Still through the cloven skies they come with peaceful wings unfurled
And still their heavenly music floats o'er all the weary world.
Above its sad and lowly plains they bend on hovering wing
And ever o'er its Babel sounds the blessed angels sing.

-Edmund H. Sears, "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear"



I met Albus in the hall on his way back from dinner with Fudge. Before I said anything, he beckoned me to follow him. I did. We approached the gargoyle outside his office, and Albus said, "Ton-Tongue Toffee!" The gargoyle jumped aside, and we rode up the staircase. Albus said quietly, "Alohomora-Emerson," and the door opened.

"An extra password?" I asked.

He shrugged as he lit a fire. "Just something no one expects - not only the extra password, but the Emerson part itself."

"You read Muggle literature - especially American Muggle literature?"

Albus fetched two chipped mugs out of a cabinet and began to make hot chocolate, murmuring the necessaries as he responded. "I study - Fervio Aqua - anything that is instructive, Minerva. Emerson - Accumulo Mellitus - was a very intelligent man. He was the philosopher of the Transcendentalist movement - Concio - and Henry David Thoreau, the other most recognized Transcendentalist, was the one who put Emerson's ideas into action. Here's something of his I should have told you a long while ago: 'I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear...I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.' Of course, that brings up the question, 'What is life?'" He looked at me keenly as he passed me one of the mugs. "You had something happen to you tonight, Minerva."

I nodded.

"Sit," he said, pointing to one of two overstuffed chairs in front of the fire, and I did so, gathering my robes about me and arranging my hands on the mug so that they would be warmed. There had not been enough time for the fire to warm up the room since we had entered. Or perhaps that was my nervousness.

Albus ensconced himself in the other chair and took a sip from his mug. "Tell me what happened."

I told him everything. About the snowstorm, about Rosmerta and the bartender, about thinking that Severus was merely drunk, about how I repaired his chest, and what I knew of the fight between him and the Death Eater. Albus steepled his fingers and stared into the flames. "A dreadful thing to have happen on Christmas Eve, Minerva. However did you manage to get him back to school - I assume that's what you did?"

I nodded, stiffening - this was it. "I - he fell asleep. I brought him back by Floo."

He looked at me with those piercing blue eyes of his - just like Theron's. I knew that he knew what had happened; he just wanted me to say it. "Minerva, I highly doubt he just fell asleep after trying to commit suicide." Fawkes glided over from his perch and settled on the arm of Albus's chair. He stroked the phoenix idly, drinking some more hot chocolate.

"I...told him that no court in the land would convict him of murder. I told him that...that you loved him. I apologized to him for not being more of a colleague to him, and not doing more to help him when he was a student. I absolved him of his actions. And...I told him about..."

"Theron." He sighed. "I thought you might."

I looked away from Albus, away from the fire, away from Fawkes. They were all too bright to look at; my eyes were watering.

He said gently, "Was there anything else?"

I swallowed. "I told him that I had the authority to absolve him...and...I gave him his life."

"It's a life for a life, Minerva. In this case, several lives for one. You are generous."

I was indignant - how could he be so callous? Shortly, I said, "It's nothing to do with generosity."

Albus put down his mug, twisted in his chair, and looked at me. I stared back at him defiantly. After a moment, his stony fa├žade broke and he slumped over. "I miss Theron too, Minerva. Don't ever think that I don't. He was my son, after all."

"I know."

"And it's Christmas Eve, when everyone by rights should be with their families...and people like you and me and Severus are not. And we thus think about what we had, or might have had, or didn't have. I can understand why Severus wanted to kill himself. Poor boy. You and I at least have Theron to remember. He has nothing worth remembering." He was quiet for a while. "I assume the result was a reenactment of Christmas Eve seventeen years ago?"

I nodded. "Down to the tears and all. Although he fell asleep, and I did not."

The ghost of a smile crossed his face. "Then he'll be all right. You did well." He sounded almost proud.

