Harry sat in one of the armchairs in the study adjacent to the Headmistress's office, sipping a cup of the strong tea McGonagall had served them both. It banished the last of the chill that the blustery early December winds had given him as he trudged up from the school gates, cutting through even his thick Auror robes. The chair, covered in a subtle tartan fabric, was not nearly as overstuffed as those Dumbledore had used. Harry could see a few boxes stacked neatly in the back of the room.
McGonagall had been re-appointed Headmistress after the final defeat of Voldemort, and had presided over Hogwarts' physical and academic reconstruction. Now, nearly a decade later, the school had regained and even surpassed the excellence it had been known for in Dumbledore's time. McGonagall had given notice to the Board of Governors that she intended to retire on the 50th anniversary of her date of hire, and in keeping with her strictly organized personality she was clearly already beginning to sort through the items in her office and quarters.
"Of course you have heard that I am retiring at the end of this term, Harry?"
"Yes. I was surprised, but I suppose fifty years is quite enough time to give to Hogwarts. Still, after you're gone, well, there won't be anyone here who Ginny or I had as a teacher. I had always sort of imagined our children having you as a professor. It'll be a different Hogwarts for them."
"A better one, perhaps. Fifty years is quite enough time for any one person to be in a place. And, teaching two generations of Potter boys is enough for any witch, I'd say. On top of how many Weasleys? It's amazing my hair didn't turn as white as Albus's years ago! And now that you and Ginny are having children yourselves—combining the two lines—and I'll be 91 when they start at Hogwarts—is it any wonder I started to think about retirement?!" McGonagall chuckled and her eyes smiled in a way Harry had only occasionally seen as student.
He had enjoyed getting to know his former Head of House as a peer and then as a friend over the past decade. She wasn't the sort to be especially chummy, but she and Harry had cooperated on various Ministry projects through the years as he and Ron had risen through the Auror Corps, and she had often been a guest at the Burrow at various extended family gatherings. At those times he had seen her, if not literally with her hair down, at least in a much more relaxed mode than that of stern Professor or Headmistress. And now she was even officially family of a sort, as he and Ginny had asked her to be godmother to Albus Severus. He supposed the change from teacher to friend had begun that day of the final battle, when he had instinctively defended her from Amycus Carrow, and then had heard her heartbroken keening when she saw Hagrid carry his apparently dead body from the Forbidden Forest.
Harry smiled in response to her quip and sipped his tea. Infants James and Albus Severus were already proving themselves to be spirited boys, and he could understand McGonagall's trepidation.
"As you can see, I have begun going through my things and packing them up. And there are some things I wanted to give to you, things pertaining to your time here which I think you should have."
She waved her wand towards one of the boxes which was still open, and three thick leather-bound books sailed through the air and settled themselves on the table in front of him. He recognized Dumbledore's personal crest embossed on the cover of each, and he could even feel the Headmaster's magic tingling around them. The spines bore dates in gold-leaf. They were labeled "1980-1982," "1994-1996," and "1996-1997."
McGonagall sat down on the settee facing the volumes. "These are some of Albus's private journals. All of his personal effects came to me when he died, of course, except for those things he specifically left to you and Hermione and Ron. These volumes include his thoughts on key turning points in your life. I thought you should have them. I perhaps should have given them to you earlier, after the final battle. But I wanted you to have some time, some emotional space, to come to terms with Albus on your own, after everything that happened that year, and everything you learned. I wanted you to be able to grapple with his memory and what you meant to each other, and what he asked of you, without his once again launching into a monologue you couldn't fairly rebut."
Harry smiled slightly. McGonagall's loyalty to Dumbledore was unimpeachable, but she clearly knew his maddening traits as well as his endearing ones. "Why are you giving them to me now, then?"
"Well, as I'm sorting through things, it seemed a logical time. But also, when you named Albus Severus after him, it showed you still hold him in high esteem, in spite of everything." McGonagall's voice seemed to catch a bit. "So, giving you these would not be unfair to you, or appear to be a purely selfish effort on my part to rehabilitate him in your eyes."
"Whatever rehabilitation was needed happened long ago, Minerva. Most of it on the day of the final battle, in fact. I thought you knew that."
"I had hoped. He loved you so much, despite what it surely seemed at times, and I dearly hoped you accepted that. But I had not wanted to ask. It was not my place. Of course I had heard, through Hermione and Ron, and even his portrait, that you had, well, spoken with him in a way, that day.
"And," she nodded towards the doorway into her office, where the Headmaster's portrait still hung over the desk, "he seemed to think you had reconciled. But Albus always did want to see the best in situations and people. And I don't think he could ever have admitted it to me, or even to himself, if you hadn't actually forgiven him. It would have been, well…he would have kept that to himself, I think."
"He did always keep a lot to himself, didn't he?"
"Yes. Which is why I thought you should have these. They show what he was really thinking and feeling about you, the prophecy, what you would have to do. Things he kept to himself, some of them even from me, at the time. As you can tell, they are still heavily warded, even now. He left me an encrypted, disguised parchment with the counter-charms—here is a copy of the ones for these volumes. As an Auror you should find it quite impressive magic, actually."
"And what will I find when I read them?"
McGonagall met Harry's gaze deliberately. "How much he cared about you. How he rationalized leaving you with those awful Muggles. How hard it was for him as he began to suspect exactly what had happened to you the night your parents died."
