A/N: This story was written for Pinkie for the Secret Santa exchange on the Charming Roots board. I hope she will enjoy it! Happy Christmas and may you have a bright, New Year!
Christmas in Pepperinge Eye?
It was a quiet, peaceful night at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The snowstorm that was predicted had turned into an absolute blizzard, not that the couple curled up in front of the fire minded in the least. It was one of the few evenings Albus had free during the holiday season and Minerva wasn't going to let it go to waste.
Since his defeat of Grindelwald, Albus' life had been turned upside down. If he wasn't busy with his duties as Deputy Headmaster, he was being invited to formal and informal gatherings, most to his utter dismay. Albus had never been one to seek the limelight, though it seemed he could scarcely avoid it most days. It seemed that moments like these with Minerva were growing frustratingly scarce, something he vowed to remedy in the upcoming New Year.
Minerva, too, was facing her share of difficulties with Albus' soaring popularity. Witches were throwing themselves at him in an attempt to gain his attention or to be photographed with him in the hopes of appearing in the next edition of the Daily Prophet. And the stories that usually accompanied those photographs were, more often than not, much less than the absolute truth. It had grown so bad, Minerva had threatened to cancel her subscription and write a scathing letter to the editor about their lack of standards in reporting the facts. If Albus hadn't intercepted her on the way to the Owlery and convinced her otherwise, she might well have been the subject of an article as well ... a rather nasty one.
But it was the quiet moments like these that made loving Albus all worthwhile. The way he held her in his arms after their lovemaking and the tender words he whispered into her ears made the rest of the world melt away. She snuggled a little deeper into his arms and brushed her lips against his bare chest.
"Please, tell me you can stay the entire night. I don't think I could bear to let you leave me this evening, knowing you're in your own cold bed upstairs while I'm shivering in mine." Her voice was soft but the power of her words was fierce and spoke volumes to his heart.
He drew the blanket a little closer around her shoulders and sent a surge of magic towards the fireplace causing the flames to burn a little brighter. "You have me until we both have to leave for breakfast," he assured her. "Nothing could tear me from your arms this evening, my dear." And, true to his word, Albus stayed hidden away in her arms until they were forced to leave for breakfast in the Great Hall.
For the next three days, Minerva barely saw Albus. He was busy with his classes, and the Minister of Magic seemed to be looking for excuses to contact Albus with one problem or another. Between his classes, deputy headmaster duties, and those imposed on him by the Ministry, it was a miracle the man even had a moment to eat and sleep. Minerva watched in desperation, trying to do what she could to alleviate some of his workload and to be a stable and calming force for him. It was yet another reason she was looking forward to the Christmas holidays with him. They both needed the break from reality.
As had become her custom of late, Minerva was sorting through Albus' correspondence. Those owls she could answer for him were written and only needed his signature. Those which required a more personal response were placed into another pile with a note detailing the highlights and some possible answers. Then there was the stack of letters which would require his full attention. On more than one occasion, Albus had thanked her for going to so much trouble for him, though her response was always the same: "If I ever expect to see you again, I have to lend a hand."
It was at the end of one of those long days as Minerva sat at Albus' desk sorting his owls that she stumbled across a peculiar letter. It was addressed simply to Albus at Hogwarts and the return address was simply Eglantine, Pepperinge Eye. She debated for several long moments on whether or not she should open what appeared to be a personal letter. In the end, her curiosity got the better of her.
I trust this owl reaches you without delay and finds you happy and well. It's been far too long since I saw you last, but if the Prophet is to be believed, you wouldn't have had a moment to spare for me anyway. Still, I do think of you often and wonder how you're doing these days.
I am doing rather well and am making great progress with my studies. I haven't forgotten your promise to help when and if you could and I deeply appreciate the books you loaned me. They've been most helpful in explaining the more technical side of things. I do believe I am growing quite adept at my Transfiguration spells and would love the opportunity to show you in person, hence, the reason for my owl to you today.
I am writing to invite you to dinner on the twenty-fourth of December. I realize that it is Christmas Eve and you may have plans with family or other friends, but I would deem it an honor if you would consider the invitation. It will be the first Christmas with the three of u,s and you know how Cosmic Creepers loves you, and he's a very particular cat, indeed.
