LET PERPETUAL LIGHT
Chapter Six: A Communion of Saints
Chapter Six: A Communion of Saints
The tone of your letter is amusing. I know who you are, more importantly, what you are. You are a deprived soul. You have nothing left. Those whom you deem unworthy have snatched up the last of your birthright. You straddle the threshold of derangement. I can taste the derangement in your handwriting, in your great clumsy words like fences keeling over, like crooked stiles built by your shaking hands. Do you want to know how mad you are? As mad as I am, as I am! We are not so different from each other, you will see.
I did not mention a stone of any kind in my previous letter, merely stated an artefact of immeasurable value belonging to the Peverells, but yes, one such thing that I am seeking is indeed a Stone of some sort. I thank you for confirming my suspicion. Do you know what your Stone is, Mr. Gaunt? Do you know who the Peverells are? Do you know what and who Death is? I write you letters (and I apologise if I don’t write very well, I taught myself writing) but Death writes stories and sows them across the gibbering tongues of humanity for us to spit at each other, infecting one soul after another.
You are right, Mr. Gaunt. I have nothing to do with the Ministry of Magic; I do not know how they work, how they spend their power, how they turn the cogs of a hidden nation. But I am not lying about one thing: I do indeed possess something of the Peverells. This particular relic in my custody: it’s yours isn’t it? If you are indeed of Peverell stock, then all Peverell relics should be yours. I’ll sell it to you, your lost family heirloom. Refuse, or ignore me, and I shall seek out the highest bidder. I’m doing you a favour, aren’t I?
If you are interested in reclaiming this relic and I know you are, say so and we shall meet. We shall meet anyway, I know we shall. Bring with you the Peverell Stone that you were so bragging about in your last letter, as proof that you are who you are. Then I’ll believe you, and we can negotiate some sort of deal with this Relic that I have.
After all, these deathly artefacts of the Peverells are meant to be sealed in hallowed union.
* * *
The swollen heat of July collapses into August, drawing out of the marshlands a living vapour of mosquitoes and midges. The summer loses its sharpness and turns clammy and permeable, seeping through all layers of earth, brick, fabric and skin.
Progress is uncharacteristically slow for Albus’s latest academic project, an article destined for publication in the upcoming issue of Transfiguration Today. He has been working on this all through the strange and distracted summer.
Just two days ago, he received a letter from Phoebus Raggins, editor of Transfiguration Today, who had generously offered to extend the deadline for Albus, postponing publication of the issue.
Albus sets his quill down. The tips of his ears have reddened and warmth prickles across his lobes to the edge of his cheeks: a sensation that he has come to accept as a peculiar manifestation of his conscience. Failure to meet work deadlines is a new and deflating experience. Albus has always been speedy and accurate with his research, his ideas arranging themselves into the ranks of a structured argument as they leap from his brain to the point of his quill. His words fall smartly onto parchment, like new soldiers with shiny buttons, but self-aware and expertly picking their way across the troughs and traps of contradiction and counterargument.
By the window, hangs a relatively recent addition to the Dumbledore house: a domed wire cage, half-shrouded with a velvet drape. A brown owl hoots in its sleep, its head sunk into the feathered cradle of its shoulders.
Ariana had approached Albus nearly a month ago, while he was working futilely and distractedly at his article. He had not noticed her, had not even heard the door open, but all of a sudden became aware of a flicker of presence at his back, as though a patch of air behind him had consolidated into the shape of his sister. Ariana looked a little lost in thought, but in her gaze, wandering across the contents of his bookshelf, there was a trace of intent.
“I’d like an owl?” she said slowly, inflecting her words the wrong way at first. And then she repeated: “I want an owl.”
“What do you need an owl for, Ariana?” Albus asked, puzzled.
“Oh, I don’t know. I’d like a pet, or a companion, I suppose.” Petulance grew in her voice.
