Disclaimer: We own nothing except Marshal and Diana. :]
Thanks to stsgirlie for reading over this first bit and proofing it for us! :]
Albus Dumbledore strode hastily down the narrow, eastern corridors of Hogwarts, his hurried footsteps resonating noisily across the stone flagstone and echoing into the desolate darkness of the night. An icy draught blew past his hastened charge and yet, he plunged on, unmindful of the frostiness that threatened to chill him to the bone. His eyes bore the distant look of a man in deep contemplation and yet, beneath this facade of calm and indifference, there lay a deep anguish, imperceptible yet profoundly prevalent.
His archetypal genteel features twisted into a bitter grimace as the memories of a painful past flashed through his mind – memories he longed to forget and yet he knew, perpetually lurked in the shadows of his consciousness, tormenting his very essence. Those memories lingered like old wounds – wounds he had considered long healed and forgotten and yet, those very wounds had been so mercilessly picked at now, leaving them flowing with fresh blood.
Blood. The notion caused him to involuntarily quicken his pace from the brisk jog it had been to a quick sprint, as though anxious to outrun the gory images of the past. Swerving sharply past a lone suit of armour that adorned the isolated corridor, he came to an abrupt halt before a blank wall.
With the sight of the wall however, his resolve seemed to come crumbling down as quickly as it had been reinforced by his haunting reminiscences. He paused, his breath sounding awkward and heavy to his own ears as he stood before the stone wall, dealing with a tumult of conflicting emotions. His mind protested vehemently against entering and yet, as a habit, his heart always seemed to desire what his intellect forbade him from.
His voice came out as a constricted pant and with that breath, his decision was made. As a door materialized from the naked stone, the wizard reflected that there had never been a question of choice; it was duty as much as it was personal concern, common courtesy as much genuine anxiety … and love which compelled him to abandon the tempting comforts of slumber and hasten to her side.
His hand on the brass doorknob, he attempted a deep calming breath and a sudden second fit of hesitancy seized him. His mind wandered back to his insensitive behavior earlier that night, and it only served to intensify the pain that had settled on him since then. It was with unspoken concurrence many years ago, that they had sworn never to speak of what had occurred in the times gone. Bound by that implicit agreement ever since, their exchanges had been formal and polite, never bordering on personal. He wondered whether she would take kindly to him now, should he start on something they had both agreed not to discuss. And yet, he was silently aware that, with the past threatening to cast it's ugly shadows over the present and future, he was left with no alternative.
The door creaked open ominously when he pushed it with a shaky hand and he stood hesitantly at the doorway, catching sight of her dimly lit figure, curled on an arm chair before the dying embers of the hearth. In a few steps, he found himself at her side, looking down at her as she sat there, unmoving, her eyes fixed on the fading flames.
"Minerva, are you alright?" A foolish question, he thought, regretting the choice of words the minute they left his mouth. He crouched down beside her, in hopes of being able to see her face, but she resolutely avoided his gaze. He put his hand on her shoulder, wanting to let her know that he was there for her, like he would always be.
But she recoiled at his warm touch and her emerald eyes flashed murderously as her gaze bore down on him. "What do you want, Dumbledore?"
Her tone was cold and heartless, and the crouched wizard winced inwardly. With a last, fierce glare, the witch raised herself from the couch and made her way away from him, her poise as elegant and imposing as ever as she perched herself by the windowsill. Nonetheless, years of knowing her had allowed Albus Dumbledore the briefest glimpse of the grief and anguish that lurked in her eyes behind the callous apathy of her voice.
"Let go …" he whispered, hoping against hope that for once, she would heed his plea. She froze at his whispered appeal, still determinedly facing the starry sky framed by the window and when she spoke, her voice was unbearably bitter.
"Sometimes, to live in the present, you must forget the past. And, only then, are you truly free to move on into the future." The response was not direct; Albus Dumbledore always turned to rhetoric when there was no straight answer.
"Don't treat me to your rhetoric …" She found an unplaced anger seeping in her and she finally turned to face him, her stature shaking with suppressed fury. "You don't know what it's like, do you, having to live the guilt of it for so many years …"
Her voice caught in her throat as she spoke and she shut her eyes tightly, a lone tear finding its way down her cheek as she collapsed into a nearby chair. Dumbledore walked to her and brushed away the tear gently, wrapping his hands around her shoulder and squeezing them comfortingly. She dropped her charade of detachment with his warm touch, and her face looked worn with years of pain and agony.
