August 8, 1899
"Mr. Dumbledore! What brings you to my humble pub?"
Albus smiled at the man but it lacked any warmth. Weariness occupied his eyes and face, as if unbearable sorrows had settled in his soul. The bartender's smile loosened.
"Well, Mr. Diggle, a drink, I suppose, just like any other man."
His voice was subdued, as if Albus were speaking through his hand. Mr. Diggle frowned at him, but nodded and waved his wand, summoning a firewhiskey.
He handed it over to Albus and murmured, "Feel better, ol' chap. Whatever it is, I'm sure a wizard as capable as yourself can handle it." Albus nodded with silent thanks and Mr. Diggle walked away.
He stared at the firewhiskey with a sort of clinical curiosity. He'd never resorted to drinking away his sorrows and he had imagined he never would. Practicing his spellwork and diverting his attention to intellectual pursuits usually cured him, or at least absolved him of any lingering emotion. This, however, was not an instance where he was simply trying to forget. Instead, he was trying to forgive.
His gaze rested hesitantly once again on the bottle. It shone with insidious light in the bar's dank, dark room.
He had come to the bar to drink but . . . His hand paused mid-air. It did not feel right.
But nothing was right anymore. He took a deep, shuddering breath. It was only him and Aberforth now. Father had been the first to go, then Mother.
And now Ariana.
And she may have been slain by his own hand.
Albus flinched. His hand grasped the bottle once again. It was warm, comforting. He let go immediately.
Murderers didn't deserve comfort.
His gaze rested on oblivion. He'd never felt guilt of this magnitude before. It felt like a Dementor was slowly sucking out his soul, bit by harrowing bit. A cesspool bubbled at the bottom of his stomach.
He had lost his father and mother, but neither loss had truly saddened him; neither parent had truly lived up to their title. And Ariana . . . His arms trembled. Did he love her? Was he truly aggrieved by her death or was he just feeling sorry for his own mind-consuming guilt? What brother could pay so little attention to his own dear sister unless he truly didn't love her?
"Look what you've done! You've killed her! You and that brute have murdered Ariana!"
And Aberforth . . .
Aberforth loved her dearly, perhaps more than he should have. Albus' hands began to shake. And what did Ariana die for? What was so important that he couldn't watch where he aimed his spells?
The answer chilled him to the bone.
It'd always been his dream, his ambition. He wanted to change the world for the better. He wanted the Wizarding World to recognize Albus Dumbledore as a wise, powerful wizard—not some half-blood with a squib sister and wasted potential.
But then Mother died and he had to care for Ariana . . . Merlin, he'd been so angry. What right did his mother have to die and force him to put his dreams on hold? What right? It wasn't fair! He was the most brilliant wizard to attend Hogwarts in generations and there he was, squandering his potential by looking over his younger, magically-handicapped sister.
He'd paid Ariana so little attention. He'd merely thought of her as an obstacle to his dreams, an object. Aberforth truly took care of her. Albus was just there, ignoring her as he would a pebble in the road.
And then he met Gellert Grindlewald who cultivated his desire for power and blinded him to all else. He'd nearly persuaded him to abandon Ariana, his sister, for some immaterial dream. Albus clenched his fists.
His knuckles turned white as his nails dug further and further into his skin. He could still hear Ariana's screams to stop fighting and talk it out! He could hear the wind rip as he threw spells at his friend and his brother, only for one to ricochet and kill his sister—
"Excuse me, sir—is there something wrong?"
Albus snapped out of his hell, breathing heavily. He slowly turned towards the voice.
It was a man . . . and no man he had never seen before.
He was a handsome fellow and looked to be in his mid-thirties with smart, slicked back hair and a rather thin mustache (when one considers modern fashion). What drew Albus' attention immediately, however, was the man's dark, ageless eyes. The man could have been anywhere from thirty to one hundred if one merely looked for years in his eyes. His face creased in worry for Albus—a stranger he didn't even know—and his hand rested gently on Albus' shoulders.
Albus tried to smile in thanks, but it was a poor, hapless imitation of pleasure. ". . . Yes, sir. Unfortunately, my maladies are not physical."
The man nodded, brow furrowed. "Though I am a doctor for physical illness, I have been told that spiritual illness has similar cures. May I be of any service to you, Mr . . .?"
"Dumbledore," Albus hastily inputted, "Albus Dumbledore."
He waited for any sign of recognition in the man's eyes but none came.
The man simply nodded and reciprocated, "Henry Morgan."
The two shook hands.
Albus surreptitiously scrutinized the man, wondering. He was certainly English, or at least had a very convincing accent. He must have been from other parts. Albus was well known around this community. And, looking at him, another thought occurred to him. What if this man were a muggle? He dressed like one. In fact, he stood out in the pub, the only one dressed in a muggle suit whilst others were in robes. But this was a magical pub was it not . . .?
