“Naught shall avail him that he should not fall, fall shamed, an intolerable fall. For he himself against himself prepares a foe, a portent irresistible, devising fire to outflash the lightning-fire, and might sound the thunder to outroar, and shattering old Neptune’s trident spear; that oceanic plague which shake the earth. Yes, stricken by this evil, Jove shall learn what difference lies between a king and slave.”
August 1, 1899
“Please, Master Flamel, please!” Dumbledore held the broken body of Ariana in his arms. He was a handsome young man, barely come of age, and surrounded by the aura of prophecy so blindingly bright that even the least sensitive of minor seers would have noticed. “She is still alive, I feel it! Give her a taste of the Elixir. Please! You’ll have my undying loyalty. Everything I can ever give you. Anything. Everything. It’s yours! Gellert, he has already uncovered great Lore, I can wrest it from–”
Nicholas Flamel raised his hand for silence. “Mister Dumbledore, I understand your pain. But the Elixir of Life cannot be doled out lightly, nor at the whim–”
“WHIM? She’s DYING! Mrs. Flamel, please, talk some sense into him!”
Perenelle stood toward the window, for she couldn’t bear to face the conversation.
Mom, Dad, please. Please. Do something. You’re healers. She’s breathing now, look she’s breathing now. The water is gone, now do something. Do something!
“Look! Look at her face. Mrs. Flamel, she knows this is the right thing to do. You can see it! Why are you letting my sister die?”
“Mister Dumbledore, need I remind you that you are a guest in our house?”
“This is a house of fools! A house of tyrants! You could change the world with what you have, and yet you hoard it. You stand there imperiously watching my sister die, how can you live with yourself? You have the riches of nations,” he gestured to the pots filled with bubbling lead and gold. “And yet you do nothing. You have eternal life! And what have you done with it? What have you–”
“Silence. Speak no more. For you speak of things of which you know nothing. Now, you will listen to me.” Nicholas Flamel’s hand darted out and touched Dumbledore’s shoulder faster than he could have ever hoped to react. “Egeustimentis.”
Dumbledore existed as slightly more than a fraction of consciousness within his own mind. It was laid bare before him: an automaton of levers, gears, bubbles, slicks, and whorls, and among them all, a scene coalesced. His sister and himself. His sister, young, beautiful, glowing. Himself, old, with half-moon spectacles and a ridiculous hat that looked like nothing more than a squashed mushroom.
They were in Godric’s Hollow. The cemetery. Albus laid flowers at a grave that he knew without looking was the grave of his brother Aberforth. As the flowers touched the ground, the scene shifted. Ariana held the flowers now. There were two graves, side by side. Albus and Aberforth. Ariana stood, still young and beautiful, her eyes stained with tears. She was tortured.
In those eyes. There were husbands, friends. There were children, students. There were lovers, enemies. They were all coming into her life, they were all leaving. In what felt like a mere moment. All those that she had ever loved and all those that she ever could love, gone. And yet, an entire world of people for whose sake she must exist. The pain was palpable in her eyes, it was beyond tears, it was a fundamental part of her being. She was tortured.
The fraction of consciousness that was Albus resisted this. “Love will always find a way, there are always people to love, people to give meaning to the world. You and Perenelle have loved each other for centuries.”
Flamel sensed this opposition. “We are companions, yes. But I confess that often I find myself longing for my… next great adventure.” At this the scene shifted once more.
Now Albus was with Ariana, outside of Time. Although her body was young and repaired, so too was her soul. She was surrounding by all those she had ever loved, all those that she ever would love. It was bright, clean, pristine, like the Platonic ideal of King’s Cross Station.
The train that was Albus Dumbledore’s mind pulled in through the tunnel, and Nicholas Flamel was the conductor. He adjusted a switch or two, turned a few gears, and finally, with a warm, kind smile, pulled a lever. A gust of steam billowed from the train’s whistle, and a wave a great peace washed over Dumbledore.
“You are young, Mister Dumbledore, so you do not understand the curse of age. Although I cannot help your sister in the way you request, I hope you see you now that I have truly helped her. And I hope I have given you some measure of peace.” The tears had stopped, and the look of a righteous anger and Albus Dumbledore’s face was gone.
