A/N: A tale that would have been much worse without the wisdom of Zsenya over at the Sugar Quill. My lack of HTML is not her fault. Do go there to see the nice italics and things that really ought to be here... Please assume all usual disclaimers.



Now that lilacs are in bloom

She has a bowl of lilacs in her room

And twists one in her fingers while she talks.

"Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know

What life is, you who hold it in your hands"...

-T.S. Eliot, "Portrait Of A Lady"

I entered the Hogsmeade flat and sniffed the air, which was redolent of garlic. Theron had either prepared dinner or decided he was going to be attacked by a vampire.

I went into the kitchen. For some reason, he had fixed pasta, and there was a basket with garlic bread. Not our usual fare, but a welcome change today. There was also a vase with lilacs in it. A sentimental touch - that was Theron. He was not in the kitchen to see my appreciation of his handiwork, though.

I poked my head in the living room. There he was - asleep on the couch, still dressed in his work robes. I looked down at him. He had not changed much since we were young - stately, austere gray highlights at his temples and gentle laugh lines were the only physical signs of his middle age. He was sixty-two, I was fifty-six - the thirty years we had been married were wonderful. Theron had continued in his job at St. Mungo's as a "researcher"; I was still the professor of Transfiguration at Hogwarts. There were no children, although not through lack of trying. My younger brother Maimonides had married his Slytherin prefect and had a son, Meleagrant; my older sister Medea had joined the Department of Mysteries like her husband Finn, who was an Unspeakable. We all gathered once a month for dinner as a way of keeping us all together. Every now and then, Albus would join us - his duties as Headmaster were lonely, and he liked to keep up with his only son, especially in such parlous times as these. It helped that I held Albus's old position and that we were old friends; we spent a lot of time together, playing chess and talking. Talking about He Who Must Not Be Named. He dominated much of our lives - we worried, talked…did everything in our power to keep our students from worrying about him. They did anyway.

Of course, Albus's Order worked quietly at their jobs - as always - and obtained intelligence that could be used against the Death Eaters and their master. Theron and I helped out with it as much as we could; we were involved primarily for our nephew's sake. Meleagrant had been a Death Eater, but had finally left their service. He was still very volatile, but too shaken by the atrocities he had both seen and committed to even consider returning to his old lifestyle. Albus had asked Theron and me to be in the Order to give Meleagrant some reassurance and support. Theron also used his job to provide his father with information about the latest tricks the Death Eaters were using to torture and maim. Theron was quietly crafty - just like his father.

He woke then and stretched, smiling at me. "Hello, Minerva-girl."

"How was your day?"

"Quiet," he answered. "No information, no new patients, everything on the up-and-up. Blessedly quiet."

I laughed. I knew that quiet was never what he truly wanted. Knowing that I knew, he stood and embraced me. I let myself relax and did not let myself think about the essays that I had to grade tonight. I simply enjoyed the feeling of being with my other half.

He said, "Pasta for dinner tonight."

"I saw," I said into his shoulder.

He extended an arm into the kitchen. "Shall we?"

I nodded.

Amid the filling of plates, he said, "Maimonides and Demetria are coming over tomorrow with

Meleagrant, and so is Finn - Medea is ill, he said."

I stopped with one hand over the basket of bread. "Can't come - Albus and I are working late

tomorrow, and I'm not coming home tomorrow night."

He said lightly, "You'll miss a grand dinner."

I took a bite of my pasta. "If this is anything to be judged by, I certainly will."

Theron said, "We can reschedule if you want to be there…"

I raised a hand and said wryly, "It's fine, Theron. I imagine the house- elves will put out something palatable for once - never mind the numerous feasts they've managed to come up with…"

He grinned at me. "Oh, Minerva."

We ate. And then we spoke of music by the fire over hot chocolate - a tradition inherited from Albus - and then we went to bed. A normal and beautiful evening.

And the last words that Theron and I ever spoke to each other were brief "I love you's" the following morning.

~~~~

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,

And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,

I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,

Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,

And thought of him I love.

-Walt Whitman

The last Hufflepuff scurried out of my classroom; I went to my own office, gathered my materials, and reported to Albus's office. We sat down and worked silently over intelligence reports. After about three hours, he broke the silence. "Theron is having the rest of the family over for dinner tonight?"

I put down my quill and stretched. "Yes, with the exception of Medea."

"Are you ready to break for rations yourself?"

My stomach gave my answer.

He chuckled and rang for a house-elf, who bowed deferentially and popped away to fulfill the order. A painting of a past headmistress awoke from her snooze and said, "Albus, dear, someone's at the bottom of the stairs."

He nodded, both at the portrait and at me. I stuffed the papers into a folder and took it with me to the alcove in the corner - it was only visible to those who knew of its existence.

A moment later, young James Potter entered. Greetings were exchanged, and Potter lost no time in getting down to business. "Sir - we're desperate - is there anything we can do for the effort?"

Albus said firmly, "You may continue doing well in your classes. Knowledge is power, Mr. Potter - keep learning."

"Nothing more - immediate?"

"Did you have something in mind?" Albus looked at him keenly.

I watched Potter; he seemed to be hesitating. He finally blurted out, "Sir, if we just monitored the Slytherin common room - "

Albus held up a hand. "Mr. Potter, that is out of the question."

"But, sir - "

"Mr. Potter. People only become trustworthy by being trusted. I will not have any student in this school feel like they are being alienated by the faculty. Learning is our purpose here, not acts of espionage and - if you will forgive the expression - witch hunts."

Potter said nothing.

Albus seemed to soften. "Go back to your dormitory, Mr. Potter - you have a big day tomorrow." A Quidditch challenge - not one of the regular matches - was being held after school tomorrow in response to a challenge issued to Potter by the Ravenclaw captain. It was the cause for much speculation among the students.

Potter brightened. "Yes, sir!" I couldn't help but smile at his enthusiasm - the faculty was secretly as excited about it as the students were.

Albus said, "Between ourselves, I understand that Ravenclaw is having some problems with one of their Chasers."

Potter nodded. "I've heard something to that effect - we've been practicing accordingly."

"The best of luck to you, then." Albus rose and escorted Potter out. While he was gone, a house-elf popped in with a tray. I set it on the desk and waited for Albus to come back. When he did, he was smiling almost wistfully. I said, "Are you going to invite him to join the Order?"

"I think so," he said meditatively. As he did not elaborate, I did not press the subject.

We ate and worked straight through until around midnight. I finally brought my nose out of my papers and stretched; my back let out a resounding crackle. Albus said, "Time for bed, I think."

We carefully stowed away our papers, and I left, feeling exhausted.

I made my way down the dark, deserted corridors, lost in my thought - in my mind, I was still going over those reports. I -

A sudden, violent chill ran down my spine, and I stopped an instant before I ran smack into a suit of armor. It was as though I had suddenly been thrown in to the lake in December and shaken mercilessly by the giant squid. I rested a hand on the wall, trying to catch my breath.

After a few moments, I was able to continue. I said under my breath, "Kneazle running over my grave - that's all."

And I went to bed.

