Love & Healing
"We don't have much time," Severus said as he closed the hospital room door behind him.
"This won't take long," Albus replied, regaining his visibility as he moved towards Minerva's bedside.
It pained him to look down upon her unconscious body, her face etched with the physical shock of taking four Stunning Spells straight to the chest. Severus remained standing at the door, wanting to give the Headmaster as much privacy as possible in the cramped room. He faintly heard Albus whisper something to Minerva about her being "so brave" as he took her frail, limp hand tenderly within his own.
"I should have been there," he spoke more loudly, presumably to Severus this time, though his eyes never left Minerva.
"What good would you have done?" Severus replied with a hint of irritation in his voice. "Gotten yourself sent to Azkaban? Possibly even worse..."
Albus turned his head slightly towards Severus but did not respond. Severus could tell that his concern with even this possibility lay within how his being sent to Azkaban would have affected Minerva and the school rather than himself. A sudden, unexpected sense of sympathy for witnessing someone else in such a familiar situation washed over Severus and tugged at his heart. He had always expected as much from the two of them but had always shrugged away the thought. Now he watched for a few more moments, intrigued as Albus continued to hold tight to Minerva's hand and gaze at her as if trying to permanently burn her image into his mind.
"I think we should go," Severus said at last, his black eyes narrowed in curiosity at his new enlightenment of the situation before him.
"Perhaps you're right," Albus mumbled with a small sigh.
He leaned down and gave Minerva a quick yet meaningful kiss on the forehead. Severus, somewhat embarrassed, turned away from the obvious display of affection. After one more gentle squeeze of her hand, Albus turned back to Severus with a nod.
A flawless Concealing Charm trickled over Albus's body like ice-cold water, leaving Severus to lead the way out of St. Mungo's. When they had reached their given area, the two Disapparated back where Albus was safe.
"You love her," Severus said as they arrived, even before the effects of Albus's Concealing Charm had fully worn away.
It was an observation rather than a question. Albus, however, kept silent and did not meet Severus's inquiring gaze.
"Why haven't you mentioned this before?" he continued.
Albus exhaled loudly as he sank into a high-backed chair.
"What would have been the purpose?" he asked, his expression downcast.
"It's too dangerous," Severus exclaimed.
At last, Albus met Severus's eyes.
"I would know," Severus added weakly, speaking what he knew Albus was thinking.
At the thought of Lily, a lump formed in Severus's throat. He swallowed hard.
"Which is why no one can know," Albus said softly. "Not even Minerva..."
He spoke the last part with an inflection of bitterness.
"You're going to keep this from her forever?" Severus asked, his tone almost challenging.
"I see no other logical choice. I intend to protect her."
"This kind of secret will poison you," Severus warned, "and her as well."
"Then what do you suggest?" he asked, his voice low and gruff.
"Tell her," Severus replied simply. "Who knows how many more chances you'll have?"
Again, images of Lily surged to Severus's mind.
Albus nodded as he considered this, pressing his fingertips together in the shape of a steeple.
"And if she refuses my advances?"
Severus smirked at Albus's question.
Albus opened his mouth to respond, but Severus cut him off before he had the chance.
"For such a wise man, you must be quite foolish in matters of the heart if you haven't figured out by now how much she cares for you."
Albus's eyes widened. Had he really spent been so blinded by his fantasies that somehow Minerva could actually find it in her heart to love him that he didn't realize it when those dreams became reality?
"I have to go," Severus said at last. "Be there when Professor McGonagall is released from St. Mungo's. The Ministry won't have their hand in Hogwarts for much longer," he promised.
"You'll keep our secret?" Albus asked.
Severus gave a half smile, noting how Albus had never given away his own secret love for Lily.
With a loud crack, Severus was gone.
Days later when Minerva regained her consciousness, she felt an odd peace about her despite the pain, quite like the comfort of having a good friend close by. The distinct scent of lemon drops wafting in the usually sterile hospital wing air was like a balm for her weary body and soul. She took a deep breath and blinked a few times to clear her blurry vision. A small smile softened the lines of her face as she reached out her fingertips to caress a petal on the bouquet of red roses left on her nightstand with a handwritten note that simply said "To the bravest witch I've ever known."