"Perhaps, it's time to let go," he murmured, his voice impossibly soft, his hands now stroking her cheeks tenderly. "Move on, forget the past…"
"I can't," her voice sounded broken and she feebly attempted to push his hands away from her cheeks but he refused to let go. "I can't let go and I can't live with it …" She inhaled deeply in a last, desperate effort to restrain her tears, but years of constricted emotions suddenly found their passage down her face. Albus rubbed her shoulders reassuringly but she leaned forward and buried her face in her palms, crying in earnest now.
"I was blind, Albus, I couldn't see what was staring at me in the face …" She forced out an acrimonious laugh, and the pain emanating from her was so intense; it pierced his heart like an icy shard. "And now I have their blood on my hands … Diana's and Marshal's … I'm nothing but a callous murderer …"
Unable to watch her torment herself, Albus put his arms around her and pulled her in what he hoped was a comforting embrace, but she pulled away almost immediately and when she looked at him, her eyes were red from crying.
"Please don't make it more difficult for me than it already is, Albus … I know you never forgot," she whispered, her tone pleading, tears trailing down her pale cheeks. "Go from here, it will save us both a lot of pain … " She broke off and looked at the floor.
Albus looked up at her, her words tearing at his heart with unparalleled ruthlessness as his own part in her dreadful past came back to him.
"I didn't forget," he murmured, more to himself than to the distraught witch before him; nonetheless, she traced the bitterness in his voice and it served as a painful remainder of how much hurt she had caused to those around her. "But this is not about me, it's about you …"
"This is about you as much as it's about me, Albus," she said with a sudden forcefulness in her voice. "That's why you've come, haven't you? To … redeem yourself?"
Her eyes turned frosty as she continued to stare at him and she delivered her words with such a force that Albus felt she was starting straight to his soul.
"Don't -" he paused, drawing in breath to steady himself, "-bring me into this, Minerva." His voice had an air of a command in it, yet Minerva was not intimidated in the least.
"You're a complete hypocrite, Dumbledore. You tell others to move on with their lives when you yourself can't let go of what has happened." She had touched a nerve there and she watched him without regret, musing over her next words as he fumbled for his.
"Unrequited love, you say?" Albus managed, his eyes narrowed and his voice unsteady, yet filled with an iciness Minerva had never heard him use before. "What makes it unrequited, McGonagall?"
"It's McGonagall now, is it?" she questioned cynically, her eyes blazing with fury now; her resentment towards the wizard had drained her of all her emotions of grief and empathy. "Why did you even bother to come here tonight? You could've have just gone to sleep, Headmaster. Then, tomorrow morning, we would've woken and pretended that nothing ever happened between us, like we've been pretending for the past forty years."
Albus Dumbledore stood as though carved from ice as her derisive words rang through his mind, mocking and jeering at him and he wilted amidst the words that seemed to rip apart his very soul. The silence between them seemed to intensify the tension between that had settled like a thick shroud since their argument had begun.
Minerva drew in a deep, shuddering breath and continued, "It's amazing, isn't it … after all that we've been through together - the good times and the bad - how we can now walk past each other and pretend like it never happened, give each other an awkward smile and move on … you should go back now, Albus, while you still can … maybe, this time instead of asking me to forget what I can't, you can try and forget … because I know what you came for and I can't give it to you … not now … not ever."
Her voice grew less scornful as she neared the end and with her last word, her face found her way into her palms once more. Her fury at him seemed to be replaced with a profound sadness she could not explain to herself, and she cried helplessly into her hands.
"Why not?" Albus whispered softly, his voice emotionless and yet as she looked up, she knew from the depth of his eyes that his soul was weeping. She shook her head silently, unable to bear the pain of looking up at his broken eyes anymore and murmured in a constricted voice, "Go … please."
He looked at her for one last time, eyes beseeching and yet she just shook her head in refusal. With a single stride, he was at the door. With a last glance at her weeping form, he closed the door behind him – shutting himself from what he had lost again, lost what had never been his.
And behind the closed door, her voice rang out soft and haunted, "I love you."