Aberforth, when he heard what she wanted, was delighted at her sudden show of interest in something and immediately offered to buy her one from the owl emporium in Diagon Alley. But such a purchase would have depleted his scant savings scraped up over the years, so it was Albus instead, who made the trip and the payment.
When he brought the cage with the owl back and introduced Ariana to her new companion, she let it clasp her wrist with its trimmed claws, staring at its yellow-ringed eyes and the soft pivot of its head.
“He’ll do.” She set the bird back into the cage and left her disappointed brothers.
“You haven’t given him a name,” Aberforth called after her.
“Albus will find a name.”
She has hardly looked at the owl since then.
These days, the bird answers to the name of Pythagoras, much to Aberforth’s disgust.
Absently, Albus sticks the quill between his teeth, a splotch of vaguely sweet ink dribbling over his gums. He sets the quill down again, then picks it up, then gives up on the essay, and instead begins writing yet another letter to Gellert.
There is no denying that Gellert’s arrival in town has changed many things, and in ways that Albus had never expected. Long, pleasant hours they spend in each other’s company, in the woods outside Godric’s Hollow, or in Bathilda’s house, or right here in his own bedroom, after Aberforth has gone out to tend to Bramley’s goats. Time seems to reel away from them, refusing to interrupt their extended discussions and laughter-riddled, slightly sardonic banter. Their discourses continue into the evening, spanning the length of the night in a stream of letters exchanged between his bedroom window and Gellert’s, over at Bathilda’s house.
Pythagoras has proved to be of some use, after all.
From upstairs, a conversation between several people stumbles through the walls and ceiling, syllables blunted by their percolation through wood and plaster. Ariana has the unsettling gift for creating casts of entirely different characters out of the modulations of her voice. Albus goes upstairs.
She is sitting at the foot of her bed, scribbling on a piece of parchment, silent the moment Albus steps in. Her lips are dark with blood hardening in the minuscule fractures of flesh. When he takes her hands, he sees that her nails have been eaten deep into her fingers. The whites of her eyes are larger and emptier than usual, but her hair has been washed and pinned back; he had heard her this morning, murmuring a song stripped of music and peeled to its rhythmic bones, as she combed the sodden drape of her hair into the kitchen sink.
All the medicines and potions he has been brewing and improvising are not strong enough. Ariana looks more ill than ever. However had Kendra managed all those years on her own, fighting to keep his sister’s raging sickness down?
“Who were you speaking to?” he says, lightly.
She pretends not to understand, tucking the piece of parchment carefully away into the bodice of her dress.
“Can I at least see what you’ve been writing?” Albus presses again.
She smiles, and he is surprised; there is a shyness in her smile. “I am well, Albus. I feel well. Sometimes I wish you wouldn’t worry so much about me.”
Briefly, he recalls the incident that happened a few weeks ago with the jar of snapdragons in his bedroom. Gellert had seen everything and for a moment, Albus had been torn. With shame, with a rising tide of excuses for his poor, broken sister.
He smiles back at her. “I believe you’re going to get better, Ariana.” But his tone has smoothened, become patronising, and Ariana looks sharply at him, her mouth curling to one side.
“Mother always believed me. Her potions also worked better than yours. Maybe you should just follow in her stead.”
Her eyes dart at the wall behind him and Albus turns to see what she is gazing at. There is nothing behind. The house seems to close down on him, and he winces against an imaginary collapse. The attic is especially claustrophobic.
He makes up his mind. “I’m going out for a little while. Just to see Bathilda. I’ll be back in five minutes.”
His conscience begins steaming in his ears. Lying to his own sick sister! Can he sink even lower? But just five minutes – and besides, hadn’t he heard her? She didn’t want to be treated like a child or an invalid. He ought to give her a chance. Just five minutes. It will be a test for her. Parents test their children all the while, don’t they? Perhaps Ariana is far less frail than what everyone thinks.
“Five minutes,” he repeats as cheerfully as he can, and then he leaves without daring to cast a goodbye glance at her, practically bounding down the stairs and out the house.
