Minerva McGonagall was startled by a sudden presence at her side, as she overlooked the mess that once was her home. She was in pain and so exhausted; she hadn't even heard the young woman near her. "Why are you still here?" Minerva asked without looking at her.
"Because you are still here," Hermione said calmly and took the prospective Headmistress's hand. "Come with me."
The old woman looked at their joined hands, then at Hermione's face with empty eyes. The last battle had taken place only hours ago, and her beloved Hogwarts was no more than a ruin, with smoke coming from its depths and dust filling the air all around the place.
Sensing that the professor was about to decline, Hermione decided to elaborate. "Everybody is gone now, including the House Elves. Even Filch has left the castle. It is not safe here tonight. The structure of the castle is unstable, and with no intact wards for protection, it is unsafe to stay here." She paused a little and took a long dolorous look at the ruin in front of her. "Aurors will stay guard, Professor. There is nothing left for you to do here." She gently tugged at the old woman's hand and repeated, "Come with me now."
Minerva felt the familiar tingle of Apparition and found herself in a hallway, Hermione standing next to her. She jerked her hand away, furious at the girl. How dare she take her away against her wishes? "How dare you! What do you think…"
"Stop it!" Hermione interrupted forcefully. The last thing she needed now was a lecture after all she'd been trough, not even from the one woman she had longed to see since she had to leave school to help Harry locating and destroying the Horcruxes and eventually Voldemort himself. "Hogwarts is not safe at the moment," she repeated her earlier explanation, knowing that she should have waited for her mentor to agree to come with her, but she was so tired; she didn't have the nerve to discuss something that wasn't worth a discussion. "Where did you plan on staying?" she asked raising her voice again, already knowing her answer. "A friend's house? Do you have a home you want to stay in? If so, great; let's go, because I certainly won't leave you on your own tonight!"
Looking at the shocked expression on her teacher's face, laced with emotional and probably physical pain as well, Hermione took a deep breath to calm herself. "I am sorry," she whispered. "It is just… I don't have the strength for a discussion tonight. I've been on the run for almost a year, doing all kinds of unspeakable things. I had people doing all kinds of unspeakable things to me. I've lost countless friends, watched the place I have known as a home for so long being ripped apart, and I know your life hasn't been all butterflies and rainbows either." She tiredly rubbed her face with both of her hands. "I've seen you battle Riddle," she whispered. "Merlin, I've nearly lost you tonight," she said more to herself than to her professor. "I didn't mean to patronize. I just needed to know that you are safe. You are welcome to leave anytime, of course." With that, Hermione turned and quietly walked into the kitchen of her parents' house, leaving her old teacher alone.
It was quite a while and Hermione thought her professor had left. She had started preparing some tea to calm her keyed-up nerves and was mildly surprised to hear the kitchen door behind her close. Without turning around she reached for another cup and poured hot tea for her guest and herself. Wordlessly she turned around and placed the cup of hot liquid on the table. "Please sit," she invited. "Make yourself at home."
The elder witch nodded and gingerly lowered herself onto the wooden chair nearest, taking the offered cup. "I apologize, Miss Granger."
Hermione sighed deeply and shook her head. "Please don't. I should have been more considerate of your needs."
That brought a small, sad smile to the elder woman's face. "In fact, you have been very considerate, and I didn't even tell you that I am glad to see you."
It was as if a ton of weight had fallen from Hermione's shoulders. She put a shaking hand over her mouth and allowed her other hand to briefly touch her professor's arm. "It is so good to see you, too, Professor," she said heartfelt even though muffled, then remembered her manners and let her hand fall away from her mouth. "Are you hungry? Would you like to have a snack?"
Minerva politely declined. She was simply too tired to feel hungry. "No, thank you, but I'd like to have a bath, if that is possible." She looked at her dirty and torn cloak. "I feel filthy and exhausted."
"Of course, Professor. I'll show you to the bathroom."
"This is your room," Hermione said and opened her parents' former bedroom and let her professor look inside, before she opened the door on the opposite of the hallway. "This is the bathroom." She walked inside and started the water in the tub, then bent down and took a few towels out. "Here are some towels for you," she said as she opened another drawer and took a still packed toothbrush out, "and here is a new toothbrush. Feel free to use whatever you like. You'll find shampoo and soap in the shower. I'll bring a pajama and a dressing gown for you in a minute. Is there anything else you need?"
