AN: Hello again! Can I begin with saying that I'm terribly sorry for the ridiculous delay in uploading this chapter? I will do my best to avoid disappearing for that long again. Honestly, I don't have much of an excuse, and I don't feel like boring you all with the classic "my dog ate my FanFiction notebook" nonsense. Anyway, I wrote this chapter a long long time ago, and then realized I hated it. So I deleted everything and started over. Then I disliked the next draft, and the one after that, and finally I wrote this version and decided that it didn't matter if I liked it or not. So here it is, I hope it isn't too terrible. This is somewhat of a transition chapter. Nonetheless, tell me what you think. Again: I'm very very very sorry for taking-what was it?-two months to upload this chapter! Please forgive me!
An eerie silence hung over the Great Hall. The tension that filled the air was so heavy that it could be cut with a knife. No one spoke, no one ate, students and staff alike simply stared straight ahead.
Every ghost-like face looked up as the enormous doors opened. It was as if they were all being introduced to this witch for the first time. Her torn robes billowed around her feet, making the witch look extremely daunting. The students couldn't help but stare. Minerva sighed, figuring that it was something she would have to get used to.
Minerva McGonagall stood in the doorway, glancing around at the expectant looks of her new audience. Slowly but surely she ventured down the center aisle towards the head table. She did exactly as Poppy had instructed. Each of her precise steps reassured the worried, and each gentle nod comforted the sad. It was safe to say that she had successfully managed to lighten the mood.
By the time she reached the elevated head table she could feel hundreds of eyes resting solely on her. They were all anticipating something brilliant to come out of her mouth. Anxiety washed over her and she could feel it tingle from her head down to her toes.
A mellifluous voice spoke in her ear, 'I believe in you, my dear'. Albus' voice sent an entirely new tingle through her body, and a new form of confidence as well.
"Sonorus," Minerva whispered the spell under her breath before beginning her highly anticipated speech. "Attention!" She called, though she had had everyone's attention from the moment she had entered the Great Hall. "Tonight we all lost someone. Some lost a teacher, some lost a mentor, and others lost a friend." Minerva was pleasantly surprised with how steady her voice remained. "Albus Dumbledore remains to this day the best headmaster that Hogwarts has ever seen. His memory will live on in the hearts of his students and faculty forever." She was struck suddenly by one of her own memories of him, struggling to push it to the back of her mind with little luck. "Please, I ask that you all join me in a moment of silence for the former headmaster, Albus Dumbledore." The hall sunk into a remorseful silence. This speech made his death seem so final. It was true, Albus was never coming back, but she couldn't stop herself from clinging to a quixotic thread of hope. Minerva pulled her lips into a thin line to keep the sobs that had collected in the back of her throat at bay. No matter what circumstance, she was determined to stay strong for the students.
When her eyes squeezed shut she could clearly see Albus's face. His silver hair, his twinkling blue eyes that made her feel as if she were looking through a window to the ocean, his glowing skin that stretched with his charming ear-to-ear smile, everything was so familiar. He began to walk toward her, brushing his long fingers against her cheek tenderly.
The tingling she felt on her cheek where his hand had touched felt all too real, and her eyes snapped open in shock. Minerva swallowed hard, trying to compose herself yet again as she stared at the students. Albus, of course, was nowhere to be found. Why had she considered it even for a moment? She wondered momentarily if someone had slipped her a drink without her realizing it.
"Thank you." Her voice cut through the silence like a blade. Everyone shifted uncertainly in their seats. "Albus Dumbledore's funeral will be held in two days. I am aware that the student's summer holiday start tomorrow, but I welcome any student who has the desire to attend the funeral to stay an extra day. We have already arranged for the train to pick up the remaining students on the following day. Please notify the head of your house if you plan on staying." Whispers broke out among the students as they all turned to their neighbors to see who was staying and who was not.
Minerva flicked her wand and mugs of hot cocoa and tea appeared on everyone's plate. "Before I dismiss you all for bed, I welcome anyone who would like to talk to a teacher about today's events to do so after you're dismissed. We will do our best to answer any questions or concerns that you may have. I also assure you that I will be writing to everyone's parents to inform them of what has happened. If no one else has anything to add…" She glanced behind her at the rest of the teachers for confirmation. "…Then that is all. You are dismissed. Sleep well." Most of the students picked up their cups and exited the Great Hall; however, many of the students felt the need to stay. "Quietus." She uttered the counter spell that made her voice return to its normal volume.
Minerva spent the following hours in the Great Hall listening to hysterical students, answering questions about the future, and occasionally offering a comforting comment or gesture that was quite out of character for the usually stern professor. It was clear that everyone could use some comfort.
