Chapter Fourteen: Broken

The fact that she was completely naked besides a sheet did not bother her in the least, nor even that she resided near the window in a house that she had never known; no, nothing about her surroundings bothered her, with the exception of the reality that her lover was watching her stare out the window with worried eyes.

He had been looking at her since she left his side, though Minerva never dared to turn her eyes to him in any part of the ten minutes she'd been away. The woman merely felt his stare upon her skin; his warm, caring, perhaps slightly anxious stare. Yes, he was as anxious as she was scared for there was an air to the room that made all things hard to say, hard to cope. It was not the dimming candles that put such a mood on everything, or even the thunderous rain outside, but rather themselves; Minerva had purposely separated herself from her lover and he did not follow—not that she had ever wanted him to.

There were moments in her life where the woman felt that she had taken a person as high as she could, up into the sky where the both of them would lose their current and fall as hard and fast as they had ascended—she was reminded sharply of those moments as she stared onto the watery weather. For indeed, she had taken Albus as high as she possibly could; all that was left for him to know was the sad story of her life—the reasoning behind her fears and dreams and ways of living. There was no doubt on her part that he would understand, but there was a terrible doubt in her heart that he would stay.

It was not that she second-guessed his love…she believed in his love more than anything in the entire world; it was his love for something else that she feared would be greater than that of hers. The love of a dream was hard to let go.

But Albus was not letting go just then, not of anything; he was holding tight onto everything that he stood for, including Minerva; he approached her calmly and slowly from behind before wrapping his warm hands around her sheeted waist. His breath was regulated as he exhaled softly beside her ear, not at all like the woman's ragged, terrified breath—perhaps her worry was enough of a prompt for the man to speak, or maybe he had always had the intention of asking her that evening; after all, he did indeed tell her his story first. "Tell me what's wrong, Min. Please," his arms stretched tighter around her narrow waist, "tell me what happened to you."

She swallowed through a tight throat, feeling the grip of fear upon her body. While it was true that she had every intention of telling him what had happened to her with Edwin—and her mother, perhaps—it was not completely true that the woman was prepared. No, Minerva was not ready at all for things to grow cold and hopeless in her relationship. Still, she told him—it was not the first time he asked, nor would it be the last. "You are sure," she sighed, "that you want to know?"

"Yes," he whispered, "All of it. The who—what—when—where—why—and how, no matter how difficult it is, I'm here."

Certainly he was there; Albus would be there as long as she asked him to be, because he loved her. The kind of love that they felt for each other was difficult to break; no story could ever cause pain between them—that was what she told herself, at least. The fact of the matter was that she had her own pain without him knowing…how could things possibly be better if he was hurt himself? The terrible truth was that by the end of the evening, he could turn out to have more heartache than he ever imagined.

"Promise me," she spoke gently, "that if tonight should turn out for the worst and you should decide that you don't love me," her voice cracked ever so slightly, "promise me that you love me now." She slid her fingers through his, trying to avoid the terrible tremble that just flooded through her body.

The man kissed her softly on the cheek and said heartbreakingly slow, "I love you and I always will. That's a promise."

Minerva nodded her head and then proceeded to realize that she had no idea where to begin; her mouth went dry while her mind went from scary to scarier thought. She could not bear the idea of him leaving her; losing yet another love would just break her.

A dry swallow emitted little courage on her part, but it gave enough for a start. The fact that the room was silent for nearly five minutes was no concern of the woman's.

"I told you once," she whispered, "that love liked to be ripped away from people, which no doubt, you thought odd and perhaps insensitive," she blinked. "But I meant it. I meant it then, and I mean it now. Love," she shook her head slowly, "has not been kind to me."

It was only the beginning, only the introduction to what she had to say, but for some reason, there was already a painful throb in her chest which grew significantly when the man kissed her gently on the neck. "I love you," he spoke tentatively.

"I know," she swallowed. "That's what makes this so difficult." Trying hard to keep her trembling breath stable, she focused out the window; rain was falling in the masses, hitting the lake as arrows would, reverberating low thuds of resistance. She was reminded sadly of their conversations earlier in the week where things were much simpler, gentler, perhaps: "Rain is just…erotic, I suppose." Those were her words when they were alone, walking together, before they had even made love. It never occurred to her that she would be cursing them.

