Disclaimer: I do not own nor make any profit from Harry Potter. It belongs to J.K. Rowling, etc.
A/N: Another piece in which I focus on the Albus and Minerva relationship. Needless to say, I adore them. This story has a generous helping of Pottermore spoilers for Minerva's history, but with a few twists. Ye have been warned.
All around the kitchen of Grimmauld Place, cold eyes locked Mundungus Fletcher in place as if with a sticking charm.
Oh, wait… that was Sirius.
Said wizard had not stopped growling for a solid fifteen minutes at the man at the center of the room. Neither had Remus, for that matter, but the werewolf was very careful, realizing how easily Sirius could lose control. That was the only thing keeping Remus rational, because he did not want Sirius to end up killing Mundungus. Useless lump that he was, murder was not really a good idea.
Kingsley, Alastor, Tonks, Sturgis, Emmeline, Hestia, and Dedalus were in reluctant agreement on that point, but by their stares, one would not have believed it. Mundungus really should have died by virtue of sheer hatred and disgust.
"How did it happen?"
The harsh demand made of Mundungus was enough to send anyone running for the mountains in fear, but to make things worse, Albus Dumbledore was the one on the giving end of that demand. His eyes, a blue flame in the darkness of Grimmauld Place, sent a jolt of nervous fear through the resident thief.
The only thing that could possibly rival Dumbledore's fury was that of his deputy headmistress, who arrived in the doorway at that exact moment, muttering darkly as she looked up.
"Fletcher!" Minerva snarled at him, gray eyes sharp as a double-edged sword where they gazed upon him in righteous blazes. Everyone stepped back to the walls, not ready to leave, but neither ready to risk getting hexed on accident. The only one who remained near was the headmaster, but that didn't reassure Mundungus much. The grubby wizard shrunk in on himself a little.
"Uh… 'Ello, Minnie," the half-drunken wizard foolishly replied, attempting a weak wave that had McGonagall's eyes glittering fearsomely and her teeth bared.
"You really are an idiot," Alastor snorted viciously, vindictive pleasure on his face.
"Minerva," Albus stepped in, holding a hand up to forestall the utter fury he was sure would have spewed from her lips. "How are they?"
Keeping her intimidating gaze trained on Mundungus, Minerva answered, "Hermione will not face any permanent damage, thankfully. She has been quite horrified, but having a friend with her is of immense help. Harry is… well, if not for the time bomb I must have appeared to be, I think he would have come down here himself with some admirable hexes."
"I'm surprised he didn't do it anyway," Sirius muttered, staring malevolently at Mundungus.
"Do the Weasleys know?" Tonks asked by way of distraction.
"Molly and Arthur know," Albus answered wearily, "but their children do not. Miss Granger requested it specifically."
"We thought some time to recover would be beneficial," Minerva intervened before Tonks could argue the point, "rather than the sudden havoc of such a large and boisterous group."
"That's probably a good idea," Remus sighed. "Hermione's nerves are going to be on edge for a while."
"And her parents?" Hesita inquired concernedly.
"They had gone out for the evening and are unharmed," Albus sighed. "For their safety, their memories have now been altered and they have been sent to Australia."
Now Remus looked ready to argue, but Albus continued, "It was Miss Granger's plan to protect them, one she had been wondering about for some time. I have rather more faith in her maturity and understanding of the current situation than some would."
"Namely Molly," Alastor pointed out unnecessarily, to general nods around the group.
"But couldn't they have been placed in a safe house?" Dedalus pointed out.
"We don't actually have the means of guarding it," Sturgis shook his head negatively.
"And they wouldn't be able to go out anywhere," added Sirius bitterly. "They'd be stuck there like prisoners. Not something they would choose, I'd bet."
"That was something to the effect of what Miss Granger pointed out to me," Albus nodded, uncomfortably aware of Sirius' double meaning.
"But where will she live?" Kingsley questioned, wearing a deep frown. "I understand her staying here for a few weeks, but what about after that? There are two more summers before she graduates, not including this one. Will she go with the Weasleys?"
