Chapter 1 : A Funeral
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Chapter One: A Funeral
December 15th, 1945
There you are, I have said those words. I have incriminated you. And there we have it, history, a fresh page created with your name on it and mine, too. Deny as you will, as you are so talented in doing. Is your slate sparkling clean? Has the history of your doing been whitewashed? You have quite the flair for secrets, for cleanly cutting your life (and the lives of others) into even pieces that never see the likes of each other. If I didn't know you as well as I do, I would be compelled to confess how much I admire you for this. If I didn't.
I suppose that one of us has to take the role of the victor; that is the nature of all duels. Or was this different from all the other duels we’ve been through, from all the other practices that I subjected you to (you were never comfortable with them, but always you capitulate, something which never fails to amuse me each time I think of them). I know as well as you do whether your victory was deserved. If the conquered is, in fact, the victor. If we were both striving for defeat and I lost.
I’m intrigued, old friend. So much has passed in the empty years since that summer long ago: your whole life and mine, separate, forked like a serpent’s tongue. And yet all forks have a single, stout root that they cannot leave behind.
I want to know when it all began. Did I lose much earlier on, years ago? Was I lost the moment I set foot into that pretty little village of yours? That place which you so despised; didn’t you tell me so yourself, wasn’t there a time when you voiced all your bitterness to me, laid yourself bare so I didn’t have to bother learning how to read you in all your absurdity because how easy you were, how you talked, how you complained incessantly and encumbered me with all the minutiae of your insignificant life? I was your brother. Your brother, ha! I was more a brother than that brother of yours, and yet I was less, far less. I am the coward now, am I? The one who fled, the one who betrayed his friend, who ran from all his abject deeds, true colours revealed, the one who went on to slip his bindings over the world, seizing power, muzzle the whole damned continent, the one who trampled the faces of pitiful kings and politicians – you should have heard how their spines moaned and cracked. You made that promise, too, don’t you remember. I took our dreams with me, I did it for us, for all our hallowed ambition – and you betrayed us, Dumbledore, you stopped us you and your weak heart you arrogant self-righteous – I’ll wager with my soul that you’ve never gone back to that village, not since you took up your precious teaching job, not to visit the girl’s grave, or your mother’s, not to associate yourself with your history.
Be careful, old friend. I know things that you don't. I haven’t been in here long, in my own dear little prison, in the highest tower where I used to observe all the prisoners, mine, prisoners I took and tormented, and in the end I didn’t care whether their blood was magical or not. I’ve seen things here lately. Things that have been shown to me. I’m not going mad anytime soon; keep your hair on. I won’t be let off the hook so easily. Madness, ha! I can deal with that; give it to me! But no, not so easily – you’ve seen to that.
The Three, you and I, we lusted after them, sought to make them ours, promised greatness in their name. I yield to you because they want me to; I am a servant of them, Albus. As are you.
The First of the Three is yours. Wield it as you will, as I know you will, for the best interests of humanity, for the greater good of this small, feeble world. You never won it from me and you know this fully, you know, yet it is yours, was yours the moment I closed my hands over it and felt the rejection in its wooden touch, felt it scour me through and through for some trace of you lingering in my flesh. So I am a vessel in the end, nothing more.
I leave you to your thoughts now; I'm sure they are many and that they will be plaguing you even as I write this, even as you read, pacing back and forth in your quaint little office. Tonight, I wish you peace; as for all the other the nights of your life – I cannot say the same. I am not that generous, old friend.
P.S.: Aberforth did not kill the girl.
It is an acceptable day for an open casket funeral: the sky is grey-skinned, the film of clouds too thin to suggest any real threat of rain. There is a stiff pressure in the air, a weight that is most fitting for such a solemn affair, and if one tilts one’s head in a certain manner, it is almost as if the sky is lopsided, falling in a fat grey slope onto the birch-lined cemetery of the village of Godric’s Hollow.
