I'm sorry everyone…a week late AGAIN.
I'm going against my usual rule of posting on a Saturday merely for one reason and one reason only…I'm leaving in about 1/2 hour for 5 days to the Lake. Um…well, with that said, I haven't the time to write you all notes. my apologies…I have many qualms over that fact, considering this is the last chapter.
If you've any real need for an epilogue, I will be more than happy to write it, but I do believe this story ended how I wanted it to.
I love you all. You've been wonderful. Please review for this final chapter. It will give me much joy.
Chapter Sixteen: Ten After
She felt lighter than she had in years. It was as if the chains which had held her to the ground for a decade were finally cut off; unlocked. Minerva was no longer tied to the world that she had been forced to live in. In a manner of opinion, she had been transformed into an entirely new person. Between the release of her mother and the excavation of her old love, she was nothing like what she had been in the past.
The woman would not lie about what she had become over the years; she knew what she was. Minerva knew she had gone cold as she grew, showing herself to only her daughter. She had been hardened by the world; turned to stone. Age she did as a decade flew by, growing more prone to breaking. Then it finally did happen. A man came and broke her to pieces. But he rebuilt her after that; she was entirely different. No longer was Minerva cold, distant, and solid. Now, she was warm, present, and as temperamental as porcelain in a child's hands. It was wonderful.
She went inside her quarters, only to see her daughter looking at a doll. It wasn't the normal doll though, no, this was a different one. The name of the figure which Maddy held was not Sally, but Elsie. Elsie had been Minerva's doll, once upon a time.
A smile crept on the woman's face. The creature had been stuck between dust and blankets for the past twenty years. She was surprised she even could recall the doll, let alone find a place in her memory where she could possibly recover the name. "New doll?" she asked. Of course she knew that Elsie was not a new doll, but Madelyn did not know that. The child probably figured that the poor thing was a long forgotten doll that she had once had.
"I don't think so. I found it in my last box. When did I get it? It's pretty…and it plays a song too." She raised the doll up to Minerva's ear and wound the doll. Out came that familiar lullaby; the woman could have hummed along with it if she had wanted to.
"She was my doll," she smiled. "I named her Elsie. When I was little, that was my favorite name, so I gave it to my favorite doll."
Maddy stared up at her mother quizzically. "Why is my name Madelyn, then?"
The smile faded slowly from her mouth; as slowly as the sun sets. She had never thought about it…not since she actually named Madelyn. Minerva remembered though. As always, it was because of Albus. He had unintentionally named their daughter one day.
They were strolling along the grounds, talking quietly to one another. This was when it was still safe for them to be together, before the suspicion set in; perhaps that was why he was so carefree in teasing her. He had been laughing at her. Merlin knows how they got onto the conversation, but he had been carrying on about how odd her name was.
"Listen to it," he'd said, "Minerva McGonagall. Do you have any idea how odd that sounds? It's as if I'm constantly puckering up my lips."
"That isn't such a bad thing, is it?" she smiled back. "It makes you seem more approachable."
"Are you calling me inapproachable, my dear? Of all the things that I believe I am, approachable would certainly be one of them."
She blinked up at him in thought. It only occurred to her at that moment that they had stopped walking. They were standing, facing one another, in the center of the busiest corridor in the school. Neither one of them really seemed to care though. "I suppose you are," she whispered with a smile. It did not take the word of her professor for her to know that love was undoubtedly glowing inside her eyes…she could feel it inside of herself. "In some situations, you're entirely approachable," she finished in a low voice.
He raised an eyebrow. He knew certainly well what she was referring to. By then, they had spent almost too much time together. Albus knew her touch; she knew his. "I'm glad you think so." His eyes twinkled a lot then. Minerva had always assumed that it was the way he was made, to twinkle. In later time, she realized that it was his adoration which made his eyes shimmer so.
He turned in one direction and started walking; Minerva followed. The man continued in a more subdued voice, if only for their public discretion. "I do wish that your name was not such a hassle to say though."
She smiled to herself. "But you do love my name. You would not always call me Minerva if you didn't. You would have made a pet name…you always do things like that."
The man thought it over for a second, rolling his eyes. Then he finally nodded. "I suppose I do care for it. It's a very commanding name though, one that looks good on paper."
"It was meant to be that way," she replied. It was true. She'd been named strictly to sound appealing to others. There was only so much that her parents could do with their last name…so they chose a name that stood for superiority. "Do you have something against that sort of name, Professor?"
He smiled down at her. She never called him Professor except in class. When she referred to him with that title in their company, it was really something of a pet name. She was, in a way, egging him on with the phrase. "Certainly not," he continued to grin. "As a matter of fact, it's very enticing. I believe it's the strong mmmm sound. It makes me hungry."
They both laughed at the comment. "You're always hungry," she giggled. It was true; the man always ate. If one could never find a suitable gift for him, candy always did the trick; that, or a nice kiss, anyhow.
"Do you have something against that, Miss McGonagall?" he raised an eyebrow.
