Summary: Grindelwald has been found and it's time to move. But Albus needs two hours to tie up some loose ends.
Rating: Safe for all!
To Light The Way
"Berlin to be exact. Well the outskirts of the city anyway." He looked at the auburn haired man with wide eyes, hoping perhaps waiting on the command to go. When none came, he prodded once more. "Albus, we have to go before we lose him again. He won't stay there forever."
Albus Dumbledore nodded his head but made no attempt to move or to even speak. His eyes were quickly scanning the bits of parchment scattered on the large oak table, looking for something but not entirely sure what. "You're right, Alastor. We do have to go. Have your men and women ready in two hours and I will meet you here. Tell them to be prepared for the worst."
"What? You mean we aren't leaving now? Albus he could pick up and move his entire group in less time than it would take us to portkey directly into his presence. We have to move NOW! There's no time…"
Albus gripped the shoulders of his friend, looking him square in the eyes. There was no mistaking the determination found in those cold, blue orbs as Alastor shrank beneath the penetrating glare. "There is something I must do before I go…things I must attend to before I leave. Some things are too important to put off and I've neglected this for far too long, my friend." Albus' eyes softened and his grip loosened as a small apologetic smile began to form upon his lips.
"And what if we lose Grindelwald for your frivolity, Albus? Are you prepared to tell these witches and wizards that their hard work was for naught because you had personal matters to take care of first? Are you willing to let that madman get away with more atrocities for your own selfish reasons?" Alastor knew his words were stinging, perhaps even cutting but they had to be said. Time was of the utmost importance and this was the best chance they had at catching the man they had been tracking for months.
The smile faded quickly from Albus' face as he walked towards the door before turning around once more to face his longtime friend. "Are you willing to tell Minerva all the things I didn't get a chance to say should I not return?" A deafening silence filled the air around them, no words capable of filling the void. Once again the same apologetic, even sad, smile appeared on Albus' face. "Two hours, Alastor. I will return and I will be more focused than ever before. Perhaps Miss Pomfrey would like to see you one last time as well," he suggested as he walked out of the door and towards a dark little house hidden away in Scotland and the slumbering woman who had no idea what was about to happen.
Albus stepped out into the night air and looked heavenward. There was no moon to light his path nor were the stars shimmering in their velvety blackness. A thin layer of clouds hovered beneath the earth and sky casting a dreary feeling over the world, or at least his little corner of it. He smirked as he noted how much the mood outside matched the feelings clouding his heart and mind.
He knew this day would come and he had even hoped and wished for it. And he knew that she had been waiting for it too. They had spoken of it many times, often over a cup of tea or before a dim fire and each time they had halted the conversation before it became too intense, too emotional, too real. But the time had come when truths were told and everything was revealed. This could be his last chance and he could not leave without making peace with himself and with her.
The small little cottage was quiet and no lights flickered in the windows. Of course she would be asleep. Most people are this time of night, he thought to himself with a hint of sarcasm. He could almost hear her voice echoing his sentiment and he smiled warmly. He hated to wake her but there was no other choice. He only had two hours, less than that now, and he had to stay focused on everything. One tiny slip in either direction and he could ruin it all. Losing was not an option on the table for Albus Dumbledore this night. Too much depended on his success.
Raising his hand slowly, he knocked on the familiar door and waited. He could hear the shuffling of feet inside and then a soft glow from the bedroom window lit the little spot of earth below. One by one the spells protecting the house and its' sole inhabitant were released and Albus made it a point to give Minerva a small chastisement on the dangers of doing such before confirming the identity of the visitor.
The door opened and Albus knew this would be the moment he would take with him into battle. Minerva was standing before him clad only in a pale blue nightgown, her soft skin shimmering as the candlelight glowed around her. Her dark hair hung loosely around her face, a bit messy but adding to her overall beauty. No doubt her sheets were still warm on her bed and her cheeks held a pink tint, from a wonderful dream or even the flush of the excitement at having been awakened so unexpectedly. This was the image of a beautiful woman who truly did not realize her own attractiveness.
"To what do I owe this pleasure," she asked as she invited him inside. She knew that for Albus to visit her in the middle of the night it had to be important. Even his eyes held something worrisome within them but there was also something more.
He stepped inside her living room, a place where he had spent many enjoyable hours deep in conversation, chess matches, or just relaxing from the demands placed upon him. He had become as familiar with this house as its' occupant and no doubt he could navigate the layout even in the darkest of nights. Making himself comfortable on the small settee, he invited her to join him as he prepared to bear his heart and soul to the only woman that mattered.
When she was seated and they had gone through the preliminaries of offering and declining tea or something to eat, she reached out and took his hand in hers. She hoped that whatever was troubling him would soon pass or that she could be of some assistance but in her heart, she knew what was coming. She had been expecting it for weeks now and yet it didn't make it any easier to hear.