Minerva smiled gently. It had been such a long time; she had almost forgotten how attentive her star pupil was. "No, thank you, Miss Granger. I've got everything I need."
The young witch took a last look at the room, checking if her professor really had everything she would need. "All right. Just call me if you need anything."
"I will," Minerva assured softly, watching her unexpected host leave. Hermione had been right. Hogwarts had been her home and since the family manor had been destroyed during the first war, she had no other place to stay; not even a friend that was close enough to stay with for any length of time. She had been furious of course by the way Hermione had just taken her away from the place where her heart belonged, but now she was grateful for the young woman's arbitrary act.
Hermione had changed the bed linen in her parents' bedroom, a deep sadness in her heart at the thought of her parents living somewhere in Australia now, not even knowing they had a daughter. It was the hardest thing she had ever had to do, sending her parents away, but it had been the only way to keep them safe. With a deep sigh she grabbed the dressing gown from the wardrobe and made her way to the bathroom. Her whole body started protesting now from exhaustion, and even though she wanted nothing but to soak in warm water as well, she was simply too tired.
Knocking softly on the door that lead to the bathroom, Hermione waited for permission to enter the room, but nothing happened. She knocked again, this time a little louder. "Professor? I have your dressing gown here. May I come in?"
Not hearing a single sound from inside, Hermione quietly pushed the door open and found her professor fast asleep in the tub with her hair full of shampoo. Hermione didn't mean to stare, knowing that her mentor wouldn't want to be seen in her state of undress, but as the foam had started to disappear she had no real choice on that matter. The elder woman had many cuts and bruises, but a particularly ugly black bruise graced the witch's ribcage. Seeing the many injuries, Hermione was almost sure Professor McGonagall hadn't allowed herself to see a Healer, even though some might have offered. The young woman tiredly shook her head and muttered a spell, causing the remaining foam in the water to multiply until it covered all of the surface again. It wouldn't do to embarrass the woman after everything they'd been through.
As much as she wanted to leave the room again, Hermione had to wake her mentor up. She carefully discarded the dressing gown that was still firmly in her hand on the basin and knelt beside the tub. "Professor," she whispered, not wanting to startle the woman. "Professor," she repeated again, this time a little louder, and when her mentor didn't show any sign of waking up she gently touched her bare arm.
Minerva tiredly blinked her eyes open, momentarily confused by her surroundings. "What…?"
"It's all right, Professor," Hermione soothed. "You're in my home, remember?"
The elder woman only now seemed to realize that she was in the tub, and the expression on her face showed clearly that she wasn't at all happy with the situation.
"Don't worry, Professor. I can't see a thing because of the foam," Hermione assured. "I'm sorry. I've knocked several times, but it turned out you had fallen asleep," the girl explained and pointed to the washing basin. "I've brought you a dressing gown."
Minerva looked at the fluffy white foam that covered her nude body and felt slightly more relaxed. "Thank you, Miss Granger." She reached up to her hair, but only made it halfway before a sharp pain reminded her why she had fallen asleep in the first place. She had tried to rinse her hair, but the pain in her ribcage had gotten so bad that she had decided to take a little break. That break had turned out longer than she had anticipated.
Hermione saw the predicament of her mentor and decided to once again take action. They were both too tired to waste any more time before giving in to the overwhelming urge to sleep. "Let me do this swiftly for you," she said and reached for the shower head. This time she waited for Professor McGonagall's unhappy nod, before she started to adjust the temperature of the water. "Is the water too hot?" Hermione asked, then she carefully allowed the warm water to make contact with the graying hair.
"It's fine. Thank you," Minerva assured, highly embarrassed with the whole situation.
"You're welcome." She carefully directed the water to the remaining spots of white foam before asking something she already knew the answer of. "You didn't let yourself get treated by a Healer, did you?"
A moment of silence filled the room, the only sound the streaming of the water. "There were others who needed treatment more than I."
"I understand." She did understand, because she hadn't seen a Healer either for the very same reason. "You need to be careful, though. You've probably cracked a rib."
"What makes you think that?" The old woman was scandalized that her former pupil always seemed to know what was wrong with her.
