Disclaimer: Not mine but belonging to the fabulous J.K. Rowling. I found most characters on the hp-leixon but took the liberty of giving them nicknames.
Summary: To love is to make oneself a target of vulnerability. Minerva has an unexpected chat with Sirius. Implied ADMM
A/N: I suppose you could say this is a companion piece to another of my tales, Riddle Me This. Set shortly before RMT and in the same world as Beneath the Deep Depths of Green and Blue, a future chapter, if you will. I think it works standing alone, though I am aware there are a few unanswered questions, little clues to pique your interest, let me know if it is completely incomprehensible.
Beneath Sunlight's Scorn
Minerva tinkered with a small trinket resting upon the mantelpiece in the living room of the most noble House of Black. Molly had done an admirable job in such a short amount of time. Thick, heavy curtains were drawn tightly shut, blocking out the last rays of sunshine. It was to be a full moon tonight. Poor Remus. He already carried far too many a burden upon his shoulders, too caring, too loving. But Remus had already made it perfectly clear that he wished not for her sympathy. A sad smile lingered upon the corners of her mouth. Things could have been so different. Many of her young Gryffindors' paths had been altered. As of yet, few seemed for the better.
Not her biggest regret but still high on the list. She had yet to become accustomed to his gruffer demeanour. He had managed to startle her, and her nimble fingers fumbled with the lid of the small trinket box. The clatter echoing around the empty room. She caught his eye in the mirror above the mantelpiece. They had aged more than a lifetime; so dark she was reminded of her threstrel, Adumbrus. Death lay hidden within their dark surface.
"I have not been your professor for a great many years."
The old Sirius would have had a snappy retort ready to roll off his tongue. This new soul remained silent. His skeletal animosity brought a chill to the air, so as her fingers skirted along the polished wood and she carefully turned around, her fingertips tingled with magic as she commanded the hearth to crackle to life.
"I cannot say this place holds the most pleasant of memories…for me."
He gingerly took a seat, unable to meet her gaze. Adding the last two words made her wonder, did he know that she had her own memories of Grimmauld Place? Did he know that she had frequented this house long before it had ever belonged to his parents?
"Weasley found an old box of photos. Told her they were fit for nought but the midden. Curiosity got the better of me, of course."
The answer was yes then. This time it was she who could not meet his gaze. Though when she gave it more thought, she squared her shoulders and glared over her spectacles. She had paid for her sins and had nothing to be ashamed of. McGonagall was her name.
"I often wondered why you were never in the Order the first time around."
The change of topic surprised her some, or was it a change?
"Oh, the Gryffindor in you did not sit idly by. Despite what many will have you believe, I am no fool. After 7 years as my Head of House, I should think I would be able to recognise your handwriting. I've had many years to devote to thought, Professor. Most spent upon Wormtail, replaying those last days, over and over. However, I would have gone insane had I not cast my mind to other things. It did not take me long to realise. In fact, it made me chuckle when I did. You managed to slip that one past us, right under our noses."
He quirked her a cheeky grin, and for but a second she saw the wizard he could have been. She was surprised to notice he had inherited the high brow of his great-aunt Cassiopeia. All these years and she had neglected to remember he was Pia's nephew.
"Too precious, My Lady."
He was never dim-witted. Correct in his remark, foolish but never the fool.
"If you feel uncomfortable addressing me as Professor then Minerva will do just fine, thank you."
For some time he remained silent. The heat of the fire was beginning to grow uncomfortable. She should have never rekindled it in the first place. In fact she should have never arrived early for the meeting. It did not do to linger in this house, ghosts hidden in all corners of the rooms. Minerva was never quite sure where to fix her gaze; memories marred her mind. Ella's cackle came echoing back, the rattle of coins from her winnings. It was in this very room, Minerva first learnt to play portal but card games could never hold her interest for long, very few things could. Cedrella always made sure to humour her though.
"You did not get your happy ending either."
Maybe not, but back then, with Lulu, Alphie and the infamous Cousins Cee, Minerva had, at the very least, attempted to be happy. A war had raged, true, but as Sirius had observed, a witch of her status was little affected.
"This house holds fond memories…for me."
In the front room by the bay window there had once stood a grand piano. Sirius' mother would have no doubt had it destroyed once moving in for it had once belonged to Isla Black. A shame, it had served as a source of great joy for many a party. Dora's husband, Fang, could coax the instrument to play and the girls would always gather around.