Minerva was riddled by the pounding of rain as it hit everything around her: the window, lake, ground, trees; it was like everything wrong in the world was pelting itself into her and beating all of the rational thoughts away. Her head grew heavy as the noise surrounded her, yet things were deafly quiet in the room in which she stood; the woman's forehead fell and hit the window, resting there for a fair few seconds, imprinting its cold, vaporous surface upon her skin.

Taking in a long, slow breath, she blinked and spoke, feeling no stronger than she ever had, but perhaps not nearly as weak as before she met Albus. "I was in love once," she whispered, "Terribly, terribly in love. His name was Edwin." Minerva paused for a brief second, waiting for any reaction from the man, but when none came, she went begrudgingly along. "I met him at the ministry and I wasted no time at all in falling in love with him; by all counts, I saw in him many of the things that I see in you: loyalty, intelligence, humor, manners…love, I suppose." The woman shrugged as a knot jostled its way into her mouth, "The thing is, Albus, I was willing to believe anything if it meant that I would be happy."

"You were unhappy?" he asked softly, nearly letting his lips touch the tips of her ears.

She took one of her hands away from the man's and touched the invisible side of his face with it, memorizing every curve of his handsome visage. "I've always been unhappy," she sighed, "always. It has something to do with the fact that I often feel that I am…the exception, I suppose. Please don't misunderstand me," she added quickly, sadly, "I know that everyone is different. I don't put myself above everybody else, though it may appear that way, I merely think of myself as different from the others; my own person, I suppose." The woman did not know how to explain it, how to tell the man of her struggle to be a pretty, intelligent, and perhaps ever so slightly prideful girl in a world full of misogynistic, careless men. Even in her student days she had been placed in such a horrid spot; after all, had it not been Albus who informed her only days ago that her classmates had written dirty things about her? Young boys wrote, even then, about her pretty face and what they supposed went along with it; they never cared for a moment about her feelings and yet she strived to be one of them. Certainly she was different from the rest of the group. Of course, no matter what she said to the man, it would come out either hollow or negligent, so she merely shook her head.

"My Dear, there is not one of us who is alike on this planet and everyone feels the way that you do every now and then."

Minerva nodded her head slowly. That was not the first nor the last time that she would be hearing such a phrase for she knew that it was true; the only difference was that she rarely felt that she fit in anywhere…save for perhaps the two times in her life that she fell in love. "I know," she whispered as she ran her fingers through his red hair, though never daring to turn from the window, "but I have never felt that I was like anybody else…or that anyone ever understood me…except perhaps you and Edwin at one point in time."

A scared laugh fell from her mouth as she recalled it all much too clearly: evenings, mornings, work, balls, his smile, his eyes, his hatred that final evening; the whole lot was enough to make her skin crawl right off her body. "He was charming," she brought her hand back down to her stomach where it met the man's once again, though they did not interlock, "at first, anyhow. He made me laugh like no one else ever had; he made life seem so simple when he spoke; like it was a giant ride filled with happiness and laughter. I had never thought of living as enjoyable until then," she blinked, "until I was in his arms. He was the first man to ever tell me that he loved me. And I have no qualms whatsoever," Minerva rocked her head from side to side dejectedly, "in telling you that he was my first lover…it might explain better my devotion to the man."

Albus's hold on her grew tighter, quite suddenly, for no apparent reason, save for perhaps the fact that he now knew that she had once been in love before him—not that such a reasoning made even the slightest of sense. It could not be even the least of a secret to the man that she had indeed once fallen in love…it would have been silly of him to assume that he was the first. In any case, he turned the woman around so that she looked into his understanding eyes and forlorn smile. He was worried. "You said that he was charming only at first?"

Her head bobbed up and down for a short time as she looked over Albus. She had never looked at him in such a light as she did in those moments; he was much more durable than she. He had a strong heart beat, protective hands, warm skin, a very bent nose, and a slightly weatherworn face; age had nothing to do with any of it for he was and had always been stronger than she would ever be—Minerva was drawn to him for that. And quite suddenly, that seemed to matter.

