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Chapter 1 : In the Still of Night
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Albus Dumbledore was being led deeper and deeper into the strange, glittering maze before him.
He was rushing forward, occasionally stumbling over his robes in an attempt to follow the melody guiding him.
Everywhere he turned clocks of all shapes and sizes covered the walls from floor to ceiling, hiding corners and dead ends.
They were distracting, a random jumble of hands and pendulums growing louder and louder, drowning out the music he had been using as a compass. Their clanging grew to a tumultuous clamor. He stopped as the sound became unbearable, falling to his knees and clutching his head in attempt to mute the onslaught.
Albus awoke with a start sometime around three in the morning, panting and sweating in his white linen nightshirt, hands still clutched tightly about his head. He took a deep breath and sat up, attempting to scrub the sleep from his eyes. He was grasping at edges of the dream he had been in, but it was already slipping away from him, like catching moonlight in his hat. All he could remember was the music he had heard, a soulful melody plunked out on a piano. He could almost hear it on the cool night air…
He paused, looking about his modest room. In the moonlight everything looked ghostly white, his trunk and belongings piled haphazardly about; the wardrobe in the corner almost malevolent. The few pictures on the walls had nodded off, their heads resting against their simple wooden frames. The window was slightly open, a breeze coming through strong enough to rustle his hair, carrying the echoes of a melody. It started off softly, in high soprano, delicately flitting about the keys until slowly descending into a robust alto melody, sinking into a deeper, more emotionally charged bass version of the introduction, then, a familiar crescendo back into the alto chorus, and finally an alternating clash between the delicate soprano notes, harassed and highlighted simultaneously by the bass accompaniment. It was altogether beautiful and mysterious, ending on a crystal clear note that calmed Albus’s pounding heart; precisely the song he had been searching for.
Albus frowned, getting up and surveying the shadowy floor for his slippers. Beautiful and mysterious as it was, it was very early in the morning, and he generally did not welcome the unexpected early in the morning, mysteriously beautiful or otherwise. After stubbing his toe on a particularly large alchemy book, Albus found his slippers lurking in the corner of his room among other things he still had to unpack. He put them on quickly, and continued to the door.
It opened silently at his gentlest touch, allowing him to creep forward into the hall and steal a glance at his brother’s room. Aberforth seemed to be sleeping soundly, so he darted across the hall and towards the door that led to the basement.
Most nights, Ariana was fine. She slept in the bed that they put her in, in the clothes they put her in, and closed her eyes dutifully when told it was time to sleep. Ordinarily, his dear sister would remain that way, eyes closed, until morning, when he or Aberforth would go down and let her know it was time to be awake, at which point her eyes would shoot open, a smile blossoming on her radiant face, as though she had been completely awake the entire time. As this night carried unusual music on its wings, Albus felt uneasy about what he would find in her basement apartment. It was difficult for him to tell what would upset her anymore. The stairs down to where she slept were slightly damp and very cold. Albus was rather glad that he’d found his slippers before setting off.
Albus stopped to listen for the song just once more before cracking the door open, but the night was still and silent. He took a breath, allowing the memory of the quiet soaring melody to warm his soul, steeling himself for whatever he might find in the small basement apartment. Having gained his composure, he pressed his face against the rough wooden door.
It too opened soundlessly at Albus’s touch. With a silent spell, the tip of his wand gave off a soft glowing light, and he held it high above his head to illuminate the room before him.
A great sigh of relief rushed out of his lips as he stared down at her peaceful form. Ariana’s beautifully blonde hair spilled across her pillow and over the edge of the cot, hanging inches off the floor, a waterfall of golden light. Her head was turned slightly towards the door, her brother’s spell illuminating the soft smile on her rose pink lips. It was difficult for Albus to believe that she was capable of such destruction when he saw her like this. The previous day had not been an easy one, and he had worried that her restlessness would carry over into her sleep. It was his opinion that she missed her mother, but how do you console a child who has lost their mother at their own hand? It was impossible. Still, it gave Albus great joy to see that his worrying had been for nothing. He cherished times like these more than almost anything else. He stood still for a minute more, watching the rise and fall of her chest as her breath came and went smoothly, not daring to hope that she would remain this calm throughout the day.
