Looking back on this story I can see the definite changes and advances in my style as a writer. It has been a pleasure to write, but it's time to let go now that I have achieved everything I wanted to with the characters. There is fluff in with the angst, so fear not StarieTartan! Thanks to all who have read "All Is Fair", and I hope that you've enjoyed it as much as I have.
Owing largely to the help of Pernelle, Minerva was dressed in the simple black robes of mourning. She leant heavily against Albus as he all but carried her into the chapel. They followed Nicholas and Pernelle into a pew near the front and Minerva looked around her, taking in the faces of those who had survived the war and recalling those who did not. She relaxed as Albus cast a cushioning charm on the space she was occupying, becoming instantly more comfortable.
"Thank you." He squeezed her hand in response. Minerva listened to the hushed waves of chatter that echoed around the church, watching as a wizard in austere black robes stood to preside over the ceremony. When he cleared his throat the church fell silent. The ceremony was conducted with taste and sensitivity, and although it was horrible to think of Edith lying dead in her casket there was a measure of comfort to be found in seeing firsthand how many lives she had touched even if she had no surviving family; the chapel was overflowing. Old friends and colleagues spoke of Edith fondly, adding anecdotes about her bravery and dour behaviour that caused Minerva to laugh and cry into the handkerchief that Nicholas silently offered.
"Would anyone else care to speak?" The official offered the podium and before she knew what she was doing, Minerva stood. There were several whispers as Albus rose to support her, one hand against her back and the other clinging to her waist. Each and every step was a trial and by the time she reached her destination Minerva was seeing stars, but she couldn't ignore the burning need to share with these people exactly what Edith had done. The man leading the service stepped back in surprise as she clung to the front of the large wooden platform. Before her there were indentations for a wand and note cards. Minerva had no speech but she knew exactly what words would come out of her mouth.
"Hello, my name is Minerva McGonagall and I'm going to have to keep this short, you'll be thankful to know, because I'm going to pass out soon." There was some nervous laughter. "This morning I read an article in the Daily Prophet that told a lie, and I know that this isn't uncommon nowadays, but this is one that I can put right. The journalist referred to me as 'a hero', which simply isn't true; Edith saved more lives than anyone in the fight against Gellert Grindelwald, and she is far more deserving of this title than I could ever hope to be. Even though it sapped away at her strength and probably scared her witless- not that she'd ever admit it- Edith tracked Grindelwald when nobody else was brave or skilled enough to do it.
When I first met Edith I was tired, grumpy and ungracious. I had no prior knowledge of the losses she had suffered, which is how I think Edith would have preferred it to remain because she never raised the subject again, and I judged her harshly. She thought that I was idealistic, vain and foolish, and I thought that she was selfish. After time we came to respect one another and developed a rapport- I was astonished by her skill, and in time Edith came to understand that I was wholeheartedly involved in resisting Grindelwald, that it wasn't a passing fancy.
And I was committed, but I was also terrified. I was inexperienced with combat outside of the classroom, and there are many with attributes that would have made them a better choice for her to stand by as the war drew to a close. But Edith stayed with me. She trusted me when even I doubted myself. If she hadn't made the assumption that I could achieve my animagus form, or stayed with me when I went into Nurmengard, then I would never have made it beyond that wilderness. Edith was the bravest person I've ever met, and she ventured where few others would dare. I'm never going to forget her, but whatever lies beyond I know that Edith won't look back- she looked death in the face and she didn't blink." By the time she had finished speaking Minerva's head was pounding and she was practically slumped over the podium, but every eye had been glued to her. She spotted Poppy, Alastor and an extremely thin Xiomara seated near the back and staring as though they didn't recognise her. There was an awful pause, during which Minerva wondered if she had somehow managed to offend the crowd, but they applauded her with the gusto that had been given to every other speaker. "Thank you for listening."
Minerva was grateful when Albus guided her back to their seat. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably and he took them both in his. Murdoch leant forward in his seat to whisper into his daughter's ear.
"You did Edith a true honour." He squeezed her shoulder before sitting back, and Minerva was glad that she had followed her instincts. If she had to spend the next week in bed because of going out too early, then she could do it knowing that she had done everything possible for Edith's memory.