Now she had to look away, and as her voice began to quaver she pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and began to twist it in her hands.
"What it would mean. How he agonized about it all. His suspicions, his desperate hope, about the blood link between you and Voldemort. What he felt he had to ask you to do. For the greater good. Debating with himself how much to tell you, and how, and when. Arguing with himself, justifying his decisions to himself. That he hadn't really raised you as a pig for slaughter. Oh, how Severus hurt him with that." Minerva dabbed at her eyes.
"He loved you so much, Harry. As he watched you in your first years here, it was as if you were the son he never had, never would have. Then when things, implications, became clearer—I don't know which weakened him more--that curse on his hand or knowing what he felt he had to ask you to do. How he hated himself for it. He always felt responsible for his sister's death, and now he was sending you …well, he thought that awful curse was the least he deserved."
"But no sense my telling you all about it. You can read it for yourself and come to your own conclusions. You might not agree with all that he did, but at least now you'll know why he did it, what it cost him, and that he did love you, no matter what it felt like.
"Maybe these will clear up any questions you still have, things you didn't think to ask him before. I think, I hope, you'll find them helpful. I did, anyway. There were so many things he didn't even tell me. And I imagine things he might not have told you."
"Well, I guess if you automatically inherited all his things, including his confidential journals, that itself tells me something else that I'd always wondered about, but never felt it was my place to ask."
"And what would that be?"
"Err, that you were together, then. A couple. Perhaps married, even. Speculating on Dumbledore's personal life was always such the student pastime, at least for the older years. There were even odds on the different possibilities, and folks actually placed money bets. Now I finally know!"
"Yes, Albus and I were married. We were just about to celebrate our fortieth anniversary as a couple when he died, and we'd been married thirty-seven years. We kept it a secret, for reasons I'm sure you can imagine, and even now not many people know. It was a shock to the Ministry wizards who handled his will, I can tell you. KingsleyObliviated them afterwards, actually, and altered the parchment, so that I would not be at more risk for attack than I already was."
"Wow indeed. Life with Albus was never dull." Minerva laughed, her earlier tears now gone. "I have to know—how much money did you risk on the question? And what exactly were the odds?"
"Well, when he died without us ever knowing for sure, I think the entire pool went to the scholarship fund for orphan students set up in his name. And frankly, I hadn't put any money in, because I hadn't been sure which side I came down on. He was sort of like a father or grandfather to me, and to think of him being in a relationship with anyone—well, I just didn't want to think about it at all in those days, to be honest. Sorry—nothing personal! But as I recall, the odds were maybe 2:1 in favor of the two of you being an item."
"2:1 that we were together, eh? What was the other option—that he had some wife or girlfriend sequestered in Hogsmeade?"
"Err, umm," Harry shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"Out with it, Potter. I've heard all the rumours, trust me. All of them. For years. I'm just curious which were the most prevalent towards the end, when he died. And how much what's in these journals may change your understanding." She shoved the ever-present tin of ginger newts towards him. It was still her instinct when a student was nervous, just as Albus had always offered sweets.
"Well, actually, a lot of people thought he was gay. Since they never saw any sign of a wife or girlfriend, ever, in a hundred years. And he was such, well, a non-conformist, shall we say?"
"You mean, in other words, that his robes were flamboyant even by wizarding standards. And he wasn't exactly the most, what's the muggle term, 'macho' of wizards. Candy, and music, and knitting patterns, and such."
Minerva smiled at the memory of some of Albus's more attention-getting outfits, and of the nights he'd spent sitting in front of their fireplace, knitting a tiny baby sweater with a detailed cable pattern or an elaborately-striped pair of socks.
"Well, err, yes, I guess, that was a lot of it."
"So you didn't put money in the pool yourself. I can certainly understand why. What did Ron and Hermione think, and the other Gryffindors?"
"Ron definitely thought that he was with you if he was with anybody. As did Fred and George, I think, though they joked so much about everything I was never sure what opinion they really held. Colin definitely thought you were together. Seamus, well, his parents didn't care for Dumbledore much, so I think they told him stories they'd heard from the likes of Rita Skeeter. Neville, I think he was kind of like me—didn't really want to think about it at all."
"You haven't said what Hermione thought."
"Well, honestly, she wasn't entirely sure—not having any firm evidence to go on, and it's not exactly the sort of thing you can learn in Hogwarts, A History is it?—but I have to admit she thought it more likely that he was gay than not. Especially after we learned more about his youth. And she made a pretty good case. Enough so that when I was with him that last time, at King's Cross I mean, I thought she had probably been right."
Harry suddenly grinned widely. "This will actually be one of the very few times I've caught her being wrong about something! And something major about Dumbledore, no less. When she was always the one defending him to me when, well, when I had my doubts, at the worst of it."
Minerva turned towards Harry, a serious look on her face. "What if I told you both options were right?"
Harry looked at her, his mouth slightly open, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "What do you mean? You just said you were together for forty years, married for almost all that time."
"Yes, we were. That is very true. And we loved each other, very much. But it is also true that Albus was gay. If he had been born in a different era, say, when you were, he never would have been married, or in a relationship with a witch. He'd have eventually found some wonderful brilliant wizard for himself and they'd have lived happily ever after. Or so I'd like to think."
Minerva waved her wand to refill the teapot that sat in front of them. Another wave brought a bottle of finest firewhisky and a pair of tumblers to join it.
