SUMMERY: Set during the Grindelwald era and inspired by the song On My Own. Definitely an MM fic and you might find the content a little disturbing.
It was close to dawn when the last of the men began to make themselves presentable once more. Though they tended to like to make the most of the evening they also liked to be home again in time for breakfast. Lighting a long thin cigarette she lifted it to her claret lips and drew in it as if it were her very life force. Scuffing the ball of her foot on the wet pavement, she drew her pathetic shawl tighter around her bare shoulders, and hurrying down the steps that led from what looked like a perfectly respectable house at first glance, perched on the wall at the bottom that separated the property from the street. Rearranging her skirts and hiking up her corset just a little further she took another drag and slowly, blowing out the smoke, glanced up and down the road in either direction. She shifted uncomfortably, more than aware of how constricted her chest and therefore breathing was. As she had yet to manage the feat of both smoking and walking at the same time she would have to wait until she was done before she moved off for fear of losing consciousness -- not a practice that was to be recommended in this part of town.
" 'thena! Darling!" Called the voice of one of the regulars she had grown to know far better than she had had any desire to over the last few years. "I was looking forward to spending some quality time with you this evening but I know how possessive Monty gets of you. And little wonder." This last comment couldn't be described as anything but a leer as he reached over and caressed her cheek.
"Maybe next time Hellios." She said with a smirk leaning over and pulling a cigarette from his top pocket.
"I shall look forward to it my dear." He said, a feral grin plain to see on his face as the hand that had been resting on her leg began edging up through her petticoats. Quick as a flash she reached out and grabbed his wrist.
"NOT in public. What would your Boss think of you?"
"Of course. Of course." He murmured, followed by a hasty 'Good evening' before he briskly walked out of the anti-apparating boundary and disappeared from view. She turned back towards the entrance to their very own 'house of ill repute' at the sound of heels clicking on stone.
"Night Athena." The pronunciation of her name made it sound like Athine-ah.
"Night Cleo – give my love to the kids." She watched as her colleague disappeared into the harr that had settled low over the street lamps. Though she lived on the premises many of the girls did not and most had never passed their apparition tests. Standing again she took one last drag before dropping the butt, and as she crushed it into the ground struggled to remember the time when her last action would have appalled her, never mind the fact she had been smoking in the first place. She set off down the road in the opposite direction from the other two and towards the river. These hours were hers. Those between her close of work and the hustle and bustle of the morning taking hold, were the closest she ever let herself get to letting go. She walked and walked and walked and it was only when she was on her own that she could begin to believe he was there beside her.
The last of the moonlight turned the river, sluggish with the cold, to molten silver and the starlight caught in the branches of trees that held nothing more than drops of moisture that refused to fall those last few feet. She wandered along the towpath that ran alongside the water and slipped into her own little world. It was only when the rest of the city slept that she could think of him and be happy with the company she kept. It was for him that she did this. It was then that she could almost make-believe that he was walking there beside her, could feel his arms around her, could imagine what it would be like to be surrounded by his love in the way she had dreamed of for so long. She wasn't sure when she had fallen in love with Albus Dumbledore. He had been absent for most of her last two years at Hogwarts and it had been almost three years since she had seen him at all. Montgomery Grindelwald had seen to that. It had been common knowledge amongst the students that their Deputy Headmaster was co-ordinating the fight against the forces of the most evil wizard in at least a century, but when he had approached her the summer of her graduation she had been at a loss as to why. He had told her of his work, of the progress they had made in impeding the enemy and of their success in identifying what they thought to be the headquarters of his followers. The problem seemed to be that they wanted more than anything a set of ears inside this muggle-like brothel and Dumbledore confessed that there was no-one in his Order that came close to fulfilling the requirements for this mission. She had been stunned and incredibly flattered at his trust. He had not romanticized what it was he was asking of her; she had done that herself. Her Professor had made it perfectly clear that she had every right to tell him where to go when he had asked her to give up everything she had worked so hard for. But she had also been perfectly aware that there were few who could who could fill this role. She had been raised by a spinster aunt after her parents had both died when she was still young and her Aunt too had died the summer before her last year. At school she had been the studious bookworm, not popular enough to make Head girl and with no close friends likely to miss her absence. And with a little work she could even pass as attractive. She could not tell if she would have agreed so readily, even for so good a cause, had anyone else had asked this of her, but she could say that she would have done, would do, anything for him. She loved him.
