LET PERPETUAL LIGHT
Chapter Seven: In Resurrection
Chapter Seven: In Resurrection
September 12th, 1946
Your pardon: I cannot seem to leave you in peace.
What if I apologised for the tone of my past letters? This is new; I have never apologised to you over such a trivial offence – do you even take offence, Albus? I have wished you dead; I have tried to kill you and take from you everything you hold dear, infect you with my bitterness – not that I needed to, of course. I have ripped through the roots of the world and sown my poison, and that poison is named after you. I have never apologised for any of those deeds, and somehow I know you understand. You cast me into this cell, after all, instead of delivering me in the name of justice, to the world that I have ruined.
Furthermore, you allow me access to quill and parchment, so perhaps you do expect me to write to you.
We wrote to each other that whole summer, and we barely lived ten paces away from each other; I’d never written letters so fervently before, not even to my mother, whom I haven’t seen since that same year we parted ways in less than cordial terms. I visited her after I returned to the Continent, and after that never again.
That summer – I brought you to places in your own village which you’d never seen. I lavished you with stolen sweets and fruit. I turned the place inside out and brought out the glittering core in you and your stuffy little town. I always told you that you read too many books, and that all theory and no practice would make your mind go flabby. You laughed. You always thought I had a delightful sense of humour. That summer I held you or we held each other; we found places to hold each other in your house, in old Bathilda Bagshot’s house, in the woods, in the cemetery, at the feet of your dead mother, turning to earth. I remember the moment you stopped caring, when all the guilt leached out of you, and I looked at you and your eyes were clear and absolute. I remember you pushed me against a beech trunk and caught me by surprise. You were always one action strung into place by another; to me, you were always a brilliant sequence, a charming formula, but a formula, nevertheless. I thought I could predict you. But that day, you abandoned all the choreographed logic of your mind, as you snapped the buttons off my shirt and pinned me against the tree (you nearly suffocated me with the clumsy desperation of your fingers), as you took me. You always seemed so docile, sometimes so distant, lost in your own suffering that I was not able to comprehend.
You thought I was selfish. Were we both not? I bit you hard on your shoulder, just to see if I could. I could. We wrestled. We had a truce.
Why taunt you with all this? But it is this or the alternative.
Does it surprise you that I am going mad? In this cell where you keep your shame, I dream shapeless dreams; I hear voiceless things speak. Shadows on the wall, movements in glass. At night it is pitch dark and there are no boundaries in the darkness. The dimensions collapse into each other and I lie there, not able to hear the sound of my own godforsaken breathing. Sometimes, I think I see three women. One of them is my mother as I last saw her in the village, holding out a glass, asking me to drink, and I do, and the drink is that vile creamed tea you used to sip at Bathilda’s house. Sometimes I see an old hag. It could be that great-aunt of mine, except I heard that she’s still hale and hearty back in Godric’s Hollow. Sometimes, someone else. I’m becoming as mad as your sister.
Your sister. Your poor insane sister, whom you incarcerated. Ashamed of her as you are of me now, aren’t you? Isn’t she quite the mystery? Nobody knew about her, not even nosy old Bathilda. Magically-impaired, Squib, delicate constitution.
The fact remains that your sister is a marvel. Every cell in her thrums with power, with untapped potential – the very kind of magic that you and I have talked so much about. The new magic, the old magics, the unbridled power of her blood. We were going to bring our kind out of hiding, remember? You had such power within your grasp all this while and what do you do – you lock it up! Little Ariana sitting in the roof of your house!
Madness is confinement, and you know this. You know this! What else am I doing in this cell, you ungrateful, cowardly bastard!
So much for my apology. Forgiveness be damned.
Madness blights everyone you’ve ever associated with. Your father went mad at the hands of Dementors, your sister was mad, and her madness killed your mother. As for your goatherd brother, I have nothing to say about him.
Who killed Ariana Dumbledore? She did not always have death in her veins. Was it just an errant curse, or was it a curse in her blood, or did she die tormented in a prison made by others?
