these thoughts pattered against the hard surface of the incontrovertible truth, which was that he must die. (Ch. 34 'The Forest Again', Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
The white-hot flames of life engulf him. On the wings of the centaurs' salute he soars, like a phoenix, into the bright whiteness of the sun, where the dazzling air surrounds him, enters him. It lights up his very being with anticipation and excitement for the adventure ahead.
The Knowing that has so assured him since his death, now eludes him. His wondering and questioning return, but there is a peace to them which had not comforted him in mortal life.
He arrives, radiating whiteness, and looks curiously about him. It takes a few moments for his sight to adjust, for him to distinguish his environment apart from the glow of his own brilliant aura. He turns slowly on the spot and, as he moves, his focus is drawn from his surroundings to notice that his right hand is restored to full health. He is surprised, but immediately understands, and laughs quietly to himself that he should wonder about something that he has fully expected to be. He takes in his whole bearing and feels himself standing straight and tall, taller than he has been for many a year.
His beard, still flowing past his waist, glitters with a vivid silvery sheen. It is all that clothes him, until he has that thought and a cloak of midnight blue swirls itself into place about his body, so light that he can barely feel it. A movement of the same blue off to the side catches his eye. He turns and sees himself in an enormous mirror, beautifully framed in gilded carvings, twice his height and almost that broad.
Automatically he scans the frame for the familiar inscription, but nothing is written there. Curious, he considers his reflection and wonders that he does not see the usual scene he is used to seeing in such a magical mirror. Neither the people nor the familiar and longed-for tokens of their affection surround him.
But no, there is no magic about this mirror. There is something more something more real
In the glass, the bright white background takes form and far ahead (or far behind him) he has an impression of a young woman flying down a marble staircase towards him. He turns his head to see the reality, but there is nothing there. It is only in the mirror that the stairs and girl are forming out of the mist.
Before he has time to marvel, Dumbledore gasps in recognition at the shining girl now rushing to embrace him.
'Ariana?' he breathes, unsure but certain all at once. He knows, he actually Knows, that she would be here to meet him. But it is a surprise, all the same.
'Albus!' she cries delightedly. 'Come through!' She eagerly takes the last few steps of the now substantial and fully formed staircase and crosses the floor. 'Come and join me!' Her hand reaches out, through the mirror.
He takes her hand, amazed, and steps forwards, passing straight through the glass. It dissolves behind him, as does the mist, and he finds himself in a place strangely familiar, but brighter than what he is used to. Ariana clasps him tightly round his waist, burying her head in the beard on his chest. He encircles her in his arms and does not try to stop the shuddering sigh that escapes his lungs. He closes his eyes tightly shut and holds her, clinging to her for an age.
She draws back, keeping her hands around his waist but looking up now into his face, her bright blue eyes twinkling with joy.
'Oh, Albie. You've waited so long to see me.'
Tears fill his eyes at the sound of her pet name for him. He has not been called Albie for well over a century.
'Oh, Ariana, yes I have for so long.' He pauses. 'But have you not been waiting just as long?'
'Not at all, my dear, I have been waiting but a moment.' She skips back a step and looks around. 'Where are we, can you tell?'
At her question his attention turns once more to their surroundings; there is no sign of the mirror, but he gazes in wonder and senses a homecoming deeper than he can ever remember feeling whilst his mortal body lived. They are standing in a grand hall with a flagged stone floor. Above them, the ceiling reaches beyond sight and around them are bright flaming torches in ornate brackets on the stone walls.
'Dear Ariana,' he marvels, 'you are here at last, where you so wanted to be. We are at Hogwarts. And this,' he extends his arm in a wide arc, 'is the Entrance Hall.'
'Oh!' She looks excited and captivated. 'Can you show me around? I so much want to see it, every nook and cranny, every place you've been and worked and learnt and lived.' She flits here and there, hardly knowing which direction to turn, it all looks so enticing.
'My dear, nothing would please me more.' Then a thrilling thought occurs to him, one that has never not once struck him in all his years living at his beloved school.
