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Chapter Twenty-Eight: Yielding to Greater Forces

Amanda shuffled through the halls sullenly, her head bowed in defeat. Contrary to popular belief, she did acknowledge defeat, though the times she did so were few and far between. Her nose was healed, Poppy had seen to that a short time ago, and now she wandered aimlessly, lost in thought.

Glaring at a portrait of a redheaded witch as she passed, she muttered darkly to herself, "She'd be so thrilled to say 'I told you so.' Damn that woman and her omniscience." Molly Weasley, while she was never one to gloat, was the new topic of Amanda's simmering rant. " 'They need time' she says 'Let them come together on their own' she says 'Don't be a pain in the ars-,' " amending her words as a group of second years passed, she caught herself, "-snic. Arsenic." The students, as they learned in their first year, were completely unfazed by their flying instructor's bursts of randomness and bid her "Good afternoon, Madame Hooch," as they passed. The fake grin she favored them with fled as they rounded the corner and she continued her brooding.

"I don't know what you're so upset about," a deep voice sounded further down the corridor. "If it was meant to be, it will be," Marcus tried to reason.

"Shouldn't you be wrestling something?" she asked crossly, "Like a giant spotted unicorn with razor sharp fangs?"

"Sorry to disappoint," he answered with a grin, only making her scowl deepen, "My current project is a little thing, with crazed, gleaming yellow eyes and right pain in the rump."

"Go away," she snapped, "If you hadn't noticed, I am in no mood for this."

"Well, I would, see," he said jovially, "But I'm under strict order, by way of contract, to keep my animals from wreaking havoc in this establishment."

His grin was as charming as it was infuriating.

"If I were any more miffed, you would be a hedgehog right now."

"Of course, my love," he countered graciously, and, gathering her into a hug, he planted a lingering kiss on her forehead and swept her off onto the grounds, where she would be less likely to damage anything.

Three crisp knocks broke the relative silence of Albus' office and he smiled as he sensed Minerva's presence. His smile wavered slightly, however, with her first words.

"We need to talk."

Barely repressing a weary sigh, he motioned her into a private chamber off to the side and watched quietly as she took a seat in one of the armchairs next to the fire. Ignoring the portraits' protests, he signed a last piece of parchment before sealing it and placing it on a precariously balanced pile of similar letters before following her footsteps into the other room and closing the door behind him. He didn't know why the words bothered him so, she had mentioned the inevitable "talk" before. Perhaps it was in the way she met his eyes - full of resolution, as if she had reached an ultimatum that yielded precious little to their new. . . relationship. It would have been one thing had the look in her eyes told of resignation, but a resolved Minerva McGonagall left little room for argument. As he rose from his desk to sit beside her, Minerva forced her hands to remain on her lap and refrain from knotting a stray piece of thread in agitation.

"What is it, Minerva?" he asked seriously, taking one of her hands in both of his.

Willing her eyes to remain dry, she met his gaze stonily and told him, "We can't go on like this." Disbelief and sorrow came in waves over the man's face as he strove to find a reason for the madness. "It's too dangerous," she whispered by way of explanation.

"Minerva," he began, his voice an emotional rumble, "what are you talking about?" he continued, keeping the panic in his voice under wraps, "Danger from what?" He loved her, she loved him. . . or at least he thought she did. . . in any case - the headmaster didn't see a problem. Unless. . .

"You-Know-Who," she replied quietly, "He'll come back - you know it as well as I do." Albus' face darkened and she continued, "He'll come for Harry and then he'll come after you. And I-," her breath caught in her throat as she struggled to find the words to voice her fears. "I cannot - will not - be a liability to you. He will not use me to get to you," she finished, not meeting his eyes for fear that the look in them would change her mind.

"So you think yourself a burden," he reflected aloud. As her head drooped minimally and she started to rise, he caught her hand in his and gently guided her back to a seated position. "Minerva McGonagall," he address her seriously, "You are the farthest thing from a burden to this old man. You are my reason for. . . well, anything and everything, really," he said lamely.

