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Uninvited

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A/N: I own nothing, save for my small collection of words and phrases. It all belongs to the creative goddess of our generation, which sadly, really isn't me. The song belongs to Alanis Morissette.

I have read through all the background I can on our two favorite Witches, including a summary of the Pottermore information, and have used it extensively in this chapter, adding in my own bits and pieces, of course. Just a heads-up.

Also to note: As much as I love Maggie Smith and her portrayal of McGonagall in the movies, my inner imagery of Minerva is rather different. Movie McGonagall is still a strikingly beautiful woman (I did say I love Maggie Smith, right? haha), but my Minerva is nowhere near that aged, and I explain that a bit in this chapter. I think most of us who read/write Minerva/Hermione have a much different inner image of her than dear Dame Maggie.

This is un-beta'd, so any mistakes are my own.

=======================HG/MM=======================

Must be strangely exciting
To watch the stoic squirm
Must be somewhat heartening
To watch shepherd need shepherd
But you, you're not allowed
You're uninvited
An unfortunate slight

=======================HG/MM=======================

Hermione's skin was still flushed with her anger and passion when she reached the bottom of the staircase, and the gargoyle that guarded Hogwarts' Head Office entrance. She heard a man's voice talking about the "damn fine snog" she'd just given Minerva, and it stopped her in her tracks. The door had bounced when she slammed it, and rather than latching closed, had swung back open several inches. Minerva's rebuke quickly followed the remark, and it made Hermione curious as to what would happen next. She crept slowly back up the stairs, disillusioning herself along the way. Seeing the open door, she slipped through the crack carefully, and sat on the floor just inside the door, her back against the wall.

Minerva sat at her desk, her fingers still resting against her lips, her eyes slightly unfocused in thought.

"Minerva? What is it?" Dumbledore's voice floated dreamily down from his portrait, tinted with concern for her.

"Albus, I... I don't know what to do." She was so confused by Hermione's kiss and declarations. "Tell me what to do. You spent so many years in this office, and I feel that I'll never be able to take your place."

"I cannot tell you what to do, my dear, but the biggest question is this: do you love her?"

"How could I not love her? She is everything I've ever dreamed of, but she is a student under my care, Albus. I am fifty-four years older than she is! Fifty-four! Even if the years between us weren't a concern, I cannot give her the future she deserves. How could I expect her to tie herself to me? It's an incredible gift she's offered me, Albus, but I don't deserve it. I don't deserve her." Her anguish was written all over her face, and a tear rolled down her cheek.

"Is age truly your main concern, Minnie? How much older than you was Elphinstone when you married him?" Albus gently questioned.

Minerva's eyes shot up to look at him, "Forty years, but what does that have to do with anything? You know that as much as I cared for him, and as happy as we were, there was no great passion or love between us. It was a comfortable companionship we had, and that's all."

Hermione's heart ached at the news of Minerva having been married to another, but her explanation quelled the jealousy she was feeling. Comfortable companionship, eh? Interesting.

"There is a very minor difference between forty and fifty-four years, especially in our world, Minerva. You know this. You're physically no more than forty-five or so, in terms of Muggle aging, so that takes your difference down quite a bit. Twenty-six years isn't such an obstacle, is it?"

Minerva opened her mouth to argue, but the truth of his words began to sink in. "Yes," she agreed, "the age difference isn't all that bad, but Albus, the fact remains that she is still my student! I will not subject both her and myself to the kind of gossip this would create, not to mention speculation about her grades," she spat out bitterly. "If people thought she received preferential treatment because of a relationship with me, it would end any thought of a successful career after school. I will not do that to her."

Hermione wanted to stand and yell that she didn't care about public opinion, career opportunities, or anything else, but she kept her calm, and realized the truth behind what Minerva was saying.

"You have no idea, Albus, how much it hurts every time I have to try and dissuade her notions as foolish, but it cannot be." The pain was plain to see on her face.

