Biggest Chapter of the series decided to fall during tech week of my first major job. I apologize for the tardiness.
Chapter Thirteen: Submission
She maybe had never been as focused as she was, staring out onto the water glistening in the early morning light. There was no room to give up any sort of attention to any detail: the chill in the air, slight mist, creak of the swing, dew gathering on her shoeless feet, pinks and purples on the horizon, and especially the crackling of branches nearby were all of the utmost importance. Minerva's fingers clenched the rope of the swing tightly as her hopeful face caught sight of an owl approaching her.
It seemed like an eternity before it reached her; long enough, perhaps, for her to allow it all envelope her again. Nothing she felt was fake: one cannot feign emotion. Certainly, one can hide it, but to completely manufacture it? Minerva decided that it must all be real. This felt like a life-changing moment and her body reacted well with this thought.
A shaky hand reached out for the letter as it fluttered down from a branch above her head. She investigated the outside with a keen eye. Albus was ridiculously good at this game, she decided in the second it took her to look at the penmanship: he didn't make his 'A's like that. Someone clearly had opened the letter and rewrote the front, despite the otherwise impeccable attention to detail. Good. Just what they wanted.
She opened it and read the contents: "Eight".
Fantastic start. He must have sent that owl around six. Bit early for him, but who would know such a thing besides his bedmate?
Minerva slid the piece of parchment back in its envelope, took in a deep breath and then stood up. Down to the dock she would wait. She would be oblivious to the photographs, then, and they would be oblivious to her conversation with Albus—not that it would matter, since their actions would speak for themselves.
It was calming, the feeling of grass and mud on her skin as she walked down the slope of the estate, as if nature was shifting in submission to her and the decision she had made. Even the dock was wet, bordering on the early stages of rot in certain spots. 'No detail is insignificant,' she thought with a slight smile. She rather liked the quiet that surrounded her.
As she sat on the edge and watched her feet dangle above the water, the first flash occurred—they were reckless, weren't they?
But that was fine: she could be reckless back.
She acted as though she had not noticed this first time. There would be more opportunity, more chances to place the blame on Albus and them for ruining her life, for forcing her to do what she did not want to do. Of course they would win. There was no freedom unless they thought they won, Minerva realized. Sometimes one had to lose things in order to gain.
"Minerva?" a soft, warm and familiar voice came from the other edge of the dock.
After a deep inhalation, the woman turned as she let it all out. There he was. Blue robes today.
She stood up, her bare feet skimming the water as they crept upwards to the plank. Her head was held high, "Headmaster."
"I'm glad you received my owl in time," he nodded, approaching her slowly. "You look well," he half-smiled.
A lie, of course. She did not look well, she looked like hell; her eyes were far too red from lack of sleep. It was no one's business but her own as to why she was up late, however. Minerva took notice of the cracks of red upon the white of his eyes. "Thank you." There was no need to add more—he knew as well as she did that a false compliment would do neither of them any good, given their situation.
The man gave out a heavy sigh and gestured down the dock, "Is this where you'd like to discuss everything?"
She nodded her head, "Yes."
Neither of them made a move to walk nor sit. They stood and stared at one another as the air seemed to grow unwillingly stagnant, stale, even. Albus pulled out a document that of course was integral to it all, but did not give it to her. He held it in his hand, looking it over and then stared at the woman sadly. "You are contractually obligated, I'm afraid, to teach until the end of your second term, with the exception of some sort of physical or psychological injury that would otherwise impede on your ability to teach, including (but not limited to) death. Seeing as how you are not damaged to such an extent," he clicked his tongue with finality, "I'm afraid I must insist that you come back."
Minerva blinked. They hadn't bothered to actually script any of this. They figured that the press would boggle it up no matter what they did, so why make a plan that they couldn't change? Trouble was, Albus was making it really quite easy for her to become rattled.
The woman took a step back. "You mean you're forcing me to come back?" her voice seemed to slither to his ears.
"On the contrary, I could care less whether you stay or go. But this contract is binding."
She blinked with incredulity written on her ever-twitching lips, "And if I refuse to honor the contract?"
A horrible grin spread across his face, a smile that she hoped never to come into contact with in reality—her heart was breaking enough with this act they were putting on. "As you pointed out in the castle, they are on my side, Minerva. I will tear you apart."
"You wouldn't do that," she shook her head with doubt.
"Wouldn't I? You make a point to say that I have ruined your life by being who I am. Well I posit to you," his chest puffed up with power, "Miss McGonagall, that without your friend, Miss Paige, we would never have run into this fiasco." The man glared at her silently.