She followed the path long enough that the sun was beginning to peek over the horizon and the traffic on the nearby road began to increase. She revelled in her fantasy world but knew that she was deluding herself; that he no more loved her than she did those whom she serviced night after night. He had not been to see her in all this time or even sent someone to see if she was alive until six months in when she had made it onto the regular staff, her reputation more than making up for her sudden appearance. It wasn't that she couldn't understand him staying away; to be seen together would jeopardise not only his image but also hers and she had certainly worked too long and hard to establish this character she played. Now she would meet with whichever messenger he deemed to send, usually Mundungus Fletcher, but even on one instance Alastor Moody, who at only a few years her senior had been so appalled by her and her surroundings in the bar where they had met, that he had barely stayed long enough to retrieve the parchment she had written for them. Not that she blamed him. But still she were sure that if it were not for the hours she spent alone when she lived inside her head, she would surely have gone mad by now. Even making believe that the two of them could have a future together, that once the war was over… but she had played this role for so long now, yet she wasn't an actress. She was a whore, a prostitute… a lady of the night. If a man could name a trick she had performed it, and everything she did she did to the best of her abilities. She was good at what she did. The only difference between her and the others was that she not only sold her body for money but for the information she heard when they assumed her ears and lips were sealed. Even if what she learned helped win a war she really knew very little about, it wouldn't change a thing. She had been tainted, poisoned by this life she led and there was no way a People's Hero like Dumbledore would ever take a second glance at her. She felt isolated and alone as she began to make her way back to her stage.
Drawing herself out of her reverie she began to cordon her memories, dreams and emotions back in, ready to face another day. By the time she had reached the foot of the steps again all traces of her old self that remained were hidden from sight. Just before she turned up the steps though, a man standing on the other side of the road caught her attention. Crossing her arms under her bust, as if in an attempt to conserve what little warmth she had left, she managed to rest her hand on the end of her wand she had tucked down the side of her top before she went outside.
"Can I help you sir?" She asked, the boredom in her voice almost dripping from her words. The guy was too well dressed for the area not to be a punter, but it was the wrong time of day for his likes. She took in his short dark hair and clean-shaven jaw but couldn't recognise him for all she tried. "We don't open until six this evening and even then we only take introductions." She told him, hoping to discourage him quickly. But he didn't leave though, instead he crossed the road to her side of the pavement. She leaned back against the wall and tried to look relaxed and disinterested.
"Thank you for that information." He sounded pleasant and almost friendly when he spoke. "Perhaps I can offer you something in return for your help?" She had learned long ago not to take money from men you weren't willing to sleep with or do a trick for and she certainly wasn't up for either at the moment. Leaning down she pulled the cigarette she had stashed earlier from her garter belt.
"I could use a light." She told him nonchalantly.
"I'm sorry to say that I don't have one on me." This man was becoming stranger by the minute. "But perhaps I could offer you a Lemon Drop?" She turned her head so fast that she almost jarred her neck. Taking no care to hide her inspection of his face now, she looked directly into the multifaceted blue eyes that no glamour charm could hide. Before she could say anything he spoke again.
"Ah!" He pulled a small silver device from one of the pockets in his cloak. "This might do the trick." He pointed it at the gas lamp across the street and suddenly the light went out and a small flame appeared at the tip of the implement. Automatically she put the cigarette in her mouth and holding her hair out of the way, leaned forward and lit it. Once she was successful he returned the light to its rightful place.
"Thanks." She said quietly, watching the ash fall to the ground as she no longer really felt like smoking it.
"And perhaps you would get more benefit from this than I." He continued removing his heavy travelling cloak and wrapping it around her shoulders. They stood in silence for another few moments before she spoke up.
"Does this mean it's time for me to start my animagus training?" She asked of the one request she had made in the beginning.
"I believe that it is." He replied wistfully.
"Then it's over? The war?" She asked.
"Not quite, but the information you have gathered has ensured that it will be shortly. I don't believe there's any reason to keep you here longer." He sounded almost sorrowful as he finished. She wasn't sure what to think; she felt dead inside. So sure she had been abandoned to the fates, she didn't know how to deal with this. "Is there anything you want to retrieve from…" he indicated the house that was thankfully shrouded in darkness and sleep. She thought of the woman and girls she had come to call friends over the last two years, but she knew they would never understand. She had betrayed them. She shook her head firmly and standing up straight, threw away what remained of her cigarette and drew the warmth of the cloak further around her. There was nothing from this part of her life that she wanted to take on to the next. A gentle hand on the base of her spine, neither probing nor recoiling, guided her down the road.
"I fear Miss McGonagall," he began as they walked. "that you may never know quite how much you were missed."
A/N: Companion piece/ second chapter should be up soon. As always much thanks to my betas (Maria and GEM) who make my stuff just about comprehensible *smile*. Reviews are always welcome.