Rating: PG-15/soft R
Pairings: Albus/Minerva, Albus/Horace, Minerva/Horace
Words: About 3000
Summary: A remarkable man such as Albus Dumbledore commanded devotion from several people. How was his magic woven? What will become of those who remain after him as they seek solace in one another? This is tale of Air, Earth, Fire and Water.
Notes: This story contains a pretty unusual set of pairings, but I very much hope they have been woven into a narrative that makes sense. Anyone brave enough to click the link will be enormously thanked and appreciated ;-)
He had not been hers alone, but she was his; totally, willingly and with the fullest of consent.
He could no more be brought to quarter than a beam of brightest light or the breeze itself, and she knew they could never be settled, espoused or bound as man and woman might. Yet like that brilliant ray, everything he touched he illuminated; made radiant. As that stirring breeze, he breathed life into places; into people; into her. And Minerva yearned for Albus as a sapling seeks the sunshine and everything alive needs the vital air.
When they made love it was electric. He would lay her out upon the silken sheets and whisper to the very air about her body. Invisibly, it would obey, caressing, stroking, teasing, until Minerva would writhe desperately, her nipples peaked and legs splayed - all without a single touch. Albus would smile; the greatest sorcerer, the most powerful master of pleasure and pain, and eventually heed to her sweet pleas like stardust bathing the moon.
When they were together thus, it was the greatest ecstasy Minerva had ever known. For just a few moments she held the wind, could touch the air and feel the very sky in all its might and glory. Her ethereal love was briefly brought to flesh, the impenetrable force of his magic placed aside for just a moment. He was briefly stolen away from higher things to commune with her.
Minerva would insist that very few people could be allowed to suspect, and even fewer could be confident in the truth. When the lovers parted she would knot her tresses tightly together, don matronly robes and pretend to the world that didn’t know how it felt to be loved by the air and the light. Such duality suited her ways; woman and feline as one.
Only a privileged few could recognise her gifted spark and luminescence. Those were the few with whom she shared him.
Even though there had never been a chance of monogamy, of normality, Minerva had always been rapt by Albus, and now she was satisfied with what she had gained. As a schoolgirl, she was enchanted by her spirited Transfiguration teacher. His cleverness and goodwill spoke volumes, yet she always felt something else, something that her giggling dorm-mates failed to see as they pored over 'Witch Weekly' and swooned toward Quidditch stars. It was years later, when, fully qualified as a Mistress in her own right, Minerva could fully appreciate what that else could be. And it; he; this, became her world, her everything, transporting her to a place she had never before imagined and at no point wished to leave.
One might have thought Minerva too practical, too level-headed to love a man who was always elsewhere, always called to a task greater than mere love and other humans. Indeed, those traits did set her in good stead, and by day she was a trusted lieutenant.
By night, her Gryffindor spirit was piqued and she strode through the corridors, ascended the moving spiral staircase and sought the man who could so easily have embodied all four of the Hogwarts houses - or equally, none of them at all - in his lair.
Sometimes, he appeared to greet her. Sometimes, he remained absent and Minerva was left to muse among the whirring silver machines. She was never jealous or resentful, but as pragmatic as any Muggle ornithologist who knows that the rarest and brightest birds of the air cannot always be seen. Far better to have a share of something extraordinary than the whole of something mundane, she reasoned, and felt blessed to live by that spirit.
He told her something of his missions, and of The Cause, but there was much that he did not share. When Albus staggered home clutching his poisoned limb, it was Severus whom he wanted, not her, and Minerva felt quietly disappointed amid her concern.
The following year tumbled by all too quickly. The air darkened around her, and Albus seemed distracted, more elsewhere, even than usual. With hindsight, Minerva could have told that he was preparing to leave, but that did not appease the hollowness she felt when it came.
The world seemed devoid of all oxygen; all light. At the bright, polished funeral, people tried to find explanations and words, but Minerva knew that the air will never explain itself as it whisks away - leaving earth-bound creatures to gaze sightlessly in its shining wake.
She beckoned to him not long after the funeral. Minerva knew that Horace had been touched by the same light as she, and even if they could find no solace, perhaps there could be understanding. His eyes were glassy but willing; he seemed burned, yet without visible blemish.
They spoke for a little while, difficult words striking the hard walls harshly. The room, the castle, the world seemed very solid; heavy; as if it had been invested with too much matter. Everything was still and tied down. The clever fluidity of the air had departed, gone where she could not follow.
