Thank you so much to all the reviewers, favouriters, followers and friends who have supported this. It's keeping me going just now – thank you! There are a further two parts I plan to write before this is complete.
Thank you to Imagen99, my wonderful beta, and koko, who followed/favourited this and another of my stories but who I can't PM.
Please keep up the support, it means the world.
The rest of the day was a blur for Hermione, who was a little worried about the evening; she was thinking, brain whirring, wondering... would it be awkward? What should she wear? But she need not have worried; she realised that less than halfway through the night. The dinner passed comfortably enough in the Transfiguration Professor's spacious dining room area, which was easily but discreetly accessed through a well-hidden door in her office; the rest of her living space presumably also nestled there, through the other wooden doors around the room.
The meal was passed with small talk and the exchanging of a few smiles, which Hermione was relieved about; she felt guilty enough about her treatment of the older witch after she'd caught her playing, no matter how she tried to justify herself, without their interactions being strained too.
Minerva looked rather striking, Hermione realised part-way through her meal. She herself had chosen to push the boat out and, instead of robes, had dressed in smart jeans and a winter jumper in red, which was simply the warmest smart-casual and non-magic mix she had; and she had been pleased with the way the red complemented her hair, emphasising its blonde streaks. Minerva had also opted for muggle clothing, for which the girl was thankful; she was wearing a casual version of suit trousers and a beautiful top in a green very similar to that of her eyes, highlighting just how bright they were. Her clothes and her messy ebony bun, as opposed to her usual severe one, made Hermione smile at how relaxed she was; they also accentuated a figure that the student had a hard time believing her mentor hid.
Scooping up the last vestiges of a succulent treacle tart, Hermione laid down her fork with a sigh. "Harry would have enjoyed that. Treacle tart was always his favourite." She informed her teacher, who was also just finishing her pudding. Her plate vanished as she too put her fork down, and the women surveyed each other over the tops of their wine glasses. "Thank you for a lovely meal, Professor."
Minerva smiled in response, nodding her agreement. "I'm glad you enjoyed it." Noticing the girl's wistful expression, she stood, carrying her glass of red wine with her to the sofa. "You miss them, don't you? Harry and Ron?"
Hermione followed, nodding. "I do, yes – I don't miss Harry's permanent stress levels, or Ron's manners – or lack of – or either of their nagging about homework…but I do miss them."
"I suppose Miss Weasley is a blessing?" Minerva took a swig of wine. "Thank merlin you're old enough to drink." She added. "I needed this."
Hermione grinned, welcoming the fact that her professor was so willing to relax with her, and answered her question. "She is…sometimes. I have good days and bad days, and she can be a royal pain in the…you know." She blushed. "But she's good at cheering me up too. Last night it was stories about Fred and George, which I think she needed as well." She bit her lip, pushing down tears. "Last week, before school started, was a trip into Diagon Alley shopping…the strangest was probably our game of truth or dare, the night before we came back to school. Mrs Weasley almost caught us twice!"
Minerva laughed. "Dare I ask what happened? And no, I don't apologise for the pun."
Hermione simultaneously giggled and blushed, and she barely mumbled her answer. Minerva caught the words "topless" and "too many questions" and smirked.
"Who dared who to strip?" She asked, still smirking. Hermione's face was now red enough to fry an egg on, and her professor was finding it absolutely hilarious.
"She started it. But we both had a hand," the girl acknowledged.
"I'm sure you did." Minerva muttered. Hermione pretended not to hear; she didn't want to consider what that meant. "Truth or dare?" Her teacher continued softly, but loud enough for the girl in front of her to hear.
Hermione stopped mid-sip and swallowed hard, free hand clutching the shin of one of her legs, which were curled beneath her. "I- what?" She asked, stalling for time and clearing her throat. This woman will never cease to amaze me and surprise me, she realised. No matter how long I spend with her, I will never truly know Minerva McGonagall. I don't know whether anyone does…
"Truth or dare?" Minerva repeated quietly, emerald eyes burning into her protégé's.
