Behind the Scenes.

"Albus?  Albus, what is it?"

His head was in his hands, and he did not want to move it from them.

"Albus, my dear, what is it?"

He could hear her leaning her walking stick against the desk and hobble carefully towards him, and cursed himself for his selfishness.  He took his hands away and, keeping his gaze towards the fire, waved gently in her direction, whispering a few soft words.  In a blink she was sitting comfortably in the overstuffed chair that Harry had just vacated, a tartan carriage rug laid neatly across her knees.

She frowned.  He could tell by the tenor of her voice.  "Really, Albus, if I'd wanted to I'd have done this myself!"

He did not turn around.

Her voice softened.  "What is it?"

He sighed.  "I told him everything."

"Everything?  Was that wise?"

"Perhaps not."  He finally turned to face her.  Her dark eyes looked at him intently, worried.  He could see some more lines on her face, testimony to her recent ordeal.

"He is so young…" Her voice trailed off.

"Yes, Minerva.  He is so young – but that is the excuse I have been giving myself for the last year.  And look at what has come of it.  Had I told him sooner-"

"You cannot blame yourself.  You must not blame yourself." 

"I must.  Who else is there to blame?  Had I told Harry the truth last year when Voldemort returned, then much of what has happened might have turned out differently."

"Oh, I see."  A quizzical expression crossed her face.  "I am surprised.  I had not known you were taking up Divination as a hobby.  Perhaps Sybil Trelawney's job is not as secure as she thinks it is?"

He was surprised into a half laugh.

"And who's going to tell her this news, then?  For I am not volunteering for the task, I can assure you.  It's taken weeks for Madam Pomfrey to find all the sherry that she had hidden in that tower room."  Her strong accent added to the sarcastic thrust of the words.  "This news will only send her back to it; and for a poor excuse for a seer, she has a remarkable ability to divine useful hiding places for her tipples."

He smiled, then quickly sobered.  "Minerva, I know you and Sybil do not enjoy a great friendship, but I regret to tell you that I have no interest in taking her place as Divination teacher.  As for my foreknowledge, I will admit, there is no way I can tell what might have happened, for better or for worse, if I had told Harry sooner.  But I wish I had told him sooner.  It might, at least, have given him more reason to trust me."

"Yes, perhaps," she agreed.  "It also would have led to him losing the only childhood he has ever had.  Such news as this is not borne lightly, Albus.  Not by a man, and certainly not by a child.  Had he known before, would he have made the friendships that he has, with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger?  You know that he would not.  He would have drawn in on himself."

He looked doubtfully at the blazing flames.

"He would.  What was prophesied would weigh on him at every moment, and he would not be able to give himself to joy.  Now, as things are, it will still be hard on him."  Out of the corner of his eye he saw her lift her chin, straighten her back.  The thought was as hard for her as it was for him.  "But now he has strong friends who will not let him go through it alone, and that is the very best thing he can have."

"Yes," he agreed, looking at her.  "Yes, it is."

She blushed slightly, catching his meaning.

The clock behind him gonged the hour; 4pm.  It felt like much later, and he knew that very shortly he would have to go back to the Ministry of Magic and explain what had happened to Fudge.  But, just for a few moments, that could wait.  "Tea?"

Without waiting for an answer the tea things appeared before them; piping hot scones, with butter, jam, and cream in ornate dishes on the silver tray.  He handed her a cup, and she sniffed it suspiciously before taking a sip; she had never trusted his tea-making skills, claiming everything he made was just a little too sweet.  He leant back in his chair with his own cup, finding the only sense of peace that he had had in several weeks.

"So you are back to stay?"  She took another sip.

"Are my tea making skills finally acceptable?"  She smiled at this evident return of his customary whimsy.  "Yes, it would appear so, Minerva.  Unless, perhaps, you would like to try being Headmistress for a while?"

"Thank you, Professor Dumbledore, but no.  I am quite content being the Transfiguration mistress."  Her smile widened.  "So long as it is under your Headmastership."

"Really?  I thought you and Professor Umbridge got along like a –  what did one of the students refer to it as? – oh, yes, 'a house on fire'?"

Her smile had disappeared, except for a few discreet creases around her eyes.  "Something of that nature, I believe so," she said, as solemn as a cat.  "But I believe I prefer Hogwarts with you in it, Professor.  Although 'Professor' Umbridge was certainly an interesting change."

A mingled laugh echoed softly in the room.  Late afternoon sunlight sent a gentle beam through the diamond-paned window, and for a moment, with his friend near him, Albus Dumbledore found the reason why it was so important that this war be fought and won.