I set my mug on the floor and began to leave. His voice came to me over the back of his armchair. "Minerva - "

"Yes?"

"Consider all debts paid."

And with that, I dissolved. Hands to my face, I began to sob. For Theron, Meleagrant, Maimonides, Demetria, Finn, Medea, Severus, Albus, myself. It simply wasn't fair. Even young Harry Potter had somewhere to go for Christmas - a substitute family in the Weasleys. I was tired of having to be strong. I was tired of accepting my lot in life and keeping up a wall against the flood tide of grief and loneliness that had been roiling in me for the past seventeen years. I had not had a minute's respite from the Fwooper sitting on my shoulder. I just wanted to be able to forget everything, even if it was just for ten minutes.

I felt Albus's arms around me, and I clung to him desperately. He said softly in my ear, "Minerva, I want you to listen to me, and listen to me well. Not everyone can be stoic all the time. Everyone is allowed to break, especially when they are under the kind of strain that you are under. It's not good to keep things inside, Minerva. They ferment until they explode under the right conditions, just like right now. It's all right. It's all right." He handed me his handkerchief, and I wiped my eyes. "Come and sit down again."

He led me to the chair and perched himself on the ottoman. "I have a theory on why the magical community celebrates Christmas. It's more of the peace-on-earth, good-will-towards-men-type thing than the traditional view. More of the message and tradition than the birth of a Messiah. And, of course, the presents." I couldn't keep a small smile from my face at that. "I assume you know the Christmas story."

I nodded. "Herod, Bethlehem, the manger, the Wise Men - "

He cut me off. "What did the three wise men bring to the child?"

"One gift apiece. Let's see...gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

Albus smiled. "Minerva, I'm going to indulge in an extended metaphor - I hope you don't mind. Severus has, in effect, been exiled and reborn in a barn tonight. You brought him a gift. That makes you the lone wise woman."

I mulled that over for a minute. He continued, "You've retold the Christmas story in a new way, and in one that saved a life. You're deserving of the title of 'wise woman'." He took up my hands. "Theron, my dear, would be proud of you...as I am right now."

Words were not necessary after that point. We wept together for a while in remembrance. When we had cried ourselves out, we took up the hot chocolate once more, and began to toast crumpets over the fire. Soon, however, we began to have discussions about past Christmases, the adventures at various Dumbledore family reunions, and all the exploits of myself, Maimonides, and Medea as children. We sat there for hours, telling stories, when the grandfather clock in the corner boomed, "Merry Christmas!"

Albus said, "That's the only time of the year that that clock talks. I think it's time we went to bed - presents don't come until after we're asleep. Allow me to escort you to your chambers."

I bid farewell to Fawkes, who swished his tail at me, and we descended the staircase silently. The halls were quiet, the portraits were still, and even Mr. Filch and Mrs. Norris were abed. We stopped at the Maxfield Parrish painting of an exuberant young lady dancing on a clifftop, and he bowed to me. "A merry Christmas to you, Minerva, and I shall see you later this morning at breakfast."

I nodded. "Likewise, Albus."

He smiled and went back down the hall. I tapped on the painting. "Livia!"

The girl quit her dancing mid-leap and crashed. "Professor!" she whined. "You startled me!"

"My sincerest apologies," I said dryly. "Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to go to bed. There are presents in the morning."

"Presents? Is it Christmas?"

"Yes," I said impatiently.

Livia grinned. "Oh, Christmas is such a lovely holiday. I remember one year when -"

"Gladrags Wizard Wear," I said clearly.

The portrait swung open and I stepped through. Silly girl. I'd have to see what I could do about organizing a portrait party tomorrow or something of that sort.

I changed into my night robes and looked at myself in the mirror, thinking over the events of the night. Who would have thought it? A wise woman. "I am a wise woman," I said out loud.

The mirror grumbled, "No wise woman would be up this late, waking up honest mirrors. Go to bed!"

It was excellent advice. I took it.