Chapter Sixteen: On the Rocks
The transfigurations teacher looked up from her nearly completed stack of summaries and met the headmaster's eyes questioningly. His voice did not have the usual amount of benign amusement, his tone matching the concerned state of his blue eyes.
"Yes?" she answered warily, unsure of what he was so concerned about.
He approached her office desk quietly, not knowing how to phrase his question. However, he stopped abruptly when he saw realization dawn and her eyes hardened immediately.
"Harry told you," she said. It was a statement, not a question. When he nodded in reply, she shook her head and told him, "Albus, I'm fine, it was just. . . I just remembered everything in one go, that's all."
He sank into a chair before her desk and looked her over. She seemed fine physically, but then again, it happened just last night. He was Albus Dumbledore, though, and saw the sorrowful shadows behind her eyes when no one else could.
"Minerva, talk to me," he said, taking her hand in both of his, "tell me what's wrong."
She stood and ripped her hand out of his grasp, desperately trying to ignore the sudden shooting tingles up and down her arm his touch brought. Placing her hands on the surface of the desk, she leaned forward. "I'm fine, headmaster," she said stonily, meeting his concerned gaze defiantly. "And I would appreciate if you didn't nose into my affairs."
"I was hardly nosing about," he shot back, annoyed at her denial. "Harry was worried, so he told me. You can't blame him for being concerned about your welfare."
"It's none of your concern," she snapped.
"But it is, Minerva, it is," he replied calmly, rising and mimicking her position on the other side of the desk. Leaning forward, he said quietly, "I worry when I see you so upset."
There it was again, Minerva was sure of it this time. The look - filled with such concern and tenderness that she had to look away. Albus had no idea what he'd done to make her eyes water as she turned her head away.
"Why are you doing this to me, Albus?" she asked in a halting whisper.
Fear coupled with the concern in his eyes, and he shot around the desk to stand beside her. "Minerva, what are you talking about?" He gently reached a hand out and made her look at him.
The look was gone, replaced with the old, concerned look of a dear friend. She was confused, not knowing if the look had truly ever been there or if it was her imagination running wild on her again, bringing _his_ face up wherever she turned.
He saw the raw pain in her eyes and his own widened in surprise. "Minerva? Minerva, please," he pleaded softly.
"Oh, Albus," she whispered, and turned away again to weakly sit in her chair. "I don't know why all of a sudden. I - I keep seeing him," she said quietly, her breath hitching in her throat.
An icy grip squeezed his heart mercilessly. "So it wasn't the stress," he concluded silently, "It really was him." Even in his mind he spat it out as if it were poison. He had no idea what prompted the heightened resentment he felt towards the other man, and shook his head to clear his thoughts. He knelt before his distraught friend and took her hands in his, resting both pairs on her lap.
"Minerva, it's over, it is in the past, it's all right," he soothed, gazing up into her tormented face.
"It's not," she whispered sadly, "He died before we could resolve. . . anything."
He didn't want to press her, but ventured a soft inquiry, "What do you mean?"
Albus didn't think anyone had heard the entire story of their final split. He himself thought that Kael had completely broken it off at some point before he died.
She refused to meet his eyes as she began. "When he first went off to join the army, right before my sixth year, we had a huge row. We refused to talk to each other until the following Christmas. Then he came home, we settled it, and he went back to training with my love." Albus' eyes darkened at this, but almost immediately returned to their prior expression. She was still speaking to their hands and didn't notice, "We wrote to each other constantly, but I never told him that I was training to go over myself. He found out once they sent him back, after he was shot. Right before I left, he came storming into my apartment and ordered me to stay. I couldn't. He said he wouldn't wait for me if I went, but I did." She took a deep breath at this point in an effort to still the raging memories in her mind. "I went, he died, and then I came back. He wrote me a letter before he died," she continued haltingly, "He said he still loved me, he proposed."
Drawing her hands out of Albus', she reached for the dainty chain around her neck. She pulled it out from beneath the collar of her dress and showed the beautiful engagement ring to the man before her, oblivious to the torrent of emotions sweeping over him as he regarded it.