"No," she shook her head, "I could never have any sort of problem with you."
He put his arm on her shoulder as they rounded the corner and leaned into her ear. "I couldn't have one with you, either…" they walked down the current corridor which was empty. He didn't speak for a few seconds. When he did, it was just a passing thought, an attempt to keep the humor rolling. "But you're sure that you don't have another sister; one with an equally tempting name? Say…Mildred or Melody? Maybe Melinda…or Michelle? No…Madelyn. Tell me, do you have a sister named Madelyn? It's much prettier than Minerva…ick."
She jabbed her elbow at him playfully. The both of them stopped. Albus put his hands to his ribs in fake agony. "That wasn't very nice," he gasped. "You know, your parents would be very sad to find out that their daughter had been expelled for physically injuring her Transfiguration Professor."
Minerva shook her head with a wide grin on her face. "There's plenty more that I've done that they'd be shocked about. Expulsion is last on the list."
He blinked. He knew where the conversation was going, as did she. It was predictable, what was coming next. Still, he asked. "And what is first on the list, Min?"
She stared up at him. He no longer clutched his side. Instead, the man grasped her hands and slid his fingers through hers. His eyes twinkled while she had no words to speak. When they finally came out, it was not a surprise to either of them. "I do believe, Albus, that kissing my Transfiguration Professor would be first on the list."
"Ah," he nodded. "It would shock me, had I not been involved with the situation at hand. You're an intelligent girl. I can't figure out if that's why you're with the Transfiguration Professor, or if you simply have gone adolescent on the world and lost your marbles."
The woman smiled and wrapped her arms around him. "I'm sorry to say, dear Professor, that I am with you because I have lost my marbles."
The man nodded. "You too?"
Minerva blinked. Then she blinked again. She had.
The woman turned her head back down to face her daughter, being pulled away from the moment. "You're Madelyn because that's the name I liked when I was older. You won't always like the same name for children. Right now you name your dolls on names you like. You'll do the same when you have children."
"But I like Elsie better. Can I change my name?"
The woman smiled. "No, Dear. I like your name. It's very pretty."
Maddy frowned. "That's no fun."
Minerva shrugged. "I'm sorry. If it makes you like it any better, your father picked it out. He told me that he liked it much better than 'Minerva'. Come to think of it, I do believe that I agree with him."
"I don't." She held her head up high when she said it, something she no doubt inherited from her mother. Minerva had always been good at giving the superior look. Unfortunately, Maddy was far too smart for her own good some days; not to mention opinionated.
The woman brought her shoulders up to her neck again. "I'm sorry. You can name your children whatever you like. Then you can listen to them complain, just like I'm listening to you. You can see what a joy it is." She was being sarcastic of course, both of them knew it.
"Fine, I will," Maddy threw up her head as if she were the queen of the world. Then she started walking towards her room with Elsie still in her hand.
Minerva smiled to herself as she counted the seconds. One…two…three and then she sprung into action. She took a few giant leaps across the way to where her daughter was and clutched her into her arms. Then she did what all children fear; tickle. The stomach gave a giggle. The knees brought out a very high pitched laugh. But the feet, that was the spot. Maddy screamed out for help, begging for a way to be released of her mother's wrath.
It didn't take Maddy long to realize that no one was coming. She wriggled out of Minerva's arms and crawled around the room, running away. Her mother chased and caught. She tickled some more. Again, the child got away and ran to her room. Minerva caught her midway down the corridor and finished the duty right then and there. Maddy screamed for help; the woman knew there would be none.
Eventually she ran out of energy herself. The two girls lay exhausted in the middle of the hallway.
Maddy turned towards her mom. "Can I have a little sister?"
She blinked. What on Earth could have promoted that question? "Why do you ask?"
"Then I'm not the one being tickled. I'd help to tickle her."
The woman smiled softly. "As nice as I'm sure that sounds, I don't think children are anywhere in the future of this family. You're all that there's going to be. You'd better set up some way of protecting yourself…otherwise you're going to be able to wiggle like a worm."
The child stuck her tongue out at her mother and then quickly leapt forward, to her room. She shut her door before Minerva even had a chance to get up from where she was. She leaned up with a smile on her face. "You can't hide in there forever!"
"I know! But I can for now!"
Minerva chuckled to herself. Oh God, the fun they had together!
KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.
She blinked to herself. Someone was at the door, but whom? She grinned to herself. Minerva knew who it was; there was only one person that could possibly be visiting them mid day. He'd said that he'd wait until evening, but Albus could never do that. He was far too much in love with his family to stay away.
The woman made her way to the door and was not surprised at all to be staring at the man. She smiled happily at him. "I knew y—"
"—Why didn't you tell me?" he asked darkly.
