Chapter Fourteen: A Different Hogwarts

"It was all a…all a hoax? You made all that up? The fight? The fact that we had to cover your classes?"

Minerva nodded slowly, her eyes focused on the woman across from her. "Yes," she said simply. "All conjured, if you will, for the purpose of duping the press."

"What about the students? What about the staff?!" Cora's beady eyes bore into Minerva's.

The woman let out a sigh and shrugged, "It worked, didn't it?"

"They won't be bothering with us anymore," Albus placed a hand on Minerva's shoulder. "The school will remain somewhat secluded and no one—except those that we feel should be privy to the goings-on of the school—will know the truth of what went on. You should consider yourselves lucky."

"You call us lucky to have been lied to?!" Cora's back straightened and her hawk-like eyes narrowed.

Rudolph cleared his throat loudly from off in the corner. All heads turned to him. He seemed to be taking it much better than his wife. "So your plan is to just…keep all of this a secret? Make like you don't have a wife?"

"Why not?" Albus raised an eyebrow, "You've managed well."

Rudy nodded, "Yes, but I am not you."

"Maybe not. But I am aspiring to be more like you."

"You can't just erase your reputation."

"No," Albus shook his head, "But it's already changed. And it will continue to change. Minerva does not have to be a part of the equation, nor will she be. We're extraordinary on our own accords. No need to make headlines together."

Minerva stared at Cora as she scoffed. The woman inhaled slowly and rubbed her temples. Humility was not one of Albus' best attributes. "It had to be this way, don't you see?" Minerva looked around the room. "There was no getting out without this. And now that we're free of those meddling dolts, we will keep it that way. We're sorry to have lied to you two, but you must see how it allowed for a smaller margin of error."

"That doesn't make it excusable," Cora said rather unpleasantly.

Albus cleared his throat, "Maybe not now. But in time, we hope you change your minds," he nodded at Minerva and then the other two. On his way out, he must have felt it necessary to add quite passive-aggressively, "Wedding is June twenty-eighth, should you wish to mark your calendars." He made no gesture to take Min away from the couple as he exited.

Minerva looked from one to the other sadly. She did not enjoy tricking them and she certainly loathed the fact that she was being glared at by Cora. Still, she understood. This was not the first example in human history of what could be construed as betrayal. In Minerva's life, even, this was not the worst lie she had ever kept, or indeed, been exposed to.

She let out a sigh, also taking care to note the hurt on her lover's face when he realized the price that this falsehood may have cost them. They both still very much wished for Cora and Rudy to attend the wedding. Minerva's lips attempted to shift upward in Cora's direction, "We are very sorry," she whispered. "You two have been extraordinarily kind to us throughout this in various ways. Thank you," her voice grew even softer, "for lending an ear and covering classes and everything else you've done. We would not have survived any of this without you. I mean that sincerely," she nodded. "All of that would have been real without you. Maybe even more public and worse." The woman paused and thought about it. "Far worse.

"We have entrusted in both of you our deepest secrets: our first affair and our marriage. I have no qualms that you'll keep it to yourselves. You're both extraordinarily loyal. I know it may have felt like we've betrayed you," she swallowed, "but we really do trust you more than anyone else. Please…please just think about forgiving us. We know these things take time. We can wait," she nodded her head with an air of finality.

Cora, whose attention was clearly on Minerva, let out a heavy sigh and then looked up at Rudy. The man took her hand. Neither said anything as they seemed to exchange a telepathic conversation.

It was true: she did not need or even want an answer right at that moment, so Minerva stood up from her chair and nodded boldly at Cora and Rudy. Both nodded back, but again, said nothing.

Minerva left the room.

They were surprised to see her walk in through the door. Of course they had missed her at breakfast—but they also missed Albus, Cora and Rudy.

It amused her to see the eyes widen of each student as they came in, to hear the buzz of chatter out in the corridor: she's back, they seemed to say. Indeed she was. And she was very happy to be starting her day off with second years. No tests to panic over, just unruliness, which had never been a problem for her. Truth be told, she rather liked the anticipation in their eyes to hear the tale of where she had been the past week.

Minerva took her time, even starting class a few minutes late as she wrote on the chalkboard with her back to them. Silence seemed to flood across the room as she turned to look upon all of them. They would not be hearing the story from her. It was absolutely none of their business and moreover, whatever she told them would be rumored and misconstrued as it shifted around the castle. She preferred supposition to be shared, rather than perceived fact. It would all fade into the background of Hogwarts history.

She clasped her hands together and swallowed. "Professor Elvstead left some very good reports about this class during my absence. For that, I must thank you—although I expected nothing less, you've earned your respective houses points as a collective for your good behavior," she waved a hand in gratitude. "Now"—she couldn't find the disposition to smile, so her lips hung enigmatically—"Who can tell me why we can transfigure metal to glass, but not glass to metal?"