'He proposed to her,' he said to himself numbly. Shock, jealousy, anger, pain, resentment, guilt, and hurt clouded his mind in a thick, confusing cloud of rivaling sensations.
"Albus?" Minerva called softly, seeing the glazed look in his eye. She dropped the ring and it swung softly back to her chest. Taking up Albus' hands once more, she squeezed them gently, looking for a conscious reaction. "Albus?"
His eyes refocused and locked on to hers. He heard the worried question coupled with sadness in her voice, a small quaver that betrayed her emotions. He favored her with a small, half-hearted smile and spoke, "It's good to talk about this, get it off your chest. I'm glad you told me, Minerva." A part of his mind screamed 'LIAR!' but he hushed it and asked her, "Are you feeling better now?"
"I don't know," she replied quietly, the memories still threatening to overwhelm her, "I suppose I'm just being hit with nostalgia again. Strange how it's never really affected me before."
"It's completely normal, Minerva," he said honestly, and then added, "I know he would be proud of the way you've handled all of this."
"All of what?" she asked on the verge of tears, "Living? Breathing? Refraining from breaking down every time I think of him?" She looked at him critically, even through unshed tears, waiting for him to explain.
"And Harry," he added calmly.
"I didn't do it!" came a voice from the doorway. Minerva's head snapped up and Albus spun around, abruptly breaking contact with Minerva's hands as he rose.
"Ma?" Harry questioned, distinguishing a strange look of sadness in her eyes. Seeing the headmaster standing nearby with a somewhat awkward look on his face, Harry narrowed his eyes. "What happened?" he asked, eyeing both inhabitants of the room.
"Nothing," the two adults chorused, a little too quickly to be believable. Harry knew a fib when he heard one - he'd practically been trained by the Weasley twins in spotting (and manufacturing) such things.
"What were you talking about?" he drilled.
"Harry," Minerva sighed, "Go get ready for supper, I'll met you back in our rooms in a moment. Go on," she rose and shooed him out of the room before he could protest. As he left, she closed the door and turned to Albus. "I think you'd better go now," she said quietly.
"Minerva," he began.
"Albus don't," she said, closing her eyes and raising a trembling hand before her as if shielding herself from his words. "Just don't. I'll deal with this myself. It's easier that way."
Not daring to press her further and thus push her away completely, Albus nodded and strode out the door. Minerva closed it behind him and pressed her forehead against the cool wood, trying to think of nothing at all. Down the hall, Albus turned a corner and nearly tripped over a small roadblock standing stubbornly in his path.
"What did you do?" demanded a stern voice, so reminiscent of his deputy that it could only belong to one child.
"Harry," Albus greeted. He stopped short - meeting the infuriated eyes of the small black-haired child.
"Were you picking on her?" he demanded again, more sharply this time, seeing as how he received no response to his first question. "Cuz Aunt Molly said not to let you pick on her and I'm not gonna let-."
The rest of the boy's tirade was cut short as Albus scooped him up and placed a hand over his mouth with a sigh. He walked down the hallway with Harry's mouth firmly corked as muffled sounds of indignation and reproach echoed behind them. Reaching the portrait of Sir Cadogan, Albus said the password and ducked inside. Setting Harry down after the portrait closed behind him, he crouched down to the boy's level looked at him seriously.
Harry, still raving about the obvious distress his mother was in, failed to immediately notice the pained expression that flitted over the headmaster's face at the mention of his mother. He looked up just in time to see it before it vanished and stopped, his mouth silent as he gazed questioningly into the older man's face. Sighing, Albus leaned against the doorframe, trying to put what he wanted to say to the boy into words.
"Uncle Albus, did you make Ma cry?" Harry asked seriously.
"No, Harry, I did not."
"Did you make her sad?"
"I was trying to make her happy again, Harry."
"Did it work?" Harry asked, believing the headmaster's claims, but skeptical about the success of the headmaster's endeavor.
"Not exactly," the headmaster replied heavily.