"We don't really know," Minerva sighed sadly. "It seems horrid to me… to place her in the middle of all the Weasleys' stress and confusion. They do not have the most relaxing home life, what with the twins, let alone the rest of the children. Percy's break from the family, too… And to top it off with her semi-romantic feelings for Ronald…"
"Is there anywhere else she could go?" Sirius asked, allowing his gaze to move off of Mundungus and onto his former professors.
"There is one possibility I have examined briefly," Albus shook his head, "but it will be very difficult to arrange the specifics of it. I'm not sure it will any safer for her than before. Nor conducive to emotional recovery."
"Where is it?" Dedalus wondered confusedly.
"Privet Drive," Albus spoke quietly, his uncertainty shining through.
"That's crazy!" Sirius protested vehemently. "Harry already hates it, but to force his friend there as well after being tortured and sending her parents away…"
"What else can we do, Sirius?" Minerva interrupted sharply.
"Much as Sirius would like to offer Grimmauld Place," suggested Remus gently, "it wouldn't be right with only him and occasionally me living here. Even if Harry was able to come here, too, it just wouldn't be appropriate."
"I have to agree," Emmeline nodded unhappily.
"What if I moved in?" Tonks suggested.
"I suppose," Remus frowned, "but you're not at home much even where you currently live, are you?"
"True enough," she wrinkled her nose distastefully. "Not a proper solution, is it?"
"Minerva?" Albus spoke up, the tone of his voice incredibly pensive, infused with enough surprise that he must have just thought of a different plan.
No one appeared to understand the unspoken question, but Professor McGonagall sighed and answered with cryptic resignation, "If it is necessary."
"I believe it may be," he gently prompted.
"Very well then," she exhaled sharply.
"I shall see to the arrangements," Albus responded with an understanding smile for his deputy.
"What are you talking about?" was Sirius' query, brows furrowed.
"I own a cottage in Hogsmeade," Minerva curtly replied.
Tentatively, Hestia asked, "Is that really safe?"
"There is a connecting door in my first-floor study that leads to my private rooms in the school," Minerva reluctantly divulged, clearly at a loss to keep her teeth from grinding. Hestia quickly nodded, quite uncomfortable with the set of the professor's jaw.
"Sounds quite safe to me, then," Sirius inserted his opinion as an icebreaker. "If Minerva can't protect Hermione, no one can."
Both professors' lips twitched slightly and Albus' eyes were twinkling mildly at his colleague.
"I believe that settles that situation, then," the headmaster announced with relief. "Now, as for Harry's role in this interlude…"
"Which leads us to this idiot's story," Alastor snarled, his magical eye trained on Mundungus, who had steadily been inching his way to the door while Hermione's safety was discussed and Sirius forgot about the sticking charm he had earlier applied.
Minerva turned on Mindungus so rapidly and furiously – wand pointed directly between his watery eyes – that the shabby wizard yelped. Sirius snickered and Alastor's features contained all the satisfaction of a cat having caught a canary. Albus tried desperately not to smirk uncharacteristically at the thief's reaction, forced to clear his throat in order to speak.
"Mundungus, do please stay. We would so very much enjoy hearing your account of this evening."
There was a command hidden in that sweet speech, one that Minerva's wand enforced only too well as she sat down slowly in the seat opposite Mundungus. As reluctantly as he had ever spoken in his life, Mundungus explained – under threat of being transfigured into something far less appealing than a toad, if that were possible – how he had been offered a very good deal on some goods of his and hadn't realized his apparition in front of the Granger home would be seen. Unfortunately for Hermione, this had led to the sudden appearance of three Death Eaters on her doorstep.
"That doesn't explain how Harry got there!" Sirius snapped at Mundungus, who flinched.
