A/N: I should perhaps also point out that this is to be a future chapter of one of my other stories, Behind the Deep Depths of Green and Blue, but I'm fairly confident it works as a one-shot, if not please let me know.Riddle Me This
Dinner at 12 Grimmauld Place was coming to a halt. Molly was levitating the dirty dishes to the sink; the pots and pans were already cleaning themselves. The clang and clatter was a welcome noise to drown out the deafening silence that preceded it. Albus had been away on a top-secret mission for three days and the lack of information was beginning to worry everyone.
Minerva sat alone at one end of the table trying her best to ignore the knot in her stomach. She usually eyed the dismal surroundings of the Black household with disgust but tonight she could not muster the strength to care. The deep darkness, intense in its presence was like a living thing creeping in around her. She fought the temptation to trace the scars along the old oak tabletop, keeping her hands neatly folded in her lap. The corner of her lips quirked as Arthur brushed past Molly, his fingers skirting along her neck in a loving gesture – the light for which they fought.
Further along the table Remus and Alastor huddled close. Their words could not be heard but judging by Remus's fierce hand gestures and Alastor's gruff rumble they were clearly in disagreement. Suddenly Alastor looked up and fixed Minerva with his good eye. The magical one whizzed around and if Minerva judged correctly, was eyeing the front door.
Then she heard what had captured Alastor's attention, the click of locks and then footsteps in the hall. The slow thud down the stairs sounded dejected and as she looked past Alastor's shoulder she caught a gleam of silver reflecting in the low lighting of the darkened corridor.
As he gradually came into view she could not help but notice his defeated demeanour. She remained silent as he slumped into the chair to her left and let out a barely audible sigh. Molly placed a large cup of steaming hot tea before him and Albus held it between his long fingers warming what Minerva presumed to be cold hands.
As she took a quick glance around the room Alastor once again caught her eye. He raised an old, bushy eyebrow, which pulled his scarred features into a distorted manner, but Minerva understood his meaning. None too obviously Alastor bustled Remus out of the kitchen, Arthur following close behind. Molly whispered a quiet 'finite incantatum' leaving the plates motionless as she too left them alone.
The silence stretched between them like a vast, great ocean. The waves deafening, threatening to pull him away and whisk him off into a world unknown, a world far away from her.
"I found a baby."
Minerva remained silent; their long years of tumultuous friendship taught her that Albus would reveal what little he would without her pressuring.
"She did not cry despite the destruction around her."
She knew that the scene touched too close to home. Brought back memories from almost fourteen years ago. His voice was barely above a whisper, hoarse and thick with emotion.
He stared into the teacup as if looking for answers but even Minerva knew that if one believed in the highly inaccurate art of reading tealeaves, one still had to drink the tea. Albus's cup had yet to touch his lips.
"No amount of magic will be able to heal her scars."
She longed to touch him, wrap him in her warm embrace but that would be travelling into waters best left uncharted. She knew he relied upon their solid friendship to keep him grounded in the darkest of days. Beyond that their relationship was built on shaky ground and though it lacked trust it would still be a devastating loss if, by giving into such carnal needs, all they had worked so terribly hard for would shatter.
"I was too late."
A dependable friendship spanning decades in exchange for one night of pleasure, nay, comfort? They had given in before but it had taken them months, sometimes years, to repair the damage, if indeed they ever had at all. Back when they were young, back when they'd had time…
This time he was not talking about the baby and a sense of great sorrow washed over Minerva, which she mentally chided herself for. It would be so easy to lose themselves in the moment, attempt to ease their pain in the warmth of one another.
The decision was taken out of her hands when Albus placed his teacup upon the table and slowly turned to his right to meet her gaze for the first time since he left on that wretched mission.
"I should have been there, Min."
Carefully he reached out for her hands and encased them both in his own.
"I am sorry, exceedingly sorry."
His blue eyes shone with tears. Minerva gently extracted her right hand and tenderly placed it upon his cheek and her dainty fingers caressed his silver beard.
"We all make mistakes, Albus, it's what makes us human."
He made to answer but Minerva easily silenced him. The tips of her fingers tingled as they traced his lips. The grip he had on her left hand tightened and she felt, rather than saw him swallow. Barriers had been breached but fascination kept her put. Her hand pushed his beard across his shoulder and her fingers drew invisible lines down his chin and neck. Wandless magic, which she exhibited so rarely, unbuttoned the top of his robe. She could feel his fingernails digging into her left hand.
"Stop it, Minerva," he said unevenly. "Don't – not – not unless –"
She ceased her ministrations but did not remove her hand. His attempt at exercising self-control touched her deeply and it was then she realised he was once again governed by a great restraint.
"Not unless what?"
It was a foolish question, one she more than well knew the answer to but she wanted to hear the words from his lips. The power it ignited was addictive. He shifted her hand in his lap.
"You do not want this, Min. Of that you have made yourself abundantly clear on numerous occasions."
She looked past the lines of age and grief that creased his handsome countenance, she looked past his blue eyes devoid of their sparkle because she held their diamonds, she looked straight into his soul and despite her best efforts her defences crumbled and she allowed him to see what lay beyond her deep depths of green.
They stayed silent as the world around them came to a halt. Eternity spanned between them.
"Forever and a day, Min." A faint memory of his vow from so many years ago, rippled across the surface of her unconscious mind, like a song long forgotten it carefully vibrated through her and in her heart she knew he was thinking the same.
"What path do you follow, Min?"
Once bitten, twice shy. A terrifying question. My own? Her green eyes flared as she fiercely tried to hang onto her independence slipping away. She was fighting a losing battle and within seconds, though in all honesty years, she conceded defeat. She turned her left hand palm upwards and curled her fingers around one of his hands. She brought it to her chest and held it above her heart.
"A lonely one."
Brutally honest she could no longer lie to herself or Albus. She willed herself to keep eye contact; beneath his surface there were deep unexplored waters but the realms were too strange and perilous, thus she closed her eyes and echoed his words said so long ago they should have been forgotten. It was the closest she had ever come to saying the three little words that were taken for granted and uttered so easily by others.
"Forever and a day."
When she glanced up at him again she surprised a fleeting hint of a smile on his face, just for a split second. Too many moments had past them by to even begin to atone for either of their actions. In an act of abandonment the two would have to live in the moment, heedless of their surroundings. They had been successful once before, back when they were young, but the cautiousness of age often muffled the trumpets of victory.
"Will you riddle me the how and the what?"
She saw the strength of his implacable mouth, the hardness in his uncompromising jaw. She had seen how cold those eyes could be but as his silver moustache quivered, she hardly dared to believe the words that had slipped from his lips. Beneath her fingertips his pulse raced in tact with the gentle thrum of his magic – a reassuring comfort of his mortality. Beckoned by the call of memories, she could not help but answer.
"Only if you riddle me the what and the why."
Eyes like clear water of an unfathomable depth – that was Albus Dumbledore.