Amanda yanked the door to Minerva's office open in a thoroughly aggravated gesture. She had just been to see Poppy and had a hurried, agitated conversation with her about Minerva's strange behavior that day. Minerva hadn't spoken to either of them about what was bothering her. She hadn't been in the staff room, which only served to prove to Amanda that the other woman was avoiding everyone else. Seeing no one at the desk, she turned to go, but stopped short as she noticed the figure slumped on the ground next to the door.
"Why didn't you knock?" Minerva said crossly, but the demand lacked its usual spark.
Amanda's annoyance quickly turned to worry as she pulled the door closed behind her and sank to her knees beside the other witch. Minerva rose, though, and extended a hand to the flying instructor in a clear motion for her to get up. Amanda scrambled up, her movements made jerky in comparison to Minerva's grace.
"I was just looking for something, but I found it, and now I am going to get Harry for supper," Minerva said, reaching for the door handle.
Swooping in front of her to block the door, Amanda planted herself firmly and glared at her friend. "You're not going anywhere, missy," she said firmly, and steered Minerva to a chair.
"Sit," she commanded. Minerva sat.
"Explain," came the next command as she settled herself in a chair next to the cornered transfigurations teacher.
"Explain what?" Minerva asked innocently.
"Don't tempt me to ask Snape for Veritaserum. Tell me what's bothering you."
Minerva knew she wouldn't be able to get out of this one, although she knew it would be somewhat easier now that she wasn't under the all- knowing scrutiny of Albus Dumbledore.
"Just memories," she said in a quiet half truth. Amanda's eyebrow raised in a silent snort of disbelief. What memories could have possibly had this effect on the woman? Then realization dawned on her. She opened her mouth to verify the name, but Minerva nodded and spoke before she could get it out.
Amanda nodded. She hadn't known Kael Reigns - she hadn't known Minerva then, but Poppy (as well as a drunk Minerva on one crazy New Years many years ago) had told her about him. She still couldn't understand - and neither could Poppy - how one man, who had burned her no less, could still bring her so much pain as a memory.
"Come to Hogsmeade?" Amanda suggested.
"I don't drink anymore."
"Ah, but you don't drink any less either."
"I am not getting drunk, Amanda."
"But you need it," she pointed out.
"No you're not."
"Yes I am."
"Sorry, but that was fun, can we keep going? I didn't get a chance to mess you up yet."
Minerva couldn't help but grin at her quirky friend. Amanda congratulated herself on a job well done - for it was obvious that Minerva was not going to elaborate on her own feelings, so making her laugh again would have to suffice.
"Come, oh ye refusing drinks, it's time for supper! And I won that round fair and square," Amanda added with a grin. Her smile only broadened when Minerva rose with her, shaking her head and laughing softly.
Minerva followed after dutifully, taking the chance to leave her heartache behind for the moment. It was difficult to stay depressed around Amanda.
Supper was a tense affair at the staff table. Minerva flat out refused to look at the headmaster, who cast worried subtle glances her way throughout the entire meal. Harry sat between Minerva and Severus, rather than on his mother's other side, as he was still suspicious of the headmaster's role in his mother's sadness. The boy knew there was definitely something wrong when his mother didn't even blink when his snake (whom he'd snuck to supper) slithered onto the table. On his other side, Severus noted the lack of action taken by Hogwart's deputy raised his eyebrow at the usually uproarious flying instructor on his other side. Amanda shrugged innocently at the unasked question, feigning complete ignorance. He saw right through it, of course, but decided not to pursue the matter. If the Gryffindor head was having problems, she could deal with them herself.
As soon as she finished her food, Minerva left, rather than staying to sit and chat with the other teachers. Harry immediately followed her, grabbing her hand and trotting to keep up with her strides.
The headmaster watched them go quietly, regretting his decision to refrain from pushing the matter further. He wanted to help, to do something to take the pain away, but he, the great Albus Dumbledore was completely out of ideas.
Minerva's steps slowed as soon as she was out of ear shot of the Great Hall. A tight grip on her hand led her eyes downward to meet a pair of vivid green ones. He looked up at her questioningly. "Ma, are you gonna tell me what's wrong?" he asked.
"I can't, Harry," she said quietly as she picked him up and settled him on her hip, "Don't worry about me, I'll be fine."