* * *
“There are things Kendra Dumbledore never taught you,” says the Tall Woman. “She knows pitifully little, for there is only so much that one can glean from dusty old books filled with ancient uncertainties.”
Ariana is sitting on one side of a trestle table, its surface spiralled with rough wood grain. On the opposite side are the three witches: the Crone, the Tall Woman, and Glass Girl. Four bowls of soup are cooling before each of them.
Everything is laid out like a scene plucked from the story she overheard a little while ago: Albus and Gellert Grindelwald were talking in Albus’s bedroom and she was lying on the attic floor above them, listening. The walls and floors carried all their conversations to her.
Ariana is having supper with the three witches, just like in the story, Gellert’s story. Albus has told her a different version before, supposedly also about these mysterious Hallows. Once upon a time, there were three brothers who built a bridge and cheated Death, and so Death rewarded them for cheating…
Gellert’s tale is better.
Grindelwald will take Albus away. She has heard their grand plans, the way Gellert speaks of the Continent with all his lurid exaggeration, the way he evokes alien cities, set upon hills like crowns. Rivers sharp as knives, cutting their way through buildings, and the spidery bridges that arch over them. Sprawling cathedrals, boats gliding over canals, domes and steeples and plazas, scrubbed fortress cities thousands of years old and completely magical, never before seen by Muggle eye. Magic, purity, power, saints. The Hallows, the Hallows, the Hallows.
She has seen the signs they have traced on the insides of their wrists: triangle, stone, line. Once, she saw Albus press his mouth to the symbol on Gellert Grindelwald’s wrist, and Gellert’s hand tearing into her brother’s scalp, clenching a fistful of his hair.
“Finish your soup or it will get cold,” says the Tall Woman sternly.
Ariana spoons soup into her mouth and tastes nothing. There is nothing on the spoon after all. There isn’t even a spoon that she is holding, or a trestle table to hold her soup. She is sitting in the middle of her bedroom, on the floor, her legs curled into a cramp under her.
“Remember, my child?” the Crone rattles, and she remembers the Muggle boys setting her on fire.
When the table reappears, complete with the soup, she sends her bowl spinning off the ledge. Liquid steams into the air and disappears. The earthen flavour of the soup fills her nostrils and scalds her mouth.
“Dear, dear,” sighs the Crone. “I wish you would listen to us sometimes.”
“How is your writing coming along?” the Tall Woman cuts in.
These days, she writes almost as much as Albus writes; he would be proud if he knew, if he saw her. She no longer carves indecipherable signs into the floors and walls with her nails; she can write beautifully. She can craft letters, long, long letters. Perhaps not as long as Albus’s letters to Gellert. Sometimes she intercepts his letters, whistling tunelessly at Pythagoras as it flies past her attic window, and when the owl wheels around and stops at her ledge, she snatches the paper from its indignant claws. Dear Gellert, Dear Gellert, Dear Gellert. Or sometimes they begin like this: Gellert, I’ve thought of something most marvellous, and you must hear this. I must tell you in person. When shall we meet next?
She has to swallow her jealousy down.
Glass Girl knocks her spoon on the table, drumming a rude little rhythm. In Ariana’s own hand is her spoon, no not a spoon, - silly, silly! – but a cluster of scrolls. How long had she sat on the floor of her bedroom writing? It hadn’t really been her writing all that time (or had it?) – perhaps it was the Tall Woman who bowed over her, who reached out one giant emaciated hand, and closed it over Ariana’s. Her touch was rough and damp like decaying tree bark. Her knuckles were pointed ulcers. The Tall Woman guided Ariana’s hand, forming the letters, pulling the strings in Ariana’s fingers. Her quill spelt out neat words. The ink did not smudge. The handwriting did not belong to Ariana.
“All letters need to be signed by a name,” said the Tall Woman, when they had reached the end of the first letter she had written.
Ariana thought of Albus’s bookshelves and all the books there. She looked down at her fingers and absently sucked on the old wounds and puncture marks, where she had pricked herself over and over with the needle she carried. Didn’t Kendra use to have a shiny thimble somewhere in her sewing box?