"Just a few seconds ago you seemed to have trouble raising your left arm, and if I know one thing about you, it is that you would have never allowed me to help you if there had been the slightest chance you could do it yourself," Hermione said and switched off the water. The job was done, and they were both too tired to linger any longer.
It was a perfectly logical explanation, and not even Minerva McGonagall could argue with that one. "You're awfully exaggerating," she said instead, hoping that the intelligent young witch would let it rest for now. She didn't have the strength for a discussion tonight.
Hermione shook her head, an amused smile upon her lips. Some things would never change. "If you say so, Professor. I'm finished with your hair." The tone of her voice took on a more serious colour. "Do you need a hand with getting up?"
That was a question Minerva had pondered ever since she had been woken up by her host, but she would be damned if she wouldn't try it alone. "No, thank you, Miss Granger."
Hermione hadn't really expected another answer from the stubborn with. "All right, I'll give you some privacy then. Just call me if you change your mind." She left without another word and headed for the other bathroom downstairs. She needed a quick shower, and she knew that she wouldn't be called back anyway.
It wasn't the first time Hermione cursed the squeaking of the stairs in her childhood home. Every time she had tried to sneak downstairs during the night as a child to get a book from the living room, her father had caught her. The stairs seemed to sense when someone wanted to be really quiet and doubled the noise it usually made.
Hermione felt better after the shower, but it was becoming impossible to think clearly, and she knew she needed to sleep now. She just wanted to have a quick look at her guest to see if she had everything she needed. Quietly she pushed the door to her parents' bedroom open and found her old professor sleeping soundly under the covers. Minerva had obviously managed to dry her hair and looked almost peaceful now that all the bruises were covered. It was good to see her. She was alive. Hermione stepped a little further into the room and sat on the old armchair, watching her for a while.
A sharp pain interrupted Minerva's sleep as she tried to roll onto her side, and she mentally cursed her fate and the fact that Miss Granger had obviously been right. She probably had cracked one or two ribs.
Opening her eyes, she found that is must be early morning already, because the room was filled with daylight now, illuminating the figure of Hermione Granger curled up on the blue armchair in the corner. She was clad in her pajama, and by the looks of it, had obviously spent the night there.
The elder woman whispered a spell, and the blanket that was neatly folded beside her flew over to the girl and lowered itself softly onto her slumbering figure. She looked so small there in that corner.
Hermione felt something soft and warm sheathe her, and she slowly opened her eyes. It had been impossible for her to sleep deeply in that chair, but she just couldn't leave the room.
"Good morning, Miss Granger," Minerva greeted softly, her voice still betraying that she had been asleep until a few minutes earlier.
Hermione smiled shyly, feeling a little embarrassed that her professor had caught her sleeping in her room. "Good morning, Professor."
"I didn't expect to find you sleeping in a chair." It was indeed a surprise and quite a mystery as well. If Hermione had wanted to stay, why hadn't she slept on the other side of the bed? The armchair looked far from comfortable, and although the girl had become much too thin for her liking, she wasn't that small.
What could she answer now? She obviously couldn't tell her stern professor that she had just wanted to feel safe and that she was one of the only people in her life who could create that feeling for her. "Oh..well, I… I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bother you."
"You didn't. I just don't understand why you would willingly sleep in such an uncomfortable position." Minerva slowly become impatient, knowing full well that her former pupil wasn't telling the truth.
Hearing the slightly raised voice of the elder woman, Hermione didn't care if she appeared weak. Having Professor McGonagall being angry at her was worse than admitting the truth. "I didn't want to be alone," Hermione whispered. She didn't even look up, and Minerva's heart painfully contracted. Had she really been so unapproachable that even the girl she had come to care about much more than any of her other pupils had been scared to ask her if she could stay with her?
"This is a double bed, Miss Granger. You could have slept in the bed," she said with no small amount of resignation.
Missing the tone of her favourite professor's voice, Hermione exclaimed, "Professor, I couldn't just climb into the bed with you!"
The old woman slowly shook her head. She knew she had never been someone other people would confide in when it came to personal things, because she appeared to be uncaring. If other people knew how much she actually cared… "You could have asked me."
"You were already sleeping. I didn't want to disturb you," Hermione tried again.
It was one thing that the girl didn't trust her enough to ask such a simple thing, but thinking she could fool someone who had been a teacher for decades was simply too much. "Miss Granger," she warned sternly.
