One-shot set after OOTP, Minerva and Fudge have a heart to heart... could surprise you ;-)
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, J.K. Rowling does. I promise to return them unharmed, after I let them play in my sand box ;-)))
When Minerva McGonagall returned into her office after she had provided the students - her students - from Gryffindor with the points they deserved after the battle in the ministry of magic, she felt finally free enough to let her hair down. Of course Crabbe and Goyle had thrown her things into the next best corner of the room, without paying attention that her cloak got wrinkles. She narrowed her eyes in annoyance and said angrily.
"Ten points will be taken from Slytherin - for untidyness and for ignoring my well-known prospects."
She sank into her chair behind the huge, but perfectly tidy desk and sighed. The pain the four stunning curses had caused her was still present with every step she made, but of course she would never tell that to anyone. She was finally back where she belonged and that was enough to make her feel better. It had been bad enough Umbridge had got away with the attack on her and Hagrid, but as long as she could breathe Dolores Umbridge wouldn't get the satisfaction of seeing her surrender.
"It's good to see you, again, Professor," Phineas told her, as he passed by in the painting over her chimney.
"Thank you, Phineas," she said and gave him one of her rare smiles. "It's good to be back where I belong."
"If I'm not mistaken, a visitor is on his way to you," he informed her. "He just left Dumbledore's office. Maybe it's the best I leave the two of you alone." And he was gone. Minerva raised her eyebrows. Who should visit her right now?
As Phineas had said it didn't take long, until someone knocked at her door.
"Come in," she ordered and remained in her chair, curious who knew about her recent release from St. Mungos.
The door opened slowly and Cornelius Fudge came in. Almost humble, as he stepped in, turning the green bowler in his hands.
"Minerva," he greeted her shyly.
"Cornelius," she said flatly and rose slowly from her chair, trying to ignore the pain in her chest.
"No, no, please stay seated," he said and gestured copiously with his right hand when he noticed the painful expression on her face. "How are you?"
"I've been better." She sat down with a surpressed groan. Sometimes it just felt as if the air got sucked out of her lungs. She took a deep breath and hated herself for her obvious weakness. The last thing she wanted from Cornelius Fudge was compassion or pity. The last time she and Cornelius had been in one room together he had ordered a dementor to suck out Barty Crouch Jr. soul. A moment she would never forget and a move she would never forgive him.
"I'm sorry for that sorry business at Hagrid's hut. It shouldn't have happened."
"A lot of things in the last year shouldn't have happened, Cornelius. But I as far as I've read it in the articles in the Daily Prophet even you have understood that by now."
"Times have changed," he admitted sadly. "These days nothing seems right."
The way he stood in front of her, playing with his ridiculous hat, he reminded her about a schoolboy who had been caught while cheating. Actually he looked rather pale and ill. And yet her compassion for him was restricted.
"Is that everything you have to say?" She asked with rising anger. "What has become of you, Cornelius?" She asked seriously. "What has become of the man I knew once? Have you any idea of the damage you have caused?"
"I did what I thought was best. But I don't expect you to understand this," he said briskly and looked straight into her eyes without moving one muscle in his face.
She remembered that certain facial expression of him. It was defiance. For the first time she had seen it 40 years ago, after she had told him she would become the new transfiguration teacher in Hogwarts and leave her job in the Department of Mystery in the Ministry of Magic. She was sure, he had started to hate her that day.
"No, I certainly don't understand it. Since you've sent this awful..." She drew a deep breath, searching for the right word that didn't include an offence. "...Person into this school students have been tortured, corrupted and almost got killed, because of her. The school is a mess, the whole country lives in fear and everything because of you and your paranoia!" Now she rose from her chair and she didn't feel any pain. Her anger on him burned like fire in her and let her forget about her injuries. "How could you allow her to transform this school, your old school into some kind of weapon against Dumbledore and Potter?"
"Because Dumbledore and Potter left me no choice. The panic they tried to cause would have been far worse!" He yelled bitterly and eyed her dangerously. "But whom am I telling this? Beware the day Minerva McGonagall takes my side instead of Albus Dumbledore's! You never even tried to see my point of view. Has there been one day in the last 40 years when you haven't lay to Dumbledore's feet?" The disgust on his face and the bitterness in his voice shocked her deeply. She had always known Cornelius had been scared of Dumbledore, had feared the other wizard's power and his ideas, but the hatred she could read on his face was unbelievable.
"Why do you hate him so much? What has he done to you that justifies the risk of letting the dark lord rise again?"
