Albus Dumbledore was not used to failure. Throughout his seven years at Hogwarts, he had always been the brightest student in his class; one of the few students never to fail so much as a class test.
Success in academics had come easy to him and from that had come success in other areas. His papers were published in academic journals, some of which had never before published the writings of a schoolboy. He won numerous prizes. This might have led to jealousy among other students and no doubt did on occasion, but Albus’ love of teaching and his willingness to help weaker students meant that he was well-liked by his peers, even if he had few close friends. His intelligence also meant that he was popular with teachers and with many of the academics of the day.
As a result, he had never really stopped to think what it would be like to struggle with anything in life or how he would cope with any sort of failure.
But he was failing now. It wasn’t something he admitted, even to himself, but deep down he knew it. He was failing in a way that was far more serious than receiving a T on a test or alienating your schoolmates.
Since his mother had died, it seemed as if his family was falling apart. Ariana, the sister he loved, but had never been able to really relate to, was madder than ever. She knew she’d lost one of the two people in the world that she’d been closest to; possibly she even knew that it was her fault. He wasn’t sure about that. Since their mother’s death, her moments of lucidity were becoming fewer and fewer and even during those, she refused completely to discuss anything to do with her death.
He didn’t know if she should make. All he knew was that he couldn’t. How did you ask a fourteen year old girl, who’d been through far too much trauma already if she blamed herself for the death of her mother?
Aberforth could have done so. If it were the right thing to do. He would know. In his heart, Albus had always known that when it came for caring for their sister or even just relating to her, his brother was far superior to him. Had things been normal, or as close to normal as their family had ever been, Aberforth would have been able to calm their sister and deal with whatever grief or guilt she felt.
And he was trying; Albus knew that too. Already, he had offered to drop out of school and care for their sister until Albus and Elphias completed their world tour. Aberforth had never cared for school.
There were times when Albus was tempted to let him, but in the cold light of day, he knew it wasn’t an option. Aberforth needed to at least complete a basic wizarding education and anyway, with the way Aberforth was behaving at the moment, there was no way it would be safe to leave him and Ariana alone together.
Like their sister, Aberforth had been deeply affected by their mother’s death. Not that his behaviour was as dangerous as hers; he was aware of and responsible for his actions. But he was getting in more and more trouble around the town. Bathilda Bagshot, who had always been fond of Albus and who was currently one of his greatest supports, had reluctantly told him of some of his younger brother’s exploits.
“People are sympathetic,” she said, “but they are going to start getting angry soon if he continues.”
Albus sighed. Even before their mother’s death, Aberforth seemed to have trouble following certain rules. At Hogwarts he was constantly in trouble for duelling with other students, particularly those who brought up his father’s imprisonment or for his complete lack of attention to his studies. It was hardly surprising that he would react to her death like this.
Albus had no idea what he was expected to do about it, though.
Awful as the thought seemed, there were times when he wondered if he even cared. He loved his brother and sister. Of course he did. But this was never what he had planned for his life after Hogwarts. By rights, he should be travelling the world now, meeting with some of the world’s most distinguished witches and wizards and learning about the magical traditions of other lands. It was something he’d looked forward to since they’d first started planning it in their fifth year.
He’d hoped Elphias’ letters would give him some consolation. His friend had sworn to share everything he learnt with him and to give him his due, he kept his promise, but what Albus hadn’t considered when he’d extracted that promise was just how much those letters would remind him of everything he was missing out on.
At first he read the letters hungrily, grabbing them as soon as the owl arrived at his window, but as time passed, he found himself putting them off. The contrast between his current life and Elphias’ was depressing.
He would never have considered his younger brother particularly intuitive, but even Aberforth could see how the letters affected him and he seemed to take it as a personal insult, knowing that Albus would rather be somewhere else than with him and their sister. Why could he not understand that it wasn’t about him, but rather about the life that Albus was being forced to live? He had no friends around Godric’s Hollow. After all, he’d been away for most of the past seven years. And even if he had had, most of them would either be going back to school or beginning their careers or their own world tours when September came. Nor did he have much intellectual stimulation, the sole exception being his conversations with Bathilda.