At the sound of rustling robes Minerva reigned in her thoughts and spared Sirius a glance.
"Never imagined you the smoking type."
The photographs will be of the late 40's then, she deduced. Seeming to have read her mind, he pulled out of his robes the small stack of mentioned photographs, offering them to her by way of explanation.
She carefully raised a delicate hand to caress the images warmly. The witches in the pictures were so young, that she should scarcely recognise them. The photograph on top had been taken in that very same room. 7 young witches dressed to impress; Pia stood tall and proud to the far left, her arm affectionately around her cousin Dora who was glowing with pregnancy. Lottie, with her halfmoon spectacles, obviously in-between jail sentences. Emmaline, looking as regal as ever, with a smoking cocktail in one hand. Then came Lucretia, Lulu, hair an electric blue with fingernails to match. She was laughing and leaning against the dark haired witch to her left – Lady Minerva. Hair the colour of the raven, charmed into curls, cut just above the shoulder. Robes revealing her long neck and collarbone, robes Minerva could never wear today. The choker she wore, with the ruby encrusted M, sparkled from the flash of the camera. The rings on her fingers glittered menacingly as she nonchalantly brought the unicorn horn cigarette holder to her lips. Ella, the last witch in the picture, waved a hand as purple smoke clouded her vision. When she looked closely, Minerva could see the small smirk around Cedrella's lips, she had nobody to blame for Minerva's smoking but herself having introduced her to it, along with her other bad habit of gambling, before Minerva could even apparate.
"Don't judge me until the bloom is off your rose, honey. Come. If you have no wish to enjoy the flesh of a fine wizard then let me introduce you to my other passion - gambling. I sense you are not as stiff as you wish others to believe. Secrets bubble below. Cigarette?"
That first evening Minerva had politely inclined, gambling being adventurous enough.
"Oh, no, thank you. I do not smoke."
Ella's cackle rang in Minerva's ears once again. It was a different life. A different world. A different witch.
Despite her better judgment, Minerva dared to look through the rest of the photographs, each recollection regretfully painful. They were all snapped, Magenta, Unity, Helix, Ernest and Esme. The Ellerbys popped up here and there. Celestina was often shot with Harfang and she felt her lips tug as she remembered Dora's annoyance. Adalbert and Miranda, it had slipped Minerva's mind that they had once dated. Sweet Alphie's pictures made her tremble. And of course, in most of the frames that Minerva could be seen the glint of an emerald was never far. Putting those days behind her, Minerva had never revealed quite how well connected she was, though she believed Albus had his suspicions, she had never confirmed them. Another of their many barriers.
"I don't recognise most, though they're probably my fine relatives."
Judge a person by the company they keep.
"Not all were like your mother."
Sirius scoffed and Minerva held back a sigh.
"I remember when that tapestry of your family tree hung proud and whole."
It seemed to Minerva that Sirius was gathering his thoughts together. He had never been an emotional wreck and, like herself, had always lacked that tactfulness associated with certain feelings. Why he had felt the need to share this memorabilia with her she would never determine. Perhaps even he would never fully know, he certainly seemed out of his depth now. Floundering, lost for words, he was missing the purpose of the conversation.
"I thought I caught a glimpse of Francis Starbuckle. Was it with Harfang Longbottom?"
A sad smile crossed her face, Frankie was a gentle soul but the potions killed him. One of Fang's favourite stories to tell was of how Minerva met Frankie. One night, having sipped one too many a flaming phoenix, sitting atop the piano – rather provocatively, she believed was Fang's description, his words not hers – she was singing Francis Starbuckle's Catch Her a Star, a highly popular tune dominating the wireless,only to have Frankie himself walk in halfway through, making it a duet.
"Yes, I believe you did. Fang and Frankie were second cousins." She almost added 'to my surprise' but that would have been an opening to happier memories of which she sensed Sirius was not yet ready for.
He gave a grunt of what Minerva presumed to be agreement. "I don't suppose they could have all been bad."
"No." Minerva could hear the crack in her voice. The conversation was in danger of slipping into far too intimate grounds. She needed to take control. She willed strength back into her voice. "No. You had – have – some very fine relatives."