"They've found him, Minerva. The team that returned tonight has positively identified his lair and I have to go. We're leaving in two hours time." He dropped his eyes from hers and focused instead on their entwined hands. He could feel the slight trembling of her hand in his, noting that it was not shaking moments before. "I'm sorry for waking you but I had to come. I…"
Words failed him. How did a man say goodbye to the woman he loved before going into battle? Of course no formal declarations of love had ever been expressed but the feelings were there and they were very real. How did he even begin to tell her the many things he had wanted to say on a bright sunny day by a lake or on a summer evening beneath a blanket of stars? But worse…how did a man begin to tell a woman he loved her for the first time then turn right around and tell her goodbye for maybe the last time?
Albus' mind wasn't the only one filling with words, phrases, sentiments, and all the other things that needed to be said. Minerva knew what it would mean when Grindelwald was found and apparently the time had finally come. No more waiting and hoping. Now it was a time of worry and action. But fear gripped her heart. She knew Albus had come to her for a reason and she felt confident in the fact that she knew his motives…for they were also hers as well.
"You need to eat something. There's no telling when you'll get a good hot meal and you'll need your strength. I'll pack you some things to take with you. They'll be light and…" Minerva jumped up from the settee and dashed towards the kitchen, knowing Albus would soon follow. It wasn't like her to be this emotional. Normally she handled bad news with grace and dignity, not cowardice and immaturity. But this was different. This was someone else's life and that someone happened to hold the keys to her heart. This was the man who made her happy and with whom she found it easy to envision a life, a future though neither of them had ever discussed such possibilities.
Frantically, Minerva began pulling things from her cupboards and using magic to begin lighting the fires on the stove. If Albus was going to leave so soon, he would at least leave on a full stomach and with the fuel his body needed to function at its' best. "Eggs, bacon, toast, coffee? No, you don't drink coffee? Cocoa…damnit, I'm not sure I have any cocoa left. You drank it all the last time we…"
Minerva was cut off in mid sentence by a strong hand gripping her wrist mere seconds before she would have slammed her hand against the countertop. "Minerva, let's talk first. Then, if I'm hungry and we feel like it, we can cook something…together." His voice was steady and calm, giving no indication that he was even remotely aware of the dangers facing him soon. Even the grip on her arm was gentle and betrayed nothing of what he must be feeling inside. "Please…" was all it took for her to give in to his simple request.
With a nod of her head, she allowed him to lead her back into the sitting room and onto the settee. In utter silence, he created a heatless fire then settled down close to her. Neither asking for permission nor feeling that he needed it, he slipped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close to his side. Moments passed as they each gathered their thoughts and struggled to find the words begging to be spoken. Knowing of his time constraints and his promise to Alastor to return promptly, Albus decided it was time.
"I have to go Minerva." She gasped, obviously not understanding his meaning. "No, not this very minute but soon. In fact, Alastor wanted to leave immediately but I couldn't. Not without seeing you. I had to see you one last time before I lead the team into the unknown."
The sadness in his heart seeped into his voice and Minerva could feel her heart beginning to flutter from nerves, excitement, and raw energy. "I'm glad you came and I'm sure Alastor put up quite the fuss. He can be a demanding sort at times from what I hear. Just last week there was an article in the Daily Prophet…"
A long slender finger silenced her as it settled upon her lips. "Let's not talk about Alastor right now. I have more important things on my mind." She nodded that she understood but in truth, she had no idea. She had no way of knowing what Albus intended to say or do before he left. She assumed he had come to her out of friendship, love even but not the romantic kind. Sure they had shared countless hours of companionship and she had most assuredly developed feelings for him and those feelings had been returned. But no mention had ever been made of romance or love in the sense that she wanted. Still, she had not given up hope just yet and maybe after this war was over, things could be different. If only…
"Minerva, I need to tell you something important. I couldn't go away without seeing you and telling you a few things that have been on my mind." He shifted so that she could turn and look into his eyes, leaving nothing to doubt, no unanswered questions to linger during his absence. "This is incredibly bad timing but I didn't want to leave without you knowing and taking with me the knowledge that you understand fully what I am about to say."
"Albus, whatever it is, I'm sure it's fine. You can tell me anything," she assured him. "I'd hate to think of you leaving without some sort of…goodbye," she struggled to say. Her mind was filling fast with images of a battered and bruised, perhaps even dead Albus, laying somewhere on a field in a distant land with no one to comfort him or even caring. She shuddered and shook her head, trying to rid her subconscious of all those negative thoughts and replacing them with happier moments shared between them.
"Do you know why I came to you?" The question was a simple one but there were so many answers she could give. Friendship. Loyalty. Regret. Love. Yes, perhaps even love in its' most sacred form.
