Author's Notes: Ummm… yeah. It's been a while. I'm sorry. The outline was lost, and what I had written was lost, and it was a big mess, so… um. My b?
Snippets From the Seventh Year
For the Hershey's company:
I love you I hate you I love you I hate you I love you.
Chapter Six: The Mighty
He is not a ghost, exactly.
He's not sure what he is, why his spirit is torn in two—one in the spirit world, one in the physical. He cannot explain why the living cannot see him and the dead will not accept him; but he doesn't mind. He is used to living like this—both here and there, one foot in the present and one foot in the past.
The half of Albus Dumbledore sewn to the living world stays at Hogwarts, seeing the school in ways he'd never noticed when alive. With his one eye he sees more than he ever had with two; with one ear he catches melodies that had before simply passed between one ear to the other.
But despite these things, it is his teachers that break his half-heart.
Pomona Sprout wakes at five AM every morning without fail. Dumbledore memorizes her constant routine: she makes herself a cup of tea, creates a lesson plan (there is no one to learn it, but she cannot break the habit), and spends the rest of her day obsessively trimming and weeding her plants.
It is only in her silent sanctuary that Pomona finds her peace. The humidity in the greenhouse makes her sweat and hurts her lungs, but trapped in its walls the stout woman can ignore the outside world. She farms her plants with particular concentration, noticing every flaw and demolishing every weakness.
If her greenhouse were the world, Pomona Sprout would be its savior.
Perhaps that is the point, half-Dumblebore muses as she sets herself upon an unruly patch of loudly weeping willows. Merlin knows his Herbology professor has never been skilled with a wand or spells; but here she is the master and commander, here the meek become the proud, here the simple rule.
"Easy, easy," the woman coos at her willow, running the tips of her fingers along the drooping branches. The tree whimpers, leaning towards her with puppy-like devotion. "There, there, darling," she murmurs, taking it into her arms and ignoring the scratches and cuts its bark unwittingly inflicts. "No need to cry, I've got you."
She closes her eyes and Dumbledore turns his single eye into her head.
From behind her eyelids, Pomona Sprout is not in a garden. She is standing at the tip of the world, looking down at all her ex-students and colleagues, looking up at the dead who yearn still for life—the children who never got a chance to know romance, or see the ocean, or say what they meant—and looking out at her green earth which stubbornly will not stop growing.
She opens her arms and takes them all in, the living and the dead, the human and the otherwise, the suffering and the scared and the sorrowful. All of these she encloses between her huge arms and squeezes tight. Her heart rips apart its own stitches so that there is room for everyone to climb inside (to safety).
"No need to cry," she whispers. "I've got you."
She opens her eyes to an empty green chamber filled only with one-half of a dead Headmaster and the sound of weeping trees.
Filius Flitwick and Septima Vector form a habit of taking tea every afternoon. There are no students, so there is no schedule, no obligations, no purpose to anything at Hogwarts and a standing appointment seems to make it easier. Fuller.
Dumbledore likes these meetings. He likes to listen to them speak in soft whispers, although there is no one to overhear; he likes when Filius attempts to understand Arithmancy and even more when he admits that he doesn't.
Nothing important is ever said here, at the tea table, between these two people who have nothing in common but their jobs and not even that, anymore.
Sometimes they don't speak at all, or are unable to—sometimes Filius simply stares down at his tea and Septima glares at the scones and they both wonder how it could have possibly come to this.
But today, Filius pushes his teacup to the side and murmurs, "Last night I dreamt that Hogwarts was on fire."
Septima raises her eyebrows, neither smiling nor frowning and yet somehow sympathetic all the same. "Even the stones?"
"Everything. The stones, the armor, the ghosts, the books, the tapestries, the Quidditch pitch, the cauldrons, the tables—everything up in smoke."
"So what did you do?"
His voice catches. He reaches for his tea and sits back against his chair, not looking at anything. "Nothing. There was no one inside. There was no one left to save. I sat on the grass and watched it burn until there was nothing left, and when it had gone I got to my feet and walked away."