I apologize if this owl is longer than necessary. If you'll be able to come for dinner, please let me know, and I promise to serve you something other than crème brulee. I do hope your beard has recovered from my last attempt at the dessert.
Eagerly awaiting your reply,
Minerva read through the letter for the third time, unsure of what to make of it. She had grown quite accustomed to reading Albus' fan letters, as she called them. In fact, she had quoted a few of them to him over the course of the last few weeks. It was amazing to her how brazen some witches could be, even when they'd had one too many spiked eggnogs.
Still, this particular letter puzzled Minerva. Obviously, this Eglantine person knew Albus well enough for him to loan her books and for her to have the opportunity to cook for him, something Minerva had yet to do. Deciding to ask him about it later, she pushed the letter aside and resumed sorting the other owls and grading her own stack of papers.
Unfortunately for Minerva, she would not be able to question Albus about the letter. As soon as his last class ended, he'd been summoned to the Ministry. He'd managed to send her an owl encouraging her to go to dinner without him and that he'd see her at breakfast the following morning. So, with a heavy heart, Minerva closed up his office and made a mental note to ask him about the owl the following day.
Minerva didn't sleep well at all that night. Her dreams were plagued with thoughts of Albus and this other woman from Pepperinge Eye and her cat, Cosmic Creepers. He'd never mentioned either the woman or the cat, and her curiosity was piqued. She had known from the moment she fell in love with Albus that she wasn't the first woman to share his bed. She had been unfortunate enough to meet one of his previous lovers at a small dinner party, and the woman was clearly still very bitter. But this witch wasn't bitter … or she simply didn't know Albus had started a relationship with someone else.
Minerva kicked the covers off her in frustration and began pacing in her bedroom. She wouldn't rest until she got to the bottom of this story, and the only way to do that would be to talk to Albus and seek direct answers. By the time she had reached her decision, it was too late to go back to bed and too early to go down for breakfast. So, she opted for a long soak in the tub as she mulled over her options.
Minerva was just finishing dressing for the day, making sure her hair was pulled back neatly, when a familiar knock sounded upon her door. She felt her heart began to race in anticipation of seeing Albus and asking him the burning questions which had been plaguing her, even in her dreams. But the questions died on her lips as she took one look at the wizard on the other side of her door.
He stepped inside and kissed her softly before taking the opportunity to hold her close for a long moment. Sensing her growing worry, Albus pulled back and offered her a small smile. "Sorry about that, my dear. I apologize for my neediness this morning. It was a long day, yesterday, and I missed seeing you last night."
Any doubts and apprehensions left Minerva instantly at his declaration, and she decided not to further burden him with her questions … yet. There would surely be a better time and place for them. Now, though, they needed to spend a few quiet moments alone before facing another busy day.
By the end of the day, Minerva needed to see Albus. Her fifth-year students had nearly destroyed her classroom when a spell backfired and created havoc. Fortunately for her, Minerva was quick thinking and was able to rectify the problem before any permanent damage was done to the students or the classroom. Her third-year class hadn't been much better. She wasn't sure who thought it was a good idea to put Slytherins and Gryffindors in the same classes, but if she ever got a say in the matter, she would surely make an argument for amending that practice.
As she walked into Albus' private rooms, she heard him speaking to someone. Not wishing to interrupt an important fire call or a private meeting, she listened at the door for a moment. It was a female voice, and from the sound of it, they were having a lovely chat.
"No, I just found the letter today. It was beneath some other papers on my desk. I'm sure it was merely an accident, dear. But I'll speak with Minerva about it and will owl or fire call you later. Scratch Cosmic Creepers for me."
"I promise, Albus, and I do hope you'll be able to come. You'd be more than welcome to stay overnight if you didn't wish to travel back to Hogwarts after dinner, though I'll understand if you have other plans."
"I will give it some consideration and let you know as soon as possible. Enjoy the rest of your evening," he said closing the connection just as Minerva entered the room. "Ah, my dear, come here and sit with me," he said, reaching out his hands to Minerva.
Minerva had come to him to seek comfort in his arms, her solace from the rest of the world. She hadn't expected to overhear such a personal conversation and it was almost too much for her to bear. "Albus, are you sure you want me to stay or should I simply take care of your paperwork and leave you to your private calls and obligations?" she snapped.