'Do you suppose there's a bowling alley here?' he asks tentatively, hardly daring to believe that such a pleasure is possible, but knowing before Ariana confirms it that, if he desires it, it will be so.
She laughs, her eyes sparkling. 'I imagine so shall we look for it now?'
Despite such a tempting offer, there are many more things he wants to know first, things to ask her and show her and tell her about. He doesn't mind in the least, though, because he has a feeling he'll have unlimited time for ten-pin bowling.
'Mother and Father ?'
'Yes, Albie, they're here, or, that is to say, there. Where we are, anyway.'
He sighs and thinks of Aberforth, alone in the world. Regrets hover on the edge of his consciousness. He realises that it has been a long time since he's thought so much, and so longingly, of his family. Other things have been pressing for his attention and they claim it once more. Ariana seems to read his mind.
'I know what is on your mind. You wonder if you've done enough to stop the poor little orphan boy who thinks he is a madman, this Thief of Death.
'And you grieve for young Harry, do you not? You miss him, more than he misses you, I know, and he misses you terribly. You wonder if he will be able to complete the task that you began. Have faith, Albie.'
'If my plan fails ' he pauses, lost for words for once in his life.
When at last he can speak, he says, 'I don't know how I shall ever face him if I was wrong. I am asking him to die I, who have lived seven of his lifetimes. How can I, who have never known the intimacy of a lover, or the joy of fatherhood, rob him of the chance to know it for himself?'
'But you have accounted for it, have you not? He will not die in the end, even though he goes willingly. He is protected. I know you have worked it out.'
He laughs desperately, so unlike him that it startles him. 'Worked it out? Oh Ariana, I have tried to work many things out; most of them have come down to depend upon luck.' He starts pacing back and forth across the Entrance Hall, recalling years past.
'When I cast that spell upon Harry for his mother's blood protection, I hoped that he would never need to test it to its limit. For I knew, when I held him as a baby in my arms, when I heard his infant gurgles punctuated with a distinctive hiss, when I saw that fierce red scar on his soft skin, I knew that somehow Voldemort had lodged part of himself inside, whether he knew it or not.
'And as that baby gazed at me with those green eyes, his mother's eyes, beholding me with curiosity and innocent affection, I knew that I could not let him die but that he must if Voldemort were to be truly killed. So I cast the spell, imbuing it with additional power the strength of an anchor and wondered how I could possibly keep his blood alive in a container beyond his own veins.'
Ariana interrupts, 'But then he took Harry's blood for himself, didn't he. So in his cruelty he brought about his own demise, as well as his enemy's deliverance. How often it happens that way, for the wicked.'
He scrubs his hands across his face. 'I hope it is enough. The trouble with being so clever is that one tries things that have never been done before, so one cannot know if they will work.' A slight anguish pierces his soul. 'But now I've left him and all I have left is to hope it will work as I imagined it.'
'Do not fret, my brother,' she says softly, 'your hope will be fulfilled.'
He takes her hands once more and gazes fondly into her face. 'Ariana, how trusting you are. But I cannot know if my theory was correct '
'Yes, you can. You can know, because this is the place of answers. All questions are answered here: all faith is justified, all hope fulfilled and all love requited.'
'Do you mean he will succeed?'
Even as he asks the question, he feels sure of the answer. He sees the whole plan, just as he imagined it during those dark and difficult nights of thinking, planning and analysing in his office, hour after hour of agonised decisions and schemes. But he also sees things he could never have know then. He sees how it happens: how Harry's possession of the Hallows comes at just the right moment to give him the tools he needs; how his friends garnered through affection not fear take their part in destroying Horcruxes, how Lily's protection, anchored to the mortal world in the veins of Voldemort, calls Harry back there once he faces and masters Death.
He sees how the wand Harry wields, recognising the true master of the Hallows, blocks any curse fired by Voldemort. He sees how, in Harry's goodness, a Disarming Spell ushers the evil wizard into Death's waiting arms.