"Harry told me how," Minerva answered instead. "A letter from Harry arrived two days ago and Hedwig was with Hermione until she finished her letter. When this blasted fool apparated, he revealed the Grangers' home to outside eyes. Hermione saw them closing in and sent Hedwig off with a message to Harry at the last second – an instinctive reaction she said – then she made a run for it. Harry then sent a message to Albus. It happened to be me who read the message, considering Albus was at the Ministry arguing the staff roster for this coming year. I thought I sent Fawkes to Albus, but he apparently has quite a mind of his own and went straight to Harry instead, bringing him to Hermione's house. Harry was just beginning to retrace their steps when I apparated inside."
"And you let him stay?" Sirius all but shouted at her, incurring her wrathful glance.
"Would you have preferred I leave him there unprotected?" she icily returned. "Fawkes decided it best to leave after dropping Harry off, I'll have you know. And if I waited to apparate him elsewhere, I shudder to think what might have happened to Hermione. Frankly, Harry was quite excellent back-up. Better than some fully-trained adults I have worked with over the years."
"That is an understatement," Albus interrupted wryly. "Harry was quite on par with you, my dear."
"I was surprised by how well he listened to me," Minerva admitted. "He usually follows his own path quite exclusively."
"You are a very forceful personality to contend with when you're in the middle of a battle," Remus pointed out quite amusedly. "When you take charge like that, people listen."
"Even people as stubborn as Harry," Sirius grudgingly concurred, placing his glare back on Mundungus.
"If my friends weren't already in this group," Hestia spoke up. "I would seriously reconsider having any at all. What with Harry's best friend being tortured for that reason alone."
"She is also a muggleborn," Tonks said in annoyance. "It's not just because she's Harry's best friend. Even without him, she would have been targeted."
"Not nearly so strongly," Emmeline shook her head. "As a side effect, perhaps, but never watched like she was. That's really only due to Harry being her friend."
"Could you possibly leave Harry out of this for a moment?" Sirus barked at the trio of witches. "Tonks, thank you for trying to put things into some perspective that doesn't mark Harry as the plague of mankind. Hestia and Emmeline, however… if you would please stop piling responsibility for this onto my godson's shoulders, it would be much appreciated. He already does that enough on his own without you two badgering it as well!"
Emmeline and Hestia had both swelled indignantly as Sirius began to railroad them, but by the end of his rant they both looked ashamed.
"I'm sorry, Sirius," Hestia flushed, "You are right."
"My apologies also," Emmeline added quietly. "It must be difficult to live with that."
"I do see your point, Hestia," Albus very quietly added, and the gravity of his expression brought down the mood of the room by a landslide. "It is a dangerous thing, to have one's friends beleaguered under constant threat of torture and death."
"Albus!" said Minerva sharply, giving the headmaster a piercing, knowing look. "Every person in this room has chosen to fight with clear knowledge of the potential consequences. If such an experience should occur, we are all ready to take it as an unhappy effect of war. Certainly we do not enjoy it nor want it to happen, but if we are prepared for that risk, then so should you be."
"Not where it concerns you!" Albus snapped uncharacteristically and very suddenly, stunning every Order member with his blatant admission. Minerva, more than anyone else, was completely speechless and flabbergasted, eyes wide and her lips mouthing wordlessly.
Dumbledore instantly realized exactly how blunt he had been and turned suddenly, sweeping out of the room at a brisk pace and slamming the kitchen door behind him. Another slam, no less forceful, echoed from further down the hall, informing everyone that the headmaster had taken up space in the drawing room.
Still shocked into silence, her face providing all the disbelief of everyone present, Minerva rose slowly from her seat and tread the ground as if in a dream.
"Excuse us," she murmured almost inaudibly.
The door closed much more gently as Hogwarts' deputy headmistress left the room, belying none of the violent vulnerability that Dumbledore had displayed mere moments before.
Only Sirius had the guts to remark, "Well, that was enlightening."
In the hallway outside of the drawing room, Minerva felt her hands positively shaking with nerves. It was so unlike Albus to be open about his fears and emotions as he had been in the kitchen. And for him to snap at her in such a way was unheard of. She truly had no idea how he would react now and the thought worried her. At the same time, she was unbearably touched by his care, his concern over the possibility of her being harmed in any way. Regardless her worries, she could hardly wait forever to talk it over with him. If she did wait, he would find some way to shrug it off and leave it behind them. That was simply unacceptable this time.
