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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, to whom I owe immeasurable thanks for being one of my first girl-crushes when I was 16 and her album came out. I only wish I knew then what I know now about myself and the nature of my feelings. My life would have been much different.

I write too much song-fic, but the songs strike my muse up, and I find that I cannot deny her.

Warnings for Femmeslash. Rated M for opening scene. I recommend you not read this if that is a squickworthy topic for you. For the rest of you, please enjoy.

This is un-beta'd, so any mistakes are my own. I anticipate this story to be three chapters, and I'm hoping to break 10k words. We'll see. I rarely write anything that long anymore, but I'm hoping to break character by not only reaching my word limit, but also in finishing the damn thing. My apologies if I fail to reach either or both of these.

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Moonlight spilled over her throat, as her head crashed back to hit the stone wall against which she was pressed. A moan found its way through that throat and out of her mouth, letting her partner know she was doing exactly what was wanted. Her right hand moved to the top of her partner's head, tangling her fingers through the dense brown curls she found there. It was caught by her partner's left hand and pushed up against the wall, fingers grasping together, knuckles turning white with the pressure applied as she gasped in pleasure. "Please," she begged, needing completion with a fervor she had never known. A moment later, a muffled scream heralded her release, and her partner rose to capture her mouth in a searing kiss, fingers helping soothe through the aftershocks.

Green eyes opened to meet the depths of her partner's brown ones, the moonlight bringing out gold flecks that Minerva had never noticed before. She collapsed forward into her partner, their activities having rendered her balance unstable. This made the other woman chuckle lightly as she pulled Minerva to the nearby bed, captivated by the sway of the raven locks, freed of their characteristic bun, and wondrously disheveled as she had never seen them. They tumbled into the soft mattress, spent and exhausted, and fell quickly into a deep sleep, arms and legs entwined.

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Minerva woke first and sat up, the early morning sunshine beaming through the window and across the bed, illuminating its other occupant. She took a moment to appreciate the beauty of the lightly tanned and toned body currently sprawled across half of her large bed. She could not stop herself from running gentle fingers down her spine, a small smile gracing her face at the softness of the skin. Then the young woman's identity crashed down on her, the smile dissolving into a frown and she jerked her hand back as if burned by the touch. What had she done? This was wrong! She should never have … but she had, and while she could not, would not take the previous night back, she could ensure that such activities never happened again. Her throat threatened to close, and she swallowed heavily at the thought of what she had to do, but knew it had to be done.

Her eyes caught a glimmer of movement as her partner began to wake, and she steeled her resolve. She watched the younger woman stretch and turn over, and her breath momentarily hitched at the unhindered view of the breasts on display as arms stretched languorously over her head. She saw as her eyes began to flit open, searching for Minerva before reaching over and up to cup Minerva's cheek in her hand as she spoke. "Good Morning." Her smile was radiant and infective, and Minerva desperately wanted to return the smile, but unable to, knowing what had to be done. She reached up and gently pulled the hand from her face, wishing she could press a kiss to the palm, but resisting the urge.

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Like anyone would be
I am flattered by your fascination with me
Like any hot-blooded woman
I have simply wanted an object to crave
But you, you're not allowed
You're uninvited
An unfortunate slight

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

"Hermione." The name escaped her lips, her voice trembling and her eyes closing. "Pardon me. Miss Granger." Hermione's smile disappeared and her wrist fell from Minerva's grasp to hit the mattress softly.

"Miss Granger? I thought..." She was hurt at the older woman's formality, given what happened the night before.

"Yes. I know what you thought, but..." her eyes reopened and sought out Hermione's, the pain she saw there hurting worse than she thought possible. "...surely you can see how impossible this is. I'm flattered by your interest, and last night was," she broke off the sentence, unable to continue that train of thought. Pull yourself together! she admonished herself. "I am only human, Miss Granger, and there's not a Witch, Wizard, or Muggle who wouldn't fall over themselves for a chance with you, but you are off-limits. You are my student, placed under my care, and I cannot betray the trust placed in me as Headmistress."

A single tear ran down Hermione's cheek, heralding the start of a deluge that she did not want her mentor, friend, and for one glorious night, her lover to see. She bit out, "I understand," and began snatching her clothes on, running out before the downpour began.

What she did not see in her quick escape was that matching tears were flooding Minerva's face as she watched a woman she cared for - a lot more than she was supposed to - flee, leaving both hearts broken into a thousand shards.

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

Hermione ran all the way to her room, thanking Merlin and every god, goddess, and deity she could think of that she, as Head Girl, had private quarters, far from the questioning eyes of her friends in the Gryffindor Common Room. The promised deluge started just after she made it through Minerva's – no, Headmistress McGonagall's – door, and lasted long after she had thrown herself face-first into her own bed, her body curling into a tight ball as the pain and misery leaked from her eyes, nose, and mouth, her face turning blotchy and red.

Why had she done it? What had possessed her to pour her heart out? She knew, somewhere deep inside, that it was never meant to be, but as she had sat for tea with her former Transfiguration Professor and Head-of-House, as was their habit on Friday night, she thought she saw something in Minerva's eyes. Possibly something that mirrored what she had secretly felt for years, but stuffed down and suppressed out of a deeply-seated fear of rejection. She had always been so alone, and had known for years where her preferences lay, but Muggle and Wizarding culture both seemed to be so closed-off and strict concerning such notions that all appeared hopeless. She had tried dating boys, because it was expected, but with neither Viktor nor Ron had she ever felt anything resembling what she felt just thinking about the austere Scot who had captured her fancy. It was a secret desire that burned through her veins constantly.

At first, she thought it was just another schoolgirl crush, brought on by the strong respect she had for all of her Professors, but for McGonagall most of all. She was strict, yes, but innately fair to all of her students, and she taught and fought with such a fluid grace that it was hard for one so-inclined as she to ignore and not develop a crush.

Then came the incident with Umbridge and her lackeys in Hermione's fifth year.

Seeing the object of her admiration fly and fall under the force of four Stunning spells had Hermione's heart falling right along with her. Finding out that Madam Pomfrey could not heal her and had transferred her to St. Mungo's made her breathless with perceived grief. When she had finally returned, every bit her old self, despite the cane she'd had to use for months, that was the moment which cemented the truth of her desires in Hermione's mind: It was no schoolgirl crush. She loved her Professor, and it was inappropriate and wrong and everything she'd ever feared about finding someone to love. It could never be.