"But what if -," she protested.

"We can 'what if' ourselves to death, but the fact remains that I love you."

His pronouncement was met with silence as Albus' words sunk in. She was speechless, too overcome with emotions to think clearly. Joy, excitement, and a small tremor of fear warred within her mind as she stared at him in shock.

As his heart shattered, slowly he released her hands and he fought to keep at least their friendship afloat. "However, I suppose if you don't - well - we should still be friends in any case. Anything less would look a bit suspicious," he attempted to lighten the mood with a smile.

Minerva bit back a hopeless sigh, thinking, 'Well it won't do any good to break his heart, now would it?'

"Albus," she began, taking his hands back in hers, "Just because I refuse to be a burden doesn't mean I don't still love you," he looked up at her, his eyes filled with hope and she elaborated quietly, "with all my heart."

Without warning, their lips met and all doubts fled their minds.

"My dear Professor McGonagall," he began as they broke their kiss, "Would you be at all interested in a secret relationship with yours truly?"

He spoke with such seriousness that she couldn't help but giggled quietly. Swiftly, she leaned forward and kissed him tenderly by way of an answer. As she sighed wantonly into his mouth, she mused, 'To think that this is Amanda's doing.'

She froze and Albus leaned back and looked at her questioningly. He saw her mind putting together pieces of some intricate puzzle unknown to him and decided to wait it out. She face flushed in agitation and annoyance as she finally glared at him and said, "Amanda."

"I beg your pardon?" he asked, confused, and with good reason.

"This is her doing! How DARE she manipulate us like that!"

"But, Minerva-," he protested weakly as she leapt up and began pacing.

"Don't you see, Albus? She's been at it the entire school year!" Albus slowly came to understand the concept of the one-sided conversation as she continued, "Every opportunity she got she threw us together, and when one didn't present itself, she made an opportunity! The MISTLETOE!" she yelled suddenly, making Albus jump slightly.

"Minerva, please calm down," Albus implored, rising to halt the woman as she spun mid-pace. Taking her by the shoulders, he bent his head down and kissed her deeply. He felt the aggravation flow out of her as she responded in kind, leaning against him and wrapping her arms around his waist. When he broke the kiss, she sighed and leaned her head against his chest as he wrapped his arms around her and settled his cheek on her head.

"Well I suppose I can't fault her for it," she grumbled half- heartedly after a few moments. She grinned as she felt Albus' chest rumble with a silent chuckle. "I just can't stand it when she gets the better of me," she complained.

"Has that ever happened before?" he inquired.

"No," she replied haughtily, "And I am in no position to allow her to win this one either."

While her attributes overwhelmingly outnumbers her faults, Minerva was never one to admit defeat, especially not to Amanda Hooch. Albus could see the devious side of her mind hatching a plan, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know what it was.

"Minerva," he started, infusing his voice with seriousness, "Let it go."

Even as she glared at him, she knew he was right.

"All right, fine," she relented.

Albus grinned and kissed her soundly.

Later that night, Amanda quietly seated herself next to Marcus and repressed a sigh. As she watched Minerva and Albus enter and take their seats, she wondered how much longer she would have to wait in order to hear wedding bells for them. The hour before supper, Minerva took her aside and explained, in a surprisingly calm fashion, that there were to be no further attempts on Amanda's part to throw the headmaster and the deputy headmistress together in a romantic relationship.

"It has gone on long enough, don't you think?" Minerva had demanded sternly. "We're just friends, very close friends. Nothing more, nothing less, and it is high time you accepted that."

As Albus pulled out Minerva's chair for her, Amanda sighed wistfully.

"Don't," Marcus ordered.

Again, the energetic woman sighed in defeat. "Don't worry," she told him in dejected tones, "I won't."

And so, in giving up her cause, Amanda refused to see things Molly would say weren't even there. Like the way their chairs seemed closer that night, or the way their hands found each other and clasped beneath the table, or even the way they looked at each other when no one was watching.


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