Harry still stared at her, open-mouthed, oblivious to the beverages. "I don't understand. How could he have been gay if he was with you? Or with you if he was gay? Or, or--I just don't understand!"
"Pardon me, but I think I need something a bit more than tea to do this topic justice, Harry—feel free to help yourself," Minerva said, filling a tumbler with whisky and taking a large swallow, followed by several long sips.
Harry quickly echoed her actions. He didn't normally drink when in uniform, but exceptions could be made in cases of extreme need. Dumbledore as gay he could understand, had come to accept, even, though he didn't particularly like to think of the specifics. Dumbledore with Minerva he could understand. But a gay Dumbledore with Minerva? His head was spinning.
"It's something I've always hoped you'd hear from me rather than anybody else, anybody other than Albus, that is. I gather he never told you, and I've never been one to talk about my personal life. But it will make some entries in these journals easier to understand—they're not all about Voldemort or you, though the majority are. So." She took a deep breath, as if steeling herself for an ordeal.
"Think, Harry. When was Albus born?"
"Err, sometime in the middle-late 1800s, right?"
"Right. 1881. So he was a teenager in the 1890s. From a conventional wizarding family, at least as relationships go, in a rural town. Mould-on-the-Wold was not exactly Edinburgh or London, and nor was Godric's Hollow. As a boy he surely never heard the word "gay," or any of its 19th century equivalents, or knew anyone who was, or who admitted to it, anyway.
"He came to Hogwarts when there were many more boys than girls as students—most witches were still educated at home in those days--and the feelings he began to have towards other boys he dismissed as the stereotypical boys'-school thing. Plus he was so focused on his studies and accomplishments romance wasn't a priority. It wasn't until that summer after he graduated…"
"He fell in love with Grindelwald, didn't he!" Harry interrupted.
"Yes, Harry, he did. Totally head-over-heels in love with him…."
"That letter, their friendship, something in his voice when he talked about it at King's Cross—it was what made me think at the end that Hermione was right. So much so that I suggested to him that Grindelwald lied to Voldemort about the Elder Wand, and let him kill him, to protect Dumbledore, to honor his wishes and protect his tomb. And when I said that to him, he actually teared up. That's when I really thought I was right. But I still don't understand."
"Nor did Albus, Harry, nor did Albus! Not for many decades, anyway." Minerva paused in her account and took another several sips of whisky, looking into her tumbler as if it could tell her how to help Harry understand what she still sometimes found beyond rational understanding.
"The relationship with Grindelwald—what did Albus always call it—two months of insanity? Two months of infatuation, lust, and exploration, magical and otherwise. He had fallen totally in love with Gellert. He'd had crushes as a student at Hogwarts, but nothing he ever acted on. Gellert was his first, and as it turned out only, real relationship with a wizard, even as abbreviated as it was. Gellert found Albus fascinating, but apparently he wasn't quite as smitten as Albus was. Albus may have been older, but he was the much more naïve of the two in matters of the heart. And then of course, you know how it ended. Tragically. If Gellert attacking Aberforth and possibly killing Ariana wasn't bad enough, his running away the next day shattered what was left of Albus's heart.
"His feelings for Gellert, and how the relationship ended, and what most of society still said in those day, especially in the country, about wizards who liked other wizards, got all tangled together in Albus's head. He blamed himself horribly for Ariana's death for the rest of his life, as you know, and was crippled by remorse. He concluded that being gay was obviously wrong and the duel and his sister's death, and Gellert's abandonment of him, were his punishment.
"He determined to never let himself have feelings for a wizard again. He judged himself as unworthy of being in a relationship with anyone, even a witch, after having fallen for someone so evil. For nearly half a century he lived like a monk as far as his romantic life was concerned. He continued to feel attracted to wizards, but as you know he had an amazingly powerful and disciplined mind and he was largely able to ignore the feelings and dismiss them as inconsequential. And once he started working at Hogwarts—in those days even the faintest rumour of his being homosexual would have sunk his career. When I was his student there was not a whisper of it. And he was clearly so busy with the war that no one found it odd he had no wife or girlfriend.
"When he finally had to duel Grindelwald, and defeated him, he thought that meant he had also managed to defeat the attraction to wizards. He did not normally put much stock in signs and prophecies, as you well know. But he was so desperate to believe himself free of it, and so used to thinking like an alchemist, where the outer world affects the inner, that he convinced himself that the duel was a definitive sign. He was sure he would now be able to fall in love with a witch."
"So in the years after the Grindelwald war he dated various witches. He certainly had no shortage of them throwing themselves at him in those days. He never fell in love with any of them, though, or even felt strongly attracted. But he attributed that to the rather haphazard way he was meeting them, since most of his time was still devoted to Hogwarts, and even heterosexual dating isn't easy when you live in this castle ten months a year."
Minerva refilled her glass.
"I joined the faculty in December of '56. We immediately hit it off. We'd always found each other's minds very engaging and our magic was similar, with its strengths in Transfiguration, though obviously he was much stronger and talented in some ways. But I've never felt his inferior in any way which mattered. As you can see from his relationship with Grindelwald, intellectual challenge and magical power were the two things that Albus found most attractive, most seductive. And he was desperately hoping to fall in love with a witch. And what Albus Dumbledore's mind wanted it usually achieved, one way or another.
"We became fast friends, nearly inseparable. It was peacetime, and all was well in the wizarding world. There was time to go to concerts, explore muggle London, attend academic conferences overseas together. There was a big age gap, of course, but it didn't seem to matter. I had always been serious for my age, and Albus less so.