In a uselessly tender gesture, Septima puts her hand over his. "How's your tea?" she asks.
Irma Pince never liked children to begin with, but she mans her post in the library with a steady fortitude that surprises even Dumbledore. The library is the only room in the castle that bears the silence with a veteran's grin; there is nothing new or dire about an empty library. Every morning, at precisely nine o'clock, Irma comes in through her office door and sits at her desk, flipping through the check-out log as if there were someone here to check out a book.
At ten she rises, and moves all the way to the front of the library. One by one, she removes each book from its bookshelves and dusts it off. During school she uses magic, but now, in the quiet, she does it by hand, lovingly brushing the cloth over every binding and shelf.
Dumbledore wonders if she even misses the students, or if she prefers this loneliness.
Every Saturday, Argus Filch stumbles in, freshly shaven, hair combed to the side. Irma lets him into the office with a curt nod, and he offers her fresh scones from the kitchen. They eat in a grumpy silence, bound in solidarity by their mutual enjoyment of the silence and the peace that rests over the castle, as if there is not a war outside, as if there is nothing wrong with the world.
"It's too bad," Irma says once morning, swallowing her scone and sipping tea with a sort of grudging admiration, "about the war."
Argus shrugs. "Easier to keep this place clean, anyway," he mutters, "without the students always running around, screaming and knocking things over."
Irma puts a hand over his in gentle comfort. "They fold the pages of my books," she whispers, and they both shudder.
Her leg hurts when it rains.
Minerva McGonagall cringes at the knowledge; it makes her injury cheap, somehow, like she's just some old biddy unlucky enough to suffer along with the skies.
Dumbledore is half-perched on her desk. His one leg swings back and forth beneath him, making no sound as it ricochets off of the wood. He tries to hear what she is thinking, but Minerva has always been a mystery to him. She's nothing if not stoic.
She stands, leaning heavily on her cane as she moves towards the window. Hogwarts echoes with its own emptiness; she is always surprised to run into another teacher in the hallways, and they stare at one another in awkward discomfort, feeling both out of place and interrupted.
Without her students, she is nothing. To whom can she recite the proper way to transform a cat into a useful quill? Who can she watch grow and keep in line with a sharp rap of her cane?
Those things sound silly, but they are her life. And yes, once Minerva McGonagall was more than her work—once she was a senior member of the Order of the Phoenix, and once she fought for all that was good, and once she stood tall out of pride and not out of habit.
But she is old, and she is tired, and she has learned nothing if not that fighting brings only death and victory is little more than a happy accident. The First War emptied her of that spark. She watched the Order cycle through members two, three, four times—recruitment was constant, since every day older members were… lost.
Lost. That was the word they used, as if whole lives had simply been misplaced somewhere, sure to turn up if you could just remember the last place you'd seen them.
McGonagall leans against the window. Her knuckles are white on the frame as she tries to push it upward, tries to open it despite the bad weather. A spell would unstick the glass from the wood but she cannot let go, she cannot reach for her wand.
Dumbledore watches with mild fascination as she braces her whole body against the stubborn glass, pushing upwards with whatever strength she has left.
And then it moves, and then it moves again, and then with a final shove, Minerva McGonagall opens the window and lets in the rain.
Her knee pinches and her face goes numb from the cold but she does not move. She does not close her eyes. She does not back away.
Dumbledore cannot explain her actions, and if he could have asked her, she wouldn't have been able to, either.
Charity Burbage is young, only thirty-four, and every morning when she wakes up she stands in front of the mirror and wonders if she looks older.
It seems like a stupid worry, but she's run out of other things to care about, run out of other reasons to get dressed in the morning. She cannot leave, because the first step she takes outside the castle walls is her death sentence; she cannot stay, because everywhere she looks is world that apparently does not want her, a world that, try as it might, cannot protect her from itself.
So she gets out of bed, and stands naked before the mirror, and when the mood strikes she writes lengthy letters to her mother that don't say anything at all.
