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Chapter Three: At The Churchyard Again

28th July, 1899

Dearest Bathilda,

Please, you simply
must call me Theophilus. Do let us cast aside such formality once and for all; already, I regard you as a friend and trusted correspondent.

Thank you for your letter and for the books! We are indeed kindred souls in our love for the relics of magic; if it wasn’t for my dreadful condition, I would have Apparated to Godric’s Hollow immediately upon receipt of your letter and paid you a visit, and we would perhaps have whiled away an entire afternoon engaged in pleasant discussion of all the forgotten things of our magical history. But alas! Dragonpox really is a most debilitating disease, and terribly contagious as well. Worse, my condition has been exacerbated by the heat and humidity of the season, and my face is, quite frankly, an unsightly, pustular mess. Not to mention the highly flammable sparks each time I sneeze.

I’m afraid I must beg yet another favour from you – quite unjust of me, certainly, the amount of inconvenience I seem to be inflicting upon you – but would you happen to possess a book or any relevant document chronicling the genealogies of the oldest surviving wizarding families in Britain? I understand that historically, there has been a high concentration of old magical families around Godric’s Hollow. Ancient magical bloodlines is yet another topic, which I enjoy studying during my spare time, and I do have plenty of time now, what with my self-imposed incarceration.

Thank you for your patience, dearest Bathilda! I am eternally indebted to you, and when my complexion clears up and I am cured of this affliction, I shall be paying you that visit, and we shall be having that promised discussion!

Theophilus Thimble

* * *

Bathilda Bagshot saw them both, Ariana and Kendra, late one night last winter. That same night, she forgot everything.

Perhaps Mother had been getting careless. But really, Ariana often muses, it was all Bathilda’s fault. Nosy old woman, pretending to potter about her garden under the pretext of harvesting Plangentines, though it was patently clear that she had been trying to catch a glimpse of Ariana as usual; something about having a mad, wretched girl for a neighbour, one without a drop of magic and with an awfully delicate constitution, must have fascinated Bathilda to no end.

That night Ariana had slipped into the kitchen; the floor was cold through the papery soles of her shoes. Kendra was standing at the kitchen table crushing Sopophorous Beans, a pile of thick, earth-clotted Gurdyroots at her side, her face half-curtained by shadow. How thin and stretched Kendra had become, how dark the sleepless blotches staining the skin below her eyes. Over the last few weeks, she had become less and less interested with her books and her Potions recipes. She hardly slept, and she no longer spent hours in the evening writing trailing letters to Albus, always to Albus.

When Ariana sat down at the table, Kendra looked up, startled, and the glinting silver knife in her hand gave an ugly little twitch and the blade skimmed the length of her finger, drawing blood. The red seeped into the dark puddle of Sopophorous Bean juice collecting on the chopping board.

Kendra put the knife down quietly before dabbing her finger on her skirt. “I think, Ariana, we both need a breath of air. You’ve not been out of the house for weeks now. Put on your coat.”

Outside, the night was windless, but the cold filtered right through the layers of Ariana’s clothes to the cotton chemise she wore underneath. The curve of a moon hung in a gap through the clouds, and all the cottages and gardens of the village were grey in the weak light. Ariana shook her mother’s hand off her arm impatiently, practically leapt out the door and bounded around the garden.

“Ariana,” Kendra called, perhaps asking her to wait, to not stride about in such a reckless manner.

That was when Bathilda showed up, appearing at the hedge dividing her own garden from the Dumbledores’ property, a lantern swaying in her hand. Perhaps it had been the lantern, that swinging shaft of light like a spear, but Ariana’s fit had taken everyone by surprise, herself included.

Out of some non-existent point within her came the hateful burn of her magic. Dimly, she heard the hiss of Kendra’s Silencio! No sound came from her throat when she tried to scream, and instead, the scream turned inward, surged back into her skull where it rang and flared behind her eyes, as her own blood seemed to scald her within her veins.

The fit was an intense but short one, and soon enough Ariana was back on her feet, leaning shakily against Kendra’s tense frame. Bathilda’s lantern was ruined, the light blown out and the glass in shards at her feet. The old woman was appalled, one knotty hand splayed over her mouth.

“I thought – I thought your daughter was unable to perform magic. You told me so yourself,” Bathilda whispered to Kendra, and despite the tremor in her voice, her words were laced with accusation.