"You know damn well, what he has done... he has doubted every decision of mine, he wanted to manipulate me until I turned into his puppy dog... no he didn't want official power. He was too clever to become Minister... He wanted me to do his dirty work and if something went wrong I would be made the scapegoat. But not with me!"
He threw the bowler to his feet and started passing the room. The image of an imprisoned animal crossed her mind and she decided it was best to find a way to end this conversation, before their exchange became even more unpleasant.
"Cornelius..." she started, but he cut her sentence off. "Oh and yes, of course, I forgot something," he added with a bitter chuckle. "He took you away from me. One question, one smile from him and you followed him without questioning him." He looked around, absorbing every detail of her office. "And this is where it brought you. A dark old office… You know, Dolores told me everything about your late-night meetings. Your closeness... locked doors and secret smiles and glances," his voice became huskier. "How could you stay in this school and play his whore..."
"Now that's enough!" She yelled and her flat hand hit the desk, causing a new wave of pain in her whole body, but she ignored it. "I don't know how very often I told you that there's nothing, absolutely nothing between Dumbledore and me!"
"I know what I see and believe me Dolores knows what she saw!"
"Dolores Umbridge knows nothing! That woman doesn't have the sense of a goose and you know it! She's nothing but a ambitious, pathetic, evil cockroach that did her best to drive Dumbledore away so that she could impress you! She feeded you with lies and half-truths to ensure to have your undivided attention!" Her former white cheeks where flushed now. The words left her lips quickly and she didn't care if he was still her minister or just one of her students who misbehaved in her class. Her fury was stronger than her usual composed manner and she couldn't help it.
"Dolores Umbridge stroked your ego and Merlin knows what, because she knew she gained power over you that way! She played you a fool and you fell for it!" She breathed heavily and clang to her desk to keep her composure. „Don't dare to compare Dumbledore and me to you and her!"
He had frowned upon her last sentence and avoided her sparkling eyes.
"At least I know now, why this woman hates me so much... why she tried to kill me. Jealousy." She laughed bitterly. "I'm almost afraid to ask what you told her about me."
"Just the truth," he said lowly. "I told her a story about the only woman I ever loved.. how I felt betrayed by her when she left me for a simple teaching job, because she had fallen for another man and don't dare telling me it isn't true, Minerva, because I know you love him!" He pointed with his finger at her. "I know it! I saw it in your eyes the night he escaped the school!"
"You know nothing. Did you ever tell that story to your wife? As far as I remember I never got a howler or a curse from her!"
"Our ways parted a long time ago," Cornelius said bitterly. "I couldn't love her and she couldn't love me. You know what the worst thing is… that even after all those years I never lost hope. I had given you anything… when Dumbledore had to leave some years ago; after the Chamber of Secrets had been opened I gave you this school… I kept people from removing you in favour of someone else, because I knew what it meant for you to stay here. I trusted in you!"
„You wanted to buy my affection?" She asked in disbelief.
I wanted you to know how much I still loved and appreciated you – despite everything."
"Despite everything," she repeated flatly and shook her head. "Seems you found solace and a perfect replacement in Dolores Umbridge. You could entrust your feelings to Umbridge... she must possess skills I don't even want to think of." Minerva shrugged in disgust. She hardly remembered the few months she had spent with Cornelius Fudge when she worked for the Ministry. It was all hidden under a flood of happy memories of the many years in Hogwarts.
"Don't blame me, because I chose to live a life that fulfilled me. I've always told you that teaching was everything I ever wanted to do."
"Teaching at his side... close to his bedside." He grumped stubbornly. "I bet the two of you have made plans to take over the ministry, after my fall. And you know what? You've succeeded! He can have the job, because I'm finished. They're going to kick me out like an old dog!"
"Don't you dare to blame him or me for your failings. He warned you, the order warned you... we all warned you, but you decided to listen to your broken ego and a cold-hearted mistress! And besides... he won't take the job. He only cares for the safety of his country and the safety of his school. He doesn't label his conscious with a reputation he can't keep up."
Since she felt stable enough again, she circled her desk and stopped behind her chair. She grabbed the two tips of the chair-back and starred at Cornelius Fudge.
"Is there anything else you wish to talk to me about?" She asked coldly and waited. The desk made the emotional dsitance between them visible. There was nothing left to say or feel.
"No. I just came here to see how you feel. But I realized once again my concern is neither wanted nor appreaciated."
"It's not. Not if you're like this."
"Then there's nothing left to say."
He put the bowler back on his head and turned on his heels.
His hand froze on the door handle. For a heartbeat or two he contemplated facing her again, but then he decided otherwise and left. Both had made their choices and the war had just begun.