The sunshine is warm and splendid on his face, and he forgets her almost at once. His knocking is joyful on Bathilda’s door, but it isn’t Bathilda’s face that he seeks; when she opens the door, he smiles through her, his eyes telescopically scouring the interior of her house for the one face that will not leave him alone.
* * *
At Bramley’s farm, Aberforth brushes the goats’ fur and sweeps out their shed. They nuzzle his palm, chew at his sleeves and untucked corners of his shirt. He ruffles their ears and scratches their chin. As he passes one of the nanny goats, she butts her knobbly forehead against his side. Something tumbles out of his pocket and clatters to the floor of the shed.
It is the pinecone doll that he had made for Ariana, and which she, for some unfathomable and incoherent reason, had given back to him.
The doll is warm in his hand, as though it were a living thing, waiting within the curvature of his palm. Feeling stupid, Aberforth brings it close to his ear, listening for a heartbeat. Of course there isn’t one. The face that he had drawn onto its bead head seems different. The dotted eyes, the slender hook of a mouth, the topsy-turvy eyebrows – all frugal features inked in thoughtlessly. But something else has been drawn into them, some sort of sentience. The flat spots of eyes now catch his own gaze, and the mouth seems to smile back politely.
Aberforth blinks and shakes the doll, feeling impatient with himself. Ariana’s imagination is rubbing off on him.
“It isn’t mine anymore,” she told him when he tried to slip it under her pillow one evening. “I told you: it will protect you.”
He decided to humour her. “And what is out there to harm me, that I should need protection from?”
“Things that will eat you up, of course.” She laughed and stopped short, stacked her hands on her lap. “Things that will take you to places you aren’t supposed to go.”
“Where am I supposed to go, then?”
A frown puckered her forehead. “You’re supposed to stay here. For a very long time.”
He kissed her temples suddenly, and she shut her eyes. “Then for a very long time, we’ll both stay here. Until you say we can go.”
Aberforth drops the doll back into his pocket and carries on with sweeping the shed.
* * *
There is a church in the village, a twenty-minute stroll from Bathilda’s house: a quaint stone building with a white steeple and arched windows, a hanging plaque bearing the inscription, Parish of Saint Swithun. This is where the townsfolk gather to celebrate the Sabbath. Gellert has never gone in.
There is another church in the village, a deserted chapel in the village cemetery where Albus’s mother had been buried, one infinitely more tolerable than that dainty white shell of Saint Swithun’s, with its muted hymns and pretentious hush.
Nobody ventures in here: the second church, this nameless wreck of a shrine with its whispering congregation of ghosts, among the grounds of the dead. The stone pews are crumbling into dust and the towering wooden crucifix has long been stolen, hacked apart for firewood long ago, leaving an eight foot space on the wall behind the altar. Rubble from collapsed sections of the architecture form small piles, resembling libations, across the nave of the church.
The saints are still here. Stationed within intervals along the walls are the saints: clasping swords, scrolls, crosses, rosaries, keys and stone bouquets, saints with chipped shoulders and faces weathered into indifference, headless saints, amputees of saints.
Gellert walks from saint to saint, reading the worn engravings at their feet. Sunlight becomes narrow-eyed through the fissured ceiling. There is no sacrosanctity here, not when it is priestless, crossless, silent.
If there is one thing his mother is particularly passionate about, it is the saints, the martyrs, those who were stoned to death, who were hung from trees, crucified in inverse, thrown to the wild beasts, quartered, burnt, starved. These were the only tales she shared with him as a child, the brilliant glittering saints, mangled and mauled, bleeding light from the stumps of their necks, from the gashes in the rags of their bodies. Their blood hallowed the ground, either turned it to chalk and ash, or dragged lilies out of the rocks, and their adorers secretly constructed shrines around the stained earth.