It was her turn to receive a look over the top of Albus' painted glasses. "Now Minerva, while there is truth in your words, it's not as easy as that. There is precedent on your side. Past Heads of the school have had successful relationships with older students." It was infrequent, but had happened. "You are not her direct teacher anymore, and have no influence over her grades. You have close friendships with several of our older students, through Order interactions and the results of the war with Tom. So do other Professors; ones still actively teaching classes, but that doesn't prevent any of them from doing their duty in regards to educating all of their pupils.

"Do you honestly think that anyone would ever accuse either you or Miss Granger of that kind of impropriety? She is well-known as the smartest, most powerful Witch in recent years, and even without ever taking her NEWTs, her proximity to and influence over Harry would open every job in the world to her. You, yourself, have a well-founded reputation as one of the strictest Professors in many years, apart perhaps from Severus, and you are always fair in marking assignments. The only people who would dare spout that kind of drivel have no business with either of you, anyway."

Minerva and Hermione were both thinking that there was merit to his words, the truth behind them hitting Minerva especially hard, causing her to sink back into her chair in thought.

Albus' voice softened and they nearly had to strain to hear his next words. "I was unfortunate enough to both find and lose the love of my life early-on, and as such, it never affected me as Headmaster, but I have to say that if the opportunity to love again had come along, I would have seized it. If you truly care for her... if you love her, don't let the trappings of this office stop you. Carpe diem, Minerva. You never know when tomorrow won't come."

"As much as I hate to agree with Albus, he is right," Snape's voice joined the conversation. "Through my own foolish actions, I drove Lily into the arms of my enemy and had to watch her from afar. It killed me every day I was without her, but at least I had the consolation of knowing she was happy with Potter. From what I have seen of Miss Granger in her time here, I do not think that she would be happy with another if her feelings are as strong as we all witnessed just now."

Hermione was shocked at Snape's defense. She had believed his opinion of her was somewhat less than flattering.

"I know she is bossy, headstrong, and a know-it-all swot, but there are those of us who know you, Minerva, who would describe you in much the same manner." He chuckled deeply at the look of consternation she threw up at his portrait at this last observation.

"It is odd to receive advice on this subject from the only two people I've known who were more alone than I've ever been, but I do appreciate it. You've both given me much to think about." She stood, straightening her robes and gathering herself together. "However, nothing will be decided tonight. It's now past one o'clock, and I need sleep. Good night, ladies and gentlemen." She nodded to all the portraits lining her office and swept out through the hidden exit that led directly to her private chambers, the door closing audibly behind her.

=======================HG/MM=======================

"I think, Miss Granger, that it might be safe to come out now and go to bed yourself," Snape's portrait spoke again, an amused tone to his voice.

Surprised, Hermione canceled her disillusionment spell and stood to face her former Potions teacher. "Sir?"

"Don't worry. I doubt anyone else knew of your presence. It seems that even as a portrait, I have retained the sharp spy's vision that kept me alive under the Dark Lord's thumb for so long."

"I am not a swot," she said sulking. His laughter booming from the wall caused her to step back and study the laughing face of a man she thought she had known, at least a little, and she realized she'd never known him at all.

"That's what you took offense to? Being called a swot? I'm sorry to offend your tender sensibilities, Miss Granger, but if there ever was a swot who haunted the halls of Hogwarts, it was certainly you."

"Hmph," she huffed, before remembering the rest of his dialogue with Minerva. "Is it true, sir? What you told her about Harry's mum? I never knew."

"Potter didn't tell you? I would have thought he'd run to everyone with the memories I gave him." His voice turned hard, but his eyes showed a deep sadness.

"Harry never said anything. He's a better person than you give him credit for being, Professor," she asserted. "He respects privacy too much after having Voldemort in his head for so long."

"Perhaps. However, as our latest Headmistress said, it is after one o'clock in the morning. You should be getting to bed."