A genteel tapping on the door produced no answer, nor did a second or a third. Accepting the inevitable, Minerva steeled herself and opened the door anyway.
Albus stood across the room with his hands interlocked in front of him, eyes staring unseeingly into the large window that would have only shown a brick wall if not for the enchantments placed on it. (The view from the corner home on the street had been recreated so as to be somewhat realistic.)
Albus' figure was outlined by the storm that had been raging most of the evening. Anyone else might have been intimidated by his tall and erect stance, but Minerva had known him too long to bother.
"Albus," Minerva quietly called out, not bothering to feel stung when her long-time friend ignored her miniscule greeting. Closing the door softly behind her, the witch walked forward in near silence but for the clicking of her heels and stretched out a hand to lay it on the blue-clad arm nearest her. Thankfully he did not shrug it off, although there was a definite stiffening in his form.
"Please, Albus," she whispered, pleading with him to acknowledge her. She was furious with herself when tears began to well up in her eyes. "Talk to me."
Sighing deeply at the atypical quavering in her voice, Albus turned to look his deputy in the eye. Blue and gray mingled for a long moment before he finally spoke, reaching a hand up to cup the right half of her slender face.
"I cannot bear to imagine you tortured," he baldly confessed, stroking her still-smooth cheek with his thumb. "It pains me to think of you willingly enduring such grueling agony. Even for the students. And especially for me."
"What would Molly do for her children?" Minerva quietly replied, reaching up to place her left hand over his right where it cradled her face. "Or for Arthur?"
Albus started at the unbidden comparison to a married couple, frowning thoughtfully as he moved to contradict the point.
"Don't argue," Minerva firmly interrupted, laying kind fingers against his lips and turning gentle a mere second afterward. "You are the nearest thing to a husband I have left in this world, Albus. The closest relationship I have… And the students we teach every year are the nearest approximation to children you or I have ever had – or will ever have – in our lives. In that sense, we are a family and our interactions might well be compared to those of the Weasleys. Molly would, in an instant, suffer death or torture for her children or for Arthur. There would be no doubt, no hesitation, of what she needed to do for them. It is an instinct impossible to quell. I don't feel I am being arrogant when I say I feel that instinct for the students and for you. But especially for you."
Tears had been welling up for Albus from the moment Minerva began to explain, but they finally spilled over and dripped into his beard as she finished speaking. Gratitude and affection gleamed in the glassy blue depths of his eyes.
"You will hate what I have been thinking," he murmured with a wan semblance of his typical amused smile. "I can even understand that. But please, Minerva, do not speak until I have finished."
Sensing the dire nature of his coming words, she could only nod. Whatever seemingly insulting things he might begin with, the rest of it was bound to freeze her anger entirely. That was the way Albus had always discussed serious matters with her. He began with those items that would surely distress her pride and then he would move onto the meat of the conversation, which was inevitably something that would make her think and usually cry as well.
"Whenever I look at you," Albus began softly, holding her gaze, "do you know what I see? Can you guess?"
Presuming that he really did not wish to hear her honest opinion, Minerva allowed herself to reply wryly anyway, "Probably a scrap of a girl with a pinched nose, overlarge glasses, and a permanent frown who had the gall to talk over her transfiguration professor when she disagreed with something he'd said and yet stared at him in awe because she'd heard how brilliant he was at everything… and how remarkably handsome he was for a man with a beard. So my mother said, at least."
Albus blinked for a full minute before suddenly bursting into a smattering of laughter, the brightening light of his eyes filling Minerva with a sense of satisfaction.
"Did she really?" he wondered after his laughter died out.
"Indeed she did," Minerva confirmed, rolling her eyes at the boyish glee on his face. "After I got my letter it seemed she couldn't stop talking about her own experiences there. When my father was out of earshot, anyway. You happened to be a popular topic, I must admit. The fact that you enjoyed transfiguration more than charms was something of a blow to her, but I believe your charming face more than made up for it."
