Minerva woke slowly, groggily - which was unlike her. Her head had that peculiar sensation of thick heaviness she associated with a glass too many of a particularly strong scotch... and she couldn't sit up. Her green eyes shot open and she blinked, trying to make out her surroundings in the darkness. "Albus?"
He winced. It was the natural reflex not of a man who was used to hearing her call out that infernal name, but of a man who took pride in the lavish bedroom of which Minerva McGonagall had been placed. She rested on a large king-sized bed atop thick down comforters and black silk sheets underneath them. The posters on each corner of the bed were draped with elegant carvings of snakes so that if one were to look at it in a certain way, the snakes would appear to be moving.
The pillows were adjusted around her, providing for maximum comfort. The nightstand next to the bed, a wide oak furnished one, held a silver lamp and her glasses. The walls were bare save for the one across from her that held a map of Britain tacked up. Several red markings adjorned the map, making it look as though England were bleeding in a few places.
There was a wardrobe, a dresser, a closet, and a desk. All black and green, all wooden, all with the same carvings of snakes slithering their ways around the furniture. On the floor was a rug. Thick and soft, it had footprints on it. None of them had Minerva's shoeprints. There were only the markings of someone who wore dragonhide boots, the heels made of metal. The tracks led from the doorway to the bed and then over to the chair by the desk.
In which he sat, watching her from the darkness, his cloak and robes blending into the blackness of the room. The lamp on the nightstand was not turned on. There were no other lights. There was only the moonlight that glided in, unencumbered and unannounced, from the window. His hair flowed over the edge of the chair, having been pulled back into a careful tail, it now rested by his arse, the midnight black blending in with his surroundings.
The only thing that shone was the window and his skin. His complexion, always pale, stood out proudly against the backdrop of the night sky, having also been let in from the window.
Tom Riddle, now known as Voldemort, was sepia, save for his eyes which were blood red and glowed not in anger but in bitter annoyance. He stayed seated at the chair, watching the female figure wake up slowly, not rising for he knew his height could intimidate. His voice, when he spoke, was calm and level. Anger would do him no good here.
"Wrong answer. Albus would not have such a room."
Her gaze shot to him, and she swallowed as she took him in. "To- " she began, but that wasn't the name he answered to these days. "Voldemort."
His hands were not in gloves, for he did not feel the need and he wanted her to behold him as he was now. What he had gloriously become. What she could have had if she had only chosen correctly. But tonight would be a night of revelations. Tonight, he would have his answers. Swallowing his anger, his pride, his rage at being denied what he wanted most, he continued in as civil manner as possible. "Minerva. It's good to see you again."
A small smile... and her figure shrunk to that of a grey feline. A cat that darted for the open door far swifter than the woman herself could have.
He allowed her to run, knowing that it would get her nowhere. As soon as she hit the doorway, the electrocution wards acted accordingly, sparking the small animal and sending the cat flying backwards. "I would have warned you," Voldemort said calmly, getting up from the chair and going over to the door. He shut it firmly and locked it. "But you didn't ask."
She returned to human form, still winded and lifted a hand to her head, trying to shake off the dizziness. "How've ye been, Tom?" A flash of Gryffindor bravado, even though she needed to lean on the bedpost to stand.
He did not offer to help her. "I've never been better, Minerva. In fact, I'd say I'm the best I've ever been. Save for one small facet, but I think you know what that is." He sat back down in the chair, keeping his distance from her. "Feel free to sit down."
"Thank ye." She was still proud, still aristocratically elegant, even after being zapped with his frightfully strong wards, and she sat down carefully on the bed, tucking her skirt the way she always . She hadn't changed much, save for the fact that that the long dark hair he had always so adored running his hands through was cut flapper-style, hanging above her shoulders. It was practical, if unconventional; it suited her.
He regarded her for a long moment, taking in her appearance, her mannerisms, her features. There were thousands of differences he could have pointed out, but the worst had to be her hair. How she could have parted with the tresses was beyond him. He had always been fond of long hair, hers in particular, how it shone with her eyes, flashing in the sun and was as dark as his own. He enjoyed tiny features that complimented the two of them so well. To see that she had cut hers, he could only take it personally.
The same way he took a slap to the face. "I am hurt, Minerva. Such an occasion for you. Such a grand affair, while not in pomp and celebration, a momentous event in your life. And yet, you neglected to invite your old friend." His eyes bore into her own. "I felt terrible, of course. To be neglected in such a way. Not a letter, not an invite. I had to hear it from second hand information."