The woman's voice held a suddenly scared note when she next spoke, for it was dawning upon her that she would not do well at all if things did indeed turn for the worst. "He changed slowly." The girl looked away from his eyes and brought her head to his chest so she would not have to see his reaction. "I hardly even noticed it at first, but then he stopped doing the little romantic things that caused me to fall in love with him, but I assumed that was only natural…then he started drinking. I found him in a pub often—and other times I found him passed out upon the floor. I thought," she swallowed hard as the memory played at her mind, "that he would snap out of it for me, pull himself away from alcohol for me…of course," she gave a deeper, far more uneasy laugh than the last, "as it happens, he was drinking because of me most of the time." Minerva looked up at Albus who had the most baffled, horrified expression that she had ever seen—and that was most certainly saying something.

Appearing as though he felt inclined to say his bit, the girl waited tolerantly for her lover to say something, anything, but nothing came; he merely stared upon her, processing her as though she was a ministry document. She stepped back from him, feeling quite misplaced in her own right. The man grabbed her hands and squeezed them with the new distance between them and shook his head. "Because of you?"

With several subtle blinks, she nodded.

My, how well she remembered those evenings when she came home to find him on the floor! His robes seemingly floated around his linear body, casting a sad shadow upon a home that was not a home; the trademark smirk on his face was drowned out by the inebriating liquid and replaced by absolute unconsciousness—she had not wondered since the accident, what pleasure he found in oblivion for she understood it perfectly, though it was at the expense of love; he was free.

"I suppose I was too headstrong for him, too eager to prove myself, too intelligent. I didn't realize until later that I brought him such unhappiness—not that I'd have left him if he told me; I don't suppose I've ever been bold enough to walk away from something that I felt to be love. But the fact of the matter is that I didn't know and he didn't care to tell me. I suppose it could be considered rather great irony that I did not expect to come home one evening and find him..." she paused, looking for right word, the most delicate but vindictive word she knew, and found only one, "homicidal."

He blinked, "H-homicidal?"

"That's right," she nodded, "homicidal." A terrible lurch found its way into her stomach with the word and dug deeper and deeper to the point of sickness as she added on with a cold, cold voice, "murderous, deadly, fatal." Tears somehow found their ways to her eyes quite suddenly as the images began flashing before her, not unlike how they did every night. This time it was different, however; she was wide awake, staring through bleary eyes at her lover and he could not wake her from the horrid nightmare. She turned away from him, refusing to let him see her break down; of course, the rain outside did nothing at all to brighten her world.

"He had the most horrid look on his face," her voice cracked intelligibly, "not that he just wanted to hurt me," she shook her head, "he did not even just want to kill me. He wanted to break me into a million tiny pieces and then let me lie there."

Her hands shook gently as she placed them over her cold shoulders; she remembered the pain of that winter night.

Often, the woman could still feel his hands on her, his volatile limbs striking her as if she were clay to be reshaped at his whim: Edwin's fingers were still clutched tightly around her wrists, which were coincidentally as pale as death; his body was still pressing hers against the wall as he spoke vehemently into her ear, "Guess what, Love?"; she still could feel his foot upon her back as he made the first break; she could hear his enjoyment, his childish amusement in destroying someone else's life; above all, she could hear her cries echo down a deserted street in the middle of winter—no one came. "He broke me," her voice finally ruptured for good, "he killed me inside, Albus," she cried out to the rainy sky. "He attacked me. Oh God," she shook her head viciously; "He didn't even use his wand. He just..." she moved her lips together, but no sound came out, only a cry as heavy tears began to fall from her eyes. The woman's head fell again onto the moist window glass where she breathed heavily as unwanted rain fell from her eyes.

The man brought his arms around the entirety of her unstable body, squeezing as if to say that he would always be there for her, but she knew better; she had been told that so many times and yet she was the one alone in crying. But then he did something that none of the others had ever dared to do; he spoke to her. "Minerva," he whispered heartbreakingly slow, "I'll take you over to the settee; you're going to fall if you keep up like this."

And he took her to the settee, without as much as a nod from the woman; she cried onto his naked chest with her arms wrapped tightly around him.

--

A murky night, that's what it was. Fog hovered miserably over the empty London street below where no person in their right mind dared to walk for fear of robbers and all the other things deemed evil upon the evening hours. But one Armando Dippet did not pay as much attention to the midst of things as he ought to have; one glance out the window was all he could possibly contribute out of his busy schedule.

He tapped his quill irritably upon the roll of parchment for the thousandth time, knowing full well that he had a deadline to make and no words to aid him.

