"I'll quit Albus, I swear that I will!" Minerva growled as she stormed into his office.
Albus looked up from the parchment he'd been scribbling upon, and arched an inquisitive brow.
"Oh?" he said. "Whatever are you on about?"
"As if you don't know!" She slammed a hand down upon his desk. "Well, I won't allow it. This is a school, not a bank, and certainly not a playground for your little games with Tom Riddle."
Albus leaned back, and peered over his half-moon glasses up at her. "Lemon drop?" he asked mildly, and gently pushed the dish across his desk toward her.
Minerva glared at the sweets, and debated, not for the first time, what Albus would do if she hurled them right into his smug, smiling face.
"What did I say that I'd do to you that last time you offered me those vile sweets?" she hissed.
Albus chuckled. "I seem to remember you mentioning something about inserting them into various unmentionable orifices… however I've yet to be assaulted, so I think I'll take my chances."
Minerva huffed, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. "Albus. If you really have to store the Stone in the school, why not hide it using the Fidelius Charm? I'll quite happily be your Secret Keeper."
Albus stroked his beard, and hummed. "Yes… that's a rather good idea, isn't it?"
Minerva sagged with relief. "Thank Merlin. Now, let's address the issues of who's going to pick Harry Potter up for his school supplies, for Petunia surely won't take him."
"Hagrid," Albus said, and smiled.
"Hagrid!" Minerva shrieked, and collapsed into the nearest chair, defeated. "Tea! I need tea, right now."
"Have you informed the parents?" Minerva asked as she paced the length of the Staff Room.
"Of what?" Albus asked. He was frowning as he poured over a scroll, no doubt continuing his research into the origins of the Chamber of Secrets in the hope they'd be able to find it, and stop the creature of the Chamber from attacking yet another child.
"That we're sending the children home, of course," Minerva said. There was a long pause in which Albus failed to answer, and Minerva groaned.
"Albus! We are sending the children home, aren't we?"
Albus sighed. "I worry that it will cause more fear and panic than keeping them here will."
"More than having to worry about a murderous creature roaming the corridors of their school?" Minerva asked incredulously. "Have you gone crackers?"
"Hopefully not," Albus murmured, obviously still engaged in his research.
"We are sending the children home," Minerva declared. "Because if not you'll find yourself short a Deputy Headmistress! Now that'll cause them to panic," she threatened.
Albus abruptly straightened, and pinched his nose. "Have I been over thinking this?" he wondered. He looked weary, and the twinkle in his eye was all but gone.
"Get some sleep, Albus," Minerva ordered, refusing to soften her stance. "And we'll discuss the logistics tomorrow morning."
For she was sending the children out of the school and bringing in a magical creature exterminator, whether he liked it or not. And, while she was thinking about it, perhaps she ought to get a specialist in the study of Dark Magic purge the school of any taints that might have clung to it.
"Miss Granger's applied for all five extracurricular subjects," Albus said, and tilted his head back to smile at the sky. Minerva took the opportunity to steal the platter of chocolate covered strawberries he'd been hoarding, even as she rolled her eyes.
"For a girl so clever, she can be impossibly foolish. How does she think she'll fit that into her timetable? I'll send her letter informing her in no uncertain terms that she's to pick three, and no more."
Albus, upon noticing that she'd stolen his platter, treated her with an affronted look. Minerva defiantly bit into another strawberry. They were delicious, grown in Hagrid's spacious allotment, not a hundred yards from where they were currently sitting, enjoying the summer sun on the grounds of Hogwarts before it was once more filled with the horrible little darlings they called students.
"I'm sure she'll find the time," Albus said with what was obviously meant to be an air of mystery.
Unfortunately for him, he tried the same act every year; wooing her with strawberries (her favourite food), flattering Minerva's prized student, then trying to slip past her one of the most ridiculous ideas to ever come out of his mouth.
"What did I say, back in 1963?"