Minerva had begun to invade her dreams after this realization. She saw them in all sorts of compromising positions, in her imaginings of what Minerva's private chambers looked like, in the Room of Requirement, in her dorm's four-poster, in the prefect's bathrooms, and even in the Transfiguration Classroom. She was scandalized by her dreams, and turned on by them at the same time. With all the overly-hormonal libido of a sixteen-year-old, she just couldn't help herself.

Her sixth year had passed with many dreams, and many fumblings with herself in the dark. Then, Dumbledore happened. The raw grief she saw in Minerva's face and body over the loss of one of her oldest friends and mentors made her itch with need to wrap her love in her embrace and croon the grief away. But she didn't. It would have been an unwelcome intrusion into her privacy, Hermione was sure. Oh how she ached, both with her own grief and her need to comfort Minerva.

The year on the run and its forced separation from Minerva and Hogwarts nearly killed Hermione. The torture she endured under Bellatrix's wand and knife was excruciating, but it only served as a temporary reprieve from the deep pain in her heart from not being near the woman she loved.

When the students were given the opportunity to come back and repeat the failed educational year under the leadership of Professor Snape and the Carrows, Hermione took it without hesitation. She needed another year close to Minerva, basking in whatever warmth she could get, like a man lost in the desert needs water.

It had been a gloriously peaceful year so far. Hermione's voracious educational appetite was satisfied with the difficult NEWT-level classes, and the stress of worrying about Harry and Voldemort and Death Eaters was gone, leaving her able to really soak up all the subtle parts of what her previous education should have had, but hadn't. Hermione had stayed at Hogwarts over the Summer break to help clean up and repair the ancient Castle, and it had brought her closer to all her Professors, but especially to Minerva. Once the school year had commenced, Hermione was disappointed to be denied the chance to be Minerva's student again, as she had been promoted to the Headmistress position, as she should have been after Dumbledore's death. The new Transfiguration Professor was adequate, but he didn't have quite the flair for keeping their attention that McGonagall had always had.

However, Minerva had approached her with the offer of a weekly tea on Friday nights, and Hermione had grasped the chance with both hands, wanting, and indeed needing, the time with her mentor to try and keep herself convinced of the impossibility of their relationship being anything but educator and student. They had passed several months of the school year in this manner, and had grown closer with every conversation. Hermione's time at Hogwarts was quickly drawing to a close, and she had only three months left before she would be forced to leave Hogwarts and her love forever. The desperation of her situation was starting to get to her. She didn't know how she would survive further separation.

Last night, she had gone up for their tea, as usual. She was always slightly on edge being in Minerva's private rooms, so near to her bed that she could almost touch it. When she breathed, she was able to inhale the scents she had come to associate with Minerva, and not for the first time, it caused a twinge of desire to pool low in her belly, but she pushed this all aside and sat in her normal chair by the fire, the tea and conversation stimulating as always.

Some time into their conversation, there had been a pause; a silence that was loaded, yet not entirely uncomfortable. Hermione was fighting herself inwardly, wanting to say something, but not wanting to ruin what they had. She had been looking down, picking at a thread on her skirt, when she heard Minerva sigh. She looked up and their eyes locked, green and brown, and there was a moment when neither of them had been able to look away. Hermione thought she saw the desperation she was feeling in Minerva's eyes, and on impulse, had quickly risen and crossed the distance between them to pull Minerva up, cup the back of her head in her hand, and capture her soft lips with her own. Her eyes were open, and she could see the shock register in Minerva's eyes before she felt a hand on her shoulder, pressing them closer together. Both of them closed their eyes then, and Minerva began to kiss her back, deepening the kiss and making Hermione's blood sing.

Waking up this morning in Minerva's bed was the happiest moment Hermione had ever had. And then...

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! She'd ruined everything! Her grief and pain was still being washed out of her heart and soul, and Hermione was thankful it was Saturday. She had two days to get over this and learn to act normally, as though her heart wasn't in a thousand pieces on the floor of Minerva's quarters.

Hermione was not seen in Hogwarts for the duration of the weekend. ...Neither was Minerva.

Chapter Text

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, and I apologize for rearranging portions of the song to better fit my plot line.

This is un-beta'd, so any mistakes are my own. Also, I suffer a deplorable lack of a Brit-picker, so my apologies for anything I get wrong. I'm from the Deep Southern US, and can only dream of a trip to the British Isles.

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

For two nights, and the days between them, Hermione stayed closeted in her room, only leaving her bed when nature required it. She ate and drank very little; water from the bathroom tap and some cream crackers she kept for when studying and research kept her from meals.

Late on Sunday night, her tears finally began to dry up, and her brain began to think again. Suddenly aware of how long she'd been moping and subsequently how she must smell, she decided to take a shower.

As the hot water washed away the stress she'd been feeling all weekend, Hermione ruminated on the cause of her distress. Minerva's words echoed in her mind, along with their actions. Something just wasn't adding up. If she was truly uninterested, Hermione was convinced that she would have been pushed away when she initiated the first kiss, but the way Minerva had grabbed her shoulder, had pulled her closer, had opened her mouth to deepen the kiss... It didn't fit.

Hermione lathered her shampoo in, remembering the way Minerva's hair had felt when she released it from the signature bun. Gods, who would have thought that tightly wound bun held such long and lustrous hair? She thought she could spend an eternity just burying her face and hands in it, breathing Minerva in.

Rinsing off, her thoughts returned to the pieces of the puzzle she'd been trying to put together. She just couldn't figure Minerva out. She had been so passionate, and then to be so cold the next morning. Something must have happened, she decided. She just couldn't resolve the situation in any other way. Something had changed Minerva's mind while Hermione lay sleeping. She just needed to figure out what that had been.

"Tempus." It was nearing midnight. Instinctively she knew Minerva would still be awake. Another confrontation was necessary. Her mind was made up. She had to find out what caused the turn-around.

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Minerva sat, slouching deeply in her chair by the fireplace in her bedroom, a drink in one hand, and a burning cigarette in the other, slowly disappearing unheeded into ash. She was lost in thought, paying no attention to the contents of either hand.

She cursed quietly when the the burning end of the cigarette reached her fingers, flicking its remains into the fire. It was a filthy habit, smoking, and not one in which she regularly indulged, but there were times when the urge was too strong, when the stress of her life got to her, and she had to have one. The fact that she'd gone through a couple packs since Saturday morning was testament to her state of mind. She straightened in her seat and downed the remaining contents of her glass in one gulp, the expensive fire-whiskey burning its way down her throat nicely. Setting the empty glass on the small table next to her chair, she placed her hands in the small of her back, arching to work out the kinks that slouching had twisted her muscles into.

