Love in the Shadows

A sharp pain hammered relentlessly at Minerva's temples. She rubbed them in a circular motion, putting as much pressure on them as she could stand in a desperate attempt to alleviate the throbbing headache she had been slowly developing all day. Her eyelids fluttered tightly closed, as even her eyes were weary and sore. Indeed, her entire body seemed to ache from the stress and sleep deprivation she was under. She let out a disgruntled puff of air from her dry lips as images of her horrid day flooded her mind. She was grateful, however, that a majority of her students had been on their best behavior since Albus had left the school, even if it was simply in efforts to help her spite that toad Dolores Umbridge.

"Ahem!"

Minerva nearly choked. Her eyes shot open, hoping beyond hope that that infernal sound had only been a figment of her currently disillusioned imagination.

"Forgive me for the interruption, Professor," Umbridge said, a sickeningly sweet smile plastered onto her rotund face as she stepped into Minerva's classroom. "You don't seem to be very busy, however," she added, her falsely kind tone dripping with obvious contempt.

Heat flushed to Minerva's cheeks as she struggled hard to keep herself from trembling with sheer violent fury.

"Is there something in particular you needed?" Minerva snapped.

"I came to bring you these forms to fill out," she replied innocently, holding up a stack of parchment papers at least a quarter of an inch thick. "They're part of your continuing evaluation from the Ministry, of course, so you'll want to finish these as soon as possible. Isn't it wonderful that you have so much free time?"

"Oh, absolutely!" Minerva exclaimed, her voice heavy with sarcasm and frustration.

Four classes to teach, endless papers to grade and additional paperwork to complete, lessons to prepare, and the entire Gryffindor House to take care of... but yes, of course she had time to fill out these useless, arbitrary forms!

"Very good, then," Umbridge said, giving her an overly wide grin as she deposited the papers on Minerva's desk.

Minerva stared down at them, considering setting fire to the parchment for the simple joy of watching something burn. She could not help but delight in the thought of how easy it would have been to bewitch a chair leg to stretch out and trip Dolores as she sashayed out of the classroom to find her next unsuspecting victim to torment. Common decency was all that kept Minerva from doing so. Still, it was a tempting thought – one that she might just have to "accidentally" pass along to her students; they were not so interested in keeping up appearances, after all.

With an exhausted, but not at all defeated, sigh, Minerva sank back against her closed bedroom door. She tipped her head back and stared up at the ceiling, her overworked eyes slipping in and out of focus. She had rarely ever had a day such as this, when she wanted nothing more than to abandon all her responsibilities and instead collapse into the warmth of her husband's comforting embrace. Since Dolores Umbridge and the Minister of Magic had all but forced Albus out of Hogwarts two nights ago, however, this was very much an impossibility. As if still needing at least the next best thing, Minerva, not bothering to turn on any lights, moved across the room to their bed, released her hair from its bun (just as Albus always preferred, she noted), magically changed into a comfortable nightgown, and crawled under the covers on his side of the bed, hugging his pillow tightly in her arms. Grateful for even an indirect connection with her husband, she closed her eyes and deeply breathed in Albus's warm, sweet scent, allowing it to soothe her mind and body as it enveloped her completely. In just a few brief moments, Minerva was fast asleep.

"Minerva."

The whisper was muffled and distant. Surely she was still dreaming.

"Minerva."

The voice was louder and clearer now, yet still just as warm. She opened her heavy eyelids and blinked a few times to clear the haziness of sleep from them. A lit candlestick on her nightstand offered a soft golden glow to part of the room, but she could not remember ever lighting it. As she was wondering whether or not the voice calling her name had been a dream after all, someone stepped out of the shadows to Minerva's usual side of the bed.

"Albus!"

In an instant, she was in his arms, holding tightly to him to make certain that he was not a dream or hallucination. He chuckled as she kissed him fully on the lips with much fervor.

"I trust that you and Dolores have become fast friends in my absence?" he teased.

Minerva shot him a deathly glare that could have rivaled that of a Basilisk, but she was so filled with joy at his return, even if it lasted for only a short time, that the look soon melted into a solid grin.

"Are you sure it's safe for you to be here?" she asked, concern for his safety taking over.

"No one else knows I'm here," he assured her as he gently pulled a curl of her silky hair in between his first two fingers. "I needed to see you," he added. "I've missed you dearly."

Minerva closed her eyes, as if allowing his words to wash over her. To say that she simply missed him as well would be a vast understatement.

"You have no idea," she replied huskily as she opened her eyes once more. "How long can you stay?"

Minerva snuggled farther into his arms, not sure of how well she could handle his leaving again.

"Until morning," Albus answered, kissing her jaw first and then her neck, lingering there for a moment to inhale her soft, feminine scent.

Minerva's frown deepened; she knew that this still meant he would be gone before she awakened.

"There's not much time," she said.

Her voice was deep and winded from emotion. She clutched the material at the front of his robes and drew him nearer as he cupped a hand over her flushed cheek.

"Then let's make the most of it."

The End