Albus was truly taken aback by her sudden sharpness, and he knew something was terribly wrong, though he hadn't a clue what it could be. Instead of reacting to her harsh and hurtful comments, he simply closed the distance between them and wrapped his arms around her, drawing her close. She seemed stiff in his arms as he led her over to the sofa, motioning for her to sit as he knelt in front of her.
He took both her hands in his and stared into her eyes, searching for answers. "My dear, I most assuredly want you to stay with me, and my only obligation right now is to find out what's bothering you and make it better, if I can."
Minerva scoffed as she looked at her hands encased in his and resting on her lap. "Make it better, you say? Easier said than done sometimes, especially when I see you so little these days."
He cringed and felt rather guilty about having to be away so often. He'd hoped that by taking care of the bigger issues on his plate, he would be able to spend the Christmas holidays with Minerva away from the school and uninterrupted. He hadn't taken into account that she might be feeling hurt and neglected in the meantime.
"My dear, I am sorry I'm gone so much lately. And while I'm grateful to you for all you're doing to help me with my owls and other work, I never meant for you to feel you must do any of it. Please, talk to me and tell me what's on your mind."
"Who were you talking to just then? It sounded like I was interrupting a rather personal call … what with the invitation to stay overnight and it being Christmas Eve." She could no longer hide the hurt in her voice, her green eyes not able to meet his blue ones, which were just as brokenhearted.
Albus gently released her hands and quickly moved to sit beside her on the sofa. He wanted to draw her into his arms but he knew that was the wrong move at the moment. "Eglantine is an old friend. Well, she's not exactly old, but I've known her for a few years. I met her through someone else at one point during the war."
"I've never heard you speak of her and yesterday was the first time I've seen a letter cross your desk. I would think your old friends would keep in touch with you, now more than ever since you are so popular." There was no denying her tone of voice as she spoke. She was hurt, angry, and confused.
It had finally dawned on Albus the reason for Minerva's mood. "My dear, let me assure you, swear to you, even, that there has never been any romantic link between me and Miss Price. While she is a lovely witch and growing quite talented in her magical abilities, she's no Minerva McGonagall ... now or ever."
Minerva turned her head sharply and stared into his eyes, not blinking for a long moment as she searched his face. "You're telling me that this witch you hardly know sends you a personal invitation to spend Christmas Eve with her and her cat and you have the audacity to tell me that she's merely an acquaintance?"
"Yes, because that is the truth." Without another word, Albus rose from his seat on the sofa and took Minerva's hand, drawing her to her feet and ushering her through his rooms and back into his office. "I swore when we started our relationship that there would be no secrets, except those necessary to keep you safe. While I don't consider this a secret or something which should be hidden or considered shameful, I do feel it necessary to show you my memories."
For the next few moments, Albus pulled memories from his mind and placed them into his pensieve. He wanted to reassure Minerva that her worries were baseless and that he'd spoken to Eglantine Price only a few times in person.
Reluctantly, Minerva dipped her head into the bowl and suddenly found herself standing in the middle of Portobello Road. She couldn't help but smile as she spotted Albus in his Muggle attire perusing one of the carts of second hand books.
"Emelius Browne, professor as he calls himself," Albus said to Minerva as he pointed to a man in a dark suit, dark hat, and a rather thick moustache. "And that, my love, is Eglantine Price," he added, pointing to a rather pretty woman with light colored hair. "We're all searching for a children's book that contained the spells of the star of Astoroth."
Minerva looked puzzled. "Treguna Mekoides and Tracorum Satis Dee? I thought every witch and wizard had at least heard of that spell, even if they couldn't master it."
"Ah, but that's just it, my dear. Mr. Browne isn't a real wizard. He only pretended to be so he could get Miss Price's money in exchange for the spells from the book. She, on the other hand, had few magical abilities that didn't manifest until later in her life. So, the spells he was sending to her would work for her. They're looking for the book so she can try the last spell, the one written on the star."
Minerva thought for a moment. "And why did you want the book? Seems a silly thing since we're told that story at a young age."
He explained that the Ministry had learned of Mr. Browne's little scam, and they had detected magic being used in and around Pepperinge Eye. "I was attempting to find the other half of the book but when I saw her and felt her magic for myself, I knew I had to help them."