That done, she reached up to release her hair, allowing it to fall down her back. Relief flooded her face as its weight dispersed. She remembered Hermione's hands tangling through it, and the memory made her moan lightly. She hoped she hadn't hurt Hermione too much. She valued their friendship too much to allow … this, whatever it was … to get in the way. She sighed. She would have to figure out how to salvage the relationship without allowing for any more impropriety. As for her personal feelings... they would have to be pushed aside, as ever.

Sighing again, Minerva stood to go to bed, beginning to unfasten her robes. A noise, like the scrape of a shoe on the stone floor outside her door, startled her. Her robes were quickly buttoned back up, and a whispered spell had her hair bound back into its bun in seconds. Pushing Minerva aside, she became Headmistress McGonagall, and strode toward the door, intent on finding out the cause of the sound.

"Murus Invisibilis!" The wall was rendered invisible, but only from Minerva's side. She saw Hermione pacing in the corridor, apparently fighting with herself over whether or not to knock. Minerva sighed, realizing their talk was going to happen sooner than she'd thought. As she watched, Hermione stopped pacing and leaned her head on her hand against the portrait's frame. She reached up to pinch the bridge of her nose with the other hand, and a tear slid down her cheek.

"A thaisce, tha mi duilich." She breathed in, steeling her Headmistress front, cancelled the invisibility charm, and opened the door.

"Miss Granger?"

Hermione stumbled back, feeling the slap of her formal name.

"Why are you pacing about in my corridor after curfew?" She tried not to put too much coldness in her voice, but desperately needed to keep the Headmistress, and not Minerva, in control.

Hermione bolted.

Mirroring Hermione's earlier gesture, she squeezed the bridge of her nose between her fingers and set out to find Hermione and make sure she was okay.

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Hermione had instinctively run for the seventh-floor corridor that housed the Room of Requirement, hoping to find a place to hide and think without the possibility of interruption. As she reached the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy, she began pacing while thinking of the room she needed. She paced back and forth for several minutes before realizing that the doorway wasn't appearing as it should. Frustrated by the process not having worked, she slid down the wall next to the tapestry, bringing her knees up and burying her head on them, wrapping her arms tightly around her legs, loudly venting her pain and frustration.

That's how Minerva found her, having used a Point-Me charm to track her down. She sank to the floor next to Hermione and slid her arm around her shoulders. She knew her bones would later remind her of the grievous injuries she was doing them by sitting on the cold stone floor, but she couldn't be bothered to care as she tried to comfort the woman she had so wronged.

"We still haven't managed to repair the Room. The Castle's charms let me know the fiendfyre is still burning in remote corners, and it will not allow anyone in until the flames have finally gone out," she said by way of explanation.

Hermione's head jerked up when she heard the softness of Minerva's voice, and not the clipped coldness of the Headmistress. "It's still burning?" she managed to whisper.

"Aye. Nothing to do but wait. There was entirely too much junk piled in there. Too much fodder for the fires." Minerva tugged lightly on Hermione's shoulder in invitation. Hermione acquiesced and laid her head on Minerva's shoulder, unsure what to do with her arms. Sensing the discomfort, Minerva thought for a moment and leaned up slightly so Hermione could squeeze one arm behind her, then she reached with her free hand and grabbed Hermione's other hand, stroking it comfortingly with her thumb.

Hermione relaxed and curled into Minerva's side, inhaling to take in the clean, herbal fragrance that she identified as "simply Minerva," also picking up an unfamiliar scent. She tried and failed to identify this additional smell.

Minerva sighed deeply, enjoying the impromptu cuddle more than she wanted to admit, but they were in a very exposed, very public place, and her bony bottom was already beginning to protest against its hard seat. "It seems we have much to discuss, Hermione, but this is not the place to do it. Let's go to my office." She gave Hermione's hand one last gentle squeeze and let it go, prompting Hermione to give her shoulder a last nuzzle, squeezing her around the waist before reluctantly getting up to offer a hand to assist the older Witch to her feet.

Minerva's lips twitched in a rare smile at the thought of having to be helped up. "I'm not quite that old and infirm yet, Hermione. I could have done it myself."

Hermione basked in the warmth of the smile. "Oh, yes, Professor," she teased, waggling her eyebrows lasciviously, "I know just what you're capable of."

Minerva's face flushed as she sputtered, "Yes. Well." She cleared her throat. "Shall we?" she squeaked out. Hermione chuckled at having discomfited the normally stoic Headmistress.

"Of course."

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Like any uncharted territory
I must seem greatly intriguing
You speak of my love like
You have experienced love like mine before
But this is not allowed
You're uninvited
An unfortunate slight

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

Seated at her desk in the Headmistress' office, Minerva looked over her glasses at Hermione. "We didn't get much out in the way of explanation yesterday morning. I think there are some things we need to discuss, and some things that need clarification." She readied herself for the questions she needed to ask.

"Have you ever been with another woman?"

Hermione was surprised at the intensely personal turn of the question. "No, I've never wanted anyone like I want you."

"And have you ever been with a man? Perhaps Mr. Krum or Mr. Weasley? Or … Mr. Potter?" Please let her say no. Please let her say yes. Please just let her answer the question. Either answer is going to hurt.

"I … yes. Twice." She paused briefly to swallow hard, remembering.

"Both times were with Harry during the time Ron was absent from the hunt, leaving us alone with an active Horcrux. We found ourselves both craving other people, and needing to feel something other than the dark despair that the locket released in both of us. I know I wasn't thinking about Harry while it was going on, and I'm convinced that neither was he thinking of me. It's not something that will ever be repeated. I've known for years what my sexual preference is, and those incidents aside, any public interest I've shown in a boy has been strictly to be seen to conform to societal expectations since homosexuality seems to be a very taboo subject – both in the Muggle world where I was raised as well as here in the Wizarding world." Her eyebrows furrowed sharply. "But Minerva, I don't see the relevance in this line of questioning. I want you; only you."

Minerva sighed inwardly. She knew that was going to hurt, but Merlin she didn't know it would be such a deep cut. The Headmistress took over.

"I understand that being sequestered in the castle for so much of the year leads to certain … unwise and usually quite false feelings, especially for someone in a position of power; for someone you respect. However, it's also perfectly normal for these feelings to pass in time, leading to lasting, committed relationships with other people. It's a passing fancy, Hermione. You speak as though you've had enough experience to know what love is, but you have not." Her eyes softened slightly. "I'm sure that, in time, it will pass."

