Chapter Twenty-Seven: Nothing Personal
"Amanda, what on earth are you doing?" Minerva inquired suspiciously as she made her way to the kitchens. She had a break now and had the most ridiculous craving for a mug of hot chocolate with a pinch of hot pepper.
The flying instructor's head snapped up at the sound of Minerva's voice and she nearly dropped the pile of things in her arms.
"Good afternoon, Professor McGonagall," Albus greeted with a grin, poking his head out of the closet. He'd been passing Amanda buckets and giant hoops and all other manner of "stuff" out of the broom closet.
"Spring cleaning, headmaster?" she teased, holding back a most unladylike snort of amusement.
"Oh no, I was always hopeless at that," he replied, "Madame Hooch has need of a few items for an obstacle course she was planning."
"The first years really are hopeless," the petit woman said with a sigh, masking the devious wheels turning in her head, "I've tried everything to teach them how to steer, but nothing seems to be working. So," she finished, raising her over laden arms by way of explanation. "This should do the trick," she added as she gave a flick of her wand and banished the items to the Quidditch pitch.
"I had no idea such a small closet could hold so many useless effects," Minerva commented wryly, leaning on the entrance to the tiny space.
"It's not so small," Albus amended with a twinkle, "It's just big enough for a headmaster."
The adrenaline seemingly pounded in Amanda's ears as she made a split second decision that would prove to be a very bad idea. "And a deputy headmistress," she added.
Harry knew better than anyone that Minerva McGonagall's temper was under heavy lock and guard in the very back of her mind. Before his last class of the day, Harry hurried through the corridors to the kitchens for a snack. Quickly scrambling back out of the kitchen, the house elves cheerful send-offs echoing in his wake, the young boy stuffed a second pumpkin pastry in the pocket of his robes as he bit into the first. With a satisfied spring in his step, he turned up the corridor leading to the main school.
He was about to call a greeting to his Aunt Manda when the broom closet she had only just slammed shut blew apart and his mother came flying out through the wooden splinters. Immediately, his mouth fell open in shock and he could only gape soundlessly as he saw an angry fist reel back and then fly forward to painfully collide with Amanda's nose. Nearly choking on his pumpkin pastry, he ducked behind a short stone outcropping and peeked timidly over the top. Miraculously, his Papa had suddenly appeared and seemed to be restraining his mother from inflicting more injuries on her supposedly former friend. He was too far away to hear anything, but, given his aunt's history, he could guess what just happened.
Suddenly, his eyes watered and he felt a violent sneeze coming on from the sawdust now scattered over the hallway. As he took soundless gasps and held his breath to try to avert the sneeze, he could make out his mother's yells and his father's soothing voice trying to calm her. When at last the sneeze abated, Harry opened his eyes only to find the hallway empty once again. Sighing and shaking his head, he made his way through the short corridor and down to the dungeons for math class.
"Let go of me, Albus," Minerva snarled, lunging after Amanda's hastily retreating figure.
"Minerva, calm down," he soothed calmly as he restrained her in a vice-like grip. Luckily, the corridor was empty of students, otherwise, they would have become very confused with their usually composed transfigurations professor's temper snap. Though she appeared willowy and delicate to the untrained eye, Minerva was putting up an admirable struggle against her superior's hold. With a sigh, Albus cast about for somewhere inconspicuous to pacify his deputy. For the most part, the hallway was just a thru-way, a shortcut between the kitchens and the main stairwell. 'Well,' he sighed to himself, 'There's nothing else for it.' Minerva gave a loud yelp as she was hoisted up off of her feet and carried back to the now door-less broom closet.
"Put me down right now, Albus Dumbledore!" she yelled angrily, trying to unlock his grip around her waist. "Put me down this instant - oof!" Reaching the broom closet, Albus unceremoniously dumped her inside and quickly mended the door with a wave of his wand. "What do -," Minerva's tirade was abruptly cut off as a wizened hand covered her mouth and corked her raging. Shutting the door behind him, Albus waved his wand again and the small space was illuminated by a soft yellow light. It was cramped, but it would have to do.
"Minerva, look at me." She glared at him. "I'm going to take my hand away. When I do, I don't want to hear anything louder than a whisper come out of you." Slowly lowering his hand, he eyed her warily. When she remained silent for a few moments looking pensive, he dared to hope, but then she spoke.
"I am going to kill her," she hissed with a vengeful gleam in her eye, "What is wrong with her? Why the bloody hell is she so insanely upbeat this year? There is absolutely no excuse for it!"
"Minerva, I'm sure it was just a bit of fun for her," Albus tried to placate the fuming woman before him. "We've all had a hectic year," he continued quickly, trying to reason away Minerva's lethal glare, "She just needed to let off a bit of steam. I'm sure it was nothing personal."
After glaring at him a moment more, she lowered her head in defeat and relented, "I suppose you're right."
"That's my girl," he murmured with a grin and reached down to gently squeeze her hands.
