* * *
"My own brother, Aberforth, [said Professor Dumbledore] was prosecuted for practicing inappropriate charms on a goat. It was all over the papers, but did Aberforth hide? No, he did not! He held his head high and went about his business as usual! Of course, I'm not entirely sure he can read, so that may not have been bravery. . . ."
---Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
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The most merciful thing about the human memory is its inherent ability to banish all thoughts of return to a place of torments while one is on holiday. Like a kind snow, the graphic recollections of students whose prime delight is to slip Dungbombs into one's desk whilst one is occupied at the blackboard, the equally repugnant and seemingly interminable staff meeting wherein one always seem to find oneself seated next to the one fellow professor who has just spent two hours in the steaming sun teaching first-years how to properly manage a broomstick, and who has also dined on strong garlic soup for lunch--these recollections, I say, fade and diminish, and the small repugnancy of my vocation as a schoolteacher is made bearable by the prospect of two weeks in repose, gazing into the fire at my leisure, and perhaps penning a new school anthem, as the previous hymn is far too jarringly discordant to suit my tastes. And chief among my anticipations for this particular holiday, of which I shall soon relate, was the ever-present comfort of a visit to my boyhood home and the kind relations that awaited my company there.
I, Albus Dumbledore, had been Professor at Hogwarts University for only seven brief years during that inauspicious Easter when I chose to call upon my parents, Abraham and Alice Dumbledore, in their modest cottage in Little-Biddle-on-the-Twiddle in the country known to men as Merry Olde England (or so said the mysterious messages delivered by owl to that place, and the fact that it is so called on the signpost outside) and partake of their hospitality during the few days remaining in my leave from Hogwarts. I was a robust young man of seven-and-twenty, and had recently taken up the affectation of wearing a beard, which soon got out of hand as by accidental ingestion of a decoction originally intended to produce wool in sheep, I found myself in possession of a most magnificent red beard growing to my waist, and a head of hair to match. This situation was not only disturbing to me for the fact that it was quite a lot of hair to suddenly find emerging from one's face, but also because my hair had been black prior to the potion's introduction to my system. I soon found a most pleasant way to distract from this grotesque soup-strainer was to acquire for myself an eye-patch, a false leg, and an immense tropical macaw, by which I intended to compliment my now rather piratical locks, although I was genuinely fond of the parrot. So attired, I set forth by night train (Floo powder not being well-known at this time) to join my parents in their home.
Upon arriving at the modest hut wherein resided so many happy memories of my recent youth, I was modestly surprised to find a large section of the upper floor blown out and fragmented upon the lawn, like so many matchsticks. This portion of the family home, as I recalled, had once contained the room of my younger brother Aberforth, one of the few banes of my usually clement and serene existence. I wondered to myself if this calamity had occurred whilst my brother was still in occupancy of the room, but before I could bring myself to voice this question I was struck by the fact that a torrential downpour had begun, driving me indoors to what remained of the roof. Downpours are not uncommon at this time of the year, and in our part of the country, but what struck me as singular was that this particular storm had elected to vent its unholy ire solely upon our little lot, and indeed I amused myself for several moments by stepping over the parameters of the garden wall, thus enjoying a refreshing sun and modest winds, and then stepping back, whereupon the rain began again, whipping me with such fury that I was forced to hold a copy of the Daily Prophet over my head as I hasten across the lawn, noting as I did that the grass of my mother's previously impeccable garden was as withered and black as if blasted by fire.
I was met by my parents, both grown very stout since I had seen them last. After a due moment of marvelling over my luxuriant beard and my parrot, they bade me step inside to dry my cloak and robes before the fire, which my father had cheerfully arranged well in advance of my arrival. I paused for a moment to wring my beard, which was by now sopping, then ventured to enquire upon the state of the roof.
"Your brother," said my father, and that was all, and indeed, that was enough.
Pleasant greeting were soon exchanged, as well as the usual family news and talk of the local school affairs. I will not bore you, dear readers, with such trifling domestic details, as I assume you all have parents or the equivalents thereof, and are only too aware of the painful embarrassment of having your mum call you her precious little Alby-Walby, complain that the dreadful school was not feeding you half enough, and present you with a crocheted wand cosy in a garish shade of fuchsia.