After the last students dispersed, Minerva nodded to the rest of the teachers and attempted to exit without much notice. Although she would never admit it, she was exhausted. "Minerva! Oh - excuse me – Headmistress McGonagall?" Pomona called, attempting and failing to lighten the mood. She hadn't made it halfway across the room before Poppy and Pomona hurried to meet her, strategically blocking the exit.
Minerva grimaced at her two closest friends. "I admire your attitude, Pomona."
"Too soon?" Poppy asked while she put a hand on Minerva's shoulder.
"I'm afraid so." The only thing Minerva wished to do at that moment was rush to her private quarters and drown herself in her pensieve, if such was possible. There was one particular memory that she ached to relive. "If you'll so kindly excuse me…"
Her friends sidestepped with her, now completely preventing Minerva from leaving. "Please, at least consider having tea with us? We won't keep you long." Pomona pleaded.
"I'm very sorry, but I have so much to take care of tonight. What with the end of term grades needing to be finished, and the letters to parents, and of course the Ministry must be notified…" Her thoughts trailed off as she realized that her friends could see right through her bluff. They were all very aware of Minerva McGonagall's organized schedule. Her term grading had been done and turned in long ago, the Minister for Magic would have been informed right away and was most likely already on his way to the school, and the letters to the parents could write themselves. Minerva pursed her lips into a thin line and held her ground. "Would it be too much of me to ask if we could have tea tomorrow instead? I need to plan the funeral."
Poppy and Pomona looked from Minerva and back to each other guiltily before agreeing with obvious hesitation to meet for tea the following day. Neither one had the nerve to push Minerva for tea when she had to plan her husband's funeral. They parted so she could leave.
She finally reached the grand double doors and stopped, throwing a quick look over her shoulder. Minerva suppressed a sigh at the sight behind her before turning around and heading back towards the Gryffindor table. Harry Potter was staring into his mug of hot chocolate, slightly slouched in the same position he had been in all night. "Potter?"
He looked up with a dazed expression. "Hello, Professor…or are you Headmistress now?" Harry asked the question innocently enough, but it struck a raw nerve in Minerva. Her eyes narrowed like daggers. If looks could kill…
"What makes you think that I cannot do both?" Minerva snapped. Harry looked even more confused at her rather harsh retort. Her features softened immediately and she let out an exasperated sigh. "My apologies, Potter. I am feeling rather strained this evening."
"I understand, Professor. Sorry for offending you." He replied with a sigh, his voice revealing how exhausted he too was feeling.
"Would you mind joining me in Albus's—excuse me—in my office? I have a few questions that I would appreciate answers to."
"I will do my best, but I can't promise anything, Professor."
"I understand as well, Potter." Minerva led the way to her new office. When the doors opened for them Harry heard his professor gasp. He followed her gaze to a portrait that hadn't been there earlier that day. Enclosed behind the frame was the smiling face of none other than Albus Dumbledore. They both stood completely motionless, staring at his portrait with wide eyes.
"Well, are you two just going to stand there watching me for the rest of the evening or are you going to come in? I promise, you won't miss much by looking away, it's not like I can do anything interesting inside of this blasted frame." Albus teased his audience. Minerva and Harry glanced at each other before walking in. "Oh, and Minerva darling? I am not very fond of how plain this frame is. It's positively boring! Do you think it would be possible if we could get a new one?" His common wooden frame did look rather uncharacteristic around the resplendent man.
Minerva laughed—much to Harry's surprise—and smiled at the portrait. "I'll see what I can do." Her smile fell for a moment before she added "But definitely nothing purple like those ghastly robes you wore or anything with patterns!"
His expression was crestfallen, though his eyes sparkled playfully. "Are you sure, my dear? I was thinking a frame with shooting stars or chocolate frogs would look delightful!"
"Over my dead body!" She exclaimed, but they both stopped short, staring at each other with wide, horrified eyes. Harry looked from one to the other, wishing he could remind them of his presence. He felt utterly forgotten, and was feeling quite awkward at the exchange he had just witnessed. There was no trace of a smile on either of their faces. Albus mirrored her frown perfectly.
"Too far, my dear. I cannot allow that to happen." He looked torn. "Alas, I must go take care of a few things. I shall be back later." With that he walked out of the frame and they were left staring at nothing but a high-backed armchair.
Harry noticed the way that she looked after him. He saw the heartbroken look in her emerald eyes. He even saw one small tear slide down her cheek, but he didn't dare say a word. His suspicions over their relationship were already confirmed.
Minerva snapped herself back to reality and took a few long strides to sit behind her desk. It was still cluttered with stacks of unorganized papers and letters that Albus had been working on just that morning. She attempted to move some of the stacks but quickly resorted to doing that later. Turning towards Harry, Minerva pursed her lips in a determined manner. She had to get answers.
"Harry, I would like to know what you and Professor Dumbledore were doing this evening when you left the school." She had always been very straightforward with people and she certainly was not planning on stopping now.