Minerva knew that she was alone, and the radiant light could shine upon her no more. Yet she also knew that giving up, giving in, was not an option. Somewhere, eyes of twinkling blue watched invisibly, intangible now, but more penetrating than ever. Any valuable lieutenant knows that the will to continue must be felt keenly; any true lover knows that passion must not be allowed to die.
Albus was gone now, gone to the air, yet she was left upon the earth. Minerva needed to feel a part of that earth, to embrace it and live once more truly in its realm.
Thus, she embraced Horace.
He seemed surprised at first, but not affronted or unwilling. A friendship had grown over the past year, and they were both seasoned adults, after all. From her many years teaching, Minerva knew that youth aims to shock mainly because it is essentially shockable itself - such things impress. Age, however, can be far more sanguine.
Initially he was tentative, but she instructed and encouraged. It was ungainly, but all the more real because of that - organic; extant.
Like earth itself, Horace was warm and solid and salty. As she held him, she wanted to burrow into his touch, to feel the mineral blood thrum in her veins and listen to his hoarse breathing as his chest and belly heaved with exertion. As he filled her, she felt connected; rooted to this world, and at last she could celebrate that fact. She took comfort in his being; his ample substance.
Much was left unsaid between them – their reasons, thoughts and pains – but that seemed secondary to the simple yet resonant need for connection, for feeling. Minerva was grateful, and she told him so. Horace said that it had been a pleasure, and gave a chuckle of ripe fruit and truffled undergrowth that made Minerva want to tarry in this world of tangible, worldly contentments, even despite her grief.
They saw each other several times more like this – each time warmer, longer, but still as firmly superficial as the first. It was only a leafy balm across a raw wound, but such simple things can have untold powers; Minerva gave herself willingly to the healing of dust, clay and toil.
Indeed, Minerva found it without doubt ironic, that she should become attached to her mortal case just as it was about to face a time of greatest peril. As she clung to Horace, she wondered exactly what Albus would have her do next.
For as long as Horace could remember, there had always been Albus. The other children at the pure-blood nursery school were drawn to this bright, sparky boy who bubbled over with natural magic like a cauldron left on a high flame. He was surrounded, kind and contagious, and it was only natural that young Horace joined the throng of boys wanting to be playmates, friends, partners. This sandy-haired boy however, was lucky enough to succeed. He was chosen to be special friends – just a cursory instinct of a five-year old prodigy, perhaps – but a distinction that was to resonate through the years with a magic and power known only to the spells of the heart.
In the summer they would play in the meadows, searing heat rustling the dry grass. Horace, plump and melting, would watch as Albus tore among the blades, impervious and as insistent as fiendfyre. They might wrestle and tumble down upon the straw; only an innocent overture to that which was to follow, but the memories were no less treasured.
Indeed, as the years passed, Horace treasured everything about Albus. Every glance, every chuckle. Each burning kiss and every moment of sweet pain as he was taken by the very flames and the fire. With time, Horace was to learn that nothing felt as beautiful as being possessed by the heat; by the inferno that was him.
When they were young they had shared sweets. Lemon drops, mint humbugs and dark treacle toffees, hard and solid and melting in hot mouths and fingers. Horace sucked his share, sedately and in repose, the evidence quickly settling upon chubby thighs and belly. Albus munched and crunched and consumed, like kindling thrown into a hearth. All was burned and used, and through the years his flames became higher, stronger and more impressive. No one really minded the sweet papers that were left alone to blow in the wind.
Their first kiss was youthful, experimental and branding. In secret corridors between house boundaries the friends explored. Gryffindor and Slytherin in the darkness; yet although this place was dim and cold, Horace felt an extraordinary warmth; a glow that he was willingly possessed by and knew that he forever wanted to seek. It was the same feeling that he had experienced as a five-year old when picked – from so many contenders – to be a special playmate, only now the feeling was hotter, sharper and in higher contrast, and he properly understood just how he had been chosen by that wonderful boy who was so superior to everyone else. For all his silken robes and familial trappings, Horace had never felt more privileged.
In the years after school they were forced to drift, geographically distant and set to different tasks. With hindsight, Horace was glad that he had never known about Grindelwald. Seventeen year-old boys feel jealousy keenly, and he would not have wanted to picture glinting golden hair tousled together with the red.
They restored their contact as time marched forth, and by then, Horace accepted that he would have to share his prize if he were to enjoy it – or at least he thought he did. Although Albus’ fame and loves were distorted headline fodder, Horace was confident that the kindred spark they had was special and different and sacred - renewed as it was, spectacularly, but far too seldom. Such a notion encouraged him to leave the world of commercial brewing and return to Hogwarts – drawn as ever by that magical heat. Having seen, assessed and ingratiated the world, it was indeed a wiser, calmer and stouter man who became Potions Master… undone in a second by the fiery-bright colleague whose elegant hands burned through his clothes and made him await their shared evenings with the impatience of a freezing man nearing a roaring fire.
