The Left Side of Tomorrow
“A red-gold glow burst suddenly across the enchanted sky above them,
as an edge of dazzling sun appeared over the sill of the nearest window.”
– Deathly Hallows, Chapter Thirty-Six
Her bare feet make little noise on the stairs. They have become so numb from the stone, still cold, even now that summer just hanging on the tip of the horizon’s tongue. She should have worn shoes, or at least stockings, but the sight of the golden light already making its way across the top of her window gave her no time to dally. She has promised she would watch the sunrise, and Minerva McGonagall never breaks a promise.
She leaps from the last step, gripping the balustrade with one hand to steady her balance, no different from the way she has gripped her broom that final Quidditch game, hanging by one hand to block a threatening Quaffle. She relishes every moment spent in the air, the feeling of being surrounded by nothing more than air. There could be nothing better.
But landing is never easy, not once one has dreamed for too long. Her bones jar as her feet hit the ground and she curses under her breath that she has forgotten her restraint, even for the briefest of moments, even though no one has seen.
Or have they?
“I was worried you wouldn’t come.”
His voice is little more than a whisper, a mere part of the breeze that drifts in through the open doors of the castle. He stands in the opening, shadowed by the growing light, glancing over his shoulder. She cannot not see his eyes, but she feels their gaze, so strong as to almost be a physical touch.
“I– I–” She does not want to apologise, only to excuse her uncharacteristic tardiness.
“Most wouldn’t have dared.”
She steps further into the light, squinting from behind her gold-rimmed glasses, but still she can’t see his face.
“Because it’s the last morning?”
He turns back to the sunrise, blazing scarlet around him.
“Because of who I am.” His voice dips so low that she takes another step toward him, like the fly tentatively placing its foot on the edge of the spider’s web.
“Don’t–” He cuts himself short, lips pursing, shoulders tensing, hands fisting.
She tosses her head, inky strands stained red as she joins him in the light, but she does not look at him, not right away. The sun, it is too brilliant, too bright, a bloody ball against the gold-tinged sky, overwhelming the tired stars. It burns out all remnants of the night, not just from the sky, but also from her memory. There is only the sunrise and he, the one who has brought her to admire it, just as she has often admired him.
But that is in the past. She knows as well as he that what’s past is past.
This promise she has kept, it is her final acquiescence. Once the sun has risen and the castle begins to wake, she will return to her dormitory with its neatly-packed trunk to straighten the bedclothes and bid farewell to this place for another year. She will return, and so will he, but it can never be the same.
“I won’t call you that other thing. It’s a silly name.”
When his gaze falls on her once more, she sees how the light fills his eyes, their black depths flashing crimson.
“Tom is a silly name. A silly Muggle name.”
She shakes her head at the old argument.
“But at least it’s real.”
He looks back at the sun as it climbs the backs of the mountain peaks.
“Real isn’t enough. It never was.”
She leans one shoulder against the door, drawing strength from the ancient wood. He is never easy to talk to with all his strange ideas about the world and the people upon it. From the first, he was always too old on the inside, and had she not known him in his early years at Hogwarts, she’d now find it hard to imagine that he had ever been a child.
But in a way, he’d never stopped being one. Maybe that was the problem.
“So you’ll have an imaginary name in an imaginary world of your own making? Where will that get you, Tom? There’s a war going on out there, in case you’ve forgotten.” She gestures toward the open door, the sun and the sky and the mountains.
“It’s not my war.”
He closes in on himself, shutting her out because she, alone of all the people he knew, dared to question, to mock, to point out all the things he wanted to remain unmentionable. That was what he wanted to become, or so he once said, that unmentionable thing, that great and terrible thing no one would dare to speak of out of fear, but that was always just on the tip of one’s tongue. It’s what disturbs her most, even just to think of it. Who would want to be such a thing? Who would give up his own name for the sake of being feared?
“It’s everyone’s war, Tom.”
He shudders again at the name.
“Stop being a baby. It’s the name your mother gave you, and you’ll have it to the day you die, like it or not.”