"For my part, I did fall head over heels for him. He was sometimes hot and cold, but I attributed that to his hesitancy about being involved with a subordinate. There was talk on that account, but right then his stock was still so high because of Grindelwald that the Governors would have given him almost anything. We were both discrete and professional, and he even made sure Filius always did my performance evaluations and handled any complaints against me, so there would be no charges of favoritism."
"Complaints against you?"
"Oh, yes, the Governors got a score of owls every year from parents irate about the amount of homework I assigned, or the number of points I took. Usually parents of first- or second-years."
"Oh, right, I can believe that, now that you mention it! You were not most people's favourite professor our first few years, especially the non-Gryffindors. We at least saw you outside the classroom and knew that you genuinely cared about us, but others didn't." Harry shook his head, remembering the scorn some of his classmates had heaped on the strict, demanding professor.
"And I've never seen teaching as a popularity contest, Harry. You may have noticed. So there have always been complaints. But in fifty years not one which has stuck enough to result in anything in my official file. I figure I'd best quit while I'm ahead." She smiled again.
"Okay, so you and Dumbledore were going to concerts, spending time together, dating, as it were….and you fell in love with him. But he didn't love you back, because he was really gay."
"I didn't say that, Harry. He did love me. I knew that at the time, and I knew it when he finally confessed his feelings about wizards to me, and I know it now. He loved me very much. He just didn't love me in all the ways that he would have loved a wizard. It's hard to explain in words. He loved me at least as much, maybe more than, you love Hermione, but he was never able to love me quite the same way you love Ginny. If that makes even the slightest bit of sense."
"Hmm." Harry was clearly trying to understand. Perhaps more whisky would help.
"But I was so in love with him, and he was so determined to show me, and himself, how much he loved me, that I didn't notice the difference, at least not at first. So after a year or so of courting, as it was still called, we got engaged, and then we married. Secretly, because he knew that his fame could still attract unwanted attention. And there was the matter of his still being my boss--the Governors who knew us were fine with it, but some powerful people would have talked and used it against us."
"But that's when it must have become obvious that, umm, well, he was gay. Once you were married." Harry blushed noticeably and fiddled with the spoon he'd used earlier to stir his tea.
"We had what appeared to be, from my perspective, a perfectly normal sex life, if that's what you mean, and from your blush I presume it is."
"Albus loved me. Deeply and unselfishly. He genuinely wanted me to be happy, and to feel loved, and that meant in the bedroom as well as everywhere else. He could tell I loved and desired him—I left him in absolutely no doubt about that. And the mind is a powerful organ, especially when aided by magic. So it was many years before I suspected that some of his physical responses to me were, shall we say, a matter of will and intent rather than totally instinct. And it wasn't until he told me himself that I was sure."
"So he did eventually tell you?"
"Yes, eventually. After we'd been married over twenty years. It was at the height of the first war with Voldemort. About a year after you were born, actually. Lots of our dearest friends and former students were dying, in horrible ways. We'd each had a few very close calls ourselves. It was the sort of time where, if you were the introspective sort, you couldn't help reviewing your life, making amends, making sure you were ready in case the next Dark Mark set off was over your house.
"And at the same time the whole gay rights movement was under full steam, here and in America, where we traveled on any short holiday we managed to take, so we could have a few days away from the war. Being gay was now something that was talked about, and in wizarding society the anti-gay prejudice faded remarkably quickly. After all, as a society we were used to being different and rather eccentric by the estimation of the larger world. And who slept with whom seemed like a trivial thing when we were at war fighting for the survival of our entire way of life. So the old taboos were vanishing.
"Albus finally had a framework for the attractions he'd continued to have, all these years, to various wizards. He'd never acted on his feelings in any way outside his fantasies, but he couldn't make them stop happening. And so he finally admitted to himself that he was gay, always had been, and always would be. And that no matter how much he wanted to, he had never felt for me all that he knew he could feel for a wizard. Yet he loved me, and wanted what was best for me. And every day there was the risk either of us might be killed.
"He felt very guilty that I had never had the sort of relationship I would have if I'd been with a straight wizard. So he finally confessed to me, the day after the Leaving Feast one year, and said he wanted to dissolve our marriage so that I would be free to find a wizard who loved me in the ways he couldn't. Someone who wouldn't have to constantly fight his attraction to other wizards, and who wouldn't have to fantasize about another wizard when he was, was….with me." Minerva had begun to twist the handkerchief in her hands again.
"But you said you were still married, were about to celebrate an anniversary when he died?"
"Yes. We were. When he first told me I was devastated, as you might imagine. I had admittedly noticed some times when the physical side of our relationship seemed to falter, but we were both under tremendous stress and incredibly busy. If we both got five hours sleep in a night it was a rarity. And Albus was nearing 100 years old—the occasional failing in that area was to be expected, especially given the strain we were under. So I had attributed it to all those other causes.
"But to learn that much of the physical side of our relationship had been an act on his part, even if an act with the best of intentions, and that he'd always found various wizards more physically arousing than me….well, it wasn't an easy time. I felt all emotions you would expect. Hurt, betrayal, insult, self-condemnation and loathing. Of course I immediately released him from his vows to me."