"Yes, sir." She turned toward the door and took a few steps before stopping again, and said over her shoulder, not daring to face him again, "Thank you... for what you said to her. It means a lot to me to know that I had at least a small measure of your respect. If it means anything to you, I always held you in the greatest respect also. Good night." She disappeared through the door, making sure to close it all the way this time, and went to her own night's rest.

She didn't know at the time what her admission meant to the last remnant the world had of Severus Snape. She couldn't have.

=======================HG/MM=======================

Several weeks passed. Hermione threw herself back into her classes with dogged determination to do the best she could on her NEWTs. Listening in on the conversation with Dumbledore and Snape had helped her realize that putting that much pressure on Minerva was unfair to both of them. She missed their weekly teas terribly, but knew that doing without was the wiser move.

Her dreams were peppered generously with the kinds of dreams that had riddled her sixth year, and they were made better with the intimate knowledge she now had of Minerva's chambers, as well as her body and its responses to her touch.

Now and then, during meals, she would find her gaze drawn to the Headmistress' seat, and would catch Minerva looking at her with the same longing she felt. Each woman would smile briefly before dragging their eyes away from each other. It was torturously painful, but Hermione knew that this decision to back off was the best one she could have made.

Every day that passed brought her one day closer to completing her education and getting past the student-teacher obstruction.

=======================HG/MM=======================

The night before exams were to begin, Minerva sat down for dinner, and was immediately aware of Hermione staring at her again. She closed her eyes for a moment and breathed deeply. She missed talking with her so much. She knew the distance between them was deliberate and necessary, but gods, it hurt. She refused to give in and return the glance. Sometimes she did, but it always left her feeling bereft, so tonight she didn't.

Finding that she had no appetite, she made her excuses to Flitwick and escaped to the corridor, deciding to take a walk outside to help clear her head. As she made her way down the steps leading up to the entrance, she looked around and could see no one around. Closing her eyes, she inhaled the clean air with its mild scent of cut grass and wood smoke. It may be late May, but the castle still required many fires to be lit in the evenings.

Heading mindlessly toward the Quidditch pitch, she pulled a crumpled pack of cigarettes from her pocket. She withdrew one, noticing she was down to three after this one. A frown marred her face as she remembered opening this pack only this morning. Surely I haven't smoked that many today. She was oblivious as to just how much she'd been smoking over the last three months. Shrugging lightly, she dismissed the thought. The pack went back into her pocket and she lit the cigarette with her wand, enjoying the burn of the smoke as it filtered into her lungs, holding it for a moment before releasing the smoke into the air around her.

She was walking languidly, puffing periodically on the cigarette, and thinking about the situation with Hermione. Three months after their last conversation, and her talk with Albus and Severus, she was no closer to a resolution than she had been. She wanted to have Hermione in her life. She was sure she was in love, but was filled with doubts about the true depths of Hermione's feelings.

Even when she allowed herself to believe, her other objections would rise to the forefront of her thoughts, keeping her confusion fresh and alive.

Her cigarette had come to its end, and she threw the butt in the air, silently casting Incendio at it, not wanting to pollute school-grounds with the remnants of her filthy habit. It burst into ash, vanishing on the wind.

Having reached the pitch, she sat on the grass, pulling her knees up to rest her chin on them, one arm holding onto a leg and the other ruffling through the soft grass that surrounded her. She thought back on her life and the love she'd had in it. She could still see her first love, nervous but happy in the hazy sunshine as he proposed, and later heartbroken when she'd returned to refuse the proposal. It was a heartbreak that lasted for years.

She took out and lit another cigarette, remembering her pain at having to leave him, but knowing that it was for the best. She couldn't put him through the same things her mother had done to her father. Secrecy and lies slowly killed even the most loving relationship, and it was this that had kept her from accepting Hermione's gift of herself. She blew another smoky breath from her lungs, lost in thoughts of her past.

