Chapter Three: Hogwarts
They ate the buttered toast and jam on the balcony, standing upright. Albus cradled his toast in the entirety of his palm when he didn't eat it. Minerva supposed this was to keep the jam from falling on the floor. Of course, if he ate toast like a normal person, he wouldn't have to worry about it, but seeing as how he ate the corners first, dripping was clearly a problem.
The man noticed the smirk on Minerva's lips. He wiped his face with his forearm, but said nothing. It would just be another moment that they shared. It didn't need to be acknowledged.
She turned her gaze towards the street below her, then across the way. None of the flats in the area showed any sign of life. It was well into the evening, though she didn't dare look to see the precise time. It may be but one, or maybe closer to four. Either way, they were alone—a privilege she couldn't remember ever really having with the man.
They hadn't had much at all, she reflected. What had there been? His office. His room. His desk. They had nothing, except perhaps for each other. How that ever happened in the first place, she couldn't understand.
Minerva glanced to her side at the man who was leaning over the balcony. "How did it start, Albus?" She looked at the man, who raised an eyebrow. Minerva inhaled and then exhaled, "How is it that a teacher like you should take up with a student?"
Albus blinked gently, his brilliant blue eyes sparkling in the moonlight. He put his arms around her hips and ran his fingers over the silk of her robe. He sighed, "I wish I knew."
She shook her head gently, never feeling quite so vulnerable. "I hadn't…been with anyone before you, Albus. I had hardly so much as kissed anyone. Why is it that you, the one age-appropriate man that I couldn't love, were my first?"
"Well, as I recall," he stared reassuringly at her, "I kissed you one night in my office, back when you helped me grade homework. And then I didn't see you for a time outside of class. A very long time. Then we went out somewhere. Hogsmeade, I suppose, with the other students. The next thing I recall is making love to you in my office. I didn't know that you had never…at the time."
The woman saw regret in his eyes at that last bit. No, he wouldn't have known. She kissed him gently on the lips, holding the back of his head in her hand. A soft smile crept over her lips. "You had no way to know," she whispered. "And I really would not have wanted it another way."
"You cried," he raised an eyebrow.
"Because I was scared."
He nodded his head gently. "I was terrified."
"Why did you do it," she pleaded with her eyes, "make that leap? You had all the power in the situation. I was too young, too inexperienced to seduce you, as much as I may have wanted to. You were the one who allowed it. Started it. Why? Did you not see what was ahead of us?"
Albus ran his hand up and down her slim back, feeling every ridge. He did not look her in the eye at first, but rather, thought it over before meeting her gaze. "I didn't care," he whispered. "At first, I didn't care that I had everything to lose. I had everything to gain, Minerva. You were the only thing I wanted."
Her stomach fell, even as she whispered it, "Until you had to make the choice."
"I did it for you," he bobbed his head, as if he was trying to convince himself of something, "I submitted to Armando's request that I end it for you. For you to become whatever it is that you were going to become. So you could be what you are right now: accomplished, beautiful, exceeding beyond even my expectations."
His intentions were good. Even as a teenager, she could see that. But it was so much easier to believe that he wronged her, rather than he did it for her. Emotionally speaking, she would sooner have kept him and left Hogwarts. Realistically speaking, that never was an actual option—she would indeed have lost everything she had worked for. "You never held me back," she shook her head.
"No?" he slid a finger down her cheek. She melted as it reminded her of their first kiss. It had been a hair that he moved behind her ear—such a simple thing to do. But they stood there in emotional limbo, her eyes set on his which bore into her every need and desire. Her hand fell on his, back then, pressing the heat onto her red cheeks. He kissed her very gently as they crossed that line from friends to lovers. And that had been it. They came to their senses and she left. No, indeed she did not come back the next day to help him with his work.
Minerva shook her head. "You pushed me to become better, to want more. And I have it now," she added gently. "I have everything I worked for…and so do you," she swallowed.
He kissed her, a sweet gentle, terrified kiss pent up from years of regret and ignorance. The way that his lips swept across hers let her know everything she ever needed to know. If there was such thing as a love, they shared it. But so what? What were they to do now, now that they had found each other again?
Unintentionally, a tear slid down her face, just one—her lips clenched together in an attempt to stop more from falling. He saw it slide down her face, but made no attempt to stop it. Rather, he embraced her, pulling her close. She inhaled his scent and heaved back the tears. She was so much better than that, not a bumbling, crying idiot. She could control herself, damn it. Her fingers clenched at his back; he cradled her head and kissed her atop the crown. She inhaled deeply, fighting back the emotion she had embedded over the years.