"It won't." Anger flashed in brown eyes. "I may be young, and I may be inexperienced, but that doesn't mean I don't know who and what I want. If youth and a fleeting crush are the excuse you seek for my behavior, what excuse do you give yourself? Have you forgotten what happened two nights ago? Does age and experience truly give you an exclusive certainty of who and what you want? Because my current experiences – with you! – are telling me that my feelings are not only real and true, but that despite all your arguments to the contrary, they are also neither unwelcome nor unreturned."

She stormed behind Minerva's desk, lightning in her eyes and sparks in her hair. She pulled a stunned Minerva to her feet, a hand on each arm, and crashed their lips together. Shocked, Minerva's mouth had dropped open, and Hermione took full advantage, plunging unhindered into her depths. The kiss was bruising in its intensity, and Minerva couldn't help but return it. Hermione's hands left their place on her arms, and rose to cup her face between them, thumbs caressing her jawbone on both sides while the kiss went on, relentless in its passion. Minerva's hands rose of their own accord, settling on Hermione's waist, her right hand stroking upward toward the swell of her breast. As questing fingers reached their intended goal, Hermione broke the kiss off, hissing from the sensation. Both women were gasping for breath, their chests heaving. Hermione's fingers were still cradling Minerva's head, and she looked into the vivid green of half-closed eyes, seeing the solution to her puzzle click into place.

"Minerva," she breathed, almost voicelessly, "I know what I want, and I won't lie about it. You need to quit lying to me about how you feel, and quit lying to yourself. This is no passing fancy for either of us, and I will do everything in my power to get you to realize it." She tilted Minerva's head forward, pressing one last, chaste kiss to her forehead before pulling her hands away and releasing Minerva from her grasp.

She spun on her heels, stalking from the office, determination shining from every pore. As she disappeared from view, Minerva dropped back into her chair, one hand resting at the hollow of her throat, the other tightly gripping the arm of her chair. "What in hell just happened?" She wondered aloud. The hand at her throat rose to rest at her mouth, her fingers touching swollen lips reverently, a shudder passing through her body as she pondered the kiss.

"I believe, Minerva, that's what the kids are calling a damn nice snog." One of the portraits spoke up cheekily, for which he received a death glare.

"Oh, dùin do bhuel, you auld fool."

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

Notes: I'm sure I used enough context to explain the meaning of my spells as the story went along, but just in case:

*Murus Invisibilis – Invisible Wall. I just put the two Latin words together. I don't know if anyone else has used this before or not, as a form of spying. As I see it, it turns the wall into a one-way mirror, allowing Minerva to see out, but Hermione to not be able to see in. As Hermione is on the dark side and Minerva is on the light side, a traditional one-way mirror would function the other way around, but hey, this is Magic, so let's just roll with that.

*Tempus – Time. I've seen this used in several other stories, and thought it was a canon spell, but I can find no reference to it. I don't know who initially began to use it to help characters keep time when there is no clock or watch handy, but I give them my thanks.

*A thaisce, tha mi duilich – Gaelic. "My treasure, I'm sorry." I wanted to find an endearment for Minerva to use, but didn't want to use the same "my love" or "my heart" that is commonly used. I found a list of endearments and "my treasure" jumped out at me as something I feel my version of Minerva would use. She does dearly treasure Hermione, both as a friend and as someone she desires.

*Dùin do bhuel – Gaelic. "Shut up." Literally "Shut your mouth." Should really be self-explanatory, but I like to explain.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

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.

Please don't kill me. I did label this as angst/romance. You're gonna get both, I promise!

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

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

I don't think you unworthy
I need a moment to deliberate

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

"Now that we've sorted out my past, I have a few questions for you. In much the same way I told you that you don't know me very well, I don't know very much about you. Oh, I know a bit about your background and your parents, but I'm looking more to the future." Minerva concluded her long speech. "We talked a little about your career at the end of your fifth year, and what you might like to do, but in the years since, I daresay those plans might have changed somewhat. What do you want to do once your NEWTs are over? What kind of work are you thinking about pursuing?"

Hermione was a little puzzled by the abrupt change, but went along with it, trying to follow Minerva's reasoning. "I'm not sure what field I want to end up working in, but to start, I would like to pursue a Mastery... or two." Minerva chuckled at the 'or two' addition. Only Hermione. "I don't think I would want to work for the Ministry. I know Kingsley is trying to clean it up, but in politics, one will always find those willing to cut corners for a few extra galleons." She paused for a moment, looking up at the stars pensively. "I could never be like Molly. I know she worked hard to raise her children, and it was good, honest, hard work, and she fought like the devil to protect her family through the wars, but I would hate it if I was stuck at home raising children, allowing my husband to 'bring home the bacon' – as the Muggle saying goes. It's a good vocation for those who have the temperament for it, but that will never be me. I want to make a difference, Minerva. I want to change the world, and maybe it's foolish to think that I can do that, but..."

"You can," Minerva interrupted. "There is nothing, and I mean nothing you can't achieve in your life if you truly want it. Oh, we say that to a lot of young people, trying to help give them a push to follow their dreams, but for most, it's a bit of a pipe-dream. Most will struggle along in their lives, never reaching quite as high as they truly want, but having the strength to keep trying. Some will try for a while before giving up and settling for a life they never wanted, but in which they can be content. Others give up before they've ever started. It's the rare person who sees what they want, goes after it with everything they are, and keeps at it until they've gotten it. You're one of the rare few, Hermione. You can go anywhere and do anything, so long as it's what you want.

"And that brings me to the reason I asked you this. Do you really see yourself able to get that Mastery … or two … and changing the world, all while tied to an old woman who runs a school? Don't get me wrong; I love what I do, and couldn't imagine ever doing anything else. I change the world, in my own way, by imparting knowledge and experience to the children and then sending them out to make their marks on the world. It's a subtle way of changing the world, but one that works for me. Staying here with me would kill you slowly, just as surely as that housewife scenario would, and I think you know it.

"It's a fine and perfect gift you've offered me, and I am truly honored that you think me worthy, but I cannot accept." Her voice broke, but she kept going, even as she knew they were both crying. "You need time, a thaisce. Time to get your education. Time to make your mark on our world. Time to do all the things you want; things you cannot do from here. We might both wish things were different, but I cannot make you settle for me over your dreams of changing things for the better. It would be a great disservice to you, me, and the rest of our kind."

Hermione was choking on her sobs at this point, knowing Minerva was right and wishing that she were anything but. She turned and buried her head in Minerva's shoulder, a hand raising to stroke her hair, a voice crooning softly, the words not registering, but the tone soothing.