"When?" he demanded.
Minerva cursed her use of the future verb tense and tried to cover it up, "I'm fine now."
She rolled her eyes and planted a swift kiss on his cheek, "I am not lying."
"You're doing it again."
"Harry!" she said in exasperation.
"Ma!" he echoed in the same tone of voice. She glared at him sternly, but he knew that her heart wasn't in it and dared to continue, "You told me not to tell lies and now you are."
Sighing, she shook her head at his determined glare. "Fine, Harry I'll tell you." His eyes widened in anticipation as they reached their rooms and entered. When she failed to actually elaborate, he tugged on her skirts once she put him down.
"And?" he pressed.
She sat down on the couch before the roaring fire of their living room and he climbed up beside her.
"My heart hurts, bebay," she told him softly.
"Do you need to see Aunt Poppy?" he questioned, wrinkling his brow in confusion.
"No, Harry, my heart hurts because of something that happened a long time ago."
His mouth rounded as he voiced a soft "oh" and climbed into her lap. He wrapped his arms around her neck and held on tight, placing a kiss on her cheek and he did so. Aunt Poppy had once told him that sometimes when people are sad, all they really need is a hug. He grinned happily as Minerva wound her own arms around him and held his slight form to her.
"Was it Uncle Albus' fault?" he asked after a while. He felt her heart rate speed up a bit, but it slowed down again as she answered.
"No, it wasn't his fault. It wasn't anyone's fault. It just. . . happened."
Partially satisfied with her answer, he snuggled back into her protective embrace and remained there until he fell asleep an hour later. Minerva carried him to his bed and laid him down gently. He stirred as she slid his glasses off of his face and pulled off his shoes. She changed him into his pajamas, tucked him under the vivid orange blankets, and sat down beside him. Smoothing his hair down once again, she watched him sleep.
A terrible, unbidden thought came to her mind at that moment: What if she had been forced to choose between Kael and Harry? She froze then, witless with fear for a second and her mind and heart screamed 'Harry!' until she realized that that question was completely hypothetical. Taking a deep, shuddering breath to calm her pounding heart, she considered her decision. One thing she had learned, both from experience and from Molly Weasley, was that a mother's love is the most powerful love in the universe. 'Lily' a part of her mind whispered and she agreed. Lily Potter had made the ultimate sacrifice, not for her husband, but for her baby. With her decision, hypothetical though it was, Minerva did the same, sacrificing one love for the other.
Placing a kiss on her son's head, she left for her own room and crawled into bed with that happy word on her mind, "Sacrifice."
"This can't be healthy," Amanda told Poppy over a cup of tea after supper. They were seated in the medi-witch's airy office overlooking the lake and the infamous Whomping Willow. "Pining after a man who burned her and who won't be coming back."
"I don't know," Poppy replied, remember days long past, "She loved him with her whole heart - it's not easy to just 'get over' something like that."
"But fifty years-."
"Do you really think love has a time limit?" Poppy asked shrewdly. Seeing her friend's cowed look, she continued, "And he truly did love her, I know he did."
"If he loved her, why did he tell her he wouldn't wait?"
"He was just as hard-headed as she is."
They sat in silence for a few minutes, sipping their tea on the temperate balcony garden outside her office. As it was only a day into the term, Poppy didn't have any overnight patients to tend to and was enjoying a relaxing night.
"What I don't understand is why this came up all of a sudden," Poppy fumed quietly.
"Well, let's see, they went to school here, they wanted to-."
"That's not it. She's been dealing with that ever since she started teaching," Poppy thought aloud. "No, it's something else. . . something. . . more."
"Just more. Something emotional. . ." the medi-witch stared into space, contemplating possibilities. Suddenly she gasped, "You don't think it's Harry do you?"
Amanda stared at her expectantly as Poppy stared back, waiting for an answer.
"Well?" the two witches demanded of each other at the exact same time.
"How," Amanda demanded, not following the other witch's train of thought, "does Harry's presence have anything to do with it?"
"They wanted children, or course!"
"But she's had Harry for ages, why didn't it come up before?"
"I just don't understand."
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