Chapter Eight: Admitting Defeat
A young man with dark black hair strode purposefully out of the headmaster's office, his black robes billowing behind him. His sharp black eyes scanned the corridor before him for his reluctant partner in crime as he made his way back to the dungeons. Turning around a dark corner, he nearly tripped over a figure that had nimbly stepped out of the shadows. Cursing under his breath and trying to slow his rapidly beating heart, he glared at the little witch, who glared right back at him with unwavering yellow eyes. Rolling his eyes, he curtly nodded once and then strode past her, continuing his decent to the dungeons.
Watching his figure disappear around the next corner, Amanda shivered. 'Dealings with Slytherins,' she mused grimly, 'What IS this world coming to?' Then, remembering the nod, gave a loud war whoop in her head, 'Ate it up, did he? MAN I'm good.' Making her way back to her chambers, she thought, 'This had better work. It's been almost five years.'
Back in the headmaster's office, an old man with long white hair and a matching beard stared thoughtfully into the flames in the fireplace, mulling over his late night talk with the youngest professor in the school. In his infinite wisdom, and an unbidden spark of inspiration, the headmaster had told the young, disillusioned man,
"The mistakes of our pasts can be corrected, but it takes a great deal of strength to admit to our wrongs. I have faith in you, Severus. You have proved before that you are able to accept that you have wronged, and that you are willing to make amends. There are some with less willpower than you, and their mistakes haunt them for the rest of their lives. In educating the future, you make up for the past. I know it seems difficult to bear, but you can do it."
The young potions master had come to the headmaster begging to be released of his teaching contract, unable to face the students whose parents, relatives, and friends had died at the hands of his former master. The two men had this kind conversation at least eight times in the first year the younger man had been hired. Albus thought they had resolved it years ago, but obviously not. However, this argument about uncorrectable mistakes had been a new topic. Sighing, he mused, 'He'll learn eventually. I always win in these little spats.'
Frowning immediately after he thought this, he remembered one dispute that he had lost, soundly. This particular "spat" had cost the school a brilliant professor, an able deputy headmistress, and had cost him an irreplaceable friendship. He opened the middle drawer of his desk slowly, and pulled out a short, curt note that summed up the current status of their relationship quite accurately.
[Thank you for setting up the wards, but that doesn't mean you're absolved. It means you now have a chance to apologize and be forgiven. . . eventually.]
Minerva McGonagall had been a headstrong woman for as long as he had known her. He watched her grow from a feisty first year into a beautiful young woman with so much potential. He was there beside her as she became a teacher and then earned her right to be called a professor. Loathe as he was to admit it now, she was the best in the business. She could command a student's attention with a look, and never backed down when she formed an idea in her head. The latter attribute was the reason she was gone and he was left without a suitable transfigurations teacher. Almost five years later, he was no closer to finding a replacement than he had been when she first left.
He had stubbornly not bowed to her request and she had not sent him another, cutting off all communication between the one-time friends. Albus stared into the flames again, his mind repeating his words to his potions master. ". . . it takes a great deal of strength to admit to our wrongs. . ." he had said.
In the back of his mind, a little voice had screamed itself hoarse telling him that he was a prick and had to apologize to the woman immediately. However, he had pointedly ignored it, stubbornly supporting his primary decision. He knew why she was upset - he had seen the injured look on her face when he said that she could not be a mother. He had seen her hand tremble with rage as she pointed him towards the exit. As the years passed, he had trouble remembering his reasons for saying what he did.
". . . it takes a great deal of strength to admit to our wrongs. . ."
He had been wrong. The realization struck him hard. He had been wrong all along and Minerva had been right. The boy could have been protected anywhere, if the right spells were cast. Hogwarts would have protected him, the ancient magic of the school would have been enough, not to mention that he himself would be there.
Groaning inwardly, he propped his elbows onto the table, took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes tiredly. He was a stubborn prick. How could he have let this carry on for so long? Why did he never attempt to salvage their friendship? With these thoughts rolling around in his head, he pulled out a piece of parchment and picked up a quill. He sat there writing, erasing and re-writing a long-overdue letter, never satisfied with the way the words came out on paper.
Finally, as the gray tinges of dawn crept over the horizon, he nodded in satisfaction at the finished product. Fawkes, his phoenix, gazed at him levelly before flying over to perch on the high back of the headmaster's chair. He had been watching his human struggle through the night, groping for words just out of his reach. He'd seen him erase the words on the parchment over and over again at least a dozen times, until he finally nodded. Giving the letter a once-over, he sighed, "It's about bloody time."
As you were never one to drag anything out, I'll come straight to the point. I am truly and deeply sorry for everything I said to you and accused you of on the day I barged into your house five Novembers ago. I was a stubborn prick (as I'm sure you've described me as) and was an even more stubborn prick when I refused to apologize until now. I know that nothing I say or write will ever take back the cruel words I said to you, but I need you to know that they were spoken out of anger, and not out of rational thought.