Her insides drained in only a second, hitting the floor painfully. She felt her skin grow white and her mouth drop. She swallowed; there was nothing else the woman was capable of doing. He knew. He wouldn't have confronted her any other way if he didn't…
Minerva's mouth opened futilely many times. In the process, her throat grew compact—into a blockade for either words or air. She shook slightly. If it was not out of sheer horror, it was from lack of air, but all logic would prove that it was nothing less than terror. Her usually sweet, kind, loving Albus was standing before her, but he was not any of the things that she associated with him; the man was erect, demanding, and had the most dreadful look inside his eyes that surely pointed towards hatred.
She stuttered out her words. "I—I was going to." The woman was meek and very frightened.
"When?" his voice was calm—unnervingly calm, the sort of tone that washes over ones skin in times of fearfulness. "Another ten years from now? Twenty? Fifty? Or are you just lying again? Tell me."
"No," she shook her head, "tonight. I was going to tell you this evening." She had every intention of doing it that night. There was nothing to stop her then. She was going to…really.
There was silence for a few seconds. Albus stared at her. She stared at him. For some reason, she already knew what was to come. It was not simply that his eyes told her, or even the way he was standing; she knew because she knew him. It had come. The end.
The man sighed and shook his head with bent eyebrows. "It's amazing, the way you can do it so easily. I do wish that I could spit out words so easily as you. You must have been happy when you perfected your method; you always did get amusement from the little things." God, even his voice was different. He was cold; not ice box cold, but dead-on North Pole cold.
She swallowed. Of course he didn't believe her when she told him. He wouldn't. It was blatantly clear that the man had just been informed—in one way or another—on her secret. The cold man before her would never believe a word she said, even if it was the truth. Minerva blinked down as her eyes began to water while her throat grew more compacted. "I meant to tell you about Madelyn. I did."
"No you didn't," his voice grew louder with every word, echoing through the empty corridor. "It's been ten years and you haven't found one moment to tell me! Not one!"
"I tried," she pleaded. "I tried to tell you."
"Codswallop!" he threw his hands violently into the air. "You never had any intention of telling me. You've had a decade! If you had even felt the tiniest whim to tell me about our daughter you would have come to me in the beginning."
She suddenly felt so very small. Minerva had never felt so tiny in all her life, not in the presence of anyone. The woman was an ant under the magnifying glass, unable to find a way to escape certain death. "I couldn't!" she cried back, finding her defense to be the only thing which kept her from breaking completely. "I had no reason to! You never wrote me! You never called on me! As far as I knew you had fallen in love with someone else and eloped! What was I supposed to do?"
"Tell me, damn it! You don't keep a thing like a child a secret!"
She had no other defense than to turn the tables constantly. He was in the right and she was in the wrong. It was always that way, always. She yelled back strongly. "Why shouldn't I? I had no reason to tell you!"
"I loved you! That's why you should have told me. She is our daughter, not yours. She isn't yours to keep!"
"And who is to say that!"
"Me! Her father! She's my damned child too! You can't keep her like you did for all of those years. I never knew!"
"I never wanted you to know!" she screamed. No, she hadn't wanted him to know, not a decade ago; perhaps she still didn't want him to know. Maybe that was what had kept her from telling him. Her voice dropped to a quiet tone, "Not then."
"Unbelievable," he shook his head. "Did I mean nothing to you?"
That was the exact moment that her heart began to chip away; when everything went quiet and he asked her that one question. It had been rusting since the beginning of the horrid scene, but that instant was when the parts began to fall off and drift to the floor. "You meant everything to me." She said it strongly, but inside she was being torn apart.
He nodded his head slowly. He didn't understand. "I meant nothing to you. Otherwise you would have done something about Madelyn. You would have written me…seen me…done something. Even women who have had relations with strangers have the decency to tell them that there has been a child. But no. I suppose our relationship is the exception. You weren't even in love with me enough to tell me that you were pregnant."
"That's not fair," she shook her head. "You never wrote me. I thought you had fallen in love with someone else…I didn't want to ruin your happiness…or be a part of your life if you didn't want me to be."
"But I did! And I would have wanted Madelyn there too!" he cried passionately. "I would have wanted both of you there!"
"How was I to know that?" she threw her arms up into the air, "I never received any word from you!"
"Contrary to the popular belief, Minerva, that wasn't my fault! I wrote you for the whole summer that year! I didn't get as much as my mail returned! Obviously someone received the letters!"
"Yes," she yelled back, "my mother! She took them all! I didn't see a single one! She sent me away when they started coming in! She didn't want me to see you! Don't you see?"
"Stop with the lies!" he bellowed, "Just stop it, woman! I am sick and tired of you throwing out all of this rubbish."
"But I'm telling the truth!"
Silence. It was a deadly silence, the sort that comes when one is alone in the dark on a rainy evening. The true signal of inevitability that only the worst could be coming.
The man's eyes had not gone soft, but they were not as hard as they were originally. Minerva couldn't fathom for the change in tone that came with the man. She could only assume that perhaps she was making sense to him…though that was a hard concept for her to believe. Maybe it was the memory that returned some kindness to his eyes.