Just as we had all of us settled in armchairs near the fire, a black quake of thunder shook the ceiling above us, seeming not to come from the dreary skies above but from the very attic of our tiny house. Mum jumped; my parrot squawked and hid himself inside my pointed hat; the ornamental china wild ducks, to which my mother had a particular fancy, fell from their hooks to shatter on the floor. Just as I opened my mouth to say a word on the matter, a mad, cackling howl followed fast after the stroke of thunder.
"It's finished, I tell you! Finished! Finished!"
I pointed upward. "Aberforth?"
Father sank still deeper into his chair. Without a word he rose to cross the tiny room and knock once, twice, thrice, upon the door leading to a small broom closet, wherein my parents kept their favourite mode of transportation, stating in a loud voice a request to the house-elf to come remove the offending shards of china from the floor.
"No, no, sir!" squeaked a frightened, muffled voice from within. "Widgie is not coming out, sir!"
He passed a look to my mother, then to me, as if to comment on the sad decline in the quality of modern house-elves from those he remembered as a boy (and here I must sadly agree). Instead of speaking he opened the closet door, revealing a huddle blue elf trembling in abject terror among the wilted Wellingtons, and, reaching to a topmost shelf, produced a flat grey cardboard box. Setting this box upon a small folding table, he began to set up a game of Snakes and Ladders, and the three of us gathered around to amuse ourselves in light-hearted recreation.
Our revelry was soon disrupted by a second, somehow softer explosion. A strange leaky hiss rose in volume and soon became unbearable. The three of us watched with minor astonishment as greenish-brown smoke slithered down the stairs, permeating the room with the pungent odour of burning hair.
"Whatever is that boy doing up there?" Father speculated aloud. This, of course, was the question I had been too polite to ask ever since I arrived.
His wife choked on the stench, frantically waving the smoke from her face. "I just hope it doesn't get into the curtains, whatever it is."
"I expect it's that black she-goat he requested for Christmas," my father grumbled. "Told you we shouldn't have gotten him that blasted thing."
"But darling, he so wanted one. He even put it in his little list for Santa. A little coloured pencil drawing of a black she-goat with a big heart drawn around."
"He's twenty years old, for Merlyn's sake! And at any rate, you should never have given him that Junior Summoning Set for Aspiring Mages. He's melted Soobie again, in case you haven't noticed ."
"Oh, he was just having a bit of a lark. Albus must have melted down dozens of house-elves before he settled down, didn't you, Ducky?"
"Actually, no, Mum, that was Aberforth as well, I'm afraid.
"Sixteen house elves, three owls, two cats, and the neighbour's cocker spaniel, at last count," Father huffed, scowling at the game-board again.
"But he's just a wee boy, mischievous and all." She peered in to her empty cup. "Could we have some more tea, do you think?"
"He is, as Father has just pointed out, twenty years old."
Lightning struck the house, accompanied by a howl of sadistic glee. "And they all said I was mad! Mad? Ha! It was they who were mad!"
The magical lamps flickered briefly, then went out. My father lighted the end of his wand, stuck it in an empty candleholder, and the game continued as if the interruption had never occurred.
Needless to say, this was all spectacularly troubling to my mind. Below my outwardly blase expression a thousand myriad conjectures whirled, and rapidly these morbid speculations became unbearable, pounding my brain despite the comforting crackle of the fire and my mother's settled hum of pleasure as she advanced her blob of sealing wax another three spaces.
There was a spectacularly loud boom; several large lumps of plaster fell from the ceiling onto the game board. My father swept these idly to the floor, considered, then moved his thimble up a ladder. "Your move, son."
"I really think that one of us ought to look in on him," I said again, a bit more nervously.
"Not before you move, lad."
Grimly I moved my button two spaces, too distracted by the now horrendous thumps proceeding from the room above. Father slapped his thigh and laughed. "Ah, got you now, Albus-me-lad! Down the snake you go!"
I sighed and went back to Start.