Albus gasped as a cold hand suddenly pressed against his shoulder. He turned around, expecting to see the annoyed face of his teenage brother.
Sure enough, Aberforth was frowning disapprovingly at him, raising a finger to gesture back up the dreary stairs. Albus nodded in response, passing his brother on the narrow landing to lead the silent two man procession. Knowing that neither brother was going to be able to sleep again that night, Albus passed his door, as well as the other four doors in the long hallway, and continued to the modest kitchen.
As Aberforth started in on him, Albus took two mugs from the cabinet next to the sink and pulled out his wand to put a kettle on.
“Don’t know what you think you were doin’ down there, this time of night,” his brother started, whispering in a malevolent voice, “After the day we had yesterday I thought you’d have enough sense to just leave her be, but nooo you just had to go in and-“
“Check on her, yes, how awful of me,” Albus interrupted in an equally quiet voice. The kettle now sat on the stove, a conjured fire in place to heat it.
“Check on her? Why would she need checking on? She’s fine, night is the only time she ever gets a rest; don’t know why you would even think of disturbing her!” He spat back across the table, disdain seeping through every syllable.
“Didn’t you hear the music?” Albus asked. He paused to listen for it, but the night continued on in silence.
“Music?” Aberforth snorted, “At this hour? I swear Albus, how anyone thinks you’re a genius, I’ll never understand.”
“I think it’s safe to assume there will be many things you never understand Aberforth,” Albus shot back rather snappishly.
The week following his graduation from Hogwarts had not been a pleasant one. He had finished his last term in the highest of spirits, more than ready to travel the world. He had schemed and planned for the better part of two years to decide what he had wanted to do with his time abroad. Unfortunately, fate had a way of changing even the best made plans.
Albus supposed that his mother’s funeral had been beautiful. Many people had commented how lovely it had been, and the flowers were done very well, but the absence of his sister was a blight to his mother’s memory. She had slept through the ceremony in a dreamlessly, helped by a potion from Albus’s cauldron. Of course, he and Aberforth had known it would be impossible for her to attend, but it still seemed wrong, even if it was her fault they’d buried their mother in the first place.
Aberforth didn’t reply to him, but sat with his arms crossed against a bare chest, moodily staring out of the window. Albus had no idea what to do with the boy anymore. No matter what he tried, Aberforth always found something wrong with his actions. If he hadn’t checked on Ariana, Aberforth would have called him callous and negligent. When he did go to check on her, he was bothering her, and not letting her rest. Needless to say, after only a few days of listening to his younger brother peck at his every move, Albus was losing patience. The result was that Aberforth was generally to be found sulking about the house, and when not in the house, sulking outside.
“If you didn’t hear the music,” Albus asked quietly as the kettle went off a few minutes later, “then why were you down there, Abe?”
Albus took the kettle off the stove and poured an equal amount of steaming liquid into each of the delicate little cups. He grasped his own chipped glass in his hands, using another silent spell to guide the other to where his brother sat facing the darkened window.
“I heard the stairs,” Aberforth replied, glancing down at the cup beside him, “I was worried she was trying to find me.”
Ariana loved Aberforth more than she had ever loved anyone else. The smile he brought to her face was bright enough to melt away even the most destructive of tantrums. She never spoke to Albus, but he had seen her tug excitedly at the end of Aberforth’s shirt until he leaned down close enough for her to whisper in his ear, usually when they were outside feeding the goats. Albus worried about what would happen to her when Aberforth returned to school once again.
A bitter taste filled his mouth at the thought. Here he was, the brilliant brother, locked up in a house with his two siblings- the greatest mind of his generation left to waste away in Godric’s Hollow. He absentmindedly began chewing the inside of his lip, mulling over all the dreams he had been forced to give up on.
“I could stay here you know,” Aberforth suddenly said, tea clutched in both his hands. “I could stay here with her, and you could go on with your grand adventures.”