"That wasn't my fault!" she couldn't help but yell it. The truth stung, sometimes.
He could roar just as she could. "Like hell it wasn't! You have no one to blame but yourself. No one! You chose this path and you are going to finish it." His arms flew into the air. She watched as the contract flew with his hands. That was it.
The woman reached for her wand and pointed it at the man. "Accio contract!"
Albus made a movement and snatched it away from the magic. His eyes glimmered. They both knew that no one would ever beat him. He smiled silently before raising an eyebrow, "And what will you do with it? There are copies. Burning it or throwing it into the water won't invalidate it."
She threw her arms up in the air, begging him to speak truthfully with her, "Why do you need me? Surely you have others. Haven't I been punished enough, Albus?"
There was a pause before he answered quietly, "I cannot allow myself to lose control of this situation. Surely you see that, Minerva. Surely."
The woman lowered her wand, "You cannot control me by throwing your weight around. I will not allow that to happen. I will find you someone else—anybody else," her eyes pleaded with him. "If you loved me, then you will know that I just can't continue anymore."
"And if you loved me," he countered bravely, "you will know that I can't let you go."
Her heart broke with that, even if all of this was fabricated, it didn't make her feelings any less valid. Those tears were not fake as they slid down her face. "Accio contract," she whispered half-heartedly.
He held onto it tightly.
Neither of them could have predicted the next moment, even if they had tried, even if they possessed the powers of a seer. A camera flash. And then another. And then four or five more. From just up the hill by the swing, there they were, like a plague of locusts ready for their feast. The anger came easily as she looked from them to Albus.
"What are they doing here!" she shrieked at the man.
"I"—that was enough, wasn't it? The turning point.
She waved her wand at him and watched as red sparks seemed to surround him and then vanish. Not even a poof. Just…nothing.
Minerva inhaled dramatically.
He stared at her with a daring, wise expression that he could not possibly have planned. "Fighting me won't do any go—"
The woman flung a new set of red his direction. All he seemed to need to do was hold up his hands and it was blocked.
"Aguamenti!" she shouted and watched as gallons of water emitted from her wand. He seemed to conjure up his own invisible shield as she willed the power to be stronger, for the water to knock him off his feet, for him to trip and fall long enough for her to get away. It didn't happen. The water stopped. She inhaled deeply.
"Impedimenta," she thought and pointed her wand at the man. Of course he saw it coming, for they had practiced it, but part of her still felt the frustration when he seemed to block it as if she was completely predictable. The fighter in her had to disagree.
"Locomotor mortis!" she yelled.
He blocked it with a flick of his wand. "Minerva, please, don't do this. Don't do this. You're not that person," he said calmly.
"Expelliarmus! Petrificus Totalus! Stupefy!" she ventured to think in succession. She watched as his wand seemed to block everything she had to throw at him. Of course there was more in her arsenal. But never, even as upset as she was, would she want to actually harm the man. There were repercussions for that.
She breathed in heavily, looked from the untouched Albus and then back up to the top of the hill. "Is this what you want!" she shouted at them. "Do you need proof that you ruin lives?!" the tears wanted to come, but she held them down. She whispered under her breath, "Aguamenti" and watched as the water hit them and their cameras.
That was satisfying; so very satisfying. Especially when some of them decided that they would apparate rather than see what she was willing to do to them. Her chest heaved in and out as she turned back to Albus who was unscathed and looking less composed than he normally did. Albus swallowed, "Have you gotten that out of your system?"
Minerva blinked, trying hard to remember what precisely was happening, what it looked like and where it was to go. She stared at him proudly. "I want all of this to go away. I want nothing more to do with you or them. You will actively make this happen. If I must go back to the school, then I will. But you will not ever consider us friends again. Do I make myself clear?"
"Do I make myself clear?" she hissed.
Albus blinked and bobbed his head slowly. "Perfectly."
"Good," she whispered and walked past him. Then she stopped and turned to look at him at the top of the hill where the reporters had previously stood. "I'll be back tomorrow," she said clearly. "Don't expect to see me outside of class." With that, she walked up the pathway to her house. Minerva didn't dare to look behind her at her lover.
It happened quicker than he thought it would. After all of the planning, all of the discussion, the last ten minutes were all they had to show. It was convincing, of course, but somehow less gratifying than he imagined. Maybe it's just that it felt real.
He wasn't certain if he wanted to smile or cry as he watched her walk up the pathway to her back door. She was brilliant. He could not have planned the destruction of those cameras, but was glad that she did it. Oh, there would be some pictures spared, but at least it wouldn't be everywhere. That meant fewer people to pay off, to buy.