"I was so hurt and angry that I moved out of the castle entirely for that summer—both for my own sanity and for both our safety—you've seen my temper, and my magic. I stepped back from full involvement in the Order of the Phoenix. And I wasn't at all sure I'd be able to return as Head of Gryffindor or as his Deputy. I would have continued to teach—I loved teaching and was dedicated to the students--but I seriously considered taking a cottage in Hogsmeade and spending no more time in the castle than absolutely necessary."
"But you didn't do that? And you got back together?"
"Yes, eventually. I spent that summer in London. I did some foolish things, things I'm not particularly proud of now, though I know why I did them. But I'm still very glad word of them never got back to anyone connected with Hogwarts, and that they didn't lead to any serious consequences.
"Anyway, when September came, I asked for a year's leave of absence from my duties as Deputy, 'to devote more time to my research,' but I did return to Gryffindor, and to teaching. I sealed up the magical passage from my quarters in Gryffindor to the Headmaster's suite that we had created so long ago.
"Albus was so glad I had not resigned my post entirely that the leave from the Deputy post was no problem. Of course we saw each other daily at meals, weekly at staff meeting. We were professional and polite. He was the perfect gentleman, giving me all the distance I needed, unfailingly kind but knowing enough not to come too close. He felt horrible himself—he had wanted to give me freedom but not to hurt me so—not to hurt me at all.
"The first personal contact we had that semester was a letter he wrote me telling me he was glad I was exploring all my new options—he'd obviously heard about my foolishness in London through the grapevine—and that he only ever wanted me to be happy, and apologizing profusely for having hurt me.
"Actually, the first time we saw each other outside of our regular duties, away from Hogwarts, after that summer, was the day after your parents were killed. When he left you at the Dursleys. I just had to know what was going on, and what he was going to do with you. That day I was furious with him for an entirely different reason than I had been over the summer. We never did fully agree on the matter of your being left there. Ever. But you will read about all that in the journals."
"That should be very interesting reading. That was probably the most important decision he ever made about me, even more than the later ones, and one of the more painful. But I still don't understand how you got back together? And why?"
"Once my initial emotions cooled, I realized I still loved him. I'd see him in the castle looking exhausted and worried, and I'd want to reach out to him, to comfort him. I'd hear he was slated for some dangerous Order task, and I'd worry about him just as much as I had before. We'd been together 20 years, and I'd loved him all that time. And once I accepted that he hadn't meant to hurt me, with either his deception or his confession, I could admit I still loved him. At Christmas I stayed in the castle over the holiday and even gave him a present, as a sort of olive-branch. We decided to try to rebuild our friendship, and we did. If the wizarding world could finally be at peace, surely we could manage it.
"We got to the point where we could talk honestly about his past, our past, what it was he'd really been feeling all those years. I saw how hard it had been for him, how desperately he'd wanted to truly feel everything for me he'd said he did, and how he'd always had only the best of intentions towards me, and I was able to forgive him. We re-discovered what we'd first realized in 1956—that there was no one else either of us enjoyed spending time with nearly as much, or trusted as much when it came to seeking advice on important things, or reassurance.
"Although Albus never said anything and I never asked, it was clear he had no great interest in going out and finding wizards to be with just because he could. Now that he was free to pursue other men, the tension he'd felt actually lessened. And I don't think he ever got over some of his insecurities about his romantic judgment. He broke it off with me more for my sake, and because he was tired of the deception, rather than because he had a prospective love affair in the wings.
"By the end of spring term we were spending as much time together as before, we just weren't sleeping together. I resumed all my former roles at Hogwarts and in the Order. I even unsealed the passage between our quarters, to save us traipsing up and down and across the castle several times a day to talk to each other. We were best of friends again.
"One day that next summer we were walking together in London, on the way to some meeting at the Ministry. We ran into Bellatrix Lestrange. Albus pushed me out of the way of an AK and was nearly hit himself. We finally managed to send her packing but not before she'd landed a nasty curse to Albus's leg and grazed me with a few other Dark things. It was a very close thing, that duel. We'd each thrown ourselves in front of curses to shield the other. Once she'd gone we found ourselves literally embracing each other for support, our knees buckling with relief, our hearts pounding against our chests, our magics thrumming wildly. We looked into each other's eyes and knew something had again changed between us.
"That night, after we had recovered from our injuries, I asked the house-elves to bring us a special dinner. I told Albus that it was clear that we were still linked in some way. That I still loved him, always would love him, and that I couldn't see myself loving anyone else as long as he was alive. That I understood that he couldn't love me in the way he had promised so many years before and I didn't expect any promises from him now, nor any physical affection. But that I wanted to stand beside him and love him in whatever ways he could accept.
"He agreed that there was something between us that would always be there, and that he still loved me as much as he ever had, as much as he could. He told me that he hoped never to hurt me again. And that if he had to choose between such a deeply loving companionship, and the short-term thrill of indulged lust—something he felt ever more rarely at his age—the choice seemed obvious. If I was sure that I would not regret the possibilities I had given up, and if I agreed we would talk and renegotiate if our feelings ever changed, he would welcome my standing beside him once again.
"So I moved my things back into his quarters, which were much larger than mine. For a while we transfigured the bed we had once shared into two, but eventually we dropped even that barrier. We were never again intimate as husband and wife, but we enjoyed the reassurance of the other's presence and touch, especially as the world grew dark again after Voldemort's return.