He remembers the prayers well. His mother had altars built into almost every room of their house, and each shrine was crowned with golden candles. Before the candles, she would recite the Angelus in the dark hours before dawn, and the rosary prayers in the evening, all in Latin. Her mouth laboured with the language as the prayer beads passed one by one through her thumb and forefinger.
Ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
The other day he had been telling Albus about his mother. “She named me after a saint condemned to death, whom the people threw into a cart, rolled him up the hill and pushed him off, hoping he would break every bone in his body. When he reached the bottom still breathing, they bludgeoned him until he stopped.” He laughed. “I think she expects me to die the same way; after all, she does permit me to do as I please.”
Szent Gellért: his saint and the patron saint of Hungary. Sometimes the stories tell how he was fitted into a barrel with long spikes on the inside, and down he went, skewered over and over again through the ribcage and eyes and throat, all the way down Gellért Hill. His body fed to the Danube, sucked into the silt and into the fish mouths.
Albus had thought it rather odd that his mother would name him after someone who had met such a gruesome fate. Albus has neither religion nor imagination, and yet Gellert is inexplicably drawn to him.
It has been two days since he last saw Albus; he has been testing himself to determine whether it is absolutely necessary for him to see his friend so often. As it turns out, necessary is hardly a relevant word. Still, the past two days have been a dreadful bore and he misses the conversations, their strolls across the fields and woods, the enthusiasm of his friend and his willingness to listen to anything at all for the sake of maintaining the reputation of possessing an open mind. He especially misses the occasional discomfort fleeting through Albus’s eyes whenever either of them says something that traverses too close to the other’s heart.
A sudden flare of light floods the church. Soaring down the aisle, approaching him, is a silvery shape with wings and feathers whose ends dissolve even as it moves. A phoenix, a creature that is a great source of fascination for Albus. Therefore, Albus’s Patronus.
The phoenix Patronus speaks in Albus’s voice: “The usual?”
Gellert smiles, fondly. “So we shall meet.”
The phoenix spirals upward and passes through the stone, into the sunlight.
Gellert draws his new wand, the one he had lied to Albus about. He hadn’t bought it from Ollivander at all; he had gone to visit the wandmaker in Diagon Alley, and they had had a long discussion on wandlore, wand legends and the Elder Wand, but while the old man had jabbered on endlessly, Gellert’s quick fingers had plucked a wand out of one of the many boxes stacked on the shelves.
Now he gives it a sharp twirl, spins on his heels, and Disapparates to the thicket of beech trees outside Godric’s Hollow, eagerly awaiting the arrival of his friend.
* * *
Curse your owl, the slow-witted bird! Has it gone to lay its eggs while delivering our letters?!
Albus, the wizarding world does not comprehend the extent of magic as well as it should. It sets barriers between the types of magic that it knows and the types of magic that it does not care to know. Our world is afraid. I have heard others speak, both Muggles and wizards, how afraid they are! The century is fading – a bad sign. A new beginning is a bad sign? As if time could ever be a sign! I can at least excuse the Muggles: they have no magic; they are pitiful in their cages of superstition and squalor and grimy industry and their fluctuating fashions and their trivial wars for territory and their obsession with their old emblematic queen in her throes of death.
But we, the ones with magic, we have no excuse. Why do we live in hiding? Why in fear? The International Statute of Secrecy is unjust. I hate it with every inch of my life. They persecuted us, the Muggles, and we let them. Now we build our own burrows and trap ourselves inside and congratulate ourselves and turn fat with complacency and hiding. We are safe! We have escaped persecution! We are fools.
But can we truly blame our kind? Is our magic enough? After all, the Muggles exist in legions; we are but a small pocket of this world. We need the power, Albus! The power and the confidence to show ourselves; we must fight for our acknowledgement, and bring down this regime of oppression. The Hallows will help us. The Hallows will let us be heard. With the Hallows, we can revolutionise magic.
