A/N: This is given as an act of faith- I am still alive, dearest readers, and will be updating everything eventually. Nothing is abandoned, nor really on hiatus. Anyway, if you're following any of my longer stories, you ought to know I come and go. This was something I've been meaning to finish literally for years, but never did. I still haven't, actually. You'll notice it's somewhat incomplete. I may or may not complete it/continue it at a later date. Really I just wanted to let everyone know I'm still alive, just busy. 3
"I told you," he says, his voice a thunderclap against her trembling eardrums. "I warned you, Minerva, I never misled —"
She holds up a hand, her eyes squeezing so tightly shut that the dark rim of her eyelashes disappears, and she appears for a moment as he has so often envisioned her: blind to reality. Her fingers tremble as she slowly brings her hand down, and it falls to her side, wavering forward and back like a lackadaisical pendulum.
"Minerva —" he tries again, but she shakes her head, her lips creating so straight, so taut a line that he thinks it must hurt the muscles in her cheek. She is stumbling backward now, her feet drawing her body toward the door in an uncharacteristically feeble retreat. Her eyes reopen, and are immediately downcast; she recedes, it seems, like ocean waves, drawing back into a hole, back into the deep, the dark, the unexplored —
Albus moves from behind his desk, his brow furrowed, startled by her behavior. He expected anger, of course — how could one expect anything else from Minerva McGonagall? He expected anger, and eventually, ideally, acceptance. Resignation. Perhaps a condolence or two. He had hoped, and anticipated, that they would part on amiable terms. His hearts distends with some kind of backward pity as he watches her fingers claw at the door handle. A flick of his wrist, a bit of wandless magic serves both to remind her of his omniscience — the irony screams in her mind — and to keep her within the confines of his office.
"What are you —"
"No," she says finally, still pulling at the door handle, murmuring 'alohamora' after 'alohamora', her back to him, her shoulders jarring with the motion of opening the locked door. He reaches a hand out to touch her shoulder and she shrinks away violently, slamming herself against the door as though she were a frightened animal, a fluttering bird.
"Whatever is —"
"Don't," she says, her voice so meek that he isn't sure it even comes from her mouth. "I can't…" He reaches out to her again, but she swats him away angrily, and he notices her fingers trembling. "Don't touch me!" she shouts, and for the first time he notices that she has started to cry, that her pale skin is blotchy and red, that the hand that swatted at him reaches up to send a tear flying across the room. He falls back slightly, aghast, and she starts to shake and shake and shake, and then she's falling against the door, her back slamming against the wooden frame with an audible crack.
"Minerva…" he hedges, blue eyes wide and startled.
"Don't say a word," she bites back, tears flying as she claws them from her face and straightens, though she still quivers wildly. Her eyes are red-rimmed, but fierce; she is the lioness, in that moment, and Albus remembers vaguely that the female lion is the true leader. The male is a pale echo, less formidable but for a little extra hair. "I don't want to hear your pretty words, Albus. I've had quite enough of your mollycoddling for one lifetime, you — you — you bastard." His mouth falls open.
"Why, I —"
"HUSH," she shouts, her voice cracking. "I watched you go off to fight Grindelwald — I remember, I can see your face as you told me what you were going to do — I could feel the resignation even then, Albus, even before — oh, Merlin, you know how it ate at me! You know how it killed me, watching you go off to fight him, after you'd told me that you would likely lose. I never dreamed that your silly, selfish martyrdom would extend to such auspicious heights of stupidity, you idiotic, foolish old git —" she cut off abruptly, and Albus felt her anger emanating off of her in waves of ominously crackling magic. There were few witches or wizards that could have taken Albus Dumbledore in a fair fight, if any, but in that moment, Albus knew that she would have beaten him down without a problem. He quailed slightly, eyes downcast.
"Minerva, I never dreamed," he paused, licking his lips, anticipating interjection but receiving none, "I never dreamed that this would affect you so." He had warned her, hadn't he? All those evenings she had sat by his side, those stolen kisses, rare moments of unabashed affection — of honesty — glide through his memory, mingling with remembrances of all those times he was forced to explain his plans, to extricate himself from the ivory tower of thought he so often locked himself in and tell her what was going on in his brilliant mind —
"No, I don't imagine you did," she hisses, her eyes closed in some kind of tormented rapture, one hand covering her face. He steps tentatively toward her, reaching up slowly to place a hand on her shoulder.
"What is it that plagues you, Minerva? I told you that I would be gone by this war's end."
She looks up at him with brimming eyes, her thin, stern lips quivering, and he feels his heart lurch in such a manner that he is almost inclined to clutch his chest. "You so calmly face death, now as you have in the past — but you planned this. You scheduled this. You want to go." She pauses, and he can see the words forming on her lips several times before she finally manages, "you want to die."