No more people spoke, and so the ceremony concluded. Albus, Minerva, Nicholas and Pernelle waited for the church to empty before making their exit; the youngest member of the quartet was, as per Pernelle's instructions, to remain standing for as little time as possible. Murdoch went to represent the McGonagall family at the burial, as Minerva was supposed to return to bed. Finally, the crowd filtered through the doors and into the sunlight leaving them to follow at a more sedate pace. Minerva stopped altogether as she caught sight of her three best friends, clearly waiting for her, and waited for them to notice her. A sharp crack let her know that Nicholas and Pernelle had tactfully disapparated.
"Isn't it a bit strange, thought?" As always Xiomara was blunt about her meaning. With interest, Minerva continued to listen. It was surreal seeing her closest friend animated once more, the colour returning to her cheeks.
"Maybe, but did you see the way Professor Dumbledore was holding her when she went up to speak? And the way he stood behind her the entire time in case Minerva fell? That was rather sweet." Poppy shrugged as the other two looked at her, and Minerva was grateful that at least one of her friends was so insightful. She leant back against Albus and they continued to observe in silence.
"Did Minerva ever say anything to you two about Dumbledore?" Both women fussed over Alastor as he made to touch the bandages over his eye socket. "Okay, okay I won't touch it. She's a cracker to look at, but he's old and-" Alastor misinterpreted their silence and with his impaired vision did not see that his companions had spotted the subjects of their conversation. "What? Xiomara I've told you, there's nothing between me and Minerva. She's like my sister. Oh."
"Xiomara!" Minerva was at once delighted to see her best friend well and saddened by the distance that seemed to have developed between them. Taking care to be gentle, Xiomara engulfed Minerva in a very dilute version of the bear hug that had once been a standard part of Minerva's life; the other girl had always ignored her reservations towards affection.
"Min... I'd say you're looking well, but..." Despite herself Minerva laughed. She knew that she was pale, drawn, bony and had shadows underneath her eyes but it was good that Xiomara could still tell her these things. Minerva watched as her best friend's bird like eyes darted nervously towards her lover. "Professor Dumbledore."
"Miss Hooch, it is truly a delight to see you recovered." Albus spoke with genuine warmth that spurred Alastor into action. He nudged Xiomara, who was still openly staring at their head of house.
"So, you and Minerva..." Despite the tension Alastor smiled- he loved his girlfriend's penchant for faux pas. "Er... how are you, Minerva?"
"I'm hellish, but thank you for asking anyway. And how do you feel?" No longer strong enough to moderate their contact for her friends' comfort, Minerva leant back flush against her fiancé. She grasped Albus' hand for support too.
"More tired than I'm used to, and quite surprised. So much has happened since Lancey attacked me. The war's over and you're getting married. Merlin, are you sure you're ready to be up and about." Minerva looked down fondly at her engagement ring as it sparkled in the sunlight. She smiled reassuringly.
"You're right, I think I need to go and lie down now, though once I've slept I'd love to see you all again." Alastor surprised her by coming forward and kissing her forehead. Touched by the gesture, Minerva reached forward and brushed the skin around his bandage with her fingertips until Xiomara coughed. "I believe Alastor hit the nail on the head when he said we were as siblings, and besides I'm taken."
"Do you want us to bring you back to McGonagall land? I could use apparition and stay until Mr McGonagall gets back." Poppy came closer and gave Albus an easier smile than the other two had managed.
"Thank you but I'm actually staying at Albus' home just now." Minerva watched as all three of her friends became distinctly uncomfortable as the information took root in their minds. She hoped that Albus was dealing with this and wished that he wasn't behind her so that she could see into his eyes. What he said next greatly surprised her.
"Would the three of you care to dine with us tomorrow evening?" He stroked the back of Minerva's hand as discreetly as possible. Xiomara and Alastor exchanged a glance that was not as subtle as they had perhaps intended, and Poppy's eyebrows rose a little, but she was the first to regain her composure.
"Yes, if it doesn't inconveniencing you then we'd be delighted, sir." Poppy directed a disapproving stare at the other two until they nodded in response, shrugging apologetically when they failed to speak.
"Good, then it's settled. I'll collect you myself at six o'clock outside the Hogwarts gates. Goodbye until then." She felt Albus' hands tighten around her before they disapparated.