Kendra only shook her head wearily; the effort of subduing Ariana had depleted her.

“Have you consulted the Healers? This is clearly a magical condition that’s afflicting her, Kendra; you cannot ignore this.”

The reference to St. Mungo’s caused Kendra to snap to life. “I know best how to treat my own daughter, Bathilda. I’d thank you not to question how I raise her.”

“This cannot go ignored. There are Muggles living among us in the village. Your daughter’s magic is untrained, verging on the uncontrollable. You simply cannot keep her locked away in your house forever!” The old woman turned away abruptly without bidding either Kendra or Ariana goodbye, sweeping off toward her cottage.

“Bathilda,” Kendra called after their neighbour, and the frantic note in her voice must have made the latter stop and turn, one disapproving eyebrow raised. Kendra’s wand slashed through the air and Bathilda stopped short, frozen in her tracks, her eyes so wide-open that they bulged, her lips peeled back mid-gasp. The partial Body-Bind curse had immobilised Bathilda, but still allowed her to remain upright. Kendra, meanwhile, crossed over the hedge in a whirl of skirts. Bathilda’s eyes seemed to widen even further at Kendra’s approach.

“Forgive me, Bathilda,” Kendra whispered, but her words held no genuine contrition. She touched her wand to the side of Bathilda’s forehead. A tendril of silvery smoke rose from beneath the old woman’s temples to coil around the tip of the wand. As Kendra pulled back the wand, it dragged the ribbon of silver right out of Bathilda’s head. She gave the wand a hard swish, and the silvery coil of memory dissolved into the air and vanished.

Bathilda’s form went slack, her arms dropping to her sides. From where she had been standing, Ariana could make out the slightly open mouth, and the sudden aimlessness that had overridden the old woman’s stride and purpose. There was a soft pop right beside her as Kendra Apparated the short distance from where she had been standing in Bathilda’s garden.

“It’s late, Bathilda,” Kendra called out evenly across the hedge. “You ought to go to bed. I’m sure the gardening can wait until morning.”

“Yes, goodness, you’re right, my dear,” Bathilda replied, sounding surprised. “I must have – must have lost track of time, somehow.”

Kendra brought Ariana straight back to her attic bedroom.

“I don’t think I can sleep tonight,” Ariana said, sitting at the edge of her bed. The walls on every side of her rippled.

“You must try,” Kendra replied. She reached down and picked Ariana’s hand off her lap, examining the chewed fingers and the nibbled nails. “I’ll fetch some warm water and some bandages.”

Before Kendra left the room, she smiled. Ariana saw, for the first time, the slow fading of her mother. The strength was seeping out of her, and the hard glint of her dark eyes had become veiled and imprecise. Ariana considered going up to her mother and flicking a stray tuft of hair from the latter’s eyes. The door closed slowly, cutting the smile off Kendra’s face but that little abstract curve of her lips seemed to linger on in the room long after she had left.

“Well, that is the saddest thing I’ve seen all day,” the Crone interjected, her face protruding from the wall like an unsightly growth.

* * *

Aberforth shuffles down the lane winding toward the fields, where the goats are. The animals belong to Bramley, a Muggle farmer, and every summer he comes home from Hogwarts, Aberforth takes a job at Bramley’s farm, working as a caretaker of sorts to the goats. He feeds the goats, brushes their coats, brings them to the water trough out in the scratchy, browning fields, leads them onto the milkstand and cajoles them into passing their heads through the stanchion, cleans out the sheds and in the evenings, shuts them in. It is a job that he has come to enjoy, despite the meagre wage Bramley offers, despite all of Kendra’s former protestations and Albus’ disapproval each time Aberforth leaves the house in the morning, heading toward the edge of the village.

Ariana is resting now, or at least, she is locked away in her bedroom, curtains pulled tightly together, windows clamped to the frames. The summer heat is intolerable to her; the humidity, she complains, is a large, damp hand, squeezing her tightly. Ariana has always had quite the imagination.

The cottage rows grow thin until the houses disappear altogether, and soon, Aberforth reaches the fence tracing the boundary of Bramley’s farm. He stops.