Albus pulled Minerva from the memory, and they slipped into another one. This time, it was dark outside and Minerva heard the distinct sound of bagpipes and drums coming from a nearby hill. Instinctively, she moved a little closer to Albus, who slipped his arm around her shoulders reassuringly.
"As you can see, she was successful in getting the spell to work for her." They watched for a few moments, Minerva staring in rapt fascination at the scene unfolding before her eyes. "Miss Price and Mr. Browne were successful in expelling the Nazis from the area. It truly was a victory for our side."
Minerva felt the familiar tug, but she was almost certain she saw Eglantine and Emelius in an embrace just as Albus pulled her completely from the memory.
"So, you see, my dear, my association with Eglantine is purely platonic. I have seen her only a handful of times since that night. She's borrowed a few books in an effort to learn more about her magical abilities and to work on spells in the comfort of her home. I offered to assist her in any way I could. Apparently, she feels she has been successful enough that she wants to show me her progress. I believe, correct me if I'm wrong, that was what she was trying to convey in her owl to me."
Minerva was beginning to feel truly ashamed of herself for jumping to conclusions. "And the reference to Christmas Eve and it being just the three of you?"
Albus shook his head and a small smile curled about his lips. "I believe the letter said something like the three of us. I am assuming she means herself, her cat, and Mr. Browne. You see, they were recently married and it will be the first Christmas they've spent as a family." He took Minerva's hand and gave it a squeeze. "Remember, I told you I'd been invited to a wedding and wanted you to go with me but we ended up attending your grandmother's surprise birthday party instead?"
Minerva hung her head in embarrassment and shame, nodding her head in agreement. "I remember and I'm sorry I made such a mess of things. I'm sorry I doubted you and your feelings for me, but I'm most sorry for forcing you to show me these things instead of simply taking your word on them. Can you forgive me?"
Albus placed his finger beneath her chin and forced her to look at him. "I forgave you long before asked for it. I knew something had to have happened for you to be so upset. I'm only sorry it took me so long to work out the reasons behind your feelings. But I knew in my heart you trusted me and were only seeking answers to things you did not understand."
Before he could say another word, Albus' words were cut off by Minerva's lips on his. She kissed him soundly, as if her entire life depended on that one action. The kiss was filled with warmth, passion, remorse, and an unwavering love. When she pulled back from him, Minerva took his hand and began pulling him in the direction of the bedroom.
"I believe I have some apologizing to do, Albus. Do you think you feel up to a proper apology from me this evening?"
His eyes darkened with the idea of what lay in store for him if he agreed. "I believe I am up for receiving your apology and offering one of my own. I should warn you, though, it might take a few hours for me to properly express myself and for me to accept yours. We might miss dinner entirely, maybe even breakfast. It will be a Saturday, after all."
Minerva was already working on the fastenings of her robes, teasing him as she continued to walk backwards towards the large bed. "I'm sure if we should find ourselves in need of food, the elves will be more than happy to oblige."
Hours later, Albus and Minerva were cuddling amongst the rumpled sheets of his bed. "Albus, I think we should accept her invitation to Christmas Eve dinner. I was going to plan something special for you that evening, but there will be plenty of other opportunities, and it was kind of her to invite you."
Albus rolled onto his side and brushed Minerva's hair back from her shoulders, letting his hand travel lazily down her side to rest of her hip. "While I appreciate the offer and your willingness to meet her, I don't want to accept her invitation. I will arrange for us to have dinner at some other time, though. You see, I have already made plans for our Christmas celebrations, though they were supposed to be a surprise."
"A surprise?" she asked, truly excited and intrigued. "When were you going to tell me?"
Albus cast a sly glance to his robes on the floor and the black velvet box peeking out from one of the pockets. "I rented a cottage in the Highlands for a few days, but the rest of your surprise will have to remain a mystery until Father Christmas fills your stocking," he said with a wink and a grin. "I believe you've been a very good girl this year, and Santa always rewards those who've been exceptionally good," he added.
Minerva was quick to catch on to his double meaning. "Perhaps I should make certain Santa knows just how good I can be," she purred as her hand slipped between them and she began to lightly touch him. "Yes, better not to take any chances." She leaned in to kiss him passionately as she thought to herself, "I want what's in the velvet box."
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!