"I didn't come here to tell you that I don't love you anymore, but I will. I can say it with complete confidence and I won't ever change my mind again. I never changed my mind before; I always did love you…nothing ever changed." His eyes were growing gentler by the minute. But they were nothing compared to Minerva's. Tears were falling silently from her. Her heart had been split into two and was crumbling at the seams.
"But things aren't the same as they were. I can't own up to you any longer, Minerva. I trusted you…I worshipped you…I loved you. I don't know you, though. I can't love someone that I don't know. What I loved was the memory. I only want to know why you did what you did. Then we'll break apart for the last time."
She tried to speak, but her throat would not allow her to do so. A giant ball had found its way to her neck, blocking anything from coming or going out. Tears fell down her face, but neither of them wiped them away. As Minerva had realized earlier in the day, there would be no one else to wipe her tears for the rest of her life.
"I'm sorry," she said with a strained voice which was fighting valiantly to stay calm. "I never meant for this to happen. I wanted—I wanted so bad to tell you."
He blinked. "Then why didn't you? I was there the entire time."
Minerva shook her head. No he wasn't. Albus had never been there. He also had many chances to approach the woman. Why was she the one being condescended for never saying anything? He could have come to her at any point.
"Because you had been changed into something bad inside my mind. You were arsenic and I was being poisoned by your very existence. I didn't want to face you. I couldn't stand to be talking with the person who broke my heart."
"But she was ours. Do you think that for one instant I wouldn't have cared? That I wouldn't have flown millions of miles just to be there for you? That I would not have come to be her father?"
"I didn't want you to." There. She admitted it. "I didn't want you to be there just because of Madelyn. I wanted you to be there for me. I wanted to be the reason for you staying, not a daughter that was never planned."
"I would have come for you. All you had to do was tell me. You know I would have loved you both."
The woman blinked down a tear. She knew it. Maybe that's what hurt the worst out of it all. She knew that he would have loved her and Madelyn and never have had any regrets. It took her ten years to learn that fact. "I know," she whispered, "I know, Albus. I didn't then, though."
He nodded. "And now? What about now? Why did you not say anything to me now? In the toy shop? On the interview? Last night…" He stared at her with a sad look in his eyes. He was hurt. Minerva had ever seen him in such a state. She had never considered that her lover could possibly be anything but strong. It was obvious that she was the one thing in his life that could bring him down…put that sadness in his eyes.
She felt like crying. It was true that some tears had fallen, but she had yet to actually fall down on her knees and let the water ring dry from her eyes. The truth was that she had no real answer. She didn't know why she never told him. All that she could possibly tell him was that she was afraid…but he wouldn't possibly believe that. What she was faced with was her fear. It was inevitable; Minerva had always known that, still, she never thought that it would come. "I felt guilty," she whispered, "for never telling you when I first had Madelyn. I couldn't forgive myself for never saying anything."
"Yet you pressed on with me." He nodded slowly. "You knew how I would feel when I found out. What was your intention, if you had no intention of letting this happen?"
"I fell in love again. I didn't want to—really I didn't. But then you pulled me in and I just couldn't say no to you."
"I did no such th—"
"—Yes you did," she replied back quickly. She could take many things, but he had no right to deny what he certainly did. "You started with Madelyn. You took her into your own little world and then seduced her. She begged me to go out with you, to get to know you. And look what happened!" she cried. "Here we are, me and you, fighting in the damned corridor over how this whole thing got started," her voice went high. "You used Madelyn just as much as I did!"
"I did not! You let me spend time with her! She just happened to like me. You can't expect me to do anything about it! After all, I am her father!"
"Yes, and you knew just how to manipulate her! You knew perfectly well what you were doing that day that you took her on that walk. You asked her questions and she told you the truth. You used them against the both of us!"
"I have done nothing wrong, nothing!" his voice boomed. "I only wanted be close to you again!"
"Well then it's your own fault! I didn't want anything to do with you and you know it! You just wiggled yourself back into my life without a thought about the consequences. Well, here it is, Albus!"
"And what about you? You flew right back into my arms knowing full well that it would turn out this way. It's all your fault!"
"It is not! You are just as to blame as I am! You could have stayed away from me and we both would have been happy enough. But no! You just had to go after me and my life. It isn't my fault that you've found out about it the way you did. If you had never come after me, you never would have found out at all!"
"Is that what you wanted, for me to never find out? I would have realized sooner or later and you would have been in a far worse hell than this."
She knew he would have found out…but with the way things were going, it would have been far too long to count. "You never would have found out," she spoke boldly, "you wouldn't have realized it. By the way, how do you know? You're much too confident about this to have simply concluded it on your own."
"Poppy," he hissed. "While we're at it, who else in this castle knows? From what I gathered, it's a very popular topic."
She shook her head. That didn't really surprise her, not at all. If there was ever a way to make the bottom drop out, it was the mouth of that horrid woman. "I haven't told anyone. Poppy saw it on her own."
"Do tell." He folded his arms.