"Because you didn't want me to worry? Or there's something you need me to take care of for you while you're away?" she suggested, knowing he would explain everything in his own time.
"Partly right…yes. There's someone very precious to me that I want protected. I want to know that while I'm away, she's alive, happy, and hopefully waiting for my return. I want to know that when I come home, if I come home, she'll be waiting for me with open arms." His eyes had started to fill with tears as he saw the warm tears already falling from her eyes. "Shhh, no tears tonight, please. I want to remember you happy. And I would like to know that I can come home to YOU if I am successful in my mission in Germany."
Her hands were trembling now, more so than ever and yet when she cradled his cheek in her hand, an eerie calm spread through her entire body and a surge of courage steeled her heart. Tenderly, she brushed her thumb across his cheek and lips while her other fingers danced lightly on the side of his neck. "Tell me Albus. Just once say those words that will make all of this seem real and give me strength while you're away."
He smiled and for the first time that evening the happiness actually reached his eyes, causing them to twinkle like the stars on a summer night. "I am falling in love with you and I've known it for quite some time. I was just too caught up in what I was fighting for to realize that I was actually fighting for you, for us, for a chance at a peaceful life with you. Only tonight, when I was faced with never seeing you again, did I understand the need of telling you before it was too late. I'm sorry if I did the wrong thing."
She returned his smile and ran her hands through his long hair. "You silly man. Telling me you love me is the most right thing in the world. I love you too but like you, I was distracted by the war. And I didn't want to tie you down to me when you have so many other things on your mind. I know you can defeat him. There's not a doubt in my mind and when you return, yes I will be here with open arms and we can start working on building a stronger, more intimate relationship."
"I want to court you properly. Take you to all the nicest places. Dinner, dancing, picnics, moonlight strolls through flower gardens, all the things couples do when they're in love. I want to show you how wonderful you make me feel. I want to deserve your love."
Minerva threw her arms around his neck and held him tightly to her, as if he would disappear if she let go. "And we'll do all those things and so many more when you get back. I promise," she breathed into his hair, her breath falling across his neck and sending waves of comfort pouring over him. "I'll keep a light burning in the window and when you're done saving the world, you can come home to me and we'll start on nurturing our dreams together."
They sat in silence, just holding each other in the stillness of the night. The clock on the mantle chimed the half hour and Albus knew his time with her was drawing to a close. "Minerva, I meant what I said about protecting you. I also came here to ask permission to cast several spells on your home, to keep you safe while I'm away. Even if you hadn't returned my love, I still would have asked permission to see that you were guarded at all times."
Minerva reluctantly rose from the small couch and took his hand in hers. "I'll help you if you'll tell me the words. You need to conserve your strength for whatever lies ahead. We can protect the house and then we'll go inside and take care of your stomach. I heard it rumbling and there's no way I'm sending you off hungry."
With the house secured with the most intricate and powerful of spells, Albus felt a weight being lifted from him. While he would worry about Minerva, he could rest more easily knowing that he had done everything in his power to see that she was protected from any harm. And his stomach was full. Thanks to Minerva's handiwork in the kitchen, he had feasted upon the best she had to offer and even had a few items in his pockets for later.
"Well…I guess this is…"
"Don't say it! Don't say that dreadful word. Say anything but that," she pleaded. "I'll be here WHEN you return so you look for that light in my window. And if you ever start to get discouraged, just imagine the homecoming you're going to get from me." Her lips began to tremble as she struggled to retain control of her emotions.
"How about…see you later, then? Or, don't wait up for me dear. This might take a while," he joked, hoping to see that smile on her face once more and not being disappointed when it did appear in all its' splendor. "There, that's the image I want to take with me into battle. The image of your smiling face is sure to get me through the darkest of nights and the most harrowing of battles." He stared into her eyes for a long moment then suddenly pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly. When he finally let her go, he leaned up and kissed her on the forehead then tapped the end of her dainty nose. "See you soon." Then he turned and started to walk down the pathway leading away from the warmth of her arms and towards the coldness of the battlefield.
She stood in the doorway, tears streaming down her cheeks. Suddenly, she bolted from the house, running down the path in her bare feet, her hair flying behind her and calling his name. He turned just in time to catch her in his arms as her lips crushed into his, giving him the most powerful kiss he'd ever had in all his life. Her entire body clung to his as she wasted no time in deepening the kiss, her hands weaving through his long locks and drawing him even closer to her. When the kiss ended, both were breathless and a bit weak in the knees. "Good luck and remember I'll be waiting for you to come home and finish this." She kissed his forehead then tapped the end of his nose. "Now go before Alastor sends out a search party for you. Oh and Albus…tell him I said thanks for giving me these two hours."