Dumbledore stood, knee deep in the calm ocean waters outside the cottage of the Flamel family. He held Ariana’s body, and he had no tears. Although Ariana was gone for now, she was not gone forever. It was sad, for certain, that she would miss out on this brief flicker of a moment of this infinitesimal facet of the universe. But she would persist. They all would. Sooner or later, he would venture into eternity and they would be together, forever.
The waves washed around him, lapping gently at his waist. The ocean called to him, The voice of Neptune gently whispering, “Let go, let go, let go…”
Dumbledore let go.
“I envy him, in a way, Nell.”
Meldh’s voice broke the silence. Perenelle was still fighting back the tears. The entire proceeding hit her in the gut on a visceral level. Of course, Meldh was right. Sure, it wasn’t as pretty and clichéd as a pure white train station that took you “beyond”. And yes, the ethics of mind manipulation were questionable at best, even if the manipulation was subtle and ultimately beneficial.
But ultimately, the conclusion to which he led the child of Percival and Kendra was correct. She had seen enough of magic, had enough of the theory worked out. Horcruxes. The Bone of the Father. The Ritual of the Starfire. The True Cross. All of these pointed to one single truth:
No one was actually gone.
How could anyone who considered themselves rational doubt this? Both she and Meldh had died! And yet, they were still here. Sure, the rituals were complex, and they were enormously costly. But that was just an optimization problem. The information was there. What made up the entirety of a person’s being, whatever that may be, existed in some form, beyond the death of their physical body.
She had some theories which she never got around to testing. Many of them involved Time. Many more involved the absurdly complex and anthrocentric nature of Magic itself. Right now, it didn’t really matter one way or the other. What mattered is that it was possible. Time was no longer her enemy, as it was in her youth, when every wasted minute was a tragedy. She was no longer filled with the unflinching anger of her youth.
A very small part of her looked back in regret, to a time when the Old Ones had called her Æsahættr, a name which meant “God-Killer”. She was young, so young, and yet, even then, she had accomplished so much. So much more than that ridiculous nihilist from whom she took the Stone: boredom was so absurdly bourgeoisie that even now it still made her sick. Even he, her, it, was not gone.
Pain… Pain still hurt. Even though Death did not matter. Pain… Pain was still bad. She understood very well the pain of thinking that one you love is gone, lost forever. Nell was still a healer at heart, and wanted to spare people that pain. She still remembered–
please, Master Payens, please. I’ve heard the rumors. I know you know people, I know what people say about the Cross,” she gestured violently at the plain-looking wooden cross adorning the nave of the temple.
“And what can you offer me in exchange for such a gift,” spoke the man, who once was tall, proud, and fit, and was now overweight and sallow.
“Everything I have, and more. Anything. everything! Just please, please. Help.”
“Everything you have?” Hugues de Payens laughed, mockingly. “Your family are healers, are they not? Not exactly a wealthy profession.”
“DONT MOCK ME!” Perenelle screamed, the desperation apparent in her voice as she could feel her hold over her magic slipping. The only thing keeping her sister’s lungs from being liquified from the inside out by de-transfigured water and muck was that thin thread of magic which was being stretched farther and farther beyond its limits with each glib remark.
“Oh? Or what?”
“I know you, child. I have seen your personality before, in so many others. You see a problem in the world, and you burn with righteous rage. You hate the world for not fixing the problem, and you take the responsibility upon yourself, which you think justifies your impudence and rashness. Mark my words, child: it’s easy enough to ask big questions and make big plans. But to follow them through? What have you done with your short life besides angrily make demands of someone greater than yourself?”
She was already turning to leave. This was useless. Just another jaded power-hoarder. Damn him, damn his entire Order, damn his Knights, damn his Cross. God damn every last one of them. She would tear the world apart. She would rip apart the gates of Heaven, tear apart the very foundation of Christendom to pull her sister back.
August 10, 1979
“These words,” said Nicholas Flamel, “Are not called the Words of Power and Madness lightly.”