“Thimble it is,” said the Tall Woman, and she piloted Ariana’s hand along the course of an elegant, corkscrewing signature. Over time, Thimble’s signature deteriorated as the Tall Woman grew less and less interested in helping her.
But now the Tall Woman appears to have regained some measure of interest in Ariana’s writing. She surveys the rest of Ariana’s letters disapprovingly, as though checking a student’s homework. Ariana has never been to school.
“Your work is sloppy. Your writing has grown wild. You are impolite and indecent. Is this how you address a gentleman?”
“He’s a madman,” Ariana says, sulkily. Glass Girl clangs her bowl. “And the old woman is a bore. She used to talk to Mother about me as though I’m one of her precious, fragile books. Besides, she hasn’t got any further information to offer. I don’t want to write anymore.”
“You must work for the things you want,” the Tall Woman replies coldly.
“I know what it is I need. I know enough.”
“And what do you know?”
“The Hallows,” Ariana replies, smiling. “I’ve heard my brother and his friend. I’ve seen them draw symbols on parchment, sign their letters off with it.”
She traces the mark on the back of her own hand. Her fingertip leaves a glinting trail through the fine pale hairs. When she blinks, the mark disappears.
“Gellert Grindelwald says this sign does not mean Death. It means salvation.”
“Salvation for them. Death for you.”
The Tall Woman begins to grow, uncoiling her spine to reach her full height. Her gigantic spindle-shape hovers above Ariana, the folds of her robes engulfing the supper table along with the Crone and Glass Girl still sitting there idly, and her sleeves and skirt grow shapeless with width. She hovers crow-like above Ariana, her neck curved forward like a beak. For a moment Ariana panics, thinking that the Tall Woman is going to make her disappear, punish her for not writing properly.
Death for her. Salvation for the boys, and a reprehensible death for her. But nothing else happens.
“Who are all of you?” she asks at last. All the years she has been seeing them, ever since the burning, but she has never had the courage to ask. The question, along with any desire to know, dies as soon as it reaches her lips.
“If you come with us,” comes the reply, and the Tall Woman’s voice is tripled, different tones and pitches aligned into a skeletal chorus, “You will know the answer.”
Ariana takes a step back and her heel crushes something. A small glass vial is broken beneath her foot. She is standing on a tray, which Albus had brought to her room not too long ago. The shattered vial contains her undrunk medicine, which melts into a stain on the floorboards. How many days has she gone without her potion? She forgets to count, and so does Albus. Aberforth, forgetful and trusting of her as he is, wouldn’t know, either.
“We are very old, Ariana,” says the Tall Woman in that disconcerting tripled voice of hers. “Much older than you can imagine. And yet we came to you all those years ago in your agony when you called to us. We came to you but you would not come with us. Instead, you bound us to your blood and have never released us, choosing instead to live a life on the threshold of death. And now you seek your brother’s irrational dreams, believing that you can overpower your fate.”
“I must work for the things I want,” Ariana says, serenely, picking glass off her heel. “You told me just a few minutes ago. I remember. And I have told you, I know what to do now. I want the Deathly Hallows. If you are bound, then you are bound.”
When she looks up to gloat at the Tall Woman, there is nobody there in the room.
* * *
At night, the copse of beech trees, frequented by Albus and Gellert during the day, exudes a sense of composure. The sky tangles among the dark masses of leaves and the ground is patched with moonlight.
“I would apologise for the inconvenience of having us meet here,” Gellert says, and his voice is quiet, urged into peace by the benign equilibrium beneath the trees. “But I know us both, and we are both tired of writing letters, and slipping through walls and surreptitiously Apparating into each other’s rooms and circling ourselves with anti-detection Charms. Secrecy is such a tedious affair.”
Gellert’s hair and clothes are ruffled and he is standing with his hands in his pockets. This exhibition of pensiveness is new. Then he looks up and smiles, and Albus feels a tightness in his stomach: desire, affection, and an unruly joy because this is Gellert, who one day appeared out of nowhere and laid claim to Albus’s whole life.
