Title: Hard Day’s Night
Disclaimer: Ablus and Minerva belong to JK Rowling.
“I guess you would do anything to get out of taking me to dinner, hmm?” Minerva heard the husky voice in her dream and struggled to answer back.
“I’ll be there, Albus. I swear.”
Minerva tried to push her body off of her bunk and immediately groaned in pain as she fell back to the mattress. “Bloody hell!” She swore loudly as the enflamed muscles in her back radiated pain throughout her body.
“That was stupid! Lay still.”
Minerva turned her face from the pillow it was buried in and opened one eye. A pair of large feet encased in what could only be described as elf slippers; bright orange with curled pointed toes immediately filled her vision.
“Nice slippers, Albus.” She muttered and was rewarded with a deep chuckle.
“Nice try but you don’t get out of it that easily.” The sexy voice answered.
Minerva’s eyes traveled upwards, over robes even brighter than his slippers, until she could see just the ends of his auburn coloured beard.
“This must be a dream. I am so devastated about missing my dinner with you that I’m dreaming.”
“Hardly. I’m really here… flesh and blood. Why didn’t you go to the infirmary?”
“And let that potion happy medi-witch have at me? I don’t need a bloody potion. I just need to lie flat on my stomach for a while and the muscle will relax. It’s happened before.”
“When?” The bright blue robes moved closer.
“About ten years ago.” Minerva grumbled.
“So you are so sure that what worked ten years ago will work now that you decided to forgo medical treatment? Just to get out of dinner with me?”
“I didn’t intend to get out of dinner with you. I was looking forward to my dinner with you. And after the horrendous day I’ve had, I was
truly looking forward to spending time with you. A few more hours and I would have apparated to
“I’d just finished my presentation when I received a message from Madam Comfitt that you had been injured and were refusing medical treatment. Headmaster Dippet kindly allowed me to leave the conference early, as I am the only one not afraid of your fiery Scottish temper. Now where are you hurt?”
Minerva swore softly as strong masculine fingers probed the muscles of her lower back. It took Albus about two seconds to locate the offending tissue.
“That is quite a knot there, isn’t it?”
“Okay! Now that you know would you please quit beating it?”
The blue fabric in Minerva’s vision began to shift, and orange tigers that were running and leaping about came into view, followed by the ends of red hair covering a broad chest then a neck… and finally Albus’ face came into view as he knelt on the floor by her bed. His warm palm cupped her visible cheek.
“You laying here suffering is completely ridiculous. Especially when you can take something to help.”
Minerva shifted a little more so that both eyes could stare at the handsome wizard in front of her. “No potions! I really do not like taking potions!”
“One would hardly guess that you’re a mature witch over…” Albus stopped at Minerva’s raised eyebrow. “You sound like a little girl. It’ll taste good, I promise.” Albus’ eyes held a hint of pleading as well as a hint of laughter.
“That’s what all doctors say.” Minerva sighed. “How long would it take to work? I’ve got a dinner date tonight.”
She was rewarded with a brilliant smile. “I’m afraid that you are going to be stiff for a day or so but you will feel much better after the potion and some sleep. If you’ll take the potion, I promise to have dinner with you here when you wake up. I’ll even throw in a free back massage. I’ve been told these hands are pretty good.”
Minerva had to smile at his wheedling tone. “Are you going to hold the cup up for me to drink?”
“Would you like me to drink it for you too?”
“Would you be a dear!?”
“Behave or I’ll swat you on your shapely backside. I’ve got everything ready… just in case you changed your mind.”
Minerva chuckled then moaned as the vibrations set her back off again. “I never stood a chance did I?”
“Of course not, Professor. You didn’t think I was going to miss two days of stimulating wizards’ conference to come back here and fail did you?” Albus’ voice drifted back to Minerva from somewhere near her desk, his back the only part of him that she could see.
“So…you think I’ve got a shapely backside…” her eyes dropped as the bright orange slippers wisped across the floor toward her.
“Absolutely, my dear. Try to relax… and slowly push up.”
Minerva did as Albus asked and gingerly pushed up onto her elbows. She winced.
“Easy…” Albus murmured as his warm fingers brushed up her arm. He held the cup out to her. “Here…”
Minerva carefully drank from the cup, making small noises of disgust as she did, much to Albus’ amusement.