"On those occasions when another wizard caught Albus's eye, we would talk about it, even laugh about it at times. Somehow being honest about it took the hurt and fear and tension away. That and our agreement that we could renegotiate our relationship if either of us felt a true pull towards something else. Partly because of our relative isolation at Hogwarts, and partly because of his age, Albus rarely met anyone whom he looked at more than twice.
"When the thirtieth anniversary of our original vows arrived, we decided to celebrate it, because we both felt we had honoured those vows in all the ways which truly, ultimately mattered. In fact, I do not believe Albus ever actually had sex with anyone but me from the time we were engaged, though he knew he was free to in those later years.
"One of the only times we had a serious conversation about any other wizard was the summer before he died, when he proposed bringing Horace Slughorn back onto the faculty. I knew that it was advances from Horace which had most tempted Albus at one point in his past. I reminded him that he was no longer bound to me in the way he had been then, and that I would remain his friend no matter, but that I'd best move back into my own quarters if the old attraction had anything to do with his inviting Horace back. He reassured me that it didn't.
"Ironically Horace never made the slightest move on Albus that year. And Horace had not aged at all well, to be frank. The minute I saw him I knew that all attraction had passed, at least from Albus's perspective. I didn't fully understand why he'd invited him back until everything about Snape was revealed years later, but I knew it wasn't for any romantic reason."
Harry, who had been meeting Minerva's gaze for most of her revelations, suddenly looked away. "What about Kingsley? Was there ever anything between them?"
"Very good question, Harry. Yes and no. He was one of the wizards Albus certainly looked at more than twice--lots more than twice. When Arthur, who was totally clueless about Albus--Molly had figured it out some years back and was always a very good friend to me, but told me she just didn't think Arthur needed to know--,"
"Molly knew, and never told me?"
"Yes. When you were a student, it wasn't appropriate. And afterwards, well, like me she thought you needed to come to terms with your memories of Albus on your own."
"Hmm. And then she probably knew I suspected--I'd told Ron and Hermione and Ginny about my impressions after King's Cross."
"Maybe. Well, after Arthur recruited Kingsley to the Order it was the only time I saw Albus in the throes of what might be considered a crush. It was a difficult time--more for him than me, actually. I could certainly see why he was attracted to Kingsley--who wouldn't be, witch or wizard? And he was bright and powerful--the two things that Albus always responded to. But he was also seventy-five years younger than Albus. And of a totally different generation when it came to romance and sexuality. Poor Albus. Here he was at 115, with his first serious crush since he was 18. He'd never moved in what one might call 'the gay subculture,' wizard or muggle--by the time he 'came out' to himself we were in the middle of a war and there just wasn't time for anything other than work and strategy, and he was already close to 100. So, anyway, he was very unsure of himself and he wouldn't even let himself believe that Kingsley was gay. I had to reassure him on that front. That was one odd conversation, I admit."
"You know, actually, he's bi-. " Harry found it somewhat odd to be discussing the Minister of Magic's personal life, but it wasn't that much of a secret, especially in the Auror Corps where he had been such a strong presence for years. "I'm sure when he was a student here he dated witches as well as wizards. Always has."
"Yes. Which was part of what had Albus confused. He remembered seeing him with witches as a student. Not that he'd ever, for one moment, looked at any student in that way, ever. Never in all the years he was here. But he did remember some of Kingsley's exploits as a student."
"It is rather hard to overlook Kingsley, or to forget him."
"Yes. So anyway, here was Albus, crushing on Kingsley, as the students say nowadays, but with no idea of how to proceed. And also very aware that he was an absolutely essential member of the Order, the most important recruit we had, and wise enough to know that romance and work, especially the kind of work the Order did, are a volatile combination. We'd managed it, but he knew he was much more at risk of becoming irrational over Kingsley than he had been over me."
"He agonized about whether to make his interest known, and how to do it. I told him that flirting with a man was no different than flirting with a woman, and that he'd managed to fake that well enough--this time he could do it sincerely! He was like an insecure teenager with his first crush. Which was essentially what he was. Finally he decided that it was too risky to make a move on Kingsley given their relative positions in the Order--Kingsley might feel he was being pressured to do something he wouldn't otherwise do. And if he wasn't interested, it could make things very awkward at best. Once Albus re-framed it as a matter of maintaining appropriate boundaries with someone who was very much his junior and in his chain of command, and too young to in any way be considered a peer in terms of power, it helped take the edge off the crush. Duty and propriety were very important things for Albus. And perhaps a crush at 115 is slightly easier to overcome than one at 18."
"Did he ever come out to Kingsley?"
"Yes. One night at Headquarters we were all sitting around talking and the subject of gay rights and discrimination came up, I don't remember how. Kingsley said something about having never felt any bias at the Auror Corps, and Alastor, who was several flasks into the evening, began to make some rude comments. Being PC was never a priority with him. He respected Kingsley as an Auror, tremendously, but get him into his cups and bring up the subject of gay men, well..."
"Ouch. I can imagine."
"He said something about how it never would have been stood for in his day in the Corps, and he thought that was a good thing, that it would have weakened morale--all the standard arguments people usually make on the subject. Kingsley held his ground well. Clearly this wasn't the first time he'd had this discussion with someone of Alastor's era. Talked about how being able to recruit from a wider part of society only strengthened the Corps, all the usual rebuttals. And that it meant a lot to him to be able to serve the Ministry as an Auror, which he couldn't have done if he had been born in a different era.