"I can't believe it," Albus chuckled. "And you came into my house and my classroom wondering about that, did you?"
"Well, as an eleven-year-old with a healthy interest in books and the Montrose Magpies," Minerva started dryly, "I admittedly didn't see what all the fuss was about."
Albus laughed louder than the first time, pulling Minerva against him for a hug. His laughter rumbled comfortably and warmly in her ear where it lay against his chest. A sigh of relaxation escaped the professor. Only with Albus could she feel that at ease after such a moment as had occurred in the kitchen. Or at any time, really.
"And you never fell prey to my 'charming' face Minerva?" he inquired with a welcome twinkle in his eyes when he pulled away to see her expression.
"No," she shrugged nonchalantly, laughing inwardly when his face dropped slightly. "… It was your voice I fell for."
Now the humor really disappeared from his features.
"Oh, Albus, don't look at me like that," Minerva clucked impatiently at him. "I was a young girl and had no experience with boys. My mother was hardly any help, always off pampering my brothers or hiding things from my father. At any rate, you were gentlemanly, respectable, talented, humorous, wise, compassionate… And your voice always made me feel at home, even when I was being viciously scolded for working myself too hard in OWL year."
Albus chuckled slightly, but clearly his mind was still wrapped in the knowledge of his long-time friend having had a crush on him in school. Silently, he took Minerva's hands in his and led her to the sofa, settling comfortably close to her side and removing both of their hats to lessen the formality of the situation.
"How long did this go on?" he asked after a pause, bringing a sigh out of Minerva. Apparently he wasn't going to let it go.
"Five years," she admitted matter-of-factly, looking him straight in the eye. "You started taking such an interest in my transfiguration skills, more than my self-conscious mind thought was warranted, really… and it made my silly little brain imagine an adventurous romance with an attractive older man. I think many girls have that kind of fantasy when they're thirteen and inexperienced. Did you really believe I had stayed completely wholesome and academic by the time I was that age… untainted by the teenage angst of my peers and my own raging hormones? Don't be an idiot, dear."
Never did Minerva use such pet names for anyone else, no matter how close. However, in those times when Albus was being quite overbearingly naïve or stupid – which was thankfully not often – she added that single affectionate name to lessen the blow of the sharp remarks meant to ground her friend firmly in reality.
"I never believed much of anything in regards to that particular element of your life, to be honest," he sighed, shaking his head. "I was so astonished by your talent and determination that I focused on little else until you became a prefect. Then it was mostly how much a lady you had become since I first helped you out of the lake."
"That was not my fault!" Minerva huffed at his upturned mouth. "If August hadn't been such a damn fool and lost her watch in the water… Oh well, it's long over with. I still don't understand how she can harp on her grandson for his absentmindedness when she was just as bad as he is at the same age. Not that she'd ever dare tell him that."
Albus' lips twitched madly. "I sense you will be writing Augusta a letter within the next year, Minerva."
"You could put Sybil out of her fraudulent business, Albus," was Minerva's tart suggestion, rousing another laugh from the headmaster.
"Albus," Minerva turned serious in a flash, dampening his laughter considerably. "… What do you see?"
The room rang with definitive silence in the wake of her question, which brought them both full circle to the reason they were even in the drawing room in the first place.
"When I look at you, I can still see a vulnerable fourteen-year-old girl crying over a collection of cruel taunts on her appearance," Albus began to speak, his thoughts obviously miles and years away. "I can see a lovely seventeen-year-old with too many classes and too much pride to get out of them. I see a lady of twenty crying for a love lost to the simplest kind of tragedy. I see a woman of thirty, forty, and fifty… still so in love that she cannot accept the love right in front of her. I see a woman of fifty-seven, giddy with love and happiness as I lead her to her husband. And I see that same woman at sixty – weighted with grief for a fated match cut short."