"I was unpacking and she found your letter. Then she saw pictures of Madelyn. Poppy knew from the beginning. The pieces were all there."
Albus bobbed his head slowly up and down. "So I suppose I'm the idiot? I'm the one who never saw what was so obviously infront of me? Is that right, Minerva?"
She thought it over for a second. If she wanted to be cruel, she could tell him that he was the idiot, but she didn't really believe it. Albus was brilliant. He just had not thought enough about the problem at hand. "No," she shook her head, "you just never looked, that's all."
"I always thought there was something funny about me and Madelyn. I knew deep down, I did. I just didn't want to believe it, because then that made our relationship worth nothing. It meant that you lied and that we had nothing to build on. See what negligence did? It proved everything right."
Minerva nodded slowly. She was not going to dispute what did and did not go inside his head and she certainly was not going to argue about the sure plummet of their relationship. "I didn't want it to end like this," she whispered.
"And how did you want it to end? Surely you weren't expecting a happy ending."
She blinked. "No, I wasn't. I had just hoped that it wouldn't ever end, I suppose. You know I would never mean to hurt you the way that I obviously have."
"I'm not sure I do. You've proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are heartless, inconsiderate, and selfish. Tell me, did you ever mean it when you said that you loved me?"
"Every single time I said it."
Albus shook his head slowly. "You don't do this to a person. You don't tell them that you love them and then lie to them constantly. That isn't something that normal humans do."
"I told you the truth whenever you asked me about the father. You never asked me for his name or what he did. I would have told you the truth. You asked me if I had loved him. I told you yes," she said calmly, though she was rubbing her fingers together constantly—defensively. "You asked me what became of him…I told you that he didn't love me and that he didn't know about Maddy."
"But you never told me that I was the one who didn't know it. You were talking to Madelyn's father and you didn't tell him! Me!" he threw his hands up in the air while shaking his head violently. No, she never told him…and Albus was rightly furious. "You didn't tell me, the one who confessed his love from the first moment we came back together! Me! You never told me!"
"I couldn't!" she yelled. "You'd have left me! You wouldn't have understood!"
"Yes I would have! I would have been angry at you in the beginning, but I would have come-to eventually! I loved you! Always did! I wouldn't have turned my back on you! And I certainly would not have turned my back on Madelyn!"
"How did I know that?" her voice went high again. "We were different people than we were a decade ago! For all I knew you'd have blown me to bits on the spot!"
"You knew I loved you! Isn't that enough of a reason for you to tell me!"
She thought it over for a second. No, he'd never loved her…not in the beginning anyhow. "No," she shook her head, "You were in love with the memory of me. You didn't know what I was like. You didn't know how I had changed. You were just infatuated with me when I was a teenager. You did not know me. Therefore, you did not love me!"
"But you should have told me! It shouldn't have been that hard to tell me, not that first time we talked to each other! Like you said, I didn't know you! I could have taken anything that you told me; not now though, oh no, not now!"
Then there was the last silence between the two of them. His loud voice echoed through the whole of the corridor, ringing in Minerva's ears. Not now…not now…he couldn't take it anymore than she could. It was over. They were over.
She'd had her last affair long before the previous night. It had been with the same person that she stared at. They'd made love together in his quarters. It was forbidden back then just as it was in the present. Maybe that was the appeal of it. They did it because it shouldn't have happened. But there was an entirely different reason for their attraction besides the fact that it was off-limits. It was soulful. He loved her for what she was. She loved him for everything that he had been. And somehow they'd lost it over the years.
Minerva became, as he had said, 'more temperamental' as the years passed. And Albus had grown, well, stronger. Emotionally, socially, and physically he was much more in charge of himself than he had once been. That was they no longer worked. He was not compatible with her because he held so little emotion, that is, in the relation of her.
It ended that morning…when she woke up beside him in his quarters on the last day that she was meant to spend at Hogwarts. They just grew further apart in spirit after that. Minerva went to her life with her child. He went to his life and fought a courageous fight. They both had their battles though. Neither of them had ever conquered their emotional brawl, not until she stood staring at him in the corridor a decade after they initially made love.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, "for loving you." Her voice just went up after that. She tried so hard to keep herself from crying, to keep a steady voice. Alas, she failed. "I want you to know that…well, I never stopped. You're mem—mem—memory will always be with me." She wiped away the tears from beneath her eyes, unable to stay focused.
Albus stood completely still. He spoke back gently, though equivalently cold. "I will always be in love with your memory, Minerva. I'll remember last night and the days that led up to it. I'll hate you for it in the beginning. I'll blame you for the unhappiness that I'll feel within the next few months. But eventually, I will love it again. That's the way we always have been."
Drip. Drip. Drip. Her tears fell down her cheek and onto her neck. "Oh God," she took in a shaky breath, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!"
