Minerva shut her office door behind her with such an effort that one might think she was trying to escape from all the world outside that room. She leaned heavily back against the door and tilted her head up towards the ceiling as she released a sigh and squeezed her eyes shut tightly until bright bursts of light erupted in the darkness. She couldn't remember the last time she had had a tougher week than this – one that had even, if only briefly, made her question why she continued teaching after all these years. She took a deep breath as her eyes fluttered open once more. Even the mere thought of walking across the room to her desk exhausted her both mentally and physically.
Minerva halted her steps as her gaze rested upon a crystal vase full of colorful assorted flowers standing anew amongst the cluttered disarray of her crowded desk. Curious to discover the sender and reason for the gift, she searched for a note but was disappointed to find none.
Now that her curiosity was thoroughly piqued, Minerva decided to visit Poppy; she generally had a way of providing Minerva with insight and filling her in on matters such as these.
"Oh, I wonder who could have sent them..." Poppy answered in drawling sarcasm when Minerva had told her about receiving the anonymous flowers.
"Don't say it," Minerva warned sharply.
"Don't say what?" Poppy feigned ignorance as she busied herself with arranging various medicinal jars on a shelf.
"You know what," Minerva replied. "Besides, Albus couldn't possibly have sent the flowers," she added, trying to keep her tone emotionless. "You know he's allergic."
Poppy paused as she placed the last jar on the shelf.
"Yes... And flowers are his only allergy, aren't they?" she asked, turning her back to Minerva and pretending to be productive in gathering together files so that she would not see the grin blossoming on her face.
"How should I know?" Minerva lied.
Poppy cleared her throat and slipped a serious look back onto her face before turning back to Minerva.
"Incidentally, have you seen the Headmaster lately?" she asked, as if changing the subject.
"Not since lunch," Minerva replied with a shrug. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh, no reason... but I think you should probably go speak with him."
Minerva opened her mouth to ask why but then closed it without a word; she knew that when Poppy was acting strangely like this, there was no chance of garnering a useful answer from her.
Minerva knocked on Albus's office door and waited. A new rush of exhaustion flooded over her, and she was thankful that at least now she would be able to relax in Albus's comforting presence.
"Come in," he called, though Minerva noted the weakness in his voice and was instantly concerned.
"Please, have a seat," Albus offered, with what sounded like as much joy and warmth as his strained voice could muster, before blowing a powerful sneeze into his handkerchief.
He smiled at her as she sat down before him, the twinkle in his eyes not at all diminished despite the redness and watering.
"Are you okay?" she asked hesitantly, fighting a flattered smile as she begun to realize why Poppy had suggested for her to visit him.
Albus nodded but sniffled miserably.
"Allergies," he explained simply.
"What exactly are you allergic to?" Minerva asked, pretending not to know.
"Ah... Not much..." he answered, obviously dodging the question. "But Poppy gave me something that should take care of it soon enough."
Minerva only nodded in response as she tried to fathom why Albus would find it important enough to send her flowers when he would so clearly suffer as a result; he had done a foolish thing, perhaps, but still her heart tugged with sentimental gratitude.
"I should probably go so you can get some rest," she said, beginning to rise from her chair.
"No, please stay," he requested gently before sneezing loudly into his handkerchief again.
"You need to relax so you can feel better," she insisted, though she sank back down into the chair.
"I would feel better if you stayed."
Minerva smiled softly at him.
"Then of course I'll stay."
"I do hope your week improves," Albus said quietly. "I know you've been having a difficult time as of late."
"I believe it's already beginning to improve," she replied in the same soft voice.
"I'm glad to hear it."
There was a brief lull of silence that hung comfortingly in the air between them as neither spoke a word.
"Tell me about your day," Minerva said at last.
She snuggled down into the chair as Albus began recounting his story for her, and though her eyelids grew heavy with exhaustion, she hung onto his every word, because she had long ago decided that the embrace of his soothing voice and gentle words served as the next best thing to satisfying her unquenchable yearning to be wrapped in the warmth of his arms.