Years later, they parted badly. Albus’ other liaisons had never seemed important, but there was something about this young person, this witch, this woman that made Horace’s hackles rise and made him want to spit every flame that he had ever absorbed. She was intelligent, spirited. She seemed to sense; something in those cat-like eyes promised that she too knew what it was to be chosen and taken by the fire, and she was disposed to share with unnerving equanimity. Horace however, could not stand the thought; the proximity, so he fled to retirement – cool, numb and premature.
Decades passed, but coming back was an easier decision than it had seemed to an onlooker. The Boy Who Lived was a temptation, of course, but how could he have resisted that twinkle in Albus' eye; the glint that promised a rekindling of what had been between the boys with sandy and auburn hair nearly a century before? Horace was aware that the cat-woman was still there, by now middle-aged and trusted, but age pressed upon his breast and he knew that he could not refuse the man that his tired heart still so desperately wanted.
They were older then, of course, but Albus seemed no less agile. They ordered sweets together from Honeydukes, and walrus moustache met snowy beard in warm, sticky kisses. Later in the evenings, Horace's blood ran hot as his lover worked that infernal magic; searing, sating, yet always leaving him hungry for more. With such heady compensation available, he and the cat-woman even made friends.
It was a happy year, but one that was troubled and cruelly curtailed. To Horace, Albus had seemed immortal – he had always assumed that he himself, pudgy and indulgent, would have gone first. A man made of sinew, flame and cleverness would last forever.
Yet the limp bundle that the half-giant carried forward had nothing of Albus’ spark. As it was transfigured into cold marble by a final flash of fire, the world had burn out; all was ash.
Life was dark and chill without Albus. Loneliness pressed acutely, so it was important for Horace to stay at the school, to keep busy, to try to do his part - whatever that meant in these sickened times.
The cat-woman – she was Minerva now – had found a measure of comfort in him, and Horace was glad to be of help where he could. She didn’t seem to mind if his girth expanded further; Horace hadn’t the heart to cancel Albus’ half of the Honeydukes order, so he ate both, salty tears mingling with the taste of burnt treacle toffee.
When he and Minerva were together, it helped Horace remember the man he so sorely missed. To relive - just a little - those moments of exquisite rightness via someone else who felt the same pain, had been touched by the same remarkable spirit. Perhaps a little glint of that now-extinct fire resided in them both, and bringing their surrogate sparks together helped the embers to glow more strongly, if only for a moment. The thought warmed Horace and gave him a measure of hope.
When the war reached its head, Horace’s instinct was - as ever - to run, hide, be silent and escape. He considered it a testament to Albus that instead he stayed and fought - breathless, determined and without noticing the hexes that singed his green pyjamas.
Spells flashed overhead as thoughts of how a cowardly old Slytherin had been moved to duel the most feared wizard of modern times trickled through Horace’s brain, and for once, it was he who channelled the fire - attacking and parrying with astonishing speed and vigour. Albus was lost because of this monster before him, this unworthy 'Lord', and never before had Horace felt that loss more powerfully than when he rained cathartic curses upon the evil itself.
Afterwards, the building lay ravaged and desolate, and fallen comrades were honoured in public and in private. Rebuilding of places and lives would take time, yet Horace now felt that time was his to be seized and used. Headmistress McGonagall was indeed a fine woman, and he felt honoured to be her second-in-command. They would reconstruct together; from watered ashes can come new life.
Horace’s eyes were clearer then, the world was new and in sharper relief. He wanted to guide Slytherin House along a better, cleaner path, and it was with a fresh gaze that Horace saw both his responsibilities and his company. True, he had known Minerva for many years, but now looked upon her as if seeing her for the first time, and beheld her loveliness.
Their first time after the battle was different, fresh and cleansing. They met in a clear, calm kiss, and moved together gracefully; unhurried, as if dancing underwater. For the first time, they both concentrated on the present - appreciating each other in truth, not as the living shadow of an absent person or idea.
It was as if life had begun to flow once more, stoppered and damned as it had been since that dreadful night the previous summer. Horace's feelings were able to trickle forth - slowly at first, but then gathering into a surge of empathy and affection for the woman he held in his arms.
Stains of the past were washed away and burns were cooled and soothed. Their love was cleansing, refreshing, and it nourished what was to come as only the purest of springs are able.
Somewhere above, a twinkling blue eye smiled and wished them well, content with the knowledge that all rivers eventually reach the sea.