For the deceased, Kendra Dumbledore, there is no need to worry about getting rained upon.
Not that she will mind even if it does happen, or so Albus Dumbledore, son of the deceased, reasons. His mother has been laid with care within the crimped satin lining of the casket. Her arms are folded over her waist, the angles of her elbows measured with precision and her skirt has been arranged and starched into a stiff fan below her hips.
Albus is standing beside the casket. Behind him, is the open grave and the marble headstone already inscribed with the name and dates, and in front are several rows of empty chairs arranged in a semicircle. After two hectic days of organising the entire affair, dealing with the funerary services and replying to the countless owls bringing condolences, not daring to rest for fear that he would be choked by those brooding thoughts of his, Albus finds himself idle, an hour before the memorial service commences. His fingers rest on the edge of the casket, hovering above the corner of Kendra Dumbledore’s elbow, and though his posture is relaxed and his manner serene, his eyes are dull, glassed over and seeing nothing.
There has been more than one death; he is all too conscious of this.
The first is that of his mother, lost at last after all her efforts to keep their family intact, to preserve that which had long been wrecked. The second death is something more selfish. The second death is internal, something that he is ashamed of, which sits squarely in his gut, pitching side to side like ballast water. Always, he is aware of it. It lingers all around him. Death, this small village with its simple inhabitants and its insufferably quaint disposition and the vastness of the outside world compressed into the periphery of this place, just beyond reach. This is the end for him.
The sound of footsteps jolts him out of his reverie; the colour in his eyes sharpens and the frown on his face disappears. Bathilda Bagshot, prominent magical historian and archivist, author and founder of many noted academic journals in the wizarding world, as well as neighbour and family friend to the Dumbledores, is walking toward him, gripping the handle of a glossy ebony cane to support her slightly beetled back.
"Madam Bagshot," Albus inclines his head in greeting. He gestures toward the empty chairs. "Please, have a seat."
"I came early to see if you were managing well on your own, Albus.” Despite the uncomfortable warmth of early summer, Bathilda is wearing heavy black woollen robes buttoned up from her chin and falling in thick, lustreless folds to her toes. Sitting at a slant on the old woman’s grey-flecked head is a large hat with a ribbon encircling the brim, piled high with black tulips and stuffed beady-eyed crows.
“I am perfectly fine, Madam Bagshot,” Albus responds politely, hands clasped behind his back. His level tone does not betray the faint smudge of irritation scudding through the limpid colour of his eyes. So preoccupied had he been in his thoughts that he had failed to foresee his old neighbour’s early arrival. Of course she would be early. She has been fussing about their house ever since Kendra’s sudden death, something which has bothered Albus more rather than alleviated the situation. And now his precious moment of peace has been stolen.
“Have you seen Aberforth by any chance?” he asks.
“I believe I have seen the young man.” Bathilda lowers herself onto a chair in the front row, the one directly facing the casket. “He was heading toward the fields, perhaps to tend to those goats which he’s so fond of.”
Of course. Aberforth Dumbledore, second son of the deceased and brother of Albus, has earned himself the reputation of being the local oddity in the village: scruffy, rough, sullen and with the tendency to spend entire days in the fields with a herd of goats, their mother despaired of him sometimes when she had still been alive, that a son like Aberforth continued to draw unwanted attention to the Dumbledore family.
Albus’ forehead furrows ever so lightly, but within a moment, his expression is wiped clean of any trace of bother and the muscles around his eyes wilt into that pleasant smile, which he is so well-known for in the village. Quite the striking opposite of his brother, the village folk would say.
“I was hoping that he would be early today. This isn’t an occasion that he is exempt from.”
“Oh, don’t be too hard on him, Albus. He’ll be here soon. Your mother’s passing would have affected him hard. You’re both so young to be without a mother.”
She sighs and Albus shuffles his feet uncomfortably. It is early summer, but already the heat burrows beneath his clothes, soaking into his skin like a damp itch. Bathilda turns her head, scanning something in the distance.