Albus didn’t turn towards his brother, but continued to stare into his cup. “Don’t be thick, Aberforth, you’ve got go to back.”
His younger brother slammed a fist on the table, “Will you just listen to me!” he said, a little louder than necessary. Albus jerked his head up at him, blue eyes ablaze.
“Keep your tone down!” he hissed at the little snot-rag.
Aberforth glared back at him with an equally intense expression. “What will you do with her when she gets into her moods, hmm?” he asked, volume thankfully back to normal. “Show her your NEWT results, and explain she doesn’t know what she’s doing?”
“And what will you do when you’re fifty?” Albus asked in turn, “Sit on the street and sell goat milk?”
“As long as Ariana is safe, yes,” Aberforth threw back at him. “It’s more than you would do.”
Albus’s patience snapped. It was much too early in the morning for this kind of insolence.
“More than I would do?” He repeated, standing up to tower over his brother in the kitchen. He was still a good foot taller than Aberforth, his younger brother not having gone through his last growth spurt yet. “What do you think I’m doing here Abe? I’ve given up everything for her! For you! All the things I could’ve done, I put aside, for the two of you! What more do you want from me?” He paused, waiting for his brother to even acknowledge the question. He noticed that his hand was clutched tightly to his wand, and made a conscious effort to release it. He repeated in an even louder voice, “What do you want from me?”
But Aberforth never took his gaze off the darkened window, and Albus didn’t ask again. After a good fifteen minutes he left the kitchen to sit in a rather worn chair in the living room, hoping to just nod off until morning. Aberforth eventually made his way quietly back to his room, his full cup of tea still sitting innocently on the table.
Albus sat in the chair for quite some time, watching the sunlight slowly creep through the windows and spill into the living room, illuminating what had once been a happy home. The mantle above the fireplace was filled with pictures, the shelves on the far side of the room serving as host to a few more sleeping occupants among the massive amounts of books. All the objects in the room were familiar. He had been surrounded by most of them since they had moved into the house over a decade ago, and yet as Albus looked around his mother’s house in the early morning light, he felt distaste rising in the back of his throat like bile. He was beginning to detest this place. All it held were reminders of everything he had lost and could never get back.
Albus stood and stretched, attempting to banish the restlessness that was starting to set in after sitting for so many hours. His gaze strayed over to the shelves on his left, traveling over the spines of various texts.
A rather dusty, old volume caught his attention, and he tilted his head in order to better read the title. Smiling to himself, Albus picked up the children’s book and returned to his seat in front of the fireplace, flipping through the pages to glance at the ancient runes within. He stopped when he came to a slightly faded picture of man holding a stone. Albus ran his hand over the delicate ink lines, tracing the illustrated silhouette of the Resurrection Stone, the one thing that could bring back the dead. As he gazed down at the picture an ache of longing grew in his chest, making it more difficult to breathe. The Tale of the Three Brothers was meant to impress upon children the inescapable truth of death, and yet as he stared at the stone, he had no other desire than to possess it. He would like nothing more than to bring back his mother and continue on with his plans to travel the world. He flipped back to the title page of the story absentmindedly, momentarily distracted by his thoughts. When he looked down again, he received a small surprise. There, just above the runic title he was so familiar with, was a symbol he didn’t recognize. During his extensive studies at Hogwarts, Albus had mastered runes, just as easily as everything else. But as he frowned down at the small little enigma on the page, a triangular symbol, filled with a lined circle, he couldn’t think of a single instance in which it had been mentioned. He didn’t recognize it as any crude form of a more traditional sign and it left no clues as to its origin.
Albus shut the book, once again in a bad mood, and returned it quickly to an empty slot on the shelf. He didn’t like being confused. It was a rare experience that he had endeavored for some time to eliminate from his existence. The fact that he was now being confused by children’s books only intensified his frustration.
He glanced up at the clock and saw that it was now almost six in the morning. Deciding to try and rest at least a bit before waking Ariana, Albus stalked into his room, kicked off the warm slippers, and threw himself noisily onto the bed, too preoccupied to notice the faint sound of piano music drifting through the open window.
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