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Chapter 13 : Albus Dumbledore: Expiation
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And as your fantasies are broken in two
Did you really think this bloody road would pave the way for you?
You better turn around and blow your kiss hello to life eternal
-Jeff Buckley, “Eternal Life”
Like a fragile angel falling from grace, an angel who knew nothing but the injustice and desecration of humanity, Ariana Dumbledore died.
Judging by her limp figure and the abrupt end to her piercing cry, Ariana died just before she hit the cold, dirty floor. The snow-white skin of her corpse appeared even more pallid in death than it had in life, and her large blue eyes remained open, as if they would never forgive the scene they had just bore witness to.
For a moment, one excruciatingly agonising moment, Albus Dumbledore felt as dead as his sister actually was, and he found himself without the strength or motivation to even breathe. (He would feel this internal decomposition to some degree for many years after, since our personal demons never really leave us.) He remained still, his wand arm fallen to the side, and stared at the dead body of his younger sister.
Aberforth Dumbledore, naturally, was quicker to act. As swiftly as the curse had killed Ariana, Aberforth was at the side of his dead sister. He wrenched her up by her shoulders to an almost sitting position and was practically shaking her, whether out of fear or shock or grief, it was not clear. There were tears flowing down Aberforth’s face, such tears he had not been able to muster since his father’s incarceration, and not even at his mother’s funeral. Aberforth had lost much in his fifteen years of life, and now he found himself with, quite literally, nothing more to lose.
Albus saw his younger brother carry Ariana’s corpse to the settee (in life, Ariana had been petite even for her age), kiss the corpse upon the forehead, and drape a cheap blanket over it. Quite shockingly, especially considering Albus’s inability to even comprehend what had just happened, Aberforth suddenly spun around and all the tenderness of his prior expression had been replaced by the irate madness of a boy who had lost absolutely everything.
“WHAT DID YOU DO?” shouted Aberforth, pointing his wand at Albus and running straight towards him. “WHAT CURSE WAS IT?”
“I…I…” was all Albus managed to get out, his voice breaking. But Aberforth ran right past him until he reached Gellert Grindelwald, to whose throat Aberforth pointed his wand.
Albus had completely forgotten Gellert between this moment and the duel’s end. But Ariana had only been dead for about one minute, so perhaps Albus’s lapse in short-term memory was excusable.
Gellert appeared to be trying very hard to summon empathy, but Albus knew that even without his wand in his hand, he could easily counter Aberforth’s threatening stance.
“It wasn’t the Killing Curse!” insisted Gellert in his curiously perfect English. “And if it was, then I didn’t cast it! Did you even see a flash of green light?”
Gellert’s long blond hair, so curly and so resplendent in the candlelight, was even more beautiful now than it had ever looked before. Not for the first time, Albus considered it to be angelic, though a very different kind of angelic from Ariana’s corpse: Angels fall for only two reasons, because they are either the instigator or a follower, and Gellert was certainly not the latter.
Aberforth faltered for a moment and looked back to Albus, then returned his attention to Gellert.
“Don’t you dare blame this on Al, you Austro-Hungarian bastard!” said Aberforth, who was slightly taller than Gellert despite the age gap. (Though, as it were, Gellert wasn’t quite two years Aberforth’s senior.)
So he knows his geography, thought Albus. Perhaps Aberforth can read.
Gellert gave a bark of disbelieving laughter. “I’m not accusing Albus of anything! With due respect, Aberforth, you’re the one who is so terribly eager to pass judgement, but you played as much of a role in the argument as either Albus or I. And my father was Swiss, I’ll have you know.”
In another life, Albus might have chuckled at this last comment, but humour seemed irrelevant now. He had lost everything, and the worst part was that he had not known that he had everything to lose.
(Neither Albus nor Aberforth would realise for many years that they had not lost everything on this warm summer night, but that would not be until they reconciled and discovered that they had had each other all along.)