There is a boy sitting on the stile, fair-haired and pale in the afternoon light, someone he has never before laid eyes upon in Godric’s Hollow. He sits right at the edge of the stile, knees wide apart and feet hooked around the lower step, as though he is about to tumble off, though his body remains loose-limbed, showing no signs of strain.

The strange boy does not look up or acknowledge Aberforth as he approaches the stile.

Aberforth scowls at the obstruction. “I need to get over.”

The other boy rests his lazy gaze on Aberforth. The plain Muggle tunic he wears seems to be at odds with the haughty raise of his eyebrow; this stranger exudes a certain variety of recklessness, that which is commonly exhibited by vagrants and wayfarers with no set destination. Yet this boy is no tramp; that much is certain.

“You’re one of the Dumbledore boys.” There is a thickness to his voice, a rough edge to the stop-start of his syllables. A foreigner as well, then, and one who is familiar with Aberforth.

“How do you know us?” he asks, suspicion making the ends of his sentence sharp-tipped.

“Bathilda Bagshot is my great-aunt and your neighbour, I believe. Sometimes she tells me excessively long stories about her wonderful neighbours.” The boy looks away, bored. He does not move from his precarious seat.

Aberforth grits his teeth, clenches his hand in his pocket and makes straight for the stile. He will get over the stile, even if it means barraging into this foreign boy and knocking him off. It will be the latter’s fault, anyway. Something about this boy – how at ease he appears to be, despite being an outsider – he is undaunted by Aberforth’s ungracious demeanour. Resentment rises like an itch around the corners of Aberforth’s mouth, and his lips tighten.

“If you don’t make way –,” he begins, for after all, it is only fair that he deliver a warning. The other boy is taller but slighter in form.

“I saw your sister,” the boy cuts in and Aberforth stops short. “You were walking her around the garden a few nights ago. What is wrong with her?”

“Nothing that concerns you in the slightest.” Aberforth nearly chokes on the sudden wave of fury leaping up his throat. “Do us all a favour and turn your prying eyes away from our lives.”

The boy laughs; Aberforth’s anger has vanquished his boredom at last. “Great-aunt Bathilda told me that your sister cannot perform magic and that she is one of those, how do you call it, magically impaired?”

“You’d do best to hold your tongue right away.”

“Come now, there is no need to holler in such a way. I did not intend to offend you.” But his eyes say otherwise, glimmering with insult and a kind of gleeful abandon. “Her condition – anyone unfortunate could have been born with such. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Why do you hide her away under the pretence of illness? She would fit nicely within the society of Muggles. Better than the lot of us.”

Aberforth draws out his wand and points it at the boy. Albus would have a fit seeing him so blatantly break the rule about underage magic, but eternal damnation be to Albus! “Draw your wand.”

The other boy’s eyes light up. “I do not have a wand.” He turns out his pockets, shakes his tunic loose and holds up his hands. There is no wand on his person. It would be cowardly and mean-spirited to attack.

As Aberforth lowers his own wand, the boy speaks again in an unnervingly cheerful tone, “But that is hardly a matter of concern for us now, is it?”

With that, he springs off the stile and lunges at Aberforth, the momentum of his leap knocking both boys over. The stony ground clouts the back of Aberforth’s head, gravel scraping at the nape of his neck and his ears ringing with the blow. They grapple for a bit, the other boy struggling to wrest the wand from Aberforth’s hand, his hard knees digging into the latter’s torso. Aberforth shoves a shoulder back, grunting, and just as his grip on his wand loosens, he swings a fist at the other boy’s face. There is a snap of flesh, and the sensation of collapse around Aberforth’s knuckles, burying into the boy’s cheekbone before knocking his nose askew. The boy rolls away, breath bursting sharply from him, blood streaking from his nose, a vivid chute of colour against the brown summer landscape around them. But Aberforth has lost his wand, which now sticks out of his opponent’s fist. The boy appears to be completely oblivious to his own broken nose and jarred cheekbone blooming purple, triumph curling his lips into a sneer.

“I’ve won it,” he rasps. “It’s mine.”

“Give it back.”

Laughing, he holds the wand out, but just as Aberforth swoops forward to snatch it up, the boy hops back and dances away in a curiously stilted manner. “I have its allegiance now! Perhaps it won’t even work properly for you any longer. You might as well throw such a disloyal thing away! Besides, I need a wand.”