“Your sister –,” Bathilda trails off, frowning.
“As of now, she is perfectly at rest,” comes the terse reply. “I’ve brewed her a Soothing Solution. A rather potent one, I must say. Mother’s sudden passing has left her distraught and she really shouldn’t be in such an excitable state, given her frail health.”
“Understandable, my dear boy. Bless her poor soul.”
It isn’t so much a Soothing Solution as it is a powerful Sleeping Draught. Kendra had been quite an extraordinary Potioneer when she was alive, endlessly brewing and inventing new recipes for draughts and calming potions and other remedies for her daughter (though no concoction could completely cure here, that much was accepted). Now, however, Albus has assumed these duties, though his potions have been a touch stronger. Always, he dreads administering those potions to her, his sister, Ariana, knowing how much trouble she used to give their mother. But so far, Ariana has accepted all her many medicines obediently. She drinks every drop without fuss, the liquid sliding down her throat in languid gulps, her expression unchanging, curiously unreactive to the bitter taste of the potions.
“If I may ask you something, Madam Bagshot–,”
“‘Bathilda’ will do, dear boy. As I have told you many times.”
"I was wondering if, during the time Aberforth and I were away at Hogwarts, – if something happened before the accident that might have contributed to its occurrence."
“I’m sorry, my dear,” the old woman wheezes, “but I’m not certain I understand you correctly.”
"When Aberforth and I were away at school, Mother wrote to us less and less. It really wasn’t like her at all. She stopped replying my letters as the end of the term drew near. It was a rather strange turn in her behaviour. I was wondering if this had anything to do with – with her accident."
"Do you mean to imply," Bathilda enunciates each syllable slowly, a sparse eyebrow inching up her forehead, "that the accident was not an accident at all?"
"On the contrary, I am completely convinced that it was an accident, nothing more. I am merely curious to find out if, if at all, that there was a possibility that such an incident could have been easily averted," Albus answers levelly.
Bathilda’s expression softens. She fastens a quavering hand around Albus' arm, just above his elbow, in what he supposes must be a consoling gesture. "You mustn't think this way, Albus. It has happened, and it is nobody's fault. Such events cannot be foreseen."
"I can assure you, Madam Bagshot, that I do not blame myself, or Aberforth, or Ariana or anyone else." Embarrassment makes his reply curt. He glances around. No sign of Aberforth or anyone else. It's just him, an old neighbour and a dead mother. "It’s just – I know my mother. She took great care of Ariana; she always has been an extremely rigorous and very careful person.”
The rumour that Albus has been circulating since Kendra’s death is that the entire fault lay with the foundations of a weak wall in the house. An ordinary misaimed spell was all it took for the brickwork to disintegrate and the wall to buckle and collapse over the unfortunate woman. The lie becomes easier and more convincing with each telling, and it is a story that requires a great deal of recounting, to friends and acquaintances and to inquiring officials from the Ministry. Of course, there is no need to mention Ariana at all.
Sympathy begins to build in Bathilda's eyes, and her mouth twists in painful uncertainty; he sees her neck curve and head dip gently. He sees her looking at him and seeing a grieving child, a lost boy, too young to survive the world on his own. The old irritation rises in him. He can do without hers or any other old woman's pity.
"What I mean is," Albus attempts to clarify, "did anything happen to my mother in the months before the accident, something that perhaps affected her ability to take care of – of Ariana, or perhaps she has been ill and her health might have been negatively affected – "
"I'm afraid I didn’t notice anything. Your mother has always been reserved; even though we were cordial to each other, she rarely confided in me."
Albus nods and looks away. “She has always disliked speaking of herself. Such was her nature.”
He pretends to busy himself, straightening out the chairs, though he has spent the whole morning aligning and realigning them, pacing in between the rows, grinding on his lip until it swells in his mouth, and he can feel the tender skin on the verge of rupturing.