“There. I knew you’d like it,” Albus chuckled as he pulled the cup away and placed it on the nearby table. He helped her lie back down. “How many times has your back acted up like this?”
“Oh… two or three times. The first time was about twenty-five years ago.”
“Old Quidditch injury?”
“Of course… star keeper being knocked off my broom too many times… that’s it. Truth be told, I went out drinking with my girlfriends one night and on the way to the bedroom I tripped over one of my shoes… I wish you’d stop laughing at me.”
“I’m sorry, Minerva. Most witches wouldn’t have the courage to admit that. The star Quidditch keeper route sounds much more glamorous. Now, the potion really didn’t taste that bad, did it?”
Minerva sighed. “No, it didn’t,” she grudgingly admitted. “Even if it was lemon-flavoured.”
Albus’ face came into view again as he bent over. “I told you I would make it taste better. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
Minerva was intrigued by the hint of laughter running through Albus’ voice and tried to tell him so but her mouth didn’t seem to work… and her eyelids were so heavy. Within moments she was fast asleep.
This time the sound of soft music woke Minerva, filtering into her ears subtly until her eyes flickered open with a smile on her face. Her vision was filled with the view of Albus sitting in the large wingback chair in front of a crackling fire, reading a book. He’d shed his outer robe, the bright blue garment draped over the back of his chair, in favour of his thinner inner robe.
As if sensing her eyes on him, he turned. Blue eyes suddenly connected with green and a smile curled across Albus’ lips.
“Sleeping Beauty awakens…how does your back feel?” He stood and moved over to the bed.
Minerva carefully flexed her torso and was relieved to find that a slight ache was all that remained of her previous pain. She started to push up on her elbows but Albus’ hands at her back stopped her.
“It feels normal, just a very small ache. Whatever you gave me was fantastic! Don’t you believe me?” She asked as Albus continued to poke and prod at her waist.
“Of course… I’m just checking. Everything appears normal.”
Albus moved away from the bunk as Minerva sat up slowly. “Why don’t I go get some dinner for us while you have a nice hot shower? Then I’ll give you that back massage and by tomorrow morning you should be good as new.”
Minerva nodded and stood; quickly reaching to grab the bedpost as her head began to swim. Albus quickly moved to her side and wrapped his arms around Minerva to support her.
“You haven’t gotten the medicine completely out of your system yet. A shower should finish clearing your head. Let me help you.”
Minerva allowed Albus to wrap an arm around her waist as they moved slowly toward the door to Minerva’s bathroom. “I’ll be out in about ten minutes.”
“I’ll go see if I can’t find some sandwiches or something.” Albus smiled as she stepped through the door and slowly closed it.
The hot water pounding into her skin made Minerva feel like a new woman and she stayed in the shower much longer than she had intended. When she finally tore herself away from the warmth of the water she realized that Albus was probably back in the bedroom. She quickly toweled herself off and grabbed for her robe, swearing loudly when she realized that it wasn’t hanging on the back of the door. She glanced around looking for one of her other robes, then swore when she realized the house elves had already taken her dirty laundry.
Minerva wrapped the towel around her body and cracked the door. “Albus?” She called. All she heard was silence.
‘Do I or don’t I?’ Minerva thought hard for a moment then; her decision made, wrenched the door open and jumped into the room, making for her robe hanging in the closet. She was halfway there when the outer door swung open.
“You’re out. Wonderful!” A smile crossed Albus’ face as he closed the door firmly and turned the lock. He moved to her vanity table and sat down the tray in his hands and the small bag hanging over his arm.
Minerva continued to stand in the middle of the room, her hand tightly clasping the towel at her chest. “I was… a little longer than I expected to be.”
“Not a problem. I’m sure that the shower felt wonderful to your back muscles… all that lovely hot water caressing your body.”
Minerva’s breath caught at the mental image his comment caused.
“And you are ready for your massage. I stopped by my rooms and picked up a few things. Let me get a towel to protect the mattress.”
“I thought we were going to eat first.”
“We can if you’d like but your muscles are probably more relaxed from the hot water right now.” Albus told her as he disappeared into the bathroom
Minerva cast a quick glance at her chest across the room… at the drawer containing her clean under garments. She knew she’d never make it and she was right. Albus appeared in seconds, a fluffy tartan towel in his hands. He pulled the top covers down to the end of the bed and folded them neatly before covering the bottom sheet with the towel.
