Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters or places, etc. in this story; they all belong to JK Rowling & associates, and no copyright infringement is intended. whew!
Warning: Severe melodrama. Mention of female/female relationships. I know, I know, so hard to deal with!
I Still Do
No one has control over love; it is a triumphant fire.
It cannot be started on a whim nor extinguished if you try.
She drifted down the hallway, not aimless, though it would look that way to the odd student out after curfew who saw her in passing. She supposed that the years had stripped her of all appearance of purpose, as they had robbed her of so much else. So she drifted slowly, yet not aimlessly, driven by her invisible sense of purpose toward another tower, on the opposite side of the castle. It was not her tower, but she belonged there as much as in the tower she had made home for her and the children she taught during her life.
She could not have stopped herself from going to the other tower if she had wanted to, and indeed, she did not know if she wanted to or not. These past years had been like a dream, unreal but with a shimmering clarity. The dream had started many years ago, though of course it seemed like few. A small, fierce brown-haired girl had taken her place on the stool in the Great Hall, and even from her place hidden in the rafters, something about her didn't let Rowena look away. She found herself hoping, foolishly, that the hat would put her in her own house, but the very feeling of hope was so foreign to her that she did not recognize it until it was disappointed, and the hat sang out Gryffindor.
Perhaps she did not love Minerva in that moment, but all there was to love in her was there from the very beginning, and falling in love with her was of a piece with coming to know her...a small girl who had wandered into an unfamiliar part of the castle, and had earnestly stopped the gray lady she found drifting along the halls and asked the way back to the library. And then when her friends had found her two hours later, deep in conversation with a ghost, she had been reluctant to leave the alcove where they had been speaking, and had looked back over her shoulder so seriously as her friends had dragged her away to join the rest of the world again. The young woman who had sought out the same alcove, and the same ghost, with her first story of love gone awry, and had spent all night telling the story to ready ears, until all the jealousy and unfairness and pettiness had faded away into insignificance, and then spent the rest of the night there listening, inspiring Rowena to pour out confidences that she had not felt the need to speak of before, but which suddenly assumed vital importance in the sharing. She had an ability to pull at Rowena's heart that was a natural as breathing, and as foreign. Caring for her was the only thing that made sense.
She no longer remembered when the girl had confessed to returning her feelings; surely it was years later, but the particulars were hidden by the bright light that had bloomed in her heart then. It had been so long since she had felt anything, and now suddenly she felt so much, and so acutely. Loving Minerva was never one dimensional, never easy to describe, but the feelings were all the more precious for it. Minerva would turn down the advances of an adventurous suitor, and Rowena would feel a rush of tenderness, and guilt, and joy, and longing, and guilt again. Minerva showed her then that she chose her over a human lover, who would have had arms that could hold her, and hands that could touch her, and a mouth that could kiss her. It was this warmth and solidity that Rowena had none of, and those everyday, essential touches that she could never give nor receive.
Once, she had lived, and had been able to give all of herself to her love. It was this love that kept her tied to the earth, where her lover still lived, after she had died, and then she had felt for the first time the pain that was the backdrop to her existence now. She had come to her lover, rejoicing that they could meet once again, against all rational expectations, only to find that every touch passed through her as through a mist, and her proximity now caused chill, as it had once caused warmth. They had been able to carry on by strength of memories of the past, but when her lover passed from the world, Rowena remained inexplicably in it, bound to the place where she had loved by her restless heart.
The time that came then was worse than any frustration that had come before, for at least then she had had someone to share herself with. Her days were desolate, gray, and drifting. Her existence now objectless, and with no other to love and love her in return, she began to lose the sense of herself. When she finally found love again, in a young teacher who was as lonely as herself, it had been like light flooding back into the vaults and chambers of her empty mind, filling her cold heart. This was not peace, for it was a love with as much pain as happiness, but it was better than the expanse of bleak, unfeeling years that had come before. Her life had stretched out longer than was ever right. Most people can expect peace, if not in their life then after it, but this was denied Rowena. The lives of the living were so short, compared to her own endless existence, and any love she found flashed in and out of her consciousness in what seemed but a moment.