"There was something," Bathilda begins again and Albus stops. "There was a time, I suppose, I can’t remember but your mother –,” her voice tapers off.
But the old woman’s eyes become clouded, as though a dusty veil has dropped down over the clean grey of her irises. Her jaw remains open, half the sentence still stuck between her teeth, but the words are forgotten. She must be getting old.
"You were saying?" he tries again.
She seems to jolt out of her trance, but there is a vagueness in her features that Albus has never seen before. She shakes her head.
"Oh dear, it's so hot in these robes." Her ribbed, crinkly fingers scratch at her sleeves and dig at the tight collar squeezing around her throat. "I wasn't saying anything, dear boy."
The sudden change in her makes him uneasy but he shrugs and moves away from her, glad that her interest in conversation has waned. The attendees will begin to arrive soon. There will be many, many more condolences that he will have to accept, many more mourners towards whom he will have to feign graciousness and tolerate petty conversation with. He drifts back toward the open coffin.
How many times he has stared down at his dead mother since his return he has lost count. There had always been something very sculpted in the way Kendra carried herself through life: her rigid posture, the taut thin rod of her neck rising above her narrow shoulders to the stilted planes of her face. Now – no, she still looks like that, Albus admits to himself, except she is horizontal. Her eyelashes are like curved spikes, so dark that he wonders if someone had inked them, made them thicker. Her lips are the same colour as the surrounding flesh, and they have sunken into the rest of her face giving her the appearance of being mouthless, a pleat of skin where the lips should be. And yet for the harshness of her appearance, his mother had been the most patient person he’d ever known, sitting for hours with Ariana, feeding her, cajoling her, and the rest of her hours were spent boiling and brewing remedies for her daughter.
She is gone now, but Ariana remains, and so does he.
From behind comes the crackle of dried leaves and twigs being trod upon. It is Aberforth, Albus’ brother, come at last to attend their mother’s funeral. In the distance, at the entrance of the cemetery, the first of the guests are beginning to totter toward the chairs, shaky from Apparition.
“What do you want me to do?” Aberforth mutters. He is shorter than Albus, but broader, and his shoulders are pulled in close to his neck, his white sleeves rolled all the way to his elbows and tacked with Ariana’s clips; the two must have been together, no doubt. A vest has been carelessly thrown over his shoulder and blades of brown grass fleck his hair.
Albus regards his brother coolly. “I’ve seen to everything. All you need to do is take a seat and stay for the duration of the service.”
Aberforth scowls but says nothing, nods at Bathilda before proceeding to sit down heavily on a chair a good distance away from the old woman. She sighs. “I hope your brother will be fine.”
“He will be.” Albus looks down at his mother once more.
This will be the last time. Afterward, he will not glance at her during the service, not when the lid is drawn over the casket, not ever again. When he finally pulls his gaze away from his mother’s still form, there is an odd silence in his chest. His mind is empty of death or grief or the future that no longer matters.
Albus Dumbledore straightens up, dusts his robes down and smiles his usual warm smile, allowing the gratitude to reach his eyes as he steps forward to greet the first of the guests, to thank them for coming to mourn with him the tragic and untimely loss of Kendra Dumbledore as well as the death of his very own life.
Ariana wakes in the middle of the night. There is nobody else in the room. This is odd; her small room, the topmost of the house, is always cluttered with people.
There is a scream sticking to the back of her throat, a harsh, gnarled sound, trying to tear itself loose and prise open her lips to waken her mother and her brothers, the whole accursed village, if need be. She peels the blanket of her. It is much too hot; the back of her neck and the pits of her underarms are moist and the mildewy smell of sweat is strong in her nostrils. Just who was it who had laid an extra covering on her? It could have been anyone. She imagines Kendra, Albus and Aberforth slipping up to her, one by one, each with a blanket, trying to wrap her up like a parcel, suffocate her in a sheath of her own body heat.