He had been at home some weeks when she had some news for him.
“My great-nephew is coming to stay for a while,” she said. “I’d be really grateful if you could show him around and keep him company for a while. He went to Drumstrang, so he doesn’t know any other boys in this country.”
How could he refuse? Bathilda had been so good to him and it wasn’t really all that much she was asking of him. He couldn’t claim to be enthusiastic though. Drumstang and its students had a horrible reputation. Not that he really believed any relative of Bathilda’s would be a Dark wizard, but still, he had more than enough responsibility with his younger brother and sister without having to worry about introducing some stranger to Britain.
It wasn’t as if he had anything else to do though and if the boy was too boring altogether, he could always use Aberforth and Ariana as an excuse to leave early.
To his credit Aberforth was more than willing to look after Ariana.
“I shouldn’t be too long anyway,” Albus said. “It’s just that I promised Bathilda.
Aberforth sniffed. He’d never like Bathilda much. He thought her just a boring old woman. Albus understood that his brother had no interest in the history of Magic, but he didn’t think there was any need for him to be as rude as he often was to her. She was after all one of the few people in Godric’s Hollow who had always supported them and about the only person who still spoke to their mother in her final months.
It was that that he was remembering when he called around to see her great-nephew.
“Good afternoon, Albus. Gellert is just upstairs. I’ll call him down. I’m sure you boys will get on really well. GELLERT!”
The best-looking boy Albus had ever seen appeared at the top of the stairs. Perhaps a year or two younger than himself, he judged and yet there was something about the boy’s posture or maybe his gait that made him appear twenty times more sophisticated. Whatever Albus had expected it hadn’t been this.
“Hi,” he said shyly.
“Hi. You must be Albus Dumbledore. My aunt’s told me loads about you.”
“All good, I hope.” Albus laughed nervously. He was quite sure he didn’t sound as funny as he’d intended to. He couldn’t think of anything to say that didn’t sound stupid or boring or as if he was trying too hard.
“Um, do you want me to show you around Godric’s Hollow? Not that there’s much to see around here.”
He could hardly take his eyes off Gellert. He was so ridiculously handsome.
Abruptly, he turned away. Gellert would think him really weird if he kept staring at him. Or would it seem stranger if he didn’t face him at all?
“I’d like to see the sights. Great-aunt Bathilda has already shown me around, but I’m sure the most interesting parts are the ones she knows nothing about.”
“Well, I haven’t be around here that much recently,” Albus said as they left the house. “I was at Hogwarts, you know?”
“What’s Hogwarts like? At Drumstrang, people always said that it was very…well under the thumb of your Ministry and that you were only taught what the Ministry approved.”
This was a consideration that hadn’t ever occurred to Albus. He’d never really stopped to question the political agenda behind what he’d been taught, but now that he did think about it, it occurred to him that he would like a chance to judge its validity. It was, he supposed, one of the things he would have learnt on his world tour. He’d have to write and ask Elphias his opinion.
He wasn’t about to admit to Gellert that he hadn’t thought of it, however. It would make him sound naïve, even stupid; the kind of person who believed whatever he was told, without ever bothering to think for himself. That wasn’t very impressive.
“Well, the Ministry doesn’t really have any day to day involvement in the running of the school, but the curriculum for our subjects is approved by the Ministry before it’s taught, I believe. Is it different at Drumstrang?”
Gellert nodded. “Drumstrang takes students from a number of countries, so it’s reasonably independent. I believe some of the Ministries have lodged complaints about some of what we were taught, but education shouldn’t be about political propaganda; don’t you agree?”
“Definitely.” Gellert was so intelligent. At Hogwarts, Dumbledore had been probably the smartest student in the school, but Gellert had views on things he’d never even considered. “I’m really interested in learning more about other wizarding cultures,” Albus continued, trying to redeem himself. “I had hoped to go on a world tour this year. It’s a tradition in Britain; young witches and wizards spend a year travelling after they leave Hogwarts and take the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s most accomplished witches and wizards before beginning their careers. Do you have the same tradition at home?”
Gellert ignored the question.