Now that he is dead, or almost dead, or mostly dead, Dumbledore finds Charity much more interesting. He knows her now, in a way that was impossible to know her before; he knows that she secretly hates Aurora Sinistra for no reason other than the woman has perfect hair; he knows that she listens to Celestina Warbeck as loudly as she can because she is a witch, goddamn it, and this is a witch's music; he knows that she stands in front of the mirror and finds herself ugly not because of what's on the outside, but because of what's on the inside—muddied, dirty blood that she cannot purify and she cannot get rid of.
He knows that somehow, despite his disgusting hair and hooked nose and snide comments, she'd fancied herself in love with Severus Snape, because he was thirty-seven and twice as lonely as she was.
And he knows that every morning, as she looks at herself and imagines a new wrinkle on her face, she thinks of how disgusting he must have really found her, and how entirely pointless everything she's ever done has been.
Muggle studies, she thinks, her reflection blurred by sudden and unexpected tears. How unbelievably hilarious.
As a rule, Dumbledore rarely went to the Astronomy tower during life. It wasn't that he had no respect for the field, or that he disliked its professor; it was actually just a matter of his knees not appreciating the never-ending twist of stair, the way the door to the classroom never seemed to get any closer no matter how long you climbed.
But it's easy, now, to get wherever he wishes to go; he closes his eye, imagines a room, and when he opens it, he's there, sitting on Aurora Sinistra's desk and watching her peer into her telescope.
Firenze is standing at her side, peering up at the skies without the aid of tools. He looks pensive, like Firenze always does, and neither teacher looks at the other. "You know," Aurora says without glancing up from her telescope, "Canes Venatici isn't even by rights its own constellation. It's really just part of Ursa Major."
Startled by the broken silence, Firenze looks at her. "I've never heard of it," he says, mildly bemused. "Canes Venatici? The hunting dogs?"
Aurora pulls herself from the window and spins the telescope so he can look in it. "There, you see? Just their heads. Just a faint smattering of stars, there by the eye."
"I see it."
"I've always felt bad for them. They were just a cluster of stars, before, happily playing along in Ursa Major, free to do what they wanted. Mostly unnoticed by the world. And then somebody decided to fill in the drawing and ripped them from their world to make a new one." She bends over his shoulder and points to the northern dog's eye. "That's Cor Caroli, the Alpha star. It means Charles's heart."
Firenze nods and turns to look at her. Despite being half beast, he is her height, and they are eye-to-eye. He scratches his chin and tips his head to the side. "Who was Charles?" he asks. "Must have been important if they made his heart into a star."
Aurora shrugs. She tucks her hair—the hair so envied by Charity Burbank—behind an ear, and it catches the torchlight. Firenze can't seem to stop looking at it, and Dumbledore thinks: Hm. Interesting.
"Nobody knows for sure," she murmurs after a pause, her eyes glued to the heavens. But there is no starlight reflected in them; they are too dull and faraway to become captured by the brightness she cannot hide. "Either King Charles the first or the second." She manages a sad smile, at last looking at the centaur. She cups his face with her hand. "Isn't that something? They stole somebody's heart and pinned it in the sky with stars, and nobody even knows for certain whose it was."
Firenze smiles, slightly, and gently removes her hand, holding it instead between them. "And the dogs?" he asks. "Surely they know?"
"The dogs," she whispers, laughing as a few tears spill out of her eyes. "The dogs are barely constellations. They weren't even . . . they were forced into creation just to complete the picture. Those bright, glittering stars had been free—freer than you or I could ever imagine—in Ursa Major, and then Johannes Hevelius came and shackled them to the Boötes constellation, putting them on a leash until they burn out."
She looks down, pulling her hand free as she walks to her desk. With his one ear, he can hear her heart beating, slowly, sadly, steadily. Beating because it doesn't know what else to do.
"Chara and Asterion," Firenze says thoughtfully from behind her, crossing his arms over his chest. His tail makes a soft swish behind him as he moves toward her, hooves gently click-clacking against the stone. "Joy and its companion, the Little Star. Faint, but brave, and in good company."
Aurora turns, looking at him in surprised. "Yes. You said you hadn't heard of it."