With wonder he exclaims, 'He will succeed.' Then the certainty of how it will all come about strikes him. 'And he will live!' He embraces his sister with joy.
Relief floods him and washes away all his anxiety in a heaving sob. 'He is a much greater man than I ever was.'
'No, Albie, that is not true,' she says, he voice vibrating against his chest. 'Yes, he is great. But so are you, so were you.' She looks up to his face. 'You saw, and recognised, your weakness, and you never once succumbed. I am so proud of you.'
'Oh, but you don't know ' he shakes his head. 'How tempted I was! How foolish! So many times, my arrogance defeated me. The Cloak I held it in my hands and draped it over my shoulders, waving my wand around me and dreaming I was deluded.
'But how soon I forgot. I found the Stone and held it aloft, again waving my wand like a foolish magician, and thinking I could change the world.'
Ariana draws him over to the steps. They sit there side by side while he continues. He feels the cleansing effects of his confession. It's a relief to speak his thoughts aloud, to have Ariana listen with her customary and perceptive sympathy. Aberforth had always been there, in life, but he was never afraid to show his censure. Dumbledore has forgotten how well Ariana listens.
He takes a deep breath and resumes. 'When those dear children James and Lily died, I could not forgive myself. I packed away the Cloak to save it for its true owner. As a penance I devoted myself to bringing down Voldemort, that their sacrifice would not be in vain.
'But I left too soon. I should have finished the job with the Horcruxes. If only I'd not been tempted by the Resurrection Stone I wasted precious time, and wasted my life before I could finish the job.' His head falls into his hands.
'No, my dear.' Ariana rubs his back gently. 'You trained and prepared those whose job it is. It was not your job, you were not meant to vanquish Voldemort. And it was not your right but it is Harry's right.'
Albus Dumbledore begins to fully feel the emotions he always kept in check for fear of them overwhelming his considered judgment. The affection he feels for Harry, the fear he kept bottled up that Harry would be defeated, the love he has for Harry, as though for his very own son, well up in him. He lets it all free, as he could never have done as a mortal. He allows not merely the tears, that he often judiciously released during his lifetime, but the sobs to escape.
'Oh, Albie,' Ariana sighs. 'Come here.' She opens her arms and he, nearly twice her height, falls into them, sobbing.
She smooths the hair over his head and kisses his crown.
'I loved him, Ariana.' He heaves a gut-wrenching sigh. 'I love him, more than I can ever explain. I should have loved you. I loved you so much and I'm sorry. I love you.'
She wraps her small arms around his shaking frame and holds him secure. 'I know, I know, Albus, and you know how much I love you.'
'Ariana,' he whispers, 'I'm so sorry, I'm dearly, dearly sorry. Can you forgive me?'
'There's no need, Albie. We're all forgiven, here. We're all whole.'
'But all my life I've wondered it's taunted me, wondering dreading No one should die so young. You were so, so young, Ariana.' He sits up and they each wipe tears from the other's cheek.
'But Albie,' she says, 'I died to save you.'
It takes a moment for him to understand her words. 'No!' He recoils, whispering, 'You can not mean that! You did not choose to die. Did you?'
For nearly a hundred years, he's thought of that day, and tried with all his might not to think of it.
'Oh but Albie, I did.'
'I came here and Mother and Father hugged me tight just as I am hugging you and they asked if I wanted to stay or go back.
'And what do you suppose I chose? Of course I wanted to stay. My magic was finally gone and my parents were here, wanting to love me as they had in life.'
He tries to comprehend what she's saying. But she is still talking about her choice.
'And then I looked and saw that, if I stayed here, it would be your salvation.'
For the first time he can ever remember in life or in death he is struggling to keep up with the conversation.
'I did feel so for dear Abe,' she goes on, 'and I miss him dreadfully. But he is very strong; he can endure almost anything. It was you I had to save. You who needed my help.'
'My salvation?' The idea is repugnant to him. He stands and paces once more. How could her death possibly have saved him?
'Think, Albus. Had I not died, what do you suppose you would have done? Did you ever wonder how you would have lived your life?'