"I honestly hadn't expected you to do that, Albus- not if it makes you uncomfortable. This is your home, after all." Minerva found it difficult to remain serious as he lowered her back onto the nest of bedding and pillows that she had fantasised about returning to ever since getting out of bed. She watched as Albus removed her shoes and flicked his wand to replace her mourning robes with her favourite pyjamas. He sat beside Minerva and they shared a tender kiss, the first since she had regained consciousness.
"Ah yes, but this is to be your home as well, and as it will help you become acclimatised to your new environment it would be beneficial for you to have an opportunity to act as a hostess to your friends. I would not wish to come between you, although I know that our relationship will come as a shock to them. It may not matter to you that I am "old" and you are "a cracker" to look at, but it will to your friends." The ironic smile around Albus' mouth as he quoted Alastor let her know that he was completely at ease with their situation.
"Come here." Minerva caressed the side of his face. "You're a remarkable man, Albus Dumbledore, and I love you."
"And I love you." He smiled as Minerva stifled a yawn. "Now rest." Content, Minerva gave in to sleep.
"Albus?" The room was dark, which told Minerva that it was night time. She located her fiancé standing beside the bed, a candle casting a most attractive light across his auburn hair. Instantly he was by her side.
"Minerva, I'm glad to see that you've woken up. You looked serene resting there, but you need to eat some food and take three potions. And there are things about which we must talk, but first you shall tell me what it is that you wish to eat." Minerva felt safer than she had for the longest time as he held her- it was only just sinking in that there was to be no more fighting or risky missions. There was nothing in the world that made her want to move from this spot where Albus' firm chest supported her weight and his beard scratched gently at her temple.
"I'm not particularly hungry." For a moment Minerva hoped that he wouldn't respond, but she knew as soon as he sighed that it was wishful thinking.
"You've slept so much that you've barely eaten enough to sustain a house elf over the past few days, my love, and you are growing alarmingly slight. Your body needs nutrition to heal." Minerva did not argue with him. His words made sense, but above all else she wanted to hold Albus. "How about a small fillet of salmon and a drink of water- is that still your favourite meal?"
"May I have the salmon cold?" Albus laughed, and it occurred to Minerva that it had been too long since she had last heard this precious sound. She adored his laughter; the way it spread through a room and was so naturally uplifting.
"You can have it piping hot, lukewarm, cold or freezing- whatever pleases you, so long as I see you eating well again." Minerva remained securely ensconced in his arms as Albus summoned a house elf. When the food arrived he added more pillows to her pile so that she would not choke and fed Minerva with care. She almost managed to finish the little portion of fish, but after going so long without a proper intake of food Minerva found that she couldn't manage to eat much. Albus did not press her to consume more, holding each potion to her lips and allowing Minerva to remain as still as possible.
"You wanted to speak of something?" Feeling better for having eaten, Minerva was ready to hear what it was that was clearly causing Albus stress.
"Yes. I need to explain so much to you about why Gellert was so very strong, and what drove him. I have told you about Ariana's death, but not the circumstances that caused it." Minerva listened attentively as he went into great detail about meeting Grindelwald, explaining about their quest for the Deathly Hallows and the acquisition of power. By the end of the story Albus looked as tired as she felt and Minerva longed to hold him again. "We were two talented, foolish young men. I let my ambition warp me in my search for glory. I'm sorry that I did not explain before not, but the knowledge was so dangerous and I didn't want to put you at risk." He closed his eyes in shame.
"Oh Albus..." More thoughts passed through Minerva's mind than she knew how to process. In Nurmengard tower Grindelwald had questioned her about the Resurrection Stone, and now she understood exactly what it had meant and why Helen McGonagall had been killed. "He came after my mother because he believed she was working on the Resurrection Stone. I always wondered what it had been- what there was that Grindelwald would have killed for."
"Had we not uncovered the Hallows then-" She silenced him by placing a finger over his mouth; it had not been her intention to distress Albus. Ignoring the pain across her front, Minerva shifted so that she was sat in his lap. He was human and thus prone to errors.
"That just about ended me, so you're going to do me the courtesy of looking me in the eye as I speak. Firstly, if you and Grindelwald discovered the truth then others are bound to know. You didn't kill my mother, nor were you involved in her death. One fatally flawed man allowed his greed to drive him, but he wasn't you, Albus, only Grindelwald. Ultimately, you chose to do the right thing and let go of your ambition. The man I love always had the courage to do the right thing, even if you did make mistakes along the way." Minerva couldn't help but grimace as the ache grew steadily worse.