“I have established a number of wards around the house as a cautionary measure. Neither Ariana nor Aberforth will be able to cross the threshold of the house, and only I am able to lift them. Nevertheless, I can’t stay out long.”
Albus turns away from Gellert, and walks through the trees, stepping over roots and avoiding low branches, guided by wandlight. He has no desire to stay still, not while he is out here, beyond the reach of his home, chained into place by his careful spells.
Gellert follows behind. “I am glad this summer is nearly ending. The heat of this country of yours is unspeakable.”
The petulance in his voice draws a smile from Albus. “I believe I do detect an extra freckle on your neck. My apologies on behalf of this country of mine, for the climatic atrocities it visits upon your Continental constitution.”
In response, Gellert picks a handful of twigs and leaves from the ground and hurls it at him. He dodges with ease.
“You keep your freckles and your country with all its slimy heat!” Gellert jeers.
They continue walking apart, occasionally kicking debris off the ground at each other. Gellert runs the back of his hand across his forehead, swabbing at the perspiration. “When I was in Durmstrang, I returned home to see my mother every summer, but never during the winter holidays. I let my mother celebrate the yuletide season by herself with her cathedrals and her carols and her sculpted saints. Once, I crossed into the Arctic Circle, employing Charms to keep myself warm, into Svalbard. I suppose I felt proud in my reclusiveness, a hermit who thought himself superior because he dismissed the world as a stupid, infantile place. There was no daylight in Svalbard. At first, I could not tolerate that; it was worse than the cold, and then I became used to the whirling snow and the dimness of the blank world.”
“Gellert Grindelwald, the hermit of the Arctic?” Albus says, incredulously. “I thought that you would have preferred the excitement of the great cities of the Continent.”
“Sometimes I did venture into some of them. There was a barge sailing down the Danube one winter and I boarded it when it passed through Esztergom. The river was stiff with sheets of broken ice and the hull of the boat grated its way along and I saw all the marvellous cities: Budapest and Vukovar and Belgrade and I went as far as Silistra before I became bored and found my way back to school.” Gellert stops suddenly and turns to Albus. “We will visit all the cities of the Continent together. We are going to, are we not? You have decided?”
Albus ignores the question. “Ariana has hardly ever left the house. Isn’t it strange, at least for you to think, that there is someone who is even less familiar with Godric’s Hollow than I am? Her home is a stranger to her.”
“Forget about your family for a few minutes and answer me.”
They have emerged from the cover of trees and are picking their way over a rotting fence, into an abandoned farm. A derelict barn with holes torn in the roof and a door warped off its hinges hulks before them. Rusted remains of ploughs and scythes and other farming implements litter the floor of the barn, catching splinters of moonlight. They pass through the farmyard and continue aimlessly across the fields.
“Beech trees are deciduous, and the green pigment, once drawn out of their leaves and treated with a complex application of spells and potions additives, is occasionally used as an ingredient in alchemical formulae.”
“Are we playing one of your stupid games again?”
“Are we, Gellert? I can tell you that Aberforth despises chess; his favourite game is draughts. We used to have a game every evening. The ratio of his victories to mine is 4:5, though most of his triumphs are due to my generosity. He will never admit this, naturally.”
Gellert yanks at the back of Albus’s collar and the latter gives a surprised yell. Albus is laughing, even as he stumbles backward against his friend.
“Keep mocking me and I will make you dance again,” Gellert says, lazily. “You remember?”
Tarantallegra, Gellert had hexed him teasingly all those weeks ago. Albus gives Gellert a hard shove and he stumbles, his usually nimble legs catching on overgrown tufts of dry grass, before falling. Albus drops down to the ground beside him. After a moment’s hesitation, he lowers his head gingerly against the earth. In the sky, pleats of cloud shift, tissue-thin and wanly lit.
“When Aberforth leaves for Hogwarts in September, we, too, shall make a departure of our own. We will leave Godric’s Hollow together,” Albus says, slowly at first, and then the words tumbling out, eager to be bound in promise. “Ariana will come with us. We will have to make arrangements for her.”