"Alastor then made some really horribly rude comment about just what Kingsley obviously enjoyed most about being an Auror and what wizards like that deserved. Albus, who hadn't said a word in all this discussion, and was sitting back in a wing chair in the shadows slightly to the rear of my chair, so that I think most people had even forgotten he was in the room, suddenly said, "Alastor, enough." In that really powerful tone he could have when it really mattered. I could feel his magic surging, though I don't think the others noticed it.
"Alastor started to say something else rude and Albus whipped out his wand and cast a Silencio on him. Then Alastor reached for his wand--you didn't curse Alastor Moody, he of constant vigilance, and get away with it, not even if you were Albus Dumbledore. We all knew that even drunk and silenced, Alastor was very powerful, and clearly furious--and so Albus had no choice but toStun him, lightly. He mobilicorpused him upstairs and put him to bed with a few light potions.
The rest of us simply sat there in shock. We had never ever seen Albus use even something as mild as a Silencio on a friend, though it was totally understandable why he had--Alastor deserved it, and Kingsley was entitled to visible support. Anyone other than Alastor would have seen what a fool he had made of himself and backed down immediately, and Albus would have lifted the Silencio in a matter of seconds. But that wasn't Alastor, especially once he was drunk.
"Everyone else except Kingsley stood up awkwardly and went up to bed without saying much. We had just seen a duel of sorts between of the most two senior Order members and no one quite knew how to react. I heard Albus come down and go into the kitchen and pour himself a stiff drink. I was going to go in to talk to him but Kingsley went in first, so I decided to leave them alone. Apparently Kingsley had figured it out from Albus's reaction. He'd wondered before, but that convinced him. Albus never told me all the details of the conversation, but I know they talked all night. I think Kingsley was the first gay man Albus had ever talked to openly.
"I came down in the early morning to get a glass of milk--I hadn't slept all night--and found them asleep, sitting up on the sofa together, fully clothed mind you, with a nearly empty bottle and one glass on the floor. Albus was cradled against Kingsley's chest, clutching a damp purple handkerchief in one hand but sleeping peacefully.
"I woke them up gently--if Alastor or a few others had found them like that, it could have been awkward--and put Albus to bed with a hangover potion.
"From that night on Kingsley was a sort of confidante to Albus on some matters, but there was never anything physical between them. The subordinate issue, plus the age gap--and Kingsley was in a very serious relationship at the time, anyway. Once Albus knew that, the last of his crush was easily dealt with--Albus was never one to intrude on another's relationships. He was just grateful to have someone else he could be totally himself around, besides me, and someone he could ask questions of. Kingsley handled it wonderfully. They became good friends and Albus was a sort of mentor to Kingsley concerning strategy and politics and magic. He would be so proud to see how well Kingsley has done as Minister, and so happy to know that the shame and deception he had to live with for so long won't be necessary for future generations."
"Kingsley as Albus' platonic guide in things gay. I never would have guessed that one. Blimey. Two of my mentors--I knew they respected each other tremendously, trusted each other, worked together well, but...the things you learn!"
Harry thought for a moment and then laughed. "Did they ever go shopping together? The two of them in Gladrags--that could have been a hoot!"
"Now that you mention it, they did, once or twice. While they were on Order missions in Europe. Albus was still too concerned about his privacy to do anything quite so, well, flaming, as oohing and ahhing over robes with Kingsley, in England.
Harry picked up his now-empty glass and turned it in his hands thoughtfully. "So he never had a real relationship with another wizard. You were still together when he died. You still loved him. And he loved you, as much as he could."
"Yes. And that was enough. Maybe if he'd told me he was really gay years earlier, when we were newly married, things would have gone differently. They probably would have, in fact. But that's not how it happened. And I've never had any real regrets. For 20 years I was very happily married to the most wonderful wizard I have ever known, enjoying everything a married witch could hope for. And for 20 years after that I had a deep friendship with the most loyal companion I could have wanted. Often maddening, but always loyal.
"In those years it wasn't Albus's orientation which caused strains in our relationship. There were many times in the Second War with Voldemort that we argued bitterly and that I was horribly disappointed with him. But never over who he was attracted to, or how he treated me. It was usually over his strategy and tactics. Especially regarding you.
"He didn't tell me everything. I think he knew I would have literally cursed him if he'd told me some things he was planning in that last year. Neither Malfoy nor Snape would have needed to worry themselves about that damned Vow if he'd told me the truth about your scar and what he wanted you to do—I would have killed him myself. And I am not entirely sure I am joking, even now."
Harry looked up at Minerva, a new comprehension glistening in his eyes. Ever since hearing her mourning wails during the Final Battle, he had known on some level that she cared for him even more than she did most of her Gryffindor cubs, of whom she was famously protective. But now he understood more clearly. It was not only Albus who had loved him as the child he knew he could never have. And it was not only Molly Weasley who would have protected him as her own. He blinked several times and quickly looked away.
"Anyway, Harry, that brings us back to where this conversation started, nearly a whole bottle of firewhisky ago. No wonder I've told you so much, much more than I intended! But it was reading these journals that helped me understand how hard all those decisions during the war were for Albus, and that he also suffered. Maybe not as much as you, but still, it was not easy, and he was not as heartless as it appeared from outside. They helped me come to terms with some things, things I had not even realized were still bothering me. So I thought that you should have them, that you might find them helpful too."
