A/N: I'm alive! Rusty, and trying to remember how to write. Updated for Aly--and for Skite and others who have been watching Him Again...
They had waited too long.
She was running into it, into the blaze, an arrow sprung from tension and now exploding…
The trees were flaming around her, tall glowing men falling into ash and painful against the night. Already she was beginning to feel the weight of magic: an ache in her chest, a weakness numbing the limbs—most of all a light-headedness, so that her thoughts were stuck on a loop—
Please let him…
The wood curved, an optical illusion. Ahead there was nothing visible except for a vast glow, a miniature sun of kaleidoscopic colours. The terror was a physical thing, an iron ball caught in her throat. Merlin, it had been six hours—and no one would do anything, not even Moody; everyone was back at the hotel, content to sit and listen to the WWN repeat the Ministry's knee-jerk regulations: the public are warned that the area is too dangerous for any to approach…
Too dangerous, when six hours before a far more pervasive evil had fallen. Too dangerous, when the wizard who had saved them lay wounded, or—
The trees went out of focus. Her chest was now afire with pain; the weight of the past fury was making her core buckle…
The trees ended.
Minerva stopped. Part of it was simply pain, and another part was purely visual, a reaction to the fizzling plain before her. Cavernous craters dotted a landscape beaten as though with the impress of a sledge-hammer. Hills cringed in on themselves, exposing bones made of shattered rock. An unnatural winter snow was stirred into a slurry--curdled if she looked closely, a funereal shroud if she refused to. A scarecrow figure lay towards the right, incomplete--she closed her eyes. The snow had blushed in places. Magic compacted her, preventing recognition.
Had the phoenix been a dream? She felt, obscurely, that there was no right for her to be there. The earth was seared: blasphemy to know of, sacrilege to look upon. They had not been wizards here--their skills had not been Transfiguration or Charms, Potions or Arithmancy. Greater acts and larger capabilities thickened the air.
Was awe the emotion one died with?
The sound, hoarse and ragged, was swallowed up by the charged air. This was magic beyond anything else, except what had pulled her there. Her skin was blistering, numbing her brain. She realised belatedly that she had called him Albus instead of Professor Dumbledore, but that didn't matter as she would never find him…
Feet which no longer seemed to belong to Minerva brought the scarecrow closer. Her hand bled as it touched the snow.
The detachment went as her nerve endings returned. Some other Minerva rose up in her throat, depraved, threatening to burst. It can't be you it can't be you. The snow was red. The scarecrow had a purple robe--a moment of falling---an Auror robe.
More scarecrows dotted the nearest hill. She stayed where she was, kneeling by the first, palms stinging in the red. A disconnected image returned: a classroom and spread wings.
Somehow the hill got nearer. Her legs moved. Gaps existed, moments when she slept. More scarecrows unfolded themselves: a head with grizzled hair, a man with his robes spread and gormless or jawless--perhaps a jaw was a gorm?-- a woman with no legs. They were not remotely real.
Her nose bled when she passed over one summit into a valley beyond. The wand in her fist, previously scalding, erupted into flame. Thrust into the snow, it glowed and shook, and then surrendered. She tumbled down the slope, into a crater as large as the Great Hall. A lump lay at the centre. A line like a coiled snake extended from it for several feet.
"You didn't do this."
The magic burned, but the impulse to look kept her standing. The lump grew features--a head like wolf's, terrible in a mane of singed hair, one clawed hand stretched out. Before the eye worked out the detail, the shudder seized her--the face from the Daily Prophet, then seen from a distance but now close and shrivelled like a museum exhibit. But the perspective kept widening. The single eye had vanished. Something black and ugly lurked in a distorted hollow. And it wasn't just that; more had vanished, more had gone down into the earth under the snow, so she thought how packed the soil was, its composition altered to include marrow and tendon. The line became purple. The colours brought vomit up her throat. Black, purple, white, red. Her mind rebounded off their meanings, creeping and lurching back. Touching spiders.
You didn't do this.
She retched without feeling it. The Dark Lord had been human, then.
The magic carried a smell, as well as pressure.
Sensation flowed back again. The Minerva of the throat climbed upwards; she didn't want a victory, but magic as it was before and no sense of infliction. Was she to go back and read and spread butter on her toast and talk and think, as with arguments and tears, how it had passed?
A memory so picked at that its boundaries have been lost. A Pensieve is intended and supposed to be objective. Can I ever watch this without the knowledge of myself watching? Albus, this is the guilt you have given me--and it is a guilt I wish to record with this memory. As a witness I was complicit.