“Why didn’t you go?” he asked instead.
“My mother died recently,” Albus said after a moment. “I’ve a younger brother and sister. I couldn’t just leave them.”
“How old are they?”
Albus told him.
“Well, they’ll be returning to Hogwarts in September. You could begin your world tour then. If Hogwarts doesn’t allow students to remain at school over Christmas, surely they have some friends they could stay with.”
Albus remained silent for a moment, trying to figure out how much he should say. He wanted to tell Gellert the truth, but really they hardly knew one another. It wasn’t wise to confide in somebody he’d known for such a short time. Gellert might tell his aunt and she would probably feel obliged to report it to somebody. She certainly wouldn’t believe it was safe to have two young boys like Albus and Aberforth caring for Ariana alone.
He’d have to keep to the official version, at least until he knew Gellert a bit better.
“My sister isn’t well. She’s never been to school.”
“I’m sorry.” Gellert appeared concerned that Albus almost wished he’d told him the truth.
To think he’d ever wished he didn’t have to meet Bathilda’s great-nephew. Already he was beginning to feel that Gellert could become an even closer friend than Elphias ever was.
Over the next few weeks, the two boys met up daily, spending longer and longer periods of time together.
Though younger than Albus, Gellert was already drawing up plans for the future, plans which seemed like the most impressive and original that Albus had ever heard.
“The Statute of Secrecy is outdated,” Gellert declared one day. “It was written in the days when witches and wizards were in constant danger from the law. Those days are gone. I can think of absolutely no benefit of that statute in today’s world, can you?”
Albus couldn’t. It seemed to him that the Statute of Secrecy had been at least partially responsible for the attack on his sister and as a result, her current mental state. He didn’t blame Muggles; had never had any sympathy with the view that Muggles were responsible for all the ills of the wizarding world. What he blamed was ignorance. If the boys who had attacked Ariana had been familiar with magic, it wouldn’t have frightened them to the point that they would attack an innocent child.
Thinking this, it occurred to him that this was an intelligent sounding idea that he could share with Gellert. Sometimes it felt as if his friend was the one with all the ideas. He wanted to show that he could have interesting and original thoughts too; had even had a reputation for them at Hogwarts.
Hardly stopping to think about whether or not it was really wise to tell Gellert the truth about Ariana now, he began: “I didn’t tell you the truth about my sister, or rather I didn’t tell you the full truth. When I said she was ill, it’s not exactly a physical illness. It’s an illness of the mind.”
Gellert nodded, looking at him intently.
“She was attacked by some Muggle boys when she was very young. They saw her performing magic, which seemed to anger them for some reason. She’s never really recovered. Ever since, I’ve believed that we would all benefit from more interaction between Muggles and the wizarding population. Keeping people in ignorance has never seemed a particularly good idea to me.”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Gellert said passionately. “Muggles need to be educated. Magic could benefit them in so many ways if they’d only open their minds. We, as witches and wizards need to take responsibility for opening their minds. It might not be easy in the beginning. So many people are unwilling to embrace new ideas. We may need to push them forward before they are ready, but in the end, the benefits will be immense for everybody.”
With this, the two boys began sharing their views as to how the world should be run; what they would do if the whole world was under their power. At first the discussion was hypothetical, but Gellert appeared to be taking it more and more seriously.
“We could really do this, you know.”
“What? Rule the world?” Albus was dismissive. It was fun to imagine, but it was hardly feasible in the real world.
Gellert grew even more serious. “Have you ever heard of the Deathly Hallows?”
Albus shook his head.
“But you know “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” right?”
“Yes, of course. It was my favourite story when I was a small child.”
For a moment, a strange sadness overpowered him. His mother had read him that story over and over when he had been little. One of his earliest memories was of curling up by the fire and listening to her while she read. Now, he would never again be able to share those memories with her.
“What if the three items mentioned were real?”
“The cloak, the wand and the Resurrection Stone? But they couldn’t be! Such things don’t exist!”
“How do you know that?”
“Well, they just couldn’t!”
