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"I always saw Dumbledore as gay," Rowling said in answer to a fan's question about whether the wizard ever found love.
The crowd of about 2,000 hardcore Harry fans, who had won tickets through a nationwide drawing, exploded in screams and applause at the news. Rowling moments later joked, "Oh my God, the fan fiction now!"
The books contain virtually no references to the headmaster's sexuality and even screenwriters working on an upcoming "Harry Potter" movie didn't have an inkling, Rowling said.
She was recently reading a script draft in which Dumbledore reminisces about a girl he was once attracted to. "I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the script writer: 'Dumbledore's gay,' " Rowling said.
She told fans that they might read between the lines when they examine the relationship that unfolds in Book 7 between Dumbledore and his fellow wizard Gellert Grendelwich. "Dumbledore fell in love with Grendelwich," she said, but their friendship went awry with disastrous consequences.
The revelations about Dumbledore, who dies in Book 6, were unplanned and a surprise to Scholastic, Rowling's U.S. publisher, which sponsored four special readings of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows across the country this week. Scholastic spokeswoman Kyle Good said afterward, "That's the first time she's brought that up."
Good brushed off any suggestion of controversy, saying fans could handle the news. "The conversation on fan sites about the characters is endless," she said. "This means there'll just be more of it."
The books have sold 350 million worldwide, more than 140 million are in print in the United States.
A quick survey of fans at the event revealed total support for Dumbledore's posthumous coming out. "He had a feminine quality to him, a sort of motherly quality as well as fatherly," said Kristen Coppola, 31, of Selden, N.Y.
She said fans wouldn't abandon the books because of the revelations. "I think a true fan wouldn't care if that comes out. Like she said, she wants the books to break all kinds of prejudices — why not that one?"
Her friend Kim Saldin, 36, of East Northport, N.Y., agreed. "I think it's great — she hadn't revealed any gay characters in the past, and they exist in society, so why not in the book? Some people are going to go nuts, but I think most people aren't going to care."
Outside Carnegie Hall, Vicky McKinley, 50, stood dressed as an English schoolboy, handing out cards for her fan site thepensieve.org. McKinley, who said she is gay, said the news "could be huge." McKinley didn't exactly suspect that Dumbledore was gay, but added, "Maybe I had it in the back of my mind."
She added, "I think it's great that she can be so open-minded and that she had the courage to finally speak up about it."
As she walked out of the hearing with her little sister, Pamela Misir, 35, of New York City, said she'd re-read the books (she's read them three times already) to find references she might have missed. "I never pictured him in that type of relationship, a love relationship."
"I love Dumbledore still," she said. "It just makes him more interesting. It makes him more human. ... It doesn't change who he is. It doesn't change what he did. he's still the lovable Dumbledore, mentor and father figure to Harry — to all of us."
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