"Albus, darling, could you perhaps conjure us a pot of hot water?" Mother was an old-fashioned sort who didn't trust any sort of tea that didn't involved loose leaves and a little china pot with a knitted cosy on.
"Of course, Mother, but I really think that someone--"
"Go fetch us the teapot, son. I think I'd fancy a good cuppa myself."
Drawing my wand from the band of my hat, I produced a small, bubbling pot and left it hovering in the air above the heatless glow of my father's wand, and went to the kitchen. I found a package of chocolate biscuits and the flowered teapot, set them on the breakfast table, then rummaged through the cupboards for a cosy. There was a pea-green-and-canary one, covered with little crocheted bobbles, which my mother particularly favoured. Just then the window above the sink burst outward, spewing glass over my mother's herb garden. Identical blasts rang out from all over the house, like plates cracking in a shooting gallery.
"Albus, you alright in there?"
"Yes, but the window's blown out."
"Yes, I know. So's the one in here, I'm afraid. Repair it before you go out, won't you?"
I waved my wand, causing the glass fragments to fly up and fit themselves seamlessly into the jagged hole in the frame, cracks sealing like mercury behind a knife blade. I found the cosy at last, took a scoop of tea from the jar, and brought the lot back into the front room. The curtains whipped from a gale blowing through the broken window, and a storm which didn't seem to be affecting any other house in the neighbourhood blew in blinding sheets of rain to soak the sofa.
Father nodded toward the ruined window without really perceiving the extent of the ruptured spill of glass, which gave the frame the appearance of some villainous moue of fractured fangs. "Would you?"
As I restored my second window of the evening, I took note that the temperature of the house had plummeted to a palpable frigidity, far faster than the lack of windows might account for, and that a pale grey scrim of frost coated every surface, climbing even the wand in the candleholder. The ghostly mist of my finished breath hung in a veil before my eyes.
Without request, I obtained my mother's shawl--the whole domicile was filling up with this ghastly crocheting; Mother's new hobby was fast starting to seem more a dark obsession--and draped it about her shoulders as a second wave of burning, putrid vapour surged down the stair, sickly green fast darkening to a impenetrable woolly black that carried with it the reek burning sulphur.
A strident, rolling chant shuddered the very beams in the walls as my brother's voice rose in mad triumph, "Ph-nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'leyh wgah'nagl fhtagn! Yug-succotash! Yug-succotash!"
The echo of this riotous mantra issuing from my brother's mouth sent a dark thrill of horror through my very bones; I stood up at once, heedless of the plate of biscuits that spilled from my lap to the floor. My years of training at the University made me all too aware of the dire significance of these unendurable words, but had ill-prepared me for the impact of their insalubrious resonance upon my mind and heart, or the pure and unspeakable fear of hearing them in his voice, a voice so like my own. I knew at once what was occurring in the unseen attic above: either my idiot brother was summoning the Dark Ones for his own nefarious ends, or else he had somehow learned Welsh. Either prospect was equally chilling in my mind.
"Mother, Dad, I really don't mean to be a bother, but I'm starting to think Aberforth might be involved in the Black Arts."
"The Dark Arts, d'you mean?"
"No, I mean the really Dark Arts. The Ancient Ones. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
"Surely not that young lad Volty-mork, or whatever he's calling himself!"
"No, not that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. I had more in mind gibbering mad gods piping insane antiphonies on their ocarina, semi-formless obscenities dwelling in halls of alien geometry, albino octopi sleeping in sunken cities. That sort of thing."
"Oh, that! Never cottoned much to that sort of thing, m'self. You know your brother. Thick as a Christmas pudding. Couldn't find the set of his pants without a Point-Me spell. He's just messing around up there with that goat of his."
My eyes narrowed as a suspicion entered my badly baffled brain. "Father . . . just when was the last time you actually saw Aberforth?"
He seemed surprised. "By gum, d'you know, I've no idea. Not since we gave him the goat. When was that, dear?"
"Christmas, love. Went up to the attic, locked the door, haven't heard a peep from him since."