Albus looked up the hill at the debris of papers and cameras. They were still there, the bodies that accompanied them. No doubt they had heard it all—what would be the point of coming unless they could hear? He took a deep breath before shouting up to them, "Haven't you seen enough?"
Those that had not been focused on him quickly turned in his direction.
One or two apparated, leaving three left. Cowards; didn't even have the gall to look him in the eye after that very private discussion's interruption.
A very familiar wizard with a sizeable bruise on his forehead looked at him with interest and, sensing his livelihood on the line, called back, "What are you going to do now?"
"Run a school, Mr. Jenkins," Albus said point-blank. "That is to be my lot in life. Work." The man shook his head. "That's all there is to see. Good-day, gentlemen," he said as politely as he would allow himself and then gathered up his wits before apparating to his next destination.
His landing was harder than he would have preferred, but he survived it. It was necessary that he survive this bit of damage control, this diplomacy. If he didn't there would be no prize, eh?
Albus looked up at the Daily Prophet's headquarters. He had not been since October and really had no desire to go. It wasn't the bad lifts or the memos that fluttered around more than at The Ministry of Magic, no, it was the people. The last person he wanted to see that morning was Maximillian Woodfork, but he had no choice. With determination and a sense of duty radiating from him, he marched up to that office.
The mosquito-man was thumbing through pictures greedily when Albus opened the door that still exhibited the "Editor in Chief" plaque. Woodfork hardly looked up, despite the way Albus threw the knob into the wall. Quite the contrary, the loathsome man's mouth curled into a smile. He didn't need to glance up.
"Dumbledore, it's been far too long," he smirked as his yellow eyes met the Headmaster's for the first time in six months.
He wasn't an idiot: surely he knew what his star reporter was going to be up to that morning. Woodfork expected him. Albus stared at the man, willing his anger to not get the best of him. With a deep exhalation, he spoke pleasantly back, "Indeed it has. I trust you know why I'm here?"
His wiry fingers shifted a picture or two before he spoke again, though he did not look up: "I must say that I don't, not having been there myself. Is my story headline going to be 'Happily Ever After' or 'Too Good to Be True'? Or," he looked up again greedily, "have you decided to go the high-road, I wonder?"
"I think you know the answer to that, Woodf—"
"What a morning!" A voice came from behind Albus.
Albus turned and met the eyes of none other than Archimedes Jenkins. Archie, unlike Woodfork, was quite surprised to see Albus Dumbledore standing in front of him. With confusion in his face, he looked from one man to another, "What the hell are you doing here?"
The Headmaster cleared his throat, "Whatever your angle is, this morning's events cannot be printed. I'm here to cut a deal, as it were." Albus looked from one man to the other. His words were polite, but there was no question that he was demanding this from them. His voice fell heavy on the room. "The Daily Prophet is usually quite open to these methods of diplomacy."
"The high road it is," Woodfork smirked. "Take a seat, both of you. Wait"— he looked at Archimedes—"Tell Grey to send in a release contract."
Archie nodded and left for less than a minute.
Albus and Maximiliian stared at each other the entire time. Neither would break; keep your enemies close, right? This would be neither easy nor cheap, but that hardly mattered. It would be done and they both knew it.
When Archimedes returned, he took a seat next to Albus after closing the door. Woodfork shifted the pictures to the side and grabbed the piece of parchment from Archimedes' hand, laying it flat in front of him. His eyes skimmed it over before looking up at Albus, then his star reporter. "We've all been through this before. Unfortunately for you, Dumbledore, we happen to know your worth. If this story is anything like what I think it is (given your presence, of course), it will take a good galleon for us to keep it quiet."
"I am aware," he nodded.
A wry smile hung on Woodfork's lips. "What happened this morning, I wonder?" he raised an eyebrow. "What was seen that shouldn't have been?"
It was the crown of Jenkins' career, perhaps, to have seen what he did. He wasted no time in saying, "Showed up right when he said he would. Couple of words on her contract and she starts throwing spells at him," he smirked. "Feeble attempts, if you ask me, but then it got all quiet and she sees us watching. Blames him and then attacks us: ruins all the competition's papers and cameras. Broke it off right, didn't she?" he grinned with money signs in his eye.
Albus said nothing.
Woodfork clasped his hands together. "Do we have pictures?"
Jenkins nodded proudly, "Two of the duel that wasn't a duel."