Firenze smiles shamelessly, offering only a slight shrug. "I feel companionship with those bound dogs," he murmurs, coming to a halt on the opposite side of the desk. "I am Asterion."
There's a wry twist to her mouth as Aurora answers, "Does that make me Chara?"
Firenze rounds the desk. He takes Aurora's hand and squeezes it. "No. You are the heart, glittering in Joy's eye, and carried by her and loved by me."
She is crying again. "And who do I belong to?" she asks in the quietest voice Dumbledore has ever heard her use. "Whose heart am I?"
"Never to me," Firenze whispers, his voice breaking only on the last word. She looks up at him and he makes himself smile. "You know it as well as I. Outside of these walls, outside of this room, you can't belong to me. Even in here, you shouldn't."
"But I do."
"Only in certain moments." He hesitates. Then: "You know, the aurora borealis is said be a reflection of the strange glow armor of the Valkyrior, who ride above battles and collect the souls of fallen soldiers."
Dumbledore is struck by the image: Aurora, gazing down from her impossibly tall tower, weeping over the dead bodies littered below as their souls float to her, guided by the light that reflects from her skin and stretches across the night sky.
Aurora meets Firenze's eyes. "And is that my fate?" she asks numbly, bringing her free hand to her cheek to brush a tear away. "Am I to be a valkyrie?"
The centaur looks away, out the window and up at the sky. "Better that than the soldier," he says.
When Bathsheba Babbling first came to Hogwarts as the Ancient Runes professor, she was thirty-eight, pretty, and married to a man named David. The irony did not escape Dumbledore, even then.
In those first years, she had joked often about their names, calling David her little adulterer, her greedy king. Dumbledore remembers clearly the way that man would smile, starting small and then spreading across his whole face, as he laughed, yes, yes, I am greedy for you, seductive witch.
It was a normal relationship, and a happy one, from what Dumbledore could recall. They were happy.
Except of course that David was a Muggle. Not Muggle-born, and not even a squib. They had met when David had stumbled into the Leaky Cauldron. Bathsheba had been the bartender, pouring butterbeer and firewhiskey, and he had fallen in love with her the first time she asked him what he'd like to drink.
"Two of everything you have," he'd answered, to get her talking, and to keep him long enough to get her name and her address.
From there they had simply fallen, like every other couple in the world. And David came with her to Hogwarts, happy enough to live surrounded by magic without ever taking part in it.
That was all years ago. Now Bathsheba sits in her quarters, curled on her bed drinking cold cocoa, David's old record player humming a sad song from the dresser. Dumbledore watches her reflection in the mirror as she reads, scribbling translations in the borders, flipping through the textbook for the few translations that she doesn't know.
Of all his professors, Bathsheba is the least changed by this second war. Her students have stopped coming, yes; but then, she never had very many. Runes are not the most popular subject at Hogwarts and never have been. And, if he's honest with himself, Bathsheba never wanted to be a teacher, had come only because Dumbledore himself had turned up at her doorstep and begged.
"I'm not a teacher, Professor Dumbledore," she had laughed kindly at him, handing him a teacup. "You remember my grades when I was in school."
"I certainly do. We've never had a Runes student like you before," he had replied, and David's eyebrows had risen above his hairline.
"Runes?" He'd asked. "Those wonky lines she likes to draw all over the place?"
"Ancient Runes," Dumbledore had explained. "A nearly-forgotten writing systems, the most ancient in existence—either Wizarding or Muggle. Some of the Wizarding World's most precious manuscripts are in Ancient Runes."
Bathsheba had smiled. "If you'd give me some of those, I'll be happy to translate them," she said, shrugging. "Give me the history, the poetry, and the literature, and I'll sit for a year and never get up. But teach?"
Still, she had come, and he had paid her in quarters and in a yearly delivery of history, written in the language he had never mastered. She would live off of it for nine months, translating painstakingly every word until it was completed. Once, David had laughed, "She loves those things more than she loves me."
Now she was sixty-four, though she looked no older than fifty. Still pretty. Still buried in poetry and history that no one else could understand.
