Albus blinked. The face above him came into focus. “Oh, Minerva, how long have I been asleep?”
“Not long. A half hour or so.”
They had played a game of chess after dinner, then settled down in companionable silence, Albus with a book he’d been trying to read since he’d received it for Christmas a few months before, and Minerva with a stack of essays. It was a comfortable habit they’d fallen into over the past couple of years, meeting in his office or sitting room, discussing the events of the day, playing some chess, if they had the time and desire, and then settling down to some task, solitary but more pleasant for the company. This was a rare evening, in that Albus had picked up Lucky Jim rather than work for the Ministry or Hogwarts. But it was the Easter holiday, so Albus had fewer pressures on his time, and he’d hoped to read his book. He’d apparently only read three pages before he fell asleep.
“I wouldn’t have woken you, but I thought I’d call for some tea, and then I thought that if you slept too long this evening, you might have a restless night,” Minerva said. She was sitting on the edge of the sofa that he had stretched out on, and Albus was acutely aware of her nearness and her warmth.
“Thank you, my dear,” he said, thinking that he’d likely have a restless night, anyway, although not for any reasons that she might guess. “A cup of tea might be just the thing.”
“It seemed a pity to wake you,” Minerva continued, reaching out and touching his cheek lightly. “I was enjoying watching you sleep.”
Albus chuckled. “The fourth-year essays must be particularly dull this evening.”
“I finished them a while ago. I’d only had a few remaining and I hadn’t brought any others.”
Albus contemplated sitting up, and pondered how he could do that to effectively move further away from Minerva without it seeming as though he was uncomfortable with her physical proximity. Lying there on his sitting room sofa with Minerva so close, he was both comfortable and ill at ease. He wondered how it was possible to be both so relaxed and so tense at the same time. He could sit up in preparation for calling for tea, he decided, and then Minerva would move, either down to the other end of the sofa or to the chair across from him, which she had vacated to join him on the couch. But just as he made that decision, Minerva touched his cheek again, this time her fingers lingering longer.
“It is the holiday,” she said softly, “a time for us to relax a bit, too, after all. Be ourselves for a little while, not merely . . . duty-bound Hogwarts staff.”
Albus’s lips parted to respond, but Minerva bent swiftly and kissed them, although kissing them less swiftly. Her lips lingered on his lips longer than her fingertips had lingered upon his cheek, then she slowly drew back and opened her eyes, looking down into Albus’s startled blue ones. He had not reacted to her sudden kiss but to allow his lips to respond to hers, more from surprised reflex than from any conscious desire, and now he found no words to say, if any ever could have been found to express his current confused state. Minerva leaned towards him again, this time merely brushing her lips against his briefly, then kissing his cheek. Albus could feel her warm, moist breath, soft against his cheek, as she remained still a moment, her eyes closed, her weight on her left arm, which held her poised above him as her right hand rested lightly on the back of the sofa beside his left shoulder. She seemed to sigh as she opened her eyes and straightened.
“I’m sorry, Albus. I just . . . chalk it down to momentary madness. Just a moment of madness, now past.” Minerva stood. “I think I’ll go check on Gryffindor. I’m a little concerned about Jack Fudge, as you know—”
“Minerva—” Albus sat up.
“—there alone with only a handful of much older students to keep him company. I could wring Cornelius’s neck for not having him home over the half-term holiday. Elizabeth would have been furious with him, I’m sure. Then I’ll get a start on the fifth-year essays. With OWLs coming up soon, I need to spend particular time on those.”
“Minerva . . . are you, will you, are you going to bring them back up here with you?”
“Not this evening, I think not. Tomorrow evening, although I’ll probably be on to the NEWTs-level essays by then, with any luck and some diligence. The holiday can’t be all rest and relaxation for those of us with responsibilities, after all,” Minerva said briskly.
“And our walk tomorrow—”
“Yes, we’ll plan on that, if the weather remains fine, as it has been, although Pomona said she thought it might rain. She’s often right about such things,” Minerva replied. “Unless, of course, you have something come up in the meantime. But I’ll be in my office, in all probability, or possibly the study in my suite. If the weather is good and you are still available, come down and find me. Late afternoon, we’d agreed?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Albus said with a nod, standing.
“Good,” Minerva said, gathering up her student essays. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then, Albus. I’ll likely be at breakfast, but I’m going to lunch in Hogsmeade with Poppy, remember. Pomona said she’d look after Gryffindor for me, although with as few as there are remaining over the holiday, it shouldn’t require anything of her.”
“Minerva, I . . .”
“Yes?” Minerva waited, her hand on the door handle, but looking back, somewhat expectantly, yet also somewhat apprehensively.
“I had a nice evening,” Albus said lamely.
Minerva nodded. “Good night, Albus. Sweet dreams,” she said, as she had on so many nights before.