"I can't tell you that, Professor." Harry said immediately as if he had been expecting the question. Minerva glanced up at the empty frame belonging to Albus, and then turned back to Harry.
"Harry, it might be very important." She refused to plead with him, though her calm demeanor was wavering. What would she do if Harry wouldn't give her the answers that she so desperately needed? Where would she go from there if she didn't receive closure?
"It is," said Harry, "very, but he didn't want me to tell anyone." Harry swore he caught a glimpse of hurt behind her narrowed eyes, but it was covered up by a look of fury before he had a chance to react to it.
"Potter, in the light of Professor Dumbledore's death, I think you must see that the situation has changed somewhat—"
"I don't think so," Harry shrugged. Minerva could feel her head explode with anger. Did he just shrug? Did he not care about what was at stake? Did he not care about the loss of his headmaster? How could he not realize that Dumbledore would have wanted him to tell her? "Professor Dumbledore never told me to stop following his orders if he died." His calm voice slapped her out of her blind rage.
"I'm sorry, Professor." Harry shook his head apologetically. She admired the bravery of her own Gryffindor lion. Standing up to Voldemort was one matter, but she was often reminded that her temper was closely matched at times.
"Very well," Minerva wandered to the window and stared out over the grounds, "You may go." She said without looking up, her gaze fixed on the giant squid as it surfaced lazily in the Black Lake, "Goodnight Harry." Her voice was absolutely devoid of any emotion.
"Goodnight Professor McGonagall. I really am sorry." Harry left the room quickly.
Minerva tore her eyes from the giant squid and refocused on a group of figures dressed in black cloaks marching across the grounds. An overwhelming feeling of dread hit her and tore at her composed disposition. The Ministry had arrived.
"The Minster is almost here, Minerva. It seems he brought company." One of the former headmasters informed her.
"Thank you, Armando."
By the time Minerva asked the Minister for Magic and his delegation to leave it was well after midnight. She closed the door behind them and entered her private chambers. Without bothering to turn on the lights, she shed her robes and stepped into her nightgown, collapsing immediately onto the bed. She curled up under the blankets on her side of the bed, forcing herself not to think of her missing companion.
After an hour of tossing and turning and begging for a sleep that never came, Minerva untangled herself from the white silk sheets and stomped out of her bedroom. She began to pace her office, mimicking Albus's old pacing path flawlessly.
Beginning at the desk, she glanced at a few papers before moving towards the fireplace. Her hand rested on the mantle for a moment as she stared into the flames, and then she moved to the window. She looked at nothing in particular and then wandered to the settee, sitting down for a second and then standing up again. Then she began pacing in the middle of the room, back and forth, back and forth. Then Minerva repeated the pattern, returning to the desk, then the fireplace, then the window, then the settee, and then back to the center of the circular room. She did this at least four times before an alluring sound broke through the silence of her world.
"What in the world are you doing, my love? Should you not be in bed?" Albus's soft voice made her jump. She had forgotten about the portrait.
"Oh!" Her hand stretched to her heart in an attempt to steady her heartbeat as she added, "You surprised me."
"You surprised me as well. I was expecting you to be asleep."
"Oh Albus, sleep is for the dead." He chuckled at her teasing retort. They both looked at the other headmasters and headmistresses, all who seemed to be asleep.
"So it seems." He murmured, watching her closely. "I feel as though this is some type of imprisonment. I can see you, I can talk to you, yet I can't touch you, hold you, or kiss you. It is not fair."
"Life is unfair, darling." Minerva reminded him.
"Exactly! Life is unfair, yet I am no longer living so shouldn't it be fair now?" He asked incredulously, sinking into the armchair in his picture.
"You are such a child!" She laughed.
"I believe that's why you fell in love with me, my dear." He winked, smiling at her lovingly. Minerva returned the smile, her eyes never leaving his face.
"Don't be silly, Albus. I fell in love with your beard." She teased.
"I would believe you," Albus mused thoughtfully for a moment while stroking his long silver beard, "but I did not have a beard when you fell in love with me."
"Details, details!" Minerva chuckled. Her eye lids were steadily growing heavier as if several weights were pulling them down whenever she blinked. A yawn escaped her mouth just before a hand reached up to stifle it. "Excuse me." She apologized out of sheer habit.
"Please dear, go to bed. You'll feel so much better after a well-deserved sleep." Minerva frowned slightly, his eloquence never ceased to get the better of her. He knew that he had won, yet he wasn't surprised when she hesitated.
"I would prefer talking to you." Minerva glanced at the door to the bedroom, suppressing a shudder at the foreboding feeling of loneliness that engulfed her at the thought of sleeping alone. "But I suppose…"
"It's been a long day for both of us, my dear headmistress. Goodnight darling." He winked again and blew her a kiss.
"I love you, Albus."
"I love you more, Minerva."
"Doubtful." She whispered, once again moving slowly toward the bedroom.