'Dumbledore would have been happier than anybody to think that there was a little more love in the world,' said Professor McGonagall curtly...'

--J. K. Rowling

Borrowed Time

by shadowycat

Minerva sat on her bed and followed him with her eyes as he moved around the room gathering his clothes. The way he moved fascinated her, and she loved to watch him any chance she got. The fluidity and grace of the wolf within came through in the smooth economical movements of the man. His back muscles flexed and stretched enticingly as he reached to pick up the trousers that had fallen from the chair they'd been hastily flung into when he'd arrived, and she found herself longing to touch him once more before he slipped away again.

Sliding off the bed, she shrugged into her shift, discarded on the floor, and crossed the room to slip her arms around him, pulling him back against her. Her breasts, with nothing but a layer of thin silk covering them, pressed against his back as she let her caressing fingers slide up his body, over his flat abdomen and through the wiry thatch of hair on his chest.

"Are you sure you have to go? We could have dinner here…and dessert…" she whispered softly as she laid her head between his shoulder blades and waited for his response, uncertain what it would be. Once she'd have had no doubt that he'd say yes, but lately, other obligations…other people…seemed to be stealing away the precious time they could spend together.

His slender body tensed slightly at her touch, and he finished buttoning his trousers before sliding around to put his arms around her in return and pull her more tightly against him.

"I wish I could." And his voice did sound wistful before he continued, "But Kingsley's expected to join us for dinner tonight, and it's Tonks's turn to cook." He smiled tolerantly. "You know what she's like with breakables. Well, she's not much better with food. I promised to help make something edible, and I don't want to let her down. You understand."

And she did…better than he…

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Minerva sighed and let reality pull her back from the past to a high mullioned window overlooking the lake. A brisk breeze ruffled the distant water, and the rapidly setting sun set the faceted surface on fire. Its brightness was dazzling, and she rubbed her eyes against the brilliance and turned away. That view would be altered forever all too soon.

She'd spent a long tiring day making sure that everything Albus had requested, everything he'd wanted done, every wish he'd expressed would be fulfilled, but she needed to stop letting these snippets of the past sneak up on her and pull her away from the duties at hand. With everything that had happened, everything she really needed to focus on, her own personal thoughts and feelings could wait. She really didn't want to think about them now. If she could manage it, perhaps not ever.

With steps that dragged more slowly than usual, she left the window and headed back down the corridor to her quarters. There wasn't anything else she could do today. Tomorrow she'd tackle what was left, but for now, she needed to get some rest. She doubted that she'd be able to sleep. Sleep with its dreams wasn't appealing anyway, but a glass or two of good malt whisky and some time spent in a comfortable chair by the fire was a different story. And if she drank enough, perhaps she could sleep after all…and stave off the dreams.

The first thing she saw when she opened her door was a small cluster of floating candles which threw soft flickering light into the center of her darkened sitting room. With a shiver, she stepped inside and stared at them, knowing what they meant. Their bright yellow glow brought her heart to life for a brief moment, before the leaden weight of sadness slowed its beat once more.

Those warm welcoming candles had been the herald for some of the most pleasant evenings she'd ever experienced. Opening her door and seeing them hanging there always brought a feeling of happy anticipation, but now, they meant something else completely. They meant the end, the formal end, to something that she'd only realized with its passing had come to mean so much more to her than she ever intended.

A warm, soft voice cut through the silent sadness of her thoughts from the depths of a chair set next to her bookcase in a far corner of the room. "Good evening, Minerva, I hope you don't mind that I let myself in."

She hadn't needed to hear his voice to know where to find him, as soon as she saw the candles, she'd known where he'd be. He always waited for her there, unobtrusively tucked away in a corner, never wanting to intrude, but able to see everything that went on from his vantage point.

She struggled to place a smile on her lips before she turned to face him. This was one meeting that she hoped might be delayed for at least a little while, or maybe be allowed to slip away without happening at all. Though she knew in her heart that the latter option was unlikely; he was simply too honorable to slip away without a word and he had to know as she did that there were things that probably needed to be said.

"Good evening, Remus. You know you're always welcome here, though I will admit I didn't expect to see you tonight."

With an understanding nod, he stood up and moved out of the shadows into the circle of warm light to face her. "I know, and I apologize for the intrusion, but I felt we should talk after what was said in the infirmary last night. I wanted you to know…" His voice faltered. "I didn't want you to think that our relationship didn't matter to me."

She sighed. "I would never think that."

His hands made a helpless gesture as if by their own accord. "It's just that everything spiraled out of my control…"

The look of misery on his face tugged at her heart, and suddenly all she wanted to do was to make that pain go away, to make things as easy as possible for him in a world where all the things that could always be counted on had suddenly, unaccountably burned in a rush of flame and fallen away to ashes.

"I know," she answered softly. "I really do understand, and I meant what I said then. Albus would have been happier than anyone to think there was a little more love in the world…and so am I."

Awkwardly he shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his restless eyes meeting hers and sliding away, then sneaking back once more. "I appreciate your generosity, but you didn't deserve to hear about Tonks that way. The subject shouldn't have even come up in such a situation. I never thought… It never occurred to me… I'm sorry. You deserved to hear about it from me, in private, not in front of all those people. What you must think of me, I can't imagine."

"I think you were caught off guard, that's what I think and perhaps forced to make a decision about something intensely personal much more quickly than you otherwise would have. Am I right about that?" She watched him closely.

