A Life Lived Well
Heather Donnely stepped out of the carriage after arriving at Hogwarts grounds, and wrapped her black knitted shawl more tightly around her shoulders. The weather didn't actually warrant a shawl; the sun was out, and the sky was blue and clear of clouds. Still, the service was going to be outside, and you never did know when the weather might turn. It was best to be prepared, and she always did tend to feel cold anyway. She straightened her small, bent frame as much as her stiff spine would allow, took a deep but shaky breath, and gathered herself for what lay ahead. She could see other carriages arriving and mourners pouring out of them, most of them dressed in their most somber black robes. Many of the women wore black veils. It was a sad procession, with the occasional witch stifling a sob and quite a few wizards surreptitiously wiping a tear.
She checked her purse to make sure she had a handkerchief, and then turned back to her driver to tell him where and when to meet her. As she did so she caught a glimpse of herself in the shiny, darkened window. For a brief second she was surprised at what she saw - the wavy white hair, the stooped posture, the lines on her face. She was an old woman, and had been so for some time, but it seemed as though each day that fact still shocked her anew. She shook her head and turned away from the image.
Where had the time gone? She could still hear Albus' warm laughter like it was yesterday, and now she was attending his funeral? She followed the throngs of people walking towards the chairs lined up by the lake. The beauty of the setting was comforting, and she took in the sparkling water gently lapping at the shore, the sweet smell of the green grass swaying in the occasional breeze, the majestic grey outline of Hogwarts Castle in the background.
She chose a row, not too close to the front, and began to maneuver her way to an empty seat. The grass was uneven and occasionally her heels sunk into the soft earth. She had to concentrate, taking care not to trip. Even the simplest things had become difficult as she aged. Soon she did stumble a bit and reached out instinctively to a chair. It rocked with her weight and for a second she thought she was going to fall. A man's hand reached out and steadied the chair. She looked up into a gentle smile resting in a careworn face. For a moment their blue eyes held each other, his tinged with a deep sadness, hers watery and cloudy with age. The man nodded for her to sit while he continued to hold the chair steady. She thanked him and sat, grateful that even though the world had changed so much around her, at least there were still some gentlemen remaining.
Heather looked down at her hands, clenched white in her lap. The near fall had frightened her. She wondered if Albus also had felt the limitations of his age in more recent years. Not likely. She bit back a smile. That man had been one to take life by the horns. She couldn't imagine something like a little rheumatism or declining vision slowing him down.
The chairs were filling rapidly, as people continued to arrive. She looked around. It wasn't likely she would see anyone she knew, thank goodness. Lord knows she hadn't traveled in Albus' circles for many, many years. As she scanned the crowd a shock of pink caught her eye two rows in front of her, near the aisle. Young people these days! They enjoyed touting such a lack of respect for societal norms. Couldn't the young woman have the courtesy to wear a more subdued hairstyle for the service? Or at least a dark hat or veil? It was only proper and respectful of the deceased to do so, wasn't it? The young woman turned and Heather tried to catch her eye with a disapproving stare. No luck. The girl was focused totally on the man next to her, who was guiding her through the crowd. It was the man who had just steadied her chair! Was he the girl's father? He certainly appeared quite a bit older. It was in his manner, as well as the graying of his hair. She saw the girl lean in and snuggle. They were holding hands. No. Obviously not father and daughter. Well - a mature gentleman would tire of someone like that soon enough. But Heather found her eyes traveling down to their clasped hands and she focused on those hands for a moment, recalling how it had felt to hold Albus' hand, to feel his warmth and strength and the vitality of his youth. Her throat constricted as the memory took hold.
Albus held Heather's hand tightly, his grip safe and sure as they Apparated together to a destination unknown to her, and evidently planned quite thoroughly by him. Her eyes were closed. They always were when Apparating, and she concentrated deeply on the sensual effect of his touch, trying to ignore the rather unpleasantness of the rest of it - the pressure, the blackness. When it was over, she opened her eyes and saw the smiling face of the young man in front of her. His sparkling blue eyes looked as though they could barely contain his excitement at what the day held in store. For a moment she was content to look only at them. These were the eyes that she had grown up with, the eyes she had turned to whenever anything of any import in her life had occurred.