He nodded slowly. One tear also fell down his cheek. Minerva knew he was maybe even feeling it worse than her, but he was so much stronger. He could hide emotions if he needed to. Certainly, it was vital for him to stay strong. They were saying goodbye for the last time. "I'm sorry that it had to turn out this way." He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out something very tiny. He held it out, palm up, and showed it to Minerva. "I've had this for ten years," he whispered, "you should have it to remember me by. I was going to give it to you as an engagement ring today. Well, there's no use for that anymore. Take it."
Minerva stared at it through extremely blurred vision. She did not put her hand out to take it though, she couldn't. Nothing in the world could make her move her body at all. There it was; his devotion placed inside a single silver circle. She shook her head. "No. No. Please." She stepped away from him, back towards the door.
"I don't want it anymore," he choked ever so slightly, "Keep it. Don't forget me."
She trembled everywhere. Tears fell, her arms shook, her knees were growing weaker by the second. She couldn't make herself take the would-be engagement ring. It killed her inside to know that he had loved her that much and she could do nothing to defend herself. Minerva did her best to shake her head.
"Alright then," he nodded. The ring fell to the floor and hit with a resounding ping. Minerva didn't look at the band as it dropped. Instead, she looked at Albus. His eyes were red, redder than even his hair. His face, usually happy and full of life, was hurt and distressed. He reminded her of a corpse. In all fairness, she knew he may as well have been one. She knew that she'd ripped his heart out of his chest. Hell, he'd ripped the heart out of her chest. Maybe that's why neither one of them stared as the ring fell.
They met eyes for the last time. She could only imagine what he was thinking. Maybe it was a good memory. Perhaps he was remembering what her eyes were like when she laughed, and how they danced. Or maybe he had been suddenly lost in the thought of how she kissed him the evening before. Perhaps he knew yet again what it was like to say goodbye.
Last time, they had said that it was not the end. It was. This time, there was no need to make silly promises like they would be seeing each other again. It would never happen. This was certainly the last time that he could ever lay an eye on the woman. It was the last time that Minerva would ever be able to reach out and feel his flesh.
She let out a rugged breath as the tears poured down. She shook her head and looked at him. "I love you." It was all she could say, all that was on her mind. She loved him. She didn't want to see him go.
He nodded his head slowly. "Don't forget me. I won't forget you. Maybe some day I'll drop in to see our daughter. I'll look at her and I'll know that you raised her and loved her. I'll also know that I could have loved her just as much as you. But I'll be proud anyway. Anything that we made together must be special. Our love was special…at least for a little while. I don't want to see you again. Leave this place as quickly as you can. Goodbye Minerva."
Then he left. He walked down the corridor without turning back. He left.
Minerva fell to her knees right then and there.
"No!" A certain little girl popped her head from around the door and looked at her tearful mother, then the figure which was making his way to the end of the corridor. She ran down to the man and wrapped her arms around his waist. "No! You can't leave! Stay!"
He did stay. Albus didn't move another foot. He grasped the child's arms and then pried them from himself. He lifted her up and allowed her to wrap her legs around him. He put his arms around her back and squeezed gently. Minerva didn't hear a word they said; she was much too far away to hear anything.
He held Madelyn in his arms. It was something that he never thought he would experience. Albus was holding his child…his. She was crying, too. He could hardly stand it; there was no choice though. She quaked in his arms, shedding tear after tear. It was a long while before she said anything, but when the words came he was hit much too hard. "Please, don't leave me and Mum. We love you!"
Albus blinked down one of the many tears which he had kept confined to his eyes. He could stay strong until there was a moment like the one that came. There was no way for him to escape the blow that struck him.
The problematic thing was that he indeed loved them, at least he had. But there were things that the shaking child would never be able to understand. Hell, there were things even he didn't understand completely. Albus just knew that he had to get out, away, flee. He couldn't take that sort of heartache that came with Minerva anymore. She had been worth fighting for, once, but no longer. She'd shattered him. He was broken and could never be mended again.
He put her down and looked into her eyes. Maddy had her mother's eyes, her beautiful green eyes. He'd seen that same pair shed tears thousands of times, it seemed. He hadn't been able to stand it the other times; why should this last time be that exception? His heart grew tight in his chest. "I'm sorry," he shook his head. It was all he could possibly say; he had done nothing wrong.
"No!" she threw her arms down and looked at him with pleading eyes—her mother's eyes. "Stay." The child was quiet again, softly spoken as any child her age ought to be. "Mum's sorry. Forgive her."
Albus shook his head. That was one thing that he could never do. Minerva was not worth any forgiveness. She'd used him, tugged him along for a heart wrenching ride. "I can't do that, Madelyn."
"But you love her."
Things grew silent after that. Aye, he did love her; that's what made everything hurt. He loved the woman more than he loved anything else—except perhaps Maddy. He could deny it as much as he wanted, but nothing would ever change his love for the woman. Albus had made his mind up years before that there was only Minerva as far as he was concerned…that was his only reason for keeping the ring. But no more; that ring was gone.
He shook his head slowly. "Sometimes love isn't enough to make two people happy."