Aberforth looked even more unhinged, if that was possible. “My sister is DEAD, but of course you don’t care! Ever since you came to Godric’s Hollow, everything has gone WRONG! You waltz in like the saviour of wizardkind, recently expelled from Durmstrang for what I’m sure are noble reasons, and you seduce Al, the ingénue of our story, and since he was already prone to lusting for power you teach him all of this Dark magic rubbish and convince him to help you take over the world! But of course Ari falls by the wayside of your master plan and Al neglects her to the point of abuse, or else he would’ve if I hadn’t picked up the slack! And now, final in this sequence of events, Ari is DEAD, so yes, Grindelwald, this is ALL YOUR FAULT! Listen up, Al, because here’s the rub: You think you’re going to save the Muggles by making them second-class citizens in your new regime? Sorry to spoil the illusion, or delusion, as it were, but your little friend is much more interested in GENOCIDE! Right, then, Grindelwald, let’s exterminate the Muggles because they certainly don’t deserve to live more than YOU do, you goddamn son of a bitch!”
This must have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, because there was a magnificent flash of red light and Aberforth flew backwards and collided with the wall with such force that the entire house trembled. He’d lost his wand somewhere along the way and it lay on the floor in the centre of the room, while Aberforth himself was crumpled in the corner.
Albus swung around to face Gellert, who was beginning to show the faintest sign of irritation.
“That was entirely unnecessary, Gellert!” said Albus, glaring. “What, you had to defend yourself? It’s not like Aberforth is even capable of successfully hexing you!”
The boy with the golden hair chuckled. “It was a pre-emptive strike, but you can call it whatever you wish. But oh, I suppose he’s become immobile now…let’s fix that.”
And with no wand, only a single, calculated look, Gellert levitated Aberforth, who looked scared out of his wits, to standing.
“Stop doing that!” said Albus. “No more wandless, non-verbal magic, you understand? And Aberforth, go upstairs or out or somewhere, just bring Ariana with you.”
For the first time possibly ever, Aberforth did as his older brother said and carried Ariana’s petite corpse up the rickety staircase to the small second floor of their home.
Gellert was now leaning against a bookcase, his arms crossed and his face twisted into a smirk. “Well done, taking authority like that. Perhaps you’ll make a good leader after all, Albus.”
With the hand that was not holding his wand, Albus unconsciously made a fist. “My sister just died, Gellert, and it’s entirely my fault, so I’d appreciate it if you could pretend to be even slightly sensitive about the matter.”
“I truly am very sorry,” said Gellert, pouting slightly. “But is it really fair to blame yourself, Albus? We were both casting so many unstable experimental curses that we’ll never really know who technically killed your sister. By the way, what was that blue-coloured spell, the one that temporarily turned Aberforth’s head halfway around?”
Albus turned around and took a few steps away from his closest friend. “You don’t understand the severity of the situation, Gellert. And would you please stop acting so damn cavalier?”
“I understand it perfectly, Albus,” said Gellert coldly. “You’re having second thoughts about the plan, right? We’re supposed to implement it next week, but you’re allowing doubt to muddle your mind. That’s why you began the argument with me earlier, the argument that would escalate into this duel, yes?”
Albus turned back around to face Gellert, now a safe distance away.
“Yes,” said Albus, bitter. “Of course I have second thoughts about the phenomenal mistake we are about to make! But it’s not out of fear, no, I’m just beginning to see—”
“Of course it’s out of fear! It’s always about fear with you!” said Gellert. “You’re fearful by nature, and it was foolish of me to think that you would ever change! Fine, let’s use the logic of your cowardly mind: You confronted me and told me that we should reconsider executing the plan for another month or two, just to ensure for the umpteenth time that everything is in order. I said no, if we didn’t act now during the interim period between the administrations of two Ministers for Magic then we’d lose our one opportunity to infiltrate the Ministry. You continued with your pathetic excuses and I politely disagreed, and somehow we ended up in a three-way duel with your daft brother and then Ariana got in the way. So yes, Albus, if you hadn’t been so weak then we never would have fought, and your sister would still be alive. Following your twisted logic, then you certainly killed Ariana!”