"I don't want to leave you," her voice was muffled.

"And I don't want you to leave me," Minerva dropped a kiss to the top of Hermione's head, "but you must."

"I know."

They sat for several minutes, Minerva stroking through the soft brown curls while they rocked back and forth, both women crying to release their grief at knowing they had to part. Neither wanted to lose the moment.

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

Eventually, the moment did pass, and the two women released each other, stood, and looking at the other wistfully, had parted, each taking a different route back into the castle.

Exams began the next morning, and over the week of testing, Hermione far outclassed all of her fellow students. She and Minerva didn't avoid each other during this, but neither did they seek out each other's company. When forced into the same room, there was a gentle silence between them. All had been said, and things were resolved. The night of the Leaving Feast, Hermione quietly made her way to Minerva's chambers, and now released from the titles of student and teacher, the two women shared a final night of passion and loving, praising each other's bodies with their own. The next morning, Hermione left on the Hogwarts Express with her former classmates and the few close friends who had attended the last year with her.

She got a flat in London and started to pursue her first Mastery. She decided to start with Potions, due in part to her conversation with Snape's portrait, and also because the subject had always fascinated her. It was a far cry from Transfiguration, and the associated pain at having had to leave Minerva behind. One night, close to the end of her apprenticeship, she went to a Muggle nightclub to relax, and went home with a tall, thin woman with long black hair. The encounter satisfied her body's need for release, but left her soul as empty as it was beforehand.

It left her with a longing for some connection with the woman she loved, however, and so once her Potions Mastery was completed, she began the process of obtaining her Mastery in Transfiguration. Once or twice, over the course of this new apprenticeship, she went to other Muggle nightclubs and brought or went home with other women, similarly featured to the first. Each time, she was left marginally satisfied, knowing that there was something better out there, but lacking the ability to have what she really wanted, she would settle for the occasional one-night tryst with a stranger. If any of them ever heard her calling out a strange name as she came, they didn't mention it.

Upon receiving her second academic Mastery, Hermione decided "what the hell" and started on her third. Charms, she thought, would tie her interests from Potions and Transfiguration together nicely, giving her a well-rounded education so that she could do whatever she wanted. Minerva's words about changing the world were ever in the back of her mind.

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

May 2005 (Six years after Hermione left Hogwarts)

Minerva sat at her desk, trying to ignore the parchments strewn across her desk. Her efforts were failing spectacularly. Seven years after taking the post of Headmistress, she was loudly cursing the day she had ever taken it, cursing Albus bloody Dumbledore for getting himself killed, and cursing the fact that she was going to need to search for another employee. In his seven-year stint in the Transfiguration post, Professor Sutton was not doing an adequate job. He couldn't hold the attention of his students, and the education they were receiving as a result was substandard. Minerva had tried to put this off as long as possible, but the current OWL and NEWT scores showed scores that rivaled the ones received at the end of that failed year under Snape, and that was simply unacceptable. This was her subject, and she would not have any more students leave this institution without a proper education in it.

Of course, this meant having to try and find a replacement; a prospect that did not thrill her.

"Go ndéana an diabhal dréimire de cnámh do dhroma ag piocadh úll i ngairdín Ifrinn!"

"Is that meant for me, or for our poor Professor Sutton?" Albus asked, amused at the the turn of phrase used in the colorful Gaelic curse.

"At the moment, both of you. Damn you both. You for getting yourself killed and passing this god-forsaken job on to me, and him for being a piss-poor excuse for a teacher." She took off her glasses and pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes. "We had students take their OWLs this year who were still unable to master even first-year Transfiguration spells. Matchsticks into needles, Albus! They couldn't do it! Merlin only knows how they ever made it out of first-year with these skills. If it had been just one student, you could push it off as one inept student, but there were ten of them. TEN!" Her frustration was quite evident in the way she sat in the chair, slouched over its edge, glasses dangling from one hand haphazardly. "I need a drink if I'm to deal with this tonight."

"If it's any comfort, my dear, at least you don't have to deal with finding a new and equally unimpressive Defense instructor every year now that Tom's curse on the post is gone."

She threw her hands up at this, then dropped them to the desk, lowering her head to lay on top of them. "Small mercies, Albus. Small mercies."

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

Two days later, Minerva was holding a Staff meeting in her office to discuss the situation with Transfiguration and Professor Sutton's upcoming departure from the school.

"Do any of you know of anyone qualified for the position? They need to not only be quite good at the subject, but also display at least a basic grasp of the concept of sharing that knowledge with students. You all know how difficult this job can be, and we need someone well-qualified to help clean up the mess Sutton's leaving behind him. I can help to a certain extent, with helping brush up the teaching skills, but sadly, I don't have time to help bring their Transfiguration up to snuff as well." She sounded tired and very stressed out, her voice not carrying half as well as it normally did.

The room was quiet as the teachers thought for a moment. Neville spoke up, "How about Hermione? She helped teach pretty well all the Gryffindors when she was a student, even some who were older than she was. She got her Transfiguration Mastery a couple of years back, so she has more than a basic understanding of both of your requirements."

Neville had grown into himself over the last several years. He had achieved his own Mastery in Herbology before returning to Hogwarts for an extended apprenticeship under Professor Sprout. She was preparing to retire, but wasn't quite ready to vacate the post yet. She and Neville had worked out a system by which for every two years he studied with her, he gained a year's students. Now, at the close of his fourth year back, he was ready to pick up the Second Year classes in the fall, along with the First Years he currently taught. Sprout was still firmly in charge of Years Three through Seven. At this rate, he wouldn't gain full control of the department until 2017. He and Sprout were both happy with this arrangement.

Minerva groaned inwardly. Of course he would bring up Hermione. She was hoping nobody would remember to mention her. They hadn't spoken since the night of her Leaving Feast. Minerva had kept track of her, of course, and had been glad to hear of both her Potions and Transfiguration Masteries. She was waiting to see when Hermione was planning to leave her higher education behind and begin to make that indelible mark on the world that she'd so wanted.

"While I agree that Miss Granger would make an admirable addition to the staff, I am not sure teaching was ever in her plans. Are there any more suggestions?" She steeled her voice against showing the strain that talking about Hermione still caused.

A couple more names were presented, and Minerva made notes to check out their credentials before attempting to contact them about an interview.

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

After the meeting, Minerva was back at her desk, going over the end-of-year budgets, and the process made her want to curse Dumbledore again for leaving her behind to deal with it all.