I am filled with even more regret as I realize how long it had taken me to try to mend the wounds I have inflicted upon you. I never meant for this to happen, Minerva. I never wanted to end our friendship and create such a rift between us.
Ironically enough, this epiphany came to me while I was doling out wisdom to a colleague. I was a fool Minerva, and I do not deserve your friendship. Though I have done nothing to earn it, I beg for you forgiveness. Please come back, we all need you to. Bring Harry, I was a fool to allow my bitterness at you contradicting me to prevent me from seeing that the magic of Hogwarts would protect him.
Please forgive me. I am sorry.
"It will have to do," he muttered darkly to himself as he rose and walked out the door. Folding the letter and sealing it inside an envelope with a spell, he made his way to the owlry, trying not to think about what would happen if she ignored his letter or refused to forgive him. "It's not as though I wouldn't deserve it," he snapped, mad at himself for allowing it to drag out and come to this, "I should be groveling on my knees and prostrating myself before her."
"Maybe that should be plan B," quipped a voice as he rounded a corner.
Starting slightly, he looked up and dragged his mind back to the present, coming face-to-face with Amanda Hooch. Groaning inwardly, he met her piercing gaze with one of his own.
"Amanda," he began shortly, "Fancy seeing you up at this hour."
"Is that what I think it is?" she asked in a tone that demanded an answer, ignoring his failed attempt to brush her off.
Sighing, he replied, "Yes."
"It's about bloody time, you know," she snapped, she clearly wasn't in a gracious mood this morning. He didn't know she was performing a crazy happy dance, complete with war-whoops and martinis, in her mind.
"I know," he sighed again, "that's just what I said to myself a moment ago. So why are you."
"Me? Couldn't sleep. Decided to write Minerva. Just finished her letter and now I'm off to the owlry."
"Do you think she'll forgive me?" he wanted to know.
"Hard to say," came the neutral reply, "the only person I know who's more stubborn than her is you. But, now that you've finally caved, who knows what'll happen?"
Rolling his eyes at her teasing wink, the pair continued to the owlry and sent their letters off. Amanda left as soon as the owl with her letter flew out the window (unable to contain her glee for much longer), but Albus stood rooted to the spot, watching the owl with his belated apology letter fade into the distance. All he could do now was wait.
The day came and went, and sunset saw the headmaster strolling around the Quidditch pitch - his mind briefly lost to the past. He and Minerva had always taken this route when the weather was pleasant, walking round and round the pitch talking about any miscellaneous thoughts that happened to be on their minds that were too private for the staff room. One such meandering walk stood out in his mind. It had been nearly twenty years ago, Voldemort was beginning to gain strong footholds in the wizardring world and his reign of terror had just begun.
They had walked in a comfortable silence for a time, each lost to their own thoughts, until Minerva spoke, "Albus, do you think we're ready for this war?"
"We will never be ready, Minerva, but we will have to deal with it anyway," he replied.
"What of the children? What will happen to them? How are we going to protect them?"
"Do you remember the time of Grindewald? It will be like that."
"But that was hundreds of miles away, not in Britain itself."
"It was the same concept, murder, riots, torture -"
"I know," she cut him off quietly, "I was there."
They fell into silence once more. Minerva had been there, just as Albus had. She was just barely out of school when the muggle World War Two began and Grindewald took up his stance along side Adolf Hitler. Her brothers had gone to the front as soldiers, she had followed as a medi- witch, determined to help where she could. She had spent five years at the front, until her brothers had died in battle and her parents ordered her home. She began to teach after the war ended in 1945, when Albus had gone to put an end to the terror and returned a hero for defeating the Dark Wizard Grindewald. Armando Dippet resigned a few years later and Albus took up the position as headmaster of Hogwarts, and that's how it had been since.
"Hogwarts will protect them," Albus stated firmly.
Minerva nodded silently as they rounded the far side of the pitch behind the stands, still lost in memories and a growing fear of the future. Sensing her fear, Albus stopped abruptly and stepped in front of her. Grasping her thin shoulders firmly, he looked her in the eye, his calm, confident blue eyes twinkling into her wary opaque irises.
"Whatever is coming," he began, "we will face it together. I will not leave you to fend for yourself. Whatever you need, a protector, a confidant, a friend, I will be here for you."
Minerva met his gaze, taking the strength she found in his eyes and making it her own. "And I will be here for you," she said, all traces of fear replaced with a steady courage. "Until you do something incredibly stupid," she continued, a teasing twinkle in her eyes, "Then you're on your own."
Grinning, he released her and they made their way back to the castle.
He could still remember the fiery look in her eyes as she pledged to watch his back. It seemed like eons ago to the old wizard as he trudged up the slope to the castle. Eons since they had shared a friendship of the strongest core, unwavering and untarnished.
She had not replied to his owl. 'But,' he reasoned, 'it hasn't even been a day.' Still, his heart was heavy as he got ready for bed, silently begging for her forgiveness.
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