“Yes!” Gellert’s eyes are agleam. “Bring her along! I do not have a sister or any other sibling. But perhaps we are looking at your sister the wrong way. Is she not a person like one of us? She has retreated deep into herself; perhaps if we were to introduce her to a world beyond that suffocating atmosphere of your house, she can be cajoled out of her own self-made prison. I am certain that a little adventure will do her health good.”
“She’s far too frail for too much excitement.”
“She is stronger than you can imagine. You are treating her like a baby. I wonder how she feels about your condescending attitude toward her.” He frowns. “Her condition: you have told me so little about it. Until I saw with my own eyes, I have always been under the impression that she could not perform magic, that the childhood incident she experienced caused her magic to stall, and her to consciously shun it, until it withered away completely.”
“Now you know that I have been evasive. Ariana is magical; there is no mistake about this. But her magic is unbalanced, explosive, and will not be subdued. Detrimental both to her and to those near her. I never knew how exactly our mother died, but it can’t have been anything else but a result of a particularly violent episode. Somehow, Ariana destroyed a section of our sitting room, brought down a wall over our mother. I suppose that is how she died.”
Gellert rolls over closer to Albus and all of a sudden his face is an inch away, the angles of his cheekbones and jaw coming harshly into focus. The nearness of Gellert makes the rest of the world behind him recede into distortion, into an existential haze. Gellert kisses him and they fumble at each other, snapping at buttons, clenching at fabric, pulling at waistbands. Their mouths and hands are rough on each other; their teeth knock. When he shuts his eyes out of a dare, his thoughts grow blind, directionless, unravelling beneath Gellert’s touch and there is breath on his eyelids. His mouth is full of the salt of Gellert’s skin; Gellert’s skin is hot and alive in his mouth, and for a moment, the heat distracts Albus, sends a single word spinning across his thoughts, resurrected from recent conversation. What was it? Svalbard. In a distant land to the north, over cold seas – Svalbard. A continent flaking away, the sea knifing through the flanks of ice in fjords. He can almost hear the crunch and the grind of glaciers, the wind heaving drifts of snow in from the sea.
“Imagine all the powerat our disposal once we unite the Hallows,” Gellert murmurs.
“All the possibility,” Albus corrects.
“The power to liberate our kind and bring down the draconian Statute.”
“The possibility to unite all worlds for the sake of equality.”
“The power to find, no – to create a cure for your sister.”
“Not a cure,” says Albus. “The Resurrection Stone. Imagine if we could freely cross the threshold between life and death, if we could break down that final division. I could bring my parents back. For Ariana, I could do that.”
“See? You are unselfish after all!” Gellert laughs. “Have faith in yourself, for the world awaits our revolution.”
“But until that happens, Ariana will always be a risk unto herself, I’m afraid.”
“And I am prepared to accept any risk in exchange for your company and your affections,” Gellert breathes into the side of Albus’s throat, half an inch below his humming pulse. “So you have decided, at long last. I am glad, Albus, so very glad. Let us seal this pact.”
* * *
Pythagoras swoops down toward the window of the Dumbledores’ attic. Two dry biscuits are waiting on the ledge, along with a pickled toad filched from Albus’s potions supplies. The curtains are drawn, but they part at the sound of beak against glass.
Ariana unties the message from the owl’s foot and reads it vaguely.
Thimble, I am here.
“So the madman has arrived, at last.” She turns around and announces to her empty bedroom. “As I told all of you, I know what to do. You will see.”
She reaches under her bed and her hand closes on a book. The Living Bloodlines of Ancient Britain by Callisthenes Copperfield. A rare manuscript, supposedly, from Bathilda’s private collection. On one of the pages, the names Gaunt and Peverell have been ringed in ink so deeply that the quillpoint has perforated the thin paper in several places. She tears out that page and over the crowded text, writes a note in her illegible and ungraceful handwriting: Wait for me. I’ll find you. She binds it to the owl’s claw and sends it out through the night like a herald.