She honestly did not know which was better – the brief flash of light that brought her closer to life, or the emptiness that came after her lover left. She felt almost selfish, enjoying falling in love so much, for her love was a tie she would wish on no one, and she never blamed her lovers for leaving Hogwarts and her, as they would inevitably do. No one could endure such a strange, unrequited, unrequitable love for long, and if she had no one, then at least she caused no one pain.
But then Minerva had come and changed that ebb and flow, the pattern of centuries. She had shown affection to Rowena while at Hogwarts, and when she had left it had been with tears. And then, after Rowena had almost resigned herself to solitude again – how quickly she was ready to do so! – Minerva had come back, and professed her undying love for Rowena, and her intention to stay at Hogwarts as a teacher and be together for the rest of her life. Thus reawakened by hope, Rowena began to fall in love anew. She rediscovered in Minerva qualities that she had valued in herself, before time had rendered them forgotten - the woman's sense of fairness in all things, even toward students of her own house, her dry humor which she used both as a weapon and a toy, her brilliant mind…
Rowena felt like an infatuated school girl, going out of her way to spend every possible minute in her love's presence, glorifying even her faults, basking in the brilliant light of her love. Light, but not heat. Minerva had given her the greatest gift of all, the gift of her life, but Rowena had nothing to give. She longed to embrace her, a simple touch, anything, but it was impossible. When she was alone, the guilt of it ate at her, and it only got worse over time, as Minerva continually proved her commitment to stay with Rowena and to refuse a human, material, a real love. It was all the more bitter because Rowena could not have stopped her love if she tried, but it was this very thing that kept Minerva from being with someone who could love her fully. But when they were together, Rowena forgot all this, or pushed it into a distant corner of her mind, and treasured the gift that Minerva continually gave her. She would look into those bright eyes that said so clearly, I am taken, I am yours. I don't want another, and lose herself in them. This was the gift that Rowena treasured most highly of all, that she found so precious and inexplicable.
She glided up to the familiar door, having reached her destination at last, and paused, an involuntary image crossing her mind like a cloud. She might go through the door, and see her love was no more, only the woman's earthly shell remaining behind dry and empty, while she herself had gone on to peace. It might be so easy that way – the light would be gone, but with it the bitterness of longing and that irrational, unconscious hope for the future. She could return to her empty, gray existence that passed for peace, accompanied only by her memories. But to do this would be to turn away from the light, and this she could not do, no matter what the cost. She did not know if she would ever find peace, or whether her restless heart would keep her anchored to this earth forever, and suddenly she realized that this, the light, was infinitely better than the empty, endless interim. Fleeting and momentary though it may be, one could not, should not, turn away from something this beautiful, for without it all meaning was lost.
Seeing her own self with such an unaccustomed clarity, she turned to the door in front of her and passed through it, like a whisper. The old woman by the fire looked up as though effortlessly sensing her presence, and smiled that melting smile which existed for Rowena alone.
"Rowena, love. I was expecting you," Minerva said warmly, and Rowena moved into the room, her heart on fire. And it didn't matter if it was but a transient warmth that would be claimed by the cold emptiness in the end, along with everything. It was enough that she had it here, now, with her beloved. For Minerva had said, under her words, You are all I want – how could I ever ask for more? And Rowena had understood, and believed.
So, très melodramatic, non? Guess I was in a really emo mood :P
Extra super-bonus points to the person who can find the Tegan & Sara quote I slipped in! (actually, it's really short and kinda obscure...make them extra, extra, uber-hyper-super-bonus points) As always, reviews are greatly appreciated! (and will end up benefiting you in the long run...good reviews make me a better writer! woo!) You guys are awesome:)