He touches the end of the wand to his nose and murmurs an incantation; the flow of blood ceases and his nose realigns itself in a crisp pop of bone. The bruise however, continues to blacken on his cheek.

“It suits me!” he crows. Just as Aberforth starts toward him in rage, the boy spins on his heel and Disapparates, leaving behind a faint trace of laughter dissipating over the miles of dry pasture.

* * *

Mother’s death is all Ariana’s fault. Albus will never utter this out loud, – for to do so would indicate a clear loss of composure, something which Albus does not seem to find acceptable, – but Ariana can feel the mild reproachfulness in his manner, in his near-faultless concern toward her.

Ariana is kneeling gingerly at the foot of Kendra Dumbledore’s grave, the hard ground pressing into her knees, smudging the pale blue of her skirt. On the headstone, the name and dates have been inscribed in a most plain and forgettable manner, – exactly as Mother would have liked it. Above the name, more letters have been sliced into the clean stone: In Loving Memory.

It is still early; there is no glare of sunlight to set her aflame, and the heat has yet to rise from the ground in thick paste-like waves to stultify the entire village. Behind her, standing crookedly with his elbows jutting out and hands stuffed into the pockets of his breeches, is Aberforth. She can tell that he is uncomfortable from the way his hands remain stubbornly stuck into those pockets, the fingers tightly scrunched so they don’t poke through the holes in the bottom. Stealing out of the house to visit their mother’s grave in the early hour of dawn had been entirely his idea.

“Perhaps you’d like to say goodbye to Mother, Ariana,” Aberforth had offered kindly when he snuck into her room that morning. She had been drifting through a thin netlike sleep, perforated with dreams of old women and stone women and girls made from sand, crawling through furnaces until they melted in the heat and cooled and became glass.

“We needn’t tell Albus; we’ll be quick. It isn’t far from here and there’ll be nobody about the churchyard at this hour,” Aberforth had pressed on. He was already dressed in his usual untidy manner, and a thick grassy scent emanated from his clothes.

She hadn’t particularly wanted to come. But she hadn’t said anything either, so Aberforth pulled a coat over her dress and led her down the attic stairs, carefully, making sure they avoided the third step from the bottom with the traitorous squeak in its wood.

“You can say whatever you want you want to Mother,” Aberforth offers. “I’m sure she’s listening somewhere.”

Ariana is inclined to disagree, but instead, she squeezes her eyes shut, trying to think of an appropriate memory of Mother, anything that will prompt her to say something apt and eulogistic, though she knows that really, Aberforth does not expect her to say anything.

Aberforth wanders away, stopping now and then to scuff his boot at tree roots or kick up piles of dead leaves. There is something different about him; of late, he has been moody and bitter, quick to blow up at Albus, who in contrast, becomes frosty and almost condescending.

It must be all her doing, Ariana decides, Mother’s death, and now both her brothers’ unhappiness. Mother is gone, so it falls upon her now to hold the three of them together. She must. She will.

She bites her lip and swears it by this stupidly silent tombstone, by the hard-packed earth that houses the casket but no true trace of Kendra Dumbledore. She swears it by Albus and by Aberforth, both ignorant of anything that had passed between her and Mother. She swears it by everything else she has – she reaches into her pocket – nothing there except an old pinecone doll.

A curious thing it is, that doll, crafted for her some time ago by Aberforth, who is far worse with his hands than their father, Percival, had been when carving that crude wooden box for her. The doll has a flattened bead for a head with an acorn cap glued on top, and its face consists of little more than a few circles and curved lines inked in by a blunt quill. The doll’s body is a round pinecone, the scales flaking off, with no arms or legs. Ariana sneaks a glance behind at Aberforth, but his attention is still on the ground, on something between his feet, which he shuffles around through the dead leaves.

There is a limp in his step, the cause of which he has repeatedly refused to reveal to either her or Albus. She can hardly explain it, but all of a sudden, a surge of affection for her sullen, disordered eccentric of a brother nearly overcomes her. How she would love to run her fingers through his hair, breaking through the tangles and dislodging the flakes of dead leaf caught within.