There are words for us: saints. We are saints-in-waiting. No, do not laugh. I mean it. We are the patron saints of magic, as surely as Saul was struck blind with epiphany on the road to Damascus. How much of ourselves are we sacrificing for a society that shuns its own potential and refuses its right to live. We are more powerful than the Muggles, Albus. Why should we capitulate to them?
Beneath the letter, Albus had written his reply, the paragraphs slanting toward the margin of the parchment. They had been writing all night, sending Albus’s owl Pythagoras back and forth until the creature had given a final, indignant hoot and refused to make another trip between the boys. So Albus delivered his reply to Gellert’s latest letter by hand when they met.
Here I must reprove you, my friend. If there is one thing I know about magic and power, it is that it shouldn’t ever be treated as a plaything. Nor should it ever be our leverage over the non-magical society or an excuse for discrimination. Magic should not be corrupted; magic should never divide. Rightly, our ministries have constructed barriers to prevent us from accessing the most powerful of magics. Our intentions are not always pure; we have been known to corrupt magic, to lose our way and to succumb to the darkness of power.
But if we are going to seek power, this is what I feel is right: magic is not to divide but to equalise, to mend breaches, to align perspectives. We must not seek to impose ourselves upon Muggle folk, but with whatever power we have obtained, we right the lies of our society, and then we must uphold the peace between our kind and those different from us. Our purpose shall not be a selfish one: everything that has been given to us, channelled through our abilities, is for the greater good of the world.
“The greater good,” Gellert utters, and his eyes leap away from the letter, shining. “Albus, you are a genius. Of course. No saviour ever spoke a truer word.” He gives a mockery of a bow. “I am reproved. You are far wiser than me.”
“Common sense,” Albus replies, crisply. “You don’t want to sound too tyrannical or nobody will buy into your ideology.”
“Common sense. Of course. You are better than me at that. Here I am, going on about saints and revolutions and whatever else.”
Albus leans against the base of a beech tree and unfurls a length of parchment and begins poring over it, quill tucked behind his ear. The shadows of leaves sway over the paper, shapes ghosting over the text.
“A journal article I’m writing for Transfiguration Today.” Albus’s explanation is a vague apology. “On the theory of Conjuration and Vanishment, and if there is a greater unseen thaumaturgical relationship between these two processes, if one affects the balance of the other, and the degree of effect, and if there is a possible formula to calculate and create a model for the thaumaturgical mathematics –”
“Albus, you are babbling.”
Albus laughs. “I apologise.”
“Can you not put your work away for one afternoon?” Gellert demands sullenly. Two days without seeing Albus, and Albus has hardly cared. In fact, he is more preoccupied than ever.
“I have a deadline,” Albus sighs. “I will be finished soon.”
An hour ticks slowly past, and Albus continues working. Gellert Disapparates, but Apparates back within five minutes with stolen fruit in his pocket. Albus does not reproach him, does not even lift his head to notice.
Gellert draws his wand and murmurs a hex at Albus – not a particularly injurious one – and the latter is caught off-guard, so absorbed had he been in his work. The carefully written essay and the sheaf of notes are shredded by Gellert’s spell. Albus leaps to his feet, blazing.
“At last I have netted your attention.” Gellert is triumphant.
“That was my work.”
In response, Gellert fires a Stunning Spell. Albus reacts with astonishing speed; a Shield Charm blossoms before him, and Gellert’s hex shatters, scarlet light splintering off into all directions, forcing him to dodge the shards of his own spell.
“What are you doing? There are plenty of Muggles in Godric’s Hollow!”
“Do not put your wand away! I am not finished with you yet!” Gellert strides toward Albus, until their noses are nearly touching, seizes the front of his robes, and hisses through his teeth. “You are glorious when you are uninhibited.”
He steps away as quickly as he had drawn near. Albus remains remarkably composed, much to Gellert’s disappointment. His plan had been to unnerve and distract Albus, to rupture through that sheen of irritating calm and bring him to his knees.
