invention; much more handy than the twelve uses of dragon blood."
"But not as famous," she chuckled.
"No, indeed. But I might teach you, and you could add it to the curriculum in transfiguration…"
"Oh no, I think not," she said. "If I'd known this spell when I was a student, I would have lived out of a tin jar with sweets and never bothered to leave the library to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the great hall."
"But then you were an unusually hard working student," Albus reminded her. "I seem to remember that you skipped a great deal of meals as it was."
"But as head girl it was quite all right for me to sneak off to the kitchens whenever I suddenly got hungry."
"Oh?" Albus chuckled. "Did you now? It's a good thing one can't deduct house points so long in retrospect; I'm afraid Gryffindor would have quite a hard start of term to catch up with the other houses. And of course we'd all hate for that to happen."
Minerva playfully swatted his arm, and he caught her hand in his. "I'm glad you feel better," he said, looking serious for a moment. "I'm truly sorry for the inconvenience this little idea of mine has caused you; I hear that normally, muggle trains work quite well."
"I'm not sure I forgive you," Minerva said, her playful smile still in place. "But I shall consider it."
Albus smiled and squeezed her hand. 'If I didn't know better', he thought as she gently squeezed his hand in return, 'I'd think she's flirting with me.' Then both of them let go of the other's hand, and they settled back against their seats, going back to looking out through the windows. This time, however, Albus was turned to the window on the right side of the carriage, looking past Minerva instead of the other way. "I'm just glad that, now that I had to carry out this insane idea, I'm stuck here with you."
Minerva turned her head towards him and smiled. "That's sweet of you to say. And I must say that if for some reason it's inevitable that I spend one evening in my life stuck on a muggle train, I'd rather have you with me than not."
Albus chuckled: "And that came from the bottom of your heart."
She snorted in reply, giving him a cheeky glance before turning back to the window. Little did he know that she fought hard to maintain this easy going and well humoured façade; in reality, her heart had skipped a beat or two at his comment, because truth was, that it had come from the bottom of her heart. There was more, just lying around there at the bottom of her heart, doing no good, but she could not let him know that. He probably didn't see her in that way. But she forced those depressing thoughts out of her head and concentrated on the view. Now that the sun was going to set on the other side of the field, it was actually quite pretty. She'd been irritated with the fact that the only seats that had been available in the carriage when they got on board were the ones with the backs in the direction of travel, but now it didn't matter. Since they were travelling eastwards, and the train had stopped on a place were the track had a slightly northern direction, they could see the setting sun in the west quite beautifully. Minerva thought of mentioning this to Albus, but she didn't want to ruin the moment of tranquillity by bringing up her own irritation from earlier in the evening. She was a bit ashamed of it actually, and decided to apologize to him when they had reached safer grounds.
With that thought in her head, she dozed off to a peaceful sleep, and Albus smiled as he noticed her eyes fall shut. It was all he could do not to take her in his arms; he suspected that despite their long friendship, Minerva would find such an action far too intimate and unprofessional. Instead, he rested his head in his hand, his right arm over the back of the seats behind Minerva's head. He kept his left hand firmly in his trouser pocket.
Neither of them noticed as they fell asleep and Minerva unconsciously leaned back against Albus, and his arm found its way to rest snugly around her waist. But they did notice when the ticket-collector came back to the carriage, telling them that a train from London would arrive in twenty minutes or so.
"You'll have to walk along the track to get past the other train, but I'm afraid that's the best we can offer." He eyed Minerva wearily, but she was still a bit sleepy and merely nodded. "Unless you wish to go back to Exeter on this train, in which case we will refund your tickets."
Albus' smile was hidden in Minerva's hair as she told the man rather stiffly that they would think about the options. The ticket-collector left, and it was only then that Albus realised where his left arm was, along with the fact that Minerva's head was just under his nose. This was the moment that Minerva realized it too, and she smiled softly to herself, making sure that Albus couldn't see it, before she moved away from him and he retrieved his arm.
She stood up to stretch her legs and back, and after a very feline movement, she quickly straightened her skirt and blouse before sitting down.
"You have nice legs, though," Albus said, all of a sudden.
Minerva turned to him with confusion in her eyes. "I beg your pardon?"
"You complained earlier that you don't like those clothes and particularly the length of the skirt –"
"Or lack thereof," she shot in.
"– and I just thought you might want to know that you look very pretty in them."
Minerva hoped that the faint blush that threatened to spread across her face didn't shine very brightly. "Thank you, Albus," she murmured. To avoid dwelling on further embarrassment, she added: "So, what do you think we should do?"
"About our evening out?" As Minerva nodded, Albus took out his watch with the planets, moons, and stars, and looked at it. "We won't make it to the concert unless we take to… drastic measures. And we can't do that until we've boarded the other train anyway, and even then it's uncertain."
Minerva's face fell. "Oh. I'd really wanted to go to that concert but if we can't, I suppose…"
"But we can have dinner," Albus said. "I know this charming little restaurant just one street down from Piccadilly Circus…"
"I think it would be lovely…"
"So we'll go on to London then?"