She stands with a sigh, pushing the book aside, and Dumbledore follows her as she moves silently through the hallways. He's always admired the way she could walk without noise, without even seeming to touch the ground. She floats into the infirmary and he understands where he is going, and scolds himself for being surprised.
Bathsheba is the only one of his staff that he has ever understood, fully, without doubt or hesitation. He knows by her sure footsteps that she has walked this route a hundred times, a thousand, and he knows by her distracted nod to Poppy that she hasn't stopped waiting for each visit to be her last.
She walks past the empty beds, past the medicine cabinet, past Poppy's office, and into a little room on the left. It's not locked. It's dark when she goes in, and Bathsheba does not turn on a light. She moves with memorized steps to the third bed on the right, and sits in the chair that has sat so long in one position that there are indents in the stone where its legs are.
For a moment, Bathsheba, Dumbledore, and the sleeping patient all wait in silence. Then she whispers, "Hello, David."
Dumbledore sits on the edge of the bed and waits, watching her face. It gives nothing away. "There's a war on," she begins, slowly, wonderingly. "Sometimes I forget. That seems strange, doesn't it? That I should forget something as monumental as a war? But it's true. I do. There are no students in Hogwarts and sometimes I find myself teaching to an empty classroom. Sometimes I wait until the end of the period before I remember that no one is there, that no one is coming."
Her thumbs rub small circles on the back of his hand. "The Order has me translating old texts, looking for answers. For new magic—or should I say, for old magic. Forgotten magic. Magic that the other side might not be prepared for." She hesitates. Reaches to sweep hair from his face with her fingertips. "I do it . . . every day, I sit in my—in our room, and I read text after text after text, and I think: maybe this is it. Maybe the answer is here. But it never is." She sighs. "It never is.
"And I . . . don't be angry, darling, but I'm not just looking for them. I'm looking for you, too. I'm looking for a cure for whatever . . . whatever that woman did to you, I—" she breaks off, breathing heavily, her hands shaking. "I'm sorry. I know you don't like it when I get like that. But you never understood, quite, what it meant—you don't know the things that magic can do. You couldn't have, could you? And I . . . I let you believe that it was mostly harmless, that this war was really just politics, spilling into a few violent skirmishes, but . . . you have to believe that I would have told you the truth if I thought that you'd ever . . ."
David does not stir. The last time he opened his eyes, he was young, his hair a dark shade of brown, and not the easy white it has become. How many students have slept in the sick bay without realizing he was there?
Bathsheba leans her forehead against their clasped hands. "If you were here, you'd say that this was what we get for marrying into myth. Bathsheba and David didn't have it easy and ancient times—why should we have it easy now?" She sighs again. "Ihwaz. 'The path is hard and lonely and there is no end in sight.'"
Then she stands, kissing his forehead, and looks up. For a breathtaking moment, Dumbledore thinks she may be looking at him, blaming him for bringing them here. Blaming him for the one time that he asked them to leave, to collect Alice and Frank Longbottom. Bathsheba had come back. David had too . . . but only in body.
Bathsheba stands. Leaning down, she whispers in a voice that only David and Dumbledore can hear: "Perthro. 'The beginning and the end are set. What's in between is yours. Nothing is in vain. All is remembered.'"
Then she leaves, moving with practiced motions through the darkened room. Dumbledore stays for a long time, staring down at David, and puts his one hand on the man's cheek. A voice says, I am greedy, for you.
But surely it is just a memory.
Sybil Trelawney makes three predictions that year, and there isn't a soul around to hear any of them.
Dumbledore watches her, as her eyes roll back behind those huge glasses and she begins to tremble, and when its all over and she's back to normal, he wonders if she even knows that she was the match that light the wick to end the first war.
She looks down at her tea leaves, and a single tear drops down the end of her nose and splashes onto them.
Without any students to around to hear, Sybil murmurs: "Oh, it's all bollocks, anyway."
Poppy Pomfrey was twenty-two when she learned that she could never bear children. Dumbledore remembers with clarity how she had looked, gazing at him with eyes just like her mother's, eyes that didn't understand what he was telling her.