He gave himself a mental shake. He shouldn't jump to undue conclusions. He shouldn't jump to anything at all. Such an approach killed Ariana.
"Seeing by the bags underneath your eyes, I see you cannot manage to sleep for long. But it doesn't take an expert to glean that . . ."
Albus was slightly bemused. Was the man an Auror (surely he could not be a muggle . . . but he was dressed in muggle garb. Perhaps he intended to blend in?) or a researcher . . .?
"You've lost someone. Perhaps a sibling? And . . ." The man's glance turned towards his untouched drink, eyebrows furrowing. "You feel guilty about it."
A knot formed in his stomach and his heart leapt to his throat. He turned, eyes slightly bulging, to his companion.
"How . . .?" he gasped. The man nodded towards his firewhiskey.
"Your drink. A man does not come into a bar for a drink and then not drink it unless he has excessive burdens plaguing his heart."
Albus swallowed. He felt blatantly exposed. Was he that easy to read? Why, if that were the case, then the whole world would know that he was a murderer by the end of the week! He knew he should not have come.
"I do not mean to upset you, Mr. Dumbledore. Please forgive me. Many have told me how unapologetically brusque I tend to be."
Albus nodded sullenly. "You're right unfortunately, sir. It was my sister . . ." He trailed off, unsure how to finish. He took a shaky breath,
He felt slightly sick at the voice urging him to be silent for fear of confessing to murder. But . . . Merlin, he couldn't go on like this! He couldn't get that one bloody moment out of his mind—the one where Ariana fell, dead, to the ground, killed by an unidentified spell from an unidentified caster. He couldn't stop wondering: what if it were him? What if he had cast the spell that killed Ariana? He didn't know which was worse—knowing or forever wondering if he had killed her.
Aberforth's disgusted voice resounded over and over in his head, urging, "Do it! Or Merlin forbid I will never forgive you. You will never forgive yourself!"
And this man . . . this man didn't know him. He'd probably never see him again! He was merely a man he'd met in a bar. . . He took a deep breath.
". . . And I may have killed her."
Throughout his immortal life, Henry had been in many peculiar situations. But, he had to admit, he had never attempted to console a possible murderer in a bar. Were it not for the anniversary of his marriage to Nora, he would likely have not been in the bar. Normally, he didn't succumb to sorrow on their anniversary, but this was the first time in a long time that he'd returned to England.
Still you shackle me, Nora . . .
Upon hearing the confession, his first instinct had been to leave, to desert the bar and allow the murderer to comfort his own rotten mind whilst he informed the authorities. But then he observed the man—young man, truly, for he could not be older than twenty—and what he saw was not the mug of a murderer but rather the face of a confused youth. The tension lining Henry's body relaxed, taut features relaxing.
"That is certainly an incriminating confession," Henry murmured, eyes flicking around the bar to see if anyone heard the statement. It seemed not.
The young man flinched and Henry saw fear flash through his eyes, followed by a flood of remorse and guilt that somehow did not fit on the young man's visage. It was a look he'd seen in war veterans, not youths.
"It is not one I readily admit either. I am unsure who dealt my sister the final blow but I greatly fear that it was me. Perhaps that I will never know frightens me most."
A weary, old man manifested in the youth's voice. He sounded so utterly vulnerable that Henry was struck dumb. As an immortal, he frequently forgot, dismissed, the hardships of mortal life—the very human misery which defined life. Speechless, he could only wait as the young man unraveled, vitality escaping into the atmosphere as would heat.
At once Henry remembered Nora, her once youthful, beautiful face transforming into the demented, graying old woman who had nearly exposed his terrible secret to the world—those wild eyes plagued him, haunted him for years and years.
Even if she had betrayed him, his guilt still lingered. She had been his dream on their wedding day. So beautiful, so stunning. He had never imagined that he'd win such a magnificent bride. He had thought that he had discovered the secret to life on that day, a day so awash in love that it blinded him to the miseries of the world until at last his father opened his eyes.
Feeling his own self-pity beginning to build up, he closed his eyes and ruthlessly squashed it. He turned to the aging young man and found him attempting to squash his own torment, to fit it into a box and lock it into the recesses of his mind. But Henry knew better than anyone that that was the worst approach to dealing with loss.
"Stop," Henry told the youth.
Surprised, the young man snapped out of his thoughts and opened his mouth to respond, but Henry cut him off.
"Stop thinking about the hypotheticals, Mr. Dumbledore." Henry firmly met the youth's tortured, blue gaze. "If you spend your entire life dissecting one tragedy after another, the past will continue to haunt you forever and always." Nora popped up into his head, half of her face awash with beauty and joy, the other with grayness and horror.