"Erm. Truth?" Hermione tried, unsure what her professor wanted from her. She had a feeling this was more-or-less planned, and she'd just facilitated it.
"Do you trust me?"
The words were sincere, vulnerable, and still quiet. Hermione's mouth dropped open, and she hurriedly deposited her glass on the low table in front of the sofa, sliding along it to sit by Minerva. She prised her wine glass away, noticing that Minerva wasn't meeting her eyes, and took both her hands in her own, feeling all the bumps and scars from the three wizarding wars this incredible woman had fought in and survived. "Professor, I trust you with my life." Minerva looked up, a hopeful glint in her eyes. Hermione carried on, holding the green gaze with her own intense chocolate stare. "I trust you more than anyone else on the face of this planet. More than Ginny, more than the boys, more than Mrs Weasley…more than my own parents."
Tears in two sets of eyes were blinked away as Hermione released the hands she held and picked up her wine, swigging the remaining half a glass down.
"I'm so sorry." She told her. "So sorry for not letting you know. I can't believe you didn't know…"
Her professor stood up, also finishing her wine. "That, Hermione, is not your fault. And it's a relief to hear…very nice to her. Thank you." She smiled and went to fetch the bottle, which she used to refill their glasses.
"Truth or dare?" Hermione asked with a lopsided, Cheshire cat grin.
"Truth. I'm not moving." Her professor smirked back.
"I…" Hermione was floored. She didn't know what she would have said either way, she realised. She raised her eyes to Minerva's and shrugged lightly. "Tell me something I don't know about you."
Minerva smiled thoughtfully. "Ever-curious, Miss Granger. Hm…I understand the majority of the student population were under the impression myself and Albus were married, or at least 'together'." She wrinkled her nose at the term. "We weren't."
"I already knew that. Professor Dumbledore was gay…I worked that out a few years ago." Hermione smiled. "Try again."
Minerva looked surprised, but inclined her head and thought. She didn't know what to tell the girl. "Erm…I don't know what to tell you." she smiled ruefully. She wasn't used to being unsure.
"Have you ever married?" Hermione asked, trying to be sensitive.
Minerva frowned. "No, I haven't. And I won't."
"Not even for the right man?" Hermione asked, mouth pulling down at the corners at the thought of this woman alone.
"There is no right man." The older witch answered with a tone of finality, and Hermione didn't push her any more, appreciating that the conversation was over until – if – her mentor wished to continue it.
"Truth or dare?" Minerva's smile was back.
"Truth." Hermione answered promptly, taking another sip of her wine and smiling too.
"Are you really worried about me hearing you play?"
Hermione paused. She wasn't sure. "I…I don't know. I just…don't play. For anyone." She glanced up. "I am sorry I snapped, you know…it was automatic, but…if I had to play for anyone, it would be you."
Minerva's smile widened. "What were you playing?" She asked.
Hermione bit her lip, but one glance at those emerald eyes reminded her of what she'd said…"I trust you more than anyone else on the face of this planet."
She sighed. "The Phoenix's Story of the War." The name slipped easily off her tongue, although she'd rather it didn't – she hadn't planned to ever disclose it.
"Where did you find it, when did you learn it?"
"I didn't learn it… I wrote it." She answered carefully. "All the way through our year on the run, each individual event has its own…section, movement. Starting from Dumbledore's death, when Fawkes sang…"
Minerva snapped her mouth closed. "You have some serious musical talent if you can write and play to that standard, Hermione. Which section did I hear?"
"Yours. 'Most Magical – Minerva's Movement'. That's why I didn't want you to hear it." Hermione let all this out in a rush. "But you were always so courageous, so…brave. You lead the war, even after those four stunners…you were a leader in all of this. And I wouldn't have finished this without you."
Minerva was speechless; and that night was the first that Hermione ever saw Professor McGonagall, her role model and the rock of Hogwarts, cry.