=======================HG/MM=======================

Hermione was watching as Minerva left the Great Hall, and was worried. She hadn't taken time to eat, and there was a haunted look on her face that Hermione couldn't decipher. She thought for a minute, then gathered a couple warm rolls and a few slices of roast beef into her napkin, before making her excuses and leaving to find out where Minerva had gone.

Without knowing, she used the same Point-Me spell to find Minerva that had been used to find her all those weeks earlier. Getting close to the pitch, she could see the older woman sitting with a cloud of smoke surrounding her head. Her pace slowed, and she could see a stream of smoke being exhaled. She would never have thought of Minerva as a smoker, but the sight of the smoke made a connection in her mind with the scent she couldn't figure out that night. It had been the smell of cigarette smoke mixed in with the herbs.

She walked up behind Minerva slowly, the grass muffling the sound of her steps, though she was too lost in thought to have heard the approach anyway. Hermione lowered herself to the grass just to her right, and reached with her left hand to touch the Professor's shoulder lightly.

Minerva was startled to feel her touch, and turned her head to face Hermione, inadvertently blowing another stream of smoke into her face.

"Ah, my apologies. I didn't expect to see anyone." She threw the remains of the cigarette into the air, burning it to ash as before. She waved her hand around, disbursing the smoke cloud into the air.

"Don't worry. I won't tell anyone your guilty secret," Hermione teased lightly. The confused look on Minerva's face prompted her to clarify, "The smoking. I won't tell."

"It's no great secret, really. It helps me through my maudlin thoughts on occasion," she admitted. "I don't indulge often."

"You had the smell of smoke on you that night where the Room of Requirement was. I couldn't place it at the time. I've been wondering what it was. That was a nifty trick, by the way. Burning the butt before it even hits the ground."

"Indeed." Her lips twitched, fighting a smile. "Now you know. Why are you out on the Quidditch pitch? You've no love for the game."

"No, that's true. I do have love for the pitch's occupant tonight, though." Hermione blushed a little before continuing, "I noticed you left dinner without eating and was worried about you." She set her folded napkin beside Minerva's lowered hand. "I brought you something to eat. Thought you might be hungry."

The young woman's thoughtfulness touched Minerva. "I left because I found I had no appetite, but thank you for your kindness." She looked away, over the darkness of the pitch. "I was just sitting and thinking about my past. I sometimes get lost in my memories, as we older people tend to do."

"Pish. You're not old, or at least I've never thought of you as such. You were Professor McGonagall, my favorite teacher, and as time has moved on and I've grown up, you've morphed into just Minerva. An outstanding person; beautiful, captivating, powerful, and strong. Not many people could survive four simultaneous Stunners at any age." She leaned to nudge Minerva's shoulder with her own. "Merlin help the Light if you'd ever decided to fight for Voldemort. We'd have lost years ago."

Minerva was flattered by the description, and her face flushed at the last comment. "Now you're just being ridiculous. For one thing, I'd never have joined any Dark organization. For another, he'd never have taken an old half-blood like me. Blood status aside, he knew he'd never have me. I've always had too much love for my Muggle father, and for Muggles in general." She felt another pang in her heart at the thought of her father and Muggle first love.

"I didn't know you were a half-blood." Hermione was surprised at this revelation. "I've always thought of you as the daughter of some strong pure-blood house."

"Most people do. I'm content to let people think what they will. It makes no difference to me." She laughed under her breath. "Few people these days realize that not only am I a half-blood, but so was Albus, Severus, and of course, Tom himself."

Hermione laughed along with her. "Between you, Professors Dumbledore and Snape, Harry, and me, we pretty much obliterated Voldemort's ideals to nothing. You and Professor Dumbledore are the most powerful people I've ever met, and although I may not have personally liked Professor Snape too much, I don't think anyone can deny how powerful he was, either. It must have vexed him to no end to be faced with so many of less-than-pure birth who were so much more powerful than he was."