Tucked into the hem of her dress is a long silver needle. Her little secret. She slides the needle out of the fabric, rests the stinging point on the pad of her thumb, and pushes it in, slowly, right through the hub of those frenzied whorls. Blood swells at the base of the needle and wilts into a single drop, which glides off her thumb to fall onto the doll, lost between the dark scales of the pinecone. She pulls the needle from her thumb and scratches a mark, a crisscrossing of lines, on the back of the wooden bead head. A rune for protection. She slips the needle back into the stitches of her dress.

“It’s time to go,” Aberforth’s voice cuts through the quiet of the churchyard. “It’ll be dawn soon and Albus will have a right old fit if he discovers that I’ve brought you out the house.”

She rises, clutching the doll. When Aberforth takes hold of her arm, she presses it into his hand. “For you.”

He looks down, a kernel of recognition sparking in his eye. “But I made this for you, Ariana.”

“It’s for protection.” That is all that she will say.

He shrugs, still not understanding, but when she refuses to take it back, drops it into his pocket and begins to lead her home. They take the long route through the rear of the churchyard, away from the main street, carefully skirting the faint glow of dawn, which is now slinking over the roofs of Godric’s Hollow.

* * *

Of course, Albus quickly discovered Aberforth and Ariana’s early morning excursion. He had risen early that morning, and his usual habit upon getting out of bed is to make straight for Ariana’s room to ensure that all is well with her.

His two younger siblings, upon arriving home, were greeted by the sight of Albus waiting for them on the doorstep, coldly radiating disapproval. Ariana, he gently brought into the kitchen, sat her down and placed before her a bowl of steaming porridge and a jug of cream, instructing her to eat. Aberforth on the other hand, he turned his wrath upon, as quietly as he could, so as not to upset their sister. Aberforth knew just as well not to raise his voice a notch, but in the end, he simply hissed, “It was just to visit Mother,” before shoving past Albus and disappearing into the depths of the house.

By late morning, in a bid to escape Aberforth’s moroseness and a mild tantrum that Ariana had thrown (along with the breakfast porridge, which made a fine splatter on the kitchen floor), Albus finds himself heading toward the churchyard as well. It is his turn to call upon their dead mother’s grave, though the chiefly escapist nature of this visit fills him with a biting shame.

He cannot stay away for long; Ariana needs to be watched closely at all times like a young child. Besides, whatever spare time he has, when not devoured by tedious household chores, must be spent working. Of late, Albus has been researching and writing a new article for Transfiguration Today on a convoluted mathematical formula calculating the precise length of time Vanished objects can remain in the phase of non-being. The journal will pay a decent sum for his article.

He drifts in between the headstones beneath the drowsy shade of the birches, careful not to tread upon the graves, many of which are nearly smothered by long grass speckled with buttercups and yellow thistle flowers.

Someone is already at Kendra’s grave when he arrives. A strange boy, – almost certainly a visitor to Godric’s Hollow, – standing with his hands clasped behind his back, looking down solemnly at the headstone. Despite the gravity of his carriage, the boy looks younger than Albus, but not by too many years.

“Good afternoon,” Albus says, curiosity rising in his chest. “Did you know my mother?”

The boy turns. A moment passes, during which his face remains blank, devoid of expression, the edges of his stare unsettlingly cold. Then, his mouth splits into a large, cheery smile, so sudden that the rest of his face seems to topple into that grinning mouth; the rigidness of his stance vanishes in an instant, as though his smile has diffused to the rest of his body, swelled through his limbs and loosened them. A proffered hand swings up to Albus, who shakes it, mildly surprised at the sudden change in the boy’s manner.

“I heard about her recent passing. I hope I am not intruding,” he says. The words are careful and curiously thick on his tongue, and the tone of his voice is practiced in its evenness. “I am Gellert Grindelwald.”

The name is familiar to him; someone had mentioned it before – ah, of course. Bathilda had been leaning over the fence, a plate of piping-hot Cauldron Cakes in her hand, telling him that her delinquent of a great-nephew would be coming to stay, though Albus had been too distracted to pay much attention.

“Dreadful turn of events.” Bathilda was shaking her head, tongue clucking against the roof of her mouth. “Expelled from school for improper magical conduct, apparently! I never had much faith in his featherhead of a mother – she’s let him run wild, given him far too much free rein. It would do him good if he could spend some time with you, Albus. I’m sure you’ll both enjoy each other’s company; such fine and intelligent young men the two of you are.”