She soaked in every detail, from the black dots of his pupils to the miniscule flecks of silver that brightened the blue of his irises, from the long lashes that framed them to the quizzically arched eyebrows raised gently at her right now. But her favorite was the last she took in - those which prompted her to reach out for a gentle touch - the tiny laugh lines at the corners, which she'd only just noticed in the last few years. Perhaps it was because they were born of one of her favorite things about him - his wonderful good humor, and because they were there only after he'd laughed and smiled so much throughout his life until now. He'd earned them. And God had smiled upon her to allow her to share so much of that laughter with him.
He turned his face into her hand and brushed it with the lightest of kisses. Then he reached out and grasped her hand again, interlocking his long fingers with hers. His other hand reached out in a sweeping gesture.
"Look around you, Heather. Is this not the most beautiful place?"
She looked and drew in a quick gasp.
He laughed at that. "You are right, my dear. It is quite literally breathtaking."
She could only nod in response as she continued to take in the majestic vista. They were up on the highest of mountain peaks, surrounded by grey rock, craggy cliffs and steep drops which led to dark depths of nothingness far below. The air was crisp, the sky a deep blue except for scattered swirls of white mist which floated languidly above and beneath them. They, however, stood on a large green meadow, the grass a soft carpet beneath her feet. Off in the distance were mountains, surely as big as this one, but seemingly tiny in the distance. Her stomach dropped then, as the vastness of the world hit her, for she knew he would soon be moving very far away. He noticed immediately and turned her to face him.
"What is it, my love?"
She shook her head. She would not ruin things yet. She wanted this afternoon to last forever. It had to. And so she lied. "Nothing. It's just...so lovely."
He smiled. "I want everything to be perfect."
If only it could be, she thought to herself.
A strange, lilting melody broke Heather's memory. The sound was coming from the lake. People were pointing. The merpeople! The music was different from anything she'd ever heard before - surreal, tragic, haunting but beautiful...and so befitting at the funeral of someone who had been utterly fascinated with creatures other than wizard folk. Albus' kindly inquisitive mind had been one of his most endearing qualities.
As the music played, a man, large and somewhat unkempt with black hair and a beard, began walking up the center aisle, carrying a bundle in his arms. It was wrapped in purple velvet with gold stars. Heather gasped. The man laid the bundle gently onto a marble table at the front of the gathering. Was that tiny bundle the man who had, years ago, so easily scooped her up in his arms? No. No...it couldn't be. She fought that image and tried desperately to go back to where her memory had taken her only moments before. Back to that mountain peak. Back to her Albus.
She looked at him again, now taking in all of him, not just the eyes. She concentrated with every fiber of her being to etch this image indelibly in her memory forever. Looking back, she would laugh at that sentiment, for how could it have been anything other than the most vivid memory of her life?
He spoke to her again. "Come. Follow me."
She watched him move back from her and turn toward a large tree. His steps were lithe. She always said he appeared to float rather than walk. His frame was solid, the breadth of his shoulders easily seen even under his robes. And even though not as apparent, she knew those shoulders tapered nicely to a narrow waist and long, muscular legs. That, she had been privy to in their prior passionate moments, and even a silly one or two, such as when he had stripped down and dived into the frigid pond by her home. He had been trying to retrieve a poem he had written her that had been blown there by a gust of wind. He hadn't even thought to use his wand, so desperate had he been to rescue it. Of course the water had made the ink run and the words unreadable. But he had finished reciting it aloud to her anyway, from memory. Was that when she had first realized she could never love another? Perhaps. Or perhaps she had always known that.
Leaning against the tree were two strange contraptions. Each consisted of two spoked wheels, one very large in front and the other, much smaller, in back. He grabbed one and rolled it away from the tree and towards her.
"Here. This is yours. We're going to take a ride."
"What? Albus, not another of your Muggle..."
