Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. JK Rowling, her publishers, and Warner Brothers own Harry Potter.
Albus Dumbledore had a type.
It took Minerva years to notice, but once she did, she could not mistake the signs. She marveled that it had escaped her notice for so long. They would vary in appearance, age, specialty, even temperament, but they all had certain things in common. All male, all intelligent, and all at least a little dark. Albus's heart would beat a little faster, his cheeks flush a little redder, his eyes linger a little longer.
The first time she noticed was when Albus stood beside Abraxas Malfoy at one of Horace Slughorn's Christmas parties. The two men were chatting amiably, and Malfoy stumbled slightly as a student jostled him. Albus caught the man's arm to steady him, and as he did, his cheeks warmed with a pleasant flush. Minerva thought little of it at the time. Abraxas was nearly of an age with Albus, and, like his son and grandson after him, he was elegant, handsome, and entirely heterosexual. Albus's reaction was both completely understandable and utterly irrelevant. Nothing would ever come of it.
But a year or so later, something similar happened at a conference with the Durmstrang highmaster. Overweight and liver-spotted, he had none of Malfoy's charms, and yet Albus seemed nearly as intrigued. Shortly thereafter, the highmaster stepped down from his post. Rumors claimed that he had used Unforgiveables on students and that the school was desperate to avoid a scandal. Somehow, Minerva was not surprised.
Minerva watched as Defense professors came and went. She watched as Albus played the kindly, eccentric grandfather to all of the women and most of the men. A select few, though, earned the rare coy glance, the engaging chuckle. Minerva learned to watch these favored men more carefully. All too often, though not always – never enough to come forward with the pattern, not with the curse as much to blame or more – these were the professors who left in the most disgrace. These were the ones who taught Defense Against the Dark because they themselves were personally familiar with the darkness.
None of her colleagues seemed to recognize the signs. From staffroom gossip, they appeared to think that Albus was above such petty lusts, or perhaps simply too old for that sort of thing. She did not bother to correct their misapprehension. They did not see what she did, did not stand at his right hand, did not observe the world with feline eyes.
But that was only right. Albus's personal life was his own. The few partners she could guess with confidence had been decent men, for all that they had been brushed by darkness. He had avoided entanglement with the more evil of the lot, at least as far as Minerva could discern, for all that he remained attracted. She had never seen him behave inappropriately, never abused his position or his authority, never took advantage.
And then Severus joined the staff. For the first time, Minerva felt unease.
Albus's eyes would linger just a moment too long on the potions master as he strode out of the room. They avidly tracked the movement of his lips as he spoke. He fussed over the young man – and Severus was a young man, nearly a full century younger than Albus – encouraging him to eat whenever he crossed the line from thin to gaunt. He would ask Severus to accompany him on long walks across the grounds. Albus always knit Christmas presents for the staff, and Severus's were always the finest made, the most personal.
Was it obscene, or merely sad? Minerva could not decide.
The comments in the staff room changed as the other professors began to notice Albus's special interest. They shook their heads sadly at the reformed Death Eater. They praised the headmaster for seeking out the good in the boy, for giving him a second chance, for helping him to change. None guessed at the truth. After all, surely the great and noble Albus Dumbledore would never lower himself in such a way? Surely he would not be drawn to Severus's darkness, rather than bring Severus up towards his light? Minerva kept her silence, but she continued to watch.
Ironically, it was Severus and Severus alone who appeared not to notice anything amiss, even as Albus's flirtations grew – to Minerva's eye and, it seemed, to hers alone – ever more blatant. Inviting the potions master to tea, casually brushing his robes to remove a supposed bit of fluff, her list went on and on. And yet Severus never gave a hint that he noticed, neither encouraged nor rebuffed. His pale cheeks remained pale, his eyes never strayed, he never flirted back.
There was something wrong about his non-reaction, and it took Minerva several terms to pinpoint exactly what it was. As strange as it seemed, as improbable in a man who had been both Death Eater and spy, Severus was an innocent.
The realization changed Minerva's view, not only of her young colleague but of the whole sorry situation. Should she tell him? He taught at a boarding school – he had attended a boarding school for seven years. Surely, a man of his age should recognize the signs? He was young, but not so young as that. Would telling him even be kind? Albus had said nothing, would likely never say anything. Minerva had watched him long enough to know that he never acted first. He had his honor, and he felt the weight of his position. In this, he always waited for the other partner to begin the dance.