He was sorry, he told her. There was nothing they could do. The doctors at St. Mungo's had tried everything . . .
Years later, at forty-four, Poppy had showed up at his door and said plainly, "I hear your nurse quit. I'm here for the post."
And once upon a time, there had been others here for her to care for: the children she'd never had, each of them with their foolishly broken arms, bloody noses, fever from eating Puking Pastilles. Poppy Pomfrey had bustled around them, mending their hurts and their wounds, giving them Pepper-Ups and quietly administering Cheering Charms, letting them rest when O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s became too much.
They hadn't been hers, not really, not even when she was the only one they'd see for days, when they were curled up in the beds groaning from a stomach ache that she could do nothing about except to give them Pepper-Ups every few hours to ease the pain. No; they hadn't been hers. But they had been borrowed, for seven years, borrowed while they grew and broke and let her put them together again.
They hadn't given her much, but they had given her something.
They are out of her reach now. They are outside the stone walls, in a world lit by curses and blood, and Poppy can do nothing for them but stare out her window and close her eyes and will one of them to walk through her door and say dryly, Hullo, Madam P. Got any Pepper-Up for me?
She spends long hours looking out the window, boiling Pepper-Up for nobody. Dumbledore knows that she always had her favorites, and she packages bottles of healing potions and bandages and books of spells and directions for the Order, sending them by way of Minerva.
She has a cream for nearly every ache and pain, but they will never work as well away from her as they do in her presence: how can they, when they are made of her love and her desire to forcefully push all the hurt and pain away?
She has a salve for broken bones, and broken hearts, but not even Poppy Pomfrey has a bandage big enough to hold the world together, and so she stands in her Infirmary and looks out the window and watches it come apart, muscle and bone.
This is what he sees, when Cuthbert Binns closes his eyes:
A big castle, seated on a throne of deeply alive green grass and surrounded by full, breeze-ruffled trees. A lake ripples in its front, oxygen bubbling to the surface where a squid sleeps, half-submerged and surrounded by dark black seaweed. If he is quiet, there's the faintest sound of music in the ear, just barely skimming the surface of the water, bouncing off the stone walls of the castle, weaving their way into tree branches.
Inside, it is filled with students. They are laughing, jumping, playing, running, hurrying through the corridors with books tucked under their arms. But none of them are texts: all of the spines read things like Tips for Troublemakers and 101 Games for Dummies. The library is full of other such titles, and there are children in every aisle, all of them laughing and pointing. No one shushes them.
In the classrooms, teachers are sitting on their desks, talking animatedly to their students, and everyone is attentive. Magic is everywhere, unfettered, surrounding everyone in its multicolor light, alive and independent.
Every day more students enter the castle. Their first hours there are spent in a frantic, panicked haste, as they sprint from room to room, looking for a familiar face. They are all afraid. Sometimes they are older, sometimes younger; it doesn't matter. They are all afraid.
They see him, sometimes, though he knows that he is faint, that he is just an outline. "Professor?" they ask him, bewildered. "How did I get here?"
He wants to tell them, and he opens his mouth in a sorrowful sigh, but he cannot make a sound. They are too far away. He wants to wrap them in his arms and tell them: it's okay. It's okay. Decide to stay. Don't come back.
I came back, and I've spent the rest of my afterlife trying to get to where you are.
Then he wakes. He's alone in classroom, but for the half-ghost of Dumbledore. "I thought you might come see me eventually," he says, shaking the dream away.
"So you can see me," the Headmaster muses cheerfully. "I thought you might be able to."
"Only half of you," Binns corrects, and then startles. "Dear me, is there only half of you?"
Dumbledore shrugs. "Yes. I don't know why; I died quite whole, with perhaps the small exception of my hand." They sit in companionable silence, and Binns tries to recall the picture of the castle.
Then Dumbledore asks: "Cuthbert, I've always wanted to ask. It didn't seem appropriate, until now. What made you decide to stay?"
Binns closes his eyes. The castle is in the distance, always just out of reach, even when he is inside. He aches for it.
"You know," he murmurs. "I can't remember now."