'Every day, Ariana, I wondered it every day.'
'So you understand.'
He stops and looks at her, entirely lost he doesn't understand anything at all. 'But I killed you!'
'Oh no, Albie,' she rushes to his side, as sincere as it is possible to be, 'you never did. It wasn't you, it wasn't Abe. You have nothing to fear.'
But Dumbledore isn't sure if he wants to know the whole truth. He hesitates.
'Albus,' she says gently, 'there is no more hiding behind your wondering. This is the place where all is known. If I don't tell you, you will still know the answer, still find the truth. It is impossible to avoid.'
'Well,' he swallows, feeling as unsure as a first-year on Sorting night, 'how do you know?'
'He told me poor little Gell.'
'He was here?'
'Yes oh, not here at Hogwarts ' she gives a delighted little smile, obviously eager to explore this wondrous place where her brothers blossomed and where she once dreamt she could harness her magic. 'But yes, I spoke to him here.'
'But he's not yet he has outlived me.'
'So he has. And yet, I have spoken to him. You are forgetting so quickly, Albus. And you were supposed to be the intelligent one!' She smiles.
He smiles back for a brief moment, happy to be teased by his beloved sister. 'So he told you. How did he know he was the one who'd done it whose spell hit you?'
'There was no doubt he did it deliberately.'
Again, he is speechless. Shock catches him up and flummoxes his mind.
'My dear, what did you think?' she spreads her arms wide. 'He was jealous; jealous of your family especially me and how much it took for you to care for us. He took Abe's offer to its logical conclusion. If you didn't have me to look after, you could go off with Gell and change the world. He wanted you to do that, and he thought this was the way.
'Had I survived that terrible fight, Albie,' she says gravely, 'you would have been convinced that you were not adequate to care for me.'
He understands the truth of what she is saying.
'You would have accepted Abe's offer and left me in his guardianship.' She places a hand on his arm. 'And you would have gone away with Gell, changed the world, and destroyed your soul.'
Speech is slow in returning. He sits heavily back onto the lower steps of the marble staircase and then looks up into his sister's face.
'And is he Grind er, Gellert is he here? has he gone on?'
'I do not know, Albus. He showed great remorse, and I hope for him. He was greatly relieved to come, but whither he has gone from here ' she shakes her head sadly, 'it is not for me to know.'
He shakes his head in bewilderment. 'Some of this is so familiar, and, if I am honest, just as I expected. But some of it I feel like a child again. I wonder and wish I understood.'
He recalls something Ariana said that has surprised him.
'Your magic's gone? Does that mean ?'
'Oh! No, dear,' she laughs, twirling once on the spot, 'can you not feel it? There's no magic here because everything's real. You must know what I mean.'
Comprehension slowly comes to him. 'Yes, I I think I see the mirror was not magic it was is real. These robes,' he takes in his own attire, 'are not magical they just are. There's no need for magic here, it's not powerful enough to withstand the the love.'
'Yes! You have it!'
He has not felt this way since he was a first-year discovering how clever he actually was and how much this impressed the teachers.
'I want you to show me your castle, your Hogwarts, Albie. Will you show me?'
'Of course, I'd like nothing better.' He stands and offers her his arm, imagining all the things they have to see.
'Thank you, my dear. But first,' she takes his arm, but not as proffered; instead she turns him towards the front doors, 'I think someone else has arrived who has some questions of his own.'
A quiver of doubt flutters in his heart. Are those visions not real that he has seen but moments ago? It is too soon! He's only just arrived himself. 'Now? But how can he have arrived already? It would take him months, or years. Wouldn't it?'
'Albus, you have forgotten again! You must be showing your age, old man.' She winks at him.
He laughs then, loud and strong, and all his wonderings dissolve into loving. He rubs his hands together gleefully.
'He's here, you say? What a courageous, magnificent man he is.' His joy bubbles over and he feels an abundance of love.
He pushes open the great oak doors and goes to answer some very important questions.
Ariana calls after him, 'Come back to me when you've finished, and we'll go on together.'
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.