Then she goes downstairs. Albus has gone out. But Aberforth is in his room. She can hear the creaking of his snores, the brokenness of his sleep.
Aberforth is sprawled across his bed, shirtless, one arm hanging off the side. He looks softer and less sturdy in his sleep. His uncut hair covers half his face. Ariana resists the urge to kiss him on the temples, like how he kisses her sometimes. No, he will awaken and everything will be ruined. Her eyes sweep across the bedroom until she spies the handle of his wand sticking out of the pocket of his breeches, slung by the suspenders from a hook on the wall.
There had been a couple of times when she had deliberately broken Kendra’s wands, but never has she used one as an instrument, or an extension of herself. Just like how her brothers would use theirs. Aberforth’s wand is stubborn in her hand. It does not belong to her and it can sense that she has no business fiddling about with it.
A little sacrifice will help, perhaps.
Once again, she unpicks the needle from the hem of her dress and punctures her palm. Blood wells and flows along the channel of her lifeline. She touches the tip of Aberforth’s wand into the tiny gully of blood and the wood seems to lap up the liquid like a cat’s tongue, until nothing remains, save the soreness of the needle wound.
Aberforth’s wand feels supple now, with a will like the most pliable wood in the world.
Ariana makes her way to the front door. A network of delicate wards has been woven around the perimeter of the house; she recognises the signature of Albus’s magic. Thin strings of air tug and catch against her dress and hair like spiderwebs, and the threshold of the house seems to slip just out of reach every time she takes a step forward.
It amuses her for a little while, and when she tires of the game, the wards lift like folds of gossamer fabric, allowing her to pass before gently dropping back into place once she steps outside.
Beyond the garden, a world of hedgerows and narrow cottages dilates before her. Light rises from within her blood, swelling out to the point of the wand, though she utters no incantations.
When she hears an uneven shuffle of footsteps, she lifts the light and sees the approaching silhouette of a man dressed in long robes. His arms drag at his sides, heavy and much too long and his gait is uneven, hinged on knees that do not straighten. He curses as the light strikes his face. His chin juts beyond the frame of his upper jaw. He isn’t much older than Albus.
“You are Thimble.” There is an accusation in the man’s voice. “Get the light out of my eyes.”
It is one thing to meet a stranger in quill and ink, and Ariana almost enjoys receiving his half-lettered rage. But it is a completely different experience to receive the company of this same stranger in the flesh: in all his uneven, chaotic and all too tangible dimensions. She bites her lip and clenches her fist for some instinctual spell that might offer her a last, desperate measure of protection.
Marvolo Gaunt draws his own wand and splutters out an incantation for light. “You’re a girl. Where is he-- Thimble? He has something that rightfully belongs to me. A relic of the Peverells." His snarl tightens. "I am the House of Gaunt, the living embodiment of the ancient Slytherin and the Peverells, of the establishment of magic itself.”
He lurches toward her and she steps back out of impulse, rather than alarm. He can’t be more than seventeen or eighteen, but he smells decrepit. The heat of his breath is strong, medicinal.
“Where is the Stone you spoke so fervently of in your letters?”
Gaunt’s eyes narrow. “You were the letter-writer? What have you done? You dare – a girl like you? You are a Mudblood, are you not? What have you called me out here for?”
She wills herself to speak. “The artefact belonging to the Peverells: it’s a wand. The most powerful wand in the world, they say. Haven’t you heard of it?”
“I have heard of it: the Deathstick! It belongs to the Peverells? Then it’s mine! Where is it?”
“Show me this precious Stone that you claim to have.”
“I see you now, cheat and swindler. You are not worthy to touch such a sacred artefact!”
“I want to see it,” she says, trying to ignore the childish demand roiling just beneath the surface calm of her voice. “It is patently clear that you don’t know what exactly it is, and what it is capable of. You don’t know the legends, I suppose? Isn’t it odd, Mr Gaunt, that you brag so extensively on your famous forebears, the Peverells, yet truly know so little about them?”