"Ah, Minerva, do you have a moment? I know the budgets are terribly difficult to pull yourself away from, knowing they're just going to be there later, but I have a question," Snape's voice drifted down from his portrait.

"Of course, Severus. You're right, the gods-damned budgets will be waiting later, but I welcome a moment of respite." She put down her quill and sat back in her chair, reaching up to massage her temples.

"I couldn't help but overhear the suggestions in the staff meeting earlier for your replacement teacher. You know as well as I that none of them are as remotely qualified as Miss Granger, but you dismissed that suggestion right away. Might I inquire as to why?"

His question shocked her, and she dropped her hands to the chair's arms and exhaled harshly. "Oh hell. If we're going to talk about Hermione, I think I'll need a cigarette." She was back to her old smoking habits; only one or two every once in a while, but seriously thinking about Hermione always made her want one.

The first drag served to calm her nerves somewhat, and she slouched back into her chair before looking back up at Snape's portrait. "Why did I dismiss the idea, Severus? Before she left, she said she wanted to go out and make her mark, to change the world. Neither of us wanted her tied to me here at the school, and that hasn't changed. Why on earth would I ask her to come back now?" She took another long drag from the cigarette and tossed the rest into the fire.

"I think you'll find that while Miss Granger has certainly gone after her higher education with gusto, she is missing part of what always made her so extraordinary. From what I hear in the Portrait gossip circles, she's not doing well. She may welcome the change that comes with teaching a bunch of rotten dunderheads."

Pretending not to hear the rest of his advice, she twitched her lips into a small smile and teased, "Gossip circles, Severus? I would have thought them beneath you. You were never one for small talk. It's positively scandalous!"

His image in the portrait huffed and left the frame quickly, leaving Minerva to chuckle to herself at the dig. Despite their friendship, both before and after his death, she always had fun making jokes at his expense.

The smile melted off her face, as she started thinking about Hermione, musing aloud, "Not doing well, he said. Missing something. ...I wonder."

She picked up her quill and a fresh sheet of parchment and began drafting a letter.

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

All the letters she sent to find out about Hermione were returned to her with the same praises and adoration. Yes, she had been a perfect student. A little sad, perhaps, but seemingly desperate to learn as much and as quickly as she could. Yes, full Masteries in Potions and Transfiguration, with a Charms Mastery to be completed within the next month. Yes, she was highly qualified for any job she wanted, but would be very well-suited to teach.

A little worried over the repeated comments regarding Hermione's sadness, Minerva considered sending a letter asking if she was interested in the position, but she remembered the look on Hermione's face as she said she wanted to do something with herself; wanted to be more; wanted to change the world. She couldn't ask her to give up on her dreams yet. She wouldn't.

Sighing, she set aside the sheaf of correspondence pertaining to Hermione, and went back to searching through recommendations for the other potential applicants.

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

Hermione walked to the Muggle pub, tired but elated. She had just received notification that her third apprenticeship was officially complete, making her one of only about fifteen people in the world to hold three full Masteries. Hermione Granger, Potions Mistress, Transfiguration Mistress, Charms Mistress. She had always excelled at learning, and had been an excellent student throughout all of her apprenticeships, but there were no other subjects in which she was interested enough to pursue her fourth, although completing another would reduce the pool of her peers from fifteen to roughly six. Arithmancy had always held a strange allure, but in truth, six years of intensive learning on the heels of the war with Voldemort had her feeling a little burned out. Her future was entirely in her hands, and she had no idea what she wanted to do with it.

She was tired of worrying about it all, and had set up to meet a few of her very closest friends. She had invited Harry and Ginny, Neville and Hannah, George and Angelina, Luna, and Ron. She desperately wished she could have invited one other, but knew the invitation would have been refused. Thinking about Minerva still put her on edge, and a rush of need washed over her body. Maybe if she got smashed enough, she'd try to take someone home tonight. Whoever she was still wouldn't be who she truly wanted, but sometimes it was almost enough just to be touched by someone, even if it was the wrong someone.

Trying to shed her maudlin thoughts, she plastered a big smile on her face, allowing the happiness over her accomplishment to take back over, and greeted her friends.

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

A couple hours later, she was just about through her buzz phase, and on her way to being as plastered as she wanted to be, as she had to be if she was going to try and fill that physical need that was nagging at her.

Harry and Ginny had already left, saying their time with the babysitter was up. George and Angelina had just made their own good-byes, heading out so they could get up in time to open the shop the next morning. Ron was passed out on the table, not having a great tolerance for alcohol. Hannah looked as though she was about at the same stage as Hermione was; owning the Leaky Cauldron had greatly increased her own ability to drink others under the table. Neville sat between the two witches on the bench seat, sipping on some fruity concoction, trying not to drink too much so he could ensure the others all got home safely. His left hand was on Hannah's back, mindlessly caressing his fiancée, while his right arm was loosely draped on the back of the bench around Hermione. He was relaxed and enjoying his night out with friends away from the stresses of teaching.

Luna was staring intently at something in the corner of the ceiling, as though she saw what others couldn't, as was normally the case. Muttering something about a chizpurfle, she got up and walked away, toward the corner.

"Did she say chizpurfle? That explains the flickering lights, I suppose," Neville noted.

"Hm? Yeah, I guess you're right. She's rarely wrong when it comes to wee beasties and such," Hermione replied, leaning back into the warmth of her friend. She was calculating how many more drinks it would take to get her to the required drunken state, and her eyes were scanning the room's occupants for potential partners for the night.

"So what's next, Hermione? Three masteries in six years is tough. I barely got through my first level in two years, and you've gotten three levels in each of the three in two years each. I can't imagine there's a job out there you can't do at this point."

She thought for a moment before answering honestly, "I don't know, Nev. It's almost as though there are too many options now. I know the things I don't want to do, but as far as knowing what I do want, it's too hard to choose. I've been flooded with job offers ever since I finished my first Mastery, and now that I have three? It'll only get worse. I had thoughts of trying for another, just to put it off a little longer, but I don't think I could take it right now. I'm so tired." She laughed lightly and rested her head back against Neville's arm. "Sometimes I miss the simplicity of Hogwarts. Sure, we had our stresses, and Voldemort's rising didn't exactly give us a standard educational career, but the castle was comforting and safe." She shrugged. "It was home. I envy you taking your time through the other two Mastery levels and getting to be there."

"So come back. Teach. They just had to fire Sutton, and they'll need someone able to whip all the students into shape. If anyone can do it, Hermione, it's you. I mentioned the idea to McGonagall a while back, but she said she didn't think you would want to teach. If you want to come back to Hogwarts, though, I'm sure they'd hire you."