When he laughs, of all things, her self-righteous stance of raised chin and squared shoulders slips off like a loose robe, slithering to the ground around her feet. She makes up for the loss of face by crossing her arms, but it only appears as though she is embarrassed to have been laid bare before him.
“Yes, I will, and you’ll be there to remind me, won’t you, Minerva?”
When she looks at him, his laugh dies.
“You know I won’t.”
He turns away, hand resting against the doorframe. An odd emotion crosses his face, a sort of pain, not quite anguish, but more than annoyance. She has seen it before, though only once. It was the day she had told him no, the one time she had refused him something, the one thing she would refuse to give to anyone: herself.
The sun nearly reaches the summit, a shrinking, jagged triangle of rock cutting into that impossible circle, marring its perfection, black against the crimson light. She felt like that triangle against his sun, blotting him out as he ascended. That’s all she could ever be to him.
“It’s not everyone’s war, Minerva. It’s an old man’s war.”
His voice lowers an octave, emerging now from the depths of his throat. It echoes through the hollows of the entry hall until the last words are lost in the shadows.
“I would’ve thought that you’d agree with Grindelwald’s ideas.”
With a wave of his hand, he steps forward, toward the light, his face again hidden from her view. Perhaps he is aware of her searching eyes and penetrating gaze. For all that she feigns disinterest, she is forever fascinated by him. Not the surface, as remarkable as many find it, but what lies within. She has loved his mind.
If only his heart weren’t so corrupt.
“They’re ideas and nothing more. Ruling over Muggles like a king. It’s preposterous.”
She lets out a breath, her brow furrowing in confusion.
“Preposterous? What do you want, then, Tom?”
He turns to face her, his robes whipping around his thin legs. His face falls into shadow, but she can sense the violence of his expression.
“I don’t want to rule. Don’t you know what kind of responsibility that brings?” He relaxes an iota at the sight of her open-mouthed wonder, his hands unclenching. “They think I can become Minster of Magic one day. That’s the last thing I want.”
She wants to ask him what he does, then, want, but she cannot. She fears his answer, fears that she already knows what it is going to be.
Looking down to trace the lines of the stone floor, worn smooth by centuries of feet, large and small, booted and slippered, or even bare like her own, she is startled by the touch of his finger – a single, cold finger – beneath her chin. How he came so close without her hearing, she cannot fathom, but here he is, before her, the light illuminating only half of his face so that she sees him as he truly is. Half-darkness, half-light. The diamond sprouting from a lump of coal.
“Aren’t you going to ask what I do want, Minerva?”
She stares into his eyes, one reflecting the remnants of the scarlet light, as the sun at last passes over the tops of the mountains. Oranges, golds paint the once-vermilion skies.
Her eyes raise to meet his. Black against black.
As the light clears, she measures his features, admiring at the same time as acknowledging their similarity to her own. Black hair, black eyes, straight noses, carved cheekbones, marble skin. They are like Catherine and Heathcliff, more brother and sister than anything else, even without the bond of blood to taint their association. Perhaps that’s why–
Her breath catches as he brings his face near. She can feel his breath wafting against her cheek, the firm pressure of his fingers against the bottom of her chin, her own heart beating, wait, no, it has forgotten how.
She must not. Must not forget.
“It’s not the same, Tom. You’re not the same.”
Pushing him away with arms strong from endless Quidditch practice, she moves away into the shadows, her pale face staring out at him, still standing in the flood of light.
He turns his back on her and blinds himself in the blaze that is the arrival of day.
“We’ve got to grow up sometime, Minerva.”
The shadows are frigid, unyielding. She is lost within them, but knows that, if she should return to the light, she would be returning to him, and that she could not do.
“Not in this way, Tom. What you did to poor Hagrid–”
“Poor Hagrid? That brute?”
He has turned again to face her, arms outstretched, his shadow a mocking image of the Muggle saviour that makes her retreat further into the shadows of the castle.