"Have?" His voice was full of bitterness. "Ah, yes, the Malfoys are a fine example, or perhaps even the Lestranges?"
"I saw Dora at both Pia's and Lulu – cretia's funerals."
"Dora? Callidora? Callidora Longbottom?"
Minerva nodded, should she have revealed that she had attended their funerals? Well it was too late now, what harm could come of it? He had photographic evidence of their acquaintance.
"I have very little family left but it would seem that whilst I have been locked up, you have kept your eye on most."
She remained silent, unsure of his feelings. Did he resent her? His voiced changed when next he spoke. Softer.
"I hear you looked after Remus and Harry, for that you have my eternal gratitude."
Minerva bowed her head, she did not deserve his appreciation, she could have done more to take care of them.
"But not my respect."
Her face was still as a stone. But his face held creases in the corner of his eyes whispering secrets long since buried. A heavy burden.
"For that you have always had, no matter what you may think. Deep respect and devotion, if ever…"
"Thank you, Mr. Black, but that shall not be necessary."
Formality was what was lacking. He was once again straying perilously close. Decorum.
Her response seemed to amuse him and before her eyes he shrugged off the misery that had dominated most of the conversation, replacing it with an attempt at humour, only to be tinged with the gaunt sorrow which enveloped his very being.
"Our fierce lioness, well like it or not, you're in the Order quite officially this time around."
Minerva remained silent feeling ill at ease that she had no control over the conversation.
"We used to sneak out during the full moon to keep Remus company." Sirius snorted, fingering the corner of a photograph causing the occupants to scowl and retreat to the far side. "Poor sod tried to deny he was a werewolf when we first confronted him."
They had been good for little Remus, had brought him out of his shell.
"Lily took it in her stride when she found out, she didn't judge him or pity him, just carried on as normal. Helped him catch up on his homework. We all loved her, you know. James's Lily, our Lily. Lily Evans. Lily Potter."
Those green eyes sprang before her mind. It was true Harry was given the gift of her eyes but they were never as free to sparkle as Lily's had.
"It took us years to achieve our animagus forms. James wanted to ask you for help, reckoned you'd be up for it. I was always reluctant. I'd heard about you."
Minerva returned her gaze to the flames of the fire, one arm resumed its place resting along the high mantelpiece, half turned from the lost soul slumped in an old armchair. Though she was loath to admit it, his gaunt look scared her.
"I never told anyone, not even James. Uncle Alphie would never hear a word against you."
She could feel his gaze upon her, as if he had suddenly realised he had voiced his innermost thoughts. So they shared a part of her history, hidden secrets she would trust him to keep.
"The Emerald Guard, eh?"
His attempt at nonchalance did not fool her.
The three of them were ever loyal, and Peter. Sirius was right though, she would have had their hides had she known what they had planned.
"James never wanted Lily to join but she was right. It's better to be kept in the loop." She felt his gaze turn more calculating, assessing. "Better we are all informed." Out of the corner of her eye she saw him cock his eyebrow, a perfect imitation of his great-aunt.
"He makes mistakes, Sirius. I make mistakes. Merlin knows you do."
There, she admitted Albus's fallibility, her own shortcomings and for good measure poked Sirius too.
"I know that now!" He stood up abruptly and Minerva watched through the mirror as he paced the length of the colourless mat. He had never resembled his animagus form more than in that moment. His growl of frustration was unsurprising but the feral look in his eye caught her off guard when he turned to catch her eye. "But I can't say no to him. Harry feels left out but I don't know what Lily would have wanted. So I find myself agreeing with him. Can't say no! No one can!" He looked ready to pounce but his words were suddenly soft. So soft. "No one but you."
Minerva closed her eyes against the image Sirius's figure cut, being in no mood to defend Albus. Before she could poise an adequate response, he had up and left the room, taking the photographs with him. At the doorway he stopped but did not turn around. His voice carried, awakening the ghosts that lingered in the past.
"Let's hope he forever appreciates you."
The door banged shut in his wake leaving her alone with an imprint, an echo of the lasts moments she had sought happiness amongst real friends. The threads of her tale left untangling, knotting, falling into chaos.
To love is to make oneself a target of vulnerability.
"Never doubt how much I need you, Min."
She is fearless now but it cost her soul.
A/N2: Catch my little nod to Takeshi's Castle?