Harry moved to the settee next to Minerva, picked up one of the journals, gazed at it for a few moments, and then set it back down. He turned to her, and cautiously placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Thank you, Minerva. For telling me all this. All of it. It can't have been easy to tell me, but you're right, it's something best heard from you directly. And now I understand a lot more, and not just about Albus. Thank you. For, for…all of it." He squeezed her shoulder and let his hand drop. She took it and squeezed it quickly before returning her attentions to her handkerchief. The two sat there in an awkward silence for a moment.
After blinking a few more times, Harry broke the silence. "Your and Dumbledore's relationship--that cannot have been easy for you, no matter what you say now. I'm glad you don't have any regrets. I don't think I'd be able to be as generous if Ginny ever told me anything like that."
"Times were different, Harry. Expectations were different, especially for witches. To be frank, we weren't raised to think that our sexual fulfillment was all that important. I'm glad witches of your generation can expect as much pleasure as wizards always have, but that just wasn't how I was raised. So, while parts of those second 20 years were a sacrifice, it was not, when weighed against all the good things remaining between us, 'a deal-breaker,' as they say nowadays. And we'd been together over 20 wonderful years before he told me—wonderful for me anyway, though much more difficult for him, as I eventually learned. But I knew many witches who'd lost their husbands to disease or war long before enjoying 20 years with them. I could not feel myself slighted. Yes, times were different."
"I guess so. Still, it will take a while for me to get used to. And it was still very generous of you."
"If you have managed to forgive Albus keeping the sorts of secrets he did from you, and sending you to what could have been your death—not to mention risking your friends' lives—all for 'the greater good,' I would think you could understand my forgiving him marrying me, when he truly thought he loved me. When he did love me in many ways. And at least he didn't ask me to let myself be murdered!"
"True. There is that. About these journals. I'd love to read them, but I don't think I can keep them. You said they're not all just about me. And that you found them very helpful in sorting out your own feelings about him. You should keep them."
"I've made myself exact copies of them, don't worry. And I have all the rest. You should have the original volumes for these years."
"Did Albus instruct you to give them to me?"
"No. It was my idea. But I've told his portrait about it, and he doesn't object."
"All right. Thank you again." Harry conjured a soft cloth and some purple ribbon and carefully wrapped the journals in them, cast an obscuring spell over the parchment describing the counter-charms, and stood up.
He looked around the suite again. "Where will you be going after you leave here?"
"We had a cottage on the coast. I've kept it up. And a studio flat in London, near the Ministry."
"Oh." His eyes fell on Dumbledore's portrait. The Headmaster was awake and had a gentle smile on his face. Harry turned back to Minerva. "Are there others"—he jerked his head towards the painting and spoke very quietly, "where you're going?"
"Yes. Much smaller, but yes."
"So you'll still be together?"
"In a way, I guess you could say that."
"He's been gone almost decade, though. Have you ever thought…"
"Have I ever thought of loving anyone else?"
"Yes. Have you? After all, it was you who said that nothing would make Dumbledore happier than to know there was a little more love in the world. And he wanted you to be happy. He couldn't possibly mind."
"No, he wouldn't. I know that. I've just been rather busy. Raising funds. Rebuilding the school. Advising the Ministry. I'm not in nearly the demand Albus was, thank Merlin, but Kingsley has always valued my opinions. And I've tried to keep up with my former students. Help them, especially the ones who lost family. So many people died. I promised myself to not neglect the survivors. Especially those who were here that horrible year under the Carrows. It's so easy to feel I let them down very badly, even though I know there was nothing more I could do."
"No, there wasn't. They would have gotten rid of you one way or the other if you'd resisted them openly, and then it would have only been worse for the students. Everyone knew you did all you could—that no one would risk more to defend their students than you. Not even Dumbledore. It was you who defended the castle and made sure the children escaped safely, and then fought Riddle in the Great Hall, pinning him down until I could get into position. Meanwhile Dumbledore just napped in that frame for a year and chatted with Snape, while you were dealing with the Carrows day in and day out, almost entirely alone. I'll never forget Amycus spitting on you for as long as I live. It couldn't have been the first time, either."
"It wasn't," Minerva said quietly.
"So, you did all you could, more than anyone had a right to expect from you. Don't blame yourself. And you've rebuilt Hogwarts, and made it even better than it was. I think that makes up for any failures during the War, if there were any."
"But the rebuilding wasn't easy. Which is why I haven't exactly been off chatting up eligible wizards. Which I think is what you were suggesting I do."
"I sort of was, wasn't I?"
"As if there are all that many eligible 80-something-year-old wizards looking to date a witch known for her intelligence, independence, stubbornness, and temper! And sharp claws."
Harry laughed. "Sharp claws—those would be a turn-off, I agree. But some wizards like cats. I'm just saying…nothing would make Dumbledore happier, you said so yourself. Once you're away from the school you could have all kinds of opportunities, if you want them."
"I'll remember that, Potter. Truly, I will. And I appreciate your concern for my social life. Now, speaking of not missing opportunities, I imagine Ginny is waiting for you to relieve her from her day with your sons. You get on home to her."
Harry turned as he began to descend on the revolving staircase. "Thank you again for these. And for telling me about, well, everything. And remember—nothing would make Dumbledore happier…."
Minerva simply smiled at him. Once he had reached the gargoyle she turned and stepped back inside her office.
A familiar voice spoke from the portrait behind her desk. "You know, Tabby, he's right. Nothing would make me happier."