The Ministry of Magic was waiting for his consent, his opinion, on a matter that he had no direct opinion of, yeah or nay. After all, what did he care whether or not the ministry put on its international education banquet on September second or eighth of the next year? Either way he'd be missing an important part of the school year, and frankly, he was a bit perturbed over the stupidity of the Minister for even asking. In the name of all that was good and holy, why was it of the least importance what day he wanted the bloody banquet? They would just change the day at the last minute, even if they went with his opinion in the beginning.

Armando shook his head and began writing slowly, not because he was unable to think, but more or less because of his sudden rheumatism, brought on by the odd weather. It was not a new occurrence, the rheumatism, not in the general sense, but it was getting worse by the day it seemed, though he had always known that it got worse with the years. In all normal circumstances, he took a potion to cure the ache, but he suddenly found himself without eye of newt and thus without a remedy; the man had to endure the pain, but that perhaps was nothing new to him.

The coming of age was something that he could not avoid and did not want to, for that matter, but it was quite often that he wished that he were as strong as he once was. Why, from time to time, he had to use his wand to levitate a fallen book into his arms, or something of the like. No, he was nowhere near young; as a matter of fact, he was beginning to feel quite old.

With a few final scribbles, he put down his quill and took a swallow of something pungent along with a muggle pill, used to cure aches and pains. He did not normally mix a strong drink with the things called caplets, but he couldn't very well take much more of that horrid after-taste in his mouth. To tell the truth, the alcohol rather calmed him anyhow; he had the belief that he could nearly almost be fine if he could just feel the effects of the warm liquid on his achy body and avoid medicine completely.

Quite rightly, too, he contemplated as he made his way into bed, he could avoid medicine completely anyhow. After all, it only took a simple pop to get to Diagon Alley where he could find his way into the potions shop. Of course, he didn't like to go outside much anymore; he was beginning to feel rather out of place, not that it had ever stopped him before.

Armando sighed as he pulled the bed covers over his body. He was old.

It had occurred to him only recently to start discussing retirement. Before he had started feeling pain constantly, he was the man always out on the quidditch pitch, always greeting students in the corridors; not anymore. Why, he would be happy if he made it through another school year without falling in front of the entire student body due to weakening legs—and no, never would he be using those infernal things called canes! Oh, many people had mentioned to him in the previous year that he was losing his touch, though only slowly; well, as a matter of fact, he was losing his legs too.

The man blinked.

Perhaps he would contact Albus and see if he was up to take on the responsibility of being the Headmaster…he was ready for it; in many senses, Albus Dumbledore should have almost taken his position when he came to the school, only because of his charisma and many accomplishments. Of course, things didn't work like that; more often than not, seniority was what noted who was where in the hierarchy at Hogwarts. As it turned out, Dumbledore was quickly made the deputy headmaster, despite the fact that he had not spent a day teaching; it was the teacher's vote, not his own…though he would have voted for the man if he had a say-so. Certainly, the man was up to the challenge; he was meant for it; he was meant for leadership.

Armando's eyes closed with the thought. They fell, shut tight, and did not open once more for reflection or inclination.

--

"Muggles found me," she spoke softly, with control, as she breathed heavily upon Albus's comforting shoulder; his hand was wrapped tightly around her waist, pulling her close to his warm skin while the thunder rolled outside and the lightning cracked. The rain was falling harder than ever, bringing hail with it, threatening to break the glass window. But she paid little attention to the change in weather; it was merely a fleeting thought, blasted away by heartache.

Minerva did not know how long she had been crying on her lover; hours, minutes, days—time seemed suddenly so unimportant to her caustic life. All she did know, all she could possibly know, was that he was still holding her, still clutching tightly onto her trembling skin. The girl shook harder than she could ever remember, not from cold, or even from fright, but from pain; she felt it still, deep down in her chest and back and head—a free hand trailed the side of her skull thoughtlessly where there had once been a deep, life-threatening gash.

The man put his hand on hers, slid his fingers through her inlets, and brought it down to the side of her hip. "Muggles?" Albus asked quietly, ever so slightly perplexed at not only her statement, but just that she spoke at all; for what seemed like eternity, there had been no sound in the room except for crying.

The girl, so suddenly far from womanhood, nodded her head and blinked through raw eyes. "Yes," she sighed. "At the time, we were sh-sharing a muggle flat; the door was left open and neighbors came. Edwin was in a body bind and I was on the floor, bleeding from the head with a concussion and a broken back. I don't suppose," she swallowed, "they knew what to make of it."