"Oh fine, I didn't dare ask such thing."
"Miss Granger, you've been on the run for a year, fought countless Death Eaters and probably Voldemort himself at one point, but you didn't dare to ask me if you could sleep in the bed next to me and on top of it all in your own house?" She had always been grateful when homesick pupils chose one of the other teachers for comfort and not her for she never quite seemed to know what to say in such situations, so why was it so painful that Hermione hadn't asked her?
Not knowing of her professor's inner tumult, Hermione only heard the accusation. "Well, I can't say I attach great importance to what Voldemort or his fellows think of me, but your opinion still matters," she said with a tone of voice that made perfectly clear that she had enough. "I'll be downstairs making breakfast."
She stood up and with a few quick strides made her way to the door where she stopped for a moment and turned around to look at her guest. "Oh, eh, there are clothes you are welcome to wear, in the wardrobe. You might want to pick something comfortable."
Minerva sighed. She really wasn't handling the situation very well. "I apologize, Miss Granger. I didn't mean to…" she started, but Hermione had already left the room.
"I apologize for my earlier behavior. I didn't mean to…" Minerva started again after she had carefully lowered herself onto one of the kitchen chairs, but was cut off by Hermione.
"It's all right. Let's eat breakfast. A letter arrived for you today." The young woman held out a silver envelope that Minerva recognized as a Ministry letter.
The elder witch accepted the envelope, opened it, quickly scanned the content of the letter and was pleased by the newly appointed Minister's decision. "Kingsley sends his love," he passed on the greeting to Hermione. "He suggests a meeting on Monday."
Hermione nodded. It was good that Kingsley was now Minister for Magic. There was hope that the Wizarding World would for once have a Minister who actually cared about the country more than the power the position held. "That is very sensible, I guess." She nodded thoughtfully, then added, "you are welcome to stay here for the weekend, of course."
A small smile appeared on the professor's face. "Thank you, Miss Granger."
That was much easier than Hermione would have thought. She returned the smile for a moment, then asked, "How are your ribs?"
Horribly painful was the answer her mind produced and "Just a tad uncomfortable," were the words that left her mouth.
It took all of Hermione's willpower not to roll her eyes. "Ah yes, of course." There was no use discussing the woman's health now. "Was there anything special you wanted to do today?" she asked instead.
Minerva nodded. Both of them had finished eating the scrambled eggs Hermione had made for them, and she knew exactly what she wanted to do now. "Yes, there actually was. Shall we retire to the living room?"
Hermione raised her eyebrows in question, but didn't ask any further. A few simple spells took care of the dirty dishes, before they headed for the living room. Hermione lit the fire and made sure her guest was sitting comfortable on the sofa. She went back into the kitchen to get some tea and was quite surprised to see that her mentor had enlarged the sofa to double its size and was now resting against a few pillows she must have had conjured, in a half sitting position.
Minerva waited until her charge put the tea on the table, before invitingly patting on the sofa beside her, the big blanket that was covering her already in her other hand, ready to pull it over the girl as well once she had taken her place. "Lie down, Miss Granger," she ordered gently.
"Professor?" Hermione didn't understand. Was her stern professor really telling her to lie down beside her?
Minerva smiled gently and explained, "You didn't sleep well last night, and I want you to catch up on some sleep now." Seeing Hermione hesitate, she added, "Please, humor me."
The young woman carefully fulfilled the older woman's wishes and allowed Minerva to cover her with the fluffy blanket that warmed Minerva's legs. It was so unusual to see the normally so stern professor like that that it took a while until Hermione was able to truly relax, but she slowly felt a sense of peace settle in her heart that hadn't been there for a very long time.
Minerva gazed almost lovingly at the young woman who had so firmly warmed her way into her old and weary heart and watched her slowly drift off to sleep. "Sleep, Hermione," she whispered soothingly. "You're safe now, and I'm right here." She reached out and brushed a few stray hairs from Hermione's forehead and smiled tenderly when a content sigh escaped the sleeping girl's mouth. Yes, she would stay with Hermione for a while. Someone needed to make sure she was alright after all, even if that meant to show her affection more openly. Who knew? Maybe Hermione would make her life more bearable as well.
I hope you enjoyed this little one shot. Don't worry, I'll update my other stories very soon. As always, special thanks to my wonderful beta Bola. Check out her stories as well!