It took every bit of Albus’s fortitude not to curse Gellert at that moment, because such an attack would simply incite a more vicious one from Gellert, and they would find themselves in another outright duel. But strangely, it briefly occurred to Albus that he could cast a Killing Curse at Gellert, and then the boy neither would nor could counter his attack. However, Albus quickly dismissed the oddly violent impulse, because he was hardly daring enough to go through with it.
“What is it now?” asked Gellert tauntingly. “Honestly, I realise that you need to grieve for your sister, but you mustn’t lose sight of our original plan. We are destined to achieve greatness, Albus. Fame, power, respect—it’s all you’ve ever wanted!”
Albus bit his lip. “Perhaps you’re right…I always did want those things. But what does it even matter anymore, Gellert? For all intents and purposes, I killed my sister. I never forgave my mother for dying and leaving me with all of her responsibilities. My father is incarcerated—who knows, after all this time he’s probably dead! And I can’t imagine that my brother will take any of this well.”
The other boy stared him down. “Are you serious? I can’t even believe this—well, perhaps I can. You’re taking the coward’s way out and obviously I’m the stupid one for having faith that you could overcome your humble beginnings and actually make something out of yourself. Take another serious, introspective look into your character, Albus: Are you satisfied with the craven, pathetic, pusillanimous, and utterly unremarkable person you’ve become?”
To this, Albus had no response. No man wanted to hear such cruel words from a respected friend and colleague, but their effect on him was so much worse. With every one of Gellert’s horrible accusations, Albus’s heart began to break.
Gellert rolled his eyes. “That’s what I thought. Weak as always, aren’t you, Dumbledore? I’m must say, I’m relieved that you’ve shown your true colours before the commencement of our plan. I have sufficient time to alter the preparations, fortunately. Ultimately, I think this will be for the best…it’s not like I ever needed you, anyway. It was charitable of me to allow you to feel like you contributed something.”
“HOW DARE YOU?” Albus shouted, all of his resentment, confusion, and sadness boiling into absolute rage. “How DARE you say such things to me? You have NO right to come into my home and make such VILE and SLANDEROUS claims, especially so SOON after my sister’s death! You have NO right, NO tact, and absolutely NO grasp on reality if you think that you could have come this far without me! WHERE would you be without my research on the twelve uses of dragon’s blood? WHO found the most recent owner of your precious Deathstick? I used to admire you, Grindelwald, I really did, but you’re nothing more than the wretched apparition of a wizard with any intelligence, true ambition, or merit, and I think that YOU should consider the worth of your OWN character!”
The house was still for several minutes. The air was heavy and thick with the humidity that late summer often brought. Albus half-expected to hear Aberforth’s tiptoeing footsteps upstairs, or at least for the boy to barrel down the staircase and interject himself into the argument, like a vindictive case of déjà vu. But Aberforth did not even make a sound…the earlier events of that evening would not repeat themselves, neither Albus nor Gellert could take back the words they had said, and Ariana would never draw breath again.
Gellert had not moved either, after Albus had aired his grievances. The boy simply stood there, his wild blond hair as magnificent as ever, staring at Albus as he never had before. Whether it was fear or surprise or respect in Gellert’s almond-shaped eyes, Albus did not know.
But then, without warning, Gellert strode to the door and picked up his hat from the hook beside it.
“So that’s it, then,” said Gellert, avoiding eye contact. “Er…goodbye, Albus. Perhaps we’ll meet again, one day.”
“I sincerely hope not,” said Albus, as the door slammed shut behind Gellert.
A/N: It is truly an honor and a privilege to take part in this collaboration, with not only some of the best writers on this site, but with the colleagues and friends whom I respect so very much. eHPF is such a remarkable community and I thank every member for helping to make it such a special place and, of course, JLHufflepuff and Renfair for giving us such a happy and supportive little corner of the internets.
Oh, and thanks for reading!
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