"I refused the post of Minister. Minerva, I cannot be trusted to follow the path free of avarice if I am to be elevated above others." The frantic desperation in his eyes made Minerva's heart clench. She wished that she were older and wiser so that she could hope to be more of a help to him.
"I don't believe that is strictly true considering your willingness to face your flaws, but I will support you whatever you decide, my love."
"Do you think badly of me in light of what I have shared with you? Please be honest with me." She considered the question carefully; Albus could have killed Ariana, Albus could have ignored his conscience and gone the way of Grindelwald, and Albus could have taken anything and everything for himself, forever changing the landscape of the magical community- all of these things scared Minerva- but he had not. He had shown moral fortitude and done the right thing.
"No. It is the choices we make that define us, and you have atoned for your misdeeds: I can see that whenever we speak of your family. Now it's late and I would like nothing so much as to fall asleep beside you. We can talk more in the morning if you'd like." Minerva lay back on the bed and stretched out her hand for Albus to join her. "You normally stay still while you're sleeping, so as long as you don't lean on me then we should be fine."
"Minerva, I do love you." Blowing out the candle, Albus climbed into bed as carefully as he could. He was pleasantly surprised when Minerva chose to make him his pillow.
"If you roll over then I'll still love you, but I will not be in the best of moods." It was hard to believe, but things were going to go back to normal- as normal as her life could ever be; in time she would marry Albus, finish her apprenticeship and then start a career of her choosing. Her friends and her father had survived the battle at Nurmengard and would, in their own ways, accept her relationship with Albus. With a final sleepy kiss and thoughts of what the future could hold, Minerva drifted off to sleep, secure in his arms.
For a fortnight Minerva remained at Albus' home, slowly but surely recovering. By the time she returned to school there were only a few days left and she had missed her final exams, but taking her academic record into account it was agreed by her teachers that she would be awarded an 'Outstanding' pass for every one of her subjects. She was a little disappointed about not having sat the papers, but none of her friends seemed to share her pain. It was the final day of term and Minerva was luxuriating outside on the grass, basking in the sunlight and enjoying her last days as a Hogwarts student.
"Merlin, Minerva do you see the way they're looking at you?" Xiomara had not expected her friend's celebrity status, and groups of younger students were openly staring at Minerva. She did not look up from her book.
"It is rather sweet but I'm not that attractive." Alastor swatted at her with his quidditch magazine.
"Here comes someone who begs to differ." Xiomara and Poppy dissolved into the shy giggling that was only ever caused by the sight of their Transfigurations professor. Minerva finally looked up from her book, her hair blowing gently in the breeze. Albus had taken care of her every whim as she recovered, but it was wonderful being back outside with the feel of grass between her toes.
"He is old but I see what you mean Minerva- there's something so suave about him. And he's a total sweetheart. You're lucky to have a man who's so devoted to you." Poppy flushed scarlet as she met Minerva's gaze.
"Just you keep your hands away from my fiancé and think of our beloved Head Boy!" Pulling herself into a sitting position, Minerva brushed her hair from her face and allowed her diamond ring to sparkle.
"Good morning to you all." Albus gestured for her friends to remain where they were. "There is no need for you to leave as what I am about to ask Miss McGonagall is of relevance to you all."
"Professor, pretty much everyone who went to the ministry's celebration party knows you two are at it, so I think it would be alright if you called her Minerva." Xiomara gave him a winning smile which Albus couldn't help but return. She squealed as he got down on one knee before Minerva, which caused Alastor to roll his remaining eye.
"Sir, please stop filling her head with ideas."
"Alas Mr Moody, that will not be possible. I was wondering if you would like to marry me tomorrow morning Minerva, and on the presumption that her answer if affirmative I extend an invitation to each of you." Albus' eyes danced brightly with mischief.
"Minerva McGonagall if you say no then I will never speak to you again." Poppy looked to be beside herself with glee.
"Yes I will." Throwing propriety to the wind, Minerva wound her arms around his neck and kissed him, ignoring the cat calls and chattering of the younger students. She felt Albus stroke her back and couldn't help but sigh in pleasure. Only when she could no longer breathe did Minerva pull back, taking in Albus' dazed expression with slight amusement.
"This is the worst kept secret in Hogwarts history." Several pairs of eyes turned to face Alastor. "What?"
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