"Aye, and you're certainly the most powerful Witch to leave Hogwarts in an age. I have no doubts that you will tear down every record with your exam scores over the next week. You've always pushed far past everyone's expectations." There was a hint of pride in Minerva's voice. "I am so thankful that I had the chance to help mold you into the person you are. So thankful."

Hermione reached over to grasp her hand, twining their fingers tightly together. Minerva couldn't summon the will to resist the touch.

"It means the world to hear you say that. I'm grateful to all the instructors I've had here over the years – with certain exceptions. I'm sure you would agree that we learned nothing at all useful from that bat Umbridge. The rest of you, however, have taught us so much; have taught me so much, and not only about Magic and how to wield it, but also about how to be a Witch. From you and the other Professors here, I've learned how to comport myself, I've learned how to respect other people and their knowledge and abilities.

"Especially from Professor Snape, I learned how to keep my chin up and keep going, respecting the information being imparted even though I didn't especially like the man teaching it to me. His methods were very strict, and he wasn't very fair, but he did teach. None of us ever forgot anything he taught us, because we knew that if we didn't know the subject; if we didn't put in the work, we would feel his wrath. I don't think anyone else ever realized that if we hadn't treated Potions as we did, it could have been catastrophic for everyone in the classroom."

"You're correct. Potions is a difficult discipline for which most people don't have the patience. We were lucky to have him on our staff for as long as we did. You may be the only one of his students I've ever heard praise him like that. It takes a strong person to realize the effectiveness of his methods."

Minerva was gaining a growing understanding of just how mature Hermione really was. Her doubts about the validity of what Hermione felt for her were melting away.

"Hermione," she swallowed hard. "I... I know there are things about which we really need to talk, but there are things you need to know before we get to that. Will you be patient enough to listen to me for a while without interrupting?"

The abrupt change in the direction of their conversation surprised Hermione a little, but realizing there were things Minerva needed to get off her chest, she agreed, "Yes. I can do that, but can we stay here? And can you not let go of my hand?" She needed the contact, small though it was.

"I think I can agree to that." Minerva took a deep breath and looked up at the stars blanketing the warm Spring night.

"For you to understand why I could never enter into a secret relationship – and it would have to be a secret as long as you're a student here – you need to know parts of my past. You may love the woman you know, but the truth is, Hermione, that you don't actually know me very well outside of the student-teacher dynamic, and if this is going to move forward, you need to really know me. And so I'm going to tell you things that nobody else left alive knows.

"First, as I stated earlier, I'm a half-blood. My father was a Muggle, and my mother a Witch; a pure-blood from one of those old houses of which we spoke a moment ago. Her family disowned her for marrying a Muggle, and I've never had any contact with any of them. My parents were married for several years before she ever told him what she was, and it irrevocably damaged the trust in their marriage. Both of my younger brothers and I spent our youth hiding any reference to Magic and who we were, because we lived in a Muggle community and had to hold up the Statute of Secrecy. When I started at Hogwarts, it became a haven where I didn't have to hide any longer. I think, as a Muggle-born, you can understand that better than some would.

"In my seven years here, I never bothered to think about romance; I was too focused on my studies, and on keeping my secrets once I came back home for holidays. After my final year, I was spending one last Summer at home with my family before setting out on my own. I had a job to get to, and would be living in London for it. For the first time, I had no immediate responsibilities, and I was lazing about, spending days walking the farmlands that make up the area around my home. I met a boy that summer and we fell in love. He proposed, but having seen how the lack of trust had damaged my parents' relationship, I turned him down. It broke my heart, but I couldn't see any other route to take.

"And so I moved to London. Alone, and broken-hearted. After a while, a girl with whom I worked quietly let me know that she had feelings for me, and it shocked me. You have to realize – this was 1946, and homosexuality was maybe out there, but definitely was never discussed. I'd been raised the daughter of a minister, and interest in another woman had never crossed my mind. I told her as much, and she said she understood, but asked me to think about it. I did. I thought long and hard about it, and while I admitted the possibility of those kinds of leanings, I was just twenty-one, and still nursing my heart over Dougal. When I told her, she said she didn't mind if I didn't love her. If I wanted to 'test the waters' with her, with no thought of anything further, she would accept that.