"Ah yes. A wonderful new Muggle invention called a bicycle, or a velocipede. Or to be more precise, the Penny Farthing, manufactured by Mr. James Starley. We will ride to our lunch."
"Ride? But I've never..."
"Do not worry. I've placed a spell on yours so that you will not fall. But you must pedal or it will not go." He shrugged his shoulders. "I am afraid it will be neither as smooth nor as fast as riding a broom, but I rather look forward to the sense of accomplishment we will feel after reaching a destination under our own physical power."
She placed her hands on her hips. "We can walk under our own power."
He gave her that tilt of his head and smile that she could never resist. "My Heather, walking is pleasant enough. But this will be special ." He held out his hand.
They rode. And the sensation was wonderful, all wind and bumps and laughter and sunlight on her face. For a short while she forgot what was to come. But they soon came upon a boulder and he stopped and climbed off, calling for her to stop pedaling. He then took her hand and helped her down. She caught her breath, smoothing her skirt and patting her blonde curls neatly back into place.
She watched him walk over to the boulder and bend over it, pointing his wand down. His hair fell forward. It was long, past his shoulders. He had always worn his hair long, even when it was not fashionable to do so. And it fit him. It was straight, though not sleekly so, and a deep auburn. His face was clean shaven, as she preferred, for when she looked at him she wanted to see all of him.
Suddenly, the boulder disappeared and in its place was a divine picnic meal, complete with candles, silver, and crystal wine glasses. He looked over at her with a shy smile, asking for her approval. The deep forest green of his robes played exquisitely against his hair and the vivid colors of nature surrounding them.
She couldn't move. She was rooted to the spot. Why couldn't time simply stand still? He removed a small, navy, velvet box from his pocket and walked over to her. His eyes locked on hers and he started to go down onto his knee. He was going to say it. No. Please. Not yet. A gust of wind blew the hair gently around his face. Her heart lurched and a searing want burned her to the center of her being. All she could see was him and she was consumed by the image. This would be the last time they would be together, the last time she would feel his touch or his breath. She had no doubt about that.
She could feel the beginnings of hot tears sting her eyes. She fought them back. A strangled sob escaped her lips, however, as she reached out to him. His expression changed and he stood back up, his shy anticipation replaced by concern and questioning. She answered with her actions as she was unable to speak. She needed him more desperately than ever before. She needed him this one last time. She let her robes fall to the ground, reaching for him with desperate desire and unhinging the clasp of his robe. That was all he needed, as the worry in his eyes changed to a feral want for her in return.
The velvet box dropped to the ground as he reached behind the small of her back and forcefully pulled her to him, arching her up to him. His voice was hoarse with desire as he said her name.
But then both of them were silenced as he brought his mouth down hungrily on hers. She buried her hands in his hair and stood up on her toes to meet him halfway, her lips already parted even before she reached him. As their lips met, she could taste the faint lemon of those candies of which he was so enamored. She drank in his smell, always overlaid with the lingering, lusty scent of his pipe. That cherry scent had always made her feel safe, and for a second she sighed and relaxed in his arms. But again, the answer she would soon be giving him seared her soul, and she parted her lips further, pressing his head towards her. He groaned with pleasure and lifted her up easily in his arms, carrying her towards the picnic, all the while still kissing her. He gently set her down on the linen, briefly leaving her lips to lay small kisses along the nape of her neck.
He whispered the words, "I love you."
She answered back, trying to keep her voice steady. "And I will always love you."
He stopped then, placing his hands on each side of her face and pulling his head back to look at her. He saw the tears filling her eyes. He looked puzzled for a moment.
Someone coughed and Heather vaguely realized that a small man was speaking to the mourners from in front of the marble table. He was eulogizing Albus. It was difficult to hear and Heather caught only occasional words and phrases. He spoke of the Headmaster's dedication to Hogwarts and especially to the students. He then spoke of Albus' intellectual contributions - the work he had become famous for. He spoke of the great battles Albus had fought, against injustices earlier in his life, and now against evil. He had dedicated his life to these causes. They were his life.