“Come on. Climb in.” Albus patted the mattress. “You’ll enjoy it. I promise.”
With one last glance at the now unattainable drawer, Minerva did as she was told, climbing carefully onto the bed, her hand still firmly holding her towel.
As she settled into the towel on her stomach the lights in the room faded into near darkness. Minerva heard the whisper of a spell and turned to find Albus holding two lit candles which he then placed on her dressing table. The subtle scent of jasmine quickly filled the room.
“It’s to help you relax,” Albus explained as he moved back to the bed. He was almost there before Minerva realized that he was moving quietly, the soft rasping of his slippers disappearing, as he stood barefoot beside her.
Minerva felt herself tense as she anticipated Albus’ touch and was surprised when it didn’t come. She glanced up to see him pouring liquid from a small bowl into his hands. She sniffed and grinned… more jasmine.
Her lips changed to an o shape as warm oil coated her shoulders and strong fingers caressed her back for a few moments. Albus gently worked the oil into the muscles before increasing the strength in his movements. Minerva groaned as her flesh protested.
“Too hard?” Albus asked, easing his touch just a bit.
“No… it’s okay.” Minerva stammered out. “Not too hard at all.”
Albus suddenly realized that her words were anything but true… at least about him. He was too hard…almost painfully hard… his erection already pressing up into his belly. ‘Merlin, woman! How can you not know what you do to me?’
“You are supposed to be relaxing not getting more tense. Work with me here!” He pummeled her back even harder. Minerva was having a hard time of her own as she concentrated on controlling her breathing while mentally reviewing her class role in her head… anything to pull her thoughts away from the man touching her and the growing dampness between her legs.
Gradually the tightness left Minerva’s body as her mental calisthenics took hold. By the time that Albus reached the middle of her back she actually found herself growing sleepy again. She dozed lightly.
“Minerva?” Albus murmured her name softly and received no response. He paused and stared at the wide bed for a moment, his face deep in thought. He said her name again, a little louder this time, but silence was still the only reply.
Albus nodded his head; his decision made, and lifted his left knee onto the bed so that he could reach Minerva’s opposite side better. The change in angle helped some but didn’t allow him the range a proper massage table would have.
“Minerva!” He felt her start as he spoke her name louder.
“Hmm?” She acknowledged her name, still more asleep than awake.
“I need to be behind you to get the right pattern so I’m going to climb on top of your legs, all right?” Albus moved his other knee to the bed and swung it over the backs of Minerva’s legs so that he straddled her.
His new position did not allow him to see Minerva’s face; eyes wide awake, arms firmly clutching the pillow as she reacted to his nearness. He was too busy trying to put a damper on his own response.
‘Damn it! Not now! I just got you to go away!’
“You were right…your fingers are magic.” Minerva murmured softly. She felt Albus’ fingers pause for just a moment before resuming their movements.
“Better than Houdini’s!”
“You’d have been the lovely assistant… your legs are better,” Minerva laughed.
“Oh… so you’ve noticed my legs?”
“You noticed my arse!”
Minerva had to smile at the melodic sound of Albus’ laughter as his fingers slid beneath the towel, working the muscles of the top curve of her buttocks.
“But, Professor, your arse is truly a work of art. And I consider myself something of a connoisseur in that area.”
“I’ll remember that. What other areas do you take particular notice of?”
“Hmm… eyes… I always notice the eyes…”
“I notice the noses.”
“Oh, lord. I can’t imagine what you must think of this schnozz of mine.”
“You have a very nice nose, Albus… not perfect by any means but full of character. It suits you to a tee.”
Albus just smiled. “Turn over and I’ll get your shoulders.”
Minerva shifted without thinking, rolling without a thought to her towel until she felt it pull and break apart around her hips just as she settled down on her back. She cringed as she felt the brush of Albus’ long robes over her now bare thighs. A quick glance told her that the long material still covered her.
“What’s wrong? Did you hurt your back?” Albus asked, interrupting her hurried mental calculations of the distance between them.
‘If Albus sat back…’
Minerva fought back the surge of lust that coursed through her at that thought. “My back feels two hundred percent better…” she was about to suggest that they end the massage when Albus leaned forward to place his hands on her shoulders and he found himself staring straight down her cleavage.