There was a long silence, much too long to have even the slightest idea of its duration. Minerva was perfectly aware that she had just skipped one of the most important parts of her story—how she got out—but she did not wish to cover that bit of information unless he asked; only more tears would come of that. For the moment, she had no such inclination to cry and preferred it to stay that way.

"In any case, they took me to the muggle hospital—and Edwin; I suppose they figured he had gone into shock where as I had been paralyzed and suffered from internal bleeding; I…I wasn't meant to live, Albus," she shook her head. "I should have died—"

"—no you shouldn't have. Never say that," he cut in softly, "ever."

She blinked, warmed by his need to make her feel better, but knowing full well that he also said it for himself; she knew that he was suddenly reminded of his lost love and the pain of losing her—Minerva was not surprised that he felt so strongly about the blunt words falling from her mouth. Albus did not like the idea of death—not only for himself, but for those around him; he had been hurt by it far too many times…more than even the girl hoped to comprehend. "I'm only being blunt," she whispered as she looked up slowly at his eyes; a glossy blue was relieving the usual sparkle.

He shook his head slowly. "No, you're being ungrateful."

There was a painful standstill in her chest as the words echoed in her head.

He thought her ungrateful? The man she adored and loved thought that she did not want to live? He thought that she would rather be dead than loving him? God, the only reason that she ever clung to life was for someone like him, someone who could make her world shine again; quite suddenly, everything turned darker than it ever had; she could see the shadows crawling in on her and the voices whispering…I'm sorry it had to turn out this way…no, there's no possibility…you were lucky…

The woman's throat began to constrict as she continued to stare at the man who looked at her sadly. He had meant it…and he was sorry for it; she knew that much was written upon his face. Perhaps that was what hurt the most.

"What?" he voice was meek again, weak and childish.

"Never mind," he sighed, "I shouldn't have said that; it was cruel of me." His hand ran reassuringly through her hair and down the bare skin of her arm, but it offered no reassurance at all; she was unable to get any friendly warmth from the man with his words. When she did not respond, he pecked her gently on the lips; a sign of affection that could not be returned quite suddenly. The woman let herself be kissed, but she did not reciprocate it…she merely stood there limply.

And when he pulled away from her unresponsive mouth, he stared at her pretty face, even ran his hand through her hair once more before shaking his head sadly, pain written on his face. "I didn't mean it," he whispered, "I'm sorry."

Sorry, what a sad word it was, Minerva blinked. It covered a great many number of regrets; she was sorry that she had made so many wrong choices in her life, that she didn't say goodbye to her mother, that she loved Albus…yes, she was suddenly sorry for that. The woman loved him perhaps more than he even thought; more than any person had any right to love anyone. She loved his smile and how it always made things better; his eyes that sparkled when they made love; his voice that was normally so calming; his strength that she would never have; his life that made him who he was; his arms that held her so tightly…

There was no way of erasing the word 'sorry'; it just hung in the air, waiting for it to be accepted, but she did not accept it very often anymore; it was only a way of avoiding something painful. And what he had said was much more painful than he probably could have guessed; she had much reason to be ungrateful, but he was the one thing that kept her from being so…it hurt her to know that he didn't see what an attempt she had made.

She stared at him, feeling let down for the first time by the man.

Her thumb ran smoothly over his chin and stopped at his lips so he would not say another word. And indeed, he made no attempt whatsoever to say anything, even after she pulled her hand away from his face. Minerva stared into his eyes, trying hard not to fall in love all over again, but it was a hopeless effort; a single tear fell from her eye, but refused to fall from her face. "I'm sorry too," she nodded sadly, "but not for what I've said," she blinked as her throat clenched, "but for what I have to tell you."

The man blinked, perhaps not finding comfort in words, oddly enough, but by how she was looking at him. She knew she appeared a wreck: hair everywhere, eyes bulging, voice off a few chords, shaking figure; but somehow it didn't matter because she was staring at him with pain and love in her eyes. Minerva hoped, at least, that she was right about that; he didn't say anything because of how she was looking at him…and he knew that she would break down completely if he so much as said a word.

"Mum apparated me straight to St. Mungo's when she saw me—had her wand snapped not two hours later for doing magic in front of the muggle doctors. Even the healers didn't seem to think that I'd make it…internal bleeding and numerous breaks, including my back. But I suppose," she swallowed, "magic is a great thing—one failed potion and five others after that and I was better. I suffered from amnesia for a few months afterwards, but eventually things fell into place again," she blinked.