Tingles ran up her arm as he held her hand and her head snapped up to stare at him. Her lips parted slightly and she drew in a short breath in surprise at his touch. She had never been so close to him in private before. She was suddenly keenly aware of everything in that broom closet.
Her hand trembled slightly in his warm grasp. Her heart thudded loudly against her chest. His eyes never left hers, maintaining the quiet, caring look they had always held, but also filled with such an overwhelming emotion that she had to look away in order to breathe. His own breath was warm and shallow, disturbing her eyelashes ever-so-gently. His right hand was pressed up on the wall beside her left shoulder, supporting his weight and keeping him from tipping over into her. Even so, mere inches separated them, and when she looked up, they were almost nose to nose.
She was terrified. Her mind was buzzing at a nauseatingly fast pace, conflicting emotions colliding and disintegrating again and again until there was only one coherent thought left in her mind. She looked up to meet his eyes again, but whatever she was going to say died in her throat. Her eyes locked with his and she couldn't bring herself to look away.
"Nothing personal," Minerva echoed Albus' words in a quiet whisper.
"I think I may have lied," he replied in an equally quiet murmur. Her lip trembled a bit at his pronouncement, but she still couldn't look away.
"Albus," she whispered, keenly aware of his lips a breath away. Seemingly against her will, her head slowly tilted upwards and for one brief moment, they breathed together, yet apart.
Then their lips met and she gasped softly, her eyes fluttered shut. She didn't know who moved forward first, but it didn't matter - she finally knew exactly what she wanted. She wanted him to look at her with that unbridled adoration she had grown accustomed to seeing. She wanted him to have those moments when he treated her as if she was his entire universe. She wanted this. And from the way he kissed her, she had no doubts that he wanted this as well. Tentatively, she kissed him back softly, trying to match his gentle tenderness with her own. The few moments that passed as they shared their first real kiss seemed to last a perfect eternity, though at the same time, not nearly long enough.
He drew away first, his breath coming quickly as he stared at her, as if completely taken off guard by her response. Their hands were still intertwined and suspended at their sides. Her left hand still hung limply at her other side, now visibly trembling as she was filled with such powerful raw emotions. His right arm still pressed against the wall beside her, but now seemed to be barely able to support his weight.
"Minerva," he started in a low voice, but couldn't continue. There were no words to describe how much he hoped she wouldn't pull away. At the same time, he couldn't think of anything he could say to make her stay. He, Albus Dumbledore, was at a complete and total loss for words. He wanted to touch her face, to make sure this vision standing before him wasn't just a figment of his imagination. He wanted to hold her and kiss her again to make sure she really did respond.
Minerva tried to draw deep breaths to calm her racing heart, but it was useless. Her eyes opened slowly after he pulled away, afraid of what she would see. Would he leave now, say it was all a mistake? Only her valiant efforts kept her breath from hitching in her throat at the thought. It was not a mistake. It couldn't be a mistake. Looking into his eyes, she realized something that scared her more than anything. She didn't just want his love - she needed it.
Albus' heart shattered as he saw the panic and fear briefly flicker across her porcelain features. "I'm sorry," he apologized immediately, letting go of her hand and reaching for the doorknob.
"Don't be," she whispered immediately, reaching up a tentative hand to his face and turning his head slightly. His fingers were inches from the handle when he froze at her voice. Then the hand he had abandoned reached up to cup his cheek and gently turned his head to face her. Reaching up with her other hand, she held his face steady with an almost child-like innocence.
Slowly, she traced the contours of his face with tender fingers, moving over his strong jaw line and his cheekbones. With a small half-grin she traced the crooked line of his nose, a lasting reminder of his first encounter with the Whomping Willow. At last, she gazed into his eyes and absently traced the deep ridges stemming from the corners.
"Don't be," she repeated in the same quiet whisper, though now a warm smile gave the words life.
Scarcely believing his ears, Albus mirrored her smile. Leaning in again, he pressed his lips to hers once more, gathering her slender form to him and pouring all of his heart and soul into this moment - their moment. Her hands remained on his face, pulling him nearer and caressing the worn skin of his cheeks. Her left hand trailed down to his beard and stayed there, her graceful fingers threading through the silky silver shroud. They lost all comprehension of time and space until the bell heralding the start of classes tolled.
Minerva pulled away from him breathlessly. "I have class to teach," she managed to whisper, before Albus again claimed her lips.
"Let them wait," he muttered.
She laughed merrily at this and pulled away, putting a finger to his lips to quiet his protests. "We'll talk later," she promised him softly.
He nodded reluctantly and stepped back, his hand reaching up to gently caress her face. Closing her eyes, she leaned into his touch and smiled. His thumb tenderly traced the creases along her mouth and briefly ran across her smooth lips before he dropped his hand to his side.
"Tea then?" he suggested. "After your last class perhaps?"
"Perhaps," she replied with a small smile, and swept out of the closet.