"Of course, that was unacceptable as well. I had been raised as part of the church, and relations before marriage … well, 'good girls' just didn't do that, no matter how much we might want it. So I turned her down, as well. Over the next two years, she kept pursuing me, always respectfully, always at a distance, but always gently reminding me of her offer. Finally I gave in. It was wonderful to finally feel free with someone; to be able to touch them without thought of my rejections. It was, however, of necessity, still a secret relationship. You just didn't hear about girls being together. However much freedom I felt with her in the comfort of our bedrooms, it was a relationship filled with secrets and lies, much like with my parents. We managed five years before the dam broke and we parted ways.

"Years later, after I came here to teach, I was feeling very alone. I had the comfort of the castle, the security of a good, stable job, but no close friends. After my experiences, I couldn't open myself up to anyone without remembering the people I'd hurt. Then one day, I got a letter from my mother, containing news that Dougal had married someone else. It was thrown in amongst other bits of local news, but it hurt me deeply. That night, Albus came into my classroom to find me sobbing. As I accepted his comfort – he had been my teacher, and I had always felt comfortable in his presence – I told him the whole ugly story, both of Dougal and of Dorothea. He told me of his past with Grindelwald, and revealed his own preferences to me in the story. After that night, Albus was my closest friend; the only one who knew my history and my preferences, which I believed that time to lean both ways.

"Over my years teaching at Hogwarts, I only had one fling with another woman; this time with another Professor. It lasted only one year, as she was a Defense teacher, and the position was, by that time, cursed. She left me feeling more lonely than ever, and I retreated into the stoicism that my upbringing had ingrained into me."

Hermione had remained silent through the monologue, hearing the pain and loneliness pour out of Minerva, and tears were coursing down her cheeks at the thought of everything the other woman had been through. A muffled sob escaped her throat, bringing Minerva's attention to the Witch at her side.

"A thaisce, don't cry over me," she conjured a handkerchief and reached to dry Hermione's face. "After all, 'twas not all that bad. I had my students to teach, and I took great pride in the work. It wasn't all dark and loneliness."

"You deserved better," Hermione whispered. She reached up to pull Minerva's hand away from her face, placing a small kiss in the palm of her hand before clasping their hands back together. "You deserved so much better."

"We can debate what I did and did not deserve some other time. For now, let me finish; there is more yet to tell." She paused for a moment, and Hermione nodded her head in agreement, scooting closer and laying her head on Minerva's shoulder.

"Several more years passed after Shirley left, and Voldemort's forces were beginning to rise. I found myself once more living on the outbreak of war, and had I met anyone in those years, I would not have entered into any kind of relationship. In war, I could find no viable reason to open myself up to anyone only to later lose them. I spent all my time and energy on teaching and helping Albus muster the Order together and fight. By the time it was over and the celebrations were beginning, I was already entering my late fifties, and thought myself past looking at anyone in that way.

"Fate has a way of making one eat their words. You remember I told you I had a job in London right out of school? My supervisor from that job was named Elphinstone Urquart. He had shown interest in me ever since I first began working for him. He had proposed to me several times over the years, but each time, I was in another secret relationship, and turned him down. He never knew why, of course, only that I wouldn't accept him.

"But after Voldemort fell, he came to me again. He was aging, his hair all white by then, and was nearing his hundredth birthday. He asked me again, this time adding that he wasn't capable of a physical relationship, but wanted a companion for his later years. He said that he'd met Shirley a couple years before, and over a long round of very strong drinks, my name came up as a mutual acquaintance. He told her he had proposed repeatedly, but was turned down each time, and she revealed her own past with me to him. My loving women made no effect on his feelings for me, and he was 'past all that nonsense' anyway." She smiled at remembering how incredulous her face had been.