The mosquito man exhaled loudly and proudly. He looked at Albus, "'Too Good to Be True', then?" he paused. "What benefit is it to you for us not to publish this?"
If anyone expected foul-play, it would be Woodfork. Indeed, it probably did sound like a strange request. But Albus already knew the answer. The Headmaster sighed, "She is still a Professor. She still represents Hogwarts. I cannot afford my reputation as Headmaster or Hogwarts' reputation to be lost because Minerva behaved badly. My position, my reputation, is all I have." He stopped on that note, letting the thought linger in the air. As far as they were concerned, he just lost his Minerva, didn't he?
"Funny, I'd have thought that you were protecting her?" Woodfork prodded.
Albus swallowed and shook his head sadly, "Minerva has made her position with me perfectly clear. She wants nothing to do with me."
Woodfork clicked his tongue and leaned against the back of the chair, fingers tapping against one another in thought. He exhaled and looked down at the paper in front of him, then back up at Albus. "Name your price."
"Six hundred galleons," he said simply.
The Editor-in-Chief's eyebrows rose. He glanced over at Archie Jenkins. "What do you think about that number?"
Archimedes scoffed, "We could make that easily off a story like that."
"I agree," Woodfork smiled. "What do you think? A thousand?"
"That'd do me," Archie smiled. "Split it fifty-fifty."
"Or sixty-forty," Woodfork spoke menacingly.
"Or that," Archie nodded his head.
Both men looked at Albus. They would not be negotiating. Just as well. He had hoped it wouldn't be over twelve-hundred and it wasn't. They could have asked for more and he'd have paid it. "Done," Albus nodded gently.
He pulled out a paper of his own and wrote one thousand galleons next to his signature, using a quill and ink conveniently placed on Woodfork's desk. Albus waved it in front of the two men. "Now sign the damn contract."
The Daily Prophet was only the first on his list.
Minerva sighed as her mother released her from a goodbye embrace. She was such a good woman, such a good mother. Minerva hoped to someday have the opportunity to be as good as she was. She hoped that she would have the strength to say goodbye, to believe in the decisions that her children would someday make. Merlin knows there was some doubt in Emienne's eyes, but still she hugged her daughter and smiled. "You'll keep in touch with wedding plans?" her mother asked.
"Of course," Minerva nodded. "I imagine we'll be here in a week or two, once it has died down a bit. After all, we're having it here, aren't we?" she smiled softly.
"Last I checked we were," Emienne bobbed her head. She looked around the room, a thought occurring to her. "Where has your father gone off to? Is he still in the office?"
The girl blinked and looked around. Braxton had been scarce for most of the day, throwing himself into work. Of course he was around directly after her meeting with Albus, nay, he had been watching from the window, but since that initial 'How was it?', he left to figure stats, games, that sort of thing. Minerva did not really know what he was doing precisely, but she assumed he was keeping his distance for a reason. Hurtful as that might be, she understood. He wasn't as comfortable with it all as any of them wanted him to be.
"Braxton! Your daughter is leaving!" Emienne uttered, her voice ringing through the house.
He came up from the basement—he must have already been on his way up when his wife called him. Braxton carried a letter in his hand, just a letter as commonplace as anything else. He smiled softly at his little girl. "Have you heard from Albus?"
Minerva nodded her head. "They all took the money," she whispered.
"Good," he bobbed his head. The man looked down at the envelope in his hands and then back up at Minerva. "Anything can happen with a large enough coin purse," he stated matter-of-factly. "I uh," he cleared his throat, "I have tickets for you and Albus. I know you'll need to keep a low profile, so they aren't anything special. Not particularly expensive seats. We're playing in Belgrade. Shouldn't have to worry about reporters." He took another glance at the envelope and then handed it to his daughter.
The girl nodded her head in gratitude, finding herself absurdly emotional over a pair of tickets, tickets which she could get at any time from the man. It was the thought, more than anything. She reached for her father and wrapped her arms around his neck. He squeezed her tightly and she clenched him back—it was more than a peace offering, it was unconditional love. "I wish you the best," he whispered softly into her ear.
He released her and nodded. Her father would do anything for her and she knew that. He was wonderful.
"Thank you," she whispered, "for everything." She meant it, too. Minerva was so incredibly thankful. Things could not have worked out better. It was by no means the end, but things were going so well for once. For the first time in a long time, she felt hopeful, genuinely hopeful. Things were beginning to look brighter already.
She stepped away from her father and looked at the both of them before nodding with finality and walking into the fireplace. "I love you," she stated two her parents and took a handful of floo powder. "Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," she shouted. Poof.