Before the Funeral
There was but little light in the room, only the silvery moonlight and the few white candles along the walls struggled to keep the darkness at bay. Someone had decorated the chamber with white lilies.
They had put his body on a bier in the centre of the room and had covered it with beautiful purple velvet. Everything looked quite tasteful, but the atmosphere remained eerie and cold. It was a room of death.
Minerva McGonagall stopped in the doorway before entering the chamber. She surveyed the scene quietly.
Hagrid sat on a plain wooden chair beside Dumbledore's body. He looked surprisingly calm – but on a second glance, she noticed that his eyes were swollen and red and that he held a huge handkerchief clutched in his right hand. Certainly he had done his share of crying during the past few days.
Minerva remained standing in the door and watched the half-giant. She did not want to disturb Hagrid, but could not bring herself to leave the room again now that she had finally plucked up the courage to go there.
Torn between leaving and entering the room, she lingered at the doorway for a long while. The gamekeeper was so lost in thought that he did not notice her. From time to time, he shifted on the chair way too small for him. Nothing else happened. Minerva looked at the silvery pattern the moonlight painted on the floor and watched it wander as the time passed.
Eventually the gamekeeper stood up and stretched. Only when he turned around to the window he observed the tall woman standing in the entrance. Minerva nodded at him and entered with careful steps.
"Headmistress," he greeted her hoarsely.
"Hagrid," she replied gently.
For a moment, a sad little smile appeared on his face.
"I was sure I'd find you here, watching over him…"
Her voice trailed off and she slowly walked closer to the huge man.
Hagrid offered her his chair, but Minerva shook her head. She looked down at the body wrapped in purple velvet. She pressed her lips together into a thin line and concentrated on breathing evenly. She would not cry. Not now.
Staring at the body, she heard Hagrid walk away from her towards the window. Glad to have some privacy to re-gain her composure, Minerva tried to straighten up. She was here to say goodbye. After a minute, the lump in her throat seemed to have become a little smaller.
Bravely she raised her right hand and moved to touch the dead body, but in the last moment, she broke the motion off. This took more strength than she would have expected it to. She was not yet ready to let this man go. Whimpering like an injured animal, Minerva pressed her hand to her mouth instead. She hated herself for her weakness.
Minerva finally allowed herself to sit down on the wooden chair, she had the feeling that her knees would give in if she kept forcing herself to stand upright.
Hagrid had heard her, of course he had. He turned around again and came to stand behind her. With a slow, careful movement, he put his right hand on her left shoulder and squeezed it lightly.
Startled at first, Minerva looked up in surprise, but then she clutched his hand with her right. Her comradeship with Hagrid was a strange thing, but they were close in an uncommon way. They had known each other from their schooldays on, and even if they had never become intimate friends, their relationship was based on mutual respect. Although she was only two years older than him, Hagrid had always insisted on addressing her with a proper title – first 'Miss' and 'Head Girl', then 'Professor', and now 'Headmistress'.
Minerva, on the other hand, had always respected Hagrid's talent with animals, even if she often thought him irresponsible in many ways. Also, one thing that had always impressed her was that he had never given up – although blamed for a crime he had not committed and expelled from school, he had made his way in the wizarding world without the proper training for it.
To the bright, powerful Headmistress, it seemed both odd and perfectly right that they would comfort each other now that they had lost a common friend. But Minerva knew that she could not allow herself to rely too much on the half-giant. In these times when giants were again regarded as enemies, he would soon need her protection. She would have to take on that task along with many others Dumbledore had left her.
Minerva squeezed Hagrid's hand again, then she let go. Hagrid understood.
"I've said goodbye already," he said. "Yeh want to be alone with 'im?"
She nodded. Hagrid quickly let go of her shoulder and wiped his eyes with his big handkerchief again, then he walked to the door.
"I'll be in me hut if yeh need me," he awkwardly said before leaving.
She returned his look with a little smile. Both of them knew that she would not call on him, but both also know that he had meant it and that she appreciated the offer.
After Hagrid had left, Minerva stood up again and walked to the window, away from the body of the man who had meant so much to her. She watched the moon and the stars outside, wondering vaguely how anything could be that ridiculously beautiful on a sad night like this. This was her last night with the man she had loved.
Tomorrow morning, they would bury him. She would sit in the front row with all of the other teachers, and funeral guests from all over the world would tell her how sorry they were. But only very few of them would know what losing Dumbledore actually meant to her. They had always kept their relationship secret. She would not only bury her colleague and close friend, she would bury the love of her life.