Aberforth for all his strength and surliness is the gentlest. There is great care in the way he folds the blanket around her, and sometimes she can feel the prickly calluses on his palms when his hands brush against hers accidentally. It irritates Ariana, how tender he is in his roughness. Kendra on the other hand is brusque, tucking the edges of the blanket beneath Ariana’s body, and always, before she walks out, she will lay a hand on Ariana’s forehead. There is always a query in the pressure of her palm, as though her mother is trying to feel for some essence of Ariana that remains intact deep within the confines of her brain. And she will detect nothing because Ariana will not show her anything.
Albus, on the other hand does everything for her because he feels it is his duty to do so. He will enter her room and stare at her for a minute or so; once, she had pretended to be asleep when he came in, hearing his footfalls come to an end at her bed. There had been a stillness, and even with her eyes shut, she felt the density of his stare bearing down on her, pinning her to the sheets, and she knew that he knew that she wasn’t asleep. Albus will simply lay the blanket down and pull it right up to her chin. Nothing more, nothing less. And then he’ll leave, and with his departure, he will have carved out some essential component of the balance of the room so Ariana always feels hollowed out and breathless.
Ariana swings her legs off the edge of the high white mattress, one hand gripping the brass bedstead. The floor is warm beneath her soles, as though people have been pacing back and forth barefoot all day, their body heat leaching into the wood. She pries a shutter of the window open. A draught of cool air brushes against her cheeks. So silent, so still is the village of Godric’s Hollow at night with all its inhabitants shuttered in and locked away.
She closes her eyes. The world is never still. Her thoughts are always filled with burning and every inch of her pulsates with the memory of pain and flames eating at her, slivers of the sun itself. But when she slides trembling fingers beneath her thin nightdress to feel her arms, her neck, her stomach, there are no wounds, so scars, no raw peeled flesh. Her fingertips are unfamiliar on her skin.
The memories of fire are nothing compared to the burn of magic in her living arteries. And yes, she has magic in her; it is useless to think otherwise. The magic is bitter, scalding; it tunnels deeper into her as though it is a live insidious thing, making its way to her heart. She can feel the strength of it and she is afraid. Her bones are kindling.
It is Albus, of course. She hadn’t heard him coming in. Kendra and Aberforth she can hear from miles away, but Albus’ movements are so soft and smooth that he fits into whatever place she finds him in. Now, he stands at the doorframe, cotton nightshirt swelling in the breeze from the open window, a wistful smile softening the lower half of his face. The upper half, untouched by that curious fluke of his lips, remains sharp.
“Trouble sleeping?” he says, quietly.
He fixes a strange, shrewd look at her. “Mother is gone, Ariana. Don’t you realise what has happened?”
She doesn’t answer right away. She can never speak properly with Albus scrutinising her like this, drilling his awful blue eyes into her soul. Sometimes she thinks that he knows her with a terrible precision, every interstice of her thoughts; he sees her and is unimpressed, bored. Other times, he seems blind, staring through her as though she is a ghost.
“Mother is not here. What did I do?” She runs a hand through her hair, pulling through the knotty strands. Mother brushes her hair every night, long strokes of the comb starting from the top of her head and sweeping down to the ends of her hair grazing her shoulder blades. She misses the cold ivory teeth of the comb, their teasing bite on the surface of her scalp.
Albus approaches her, rests his hand on her cheek and tilts her face upward. She is forced to meet that gaze of his. For once, she decides to be brave and does not look away; instead, she bites on her lip, stoppering the breath in her lungs, hoping desperately.
“It’s time for your potion,” he says, breaking that moment between them. He seems unaffected. “It will help you sleep. I’ll bring it up in a moment. Close the window.”
She closes it. The room is still and strange. The air is unbalanced and the magic flickers uneasily in the marrow of her being. She has decided: she will not sleep tonight, potion or not.
A/N: Thank you for reading; I would really appreciate if you could tell me what you thought of this first chapter; it's different from anything I've attempted to write so far and I'm rather nervous about this. Thank you!
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