She looked away from his red eyes, uncomfortable, looking down at the simple gold band on her left hand. What could she say to that? "My apologies."
Her apologies? Was that all he meant to her? A simple brush off? Just an apology? He was a bit grateful that she did not see fit to bestow upon a lame excuse. 'Oh, there was no time..' and all that nonsense. "It will take me awhile to get over the hurt, naturally, but I accept your apology." He admired his claws before putting his hand back on the arm of the chair and crossing his legs elegantly. He had picked up the mannerisms of a Pureblood. "Mind terribly in telling me why you did not care to write me and inform me of the news?"
A wry tone entered his voice. "Or were you afraid that I might attend and repulse all the partygoers?"
"I didn't know where tae find ye." She looked up at him, searching for... any trace of the boy she'd known and loved so utterly and completely once upon a time. "And... well, it would seem rather... callous tae invite ye to my wedding tae another man. Particularly Albus."
"If you had wanted to, you could have found me. Everyone else who desires to find me, does so without much difficulty. As it was, I found myself left out. But you and I both know that this is hardly about your lack of politeness." His hand went up to smooth back his hair. He did not like the scrutiny of her eyes because he knew what she was looking for. He would have told her not to bother, that he had killed off all vestiges of anything linking him to what he used to be.
The foul creature that had been spurned by the world was almost dead. There was only one body that needed to be laid to rest. The final rejection, as it were. Voldemort dearly wanted closure to everything that linked him to the boy named Tom. If he could cut that last string, he could transcend to his final transformation. He would have told her all this, but did not. He had promised himself that he would not frighten her.
"Why did you marry him? He's much older than you are. Is this love or is there more to it than that?"
"What do you mean by... 'more tae it', Tom?"
"Just what I said. Is it a marriage of convenience? Of security? Of simply belonging? Or is there more to it in another aspect? Can he give you what you desire? Everything you've longed for?" He had no need to ask her the bothersome question on his mind. 'You've chosen the man who is completely opposite me. Who lives now to craft my doom. Why?'
Yes, she loved Albus. She always had for as long as she could remember; first as a kind of beloved uncle who could make her father smile when little else could after Maman died, then as a mentor - someone to challenge her. And now as a partner, someone to hold and be held by, to stand with. No, it wasn't the explosive passion she had shared with the boy Tom had been... but it was comfortable. She'd not regretted going to Albus' bed, or meeting him at the altar. "Yes, I love him."
"I see." His red eyes shut and his head leaned back as though he were taking in her answer. "You love him." The words did not hang in the air or echo in the room. They only dropped down dead and flat. His eyes slowly reopened. "Then you will help him in whatever he chooses to do."
To that, she could only answer, "I'm his wife."
"You were once my own. The two do not coincide." There was no hurt or betrayal in his voice. Had he possessed any complete emotions, the pain would have made itself clear. As it was, he felt something dying within him and could only be pleased.
"Part of me will always be in love with ye, Tom." The words arouse from within her, unbidden, but they were truth as undeniable as the fact that she stood there.
He could have winced. "You shouldn't say such things. You've just recently married." He stood up from the chair and went over to the window. "I could have given you the world and you've decided to ally yourself with the man who wants to kill me. I'm surprised you haven't tried anything against me so far. I'm sure he would first hope for your well being while secretly praying you'll drive the knife through me."
"Tom, don't..." Minerva said; suddenly weary, and sighing... laying back on the bed and closing her eyes. Hoping to find this had only been a dream.
"Don't what, Minerva?" He looked back at her, frowning a bit and dropping his impassive facade.
She leaned up again, too polite to remain laying down when spoken to. "Don't please." She regarded him with genuinely sad green eyes, the emotion not blunted by the mask of her spectacles. It was easier to look at him like that - at the distance, he was fuzzy and not properly defined, the dark helping with that. All her regrets in the world were embodied in the man before her, the man whose silken voice remained constant in spite of all his other changes.
"Once again, Minerva, don't what?" He stepped closer to her, not quite in her personal space, not touching her, not wanting to do anything of the sort. To do such a thing would be a weakness.
Her eyes took in the changes in him as he stepped out of the comfortable fuzzy-zone that her short-sightedness had provided her with. It was pure will that kept her eyes from moistening. She sighed, and ran a hand through her short hair, before coming to rub at the bare nape of her neck - a gesture she'd picked up since cutting off the long mane that had once been her trademark. "This was no' supposed tae be a betrayal of ye."