Minerva's eyes were so full of tears she couldn't believe they had not yet fallen. Most of these memories from her past were terribly painful, but Albus was the one person she allowed such liberty. He knew her and he was not trying to hurt her.
"Now…" Albus whispered, reverently clasping her face between his long fingers with a proud yet sentimental look in his eyes. "Now I see a woman of seventy, fierce in battle, protecting two of her children against three enemies with everything she has and still winning."
"But none of these are constant or even common," he went on ever so gently, passing his thumbs under her eyes to catch a string of tears that had finally fallen. "One thing, my dear, always shows through in your eyes when I look at you… That is your heart. I see your generosity, tenderness, compassion, humility, courage, and understanding. I see love all over you and in everything you do. When I see it and think about this war, fear takes hold of me that your loving spirit will be broken and destroyed by a cruel hand and an evil mind. To imagine Voldemort ever hurting you in that way is the most painful idea I can possibly envision. I want to shield you, hide you away from it all, but I know I cannot. You would not let me, to begin with."
Minerva laughed a watery laugh with him, gripping his wrists for strength.
"I hate the thought of you in pain," he repeated, emphasizing the point with a kiss to each of Minerva's hands. "More than anyone else, it is you with whom I truly believe Voldemort could sway me to surrender if he chose to."
"He would never keep his word," Minerva sternly interceded, tears still flowing down her face. "If Voldemort wanted to exchange me for your surrender, he would wait for your proverbial white flag, then torture me until I somehow broke. Then he would kill me. All for your eyes to see as you gave in to him."
"I know, my dear," Albus whispered painfully. "I pray I never watch my dearest friend fall victim to such a thing, as Harry has watched his dearest friend fall. I would never forgive myself."
"We can only hope for the best," was Minerva's gentle reply, the abnormally sensitive atmosphere driving her to stretch up and kiss Albus' lined forehead.
After several moments of comfortable silence, Minerva commented in a much less shaken voice, "You know, this is a remarkably strange circumstance."
"Whatever for?" Albus wondered in bewilderment.
"Has it not occurred to you that nine out of ten… no, make that ninety out of a hundred… times you are the one telling me to have hope and I am the one fretting myself into the ground?"
Albus's lips twitched at that. "I suppose I can see the irony of it."
A snort escaped the deputy headmistress' lips, but for a time afterward, all was quiet and comfortable again in the drawing room. They didn't even hear anyone walking around in the hall or talking with each other. Minerva strongly suspected they all were too afraid of Albus' temperamental fit earlier to even approach them.
It was Albus who finally broke the silence, the look in his eyes giving Minerva pause.
"You will despise my change of subject," he told her bluntly.
Staring just a minute longer into his face, Minerva rolled her eyes as she realized what he wanted to discuss now. "Five years is a long time… That is what you wished to talk about, isn't it, Albus?"
Flushing slightly, the headmaster nodded his assent. "I am rather concerned that I did not even notice anything."
"You wouldn't have anything to notice," the witch sighed, leaning back against the sofa in a far more relaxed position than she ever did at the school, her hands still clasped lightly in Albus' fingers. "I was so discreet that I wondered if it could have been called a crush or not. Of course, I was also in denial about it because I knew age, social position, blood status, and a whole host of other conditions made it perfectly impossible to have any kind of relationship, even if you had wanted it."
"You thought this out rather thoroughly for a simple crush," Albus frowned thoughtfully.
"In case you haven't noticed in our nearly sixty-year acquaintance," Minerva suggested a bit acidly, "I tend to think out all possibilities of a situation before acting on it."
"This sounds much more pre-emptive than your usual methods," he suggested with a raised brow.
"What do you want from me, Albus?" she snapped, overly sensitive on such an awkward topic, and ripped her hands out from between his. "A confession that I was madly in love with you in spite of a forty-three year age gap, my complete inexperience, my half-blood status, and your friendship with a German bigot?"
The last was an incredibly low blow, and Minerva's blanched face almost immediately afterward bespoke that fact only too clearly. Albus' face was carefully blank. In utter shame and disgust for herself, Minerva closed her eyes and attempted to breath deeply and calm her frayed nerves.