She had cried twice before him in the past. The first time, after they made love for the first time—as she had told him, it was for fear, not regret. The second time she cried was when he ended their relationship. It had been just one tear then as well; she broke down the second she was out of his sight.
Here, standing on her balcony in his arms, she felt the culmination of those two moments—the beginning and the end. Somehow, an aftermath had been fated and it hurt no less.
"It's not worth it," he said bravely as she shook silently in his arms.
No, it hadn't been. It was not that they had not been together, not really—though she would have liked to keep him. The problem was closure. It never existed. She never let herself love anyone else, not like she loved Albus. A part of her was very empty, incomplete because of that. She had given what seemed like everything up for him; not very much of it was returned. Maybe that's why she was not herself tonight. She'd found where she left her love and was grappling with it.
He ran his fingers through her long hair contemplatively before speaking, "Success means nothing without someone to share it with."
"I know," she whispered, knowing that he understood. He did not know her life story or what sort of trials she went through after Hogwarts, but he understood. He had some ordeals himself; he was Albus Dumbledore, after all. "Has it been terrible for you?" she whispered, looking up into his eyes, knowing that her own were puffy and red.
His lips touched the top of her forehead, then her nose and finally her lips. He smiled sadly, "Minerva, you could never know the deep regret that has filled my life. I feel hollow inside. All the glory in the world could not make me wish to do everything the same again. I would change it all. But I cannot. And so I must press on."
She nodded her head. What a beautiful man he was.
"Minerva, I have never asked you to do anything for me. Everything we went through was of our own separate volitions. But I have a request." He paused and looked at the woman who nodded gently. "I want you to come to Hogwarts to teach."
"Teach transfiguration?" she raised an eyebrow, taken aback.
He smiled gently, all the worry leaving his face. It was almost as if it was something had been thinking about for a long time; it wasn't a new thought at all. "Yes. When Armando told me that he was retiring, it occurred to me that I needed to replace myself. And the first person I thought of, believe it or not, was you. I've been following your work for the last six months. I even made some inquiries," he stopped and laughed a little bit, "both professionally and personally speaking. Minerva, I want you to work with me."
Her mouth twitched between the smile that wanted desperately to take over her face and the tight-lipped look of knowing that aided in her credibility. "So tonight was your way of making a business proposition?"
"No," he shook his head with sincerity, "I did not know that tonight, this," he whispered while gesturing between the two of them, "was going to happen. How I feel for you has nothing to do with the fact that you deserve to be at Hogwarts."
She blinked, stuck somewhere between the deep love she had for Hogwarts, the flattery she felt with the man, and the unknown future she saw for herself and Albus. "Albus," her voice trembled, "I don't…I don't want to push things, but what does that mean for us, now that this has happened?" It was a sincere question. What did that make them? She could hope for a future all she wanted with the man, but she never deigned to believe that it would happen—and yet, by the same token, there was the capacity, nay probability of failure.
His eyes were serious. "Minerva, I need you to be a part of my life. Tonight confirmed that for me. I have never felt as challenged…happy…lively as I do with you. If you will have me, I will have you. If not, then I will get on somehow…" he looked around for the final words, which came easily once they were found: "But I hope that you will."
It was unbelievable, certainly, what was being propositioned to her. It was too good to hope for, too much to hope for after six years of silence. And yet it was too much to lose. He had succeeded, suddenly, in putting her back into that terrible position she once had held: how much could she risk losing? She ran all the things she could lose through her brain in a millisecond: her job, credibility, home…Albus. But did she even have him? He had her.
"You want me," she whispered gently, "to teach at Hogwarts, leave my research position and my home, and…date you?"
He nodded his head. "Yes. And if it is agreeable to you, I would like to see you outside of Hogwarts during this school year…with any luck, we will know exactly what this is by next September."
Cautious. He was being cautious. Why wouldn't he be? He saw what she saw in the situation. There was a clear potential for failure and ruination of credibility for both of them. A year's worth of interaction, clearly, would benefit the both of them if they were to work together. Certainly, they could work as intellectuals, but when "lovers" was in the equation, things had certainly gone wrong in the past.
"No, I think it would be quite agreeable," she nodded with a dumbstruck smile.
"Good," he grinned, followed by a soft chuckle. The woman joined in as well and they had a gentle, flirtatious laugh together.