“Legend says they have been lost. But this is not the first time you have surprised me with hidden lore,” Dumbledore examined the words in the Pensieve with keen interest.
“Ah, but they are lost. They exist not in my mind, or the mind of any other. I could not recall them even if I wanted to. Nor could you. Go ahead, try to tell me the words you just heard spoke. Try anything you can to recall them.”
Dumbledore opened his mouth to speak, but could not. Faint echoes of the words swirled around in his head but there was nothing concrete for him to grasp. He understood the abstraction but couldn’t complete the metaphor. Interesting. He entered the Pensieve, listened to the incantation, and hastily wrote down the words as he saw them.
…ogeai dacra, nitesh taps, sorc mareht’d nataog….
Nothing. He saw the words, heard the words, but still, nothing. There was no comprehension. “Power and Madness, indeed, Master Flamel.”
“They are the Words of the First Enchanter. As with everything, there are levels upon levels of meaning to them. Legend has it that their true power was as an incantation that would lift the shackles of the Interdict. And yet, the Interdict has ensured that such knowledge could never pass from anything but one living mind to another. You will be using the words their meanest of purposes: a mere passcode to Merlin’s web of prophecy.”
“So I shall speak Merlin’s words in the heart of Merlin’s tower while holding Merlin’s line bequeathed to me by Merlin’s successors in order to access the knowledge that has been hoarded by Merlin’s web… It seems to me that you possess quite a great deal of knowledge and lore that once belonged to the Prince of Enchanters,” Dumbledore smiled with a twinkle, and yet there was a strange tone to his voice, a hint of warning. “Take caution, my old friends. I know that we have had words about your non-intervention in the past. A great deal of lives and pain could have been spared if you were to directly intercede on my behalf. And not just with this matter of mine, but with others, and with other heroes who have come before me.
“But I know you are no cowards, and I know you both to be good, decent people, and that you truly believe one death is too many and one minute wasted is one minute too long. You would not suffer such losses or make such sacrifices lightly, if not for the greater good, a higher cause, a deeper plan… A hidden hand, guiding things, if you will.”
“Choose your words carefully, Albus,” Nicholas spoke.
Perenelle held her hand up. “Peace, Nicholas, peace. Let our guest continue his speculation.” Inwardly, she rolled her eyes. Who actually says ‘Peace’ like that?
“It is not my intent to speculate, only to observe. You have done me and mine many great favors over the years, in exchange for lore that most would consider paltry in comparison to the magnitude of the aid. I am truly in your debt. However, you are not accustomed to fighting your battles directly, or dealing in overly complex plots. You are not used to being, as they say, ‘in the trenches’, and I know all too well how it can be much easier to see a pattern from the outside but not the inside. So I will offer the following advice:
“When there are Three, there is always a leader, a trusted confidante, and a disposable lieutenant. I have come to know and love the both of you and it would trouble me greatly if any harm came to either of you. So please, for your own sake and not mine, know that with which you deal. And take caution.”
“Your words are well-intentioned. A lesser person may be inclined to take offense at your presumption, but we are no fools. You do know a great deal more about plotting than either of us, and it’s been centuries since I’ve personally slain a Dark Lord,” Perenelle spoke, softly, and turned to look at Nicholas. I wonder if that was too obvious? I’m not very good at all this mystical, wise talk.
Meldh could sense her apprehension, and he stepped in. “Indeed, Nell, indeed. Albus, this is one task in which you cannot fail. You must listen to the prophecies, and you must truly comprehend them. The world hangs in such precarious balance. The path to salvation is but a single thread that must pass through the eye of a single needle in a rainstorm. There is more than one Dark Lord that you will be defeating in the coming years. Beware εσχατος εχθρος, Albus.”