Minerva glanced up and caught a trace of lust in Albus’ eyes before he quickly extinguished it and averted his gaze, attacking her shoulder muscles with gusto.
‘So that’s the way he wants to play it!’ Minerva’s hands drifted casually toward his body until they were resting lightly on Albus’ knees.
She caught the hint of a smile as he moved to the other shoulder, his hips slipping lower. The drop was small, but enough to bring his raging erection into brushing contact with Minerva’s lower body. Minerva froze as their eyes locked.
They were each stunned by the desire they saw in the other’s eyes. Suddenly their little flirtation had taken on new meaning. Silence stretched between them until finally Minerva spoke.
“I think that’s enough.” But her voice lacked conviction.
“Oh no, my dear… we haven’t even started yet.” Albus’ voice was low but firm as his hands slid sensually up Minerva’s thighs to curve around her bottom. His grip tightened as he shifted and placed his knees between her legs. He pulled her hips forward and lifted her torso up until she was straddling his thighs; his aching flesh trapped tightly between them.
The dampness that coated her curls and his member caught Albus by surprise and increased his longing. He released her hips and brought his hands out from beneath the length of his robes, their eyes never breaking contact. Albus trailed his fingers lightly up her bare arms and along her neck until he reached the nape of her neck. He probed into the loose bun and began pulling pins out and tossing them to the floor. Soon her hair hung loose, framing her face in a riotous mass of ebony curls.
Minerva’s fingers clenched his shoulders as she struggled to control her breathing. She sucked her lower lip into her mouth and bit down to suppress a moan as Albus pushed against her. He paused, unsure whether or not Minerva wanted him to continue, and waited for a sign.
The sign came, but not with spoken words as Albus had expected. Minerva gasped with pleasure as a surge of moisture from her core washed out to soak her thighs and Albus’ erection. Albus couldn’t wait any longer.
His hands fell from her neck to her chest, seeking the overlap of her towel and slipping it free. Minerva responded by tugging at the top clasp of Albus’ robes. When no protest was voiced she moved down to the next one and did the same. One by one the buttons parted as Minerva’s fingers moved deliberately down the row, her eyes following the path of her hands.
Only two buttons were left when Minerva turned her gaze back to his face and quickly found her self mesmerized by his dark sapphire eyes swirling with passion. She popped the lower fastener and slid her fingers beneath the parting material to caress the rampant swell of his erection. Shock briefly crossed her face when she realized that he wasn’t wearing anything beneath his robes. Meanwhile Albus had dropped the towel, sliding his fingers around to cup the soft mounds of her breasts, marveling at the way they seemed to fit his hands perfectly.
“Min… let me see you.” Albus murmured.
Minerva slid her hands along Albus’ arms as she slowly straightened and pushed her chest more fully into his touch. “Please…” she whispered.
Albus’ palms brushed lightly across her stiff nipples as his fingers slid around the outer curve of her breast and over the top. Minerva reached out and carefully removed the last button from its clasp and pushed the material of Albus’ robe apart. A short cry escaped from the back of Albus’ throat as the material slid across and off of his heated body.
Albus grabbed the towel and yanked it completely away from Minerva’s body then tossed it to the floor along with his robe. His mouth slammed into hers, lips capturing lips in a ravenous joining as he wrapped his arms around her body, lowering her back down onto the mattress.
Minerva’s arms surrounded him, her hands pressing frantically up and down his back as she strove to pull him even closer. Albus’ knee pushed between her legs and she gladly parted them further, lifting her knees to allow him a deeper seat against her.
Albus’ fingers tangled in her hair as his tongue traced the outline of her lips before pushing against them. Minerva gladly granted him access, opening her mouth and pulling his tongue in to mate wildly with hers. Her taste drove Albus even wilder with desire and he began to thrust his hips against her cleft. Minerva met him thrust for thrust.
Albus pulled his mouth from Minerva’s to stare into her face as they touched fully, his painfully hard erection cradled firmly within her saturated fissure. The raw desire in her eyes left him breathless and he plunged into her, his engorged tip pushing hard against the center of her sex.
A cry escaped Minerva’s lips as one hand flew over her head to grip the headboard of her bed. Her back arched involuntarily, silently begging for more.