Albus hadn’t thought much of Bathilda’s suggestion. Hogwarts had had its fair share of unruly students, and Albus had not always cherished his time keeping those mischief-makers in line as part of his Head Boy responsibilities.

Bathilda’s great-nephew, however, seems different. Though his movements and his mannerisms appear lazy, there is a brightness in his eye, something suspicious and scorching and acute, a deep-seated awareness beyond that of the average juvenile delinquent.

“I was merely passing through. I saw the name on the headstone – Great-aunt Bathilda has much to say about Madam Dumbledore, and all of it good.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Albus replies. “And how are you finding Godric’s Hollow so far?”

“Very much to my taste.”

Albus is sceptical. Gellert Grindelwald, he knows, is from far away, from somewhere vast with possibility, the expanse of the Continent; Albus himself has never stepped foot beyond Britain, though he had previously been scheduled to do so with the conclusion of his N.E.W.T. exams – plans that had been ruined by his mother’s untimely death. What is it that Gellert sees in a place as isolated and as socially and intellectually numbing as this village?

“It must be quite the drastic change of scenery for you.”

Perhaps the tiniest hint of bitterness in Albus’ voice makes Gellert stop and appraise him very carefully. “Do you not like this place?”

“I have liked it quite enough, I’m afraid.”

“Your village is a fascinating one, a place steeped in ancient magical history. I have learnt that it is the birthplace of many a famous witch and wizard.”

“So I’ve heard, too, from Madam Bagshot herself.” Albus smiles briefly. “If I may ask, what could possibly interest you about this desolate and rather overgrown churchyard?”

Gellert steps away from Kendra’s grave, his gaze sweeping around the cemetery before locking onto Albus’ own eyes. “I am looking for a sign.”

A pause settles between them, far too long and too fraught with strange, half-illuminated sentiments. There is a vague air of mistrust in the way Gellert speaks, in the measured gaps between his words, in the lift of his eyebrows and the unflinching, almost impolite way he stares directly at Albus, something the latter cannot help but find mildly amusing.

“And I have found what I am looking for,” Gellert continues. “I can show you if you like.”

He turns and walks toward the back of the cemetery, Albus following automatically. They pass stone angels with outstretched wings and hands clasped in prayer, square crosses with jagged stumps of arms, weathered arches, wrecked slabs of granite and marble veined with dirt, and crumbling mausoleums with missing doors and unimaginable darknesses within. This is a part of the cemetery hardly anyone ventures into, extending beyond the church grounds and into a thick copse of twisted oak and yew trees. Finally, Gellert stops and kneels before a grave; the tablet-shape of the tombstone is mostly intact, though the winds have toothed at the edges. Much of the inscription has been eaten away by centuries of weather, but the name is still there, scraps of a shallowed alphabet.


And beneath the name is a mark: a vertical line, cutting in half a circle fitted perfectly within an equilateral triangle. It is this mark that Gellert looks upon with adoration, one long finger tracing the channels of the symbol carved into the stone, beginning at the apex of the triangle.

Albus laughs. “The Deathly Hallows? The Peverell legend? Surely this isn’t the sign you’re looking for?”

“You know of them?” Gellert demands, astonished. “And yet you do not believe?”

“Any child brought up within a vaguely magical household will be familiar with the tale of the three brothers. It is a story for children.”

“There is a different version of the tale,” Gellert answers. “But yes, I know of your English version: Beedle the Bard, is it not? Unlike you however, not many will connect this child’s fiction with the legend of the Peverell Brothers and the Deathly Hallows.”

Albus frowns. “Their powers have surely become increasingly exaggerated over the years. Humankind has always exhibited a penchant for hyperbolae. If you’re referring to the rumours of –”

“Immortality?” Gellert cuts in, tilting his chin a little toward Albus. He exhales regret. “No, I’m afraid. Despite my absolute faith – there, I’ve said it, – in the Hallows, I simply cannot believe that they afford true immortality. That is the real myth, I fear.” He rises from the ground slowly, knees unclasping from their bent position, as though he is loath to part with that peculiar stone marking. “So it is true, then. This is indeed the final resting place of Ignotus Peverell, winner of the Third Hallow. Or rather, creator of it.”