At first, they duel with practice strokes, gentle hexes, generally harmless spells. But Gellert becomes less and less sure when the boundaries of practice and play are breached, when he really begins duelling Albus in earnest.
Spells crackle from their wands, flaring with the vehement intents of their casters; missed curses dig into the bark of surrounding tree trunks, cratering into the ground, stripping leaves off overhanging branches. He has underestimated Albus – Albus, whom he always assumes to be brilliant, but with a brilliance limited to theory and to aspects of his intellect. Albus, constantly buried up to his nose in dreary texts, is someone he assumes follows the book and lives with little imagination. He had expected Albus’s movements to be starched, his reactions to be sluggish and overly practiced. True, they had had several other duels before, but those had been a series of playful scherzos, ending in affectionate truces and teasing.
How very wrong he has been.
Albus is a natural duellist; magic streams from his body organically. His eyes are the edge of a sharpened sickle, and his mouth tightened to a slash. All his spells are non-verbal; every breath is channelled into the energy of his curses rather than squandered away into sound. A Stunning Spell bursts from Albus’s wand, so fast that Gellert has no time to cast his own Shield Charm, and had he been any less agile, the curse would have punched him straight in the solar plexus and knocked him out of consciousness. He rolls to one side, dried leaves snagging in his hair, earth clotting in the folds of his garments. Desperation is jagged, twisting in his gut, and there is white-hot blindness beneath his eyelids. Never has he lost a serious duel. This cannot be the first time.
Without thinking, the spell leaves his wand, a deadly variety of a curse, colourless, its passage a lethal ripple turning the surrounding air pliable. He has used this spell before – not too long ago, in fact – on his former classmate at Durmstrang. Averin is the name of the unfortunate boy. Gellert had been testing the curse, which he came across in a restricted tome from the staff-only section of the school library. The effects of the spell and its potency had surprised him. Averin had been thrown up into the air, hung upside-down. He had shrieked and wet himself and clutched at his temples, and bit his tongue and lips and clawed at his cheeks. Blood seeped from his nostrils, and trickled the wrong way, staining his eyeballs. The very same evening, Hedlund, headmaster of Durmstrang, had summoned Gellert to his office, and he had been permanently dismissed.
Albus’s jaw drops open in surprise, the hard line of his mouth broken. Good.
But it is not the end. With a slice of Albus’s wand, a glittering counter-curse gouges its way through the space between them, and Gellert’s spell is cut into two, its furious energy dissipated. Gellert is thrown off his feet and the ground leaps to meet him, his body twisted against itself in an ungraceful sprawl of limbs.
Before the hot flashes of light in his skull can clear, Albus is already kneeling beside him, wand tip against his throat, his expression a mixture of disbelief and cold fury.
Gellert raises a hand and tries to crack a grin. Defeat is sour, spreading down his throat like poison. Such humiliation. “You have bested me. You are indeed a champion duellist. I am honoured to have lost to you.”
When Albus speaks, his voice is utterly devoid of sentiment, flat as a plain and incongruous with the rage radiating from his eyes. “What was that spell you used? More importantly, what were you intending with that spell?”
“It was not a fatal spell. You would only have been lightly injured had you been hit.”
“Don’t take me for a fool. Are we friends or have I misjudged us both?”
He must show remorse. How stupid had he been to use that spell? It was a slip of his temper. He cannot have Albus Dumbledore against him, especially not after such a humbling loss. “Forgive me; you were right. I lost control. I swear to you, I had no such intention to injure of maim you in any way. It was a vicious reflex on my part and for that I am truly sorry.”
Albus regards him suspiciously. “It’s something I fear will get you in trouble. Your knowledge of these malevolent spells, and while your intent, as you say, is not true, you have such little control over your impulses. Sometimes, I wonder if it is best that someone like you left such knowledge alone.”
Nobody chastises him in such a way – never! But instead of unleashing a furious retort, he apologises again and mutters, “Help me up.”
