Chapter Four

Professor Flitwick, who was just returning from a late night tryst with Pomona Sprout, frowned as he heard Minerva's cries. Peering into the darkness he could see her silhouetted against the moonlit skies. As he gazed at Minerva, she called once again to Albus her voice unusually high pitched and close to breaking. Filius took an uncertain step towards her then changed his mind and ran to fetch Poppy.

Minerva stared desperately into the night seeking for any sign of Albus. She could not loose him again, hands clutching at thin air as though she could grasp him and drag him back to her, despair, desperation, running, calling. Hearing her cries echoing back to her in the night, the voice of a stranger. The thud of feet running towards her, worried intrusive voices wrenching her away from him, dragging her back to a cold harsh world that was devoid of meaning and reason without him.

"Minerva you must come inside, you need to rest." Poppy's frantic voice edged it's way into her consciousness, banishing the last fading remnants of his spirit.

"Leave me alone !" Words snarled from between clenched lips, as the burning fires of fury blazed within her.

A man's touch on her arm, but not the touch she longed for. "We are all worried about you Minerva, listen to Poppy." The familiar slightly squeaky voice of Filius Flitwick jarred her overwrought soul, and she wrenched her arm away from him.

"Minerva, I am going to take you inside now." Poppy's firm voice accompanied by an authoritative arm round her waist, resentment surging within her. 'Why couldn't they just leave her alone ?'

"Expelliarmus !" The words erupted from Minerva's throat without thought or intent, instinctive wild magic born of rage and desperation which sent Poppy hurtling backwards through the air.

As Poppy landed in a heap on the stoney ground, Filius rushed to her aid. Minerva seemed to be unaware of what she had just done as she vanished wordlessly into the night, leaving Poppy to be helped up by a distressed Filius. Poppy groaned as she rubbed her bruised and aching limbs ruefully, then gazed after Minerva more deeply worried than ever. Even the soothing charm that Filius cast on her bruises, and his attempts to reassure her by stating that Minerva was probably just upset and not herself, were not sufficient to banish Poppy's concerns. She knew her friend too well to think this behaviour normal, and was beginning to fear that Minerva was having some kind of breakdown.

Minerva stood on the rocky promontory that overhung the waters of the lake, raven hair twisting and turning in the wind. Clouds had driven the moon from the skies, the water below surged angrily against the shore in dark waves. When all her desperate roamings of the grounds had failed to find him, and the night had remained silent of familiar whispers instinct had led her here, to the place where Albus had first confessed his love, and shyly, tenderly, kissed her under the stars. Minerva listened with all her senses, ears attuned to every sound, but there was no soft familiar voice on the wind, no murmurs within her mind.

Minerva felt as though an oppressive mist shrouded her mind, dimming her normal powers of reasoning, as though she grasped in the darkness for answers that were just beyond her reach. She knew only one thing - she had felt his touch light and soft on her skin, had heard his voice faint on the breeze, he needed her and she had to help him. 'I must find him, I must.' Desperately Minerva tried to force her normally formidable intellect to function through the haze of exhuastion that nearly overwhelmed her.

The bay of a ghostly horn echoed among the mountains as the Headless Hunt swept into sight, surging across the midnight skies with Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore leading them. Pearly white translucent steeds rearing against the black skies, as spectral riders urged them on. Another discordant wail of the hunting horn said that their prey was sighted, and the pack wheeled off into the mountains vanishing into the mist. Minerva barely registered their flight, but the sight of them planted a seed of an idea in her mind that drove her instinctively back to the castle.

Blindly Minerva swept along the cold stone passages of Hogwarts scarcely knowing where she was going. Suddenly she saw the translucent silvery form of Nearly Headless Nick gliding along the corridor towards her. As he saw Minerva approaching the ghost tugged gently on his left ear, and tilted his head courteously at her, much as a gentleman might doff his cap to a lady.

Suddenly Minerva knew what had driven her inside, and before Sir Nick could speak, asked bluntly, "Have you seen Albus ? Do you know where he is ?" The desperation in her voice crackled in the air.

Sorrow passed over Sir Nick's face as he hesitated for a moment, then answered softly, "The Headmaster is dead dear lady, he has chosen to go on ... perhaps that is a choice I too should have made ..."

"You must know where he is .." Minerva said frantically.

A sigh escaped Sir Nicks lips like a gust of icy air, as he seemed lost for words, almost inclined to turn away and vanish through the nearest solid object.

"You have to know ... I need to find him ..." Minerva said even more frantically.

"My dear lady, it is as I said he has gone on, the good professor is gone from here - as all those who die and so choose, leave this place and journey on." Sir Nick answered gently, reached out his hand as though to comfort then remembered and sadly drew his hand back.

"Oh you're no help." Minerva snarled, rage blazing in her emerald eyes she swept straight through the ghostly figure of Sir Nick as though he didn't exist and vanished round the corner.

"Well really ! How very uncouth !" Sir Nick grumbled as he shuddered uncomfortably.

"What's that my dear fellow ?" The Fat Friar asked as his head suddenly poked up through the floor, "Ooof I really must loose weight ..." He added as the rest of his portly form seemed to get stuck for a second, then emerged into full view with a loud pop.

"She walked straight through me as though I didn't exist, the nerve of it." Sir Nick snapped, as he glared at the corner that Minerva had vanished round.

"Well we do walk through them all the time ..." The Fat Friar muttered uncertainly.

"Exactly, and that is the right and proper way to do things. The way it's always been done." Sir Nick said firmly, "But people walking through us, that's just bad manners. It was so horribly warm too." Sir Nick shivered as he remembered how it had felt to have Minerva walk through him, while the Fat Friar patted him soothingly on the arm.

Oblivious to the distress she had caused Sir Nick, Minerva continued to stride along the castle's passages. Each time she encountered one of the resident ghosts she would ask the same despairing questions. "Have you seen Albus ? Do you know where Albus is ?" Each time the response was the same, sometimes kindly given, sometimes almost contemptuously as though the question were ridiculous.

Minerva's despair and desperation grew, one of them had to know, they had to. They were her only link between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Desolation threatened to overwhelm her, only the fading remnants of strength and courage kept her walking the stairs and corridors of the castle. As Minerva paced the corridors she couldn't help but notice how the castle seemed devoid of light and life with Albus gone. Passages that had once glowed with warmth were now dark and chilly in a way they never had been before. Albus Dumbledore had been Hogwarts, and when he had lived it was as though the castle was embued with his very essence. Now it was as though all the joy and laughter had gone leaving only gloom behind.

As the coldness that now seemed to be an intrinsic part of Hogwarts seeped into her, Minerva couldn't help but recall those first terrible days after his death - when a pall of deathly silence had hung over the school, and small knots of students huddled in dark corners, the same blank disbelieving looks on all their faces. The pain of her memories was intolerable. Angrily Minerva thrust them from her mind, and though close to collapsing from exhaustion and grief continued her search of the castle. She would not rest until she had found Albus, until she had questioned every single ghost.

Author's Notes

Along with Early Years this is yet another story of mine where I am horrified at how long it has taken me to update. I certainly never intended for it to be so long, but reality, illness, and inspiration for other ideas all got in the way, so I can only apologise for how long this update took.

I'm currently striving to finish chapter five, but since my home is quite noisy at times it may take a while. I do intend to finish this story, though updates may be rather irregular, but I hope there won't be any more gaps of a year or whatever it is. ;)

Please review and let me know what you think, reviews will certainly help to inspire me to continue and to update faster. Feedback does help with writing. Thanks to all those who have reviewed already.