More than two weeks passed without a single word from Albus. All the news from the front lines, both muggle and wizard, were not good. Yet Minerva held strong to the belief that Albus was safe, or she would have seen it plastered across every wizarding paper in the known world. All too often though her mind had been plagued with images of her last encounter with Albus and the uncertainty of their future together. She was under no illusions when it came to war. She had seen the loss and devastation. She had heard the cries of the widowed witches and children because of the evil invading their peaceful lives. And still she had hope. Hope that one day soon she would see Albus again and life would begin anew.
Just as she promised, Minerva kept a light on in the window of her bedroom. It burned constantly thanks to some very creative spells and transfiguration work on her part. If he did return home in the dead of night, she wanted him to see that she had meant everything she'd said to him that night. And it gave her a sense of connection, knowing that he took that image and promise with him.
On a cold rainy day in a battlefield in Germany, Albus Dumbledore finally defeated Grindelwald. The battle had been intense and long, costing many young wizards and witches their lives. Albus, too, had suffered wounds but not the lasting kind. No, his wounds would heal with a little time and attention.
Men from everywhere crowded around the body of the dark wizard as aurors and Ministry officials were summoned to the scene to document his demise and to hail the conquering hero. It seemed everywhere he turned there was someone else vying for Albus' attention or wanting to congratulate him on a job well done.
"Albus, you did it old man. I knew you could!" Alastor slapped his old friend on the back and offered him a sip of firewhisky from his trusty flask. "You've all but guaranteed us a few years of peace. You know they'll probably build a monument to you, though I do hope you get that nose mended first before they start working on the bust of your head," he teased. It had been a long night and it wasn't completely over. "Listen, I know you want to forget all this but there are people everywhere who will want to hear your side of things, you know…the dirty details if you will. The Ministry has already set up rooms at headquarters so we can all be debriefed. They want us all to report there immediately so the top officials can issue statements in the morning."
"No? What do you mean, no? You can't just refuse to talk to the Ministry, even if you are the man who dealt the death spell to Grindelwald. They'll want to speak to you before any of us." Alastor had once again become animated as he grew more excited. "They sent me over here to tell you that they're expecting you as we speak."
"I have something I have to do first Alastor." A smile curled upon Albus' lips as he patted his friend on the back and gave him a wink. "She's waited long enough and I'll not make her wait a minute more than necessary."
"But Albus…we've been down this road before. You…"
"And look what those two hours did for me. They gave me strength beyond words, courage to fight, and a will to live to see the end of the battle. Sure, I had all those things before but because I knew Minerva was waiting for me, I couldn't let her down. Don't you see? I had to defeat him. I had to do it for the world, yes, but for us. Two hours Alastor. That's all I'm asking. After that you can try to tell them where I am, though I doubt they'll find the house."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Suddenly Alastor was feeling rather insecure and curious all at the same time. Albus was good at speaking in riddles sometimes and now was not the time for fun and games.
"Before I left her, we performed a series of spells to protect the house. One of those made the home unplottable. There's no way to find us unless one of us gives you permission and my friend, I thank you for all you've done but now I must say goodbye." Alastor had no time at all to further question Albus before he heard the distinct popping sound of the man in question apparating away.
The atmosphere around the small cottage was completely different from the last time he was here. There was a spring in his step and even the weather was cooperating. The moon was full and seemed close enough to touch if one stretched slightly upwards. Stars shimmered in the sky, as if winking back at Albus as he hummed a soft tune on his way to the house. He was nearly there when he saw it. There in the bedroom window, just as she had promised, was a light burning. But it wasn't just one light. Every window in the house had a light flickering, lighting his way straight to her.
A soft knock on the wooden door startled Minerva from her sleep. She had been dreaming of Albus and was ready to hex the visitor for interrupting her happy dreams, something of a rarity in these dark days. Grabbing her dressing gown and making her way to the door, she paused for a moment, remembering Albus' words of caution about opening doors to people in the middle of the night.
"Who is it?" she called out from a safe distance from the door. Her wand was drawn and ready in case someone had sinister intentions.
"You left a light burning in the house. I thought I would come back and help you put them out," he quipped. He grinned as he heard her frantically trying to recall and speak the spells to unlock the door and lift the protective guards. As the last of the spells lifted, the door flew open and all Albus saw was a sea of deep blue before his arms were full of a sobbing witch.
"I knew you could do it," she repeated over and over between kisses to his face and neck, taking brief spans of time to inspect him for any injuries.
Albus gripped her face in his and leaned in for a passionate kiss, drawing her flush against him as they molded perfectly together. "Let's move this inside. I told Alastor I'd be back in two hours but I think it's the world's turn to wait on me. I left some very unfinished business the last time I was here and I'm not leaving until she's satisfied."
One by one the lights in the house went out and the sounds of soft sighs and tender kisses filled the remaining darkness.