Albus sighed, shoulders sagging. "If I ever give a child a time-turner, then you'll quit, and take my entire teaching body with you."
Minerva huffed. "And quite rightly so. Giving a thirteen-year-old the ability to manipulate time in order to attend more classes is the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard."
"She'd likely have a great adventure," Albus said wistfully.
"She'd likely get herself into a great amount of trouble, and drive herself insane from the stress," Minerva countered.
"Perhaps I've forgotten what it feels like to be young," Albus admitted. "I was hardly ever in any trouble."
Minerva fixed him with a look that she hoped told Albus exactly what she thought of that statement, and Albus returned her glare with a sheepish smile.
"Albus, I'm interested… do you bear the Dark Mark upon your left forearm?" Minerva asked, gritting her teeth.
Albus started at her in surprise. "No, of course not. Why, Minerva, whatever has gotten in you?"
"I'm just asking, you see, because I was wondering why in Merlin's name you're helping You-Know-Who in his attempt to just about finish Harry Potter off!" Minerva huffed, and threw her hands up into the air "The Triwizard Tournament… of all things! Why did you ever think that was a good idea?"
"Really Minerva, you should call him Voldemort-" Albus began.
"I'll call him whatever I ruddy well feel like!" Minerva snapped.
Albus sat back, looking suitably abashed.
"Albus, if you insist on running the Triwizard Tournament at Hogwarts, you shall have to do it without a Transfiguration Professor," Minerva said. She crossed her arms, and arched a brow, daring him to argue. "And that is that."
The Hogwarts Professors had gathered for their annual Pre-Term Staff Meeting, an obligatory event Minerva made them attend should they wish to teach the following year. Some, and she eyed Severus with a frown, were only there because she suspected Albus had blackmailed them. Others, like herself and Poppy, understood that it was a necessity should they wish to have a successful year filled with minimum bloodshed.
Finally, when they were all gathered, bar one conspicuously empty seat, Minerva pursed her lips, and began the meeting. Unsurprisingly, she had a bone to pick with the Headmaster.
"Albus, what's this nonsense I've heard about someone from the Ministry teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts?" She fixed Albus with steely glare. He sighed.
"Well Minerva, unfortunately I've been unable to fill the post…"
"Ahem!" Minerva interrupted Albus' ramblings, certain that he would bore them into submission if he could with his classic and tragic tale of why the quality of their Defence Professors had steadily declined. "I teach three hours of class to each year group on a weekly basis. My timetable is not so busy that I could not find the time to contribute toward teaching the children how to defend themselves. Why, I dare say there's not a single professor in this room that wouldn't have something to contribute!"
Pointedly, Minerva did not look at Trelawney.
"Hear, hear!" Filius piped up. "I've always thought the Patronus Charm should be a fifth-year staple."
"I've been dying to show off my Death Trap Daisies," Pomona added thoughtfully.
"For once… we agree…" Severus drawled. He sneered back at her when she gazed at him in shock.
Albus' eyes had misted up. "Do you all truly feel this way?"
"Albus, I'd rather quit than let the Ministry interfere in my – your –"
"Our," Albus said, inclining his head at the Professors seated around the staff table.
"Our school," she allowed with a small smirk.
Albus' grin was so blindingly brilliant she was almost blinded.
"If you think for one sodding moment I'm letting you go hunting pieces of the Dark Lord's soul alone, you've got another thing coming!" Minerva shrieked, bursting into Albus' office.
Albus blinked. "By all means, Minerva, come in. Am I to take it that you wish to accompany me?"
"Don't think you can trick me!" Minerva said, shaking her finger. "I'm coming with you, whether you like it or not."
A flicker of amusement crossed Albus' face. "As you say, my dear." He offered his arm. "Shall we?"
Minerva took a moment to transfigure her teaching outfit - a smart cream blouse and ankle length skirt - into a something more suited to facing whatever monsters that lay ahead. She remembered Tom Riddle from school, a snooty, handsome boy whose eyes were as cold as ice. Undoubtedly he had only grown crueller with age.