Even while saying this, the thought of their reality was beginning to intrigue him and give him hope. If only they were real. He didn’t care so much about the Invisibility Cloak or even the wand. But the Resurrection Stone… If that existed…if he could find it, he could bring back his mother. He would be free to continue on with his life.
Suddenly, he didn’t care about any of their plans for the future of the world. He just wanted to bring back his mother and get back his life. If the Resurrection Stone were real and if he could only find it, it would solve everything. He’d get to see his mother again. She could take over the care of Aberforth and Ariana. He could start his world tour and afterwards a career. Ariana wouldn’t ever blame herself for causing their mother’s death.
Gellert was still talking. “Think about it Albus. An Unbeatable Wand. Think of the power that would give us. With that, we could rule the world. Wizards and Muggles! And the Resurrection Stone. With that we could raise the dead to support us!”
Albus was hardly listening. His mind was still on the Resurrection Stone and how it would benefit him and his family.
“But how could we get them?” he asked. “They could be anywhere. In the entire world. And that’s assuming they even exist.”
“They exist. I’m sure of it. And if we can’t find them, who could? Aren’t we two of the brightest wizards of our generation? Between us both, Albus, we can do anything.”
Albus wasn’t sure why, but he loved the way Gellert linked them; his assumption that they would always be on the same side, always work together. There was nobody he would rather spend time with; nobody he would rather spend his entire life with.
He wasn’t sure why; what it was that attracted him to Gellert above anybody else. Had anybody else admitted to him, as Gellert had, that they had been expelled from school, particularly for the reasons Gellert had been, it would have set alarm bells ringing. He wouldn’t have turned against the person or judged them solely by that one thing, but it would have made him more wary; less willing to accept what they said unquestioningly. With Gellert, however, he was completely certain that the school had overreacted; they just didn’t understand his ideas. Yes, he had made mistakes. That was obvious from his own telling of events. But any man with a great idea was passionate about it, wasn’t he? Any man might become overzealous or be tempted towards the overuse of force in the early stages. It was a mistake to disregard an idea just because it wasn’t perfectly carried out at all times
And this was a great idea. Albus had no doubts about that. There was so much to be gained: understanding between magical and non-magical people, magic being used for the benefit of all, the ability to bring back those who had died. It was worth some short-term conflict or disadvantages. People would come around to support the idea soon enough, anyway, once they realised just how much good it would do and how few were the sacrifices.
He and Gellert spent days pouring over books, rereading “The Tale of the Two Brothers” and eventually the rest of Beedle’s tales over and over again, just in case there might be any other clues hidden there and making their plans.
Just the thought of it was liberating. Albus had hardly realised how much he missed having something to think about; something interesting to do. Trying to figure out just where the Hallows might be was a fascinating puzzle and the idea of actually finding them was an exciting one.
Being in Gellert’s company and sharing the whole project with him made it even more enjoyable. Just being with Gellert, listening to him and watching him, made everything better. He was so beautiful, his voice so melodious. Usually when you were around somebody regularly, you stopped seeing them, stopped appreciating their beauty or their more graceful gestures. With Gellert, he never stopped appreciating these; never ceased to be amazed that such a perfect figure of manhood could exist in this world.
Aberforth on the other hand, had never liked Gellert. From the first moment Albus introduced them, he was sullen and hostile, even more so than usual. He was jealous, Albus deduced, jealous that Gellert and he had a relationship closer than that he had ever shared with his brother; jealous of Gellert’s beauty which contrasted so starkly with Aberforth’s own unkemptness and Gellert’s intelligence and education which showed up his illiteracy.
He hung around while they planned, listening but not really understanding any of their great plans.
Eventually he spoke up, raising the very issue which Albus had hoped to forget.
“And what about Ariana?”
Gellert glanced at him dismissively. “You wouldn’t understand. You’re just a silly little boy. We’re doing this for Ariana and for others like her.” He thumped the table and Albus knew, though he could not have said how, that this part of his friend’s speech was not for Aberforth’s benefit. Gellert was simply practicing for the day when he would have a far more intelligent and important audience. “It’s because of Muggle prejudice that your sister has to be hidden away. Albus understands this. He knows that this is what we need to do so that she can live a fuller life.”