"Yes." Her heart melted at the sight of the joyful smile Albus gave her.
Fifteen minutes later, they stepped out of the train, and walked along with the muggles to the train that was just arriving some twenty yards up the track. As Minerva stumbled slightly as she jumped down from the train – she wasn't quite as graceful in her human form as she was as an animagus; after all who would be? – Albus grabbed her hand and didn't let go of her arm until he had helped her board the other train. It turned out that quite a lot of the people on the train had decided to return to Exeter, or wherever they'd got on along the way, and thus, the new train was slightly emptier than before. The wagons were different than the earlier ones; there were two rows of seats, and while Albus made sure to sit down on the side that faced the direction of travel, a young couple sat down in the seats across the aisle.
For a while, the two colleagues discussed the options they had in London; it was clear that they could not apparate anywhere now, so they would miss the concert. And while dinner was very tempting, and certainly a high priority at the moment, they thought they should be able to do something else while they were in London.
"By the way," Minerva suddenly said, changing the topic, "have you noticed how the couple over there seems to think we're the sweetest married old couple around?"
"Old?" Albus chuckled. "Do you call yourself old?"
"I'm not as young as they are. But forget old, if you like; they still seem to think we're a sweet, married couple."
"There are worse things they could imagine," Albus said.
"They are quite sweet themselves, actually," Albus chuckled a moment later.
Minerva leaned over slightly in front of Albus to get a better glimpse, and then, with a smirk on her face, she looked back at Albus. "It's a pity they don't realize how happy they should be for the fact that I can't deduct house points for inappropriate behaviour in public."
"If they were Hogwarts students, there would perhaps be a detention to follow?"
"Sometimes the students, so I've heard, find you the most frightening professor in all of Hogwarts."
Minerva swatted his arm in jest, and regretted it instantly as he caught hold of her hand. She should have learned by now that he always managed to do that, and while she liked it, she knew that he couldn't possibly do it with the intention to make her feel the things she always felt. Like butterflies fluttering in her stomach, her heart racing and skipping beats, or a longing for far more than just a simple squeeze of her hand.
She didn't pay attention to the look on his face; she never did. She didn't notice how his face grew serious and his eyes filled with emotions – only for a second, and then his face would normally return to its usual twinkle before he let go of her hand. This time he didn't let go of it immediately, though. She was surprised when he placed his hand gently in his lap so that she could gently withdraw her own if she wanted to.
She didn't want to do that, however, not for a second. Instead she forced herself to look at him; and to keep her face from telling him more than she wanted him to know, she said softly: "I have to be strict. How else do you think I could maintain any sort of order in my classroom? I don't have your talents to inspire natural respect in any living creature."
"Oh, that comes with age, I believe. Just wait another thirty years, and you might even be able to teach with your hair down."
If Albus hadn't been holding her hand already, she would have hit him again. "I seriously doubt that," she said dryly.
"Oh yes. After all, isn't the reason you wear you hair in such a tight bun that the sixth-and seventh year boys won't realize you're a woman?"
This time, she definitely couldn't fight the blush. "Partly yes," she nodded. Without knowing where she got the guts to do so – she hadn't had any wine yet to blame any boldness on – she added: "But I take it you noticed?"
This time she noticed the serious look on his face and the feelings that showed in his eyes. He took a firmer hold on her hand and the smirk faded from her face. She willed him to see the deep respect, the loyalty, the admiration – the longing and the love that she knew she could never feel for anyone but him.
"Yes, I noticed," he said at last. "I find it very hard at times to ignore it."
"Then don't," she whispered.
"Perhaps. But I believe I'm the strict follower of rules; you are the one who's told me repeatedly that sometimes things in life are more important than rules."
"Quite," he smiled. He brought her hand to his mouth and brushed his lips against the back of it before letting go. It was just the ghost of a kiss, but it made Minerva's heart flutter and she smiled softly as he draped his arm around her shoulders and held her closely. "What about you and me going somewhere to dance after dinner?"
"That's a wonderful idea," Minerva agreed and snuggled closer to him. "But in fact I think I could stay here like this the whole evening."
"Now, don't say that, dear, or they might be another accident!"
For a second she freed herself from his half-embrace and hit him playfully over the head. "I'm not into divination, you know," she said, but succumbed to the kiss he placed on the back of her hand this time, and snuggled back against him.
When they were approaching London, Minerva poked Albus softly on the arm with her elbow. "I know that it's not long until we'll have dinner but you wouldn't happen to have any of those sherbet lemons left, would you?" she asked.
Albus fumbled around in his pocket, and this time Minerva noticed the concentrated look on his face, and she also noted that he didn't actually search for the tin jar, but used the time to wandlessly charm its contents.
"You have to teach me one day," she smiled, as she popped a sherbet lemon into her mouth.
His eyes twinkled merrily: "I'd wondered what it'd take to hear you ask for a sherbet lemon!"