The way she said that made him think again of her hair. Her touching of the cut strands did not help her case. "I was not expecting a betrayal, Minerva. What I expected does not matter. What you mean in any of your actions no longer matters. You've made your decision and I wish you the best. You have not tried to kill me yet, and for that I'm grateful, for it means I do not need to retaliate." With these words, he found himself tearing apart, becoming something greater.
Metamorphosis. He could fly for once. All that existed now was crossing the final chasm and he would cross it. He would cross it because he had no choice but to do so. "I shall return the favour. You will leave here untouched and given back to Albus as you are now. I am sure that our next meeting will not be as kind to either of us."
She rose, murmuring a 'lumos' and putting on her glasses... moving to him, and taking in the changes on him with eyes and a gentle hand, that did not tremble. "Did this hurt?"
The shock of the light from her wand temporarily blinded him, for his eyes could not handle large amounts of light and he had not been prepared for it. He berated himself for falling prey to her hand, touch had not been part of the deal. Touch was alien to him now. Touch meant pain. He moved his body away from her light and her hand and learned to breathe again. "Did what hurt?" He had meant to tell her not to come close, not to do such a thing again.
"Changin'..." She was persistant, his Minerva, she always had been, and she moved to follow him, her fingers exploring the new planes of his face. And a question that she had no right to ask, no right nor reason to even think. "D'ye ever... miss *us*, Tom?"
He moved once more away from her, wishing she would get the hint. "It hurt like hell, Minerva, but well worth it in the end. I can go on for hours, explaining to you the agony of finding myself ripped up from the inside, of learning how painful seeing your blood flow from your body around you, knowing that you're dying only to be reborn again. I can tell you all about pain, Minerva, but you never had the stomach for that." He wisely chose not to answer her second question.
The bitterness in his voice was like a slap, and her reply was acidic. "No, Tom, I never had the stomach tae see ye hurtin' yoursel'." A thousand times of returning home, or of waking alone in their bed, only to find him immersed in Dark Lore, or some dark ritual...they all came back to her with the same sense of bile and pain. The aching pain of walking away from him, hoping it would help him wisen up, only to hear that he'd gone further into his studies upon her departure.
"But it's brilliant pain, Minerva. That's what you've never been able to understand." His tone dropped any residual emotion and took a slight curve towards a more upbeat level. "Every single thing I've gone through, every ritual, every word, everything, it has all been worth it in the end. I've far surpassed the power of my predecessor, Grindelwald. I've become so much more than what I was. I'm no longer a half breed. I'm no longer powerless and vulnerable."
He did not expect her to understand. There were very few who did. "I no longer am confined by any sort of revolting human emotion. I have complete control over myself and soon, the rest of the world will follow suit."
She dropped her eyes sadly. "Emotion is a beautiful thing, tae, Tom. It's where all fire comes fraem." Minerva looked up at him, and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "All emotion in ye is gone?"
"Not yet." But soon. There would always be reminders. There was no way he could absolve himself of all emotions and there were quite a few he wished to keep. It was all a matter of nullifying them, from tightly controlled anger to nonexistent loneliness.
Minerva was a Gryffindor - they were gamblers by nature... but she preferred to take controlled risks. Not play with ridiculously large odds that had an equal chance of blowing up in her face as they did of paying off. Which was why what she did next was insanely, almost absurdly out of character for her. Especially for the woman she'd become. It was more the girl she had once been - perhaps a last gasp of that free spirit. She cupped the back of his neck and rose on her toes, bringing his mouth down to hers.
None would have dared. Least of all a prisoner. Least of all someone he was supposed to be angry at. Least of all a woman who had left him, abandoned him that voice called out, for Albus Dumbledore. Least of all his prim and proper little Gryffindor witch who would not dream of doing anything that could be termed as unsavoury. He hated her for this sudden twist. Hated her for touching him when none would dare. Hated her for taking risks she should not be taking.
Hated her for making him kiss her back with all the fire he tried so hard to stifle. This was wrong. This was insane. This was no longer him! He should feel nothing romantically-inclined towards her. He should feel nothing for her. Nothing but an answer to a riddle that had gone on long enough. She meant the last thread of his descent into complete isolation of the soul. Why was she doing this now after she had written him off completely in her marriage to Dumbledore?
She wants to twist you, his mind answered back for him. She wants to hurt you even more and you're letting her. And he damned himself once again for allowing her into his life. He damned himself for allowing her to do this even while he still had control of the situation. Most of all, he damned himself for enjoying it. It would not last forever, he knew. She would go back to Albus and he would be alone with more torturous thoughts.