"I do not particularly want to die. It is, however, my time to do so, and most necessary for it to occur in the manner I choose."
She stares at him, and he feels as though there's still something he's missing. They stand like that, face to face, his bright, probing eyes searching hers, his silvery brow furrowed, his spectacles resting on the edge of his nose — he, likewise, quivering on the edge of comprehension —
"I'm not enough to make you stay."
"What?" he splutters after a beat of confused silence, and the flickering light from the torch on the wall renders the lenses of his glasses momentarily opaque.
"You're… resigning yourself to this, calmly, apparently without a fight." She stares at him, and his eyes are still hidden behind the darkened half-moons, so she adds, bluntly, "if you die, you leave me behind."
"Minerva, I —"
"Albus, I have heard enough of your half truths to last me a lifetime. I appreciate that you cannot tell me all of your plans, but this is one that I feel I should be privy to and if you do not feel as though I can be… trusted with whatever explanation you're withholding —"
He could see her mind working, sense the deflection, and tried to interject, but she continued over him —
"—I think it is hardly appropriate for me to be in your office at such a late hour."
Silence descends, then, and his hand slackens around her arm. She sniffs, nostrils flaring, and juts her chin out and upward defiantly, her lips pulled into a stern line, her eyes cool, cool emerald. Her spine is ramrod straight, and although her head is not quite the height of his shoulder, he thinks that she cuts a rather impressive, if not intimidating figure. She is Minerva, in that moment — beyond the woman who bears the name, she enters into the sacrosanct territory of goddess, stepping into the brilliance of her namesake like a familiar shroud; he is struck by the absurd notion that he ought to bow at her feet, ought to kiss a ring on her wonderful hand, ought to plead at her altar, ought to offer something in reverence to her inexorable divinity. It's a silly notion, one that she would scold him for, but he cannot help the majesty of his perceptions. They rear up around his mind like purple mountains encasing the valley of his thoughts, forcing sense from him and sinking him in silence.
The reverie breaks, eventually, as all glass inevitably must when thrown against the buttress of reality, and his whisper is hoarse: "you have been in my private quarters at far later an hour than this."
Her cheeks flush — the goddess blushes – and she shifts her weight, finding his gaze and meeting it mutinously. "There can be no relationship without trust."
The intensity of his eyes burns her, and it takes every ounce of pride in her body not to look away. His glasses slide down his crooked nose, falling aslant, unveiling the true and full omniscience of his gaze. "And love?"
She splutters wordlessly —
"What of that, Minerva? Ought not love trump a necessary half-truth?" The half-moons glint hopefully, and she blinks, fighting a swoon.
"Necessary," she hisses, in that instant catlike, but he can already feel her formidable resolve trembling vaguely, like the colors of a watercolor blurring together around the edges. He takes a step toward her, and his hands encase her face, the age-worn contours of the willowy digits building a stark contrast against the severity of her features.
He doesn't respond, because he has not in his vocabulary words expressive of his feelings in that instant. He wants to tell her everything, but knows that he cannot. For Harry's safety, for the greater good, for the plans he has been carefully orchestrating for decades, there are things that must remain secret. He told Minerva of his imminent death only to soften the blow, only because he couldn't stomach the thought of his last evening with her existing under the guise of a lie. He wants to tell her, though, because he loves her, because he wishes to spare her any pain, spare himself the agony of the betrayal she imagines — but it is for the big picture he must always paint, and so tiny details such as these must be overlooked. Machiavelli would have it no other way.
In lieu of words, he steps closer still, and though her features are still composed in prim defiance, she does not pull away. Closer, closer, he edges like the creeping shift of continents, the eternal revolution of planets; his forehead finally touches hers, and as they touch, her eyes finally drop downward and her bottom lip quivers, preceding the trailing of a tear down her cheek.
"I do not care how it happens, Albus," she admits, reaching her arms finally around his middle, clutching herself tightly to him. "The idea of it — I cannot —"
"I know," he says, moving his arms around her and holding her more tightly still.
"I'm still angry with you."
"I'll never forgive you."
"I do hope that is not true."
"I can hold a grudge for an eternity, Albus, you know that I can." Her words are briefly colored by her pride, that which he is so fond of in her. Hers is a playful conceit, as though she once possessed hubris but realized how silly it made her seem, and so mocks herself for it. He loves it. Her pride, her stubbornness, her humbleness, her sense of whimsy despite her greatness. He, Albus Dumbledore, is a titan on the pages of history. In comparison, she pales, and so few but he realize that whilst Albus Dumbledore may be the greatest wizard of the age, Minerva McGonagall is not only the greatest witch, but also—he is forced to acknowledge—the eternal guardian of his heart.
"I love you," he says, and she lurches, her chest suddenly heaving with a sob that is drawn up from the very innermost part of her being, and she collapses against him.