He gave a sharp sigh and shrugged helplessly. "It certainly wasn't the ideal setting for such a personal conversation…no. Truthfully, I did feel as if everyone was ganging up on me, pressing for a response that I wasn't ready to give."

His eyes sought hers. "Tonks's feelings have been growing stronger for months. I kept telling her that it was impossible between us, that she deserved a young, whole man in her life. One who could think only of her, but she simply hasn't listened to me, and as you could see, she has allies."

Yes, it had been very clear that Tonks had the sympathy of most of the people in that room last night, but as far as Minerva was concerned, there was only one person's feelings that really mattered. "You do care about her, though, don't you?" she asked softly.

The anguish in Remus's eyes caused them to glisten in the candlelight. "Certainly I care about her, but that isn't all that's necessary for a relationship. And I care about you, too. Having you there last night when this all came out made it that much more awkward. I didn't want to hurt you. I didn't…I don't want to lose you, Minerva."

That statement caused her heart to beat even faster, but she knew she couldn't give in to her feelings and make this harder than it needed to be. Their relationship had been one of mutual need, more of convenience than emotional bonding, at least, that's how it began, and how it should have continued.

If he truly cared for the girl, then the right course was obvious, and it was up to her to see that he followed it. Making decisions was something that she was expected to do, something she'd spent her life doing, so she would do it again…one more time.

"You'll never lose me, Remus. I'm not going to stop being your friend," she said, placing an extra stress on the word friend, "simply because you've taken up with a…a very appropriate young woman." She'd almost stumbled and said i more /i appropriate, but that would take them down a road she didn't want to travel.

He shook his head. "I haven't taken up with her. That is I haven't… We haven't…"

Anguished frustration shown in his eyes and he opened his mouth to continue, but she raised a finger and pressed it lightly to his lips. "Please, you don't have to explain anything. I only want to see you happy. Does she make you happy?"

She held her breath waiting for his answer, as a conflict of feeling seemed to work itself out behind his eyes, but in the end, he nodded slowly and she began to breathe again.

"When we began our relationship we did so on the condition that we'd both leave all our emotional baggage at the door," she said briskly. "That we wouldn't ask anything of the other. In fact, I seem to recall making rather a point of that. Our other relationships outside the time we spent together were to remain our own personal business. Neither of us ever spoke up to change that. So now that we've come to a parting of the ways, there's certainly no reason for any regrets."

Remus frowned. "That's true, but still…our arrangement has always seemed a bit unfair to me. It always felt as if I was taking advantage somehow."

Minerva laughed and turned away from him, crossing the room to a small table that held a cut glass decanter full of whisky.

"Why would you feel that way?" she asked as she pulled out the stopper and upended the bottle, spilling tawny liquid into fine crystal. "Don't you believe that a woman can desire sex with an attractive man without all the clinging difficulties of emotional entanglement?"

She held the decanter over a second glass and waited for his nod of acceptance before filling it as well.

He looked faintly embarrassed. "Well, I…I guess I never thought of it that way." Stepping forward, he took the glass that she held out to him and, nodding his thanks, he took a long pull from it.

Gripping her glass tightly in her hand, she took a more modest sip and released a sigh. "Well, maybe you need to adjust your thinking then."

Remus stood and simply stared at her while she sipped her drink. His uncertainty was reflected in the expression on his face, the troubled darkness of his eyes. Apparently he did indeed need to readjust his thinking and perhaps his feelings as well.

"Minerva…" he started.

"Do you love her, Remus?" she asked baldly, stopping him in his tracks.

"I…" His eyes met hers and it seemed as if he was trying to pull her thoughts from their depths, trying to communicate what he simply couldn't bring himself to say, but he was no legilimens, and there was so much she needed to keep hidden. "Yes," he whispered. "I guess I do, but it's not that simple…"

Her throat constricted tightly, but she forced a smile to her lips and cut him off before he could say something she couldn't stand to hear. "Yes, it is that simple, Remus. It really is. Now, I think you should be going. Tonks is probably wondering where you've gone to." Her tone was brisk and dismissive, the tone of a teacher, not to be ignored.

Responding to her tone as he always had, as she knew he would, he nodded stiffly and downed the rest of his whisky in one gulp, handing her the glass when he was through. His fingers lingered against hers for just a moment before he turned away to cross the room, where he paused uncertainly by the door, his hand on the knob.

"I'm sorry, Minerva. I never intended any of this to happen as it has. Everything just crept up on me. Nothing has gone the way I thought it would. Tonks and I…one moment we were simply friends, then the next, it seemed as if we'd become more without anything ever being said or done…or promised. I know I shouldn't…"

A part of her yearned to have him tell her everything he wanted, everything he felt, but letting him do that wouldn't be for the best. If Remus had a fault, it was that he always placed pleasing others ahead of pleasing himself. And this time, she was determined that he should do what was best for him, and what was indisputably best for him was to be with Tonks, truly, the more appropriate woman…and one whom he really did care for. Nothing else mattered.

"What you shouldn't do is be afraid to reach for happiness, Remus. Life is too short and too uncertain to always be putting it off until a more convenient time. If you do that too often, someday you'll awaken to find most of your life is gone, and you're still alone."

A stricken look passed through his eyes and he took a step towards her, lifting a hand, but she shook her head and turned away, her voice full of firm finality. "Good night, Remus. Give my love to Tonks when you see her."

As the door closed behind him, Minerva closed her eyes tightly and took a long, deep drink from her glass.