“I did the intelligence level of this school a favour. If not for that meddler, Dumbledore–”
He approaches, his boots ringing loudly on the stone. Fully-clothed, he makes her feel naked, her thin nightdress and tartan dressing gown her only defences against... against... what? Him? She had her wand to do that. What he represented? Perhaps, if she could understand just what he meant to her, to this moment, to–
“So it’s that, is it, Minerva? You’re infatuated with that manipulative old man. He’s gotten your sympathy for Hagrid, so why not the other poor unfortunates of the world, all of those damned Muggles.....”
He stops on the edge of the line of shadow as though too afraid to leave the light behind.
“That’s why you can’t be near me anymore. Dumbledore’s been filling you with his lies against me. It’s pathetic, Minerva. You’re hardly his type–”
Her wand comes between them. Her eyes flare an unspoken warning. It would be best to leave him now, forsake this failed venture, but she does not move, does not take another step back. She will not retreat with her tail between her legs, again in his power. She will now, as she always will, stand up to him without fear, no matter how terrible he becomes.
You cannot become great if you are not feared.
“Well, well, looks like you can feel after all, Minerva. Very good.”
His smile, that cruel twist of his lips, turns her stomach.
“The question, Tom, is whether you can feel.”
The smile falls away.
“You can feel pride and hatred – I’ve seen you – but is that all?” Her voice breaks when she revises her question. “Is that enough?”
He tilts his chin upward, looking down his nose at her, and she knows what she is now to him, no more than those ants that march across the path outside, no more than the workers that march across the streets of cities, no more than the soldiers who march across the battlefields of Europe. She is only another person to him, another person he can crush beneath the heel of his boot. One day those boots will walk through pools of blood, as scarlet as the sunrise, and he will feel nothing.
The single word rings upon the stones and through her ears. She nods absently and returns her wand to the pocket of her dressing gown. It is an unexpected action, for his brow furrows in disbelief. His calculations have not accounted for this.
This, her pity.
When she turns to leave, he reaches into the shadows, his fingers encircling her wrist. She looks over her shoulder to see him framed in light, now golden. The red, the angry, bloody, frightful shade, is gone, leaving him once again the golden boy of Hogwarts, awarded for his bravery, his merit, his lies and deceptions.
“Will you leave me, then?”
Her heart shrinks away from the sound of his voice. That note of despair is not real.
She repeats his hollow word of assent.
“And next year?”
It simply can’t be real.
“I’ll be Head Girl.”
Her breath betrays her with its shallow speed.
His fingers tighten.
If she hesitates, she is lost. She holds her breath and releases the word, now so hated.
“So there will be no more tomorrows?”
He sparks a memory, just like he intended. She stands within that memory as it surrounds her, engulfs her, swamps her in its sensuous grasp, every feeling, every touch still so clear. There'll be plenty of tomorrows, she’d said, but that was before things had gone wrong, before that girl had died.
She pulls out of his icy grasp.
“Not even any today.”
Before she can take the first step, his voice arrests her once more.
“But you came. Don’t forget that, Minerva. You still came.”
His voice echoes its way up the stairs, following her up to Gryffindor tower. It is there in her mind when she passes the portrait door and makes the final ascent to her dormitory, where the packed trunk sits and her fellow students slumber in peace. She hears it on the train to London and, from time to time, as the summer passes, she will hear its notes echoing against the craggy hills.
Tomorrow follows tomorrow and, eventually, the sun rises over Hogwarts, once more painting a blazing scarlet across the faces of two shadowy figures. But when it hits the eyes of Tom Riddle, long stained with the blood of those he has killed, it reflects back an empty light.
A black shadow falls across his still form. The mountain peak blotting out the sun.
Staring down at the unrecognisable face, she does not know what to feel.
“I still came, Tom. I didn’t forget.”
But he cannot hear her reminder of the long-forgotten promise of yesterday. There is only the left side of tomorrow, where the sun rises and falls, but the mountain always remains, a shadow against its light.
Author's Note: the quotation is from page 595 of the Bloomsbury edition, and to be honest, I only noticed it before writing the end portion of this (extremely odd) story. So the end of Voldemort's life, taken out of context, can also read as the beginning of this story, the moment when Minerva is awakened by the first light of the sun.