Albus released his hold on one well-shaped breast as he levered his hips up. He slid the hand between them and grabbed his erection, pushing it until the tip rode down into Minerva’s wetness. He felt the walls of her cleft contract, gripping him and urging him down even as her hips thrust upward. The purple head of his shaft slipped easily into her.
Albus groaned as he surged forward, his need to be held completely within her outweighing his desire to go slowly.
Minerva’s need was so evident that Albus couldn’t believe it when he felt her tense beneath him, her body trying to eject him.
“Min…” He gasped as he fought to break the thrusting action of his hips.
“We can’t! Oh, Merlin! I want… I can’t…” Minerva’s voice broke as her body won its battle over her mind, her muscles clenching desperately around his withdrawing member, pulling him back inside her.
“Minerva… if you don’t want me…” Albus bit out between clenched teeth as he tried to maintain control.
“I want… Merlin, I want you! But… we shouldn’t… we’re colleagues… it wouldn’t…” her words were lost as a small climax washed through her body. Her hand lowered to grip Albus’ head as her lips sought his.
“Darling… I’m not a saint… I can’t turn it on and off at will!” Albus was losing his struggle to control himself as Minerva began to undulate against him. He tried to pull out but she wrapped her legs over his calves.
“Don’t… love me, Albus! Please love me!”
“I do, darling, I swear!” Beads of sweat popped out on Albus’ forehead as his control fell away and began to piston in and out of Minerva’s tight sheath, her hips matching his every thrust. He tried to hold back, prolong the experience, but his massage of Minerva had already aroused him almost to his breaking point before they’d ever begun to touch each other intimately.
Albus cried out as he felt the first small spurt of fluid leave his body. Minerva strained against him, her arched back pushing her breasts fully into his chest as she hovered on the brink. Her nails dug into the firm muscles of his butt cheeks as she held on to him, a low keen emerging from the back of her throat.
Albus captured her mouth again to pour his screams into her open lips as heavy ropes of semen poured out of his body to wash Minerva’s womb. Her screams mingled with his as the force of his release brought her to climax as well.
Albus’ chest was heaving and he clung to Minerva like a drowning man as the ripples of their orgasms washed over both of them. “Merlin… Min…” he murmured into her neck as his lips brushed across her damp flesh.
Minerva turned her face into his and began to work her lips over his glistening forehead, her hands still firmly clenching his bottom. Albus was amazed to feel his semi-erect member begin to stiffen within her.
“Again?” He whispered against her skin as she ground her hips against his.
“Still… please… oh… Albus!” Minerva shrieked as Albus’ tongue snaked across the tip of her very distended nipple. She surged upward, trying to push her body more fully into his, gripping him tightly when she felt him shift away from her.
“Sssh… I’m not going anywhere.” He settled his torso back into her, the slight shift he’d made allowing his body to press more fully within her. His mouth returned to her bountiful breasts, lips and tongue working slowly from the very edge over the full swell to caress the tip before sliding back down the other side.
Minerva’s head fell back into the pillow, eyes closed, lips parted to emit heavy breaths as Albus continued to work first one breast then the other, leaving not a millimeter of silky flesh untouched. Minerva fell again, gently this time, the pleasure Albus was eliciting in her body building slowly until she peaked without warning. Not a sound escaped her lips but Albus knew by the way she tensed, her breath locked in her chest, that she was there and he pulled back to watch her face as her juices washed around his thick erection.
The look of ecstasy that crossed Minerva’s features brought a gasp to Albus’ lips. His arousal grew within her body, demanding its share of pleasure. Albus rocked experimentally against her and was rewarded with an answering thrust from her hips.
Emerald eyes opened and locked with cobalt blue. A small smile crossed Minerva’s lips as her fingers splayed across Albus’ firm buttocks. They moved together experimentally, both amazed at the strength of feeling flowing between them. The rhythm continued, hips moving slowly in counterpoint until they were both breathing heavily.
One of Minerva’s hands slid sensuously up Albus’ side and over his shoulder to caress his face. She nodded at him.
“Now!” She whispered.
Albus pushed up onto his hands and began to thrust with barely controlled power, giving rein to the passion that he’d been holding in. Minerva’s legs came up to wrap loosely around his hips, locking his body into hers, their eyes continuing to hold each others gaze.
