What Price Love?
By Isis Malfoy
Summery: What price can one put on Love? Minerva McGonagall is about to find out in an adventure that will take her to Hades itself and back to save the man she loves.
A/N: I have to thank Karuri for this bunny. It was hers and she gave it to me. I hope everyone likes this one. And go check out my other stuff and Karuri's stuff, it's under the pen name Child of the Dawn. I am so excited I have so many projects in the works! Including a sequel to Charm of Avalon, a New Story, a story I'm working on in collaboration with Karuri, and more of the Ward of Hogwarts, which may be completely unblocked thanks to Jestana! Whom we should all hail and bow to for helping me filter through the mess I made of that story in my head! And now, without further ado the story.
Grindelwald lay all but dead on the ground. Across from him, bleeding heavily was Albus Dumbledore. In a corner of the room a young auror awoke with a groan. There was dried blood on her forehead and her wrist lay at an odd angle. She was weak and her head was concussed but she struggled to rise. The young woman had been thrown into a wall by a rather powerful hex, at the beginning of the battle that had raged inside these walls only moments before and for a moment, she stared at the room in confusion.
Minerva McGonagall looked around the room and realized the battle was over. It was unclear who had won; both wizards lay bleeding profusely and breathing laboriously. As she tried to discern what exactly had gone on after she'd lost consciousness a shadow entered the room. Minerva couldn't see it, but she could feel it and she knew what it was. It was the same shadow that had come in to her grandmother's room at St. Mungo's. It was the same shadow she'd felt fleeing from the burning house on the night that Grindelwald's followers had killed her family.
The wraith moved to stand between the two wizards on the floor and hesitated. Minerva knew it was trying to decide between the wizards, although it could easily slip away with both. She swore and dragged herself to a crawl. The room spun and her stomach churned but she pulled herself forward and over to her fellow auror, the man who'd trained her since she'd graduated from Hogwarts and had made her his battle field assistant as soon as she'd finished her training. "You can't have him." She snarled. "I won't let you take him!"
Minerva collapsed on top of Albus and passed back out laying across his heart. She didn't have the strength to fight the unseen enemy in the physical world. But the being wasn't heartless, so it gave her a chance.
There was a chill in the wind that woke her as it blew across her face. This time she got to her feet without a problem, but she was no longer in an underground bunker in Germany. She brushed the hair that had fallen from her usual braid behind her ears and began to scope out her surroundings. She was in a vast waste land. The trees were twisted and barren against a background of endless bleak grey. She was standing on a muddy bank in front of a black river and staring at her was a rather decrepit old man with long stringy hair. He was standing in a wooden long boat. "Charon." She whispered nervously.
He inclined his head to her. "You're not to be here Miss. You're not ready for passage yet. Its them I've come for." He nodded his skeleton like head to her left and Minerva noticed a dock with far too many translucent spirits on it. A hooded figure was leading two more spirits to stand with the crowd.
Minerva's heart leapt into her throat. On one arm of the deadly angel that she had sensed in Germany was Albus Dumbledore. Or what was left of him. His body was still lying in the bunker. Tears filled her eyes and she turned pleading to the ferryman who looked suddenly uncomfortable. "Please Charon, turn him back…."
"Not in my power." The ferryman told her gruffly.
The tears over flowed and Minerva tried to choke back sobs. After all they'd been through together, an entire war of near death experiences, and now she was going to lose him on the eve of his greatest triumph. It hardly seemed a fitting reward for the man who'd saved both the wizarding world and the muggle world. There was no one else like him, what would they do if another dark wizard tried to finish what Grindelwald had started? What would she do? How would she learn to live without him? She'd become dependant on him since the death of her family, and now she would loose him too. She'd be all alone without anyone she loved, without anyone who loved her.
Charon squirmed uncomfortably in front her. He hadn't had to deal with Orpheus and hadn't been able to understand why Hades had given him such an opportunity. Now, however, he realized just what a power love had, even over death. Charon wasn't human, and he didn't have a heart as such, but the tears pouring out of the young woman's endless dark blue eyes made him desire nothing short of breaking his otherworldly contract to help her. If he could. His contract was binding, more than just by his word. But he'd been the ferryman for the dead since the beginning of man; and you didn't live that long without learning a thing or two about loopholes.
So he did the best he could. "My dear…perhaps…there is something I can do. Only Lord Hades can send a spirit back to the living world, but I can delay taking him over, give you time to plead with his lordship."
"Thank you." She smiled in her tears and wrapped her arms around herself in happiness. A bony hand covered in grey paper-like skin appeared to help her into the creaky boat.
There were dead people in the water, and the reached out with their wisps of hands, trying to grab onto the boat and tip it into the murky waters. Minerva didn't notice them; she was too focused on what to say to the Lord of the Dead. The ride was all to short for her planning, and before she was ready the boat had docked on a dusty dirt beach. Minerva leapt out quickly and fished through her pockets. Luckily she had one gold sickle left within. She handed it over to the ferryman. "Thank you." He took the coin with a brief nod and set off back towards the souls he was meant to carry.