Gaunt raises his left arm, turns the back of his hand to face her. His third finger is encircled by a band of thick dull gold, and mounted upon it is a black stone – not circular like Albus and Gellert’s sketches, but pyramidal, tapering like a symmetrical bud waiting to crack open. Even in the shadows she can see the sheen of its polished planes.
“The Deathstick,” Gaunt snarls. “What do you know about it, and where is it?”
She raises Aberforth’s wand, still lit.
Gaunt’s eyes widen. “Do you take me for a fool, girl?”
At this moment, she does not know how to feel fear, so she laughs. “You are right; I do know where it is, and I also know that it indeed should be yours, but still you shall not have it.”
Marvolo Gaunt bounds forward in a rage, ignoring the wand, and seizes her by the collar of her dress. His stinging-sweet breath gusts over her. A fleck of his spit strikes her eye. His nearness, his smell, his contempt, fills her with revulsion. A screech escapes from her throat, the only sound she can make, and magic swells out of her like an open wound. It conducts itself through the channel of her body, overriding both body and her intent, directing itself along the pathway of Aberforth’s wand, threaded with her own blood. The spell surges through her sealed mouth and her wordless thoughts. Her fingers go numb. The wand, veined with blood, burns in her hands. Gaunt is thrown to the ground, and he remains facedown, breathing dirt. His left arm is flung toward her, the ring gleaming on his finger.
As though in a dream, she drifts forward, and pulls it off from where it is beached against his thick knuckle.
“What you are about to do, and which you are about to achieve, is futile,” someone says.
The Crone, the Tall Woman and Glass Girl have returned and are standing two paces away, unmoving. Glass Girl is between the other two, one arm linked through the Crone’s arm, and the other clutching at the Tall Witch’s shadowy robes.
“How do I use this?” Ariana beseeches. “This is the same stone from the story. I know it.”
“The Grindelwald boy’s tale?” sneers the Tall Woman. “Have you grown to trust him after all? You become more arrogant and less wise with each passing day.”
“You turn it three times, my dear,” says the Crone. “I ought to know. I was in those very stories, though perhaps they aren’t the best representations of us.”
Ariana turns it. The light from Aberforth’s wand flickers. She sees the shadows first: branched shadows, growing across the ground, turned elastic by the light. When she turns, two figures stand before her. Ariana’s pulse leaps when she recognises Kendra Dumbledore in her black robes with that familiar knife-like crinkle between her heavy brows. The other person is someone almost completely unfamiliar: her father, Percival Dumbledore, whom she has not seen since the Ministry hauled him off to Azkaban, to fester and become insane under the influence of the Dementors.
They stare at her with pinched expressions, their eyes grasping for understanding. The way their hands flag at their sides as though they are counterweights, locking their bodies into position, makes Ariana uneasy. So placid they are, so silent, so upright, yet their eyes are wide open. They remind her of one of those peculiar post-mortem photographs Bathilda had shown Albus one day. Bathilda left the pictures behind and Ariana found them when she was idly going through Albus’s belongings.
All the subjects in the pictures had been dressed in satin dresses with puffed crinoline skirts and frilly bonnets and smart waistcoats and top hats, bedecked with finery. They were seated with their heads drooping and flowers brimming on their lap, made to look like they were asleep, but in truth, they were all dead. There was a picture of a girl no older than Ariana; her hair had been curled into ringlets and the dress she was wearing was monochrome and demure, and she had been arranged on a divan, but with her head tilted on an armrest at such an angle that her eyelids fell back. She gazed at the camera with a smile and a hint of a dream in her wide-open eyes. She too, was dead.
The fabled Resurrection Stone has brought back Kendra and Percival, yet it has not stopped them being dead in any way. So this is a Hallow, a cruel trick, a hollow promise. Ariana lashes away the hot sting of tears with the back of her hand.
Kendra’s mouth moves. “Ariana. My daughter.”
“Mother,” Ariana says, cracking the words from her throat, dry as paper. “You’re not really here, are you? If only Albus could see you, then he would know. Albus wants you back. So do I. He’s running off with Gellert Grindelwald. Aberforth is unhappy as well– I think I’ve made them all unhappy.”