Albus nodded in comprehension, but didn't say anything. He understood. Minerva was distraught over what had happened, what was always on her mind; she was afraid of being hurt again as she once was, afraid of dying, afraid of living…she was afraid of the many things that made the man who he was. Perhaps that's what drew her to him in the beginning.

His arms wrapped around the woman and she put herself on the side of him, between Albus and the edge of the settee. The man smiled softly at her. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"

She shook her head slowly, knowing that she had not finished. Her hands went up to cradle his face; she memorized every line in those few seconds: bags beneath his eyes, little incisions near his mouth from laughing, lines fanning themselves on the side of each eye; it was the coming of age that she saw—something that would not be present on her face for many years to come. He was so much wiser than she, so deserving of happiness that it made her sick to think that he might not be able to find it with her; it made her heart ache much more than anything else she had ever been put through. Still, she made one last plea to the man, one last imploration, for him to choose her over everything else because she loved him and would always love him.

"I love you," she whispered. "I love you more than I've ever loved anyone," she swallowed down a hopeless pain in her throat, "more than I ever will, Albus. I want you to know that I will always love you…love these memories that we've made together." Her heart pulled tightly at her throat, causing her voice to crack miserably as several tears found their way to her eyes. "I won't forget," she took in a long, ragged inhalation, "tonight and how you held me and loved me and let me know that I'm not as hopeless as I think, but I'm not sure that you won't want to forget. I know pain," she nodded, unable to see anything with her watery eyes, "and sometimes it's best to try to forget it. I just hope that…that you won't forget that I loved you…that I will always love you."

"Min?" his voice was scared, something that she had never seen in him before.

She shook her head desolately. "I can't have children. You can blame Edwin for that."

And suddenly, the room went terribly quiet.

Minerva bit her lips tightly to avoid a cry and removed herself from the man's arms. She walked near the window, unaware of the thundering weather outside, but completely conscious of the deafening silence in the room. Never had she heard such a loud sound in all of her life. As the tears leaked down her face, she said onto the silence perhaps one of the most selfless things she had ever spoken: "I'll go if you want me to; I'll leave and never come back."

She waited for a response, but none came. When she turned around slowly, the woman was faced with the man who was sitting on the settee, head on hands in torment. He looked up at her with tears in his eyes, heartbreaking tears. But even his tears could not compare to hers…they fell onto her already raw face and into her mouth as she spoke, "Do you want me to go?"

Her life seemed to hang on his next response, his next word, but she stared at him for the longest time where there was no answer. And she knew as he blinked at her; she knew as all great lovers know that something has gone horribly awry; Minerva nodded her head. That was it. Done. Over. Finished. Ended. She shut her eyes tightly as the last tears fell from her eyes.

She apparated.

--

Albus stared through bleary eyes at the spot where the woman had been standing. She was no more. His dreams were no more. It all was suddenly so very hopeless…he had never felt that everything was hopeless before; even when Eleanor had died, there was always hope to guide him. Now, there was nothing except for sad confusion.

He loved Minerva. He thought that he loved her more than anything else in the world…but when she told, said that there was no chance for procreation, something inside of him snapped. Big bulging letters ran their way through his mind, I cannot have children. And he truly believed that he had not ever had such pain before; he had always planned on babies, even with Minerva—she never told him that she wanted kids, but she never told him that she couldn't...or perhaps she did and he just didn't see it. The latter rang most true; she had told him many times, he just didn't see through her subtle words.

Shaking his head, he thought of all the moments: I don't see children in my future…one day I might give this to a little girl who is as close to my heart as I was to my mother…we would have had children by now…The last one hurt the most. If only he had seen her before Hermit Lake…they would have fallen in love and they would have had children; now there was no hope of that. Hell, there was no hope at all.

She was much stronger, he realized, than he had thought in the beginning as he recalled the look upon her face when she was fighting to keep him. There was love and determination in her eyes as she cried wholeheartedly to him: I just hope that you won't forget that I loved you, that I will always love you. Minerva had more strength than he ever could have guessed, not because she could profess to him her feelings, or even that she kept herself from crying until the very end, but because she never once begged; not once did she say "stay with me". No, she let him make a decision on his own…and she understood it.