"So... I married him. We lived in Hogsmeade, and were very happy. It was close enough for the daily walking commute to work, and we had no pretense left in us. He came from one of those old pure-blood families, and people were shocked that I chose to keep my Muggle father's name over taking his more established Wizarding name. Neither Elph nor I cared what anyone else thought, and my teaching career was dominated by my name, so I kept it. It didn't bother him in the least. Like I said, we were happy. I had someone to whom I could truly open up for the first time in years, and he had someone to help care for him.

"Our marriage was short; only three years after we married, he died. I flitted hopelessly around our house for the Summer afterward, no longer finding any solace in being there without him. I moved back into my rooms here in the castle, and have not left since.

"I think his proposal, and his knowing that I liked women, was what made me finally realize that I truly had no interest in men. Dougal had died during the fight with Voldemort – of an injury unrelated to our war – and the male hold on my heart had gone. I have not had a lover, either male or female, in your lifetime, Hermione. I thought myself, like Elph, as past it. Then you showed up.

"I have valued you as a student for years. You always did all your work, plus more than what was required. You have helped other students past their learning obstacles, doing so unselfishly, even when your own workload was extremely heavy. I believe that your work – and Harry's – with the Defense Association helped several of our students survive a war they never would have otherwise. I won't say I had feelings for you early on, because you were yet a child, and while I may have preferences that are a little outside of society's acceptance, I do not look at children in that way.

"I first started thinking of you as more than just another student in the year you were gone. The education we were able to impart last year was unacceptable at best, and we were all too busy fighting against the Dark to have any concentration on academics, but when I did find myself marking essays, I missed seeing the slightly thicker roll of parchment with its tiny handwriting that I had become accustomed to receiving from you. I missed seeing your insights into the assignments, missed watching your magnificent brain at work. I missed seeing your face, smiling and eager to learn." Minerva leaned her head over to rest on top of Hermione's as it laid on her shoulder.

"However much I may have missed you as a student, though, I still felt nothing more than any of the other teachers who were bemoaning the lack of serious education going on. We all talked about how nice it would be to teach our regular classes and to have someone in them as motivated to learn as you always were. In the siege, I managed to catch a glimpse of you. You and Mr. Weasley were kissing – quite passionately, you know – and I felt a punch in my gut. What should have been a beautiful affirmation of life and love in the midst of so much death and violence became a dagger, twisting its way through my heart. I didn't understand at the time why it would hurt so much.

"It was only later, once we started to become friends while rebuilding the castle and grounds, that I understood. That painful dagger, that punch, had been jealousy. I felt wrong and dirty. No, wait," she said, forestalling the coming interruption, "I know you're not a child any longer, Hermione, but at that time, I still saw you that way, and I disgusted myself for having this interest in someone I could not have. You were with Mr. Weasley, or so I thought. You were still a student; are still a student. I was wrong to feel that way for a young student who was, to the best of my knowledge, straight. And I would have felt just as bad, just as wrong, if I'd known you were a young student who was not straight. It's not an impulse that's easy for me to give into.

"You have broken down so many walls, Hermione. You can't know the pain I've been in. You shocked me, you know. That first kiss was earth-shattering. You pulled down every barrier, and all I could do in response was feel, and it was like nothing I'd felt before. I freely admit that I care for you; who could do aught else when presented with such a fine gift?"

Minerva picked her head up and nudged Hermione's up to look into her face. She read all the emotions Hermione was feeling in her brown eyes, and wanted so badly to just accept what was being offered and damn the consequences.

Inhaling deeply, she readied herself for what was coming next.

=======================HG/MM=======================

Brief note: I have reached one of my goals for this story. At this point, I am past 10,000 words! Just one chapter to go, I think, and I'll have the second goal in hand: Completion. 

Don't get too upset with me! It's not over yet! One chapter to go.