“Ariana. My daughter.” Kendra’s voice whirrs like clockwork. She tries to move her mouth in a different direction. Her thin lips are a seam, splitting with strain. Recognition is bleeding out of her eyes, bit by bit.
“Don’t you remember me?” Ariana presses. She turns to Percival. “Father? It’s me.”
The shade of Percival Dumbledore turns to her, haggard, thin as a rail, clad in the rags of what must be an Azkaban inmate’s uniform.
“Ariana,” he rasps. “Ariana, my child. I went to Azkaban for you.”
Ariana, Ariana, Ariana, is all Kendra and Percival say, murmuring her name over and over again, their capacity for speech left behind in whatever realm of the dead the Stone had extracted them from. She goes to Kendra – Percival is all but a stranger to her – and reaches for her mother’s hand. As expected, her hand is cold and unreactive. She cannot bear the touch of her mother, so instead she crouches at Kendra’s waist and clutches her mother’s robes and shuts her eyes. The material is soft and rotten; she can feel the fabric coming apart between her fingers. The summer night has turned cold. Her parents’ voices are muted and indistinguishable from each other.
“Now you know,” someone utters, harshly. Ariana opens her eyes.
The Crone, the Tall Woman and Glass Girl are still standing there, watching the scene.
“Now you can see for yourself,” says the Tall Witch again.
“That they don’t belong here?”
“That you belong with them.” The Tall Witch gestures dismissively at Kendra and Percival. “Send them back.”
“Turn the Stone, child,” the Crone adds.
Ariana steps back from her parents to look at them properly. She tries to commit them to memory, every detail of their faces, their lacklustre complexions, their wooden forms and blinking eyes and mouths twitching with words they have forgotten to say. Kendra’s head dips in a very slight nod, as though acknowledging what Ariana is about to do. Send us back, Kendra seems to be pleading through her eyes. Send us back. You and your brothers are nobody to us any longer.
In her mind, Ariana frames them like a portrait. Then she turns the Stone in her hand, three times the other way, just in case. Her parents vanish.
“It is best to put things back to where they belong, little Ariana,” says the Crone.
“Put the ring back on the man’s finger. Tomorrow he will forget,” adds the Tall Woman.
“We can help him forget. He will wake up in the morning in this ditch, suspecting nothing more than a drunken experience.”
“I want to keep it.”
“It isn’t for you,” says the Tall Witch.
“I’ll not keep it, then. I’ll give it to Albus.”
“Your brother can find it on his own one day. Your paths do not intersect any longer.”
Someone picks her off the ground and closes an arm around her elbow, leading her along. Ariana turns to see who is steering her and stares right into Glass Girl’s blind sockets.
“My sister,” says Glass Girl, and her voice is calm like a mirror of water. Ariana has never heard her speak before. The effect is disconcerting. “My sister, I know your wounds. I know the crush and the burn of magic in your blood. All the stories that you have heard turn away from you; they are answers for other seekers. Who and what was I in them? A water-witch? A girl with no age? A peddler of invisibility? I am and am not, at the same time, and you have found me. In your speechlessness and your invisibility, you are far wiser than your brother and his friend. You suffer, but that is the price of life, and in all truth, your pain is inessential and aimless.”
“There is no victory in cheating Death, for all life is the property of Death,” says the Crone, gently.
Numbly, Ariana follows as Glass Girl leads her to Marvolo Gaunt’s prone body. She takes the ring with the Hallow on it and with more force than necessary, crams it over Marvolo’s thumb. He will have a hard time removing it tomorrow.
Glass Girl does not let her go. “Now, my sister, follow us.”
A/N: So I've officially changed the title of the story, from The Deathly Children to the current one. This current title is a partial quote of the prayer for the dead. I felt that the old title didn't fit the story any longer.
This chapter is dedicated to the wonderful Dan/CambAngst, for all his wonderful support throughout this fic, and for reviewing so consistently. Thank you, Dan; this really means a lot to me. :)
Thank you, everyone, for reading.
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