But he loved her.

The man shook his head uncertainly. Ultimately, he had two choices: love Minerva, have no children, and always wonder just how happy he really was or love someone else, have children, and wonder if he would have been happier with Minerva. Which regret was worth more: wife and procreation or loving and a wife? He blinked to himself.

The ring was in his room.

Quickly, he ran out of the library, naked, and into his room where he grabbed the ring and a robe.

He apparated to her house; she was sitting on the floor by the fireplace where they first made love in tears which were falling heavily to the wooden floor. While in the comfort of her own home, she held back no wails or cries of pain which echoed through the entire house, just let it out for she thought that she was alone; alas, Albus was there with a deep ache in his chest that he had not felt in years, watching her. He saw the water fall from her eyes, plop, plop, plop, knowing full well that it was on account of him.

Taking only a few steps brought him on the side of the settee, not far at all from the woman. If she heard him, she did not show it, however; she merely continued crying as the fire danced malevolently before her.

And he stepped closer, until he was beside her, and sat down. She kept her distance, keeping her arms wrapped around her folded knees which concealed her naked body, a dim reminder of how things had been only hours beforehand. He wanted very much to hold her, to stop her from crying, but there was a restraint in him that had not ever seemed to be there; it had nothing to do with morals, but with pain—Albus suddenly felt ill-equipped for what he was faced with; he knew death and danger, but not so much pain…not the sort that he was suddenly feeling with Minerva. He had not quite ever felt that destruction was on his own hands; even in war, he had found a way to forgive himself, to blame someone else. And there he was, knowing full well that it was he who had made the woman cry so profusely.

"Minerva?" he sighed as she trembled beside him.

The woman moved her head from side to side, either unable or unwilling to speak.

He put an arm on her shoulder and was surprised to see that she didn't shove it off, but merely continued on crying, ignoring the man completely. "I want you to stay," he insisted, "stay with me. I love you. I don't care about the children." Perhaps he was not being completely honest; he did care, but that meant nothing…he could endure the rest of his life if he had Minerva by his side. He wanted to see her marry him, to kiss him in a white dress while everyone that they cared about watched them; he wanted to see her grow older and wiser and to make love to him. He wanted her…he wanted her there.

The wails became duller in the following seconds, though he was sure that she continued to cry. The woman did not lift up her head when she spoke with hurt, but kept it very well hidden from him, "Go away."

Of all the responses that she could have given him, that was the last one that he expected. He would have thought that she'd crawl into his arms before telling him to leave…but then again, she was always a woman of surprise. Besides that, he did not doubt her heartbreak which he had undoubtedly caused only minutes before; he could only imagine the sort of expression she saw upon his face when she turned from that window. Albus had broken her heart terribly…without as much as a word. "I won't go," he whispered, "I love you."

She lifted her head up after several dead seconds and looked at him with red eyes and raw skin; she had never seemed quite as human as she did when the woman looked upon his face. He could see the pain, the hurt, the way he had killed her simply by her lips which refused to let even a hint of a smile cross. The woman took in a long breath and then buried her face back within her arms.

Albus pulled her closer to him so that their skin was touching. "Minerva," he sighed, "I don't want to forget what's happened between us…I want things to get better; I want to continue loving you, not remember what it was like. And if you'll look at me," he swallowed, "I want to ask you something rather important."

Her head did not lift to look at his face, but fell to his chest. Albus wrapped both of his arms around the woman and helped her to fit perfectly within his embrace. She wasn't crying; not loudly, anyhow. Tears were still falling from her face, but they seemed to be subsiding—at least she didn't seem nearly as distraught. The man ran his fingers along the smooth skin of her back and up into her hair, thankful, truly thankful, that she loved him and he loved her.

The amount of time that they spent like that was incalculable, but neither of them very much cared. Silence was suddenly wonderful. The fire crackled before them and her breathing grew very normal after some time; he felt that he should say something more than he was going to, but there seemed no reason for it…he had the slightest notion that Minerva knew perfectly well what it was that he wanted to ask. "Minerva," he whispered as the pink of dawn crept through the room, "will you marry me?"

"Yes," she said softly, "I'll marry you."

And she met his lips before resting her head on ahis chest nd closing her eyes; things would be getting better, he knew, if only for Minerva's sake; she deserved to be blessed with some happiness. All she needed was him.