As she walked toward the entrance to the cave on the beach she noticed a monstrous chain attached to a rock. And at the other end of the chain, lying across the entrance to the cave lay the biggest dog Minerva had ever seen. His paws were the size one of the student's desks at Hogwarts. Standing, she figured he'd have to be over ten feet tall and he had three heads. She knew the dog's name, of course. It was Cerberus. And as far as she knew there were only two proven ways that he had even been calmed enough to allow a living soul to pass. Lulling him with music, or feeding him cakes. She rustled through her pockets as quietly as she could to see if she was carrying any kind of food. She hoped to find out and make a plan before the great beast woke up. But she wasn't lucky.
Cerberus heard the movement and stilled. Six huge eyes turned to stare at her. Three mouths bared their sharp teeth and growled. Minerva did the only thing she could think of. She transformed into a tabby cat and ran through his legs. She kept running deep into the cave and barely escaped her death. He'd almost had her at the last second. Judging by the way her tail was stinging, he'd gotten at least some fur. Finally sure that she was out of reach of the hell hound, she transformed back.
Minerva continued into the dark cave slowly, nerves flitting about like butterflies in her stomach. The cave was cold, and barely lit, she could only see about a foot beyond herself at any given time. As she walked along she began to pick up noises; cries and groans from the dead carrying out their eternal punishments. She walked into an open field, bleak and dark but with grass covered hills and a river.
There were souls in the river being eaten by fish and a man pushing a rock up a hill that never seemed to end. She stopped to watch him, sympathy making her want to help the poor hunched man. He seemed to know what she was thinking because he stopped pushing the boulder and turned to her. "You have a kind heart child." He complimented her in an ancient and wise voice. "But don't turn from you path to help any who cry out for you. No one here has received more than his or her due. Hades is nothing if not fair and you'll only earn yourself a spot down here for easing our suffering. Remember child, each man reaps what he sows and only he can learn his lessons and suffer his consequences. Gods love you child."
Then he went back to pushing the rock. Minerva watched him a moment more before continuing on. She left the desolate field behind and entered a cold stone castle. There in the great room was a table laid out with a banquet and at the end sat a man crying. He was nothing but skin and bones and he stared longingly at the food, but seemed unable to take nourishment from it, or even to enjoy it.
Staring at the table made Minerva realize that it had been a very long time since she'd eaten and her stomach rumbled loudly. She reached for the fruit in the center of the table intending on taking one of the beautiful red apples with her. It was in her hand and halfway to her mouth when the myth of Persephone's kidnapping reminded her to beware to food of the underworld. With a sigh and a last wistful look she dropped the apple back onto the tray and kept walking.
It took her another hour or so to find the throne room, but find it she did. There was a queue of souls waiting to approach the king and queen to be dealt their sentences. Minerva studied the rulers from the doorway. Hades was everything he was supposed to be. A cold pale face with sharp features and steel grey eyes was framed by black hair that he wore slicked back from his face, making him look even more severe. He radiated power and cool poise without even opening his mouth. But when he did, his voice was soft and even, almost gentle. Next to him was Persephone. She too seemed cold, but not as much as her husband. Her golden hair, the color of autumn wheat, flowed loosely around her tanned shoulders. Her eyes were the brilliant blue of a summer sky and she seemed to be the more understanding and forgiving of the two.
"Come forward child of my niece." The soft voice spoke again, and Minerva knew he was speaking to her. "We know you are here, and we will listen to your plea now."
Minerva tried to walk forward calmly, but less than half way there she broke into a run. She stood in front of the thrones; alone and tiny she appeared as a child pleading with her parents. Her eyes shined with beseeching and her body was taunt with energy. "Please….Lord Hades…a man, Albus Dumbledore is about to cross the great river Styx. He…it can't be his time!" She cried out as she fell to her knees desperately in front of him.
Her body trembled and more tears leaked down her cheeks. Two stony faces watched and appeared unmoved. But they weren't. Persephone's heart was breaking as she watched the young woman in front of her beg for the life of the man she loved, even if the girl didn't know it yet. Persephone slipped her hand into her husband's and squeezed it tightly in silent plea on the girl's behalf. "It is his time when the three sisters of fate and I agree that it is time."
"Please my Lord. Don't take him yet. He'll be needed in times to come, I can feel it."
"There is a balance that is always met." He told her coldly. "When the evil comes, there will be one to counter it."
"There is a balance to be met in my heart as well." She countered so softly that only one used to the quiet of death could hear her. "No one else can fill the other side of my scale. You've taken my mother, father, sisters and brothers from me already. Leave me the man I love!"
This made the Lord of the Dead sit up straighter. "The man you love? Are you sure?"
"Yes." She answered resolutely.
"What would you offer me, in exchange for his life?"
"Mine." She responded immediately.
Thin black eyebrows raised in interest. "You'd give your life for him?" He looked to his wife. "Very well, I'll give you that chance."