The students looked from one to the other. Minerva refrained from tapping her toes, even though the impulse was certainly there. She didn't care very much to wonder whether or not her transition had been too abrupt—they should know the answer. Cora was competent. Surely she could have gotten that lesson across. She waited patiently. No one raised their hand.

A curt nod befell the woman as she turned towards her blackboard. "Take out your books," she said as calmly as she could. She did not watch as they pulled them out, though she heard it, naturally. The woman turned after reaching the back of her desk.

There was that moment, that tidbit of a second, where she caught everyone's eyes on her, rather than their books. Some of them hadn't even been smart enough to close their open jaws. Minerva clicked her tongue and crossed her arms. If they had any impression that she was the same person she was a week ago, they were very much mistaken. She hadn't softened—she'd hardened. "Does anyone know the answer," she pursed her lips, patience dwindling—second years were, in fact, not as quick as the upper years.

Students looked from one to the other. They knew the answer. They just wouldn't raise their hands. Minerva exhaled. If they were too afraid, then she would fix that. If they didn't know the answer, she would fix that. "Well," she nodded, "we have two options: I reteach this lesson, putting us behind, or you all can spend your class time writing a paper for me on this topic. I am inclined to choose the latter," she tapped her hand on the desk. "But if you feel like Professor Elvstead was not adequate in teaching the lesson, I will," she paused, searching for the word, "gladly teach it all again."

A timid hand rose in the air.

"Miss Mackay?" she pointed.

"It has to do with the crystalline structure, doesn't it?" the girl spoke gently. "The structure in metal shifts, but not in glass."

The smallest bit of a smile crossed the woman's face. Someone had retained something, at least. Minerva nodded her head, "That's why glass shatters when it hits another object, including the floor," she raised an eyebrow. "My question stands. Why one way and not the other?"

Another hand rose in the air. "Mr. Everett," she gestured in the boy's direction.

"Because it's stuck. It's crystallized."

Minerva blinked. Yes, but no, not really. "We can transfigure glass into other things when it starts as glass. Why can't this particular spell be reversed?"

"Halsgots' Law?"

"Correct," a smile appeared on the woman's lips. "Very good," she nodded for a good measure. "And what does Halsgot's Law say?"

Mr Everett's lips also shifted into a smile, "That we don't know."

She nodded and looked around the class, willing her smile to stay. "We don't know. There have been hundreds of tests on this topic and none of them have been fruitful. We've stopped asking the question. Magic," she pressed on, "cannot always be explained. That's what makes it magic." This thought was sobering to her now as it had always been. "Curious as we are, or at least as I hope you all are, it is unlikely that we will know the answers to everything. Sometimes," she inhaled slowly, "things just are."

Her eyes scanned the class. That had them. Minerva clicked her tongue, ready to move on from the thought. A student raised his hand.

"Mr. Bagnold?" she said gently.

"Will you be here for the rest of the term, Professor?"

She wasn't surprised to have this question asked, so her face did not show it. It didn't show anything. That was her gift, when she needed it, to keep it in. Her voice was matter-of-fact, "I have no plans to leave, Mr. Bagnold." She gave a nod at the boy and looked around the room. "I will certainly make it through to the end of the term," she claimed gently.

"Excuse me, Professor?"

Minerva's eyes shot up to the entrance of her classroom. She was a bit upset to find herself interrupted, of course. Had it been anyone else, she very well might have snapped at them; class barely begun. Her eyes narrowed as she approached the man. "Can I help you, Professor?"

Rudy cleared his throat, "May I have a word? Just a quick word?"

The woman looked behind her shoulder. It wasn't easy, getting these students to pay attention in general—certainly it wouldn't be easy on a day such as today to do it twice. Oh well. The damage had already been done. Minerva nodded slowly, "A quick word."

A grateful smile shifted onto the man's face. He nodded and then led her outside the classroom.

Minerva folded her arms across her chest and waited patiently.

"Well," Rudy sighed, "about that back there," he motioned his head backwards, "I just wanted to tell you that er…Cora is having trouble putting it all…uh, together. Did the Headmaster have a chance to tell you?" he asked gently.

She blinked, "Tell me what?"

"This is our last term here, Cora and me. And Sergius, of course."

Not many things could surprise Minerva at this point and so it didn't. In many ways, this was the inevitable solution, wasn't it? "Where will you be going?"

"London," he nodded. "We both have work lined up."

Minerva inhaled slowly and thoughtfully and let it out just as slowly. She bobbed her head with a sense of finality, "Thank you, Professor, for telling me. I do hope all of this can be resolved for the better," she half-smiled. "Good day," she whispered and turned back in the direction of her class.

They all were staring at her, naturally, when she walked back in.

Albus was surprised to find her in her rooms already. Minerva usually completed her work before coming home. Maybe there just wasn't much to do. Maybe things had not gone as well as he thought they had.