"It festers and it multiplies until you have become a living corpse, shackled by the past and burdened by the future." Henry paused and fully turned to face the youth. "My advice to you, Mr. Dumbledore, is to forgive and forget. We cannot always completely cleanse ourselves of the past, but we can muddle through it and eventually the horror will not seem a horror but a distant tragedy. Do your sister's memory well and keep her alive in your heart."
Henry felt a cloud settle over him, one much larger and darker than the young man's. Because unlike the young man, he could not live. He could not age, could not die, and could not have a family. He was cursed to live apart from the mortal world, an undying vigil of human suffering and misery, one destined to bear witness to it again and again and again.
Meanwhile, Albus struggled to tame his raging thoughts.
Ariana's lovely, young face flashed through his mind before withering and paling and—
Albus drew a shaky breath.
"Those are lovely words, Mr. Morgan," Albus spoke quietly, "but, unfortunately, they are merely words. Words cannot bring my sister back from the dead. Words cannot absolve my soul of murder or regret." As if someone had lit a fire, anger began simmering in the pit of Albus' stomach.
This man knew nothing about him or his circumstances. His own chest wasn't choking him. His own hand hadn't betrayed him. Albus didn't want a stranger's comforting words. He wanted to hear his sister's voice again, alive and well. He wanted to cleanse his soul of the knowledge that he was a murderer.
His fists clenched again and he had to consciously tell himself not to reach for his wand.
Henry's gaze softened. "No," he agreed, "Words cannot bring the dead back to the physical world, but words can prolong their memories. Your life is short, Mr. Dumbledore, shorter than you think. Don't let one moment consume it."
The young man glared at him. "Let me reiterate, Mr. Morgan, that I do not wish to hear empty words from a man who has never had Death knock at his door and tell him that it wasn't Death who killed his sister, but him."
Henry looked at him, expression blank. He sighed. "You're right."
Albus furrowed his brows. "Excuse me?"
"You're right," Henry repeated. "I never had a sister." Albus opened his mouth, but Henry continued, "I was, however, married."
Henry took a deep breath, old, weary eyes boring into Albus'. "She was a wonderful woman, lovely and kind . . . but she betrayed me and I left. When she found me again, I ignored her and wished her away."
He paused, gaze lowering. "Because I ignored her, she went to prison, the kind of prison one would not wish upon their worst enemy. I received word that she died not long after and I haven't forgiven myself since. On our anniversary, I often torment myself over that one moment, wondering what would have changed if I had helped her."
Albus stilled. Henry's eyes, his stance . . . Albus had never seen a man so haunted by his past. He tried to hold onto his righteous anger, but by merely looking at the man's sincerity, it melted away, fading like shadows before dawn.
"Nothing can erase the pain of losing a loved one, Mr. Dumbledore. The pain will stay with you for the rest of your life. And perhaps you think that is a good problem to have. Perhaps you think that mourning her for the rest of your life will absolve you and keep her alive." Henry shook his head. "Life doesn't work like that. Your sister is gone and you would be tainting her memory if you spent the rest of your life mourning her. Would she want you to waste your life?"
Albus hesitated before solemnly shaking his head no.
"Then live for her and remember her life, not her death."
Albus could not move. Words though they were, Albus could feel the intensity and the truth behind them. They represented the wisdom of ages, the agony of a million men.
"I'm sorry," he murmured to his companion.
The man gave him a sad smile. "Don't apologize to me; apologize to your sister."
Ariana . . .
He imagined her sweet, dimpled smile, one he had always taken for granted. She had always brought in stray animals, injured or otherwise. She had always wanted to help Albus with his work and Aberforth with his . . .
Albus closed his eyes. Ariana, I'm sorry. Please forgive me.
As he reopened his eyes, Albus felt lighter. He was boneless, tired. He'd oscillated between too many emotions, too many moments, within such a short time-span.
Peering around the bar, he decided he needed to leave. Ariana wouldn't have wanted him here.
He turned toward Mr. Morgan and gently touched the man's shoulder, murmuring, "Thank you, Mr. Morgan. I do not know how I can ever repay you for your services to me." The man simply looked at him, appearing so very old, and offered a pained smile, "Simply one generation helping the next, Mr. Dumbledore."
Albus smiled and gave the man one final nod, before he walked out of the corrosive bar. He had met a wise man, wiser than he would ever be, muggle or magical, and he was not soon to forget it.
Henry, meanwhile, ordered a drink, a whirlwind of emotions bedeviling his mind.
But even within his emotional chaos, a sense of satisfaction remained.