~~~~

O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?

And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?

And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love?

-Walt Whitman

I was in the middle of the first class of the day when Remus Lupin stuck his head in the door. "Professor?"

I stopped mid-sentence. "Yes, Mr. Lupin?"

"The Headmaster wants to see you right away."

I looked around; I had a first-year class. "What class are you in right now, Mr. Lupin?"

He looked at the floor. "I - er, I'm just coming back from the hospital wing."

Lupin did look a bit peaky - and the period of the full moon had just ended. Of course. "We're just covering beetles - would you mind watching them?" I hated to ask him to do it after he had been ill, but he was a talented Transfiguration student, and he was very good with the younger ones.

The offer seemed to be just the thing to cheer him up. He smiled and said, "Of course not, Professor."

I fixed the first-years with one of my better looks and said, "This is Remus Lupin. He will be in charge of the class while I am away. He is a sixth-year and knows much about both beetles and buttons; if you have any questions, ask him. Carry on as usual." I gave Lupin one of my rare smiles - he was a good young man, in spite of the scrapes he got into with his friends - and left, heading for Albus's office.

Past the gargoyle, up the stairs, knocking on the door. It opened, but it wasn't Albus who opened it. It was a Ministry official. "Mrs. Dumbledore?"

An echo of last night's chill cast delicate, insidious tendrils across my back. Nobody ever called me Mrs. Dumbledore. And that meant -

"Yes, that's me," I said.

"Sit," the Ministry official said, not unkindly. It was only then that I noticed Albus in the same alcove that I had secreted myself in last night. He came out of the shadows; the look on his face frightened me. He was stern, stiff - but not like he was when he was dealing with the Ministry.

It was more like he was fighting for control.

He came and stood beside me, resting a hand on my shoulder. His tight grip felt worse than the fingers of that cold chill. He would not look me in the eye.

The Ministry official looked down at some notes and cleared his throat. "Mrs. Dumbledore, it is my sad duty to inform you that there was an incident at your flat in Hogsmeade last night. All those inside were killed by Death Eaters, and the Dark Mark was seen above the building. The victims have been identified as Maimonides McGonagall, Demetria McGonagall, Meleagrant McGonagall, Finn Finnigan, and Theron Dumbledore. On behalf of the Ministry, let me extend my condolences." He proffered a hand.

I wanted to move to lift my hand. I tried. I could not. All I could do was sit. I did not move.

From a distance, I heard Albus say, "Thank you, Perrine. I'd walk you out, but under the circumstances - "

The Ministry man nodded and said, "Quite understandable." He left.

Albus knelt in front of me, put his hands on my shoulders. "Minerva?"

I forced an answer. "Yes?"

Blue eyes - like Theron's - searching, probing until I was awash in a sea of blue. I fell, was falling -

The eyes disengaged as he brought a hand up to them.

I stopped.

He was kneeling in a penitent sort of fashion, head bowed, face covered. A penitent. What did he have to be sorry for?

Oh.

His son was dead.

And then I felt it - no more numbness. Those cold tendrils turned to boiling, strangling claws, and a wild, keening wail escaped me, and we sat there on the floor of his office, drowning in a roiling sea of grief.

~~~~

In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash'd palings,

Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,

With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,

With every leaf a miracle -- and from this bush in the dooryard,

With delicate-color'd blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,

A sprig with its flower I break.

-Walt Whitman

One week later, we were at Weathervane - the ancestral Dumbledore home. We stood out back, down by the river. Theron was interred near his mother.

We had put my brother and his family to rest yesterday; Medea and I had done the same for Finn the day before. And now we stood, sun shining on us, the whole Dumbledore contingent behind us.

A tap came on my shoulder. I turned, and there was Aunt Alyce, who had welcomed me the first time I ever set foot in Weathervane. She hugged me, and I managed to reciprocate. After that initial eruption, I had shed no more tears.

I couldn't feel anything.

I put up with her sympathy - with all of their sympathies in turn - until it was only Albus and myself left.

He leaned forward, took a lilac from the grave and handed it to me. "For remembrance," he said.

I took it, looked at it. And with it came the memories of the lilacs on the kitchen table that last night, and the way their soft scent permeated the flat. I felt tears coming -

I stopped them.

Albus put his arm around me, and we went back up to the house.