Tenderness

Shadows danced carelessly on the stone walls in the flickering candlelight. The hushed velvety night appeared fragile and fleeting as two sets of tarrying footsteps pierced the silence like a rhythmically stabbing knife. The air was crisp and strangely inviting as it enveloped the castle with its raspy, howling breath.

Minerva hitched her arm to Albus's and drew him closer as they continued to pass leisurely through the abandoned corridor.

"Such a lovely evening," Albus observed, his voice soft, as if careful not to disturb the serenity.

She nodded in agreement, clasping her fingers tighter around his strong forearm in an attempt to somehow mold herself completely against his skin. Albus paused and turned his body into her as his hands grazed the curve of her waist. She tipped her head back and watched in wonder as the depths of his sparkling eyes waltzed to a tune of purest love for her. She felt as if she were plunging into those pools of blue as he leaned into her and captured her lips with his own and eagerly drank in the sweetness of her kiss.

When they parted, lips slightly swollen from the heated moment, Minerva opened her mouth as if to speak but was cut off by a small whimpering sound coming from around the corner. Without a word, the two moved quickly together in the direction of the noise, their tender moment dissipating reluctantly into the night.

A young boy that Minerva recognized as a First Year Ravenclaw was trembling with tears as he sat huddled down on the lone bench against the wall. Minerva made to step forward, but Albus swept before her, compassion glowing from his face as he knelt down to the child.

The boy, whom Minerva heard Albus refer to as Christoph, looked quite fearful at being found by both the Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress. He, eyes widened and breath bated, shrank back from Albus until he began whispering comforting words to the young lad.

Minerva strained to hear what Albus was saying to him, but even in the still silence of the hall, his words were too soft for her to fully comprehend at her distance of a few feet away. She may not have been able to hear what was being said, but the effect was clear; Christoph, though occasionally still wiping away unbidden tears, was warming to Albus. The boy's tear-stained face was softened, and he appeared to hang on every word the Headmaster spoke. The scene filled Minerva with tenderness for the student and for Albus, who was always so skilled at mending broken spirits. She turned her head away slightly when she felt a sudden sting at the back of her eyes and nose as her cheeks flushed.

At last, Albus rose from his kneeling position and smoothed Christoph's hair as he bid him goodnight in a louder voice. Before rushing away, the boy paused before Minerva, turned back to look at Albus once more with gratitude, and faced Minerva again with a quavering but sweet smile. She gave a kind nod and watched as he hurriedly disappeared into the shadows down the hall.

Albus stepped before Minerva and regained hold of her hand. She traced her fingertips slowly down his smooth but aged cheek and felt her heart swell with love again as he smiled at her. Minerva knew every line on his face, every bright swirl of color in his expressive eyes; she could recognize the timbre of his voice and tap of his footsteps from rooms away and still, after all these wonderful years, she could always somehow discover yet another undeniable cause to make her fall in love with him all over again.

"Are you ready for bed?" he asked wearily, his voice having returned to hushed tones.

Minerva smiled at him and kissed his cheek lightly, not trusting her voice to barely over a whisper.

"Lead the way."

The End