Albus spends another few minutes compressing him with cold scrutiny; a strange weight builds against his forehead, a warm sly pressure against his skull. He pushes back at the weight, blinks and clears his thoughts.
“Perhaps we should exercise a greater level of caution in the future.” Albus pauses, wand lowered at last. “There was a moment or two during the duel when I might have hit at you a little harder than intended. I must apologise as well. We ought not to let these practices get out of hand.”
Another truce, then. Gellert decides to press his luck. “We have both admitted guilt, but I have more to confess. I suppose our duel did get out of hand for a brief moment. But I still found it to be a most invigorating exercise. I feel we should make this a regular practice of ours. To push each other further, to better our magic, but also to prevent each other from crossing those boundaries that you hold so dear.”
Albus smirks. “Do you so savour the taste of defeat?”
Gellert scoffs and tries to rise, but a blunt pain axes into his side and he sits back down, hissing.
“You’ll have cracked a rib or two. My counter-spell was a lot stronger than necessary. Forgive me, but you did take me by surprise.”
The tip of Albus’s wand lightly touches Gellert’s shirt, and the pain disappears. He extends a hand to Gellert and who latches his fingers around Albus’s elbow and hoists himself up. Gellert does not let go, and they remain arm-locked for a few moments.
“You’re on your own feet now.” Albus jerks his head toward Gellert’s shoes. “You may let go of my elbow, as I believe it has fulfilled its purpose in assisting you.”
In response, Gellert digs his fingers deeper into Albus’s arm, feeling the muscle clench around his hand. He brings himself as close as he can to Albus, still gripping his arm, without their faces touching.
“I am unsure about something. I feel – that there is something you want from me, but which neither of us have acknowledged.” He is whispering now, out of necessity, because they are so near each other. Albus’s eyes are wide, suspended between bewilderment and comprehension of his own feelings, and of the confirmation that Gellert is offering him.
“Well? Am I close to guessing, Albus?” Gellert asks, and from the look on Albus’s face, he knows that he is not close at all; he is completely right. “Is this something that you want?”
“There are standards that we live by,” Albus says carefully. “Think about what you’re doing, what you’re implying.”
“Standards! Boundaries! Prohibitions and inhibitions of all kind! Always so cautious, Albus! Learn to feel less guilt! But all this has nothing to do with the question I asked you. Am I right?”
He waits for the denial. There is none. So he leans forward – Albus seems rooted to the ground – and angles his head slightly so he can get around their noses, until their lips are grazing each other’s and their breaths are stirring together. Contact is clunky, broken, but they try again, this absurd but exhilarating violation of each other’s thresholds. Their necks lean into awkward positions, their bodies wary but listless, and all the while, Gellert is intensely aware of Albus’s physical presence. Albus is no longer simply an analogue to Gellert, a correspondent, a reciprocator of philosophies, stories, friendship and other immaterial concepts, but flesh and blood, exhaled heat and slamming pulse.
“If either of us are wrong,” he says against Albus’s lips, “Then we know what to do, do we not? How to stop each other?”
When they pull away, Albus looks troubled.
“Who is to see any of this?” Gellert laughs, a warmth rising from deep within his body, nearly lifting him off his feet. “You are my dearest friend, always. We are equals. There is much for us to learn from each other, as you always say so, but no matter, because we have patience, do we not? And we have time, all the time in the world. We will achieve great things together, you and I. We will revolutionise the way we use magic. We will change everything.”
There is one defeat between them, but he is certain that they are even.
* * *
The village of Godric’s Hollow is a stranger to the figure shambling down the main road. Night has fallen; the shops on the main street are shuttered and the silence is dense. This desolate village is small, but in the darkness, it gathers the deception of space, shadows stretching free of their buildings, curving around corners and blotting out boundaries. The village unfolds like the hidden compartments of a snake’s mouth, unhooking to swallow things far larger than itself.