“If you are indeed pursuing a myth, Mr. Grindelwald, I doubt you’ll find anything of further interest in the village. Godric’s Hollow is but a dead end; Ignotus Peverell’s bloodline and descendants seem to have vanished into obscurity, which is a remarkable coincidence, really, considering that Ignotus Peverell’s Hallow was the Cloak of Invisibility. This village is both the start and the end of your trail.”

“Perhaps,” Gellert says, rather airily. “But there is always that possibility, yes? I shall prove to you that the Hallows do exist –”

“Oh, I have no doubt that some form of them exists, or has existed. But I do ponder the truth about the extent of all the power that they are reputed to have, the power that will be bestowed upon the person who unites and wields all three Hallows.”

“First of all, they must be found. As I said, I shall prove to you that they can be found, and that it is worth finding them, if you will let me convince you, Dumbledore.”

“Albus,” Albus says, absently, before stopping. Somehow, he has neglected to formally introduce himself to Gellert. A slip in his manners. A slip! How easily he had slipped into conversation with this strange newcomer, this great-nephew of Bathilda’s. And how pleasant it had been to speak without restraint. “Albus Dumbledore.”

“I know,” Gellert replies. “I’ve read some of your publications in the periodicals that Great-aunt Bathilda keeps and catalogues in that library of hers. They are very good – your writings, I mean.”

The boys have wandered into the shadow of the abandoned church, a squat stone building, erected centuries ago, the walls and roof draped with curling vines. The god-fearing and superstitious Muggles believe it to be haunted, and rightly so, for within the chapel walls dwell a number of ancient ghosts, a rambunctious lot from long-dead eras always kicking up a racket with their ceaseless and rather tiresome wailing. Beyond the church, the trees come to an end, the street and open sunlight breaking upon the boys. Gellert’s hair is the colour of bleached summer fields.

Albus blinks. Time has slid by so surreptitiously. He has stayed out far too long. Aberforth will undoubtedly be out chasing after those ridiculous goats of his, which means Ariana is unattended.

“I’m afraid I must go,” Albus says. “I suppose you’ll have to tell me more about your quest for those Hallows another time.”

“There will be plenty of opportunity for that. I have the whole summer and the rest of my life to live.”

Albus nods his farewell, but just as he is about to leave and head home, Gellert grasps at his arm, and the suddenness of the gesture makes Albus uneasy. “Is something the matter?”

The look on Gellert’s face is one of equal discomfort. From a hidden pocket sewn into the insides of his vest, he pulls out a wand and thrusts it toward Albus, handle first. Willow, dragon heartstring, twelve and a quarter inches. Aberforth’s wand.

“Tell your brother I’m sorry.” Gellert’s eyes are downcast so Albus can only see the soft crease of his eyelids. “We got into a bit of a tussle; perhaps I instigated it. I forcibly took his wand from him; I’ve wronged him. I can be impulsive sometimes.”

Albus stares hard at Gellert. The latter’s show of remorse while convincing enough, is incongruous with the rest of his unapologetic, free self. “Aberforth is quick to anger,” Albus says at last. “I should not be surprised if he, too, lost his temper and drew his wand far too quickly.”

Gellert seems relieved. ‘Yes, yes, perhaps that is so as well.”

“I’ll pass this, together with your apology, along to my brother.”

As Albus heads home, his steps feel considerably lighter than they had been earlier on in the day. Any thought of returning to the confining walls of home, back to temperamental Ariana and scowling Aberforth, fails to dishearten him. A breeze flutters through his clothes and for a moment, the stifling heat of summer is lifted off his skin. And is he really humming? Indeed. A low, familiar tune to match his gait. If he is any less careful, his shoes just might begin to skip across the cobbles. How strangely buoyant he feels today!

A/N: Many thanks to all my lovely readers and reviewers who have shown such support and enthusiasm! I am truly sorry that this chapter took such a long time to put together. Real life has got me by the throat. I hope the delay in posting hasn't put you off this fic!

A note about canon: I'm pretty sure, from reading DH, that Ignotus Peverell's grave wasn't so far back in the churchyard, since Hermione found it pretty quickly. However, me being unacceptable decided to tweak canon a bit for dramatic effect. Worst comes to worst, we can always fall back on the flimsy excuse that the cemetery changed in the 100 years or so between 1899 and 1997, when Harry and Hermione first set foot into Godric's Hollow.

Thank you, lovelies! And let me know what you think of this chapter.

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