She blinked incredulously. "Teach? I … never thought about it before." The wheels in her head started turning, all of them wheeling around three words. Teach. Hogwarts. Minerva. Looking at Neville and Hannah, she could see that teachers were allowed to have personal relationships while on staff, and though she had never heard of or seen proof of two teachers – or one teacher and the Headmaster/Headmistress – having a romantic relationship, it certainly wouldn't be as controversial as the student-teacher relationship they had previously fought against.

The Muggles were even beginning to take strides toward rights for those in same-sex relationships, and with all the time she had invested in her academic career, Hermione had never thought to inquire about the Wizarding world's stance on the subject. This thought pattern set off an oft-used light bulb in Hermione's head: research.

"Well, you should. Think about it, I mean. It'd be great to have someone else my age around." Neville reached with his free left hand to finish his drink. "Please, Hermione? Roll it around in that big brain of yours for a while." He leaned over to kiss the top of her head, squeezing her shoulder in a light hug before pulling away. "For now, though, I think it's time I get mister sleepy-head home and then do the same for Hannah and me. It was great to see you, Hermione. Congratulations again." He stood and eased between Hannah and the table, leaning down to give her a quick kiss before grabbing Ron by the arm. "Ennervate," he whispered, pointing his wand slyly toward his friend.

Ron woke with a jerk, babbling incoherently about spiders. "Come on, mate, let's get you home."

"Alright," Ron slurred, "Bye 'Mione, Hannah." He belched loudly, causing Hannah and Hermione to grimace. They both wished him good night and watched as he stumbled out with Neville. A muted crack later, Hermione knew Neville had safely disapparated to get Ron back home.

"Guess I'll go take care of the tab so we can leave when Nev gets back." Hannah stood and headed for the bar to settle up for the night, having already told Hermione they'd cover her drinks as a gift for her accomplishment.

Luna came back, slouching into the seat Neville had vacated next to Hermione. "Took care of that for them. The Muggles would never have been able to keep their lights working with this guy around." She pulled a conjured vial from her pocket, containing the chizpurfle she'd captured, and showed it to Hermione.

"Thanks, Luna. That was incredibly nice of you. I probably wouldn't have even noticed it."

"It's what I do." Luna playfully nudged Hermione with her shoulder. "Are you going to be okay to make it home? You've had quite a bit to drink tonight."

Hermione laughed. "Oh, I'm not nearly as drunk as I will be later. I have another stop to make after this, but I'll make it home fine, thanks. There's a Candy Bar calling my name." It wasn't too far to the popular lesbian night club, and Hermione knew she would be able to find someone there to help her out for the night. She thought the reference too vague for Luna to pick up on, and never expected the next words that came out of the blonde witch's mouth.

"Oh, I go there from time to time myself, although it's not my favorite."

"You go … to the Candy Bar?" Hermione's face was incredulous, staring at Luna with eyes wide open.

Luna laughed, a sound like musical notes drifting through the crowd. "Hermione, surely you didn't think you were the only witch in the world who likes other witches, did you? Sure, I like men, but I like women just as much."

Hermione's jaw dropped another half inch at this revelation.

"Of course, you're Muggle-born so you probably wouldn't know. The Muggles have always been so closed off about the subject. It's not terribly common, and it's not talked about much, but it's out there in the Wizarding world just as much as in the Muggle one. Magic or not, we're all just human beings."

Those wheels in Hermione's head were whirring around at a frenzied pace at this new information.

"So if there was somebody you were interested in; a certain Witch, perhaps, I don't think anyone would have a problem with that aspect of it." Luna's hand reached to squeeze Hermione's knee and she leaned over to press a gentle kiss to her cheek. "I don't know who she is, but it's clear, at least to me, that you've been pining for someone for a very long time now. Do something about it, Hermione. Be happy. Even for the Magical population, life's too short to go through alone."

She stood up and walked away, leaving a stunned Hermione thinking about the implications of what she'd said. Hermione sat there for several minutes and then reached for the rest of her drink, slamming it back before getting up to head back to her flat. The conversations with Neville and Luna had left her in research mode, the needs of her body forgotten. Why settle for less than half of what you want when the true object of your desire lies within your grasp?

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

A week passed, Hermione frantically searching through the intricacies of Wizarding law as it pertains to same-sex relationships and those between members of Hogwarts staff. She had exhausted every source she could find, and had come to a startling conclusion: there were no impediments. The law never made any direct allowances for those seeking a homosexual partnership, but never made any laws restricting it, either. There were no rules in the Hogwarts bylaws that said that two members of staff couldn't be together. After all, the esteemed Founders had been in relationships, and could not foresee a situation where there would be a need to forbid it for future generations. There was nothing stopping Hermione from being with Minerva if that's what they both wanted. Her heart was lighter-than-air at the thought of finally being free to be with the woman she loved, and with Neville's endorsement to seek a teaching position ringing in her head, Hermione sat down to write a letter asking for an interview.

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

Minerva was surprised to get Hermione's application, but having already ascertained her qualifications, sent a quick response, granting an interview for the following day.

She spent the rest of the day with her heart pounding, unable to think of anything but the fact that tomorrow, she would be seeing Hermione for the first time in six years. She didn't know what to make of it; didn't know what to expect. The old want was gnawing at her all day, not wanting to allow herself to hope, but doing so desperately.

Did this mean what she thought it meant, or was it just a request for a job interview?

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

The next morning, Hermione stood at the great gates of Hogwarts, gazing through its bars out over the grounds. It was quiet and peaceful, the students having departed for home the week before. Hermione reached a hand up to touch the crest in the center of the gate and felt a wave of familiar magic rush over her body. The gates swung open silently, welcoming her back onto the hallowed grounds of her beloved school.

She picked her way up the path, walking slowly and appreciating how little things seemed to have changed. She looked to one side and could almost see a trail leading to where she and Minerva had had their last heart-to-heart on the edge of the Quidditch pitch. The pain was a little better after six years, but there was still a reminder that the largest and best part of her heart had been left behind when she left.

The great doors leading into the castle were open, and she walked through, only to see Minerva in full Headmistress persona, standing stiffly with her hands clasped in front of her, her square-framed glasses sitting low on her nose, not quite framing the brilliantly green eyes that had never left her mind. Her breath hitched, and her heart flip-flopped in her chest, stopping Hermione in her tracks as she drank in the sight of the woman she had never stopped loving.