With a flick of his hand one of the host of spirits came forward and beckoned her away. "Follow her Minerva. She will give you a more appropriate outfit for your coming challenge."
An hour later Minerva was led into a gladiatorial ring. There was a beautiful marble floor with an obsidian ring in the center. She'd been changed from her robes into something more fitting for a workout. A loose white shirt and black leggings. In her hands was placed a saber, and she was pushed into the center of the ring. Luckily for her she'd paid attention to the lessons her brothers had received in dueling. A few minutes were spent cutting the air and spinning the steel blade as she learned a feel for it; taught herself to trust it. The dark angel who guided the newly dead to the river's banks stood across from her with a saber of his own.
There was a box of seats raised on a dais to Minerva's left. In the middle seat sat the specter of Albus Dumbledore and on either side of him were Hades and Persephone. Hades stood. "Minerva McGonagall, daughter of Horus and Delina McGonagall, child of wise woman Athena, you have pledged your life for the life of this man sitting here is that not so?"
Minerva looked into the surprised eyes of her best friend. "Aye milord."
"Very well. Your challenge is thus placed before you. You will duel with Death. Should he yield, than Albus Dumbledore will return to the living world with you. Should you yield, he will stay here. Every time death draws blood from you it marks a decade that will be taken from your life in payment. Do you accept this?"
"So be it. Bow, and begin."
Death and Minerva saluted each other, then began to circle each other looking for the weak point. Minerva struck first her sword arching high towards where the neck should be. Death pulled his blade and they clashed in mid air, sparks flying. Then he feinted towards her wrist and as she lowered her sword arm to meet his blade he cut back up and drew blood on her left shoulder. She hissed and attempted to slash across his chest. Death had to jump backwards to avoid it.
The fight began to have the look of a dance as they parried and thrust, spinning and jumping out of the way of deadly attacks. Minerva began to shred the black robe that hid the unknown face of the grim reaper, and he in turn drew blood from her twice more, once on her side and once on her cheek where she was a little slow in jumping out of the way.
The young witch had sustained serious injuries to her physical body in Germany and more to her spectral body in the arena. The loss of blood and exertion were telling on her. Her right arm began to shake under the weight of the blade and her breathing was labored. Her muscles responded slowly, leaving her dangerously open. Finally Minerva had enough. She tucked her sword close to her body and dropped below a cut to her neck. Instead of rising as Death expected her to she somersaulted into his space and swept her leg behind him, tripping him. His sword flew out of his hand as he landed on his back. Before the skeletal hand could reach out to grab it Minerva had tossed it into her left hand, using the toe of her boots to throw it up. Both swords were pointed at the robed figure. "Yield." She demanded.
"I yield." Croaked the voice. "Let them return to the living."
As soon as the words were spoken Minerva pulled the swords from their threatening position. She saluted the Lord of the Dead and his Queen with them both. "Death has yielded. You shall return to the living together. Take with you the blade that spilt your blood, worthy daughter of the Warrioress Athena. Let it serve you well, protecting those who have earned your love."
Minerva groaned as the halogen light of the bunker flooded her senses. She sat up, shaking her head at the dream she'd just had. Then she froze. It hadn't been a dream. There was an ache in her shoulder, cheek and side, where the blade had touched her. And heart below her hand was still beating, but Death was gone. She looked next to her. There lay the gold handled steel blade that had nearly defeated her. Set just above the hilt, on the steel itself were three blood garnets and in the hilt itself was a great ruby.
"Three garnets for the thirty years you lost to save me." A gravely voice behind her told her. An arm brushed her side as the hand belonging to the voice traced the stones. It then moved on to the ruby. "And a ruby for the heart you bought with them."
Her tiny hand moved to brush the ruby as well. Her hand brushed his and the man's hand lifted to her chin, turning her to look at him. "Why did you do it Minerva? Why did you sell your life for mine. I've lived a long time."
"I did it for me." She admitted softly. "You may have lived a long time, and maybe you feel like your life had been good enough. But I haven't lived a long time, and I refuse to conceive of even a year without you."
He was taken aback by her blunt reply and by the determined love in her dark eyes. "I lived a long and full life Minerva. I lived for a hundred years, and though I never married I was content. And then I died. And I was reborn to you; I was given a second life to live with the only woman whose ever captured my heart. And you did more than simply capture my heart when we first met, you wrestled it back from Death itself and made it yours."
The tears from her eyes began to spill again. It seemed she had a never ending supply of them today. "Then allow me to give you my heart in return for yours." She cut her hand with her sword and closed her fingers over the wound. After a few moments Minerva uncurled her fingers and revealed the round garnet that had formed from the blood. She removed the gold ribbon from her braid and laced it through the small hole she cut into the stone. Then she handed the stone and its ribbon necklace to the old wizard.
Albus tied the ribbon around his neck, letting the garnet fall against his chest. The stone was warm. There were tears in his blue eyes as he looked up at her. "I love you Minerva Anne McGonagall."
"I love you Albus." And they shared the first of an eternity of tender kisses.
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