"You mean to tell me that Aberforth's been locked in the attic with a bloody goat since Christmas and you haven't bothered to find out what exactly he's up to?" I roared above the wild gnashing of the storm that still poured its concentrated fury upon our battered roof. "Mother, have you taken a look outside recently? This is considerably more than a peep!"
"Mind your language, Alby-love," Mother said, dropping a few stitched in the cap she was crocheting. "You know how these young boys like their privacy."
This was pure madness. The awesome and terrible chanting grew ever louder, and a stench not unlike that of boiling blood overpowered the musty odour of cats and pipe tobacco, and a horrible beating, as from the paws of some massive, blasphemous clawed thing, drew long steady strokes down the sturdy wood of the door.
"Darling, Pussywillow wants in," Father said.
"Fools!" I cried at last, agitated beyond endurance. From the folds of my robe I drew forth my wand, slashing at the thickening air that threatened to smother us all with its stench. A rending sound, as if of metal heated hot then dipped into the blacksmith's trough, assailed my ears, and the fog, which I could see now was composed of an infinite number of tiny, vaporous beasts, drew back from the silver light. "I'm going up there! He must be stopped, before he does something to splinter the very universe!"
"Now, now, Albus," Mother chided. "You know your brother gets all grumpy when he's bothered."
Ignoring this kindly but completely misguided forewarning, I stalked up the stairs, my lighted wand ever before me as the way grew rank and black with cold. The smell of blood hung against my mouth and clung to my robes, sucked down my nostrils, entered my lungs, and swathed my very soul in a shroud of weird, inhuman vileness. With much trepidation, I mount the stairs to the attic door. The way was so dark by this time I could scarcely see my hand before me, or the silvery glow of my wand against the swelling gloom.
At my knee the humble house-elf, who had emerged from the closet floor at the first sign of my foolhardy and possibly suicidal venture, flung herself upon me, clinging to my legs and burying her small weeping visage in the folds of my robes.
"Mister Alby!" she begged, her huge amber eyes sunken in circles of all too certain comprehension of the fate that surely awaited me. "Surely sir is not going into the attic! Bad things is happening up there, sir, yes, very bad things!"
I thrust her aside, ignoring her even as she pleaded and blubbered before me. "Stand aside, Widgy. I must go on."
Widgy pressed herself against the baseboards, babbling senseless half-formed words of mindless, unspeakable horror as she wrapped all her skinny limbs together and mourned, "Beware! Beware the Goat with a Thousand Young, sir! Beware!"
In the living darkness the stairs took a strange bend, patterns which no rightful human invention should possess. These, I could only surmise, were due to the growing bend of the universe as whatever monstrosity materialized from the ritual Aberforth had drawn from some unnameable tome scrawled in desert stone by an insane Arab. Yes, I knew of such things, and though the price might be my mind, I knew my only choice was to confront it, and to stop what damage could yet be prevented, lest horrors be unleashed on the world. Still the thought plagued me, burning on the back of my brain: how the hell had he gotten hold of such a dark manual, and even if he had done so . . . .
I threw back the attic door.
At first there was nothing. Then I heard a pathetic bleat from the corner, and a wild-eyed, panicking black goat ran out the darkness and hid herself behind me, trembling from horn to hoof, her wide eyes rolling. My brother stood at an altar wrought of a large oak bureau turned on its side, and this centrepiece was draped in hastily scribbled symbols done in what appeared to be red crayon. Candles burned atop this strange table, and behind it stood my younger brother, his black hair gone white and wild, standing up around his scrawny face as if he had been struck by the lightning which flashed and sizzled outside the window. He held aloft a dagger stained brown with long-dried blood, and his other hand cradled an open book, bound in dark and crackling leather.
"Aberforth, you ass," I sighed in exasperation. "You can't even read."
He turned the full force of his madness upon me, his huge eyes magnified by half-moon spectacles so like my own, drool gushing down his wizened chin.
"I've done it at last, brother! At last I've finally done it!"
"Erm . . . what exactly is it that you've done, Aberforth?"
"I've trained the goat . . . to back up!"
There was a long silence.
"I'm going to bed," I said.