The visitor is hardly more than a boy, having come of age several months ago, but fixed into his features is the bitterness of his forebears, and the lingering youth of his face has been warped into an expression of great petulance. One of his legs is a good two inches shorter than the other, a peculiarity passed down the generations. His arms are unnaturally long, almost reaching to his knee, dragging his shoulders downward in an apish hunch.
The visitor’s name is Marvolo Gaunt, of the ancient but dwindling House of Gaunt, directly descended from the legendary Peverells, and from one of the Founders of Hogwarts, Salazar Slytherin. The quaint shops, the waning lights of the cottages in the distance, and the rustic atmosphere of the village elicit his derision. His own dwelling is little more than a hovel in the grounds of a larger mansion belonging to a family of despised Muggles, but in all truth, Gaunt lives not in his dilapidated lodgings, but in the grand halls of his ancestors, now squandered away along with the rest of the family wealth. Marvolo Gaunt is a pauper.
He turns away from the main street. The houses, he decides, must be Muggle. No self-respecting wizard would live in such squalor. This mysterious Thimble person must be a Mudblood, undoubtedly.
There had been no designated meeting place, no address, merely an infuriating loop of writing: Godric’s Hollow. I will find you when you arrive.
Marvolo Gaunt sways on his feet, kicking the ground churlishly as he walks. A pulse is flapping in his temples, a result of the Firewhiskey, making him more ill-tempered than usual. Yet he is curious, a furnace of greed having been stoked up by the mysterious letter-writer. Thimble had made mention of more than one artefact. What are they? Treasures, heirlooms, relics of magic gathering value over the years, presumably from the honourable Peverells, and therefore rightfully the possessions of the Gaunts.
Ha! All the other wizarding families, proliferating like vermin, yet tainted with the filth of Muggle blood, all of them are nothing before the House of Gaunt.
Hallows, one of the letters had mentioned.
But the letters. The letters are strange. They had sounded official at first, but there hadn’t been any stamp of authority on them, no bearing of the Ministry, and as he became more suspicious, they adopted a more persuasive tone, a more personal touch.
Then finally, the last letter and the breaking open of all the lies. He, Marvolo Gaunt, consorting with a black market dealer to buy back what is rightfully his! He will show that scoundrel, Thimble! He will claim what belongs to the Gaunts, everything that the world, corrupt as it is, has robbed from the House of Gaunt.
He draws his wand, but his other hand is rolled into a fist inside the pocket of his grubby waistcoat. He can feel the warm metal band squeezed between his fingers, the large gemstone set on the ring depressing its angles into the bones of his hands. Its solidity is a comfort.
Marvolo Gaunt, drunk and eager, awaits the arrival of a liar, clinging onto words written by a ghost.
Fun fact: Gerard Sagredo was a Benedictine monk from Venice (23 April 980 – 24 September 1046) who played a role in converting Hungary to Christianity. In Hungary, he is known as Szent Gellért. He was martyred in 1046 (put in a cart and pushed off a hill, now known as Gellert Hill). In 1083, he was canonised as a saint and is one of the patron saints of Hungary.
Also, um, hi. *hides* I know this is a way way way overdue update, and I'm so sorry for not posting this chapter earlier. I have just finished editing it today...and so here it is.
I have a confession to make: The Deathly Children is actually complete; well, it needs a whole lot of editing, but I finished writing the rest of the story during NaNo last year...and after that, never bothered to post it up. I know, I know, I'm awful and lazy and terrible. I BLAME RL.
A huge thank you to Laura/Aphoride, for all her support, and for piling all the guilt on me and forcing me to update, and for sharing my love of all things Grindeldore! Laura, we should totally do the Grindeldore drinking game. FOR REAL. ❤ Everyone else, go read Laura's amazing Grindeldore stories, especially L'optimisme!
Thank you, everyone, for reading and reviewing! I'll not let such a long period of time go by before I put up the next chapter.
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