If A Troubled Mirror
by Jennifer-Oksana (firstname.lastname@example.org)
spoilers: Goblet of Fire
summary: McGonagall, Dumbledore, and the dark shadows within and without.
disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns the characters, not me.
Minerva McGonagall sat alone in her study, contemplating her cup of licorice and slippery elm tea. It was good tea, naturally sweet, a few healing properties as well that escaped her memory. The only problem was that it had to brew for at least fifteen minutes for full potency and while she was waiting for her tea, unpleasant, necessary thoughts were weaving terrible symphonies in her head.
Seventeen was too young to die. Too young to go to war, and far, far too young to die. She looked at the cup of tea longingly, wishing that it were ready. Instead, her mind was full of Cedric Diggory, Harry Potter, Lord Voldemort, and the hundreds of children at Hogwart's. Dumbledore's children. His soldiers? She prayed that wouldn't have to be the case. That people would have the simple good sense to believe Dumbledore when he said Lord Voldemort had returned.
McGonagall shivered. She still didn't even like to think the name and only once in her life had she feared a name before, during the Second World War when Muggle and wizard alike had been afraid of the end of the world. Of course, after the Nazis had been defeated, the Muggles had had a relatively peaceful fifty years--at least, nothing like Voldemort's rise had happened to them. But sitting in her study, the firelight casting shadows on the tapestry-hung walls, she felt the cold of a dark future seeping through the air.
"You always wait to drink the tea," Dumbledore said, his voice slightly teasing. "And yet you could always simply make it ready to drink, Minerva."
She raised an eyebrow, as though it were the first time she had heard the joke. And not, as the case were, perhaps the thousandth.
"I prefer it the regular way, Albus," she replied. "It tastes better when you wait."
"Indeed," he said with his usual twinkle, that damnable Albus Dumbledore twinkle. It was the thing about him that made his enemies mutter he was never serious, never quite cognizant of the import of things. "At times I wonder why we even bother with magic."
He sat down next to her, in an imposing green leather armchair that was quite dusty and had also not been there the second before.
"Are you quite serious, Albus?" McGonagall asked with an amused smile.
"Ah, sometimes I think I may be, my dear Professor McGonagall," Dumbledore replied, staring into the dancing flames. "Why, just last week when I was in London, I came across a girl wearing a shirt I was sure was woven of stardust--and you know how rare those are. It turns out it was just cheap Muggle cloth, woven to shimmer like the night sky. They find ways to do everything without magic, you know."
Minerva realized he was half-serious. "Is this why you asked Severus to consider going to that Muggle Potions place? The laboratory?" she asked.
"You give me too much credit, Minerv--"
"Albus, do stop with the wheezy, doughty old man nonsense," McGonagall snapped. "What are you thinking?"
He was silent for a very long time. Finally, in a soft voice, Dumbledore spoke again.
"I grow old--I grow old--I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled," he said. "Minerva, we may not win this war."
"Don't be foolish," she said automatically, but his words and his weariness stung her to the heart. Old! Let other men grow old! This was Albus Dumbledore, who had no business growing old, let feeling old. Old, indeed!
"No, it's too late for that," he said, reaching across the chair for her hand. "I've made a career of being foolish."
She took his hand and held it mutely, trying to formulate a thought, come up with a complete sentence to drive back the cold he had brought into the room, into her already darkened thoughts.
"What are you suggesting, then? Sending us all into the Muggle world, to blend in? To hide there?" she finally asked, snappish, dry, the martinet all over. She was tired of playing the martinet, the dried-up old female professor. She had grown old playing it.
He stroked her hand comfortingly.
"No, my dear Professor McGonagall, I most certainly do not," he said dustily. "Even if it were possible, I would not suggest it."
"Then--and this is the third or fourth time I've asked, Albus--what are you up to?" McGonagall asked. "Girls with stardust shirts and Professor Snape in a chemistry laboratory and little children going to war--"
Her voice broke on the last syllable.
"Ah," Dumbledore said, sounding almost regretful. "You've been afraid that I would do something that put the students at the middle of this, haven't you?"
"Given your penchant for encouraging Harry Potter into the middle of things--and given Cedric Diggory's murder--must you really ask, Albus?" she said sharply.
Another silence, punctuated by the snaps and pops of the fire. She thought of the time past, the time when they had both been young--younger, anyway--two talented wizards working together against the multitude of dark forces. Somehow, it had been easier to believe in sacrifices then, when she herself could make them, when she had a reason to make them.
"I remember thinking it was worth it--all of it--because of the way you smiled at me, wearing that fetching little black beret," he said, pulling her out of her reverie. "Do you remember those days?"
"I was just thinking that it was easier to believe in sacrifice then," she said ruefully. "Tell me."
"It's not so very much to tell," he said at last. "I think that we should look to Muggle science, Muggle technology, Muggle alliances, or I think that we're doomed."
She laughed then, a bitter, almost crazed laugh that echoed through the room hysterically, dancing on light and dangerous feet.
"Not so very much," she gasped. "Oh, no, Professor Dumbledore. Not so very much at all."
The laughter wouldn't stop, try as she might to contain it, and before long, she was sobbing, and McGonagall did not sob lightly. She'd been trained out of it long ago, in an attempt to prove to dunderheaded old fools that yes, a woman could be just as great a professor as a man, that yes, a woman could be just as good in the field as a man, that yes, she was as good as Albus Dumbledore said she was. Back in the days when she wore that ridiculously adorable little black beret.
Finally, she managed to choke out a Calming Charm and within moments, she had restored herself some vestige of dignity. She pulled her hand away from his, stood from her chair and looked at him closely, assessing how serious he was. She looked at him, remembering warzones in England and France, in Spain and Scotland, and she remembered when she would have followed him anywhere.
And hadn't she? Wasn't she a professor at Hogwart's now, a solitary and notorious old martinet because of him?
"You don't approve of it," he said mildly, his eyes still the bright blue she remembered from her youth. "You think that I'm risking everything for this."
"I think that--" and the words failed her again. "Albus, do you really think that we'll lose any other way? We defeated him before. We know who his toadies are, we--"
"Minerva," he said softly. "Minerva, your tea is getting cold."
She looked away and sat down, heedless of her quite steeped and still-steaming tea. There were no tears on her face, though she wished that she could cry them.
"They'll go," she said softly, looking into the fire. "They'll go and they'll die too young, grow up too young, while we sit in front of fires and wonder why it keeps happening."
"It's their right, Minerva," he said. "Would you have stayed home if your mother or your grandmother or I had asked you to stay? That you were too young to die?"
"I would have spit in your face, I would have," she said without thinking, remembering how she'd always surprised him, staying two steps ahead of him even though he was, what, fifteen years older than she? And a great wizard besides? "I knew what was right. I knew what had to be done."
He laughed then, and so did she, suddenly cheered by the memories, the little joys in the midst of so much darkness.
"You still do, my dear Professor McGonagall," he said. He rose from the dusty green armchair, which immediately was not there, had never been there. "You always do."
He kissed her, gently, on the forehead and smiled.
"O what fine thought we had because we thought that the worst rogues and rascals had died out," she replied. "Do try not to get lost on the way out, Albus. It will be a rumor all over school if you were found lost in my quarters at three in the morning."
He nodded to her, the twinkle back in his eyes. "I wouldn't dream of it, Minerva."
Then he left; and Minerva McGonagall was left alone with her thoughts, her memories, and her cup of rapidly cooling but perfectly steeped licorice and slippery elm tea.
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