He stared at her figure, laying on the bed in all its gentle beauty before walking over to it. Placing his weight on the bed, she turned immediately to face him. Her eyes were relieved to see him, he could tell. Warmth spread through his body in reaction to her lovely stare. He placed his hand on hers. "You're back early."

"Couldn't spend any more time in that awful classroom."

The man raised an eyebrow, "You love that classroom."

She shook her head, "You know what I mean. Were you able to focus today?"

He blinked; no, being the answer. "I always can focus," he lied. She knew it, of course, but didn't call attention to it.

"The Tates are leaving?" her voice drifted casually across his ears.

He wasn't surprised by the inquiry, nor the manner in which she asked. He replied just as casually as she had asked, "Yes. Rudy told me a few days ago. I didn't want to burden you, then, with that information. Not when we were planning that duel."

Minerva seemed to accept this, for she placed her head in his lap and wrapped her arms around his waist. It was no way to lie, he imagined, but she stayed in that position, squeezing him tightly. The man's hand slid onto her long strands of hair and drifted down to the tips. "I'm afraid things are changing left and right," he whispered softly, knowing well the sort of uncomfortable day she had to have had. "I'm sorry I couldn't stop by your classroom today. Add some normalcy to the equation."

She shook her head in his lap, "It's fine. I didn't expect today to go exceptionally well, and it didn't."

"Was it exceptionally bad?" he raised an eyebrow.

Again, the woman shook her head. "It wasn't what I expected it would be, that's all."

He squeezed her to him and held her there for a second longer. It was hard to find the words, sometimes, as brilliant as he was. "It might be some time before our days are predictable again."

"I know," she spoke softly. "It seems to me that nothing has been predictable since what, September?"

Albus nodded, "That's about right; since we met what's-her-name at the gala. With any luck, normalcy will find its way back to us, hopefully by late June. Maybe it will even stay this time," he smiled hopefully.

"If it doesn't, we'll cope," she said with determination. "We will."

And it was true, he knew. They would cope, if and when one or both of them are attacked. Such was the nature of their relationship. There was nothing easy before them, just as there had been nothing easy about them up to that point, but maybe it was the challenge that held them together. They weren't the only words that he could find for himself to speak, but they were certainly were the most meaningful: "I love you."

"And I love you," she whispered back.

A comfortable silence fell upon them as he stroked her hair and she squeezed him tightly. He could do this forever, he really could. As distressed as they both were, this was the endgame, wasn't it, to just be in their quarters again?

The man sighed, "Sunny might stop in before dinner. She's anxious to have a word with you."

Min turned her head up to look at him with soft eyes, "Is she upset, too?"

"Strangely enough, no," Albus shook his head gently. "I wasn't able to tell her the whole story, but she took it rather well, what I did say."

The woman settled back into his lap, choosing to become comfortable again. She let out a breath, "Thank Merlin for that."

Thank Merlin, indeed. They didn't need more. Now was the time for it all to feel like less; to downsize.

He continued to stroke her hair.

"Anyone bother you today? Any letters? Visitors? Anything like that?" she whispered.

Yes. Of course there had been some. Lots of letters, most of them either from women sending their condolences or asking him out to a lunch. No one seemed interested in asking what happened; the story about town as that they had split for good, why get details? They wouldn't be getting them, anyhow. Albus nodded, "Some letters. But I've been receiving letters for a week. They've stopped being sad and have moved on to lunch and dinner requests."

He heard her groan as she shifted again in his lap to look up at him. "You've being asked out on dates?"

It was the incredulity in her eyes that made him chuckle, not her tone—her tone was serious and appalled. He covered his mouth to hide the smile, but she saw it, of course.

Her eyebrows rose, "What is wrong with the world?"

Albus shook his head, grin still apparent. He cleared his throat in an attempt to be serious, "I didn't ask for any of it."

"I know," she half-shrieked, "What is that?! Who does that? Your heart is meant to be broken up in a million pieces and the world wants to take you to dinner!"

He outright laughed at that, but was smart enough to hold her close to him before she had a chance to leave his grasp in an appalled huff. She fought to escape, but failed miserably. A game. A game of keep the girl. The man laughed at her feeble attempts and she eventually laughed, too, as she struggled to escape his arms. She made it half-way to the floor, which was impressive, but of course, he won.

His arms squeezed her tightly to him after it had quieted down. She leaned against him, tired, perhaps. Her words were quiet, "Will you be going out on these dates?"

Albus pecked her on the cheek, "Only the important ones. I'd rather do without people these days."

She nodded and turned around to peck him on the lips, "Good answer."

He smiled at that. Damn right it was. "I meant it," he said sincerely. Maybe there was a time where he sought attention, but he had learned. If nothing else, he'd trade all of that for her. He had, as a matter of fact, done that. Nothing was going to change.

Albus pecked her lips again.