Minerva hadn't expected a reaction like this. Her pulse was racing, and were her hands not clasped so tightly in front of her, they would be shaking like a leaf. Hermione was even more beautiful at twenty-five than she'd been at nineteen, and she could feel the need between them. She closed her eyes for a moment, to regain control, and said in greeting, "Miss Granger, how nice to see you."

The formal words helped Hermione calm down a little, but she was confused. Those were Headmistress words, stiff and formal, but they were in Minerva's voice; that soft and lilting cadence she had only heard during their conversations at the end of her final year. Shaking her head to clear those thoughts, she replied, "Headmistress. The pleasure's all mine." She flashed a bright smile at Minerva, hoping to throw her off, trying to gauge the mood of the older woman. There, a small twitch of her lip. Minerva was definitely in residence, but was trying to cover it up with the Headmistress. We'll see what I can do about that.

"Why don't you follow me, and we'll get this underway." Minerva had almost lost control when Hermione had smiled so brilliantly. She hoped the other woman hadn't noticed. She needed to keep the Headmistress in control, at least through the interview. After that, who knew?

"Of course," Hermione said, waving one arm with a flourish, "where you lead, I shall follow."

Minerva had already turned and started walking, and at this comment, she almost missed a step. Keeping her eyes and face forward, she hid the unmistakable twitch of her mouth and kept walking as though nothing had happened.

Hermione grinned as she saw Minerva stumble and recover. This was going to be easier than she thought. She had told Minerva years ago that she knew who and what she wanted and would do everything in her power to make the woman realize it, and she was planning on keeping that promise today.

The silence was palpable as they walked, not toward the Head Office, but instead toward the Transfiguration office. There were no portraits in there, and Minerva wanted this time with Hermione alone, with none of the portraits watching.

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

Hermione had breezed her way through the interview, as both of them had fully expected, and was signing the contract that would bind her as a teacher at the most prestigious school for Magic the world had ever known. She managed to keep herself professional throughout the interview, but as official business was over with, it was time to get personal.

Leaning back in her chair, she watched as Minerva affixed her seal to the contract and banished it to her own office to file later.

"How have you been, Minerva? It's been a long time." Her tone was light, and both could tell that this was no longer a conversation held between Headmistress and Professor, but rather one between Minerva and Hermione.

"It has been. Too long. I am quite well, thank you." Minerva wanted to broach the more personal subject, but was afraid to. She was afraid that Hermione had found someone else in six years. She was afraid she hadn't. She was afraid Hermione had simply changed her mind; that her heart no longer dwelt with her own. For all her outward confidence, she was inwardly as insecure as someone her current students' age. "And yourself? You seem to have done well since we last spoke." Her voice broke a little over the last word. There hadn't been much speaking the last time they saw each other.

"Yes, I'm doing quite well also." Her nerves were ripping her stomach to shreds. She couldn't wait any longer; she had to know. "Minerva, I have some things to say, and as you once asked me, I need you to be patient enough to listen. Is that," she swallowed past the lump in her throat, "acceptable?"

Green eyes started to shine with unshed tears. Minerva thought this was going to be the end of her hopes. "I … yes. You let me get my story out; I could do no less than to allow you to do the same."

Hermione stood, and placing her arms behind her back, began pacing in front of the desk. "Okay. So, I've done some research recently. I've dug into the depths of Wizarding law and Hogwarts rules and bylaws. I was trying to find some reason why this couldn't work. I tried very hard, Minerva, and you know me and my research; it was exhaustive, and I couldn't find a thing. There are no laws against it; none."

Watching Hermione pace and listening to her words, Minerva felt hope begin to swell in her chest. Could she be talking about …? Gods, please.

"There are no barriers, Minerva, except," Hermione stopped pacing and dropped her arms to her sides, clenching her fists together, "for you." Her eye twitched nervously as she looked at the floor, unwilling to see what was sure to be rejection on Minerva's face as the last of her speech spilled from her mouth. "I still love you; if possible my feelings are now even stronger than they were back then. I still want to be with you. I will fight for you to the end of time, against anyone and anything that tries to come between us, but I won't," she swallowed hard again, losing her battle against shedding tears, "fight you. If you don't want me, if you don't want to be with me, then I'll stop right here, and we'll never speak of it again. Do you?"

With her eyes closed, Hermione hadn't seen Minerva rise and come to stand in front of her. Minerva pressed one hand to Hermione's cheek, raising her head so they were at eye-level. Tear-filled brown eyes fluttered open to meet the luminescent green ones in front of her, filled with tears of their own.

"A thaisce, how could I not want you? How could I not want to be with you? How could you ever conceive of me not wanting you? You are everything, everything I have ever wanted." She leaned forward, resting their foreheads together. "You are everything I need. Tá mo chroí istigh ionat, Hermione, and always has been."

At this admission, Hermione tilted her face up toward Minerva's, shifting just to one side to avoid bumping noses, and brought their lips together in a sweet, simple kiss. Her arms wound around Minerva's waist, and felt as Minerva's arm did the same, the other still resting on her cheek. They reveled in the softness of their lips melded together for a minute, then Hermione deepened the kiss, requesting entry to her lover's mouth by nipping at the bottom lip, and receiving permission when Minerva opened her mouth. Their tongues met in an electric touch, caressing each other with increasing pressure as the passion rose between them. Minerva pulled back and began placing tender kisses down along Hermione's jaw before laving a trail down her neck.

Both women were breathing hard at this point, and Hermione, enjoying the treatment, moaned quietly. "You know, you're going to have to tell me what you just said at some point. As much as I love you, I don't speak Gaelic." She gasped as Minerva's mouth pulled at the pulse point, leaving the spot red with an impending love bite.

"Tá mo chroí istigh ionat," she whispered, "My heart is within you."

"And mine is with you."

Fin.

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

Well, there it is. I'm sure you guys wanted more, but the little half piece of smut I opened with is about as much as I can give you. I'm not good at writing that kind of thing. I hope you have all enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it. (I'll gladly take as many reviews as you all want to give me. Every one I get lifts my spirits.)

* Go ndéana an diabhal dréimire de cnámh do dhroma ag piocadh úll i ngairdín Ifrinn! - "May the devil make a ladder of your bones and pluck apples from the garden of hell." Has a bit more punch than just "go to hell" or "god damn you" doesn't it? I love the true Gaelic curses.

* Chizpurfle – From Fantastic Beasts. Stated to be a small parasite who infests and eats magical items. They will eat through a wand to devour its core, but if there is a lack of magical items around, they will attack electrical items, destroying them from within. For more information, see the book.