Her little face scrunched up and grew red, leaking down one tear after another. She wrapped her arms around his waist again and squeezed gently. "Don't leave. You're supposed to listen to your child."
That, perhaps, was what got him the most. She was his child. He was walking away from her when he walked away from Minerva. But he couldn't…he couldn't keep both girls. There was no way for him to forgive the mother for such deception. She could have told him at any point in time…he would have disliked her in the beginning, but he would have understood eventually. As the years passed, he could have learned to love Minerva; he could have even seen Madelyn grow up in the process. Not anymore though. He could never learn to love his Min again.
He blinked to himself. His Min. She had been his Minerva once. Once upon a time she was very much in love with him. That was slightly over ten years beforehand. He didn't ever forget the way she smiled or how the light danced in her eyes. He never allowed himself to block out the thought of her kiss or touch. Her voice was forever ringing inside his mind. She would never leave him; not spiritually, anyhow. Like he had said…he would never forget her.
"Maybe some day," he whispered as his throat clogged tightly, "I will come to see you. We can fly brooms or play dress up, if you want."
Maddy looked up at him with the saddest face that he had ever seen on anyone. "A-are you really going to leave?" she whispered. That knot in her throat was as evident as day. She didn't want him to leave anymore than he wanted to go.
Albus nodded his head slowly. Yes, he was going to do it. Finally, he was going to walk away from Minerva. Her memory would be placed somewhere in his mind and only be pulled up years down the road. She was going away just as much as he was. Physically, yes, he would leave; he'd always be there in spirit, in Madelyn's hair and maybe, just maybe, her smile.
He bent down so that he was eye level with the child. Albus put his finger to her chin and forced her to look at him. "This isn't goodbye," he whispered, "we'll meet again."
The child shook her head. "No we won't."
He stopped right where he was and the memory flashed back to him before he could even take another breath. It wasn't a new memory, as a matter of fact; it was very familiar to him. He'd said those words one other time in his life. It was a simple phrase back then, one of truth and intention. He could still remember the words slip through his mouth, 'This isn't goodbye.' And then how had she replied? God…she responded as if she knew what was going to happen. 'Why does it feel like it then?'
It was true; he did not ever see that girl again, that is, not until it was too late.
Yes, it was far too late. Minerva McGonagall…she didn't come back until the years had changed her and everything around her. She wasn't what she was when she had been in love with him. She was weak and sad; hard and cold; ignorant and guilty. She'd never been any of those things as a teenager.
But Albus could not help but blame himself for the first real time. If he had gone to see her he would have known…he wouldn't have let time change either of them. Then again, she had every reason to seek him out. He was the father. Ten years ago they had made a beautiful child…the one who was pleading with him at that very moment.
How much had he missed with her? He hadn't seen the first Christmas or lost tooth or step or magical accident. He hadn't seen any of that. Minerva withheld from him everything that marks a parent's life. But why had she done it? Did she love him back then? Did she hate him? Was she sorry? Certainly she was sorry. He could see the sorrow in her eyes, the pleading for a second—or more rightly third—chance.
For the first time, Albus asked himself a question that he had never asked himself; why hadn't he gone in search of her? Did he love her back then? Certainly. God, he'd loved her more than anything. He wasn't really scared of there being another, not really (thought that's what he'd told himself). She could never have turned her back on him; he knew true love when he felt it.
He looked down at Madelyn. She looked just like him, except for her eyes. It was the one deeming feature that told him that he had been loved by not one, but by two women.
"Why do you say that, Maddy? Of course this isn't goodbye."
She tried to smile but failed. "Yes it is. I know."
He shook his head slowly. He shouldn't have been surprised, but he was. Madelyn knew damn well that it was goodbye. She wouldn't see him for some time, not on their accord anyhow. He had to sway her though. Maddy could not believe what she said…she had to believe that they could see each other again. For both their sakes, she had to believe it.
"What makes you so sure?" he questioned.
"You said goodbye to Mum. I know you love her, but you won't be back to see her; that means you won't come back to see me either."
He swallowed through a tight throat. He looked back down the corridor at the wreck that was Minerva. She had her legs cradled up to her body with arms wrapped around them. He was too far away to see her face, but he knew that tears would still be falling.
"I do love her. But you're right…I won't be back to see your mother. She—she broke my heart."
Maddy looked back down the hall towards her mother. Then the child turned back up at him. "She never told me that you were my father. I forgave her because I love her. She said she was sorry to you. Why don't you forgive her?"
Albus shook his head. He didn't forgive her because he was not a child. He was a grown man whose emotions had no reason to be played with. He deserved to be loved and not deceived. He was in need of a good woman who would always stay by his side. Minerva could never be worth staying by. He'd had enough fighting for her and their relationship.
He took in a deep breath and stared for the last time at that pair of eyes. "I guess I don't her as much as I did."
Madelyn nodded slowly. Then she turned around. The child walked to her mother and sat next to her, leaning against the door.
As he began walking the other way, he could hear their cries. He'd never had so hard a time of walking as he did in that moment. But press on he did. Albus walked to the end of the corridor and just kept going. He did not stop.