August 10, 1979
The Department of Mysteries
…THE ONE WITH THE POWER TO DEFEAT THE DA–
…STONE IN THE WINDOW MUST BE DESTROYED AGAINST THE ANVI–
…NEW RISE AT THE SOLSTICE IN THE AGE OF THE GOA–
…CHOICE FOR ONE MUST BE MADE FOR THE TE–
…TEAR APART THE VERY STARS IN HEAV–
…STARS SHALL COME BY THE ONE MARKED BY LIGHTNI–
…SOLSTICE AND NONE WILL COME AFTE–
…THE DE-ARMED SERVANT SHALL BE FOUND WHEN SHE COME–
…REX QUANDAM, REXQUE FUTUR–
…PATH SHALL THE CRUX SUCCEE–
…THE CHOICE TO FOLLOW THE PHOENIX OR SOLVE THE RIDDL–
…PROPHET DIES THE PRINCE SHALL RIS–
…LIGHT SHALL PLANT A SEED IN THE DARKNE–
…IN A TIME OF GREAT STRIFE WHEN ALL WOR–
…DOWN ON THE SERPENTS’ CROWN THE STONE SHAL–
The words crashed in Dumbledore’s mind, an unceasing battery of waves breaking against the walls of his sanity. And yet, despite their fractured dissonance, when put together, they sang a song of such beauty, order, and righteousness that he could not deny the path he must walk.
He saw that all prophecy was true, and all prophecy had levels upon levels upon levels upon levels. The layers of meaning forked, and forked again, and bound back upon themselves. There was the Crux, he was the Crux, so was the boy, so was his mentor, so was his enemy, so was the boy’s enemy. And there was The Enemy, the Dark Lord, not just Grindelwald, not just Voldemort, but the One True Dark Lord, the enemy who had menaced all beings since the dawn of time. He Who Went By Many Names:
Mot. Thanatos. Uncle Hendrick. Yambe Akka. Shaitan. εσχατος εχθρος.
It went by many names, and came in many forms, and they were all warriors in this final battle. Even his true love was a warrior, in his own misguided way. Dumbledore would fight as well. He would not fight against the Death of the Body, for he knew that those before him had already conquered that foe, and he looked forward to the day when he would reunite with Aberforth and Ariana and all those who had come before him. He would not fight against the Death of the World, for another even greater warrior would soon rise to wear that mantle.
No, Dumbledore would spend his last days fighting against the Death of Love. Hate had no place in Arcadia, and an eternity without love would be nothing so more than Hell. As he stood in the ruined chambers of the Hall of Prophecy, he was filled with an intense love, a love for all of life and all people and all things, and he knew that for their sakes that not another minute was to be wasted in his task.
Early August, 1991
“It’s time, Meldh.”
Meldh paced restlessly back and forth in the cottage. The report was as clear as day: The Parselmouth who wears the Crown of the Serpents could locate the Stone, infallibly, and they were in grave danger. The evidence was so thorough, so overwhelming, so convincing that it simply had to be true.
Which meant, of course, that it was a bold-faced lie.
After a time, Meldh spoke. “The banished father has returned, and he has laid for us this new Path. We must follow it, and we must make it seem as though we are acting according to his design. It must be convincing, both to the Riddle boy and to Albus.
“One of us must go to Hogwarts. The Mirror cannot leave its grounds, we cannot risk that. We must visit in person, and we must maintain the ruse,” Perenelle was packing their things as Meldh was speaking, “Once the Stone is gone, we must be seen to age and wither and eventually die. Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel will be no more.”
Perenelle stood and faced him. He was tired. And he always spoke in that ridiculous, affected tone, like he was a character in a play, when he was tired. Really, they both were tired. She had been fighting for centuries. He had been fighting for centuries longer. But it was all coming to a head now. The final battle would come soon and the conduit would soon be destroyed, for good.
She stared at the eyes of her companion. She had deep love for this man. There was, of course, no Eros. The difference in age was far too great, even now. Meldh would have called their love Philia, but he always was a bit ceremonious and used big, fancy words when everyday terms would suffice. After all, he started calling himself “Meldh”, which was just silly, in her opinion. There wasn’t anything wrong with Heraclius.
But regardless. To Nell, Meldh was her friend. And she loved him. It would pain her to be away from him, after they had spent so much time together as Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel.
But one day, pain would be a thing of the past. Just a childish thing that humanity had outgrown, like Death and War and everything else. But until then, she had work to do.