“I might not be as intelligent as you and my brother,” Aberforth said, “but I know one thing that my oh-so-intelligent brother obviously doesn’t and that’s just what you are. This has nothing to do with Ariana, has it? You don’t care about her. You just want power for yourself.”
Gellert smirked. “I wouldn’t expect a child like you to understand, particularly when you can hardly even read.”
Aberforth drew his wand, but Gellert was too quick for him.
“Crucio,” he shouted.
Albus gasped in horror, but there was a part of him that wasn’t completely surprised. At some level, deep down, he had always known that his friend had the capacity for cruelty.
Gellert raised his wand again. A moment too late, Albus realised that he had to stop him and drew out his own wand.
“Expelliarmus,” he cried, but already Gellert had hit Aberforth yet again with the Cruciatus Curse. He moved to block Albus’ spell.
More and more spells flew across the room, more and more desperately. Caught between his brother and his friend, Albus was so concerned with trying to prevent real harm from being done that he barely noticed Ariana bursting into the room.
Another blast of spells burst out.
“Stop!” Aberforth shouted. “Oh Merlin.”
Ignoring the fact that Gellert was still firing spells at him, Aberforth knelt on the floor.
Turning his head towards his younger brother, Albus saw what had caused his reaction. Their sister’s body was lying on the floor.
“Is she…Merlin, what’s happened?” Albus said.
Gellert turned to glance at Ariana’s lifeless body for mere moments before turning and racing from the house.
“This is your fault!” Aberforth shouted at Albus.
“Is she…she is going to be all right?” Albus said. He couldn’t bring himself to ask if she would live.
“She’s dead! Can’t you see it?”
“No! No, she can’t be. Let me check her pulse.” Aberforth had to be making a mistake.
He knelt to check for sure.
“I am never going to forgive you for this, you know!” Aberforth shouted.
Albus ignored him. “We have to contact St. Mungo’s.” Hurriedly, he grabbed a quill and wrote a note, then tied it to their owl’s leg.
“You don’t even care, do you?”
He cared. Ariana’s death was his fault. He knew that. If he hadn’t befriended Gellert…if he hadn’t invited him to their house that day…if he had never listened to his plans…if he had paid more attention to the reasons why Gellert had been expelled from Drumstrang. He couldn’t yet bring himself to wonder exactly how Ariana had died; who had cast the spell that had killed her. He didn’t want to know. He didn’t know how he could cope with hearing that he had been the one to do if.
He knew it was his fault, regardless of who had cast the spell though. He couldn’t deny that.
The following days were filled with activity, as the two boys were left to plan the funeral and deal with the aftermath of the terrible events. Gellert seemed to have disappeared into thin air. Bathilda couldn’t understand it.
“I thought he’d at least remain for the funeral,” she said. “I owled him in case he didn’t get the news before he left. I’m really sorry he isn’t here, Albus.”
It was probably as well that he wasn’t. Had he appeared again in Godric’s Hollow, Albus was quite sure that Aberforth would have killed him, or at least that he would have tried to.
Albus wasn’t sure he would; wasn’t sure he would be able to react at all if he met his former friend now. Yes, he was angry, but not as much as he was afraid; afraid of what Gellert might reveal if they had an argument. He never wanted to see him again. In fact, he wished he had never met him in the first place.
Only a few days had passed since Gellert left Godric’s Hollow and already it was difficult to believe that had once thought so highly of him; once believed that there was nobody in the world he would rather spend time with.
The Gellert he thought he knew had not only left. He had never existed to begin with. Aberforth had been right. Young and uneducated as he was, he had understood what Albus did not. He had known right from the start that Gellert Grindlewald was not to be trusted.
As the years passed, many more people would be taken in by the plausible young man with his revolutionary ideas, but even knowing that older and more experienced people than he had been at the time had been fooled never gave him any solace. He had lived closer to Gellert Grindlewald than almost anybody else; had spent more time with him. To the best of his knowledge, Gellert had shared as much of his plans with nobody else. There was no excuse. He should have realised what he was capable of before it was too late.