It was not easy, packing up. She kept on running into little things here and there that reminded her of him. Though she cried many times over the course of the evening, she never once stopped. He was not worth stopping for, not anymore. His love was not wasting anymore time of her life for.
There were certain words that rang through her head from him, however. Out of their whole discussion, they were the ones that hurt the most. "Our love was special…at least for a little while." That's what he had said. It was the perfect blend of sorrow, love, and hatred. He could not have said it unless he meant to hurt her. But then again, he had every right to want to hurt her. She'd hurt him and she knew it.
Minerva put the records into a box one by one. She didn't stop to stare at the labels on the music discs, it would hurt much too much. But she remembered…and she always would. "It's Been a Long, Long Time." Indeed, it had been a long time and it would continue to be a long time. They wouldn't be dancing with each other again; never.
An eternity felt liked so very long when she thought about it. That would be thousands of years where she could never be with him again. She could never see him or hear him…touch him or taste him. But she'd miss his eyes the most…and his laugh; she could never forget his laugh. It was full and vivacious. That's what made her want him in the first place. Albus was very lively; he had made her want to be a part of him in some way.
And she had been for a little while, at least. He had loved her. That fact hurt, but it was true; it gave her some comfort. It ended in ruins, came toppling down upon her, but she knew deep down that the short lived love affair was worth every second. She blinked to herself. God it hurt.
Drip. Drip. Drip. The tears fell one at a time on box after box as she packed her things. They would do Madelyn's paraphernalia in the morning, after perhaps the hour or two of sleep that Minerva would get that evening. If they did it in that order, then Minerva would not have to think about Albus as much when she was leaving. She'd remember him well enough when she said goodbye to the school for the last time, but there was no need to bring that extra blow to her system if it at all could be avoided.
The woman walked towards the window and stared at the moon which was just barely visible due to mountains. It wouldn't be long before the sun came up and the day came. She placed her fingers on the glass and watched it fog up. Then she just fell to it, gave out. Her entire body was pressed neatly against the giant window and she had no will to be pulled away from it.
She stared longingly outside. Minerva wanted to be free of it all. She just wanted to fly and never come back. Things were much too much of her. The woman pretended to be strong, but she wasn't, not really. She'd never been strong.
"I didn't mean it."
A familiar voice rang through her ears. She was sure she was hallucinating. Minerva blinked, but didn't turn around. She couldn't stand to be faced with another figment of her imagination.
"Didn't mean what?"
"That I didn't love you. I do. I love you more than anything else in the world. I won't…I won't walk away this time."
She blinked. "But you should, you know." Even the figment had no right to mislead her or for her to mislead it for that matter. Albus deserved to leave and find someone who was worthy of his love. After all, the man had so much to give. He had no right to fall in love with the likes of her…even if she desperately wanted it.
A hand fell on her shoulder and she looked beside her, towards it. It was warm…it was real…it was, in fact, the hand of Albus. The woman turned slowly to stare at him. He had twinkling eyes, just the way she liked to remember him.
"I watched you walk away once…I couldn't stand to do it again."
Tears leaked down her face. She wasn't able to find the words to speak. There was no reason to say anything anyhow, it seemed. He moved his other hand towards her face and used his thumbs to wipe away her salty tears.
Then he took her into his arms and wrapped his arms around her. "I love you," he whispered. "Nothing will ever change that."
She looked up at him and wrapped her limbs around the man's neck. A genuine smile crossed her face. Tears were still falling, but they weren't sad tears anymore. He loved her.
"I love you too, Albus."
A smile crossed his face and he pecked her on the lips. "I'll forgive you if you'll forgive me."
"What have you done?" she blinked. He'd done nothing wrong. The man was perfectly entitled to everything that he did. It was all Minerva's fault.
"For letting all this time pass."
She shook her head. "It wasn't your fault."
Albus put his finger to her lips. Then the man grasped her left hand. He slid something cold and silver along one of her fingers, never ceasing to stop the eye contact. The man smiled. "It was sitting lonely outside your door when I came." Albus smiled and pecked her gently on the forehead. "I should have given this to you a decade ago. I'm sorry for that. But I hope that you still love me enough to say yes. Marry me?"
She smiled, though more out of shock than even happiness. "Of course. I love you."
The man grinned. "I love you too." Then he kissed her. It was soft, but passionate. It melted everything away inside Minerva. Her knees grew even weaker than before, the ice around her heart was no longer there, and her mind was finally out of function. All she now knew was his kiss, touch, and love.
It was the first night, the very first night that they dared to love. It started out so simply, gently long before then, though. It had only been an evening together in the Transfiguration Professor's forbidden quarters. Then it was a goodbye the next morning. Then it was a meeting a decade after. Next, it was deception only months following the meeting. Finally, it was love. It amazed them, the path that they took to get where they were. It was the long away around, but the time spend apart led them to their destination.
They dwelled in the benefits that time gave them.