Somehow, her cheek lay against the stained snow. This is not intimacy. A vertical horizon dived into the crater. Smoke rose from the blasted forest. As though treading an established path, her gaze went to the heap on the opposite hill, a figure half-hidden in snow.
She twisted, crawling, hand holding the hot wand against the white.
The robes he had left in were spread and torn, wreathing his body like wings. Before she reached him, the deeper damage--and the snow made a red halo, and the beard was too scarlet--could be seen. A distortion in the way he lay.
Running. On the ground, but now running…
Someone kept saying his name, over and over. His head had been thrown back. The half-moons were gone, perhaps trodden into pieces or blown off by the wind. His chest--she couldn't see it. But that was blood--it spread a lot--you could have a paper cut and it would look a mortal wound--you could have a nick and it would look fatal--
It took all her willpower to stop the wand burning. Magic ran across him like lightning. The only reason he hadn't stuck out was because the whole valley ran with it…
She lay down on the same drift, close, closer than would have been tolerated. Words didn't come--she'd imagined hysteria or gigantic, theatrical grief. All the truth of it came within those moments, because before it had been possible to deceive oneself: to think of loyalty and respect. The kind of deception that relied on her really knowing, and that was possible only because of an agreement with herself. His face was thinner, collapsed. Something had been carved out of him--she knew what.
As she looked, blood poured out of the mouth. What there was of his chest moved slightly--so slightly that surely it had been an optical illusion…
Minerva sat up. Her eyes leaked, suddenly, as though they thought hope the more painful. Her wand-hand pressed the point against his arm, searching--
--Something responded, a warmth which rushed up her arm--
She crouched, but there was nothing--she had nothing with her--no medical kit, no potions, no Poppy, no portable St Mungo's--
The red circle around them had grown larger. Blood pumped out, crackling. Her core trembled. A wound from Grindelwald. Albus needed an army of Healers, not a solitary witch.
No, if the phoenix could reach his master, he would already be there--
Her magic dived down, desperately, spluttering with the excess. The touch of the wound sent the vomit creeping up again; something sick and abortive, eating away at the surrounding flesh--
She didn't know enough. The Auror course didn't cover this, blatantly didn't; it left her with an ignorance which had scattered the valley.
"The Aurors are not prepared, Minerva, because Grindelwald is a new kind of threat. He is of a power unanticipated by those who trained them. Moreover, their speciality is not in Healing."
"Then there's no defence against him, once hit?"
His reply had been distracted.
"Not generally. Though some exceptional married wizards have been known…"
WHAT? She rocked, unexceptional and unmarried. The wand buzzed and jumped, threatening to leap free.
Had he meant a bond? Internal touching: knowledge like rape for those with no right. Magic which depended on the response.
"I regret to announce that Professor Quirk will not be returning to teach this year."
From a small pinpoint of Now, a bright circle of snow and the sensation of his hand, she remembered the hollow-cheeked Arithmancy teacher who had once sent Rolanda to hang upside down in the dungeons. Quirk. He'd vanished and returned greyer, shambling, not caring if his students tripped him up with transfigured chair-legs or jinxed his quill. Rolanda, Poppy and her--they'd been laughing as the ink covered him, and still sniggering when he'd halted in front of his desk and done nothing. The giggles faded away when he stayed there. Looking. He'd left the next day. Only later did the rumours begin--about the encounter with the manticore, about his wife, about a magic that no one could or would talk about. About why he lived and the wife no longer did.
She'd been dating Aaron What's-his-face from Hufflepuff, a world away from such heavy exchanges.
The wind fretted the side of the hill, stirring the flakes, agitated by some stray spell. Scorches grimaced through them, widening as the caster's soul wandered further away. The sun poked through artificial clouds. Real ones began to spit. The witch below kissed a bony hand and whispered something. And then 'sorry'.
The air rippled around them as her magic reached down, chasing after the retreating warmth. When the reaching became pouring, a new colour sprang up.
As her strength went so did the rest of the plain. She and Albus danced on meadows, on fields, and then beneath one slow Unforgivable. I know it is, I know it is. He kept his eyes closed. Her own ran and flowed like the rest of her. Taking and taking and taking. But didn't he know how much? Didn't he? Didn't he?
Green and green and black and black.
She heard a gasp, and then nothing.
A/N: Odd, I know. But another memory might sort out what happened :)