The sky was a canvas of pinks, reds, yellows, and ever-deepening blues as she stood in front of the large white tomb alone. She took a deep breath, as though preparing to knock on a door belonging to someone she was apprehensive about visiting, then let it out slowly and clasped her hands together in front of her.
"I'm sorry you didn't have much in the way of a eulogy, Albus," she said, her tone quietly apologetic. She came to his tomb to speak with him rather than trying to talk to the portrait in his - in her, she kept forgetting - office. She knew that the portrait Albus would not speak to her until she was ready for it, and his death was too fresh for her to feel comfortable hearing a mere shadow of the man speak. "The board of governors insisted on something official."
Silence fell as she stood stiffly in front of the grave, with only the twilight song of the birds breaking the quiet. For a long time, Minerva did not move or speak, gazing at the shadow of Albus' tomb as it grew longer and longer on the ground in the light of the setting sun. Feeling herself on the verge of tears, she began talking again, hoping to stop the flood of emotion threatening to overtake her.
"They still haven't decided whether or not to open the school next term. I know it's what you...what you would want..." She faltered, trembling, then pressed on. "I just don't know if it's really wise...I mean, if a sixth year boy was able to find a way to let Death Eaters into the castle..."
Once again, she trailed off, her own argument sounding feeble when said aloud in front of the tomb, even though Albus himself wasn't standing there with his blue eyes twinkling at her, making her feel as though he knew so much more than she did. Taking a deep breath, she tried again. "I mean, I believe in Hogwarts as much as you do...as you did," she corrected quietly. "But the safety of the students..."
The last ray of sunlight sank beneath the mountains as her voice trailed away again, and with it went Minerva's last shred of resolve. Her knees buckled beanth her and she sank onto the grass, shaking with quiet sobs as she admitted the truth to the white marble.
"I can't do this, Albus," she wept, trying in vain to wipe away the stream of falling tears. "I don't know how to handle this...you know I can't run things without you. I haven't got your power, your strength...it's been hard enough being Deputy Headmistress when you've been here to help me, and now that you're..."
She stopped, unable to say it outloud now that she was alone and not surrounded by others she had to be strong for. When she spoke again, it was in a tearful whisper. "How are any of us supposed to go on without you? We need you, Albus. I need you."
The cold stone did not give a single hint of sympathy or solace. Heartbroken, Minerva bowed her head and wept again, sounding more like a lost little girl than a powerful witch in recently thrown in charge of the greatest wizarding school in the world.
It was there that Poppy Pomfrey found her a short while later, still crumpled on the ground with her hands in her lap, her head hanging, and strands of dark hair straggling from her bun. Sighing quietly, Poppy knelt down beside her friend and colleague, placing a plump arm around the other witch's bony shoulders. Had it been anyone else, Minerva might have immediately shrugged away and pulled herself together for the sake of putting up a brave front, but Poppy was her dearest friend now that Albus was gone. Instead of stiffening, she leaned her head into the nurse's shoulder and continued to sob.
"There now..." Poppy said quietly. "It won't bring him back, Minerva. We all need you now...the whole wizarding community needs you to be strong," she reminded gently, rocking the tall woman back and forth in her arms.
"He was all the strength I had, Poppy," Minerva choked out, trying to gulp back a sob.
"That isn't true, Minerva. You know you and Albus gave strength to one another, and now that he's gone, it has to come from within yourself."
Poppy didn't press Minerva any further when she didn't reply; she merely allowed a few minutes to pass while the new Headmistress got control over her tears. Sobs gave way to sniffles, and finally, with Poppy's help, Minerva got to her feet again.
As they walked back towards the castle together, Minerva turned once to look at the tomb, so white it almost glowed in the dim light. She sighed, shaking her head. "There were so many things I should have told him, Poppy. So many things I wanted him to know."
Poppy just smiled softly and put her arm around Minerva in a comforting squeeze. "Albus was a wise man," she said gently. "I think he already knew."