Minerva rested her forehead against the cool glass. Unable to hold back her tears any longer, Minerva started weeping silently. She would never have cried in the presence of another person, but now, her façade of calm strength crumbled.
Albus Dumbledore had been important to every one of them, he had been their beacon of hope in this war. But they would learn to live with the loss – even Harry would. Minerva felt weak. She was not sure how she would learn to live on, she only knew that she had to.
Biting her lip she tried to concentrate on the physical pain only. This was not a time to wonder what the future would hold. This was her moment to remember the happiness they had shared. She would not think of the future now, or of the horrible way Albus had died. She would not think of his murderer, who had once been her friend.
Minerva turned around again and looked at Albus's body shrouded with the dark fabric. No, she would not think of the bloody rotten traitor Severus Snape now. She would not think of her favorite student, her later friend, who had betrayed them in a way she would never have thought possible. She would now only think of Albus, his kind smile, his twinkling eyes, and his gentle voice.
She dabbed her eyes fiercely with her lace handkerchief and bit her lip again. She would not cry any more, no matter how desperate she felt.
Slowly, she approached the dead body and finally stood beside it. She would go through with this. Dreading what she would see, she eventually pulled the velvet cover away with shaking hands. Albus Dumbledore's head and shoulders became visible.
She felt her eyes water instantly, but blinked the tears away. Nothing would stop her now. With gentle fingers, she caressed the dead wizard's cheeks. Then she took out her handkerchief again and wiped the dirt off his face. Her gestures were slow and deliberate. Preparing the dead warriors for a dignified funeral had always been a task for the women, and she would see to it that her love would be buried in an appropriate fashion. She straightened out his hair and beard, and finally placed a soft kiss on his cold forehead.
His skin felt cold and waxen. This was not Albus any more, this was just a shell. Knowing this somehow made saying goodbye easier.
In the end, Minerva fished a small piece of jewelry out of the pocket of her robes. It was a small golden brooch, the Gryffindor lion with a sparkling red ruby for an eye. The ruby glittered darkly in the light of the flickering candles. She regarded the brooch fondly, then she took Dumbledore's right hand and carefully placed it there, closing his fingers around it.
"Take it, my love…" she whispered. "Take a part of me to where you are going – take a part of our story…"
She placed his hand beside his body again. It felt like moving the arm of a large doll. Then she took one last look at the body in front of her.
"You truly are gone," she mused. "And yet it feels as though you were still here."
Minerva covered the body with the velvet again and sat down in the chair next to the bier. For a long time, she did not move. The patch of moonlight on the floor wandered slowly. Minerva followed it with her eyes while she sat watch over the deceased. She thought about what she had said last.
It was true. Touching Dumbledore's body had made her realise that he was truly gone, and yet she clearly felt that she was not alone.
Wearily, she shook her head. She was overly tired, and terribly afraid of this future she would have to face alone. But she knew that Albus had not feared death. He would never have left any imprint of himself in this world. She would never meet his ghost.
Outside, it was beginning to dawn. A single bird fluttered by the window in the morning light. Minerva looked up. Feeling rigid and stiff from spending all night in that wooden chair, she got up slowly and walked to the window again. She opened it wide to let the cool morning breeze into the stuffy room.
Another bird started singing outside, greeting the summer day. Minerva smiled sadly. She returned to the body and placed her hand on the velvet one last time. Gently, she stroked the soft material.
"Goodbye, my love…"
Then she turned around resolutely. She wiped her face one last time, straightened out her robes and made sure that no strands had escaped the tight bun of her hair. She had regained her self-possession and would appear perfectly calm to anyone who might meet her in the corridors. No one would guess that she had spent the night crying by Albus's side.
Briskly she walked towards the door and was just about to leave the room when she heard the faintest sound behind her. Minerva turned on her heel and surveyed the room with her sharp eyes. She could detect nothing unusual, yet she was absolutely sure that she had just heard a person moving. Although she saw no one – no one alive, at least – the chamber did not feel deserted. She could sense a presence.
Minutes passed. Minerva had drawn her wand and waited, but nothing happened. The morning light grew brighter, the purple velvet hanging down from the bier. The fabric dragged on the floor, making an indistinct noise. Minerva exhaled slowly. So this was what she had heard. With her cat-like senses, she often picked up things other people did not notice – one of the reasons why she was able to spot students fooling around quicker than the other teachers.
She shrugged and relaxed. Then the new Hogwarts Headmistress turned around and left the room for good. She was ready for the tasks of the day to come.