It was a wonder she kept her head at all on her way to the transfigurations wing. She was so happy she was surprised she refrained from beaming around her classroom with unbridled joy. As it was, she was the stern transfigurations teacher and managed to be just that for the duration of her lecture to the third years. As the Ravenclaws and Slytherins filed out of her classroom, she allowed herself a small, contented smile. Everything seemed perfect. Too perfect, she mused to herself, but she'd be damned if she started to fret about that now.
"Ma?" Harry called from the doorway. Minerva looked up and waved her boy in, clearing a space off on her desk for him to work. As he approached, Minerva realized his eyes were alight in frustration. Before she could question him, her last class of the day, fourth year Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, began to file in.
"Mr. Lowell, please collect last night's homework," she ordered. As soon as she was sure her directions would be followed, she turned back to her son, who was now moodily slouched in her chair and glaring at a seemingly inoffensive roll of parchment in front of him.
Sighing inwardly, Minerva asked, "What did he do now?" for it seemed that her boy had had yet another run in with his math tutor.
"He gives me these questions and doesn't even tell me how to figure them out!" the child ranted quietly, though with no small force behind his words. "And then he tells me 'I suggest paying attention in this class, Mr. Potter. I have given up valuable time in order to attempt to fill your otherwise vacant mind,'" he mimicked archly. Calvin Lowell, who had finished collecting the homework, snorted at Harry's distinguishable impression, but quickly turned it into a cough at Minerva's glare.
"Pass out that box of hedgehogs," she orderly sharply, her austere expression warning him not to say a word. As he hastily went to do her bidding, she turned back and reprimanded her boy, "Harry, that is quite enough." When he opened his mouth to defend himself, she cut him off, "I know you and Professor Snape have very different ways of looking at things, but the least you can do is show him the proper respect."
"Can you help me then?" he questioned with pleading eyes, "I just don't understand this."
"Of course," she replied gently, smoothing his hair in a pacifying gesture, "Just let me get the class started. I won't be long."
Half an hour later found Minerva standing at the back of her classroom overseeing her student's progress from a different vantage point. In this particular class, there hadn't been any major mishaps since she began teaching them the year before. They were all very careful students, even though most of them lacked a natural talent in the subject, and made their classes, for her, a bit boring. Rather than stare unseeingly into space and let her mind wander to earlier that day, she focused on the small boy sitting at her desk and barely suppressed a doting smile. The quill in his hand tapped impatiently as he worked out the complicated addition. Severus, never one to delay, had started him on word problems that, in Minerva's opinion, were a bit too advanced for the boy. Nevertheless, she let it pass and explained the problem to Harry as best she could, deciding that if he didn't understand by the time her class was over, she would see Severus about the issue.
Her face nearly broke into a grin as the boy's nose gave an agitated twitch - it never ceased to amuse her to see how many peculiar habits they had gained from each other. She saw him sigh and push his hair out of his face and Minerva's good mood all but evaporated. As he scribbled down another set of numbers, an errant lock of hair innocently brushed upon the scar that forever made her want to burst into tears. Biting the inside of her cheek to keep her bitter thoughts in check, she tried to think of something else, but to no avail.
In the general hustle and bustle of everyday life, she could forget that that boy, her Harry, was the Boy-Who-Lived. Yet it was in these quiet moments when she was caught off guard that she ever contemplated what it all meant for her baby boy. Voldemort would come eventually, she knew, to settle his score with the young lad who channeled his mother's love and defeated him those many years ago. She knew Voldemort, the one time Tom Riddle, and knew that he would use every advantage over Harry to defeat him. Everyone close to Harry was a liability, and it didn't help matters that the only wizard he ever feared was like a father to the boy.
Albus knew the risks as well as she did. Minerva had taken in the boy out of pure love, though she hadn't realized it at the time, and Albus had done the same. For the first time in the last three hours, Minerva frowned at the thought of the headmaster. It was bad enough she was a way to get to Harry, the last thing she needed was to be a way to get to Albus as well.
'It's all so unfair,' she thought bitterly, 'every ounce of happiness I have that monster can destroy without even existing properly.'
Dragging herself out of her heartbreaking thoughts, she swept down upon a nervous Hufflepuff before his inexpertly transfigured pincushion attacked him. As she dismissed the class as the bell tolled, she heard Harry give a triumphant shout.
"I got it Ma!" he said with a radiant smile, and added with a smirk, "Now I can tell Mr. Tall Dark and Lanky I'm not such a hopeless dunderhead."
Had he been less anxious to escape the classroom and therefore avoid reprimand, he would have noticed Minerva's quiet brooding as he raced out. Slowly releasing a sad sigh through her nose, she sat in a now vacant student desk and stared into space, paying no heed to the noisy chatter of students as they made their ways to their common rooms. Resting her elbows on the desk, she dropped one forearm across its length and rested her cheekbone on her fist - the very picture of dejection.
Fifteen minutes passed before she moved, rising abruptly out of her seat. Straightening her robes with now-steady hands, she strode purposefully out the door to find the headmaster. As she had learned long ago, certain sacrifices must be made in order to preserve the common good. And in the case of the welfare of Harry Potter, Minerva was prepared to sacrifice everything and anything.
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