He had never married. He had never had children. His work was his family. Heather looked down at her own ringless left hand, lined and veined. Work could keep your days busy, and it could give you some fulfillment, but it could not fill every void. This, Heather knew intimately. This, she had also lived. Work wasn't love. It wasn't family. And it had ended up taking him in the end. No, Albus. No. You should have grown old in a wonderful country house, tending a garden filled with flowers, sharing your meals and your bed with a woman who loved you and took care of you, surrounded by your grandchildren and great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. That was how it should have been...how it could have been if she had only answered him differently. Her mind drifted again .
His eyebrows raised as if in sudden realization. "You know what I am about to tell you, don't you?"
That was Albus. How did he always know these things?
"Yes. I overheard your mother telling mine yesterday in the shop." She sighed and looked at him proudly. "Nicolas Flamel has lured you away to his laboratories. It is a truly wonderful opportunity. And not a bit of a surprise."
"Then why these tears? You know I wish you to marry me and have you come with me. Why do you think I've asked you here...?"
She stopped him with a light finger on his mouth. "Shhhh. I know. And I would want that more than anything. But I cannot." Her voice broke with that. "With my father's death, the business will be lost without me. But with hard work and a bit of luck, I can keep it profitable. And who will care for my mother? And my young brother? He needs a proper education. It will cost money." Her tears were flowing freely now.
He looked stricken. "In time I will..."
She shook her head. "Albus. I know in my heart that you're destined for great things, but..."
This time he was the one that interrupted her, and anger tinged his voice. "I rather thought I was destined for you. "
"My lo..." She stopped. She couldn't say the word "love". She was a hypocrite, heartless and cruel hurting him in this way. But she continued. "You are an idealist, and great things to you are independent of money. As shallow as it sounds, I must be a realist." She couldn't even look him in the eye now, and looked down at the ground. "My family's survival is at stake. I am so sorry."
His voice was raised now. She'd never before heard him this angry. "No. No...I cannot accept this. I will not accept it. If you cannot come with me, then I will stay here and find work."
For a moment she questioned herself. Was she doing the right thing? My God, this hurt so. Before she even realized it, she reached out with one hand and fingered the hair back from the side of his face. Surprisingly, he did not flinch, but simply closed his eyes momentarily at her touch.
"The world is changing, Albus. And it needs you. You know this is your calling. I cannot keep you from it. You must go. Do what needs to be done. I will always be here for you."
His look of disgust hit her like a slap in the face. "Maybe you will be waiting here for me, my dear, but I think the wealthy husband you're so determined to acquire could very well be waiting behind you, keen to duel. And, even though I've aptitude enough for duelling, it bores me."
"Husband? I've no desire for any other man! I intend only to save my father's business, God willing, and to take care of my mother and brother. That is all. And I am resigned to it. Circumstances have changed desperately, Albus. You must understand that.
He began to back away from her as he said his parting words. "That is your only intention? To save the business? Well, I intend to make a long study of the uses of dragon's blood with Nicholas Flamel. Who knows? After that we might just manage to brew the Elixir of Life.
And with that he turned, climbed onto his Penny Farthing and pedaled off into the sunset.
As her mind's eye burned with the fiery golds, yellows and oranges of that mountain sunset so many years before, she suddenly had to shield her own eyes, for bright white flames were erupting into the sky around Albus' body. She gasped. Smoke swirled into the air as the flames rose higher. Some people screamed. And then the fire was gone. Albus was gone. And so Heather Donnely made her way back to her carriage and back to her small home where she had lived quietly, by herself, after her mother had died and after her brother had gone off to school, for the last one hundred and fifteen years.
A/N: Thanks to Suburban House Elf, my trusty and wonderful beta for all of her help. DD's last two responsed to Heather are hers, with the slightest bit of tweaking by me. To Eudora Hawkins who answered my call for help prior to sending to my beta, and who recommended that I ground the story more firmly in the Victorian era. Eudora, you're wonderful. And lastly to the fluffers who inspired me to see if I could write an "ultra hawt kiss" involving Dumbledore - a challenge, to be sure ;).