"I'm so sorry," she barely breathed, feeling quite wretched. "That was uncalled for."
Afraid to open her eyes and see the hurt and disappointment likely housed within his, Minerva waited in agony for the silence to break, covering her face with her hands.
"Minerva," Albus said much too evenly, voice slightly grim. "Look at me."
Highly reluctantly, Minerva did as she was asked. Those piercing, divining blue eyes held hers captive. She did not see hurt or disappointment or anger. On the contrary, she saw a swelling surge of sympathy.
The black-haired witch began to grow angry. "Oh no," she half-growled at Dumbledore. "Don't you dare, Albus Dumbledore. Don't you dare! Five years out of my miserable life I put you on a pedestal and set my cap at you in the darkest parts of my heart. Dougal threw you out of my mind well enough, I should think, and I loved Elphinstone very much and I don't need your pity!"
By the end of it she was back to tears and a terribly trembling voice, although this time she had no idea quite what she was crying for. Was it for the loss of Dougal? The death of Elphinstone? The moment she realized it still stung when, no matter how long past, her five-year crush clearly would never feel for her what she had once hoped he could? Albus didn't ask, but pulled her reluctant body into his arms and let her soak his robes with tears.
"It must have hurt terribly when I told you about Grindlewald's friendship," he said softly once the tears had died down.
"I just felt like I was getting kicked all over again," Minerva confessed miserably into his chest. "First I learned I had permanently lost Dougal. And then immediately afterward there wasn't even a chance that my idiotic feelings could ever have any roots. It was so stupid…"
"It was not stupid," Albus contradicted her firmly, rubbing a soothing hand on her back. "Love is never stupid. And I somehow doubt it was merely an 'idiotic infatuation,' as you called it. I've never known you to do anything without powerful intent behind it. Even something so seemingly small as a first crush."
"What intent did I have, then?" Minerva argued in a wobbly voice laced with acid. "Looks, adventure, power? What admirable traits!"
"Gentlemanly, respectable, talented, humorous, wise, compassionate," Albus reeled off her earlier list perfectly, shocking her into being quiet. "And a voice that makes you feel at home, even when I am upset with you. Those are all very admirable traits to love, my dear."
"I'm not still in love with you, blast it!" she snipped, her sniffling ruining the effect.
"I never said you were," Albus remarked amusedly, albeit gravely. "You seem to be proving the point all on your own."
"Why couldn't you let it lie?" Minerva cried out suddenly, cursing the fresh round of crying she experienced. "It was fine. Everything was perfectly fine until you had to stick your nose in and meddle with the past! Nothing ever needed to be said about it and… and… our friendship wouldn't turn into some dreadful, awkward event every time I so much as looked at you!"
"It doesn't have to," Albus kindly offered, again pulling her to him, only this time Minerva was startled out of her wits to find herself on the receiving end of a… well, a very nice kiss.
Realizing what was happening on a more practical level, Minerva wrenched herself away from him in total shock, gaping at his serious expression.
"What was that supposed to be?" she demanded at a near shout.
"I believe it was a kiss, Minerva," he calmly answered, not releasing her hand.
"Wha— but— but why?" she gasped out incredulously.
"Because in my own strange way, I love you," he admitted simply.
"Are you completely out of your harebrained mind?" she snapped back at him, still beyond logical words after such an unusual encounter with the man she had long ago decided was much too far beyond her level to ever love her. Not counting his history with Grindlewald, Minerva had always known she and Albus didn't walk the same plane of existence.
"No, my dear, I am not," he sadly responded. "I cannot honestly say that I do not still feel some semblance of affection for the young man I once met in Godric's Hollow; before I acknowledged his evil turn of mind, Gellert was an outlet from a monotonous world I was too arrogant and ungrateful to accept. Yet I think of all you have become to me and how far I would go to save you from pain. When I compare that to what I would have done for Gellert in my blind youth, I realize what a difference there is between the two circumstances."