She linked her arm with Albus', and allowed him to apparate them out of the school.
They arrived a field overgrown with weeds. Nearby there was a shack hidden under a stooped oak tree that looked as if a stern wind could blow it over.
"Careful," Albus warned, and he drew his wand. Together, they approached the shack. With each step Minerva grew warier, certain they were walking into a trap. The door opened with an ominous creak, and they had yet to be met by a defense stronger than the sinister aura of the room they'd stepped into.
On a chair, in the middle of the room, sat a ring. It was an ugly, black stone with a crack down the middle, set in gold that had long tarnished.
"Arianna," Albus murmured, and Minerva's blood turned cold at the sound of Albus' long dead sister's name.
He staggered forward, swiping up the ring. Immediately, the flesh upon his fingers began to wither, but Albus did not seem to notice, and merely stared into empty space, a stricken expression upon his face.
"Drop it!" Minerva screamed, but dark veins crept up Albus' fingers and along the back of his hand.
With a choked sob, Minerva cast the strongest severing curse she knew.
Albus' hand, clasped tightly around the ring, fell to the floor. Blood gushed from the stump of wrist, but Minerva cried with bitter relief to see that the curse had no continued further up his arm, for she knew that had it reached his heart, it would have been fatal. She quickly cast spells to stem the bleeding, while Albus stared numbly first at her, then at the ring on the floor.
"Don't you dare!" she growled, trying to tug him out of the shack. "Don't you dare! I'll really quit this time if you scare me like that again, you see if I don't!"
Albus groaned, paling, but with gritted teeth, and determination she'd long admired, began a chant of spells which appeared to contain the ring, and whatever dark magic it contained.
Minerva levitated it into a conjured box when he was done, and held him up as he staggered.
"Jolly good job, Minerva," Albus said thickly, his words slurring. "I knew you'd come in handy."
There was something strangely satisfying about watching the pieces of a mad man's soul burn themselves to death within a carefully controlled container of Fiendfyre.
"They'll never believe us, if we even tried to tell them," Minerva said, staring at the mesmerising sight of the flames devouring Tom Riddle's precious collection of items, namely the pieces of his soul; a diary, a ring, a diadem, a locket, and a cup.
"That's because they already think he's dead, my dear," Albus proclaimed. "And he may as well be. With only two miniscule shards of soul remaining, he is unlikely capable of coherent thought, let alone gaining himself a body."
"And he's of no danger to Harry?"
Harry was happily living with his godfather, who'd been liberated when Minerva had discovered Peter Pettigrew's animagus form on one of her nightly patrols as a cat, and was entirely oblivious to the possible resurgence of You-Know-Who.
"None," Albus reassured her. He jabbed his wand forward and the jar of Fiendfyre and soul pieces vanished entirely. "Now, I think this calls for a cup of celebratory tea."
With a snap of his fingers, a tea set appeared on the the desk between them. Minerva gratefully accepted a cup.
Albus cleared his throat, and raised his own in the mockery of a toast.
"Minerva McGonagall, if you don't gracefully accept my resignation, and recommendation of you as the next Headmistress of Hogwarts, then I'll quit my position in the most theatrical way I can possibly imagine."
"Albus!" Minerva hissed in mild shock, and she hoped that she wasn't flushing with embarrassment.
"I like to think of it as handing off the baton." Only the twitch of Albus' lips betrayed the humour he found in making such jokes. In place of his severed hand was a plain wooden one that Filius had charmed to work exactly like the original. Minerva swallowed down her guilt, aware that Albus didn't need nor appreciate it.
"Six years you've been threatening to quit, and so I thought it was about time I had my turn," Albus said archly.
Minerva met his gaze. His eyes twinkled, and were creased with mirth.
She inclined her head, and took a deep breath. "I suppose Headmistress McGonagall does have a good ring to it," she agreed, and smiled.