“Yes… oh… there… oh yes!” Albus barely heard the words Minerva began to murmur, instead sensing by the tone of her sultry voice that she was once again close. “That feels so… oh, Albus… you’re so…”
Her words pushed him over the edge and he slammed into her warmth once… twice… three times and screamed her name as his essence shot from his body. The warm wash across her womb caused Minerva’s body to convulse wildly beneath him as her own climax overtook her.
Albus fell with a groan, her damp body absorbing the impact.
“I’m sorry…” he whispered as he tried to push his weight off of her but Minerva wrapped her arms and legs around him holding him close.
Albus nodded and drew his arms to his sides, rolling so that he lay on his back with Minerva on top of him, their bodies still intimately joined. His hands caressed slowly up and down her back as he enjoyed the feel of her weight on him.
“They were wrong,” she whispered, her lips brushing across the length of his beard.
“Who?” Albus nuzzled his mouth against the top of Minerva’s head as she responded.
“All those people who said you had you had good hands. They were wrong. You have fantastic hands.”
“Then why… Min… you wanted me to stop, didn’t you? I tried… I really did but then you seemed to change your mind. I would have stopped… but you asked me to love you. You did… you do want me… don’t you?”
Tears glistened in Minerva’s eyes as she rolled away from Albus’ embrace; a soft whimper escaping her lips as their bodies separated.
Albus slumped into the pillow as Minerva turned her back to him and wept softly. “You asked me… I wouldn’t have forced you.”
The anguish in his voice brought Minerva back to his side, her hand caressing his face gently.
“You didn’t force me, Albus. I wanted you… I want you very much. I have from the moment I first saw you, although I didn’t realize it.”
Albus pushed his torso up and propped on his elbow, his free hand moving to cup her cheek.
“Then what happened? Why did you change your mind?”
“I didn’t… not really… it’s just…” Minerva paused and turned her head into Albus’ hand, her lips caressing the palm as her hand moved to cup over it.
“Tell me, my dear.” His thumb rubbed across her cheekbone to catch a tear.
Minerva sucked her lower lip into her mouth and chewed on the tender flesh absently for a moment before beginning to speak.
“It’s… right now… it doesn’t matter. I’ll… oh, Albus!”
“Is there someone else in your life, Minerva? Is that why the timing isn’t right for us?”
“No! I swear… I’d never have let this happen if I’d been involved with another man!”
“I know, my dear… it’s just… we didn’t exactly plan on making love tonight…” Albus stopped as the rush of Minerva’s earlier words came back to him.
‘I want… Merlin, I want you! But… we shouldn’t… we’re colleagues… it wouldn’t…’
“You’re concerned because we work together.”
“Yes,” Minerva whispered. “And after what happened today, that git of a Slytherin’s father would love any excuse to try and have me sacked.”
“It can’t have been that bad.”
“Bad enough for me assign Lucius ten scrolls of parchment on the life of Godric Gryffindor.”
Albus laughed. “You didn’t!?”
“I did so.”
“What did young Mr. Malfoy do?”
“He tried to transfigure my robes into a sheer negligee.”
“He didn’t!?” Albus exclaimed then at the look on Minerva’s face, he began to laugh.
“It’s not funny, you old coot!” Minerva slapped his chest, her eyes showing that she wasn’t angry at him. “But seriously, Albus. What are we going to do?”
“Do you love me, Minerva?” Albus asked suddenly.
“With all my heart,” Minerva replied without hesitation.
“And I love you,” Albus cupped her cheek. “So I see no reason why we cannot continue to pursue a relationship…”
“We’ll just have to do so quietly,” Albus finished. “I want a future with you, Minerva. And I will take it any way you are willing to give it to me.”
“Oh, Albus…” Minerva lowered her head to brush a kiss over his lips.
“Does this mean…”
“Yes,” Minerva whispered against his mouth.
“We’ll be careful,” he promised. “We will do nothing to jeopardize your reputation in any fashion.”
Minerva nodded as she slid her body on top of his. “Mmhmm…”
“I will not compromise you…” Albus continued distractedly as Minerva’s hips began to rock gently against his.
“Albus…” Minerva murmured with tiny kisses to his chest.
“Yes, my dear?”
“You’ve already made a bad day better… now, how about working on the rest of the night?”
Albus grinned as he grasped her hips and pulled her tight against his burgeoning erection. “Whatever my witch wants.”