"Albus, please just stop. Stop," Minerva cried quietly into her hands, no longer attempting to pull away from his hands where they settled warmly on her arms.
"Minerva, I am not trying to hurt you," he murmured against her ear, his own heart aching by how much and how long this had affected her. He had never realized her feelings for him during her school years and he had never even guessed that those feelings might have remained – no matter how deeply buried and denied – even unto the present day and regardless of the loving relationship she'd had with Elphinstone. "I am trying to tell you that I do love you. Not as merely my friend, but as more than that. There has always been something between us that transcends the common ideals of romance or friendship. Perhaps that is why I have not seen it until this very day… because it was already there between us, even when neither of us acknowledged it for what it was."
"You can't mean that," Minerva half-sobbed, giving into the need to bury her face in his robes. "After all these years… pretending my feelings evaporated with Dougal and Elphinstone… It's not… not…"
But what is was not, she couldn't say because Albus had lifted her face and bent to kiss her again. This time Minerva could not stop herself from responding fiercely, gripping him closely and desperately by the collar of his robes. His arms, she was reluctantly pleased to note, were wrapped tighter than Devil's Snare about her waist.
The breath in Minerva's lungs was as wispy as a cirrus cloud by the time they pulled apart, and Albus was no better. Yet somehow, it mattered little when she took stock of the tender expression on his face.
"You really mean it," she breathed incredulously, unable to doubt it now.
"Undoubtedly," Albus breathed in return, pulling both hands up under her hair to cradle her head, loose raven tendrils hanging over his fingers.
"But how?" she murmured, sinking into his body with great relief and wrapping her arms around his neck. "I thought…"
"As did I," he chuckled, kissing the tip of her nose, much to her amusement. "But as Remus pointed out… when you take charge, people listen."
"Are you comparing this to a battle?" Minerva wondered, brows lifted in disbelief.
"Not particularly," Albus laughed a little louder, pleased to see his beloved friend's humor returning. Her fierce nature was beautiful and indeed a thing he loved about her, but her wit was just as strongly coveted. "I just thought it was rather amusing."
"You would think that," she sniffed unappreciatively, though Albus did notice her arms stayed right where they were. Staring into her powerful gray eyes, he tried to determine how their relationship would play out after this evening. She revealed nothing significant through her gaze, however.
"If you want to know where we go from here, Albus," Minerva started to say, reading his mind. "Then perhaps it would be better to simply ask."
"I rather planned to," he admitted lightly. "Where are we going to go from this point?"
"That depends on what precisely you want from this relationship," she primly informed him, trying very hard to remain professional. If he wanted no more than what had transpired, she refused to break down any more. A stronger bond via their two kisses did not necessarily mean a change in their lives, as she well knew where Albus was concerned.
"What do you want from it?" he turned the question on its ear, backing the witch quite effectively into a corner.
"I don't know," was her soft confession as she dropped her eyes from his gaze. "I… If we are not to follow through to a higher level between us, then I would prefer to forget this evening as much as possible. If not… well, I still don't know."
"Confidentially, neither do I," Albus whispered, reminding Minerva irresistibly of a boy who had just partaken of his first awkward kiss and was totally unaware of how to move forward. Not that she didn't recognize the truth in that statement… Nor did she fail to recall how completely non-awkward that kiss had been. On the contrary, she had very much enjoyed it.
"I feel so odd," she changed topic slightly, allowing a brief smile to cross her face. "This is one area in which I do have rather more experience than you. Yet I feel just as under-prepared for it as you must be."
"The… rarity… of this situation is probably the cause of that," Albus awkwardly suggested, though a smile was on his face also.
"Probably," Minerva consented absently, the proximity of his lips distracting her with spectacular grandeur. "Although you didn't seem very awkward with… well…"
"It felt very natural," was the equally distracted answer, Albus' face moving substantially closer. "Would you care to... er…"
"Definitely," she breathed against his lips, heart soaring when he returned to her mouth with loving enthusiasm.
A/N: I love twisting things around like this. Anywho, this is just a random piece that kept nagging me. :)