She could not live with him. He could not live without her. He broke the kiss off and, for the third time, moved away from her. Shock, confusion, and sadness intertwined with each other, fighting for dominance in his eyes. "Why did you do that? Why do you do this to me? Is it not enough that you left me once? Do you need to show me what you do with Dumbledore? Do you need to rub what we had in my face as well?"
His hand went to his lips, touching them gently as though afraid she had left some residue on him. He had brought her here to answer his questions. This was excrutiating againy, far different from what he had gone through in his path towards becoming the Dark Lord.
She dropped her eyes and sighed softly. "Tom... I dinnae kiss Albus like that." It was a soft, simple sentence, breathed out like a sigh, and a betrayal of everything she was supposed to have chosen.
His hand moved from his mouth to push aside a loose strand of his hair, placing it neatly behind his ear. It was almost a nervous tic of his, to toy with something close at hand whenever he felt himself being backed into a corner. He hated himself for feeling this way, but that was hardly any different than his usual way of being. Self-hatred brought him this far, it could carry him further and all Minerva ever did was add to it.
He tried so hard to convince himself of that, to place the blame on her where it belonged. She had abandoned him. She had left him. She was just like the others and when he finally got her in a trap of his own making, when she had finally slipped and married Albus, the tables were turned and he was the one under scrutiny. He hated it so. "But you will, given time. You're married to him. You're his wife. You'd do what he wants of you."
"Tom... when I left... I left because I hoped ye'd follow me..." She bit her lip. Something she Never. Ever. Did. "Ne'er heard o'tough love?" Minerva walked around the room - pacing, almost, nervous, and torn... the flickering little light on the end of her wand flitting around with her. "I'd hoped... och, why am I even sayin' all this?"
"Tough..love?" For some reason, these words seemed to anger him. His voice became icy. "I've heard of that. It's a commonly used phrase for supposed loved ones to make right before they beat you so hard you end up unconscious only to wake up due to a bucket of ice water. 'This will hurt me more than it will hurt you.' Yes, Minerva, I've heard that phrase many times before. It's just one of the many things that inspired me to become what I am. Just a fancy way of saying abandonment! When you enter into a marriage, you commit yourself! You stay with that person for better or worse!"
His voice was rising and he paused long enough to temper it. When next he spoke, it was back to normal volume. "You stay with the person because you care. Because you want to help them. You don't turn your back on him. No wonder why you went to Albus. He'll never give you cause to leave him. You're in too deep with him anyway. Always were. You and him have always been linked."
And he had been jealous of that link. He had been jealous because Dumbledore managed to hold her attention before he did, because she always listened to him, because he could never compare. But he had been jealous of her because she had someone with her to support her and help her with what she wanted in life. She always had security.
Minerva didn't have anything to say to that. Had no idea what she COULD say to that. So she said nothing. Merely sighed, and sat down again.
Sensing that their conversation was over, wanting it to be over because he was near afraid of what would happen if it continued, he spoke once more. "I shall go arrange for you to be brought back to Hogwarts. Stay here and don't try to escape. You'll only injure yourself." She had made her choice and he had made his. The circumstances of life, the consequences, the people they had met had moulded their decisions. They were only doing their best with the choices they had left.
For Tom Riddle, there were no more choices. He was dead and gone. For Voldemort, there was only ashes where a soul used to reside. He would credit Tom's memory by not killing Minerva, but that was all. That was all there ever would be.
"I-I've missed ye," she admitted. "I've missed... the fire. The arguments..." A soft laugh, "The way you'd get under me skin like an itch.. the touch of your hands an' th'way we felt pressed taegether." She stood in the shadows, her face hidden except for the glint of light on her glasses, the light on her wand extinguished. "I will *always* miss ye, Tom."
He heard her voice but could not make out the words. She should have said this a long time ago. After the kiss, when he had been vulnerable, when he had been human, before the ashes had been washed away from the tears he had shed when she had left. But not now. Not any longer. She was no longer his. She was Dumbledore's. At last, the old man had taken her out of his grip. And he had done so with her wishes, with her compliance. Far too late for regrets now.
"My name," he said with resonating clarity, "is Lord Voldemort."
"Aye," she nodded. "An' I'm Mrs Dumbledore." A pause, a sigh. "So why'm I nae dead?"
The answer was short and terse with all the calmness of a stranger. "So you can mourn him." He did not stay to explain. The door opened for him and the wards, knowing their Master, allowed him through, the door swinging shut as he exited.