Was it worth risking the boy's relationship with the headmaster? He was volatile, he was cruel, he was only just reformed.
He was lonely.
He rarely spent time with anyone other than Albus, aside from the barest minimum required for his duties in the school. It would be cruel to jeopardize that. And Albus enjoyed their time together, too. There was no need to risk upsetting anyone.
She considered confronting Albus, to let him know that she understood – even though she didn't, not really, for why so good a soul felt drawn to dangerous men baffled her – to offer to speak with Severus on his behalf, or at least offer him counseling on a few basic facts of life. But she did not.
Years passed, and Severus aged from a young man to a slightly older young man. Minerva never could see him as very old. He was the youngest member of staff still, aside from the rare Defense professor, and she had more decades on him than she cared to count. And yet he aged despite his lack of years, old and weary before his time. Still cruel, still dangerous, still only just reformed. And still so very lonely.
And Albus's eyes never strayed. Defense professors came and went. In the years before Severus, some were certain to have captured his attention. Minerva expected something, a faint tinge of red at least, when Albus met the Spanish ambassador. But no, his flushes and his looks remained for Severus alone. And Severus never noticed.
When Severus returned to Voldemort's service, when he returned battered and bruised, haggard and broken with pain, Albus was there. Gentle hands carried the potions master to the infirmary, shaking and reverent as they helped Poppy tend to his wounds. Minerva watched, lips pursed, even as she did her own part to help, as those hands ghosted over Severus's injured chest, as they tenderly rubbed healing salves into his cuts. Surely, at last, Severus would see?
But no, the potions master, for all his brilliance, for all his skill at observation, remained as unaware as ever. He saw only the man who sent him off to spy, and it was only fitting that the man for whom he bled be there to tend the wounds. For the first time in years, Minerva questioned if she should speak, if she should lift Severus from his blindness. But Voldemort was back, and he could see into the minds of men. She could not risk, would not risk, the enemy learning the weakness in their general's defenses, the way to wound his noble heart. For she could see that Albus loved him, that it was more than mere desire. There had been no others since Severus joined the staff, for that all that the potions master did not notice or respond.
And so when Severus murdered Albus it stung her all the more. Was Severus truly the innocent that he had seemed, or had he led an old man on? Minerva questioned all she knew, and pondered an old man's folly, to lose his heart to one so young and cold.
When Skeeter's biography – and Minerva loosely used the term – raised shock within the school, Minerva was the only one unsurprised. Of course Albus had loved Grindelwald. Of course he had. She had not known the two had met before their famous duel, but if they had, then surely Albus would have fallen. He always did. He loved monsters more than Hagrid did, for all that his feigned human form.
When Severus returned as headmaster, she spat out her long-hidden truths. He had killed the man who loved him. Who had loved him for years, yet never imposed, never overstepped his bounds. Severus was not merely blind to love, but incapable of it, a monster without feeling. He had murdered the man who loved him, the only one who would ever love him.
For the first time in her memory, color rose in those pale cheeks. His eyes widened. He flushed, then paled. His hands trembled, and then they stilled. A moment later, his face was blank, expressionless, unfeeling, as if her words meant nothing, as if Albus's love meant nothing. Minerva had never hated him as much as she did in that moment, not even when she first heard of his murderous betrayal, or when the first student under his charge was tortured, or when she forced him from the school. That empty, blank, uncaring face somehow outweighed it all.
And then Severus, too, was dead, and she learned too late that he was not incapable of love. He was not a monster.
When Minerva saw the memories he had left behind, she wept to see the silver doe, to hear Albus question his enduring love, to witness how the potions master's answer hit the old man worse than any mere physical blow. She wept as always became iconic, repeated, remembered, the mark of one man's eternal devotion to another. She never admitted the truth of why she wept. Let them think what they may. Let them think that her soft, silent tears were for Severus, for his devotion, for his long love of Lily Evans, for her own distrust of his faithful soul. And she did. She wept for Severus, she truly did, but she wept for Albus more.
She wept as, with that single word, Severus broke an old man's heart.
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