In which Ariana declines the offer of alcohol, and Albus declines an offer of a lucrative job.
Britain has the oldest magical school in the world.
South Americans may protest this fact and claim that their Castelobruxo, located deep in the amazon jungle, is the oldest magical school in the world — but we British know that the honour goes to our very own Hogwarts.
Though the precise year of Hogwarts’s founding has been brought up for debate a number of times, the most reliable sources all claim that the school was founded in the year 993; two whole years before Castelobruxo.
The school, then known simply as “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft,” was of course founded by the four greatest witches of their time: Godiva Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw and Silvia Slytherin, whose names and philosophies are still reflected in the four original Hogwarts houses.
It is believed that in building and forming the school, the four Founders took inspiration from the Muggle cathedral schools of the time. The Hogwarts castle itself, with its towers and turrets, certainly has several visual elements borrowed from the larger cathedral schools, and it’s not hard to see how the Muggles’ “seven liberal arts” (Grammar, Astronomy, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry and Music) must have inspired our own “seven magical arts” (Transfiguration, Charms, Potions, Astronomy, Herbology, Arithmancy, Runes and Alchemy).
However, the Founders did not copy the Muggles in everything: Whereas the cathedral schools only accepted boys, the Founders set off to make Hogwarts the first all-girls’ school in the world.
To many modern witches and wizards, it comes as a surprise to learn that Hogwarts for most of its history only accepted girls as its students. But the Founders’ reasoning was clear: As most magical births are female, and even at the best of times witches outnumber wizards ten to one, it was deemed unwise to have the precious few wizards in existence freely mingle with witches, and possibly cause undue competition and resentment that might interfere with the girls’ education.
A few half-hearted attempts were made at making a similar school for wizards, but since there were so few of them, it was found to be impractical. And so, for centuries, there was no formal education for wizards. Since we were still living openly among Muggles, young wizards would sometimes attend cathedral schools or monastery schools for their formal education, but more often they were simply either taught by their parents, or apprenticed to older wizards, and were fully educated when their masters said they were.
Things may have continued like this indefinitely, if it hadn’t been for the establishing of the International Statute of Secrecy in 1697.
All of a sudden, witches and wizards were to live apart from Muggles and hide their magical nature. The newly-established Ministry for Magic decreed that it was no longer feasible to keep the young wizards from a formal education, and so for the safety of everyone, Hogwarts was to accept boys as well as girls.
Hence, the school was renamed “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry” and became co-ed.
To make the transition easier, it was decreed that the boys would not join any of the four established houses of the school; instead a fifth school house would be established, which would exclusively take in boys. This house would be named after the most famous wizard of all time: Merlin.
– excerpt from “Wizards of Hogwarts” by Batilda Bagshot.
It was called the Leaky Cauldron, and it was not only the oldest, but the most elusive pub in all of London.
Perhaps it didn’t look like much. It was small, unobtrusive, a little shabby… but if the pub itself wasn’t all that impressive, the clientele more than made up for it.
For one thing, it was almost completely female. On any given day of the week, you could find women of all ages, shapes and sizes in the Leaky Cauldron. Quite literally, in fact; you could find women of shapes and sizes and even colours here that you never found anywhere else. Sharing drinks, playing games, engaging in silly pub quizzes.
At one table, old grandmothers with white hair might let six-year-old girls beat them in card games. At another table, naked green ladies with hair like leaves would be having drinking contests with pale women with fangs and fancy dresses. Or at the bar, you might see pink-haired girls argue with three-foot-tall women about whose turn it was to buy the next round. And that’s not even counting all the regular human women in outrageous outfits; here you were just as likely to see absurdly long cloaks or impossibly tall powdered wigs, as you were to see loincloths and bare breasts.
In short, it was the sort of place where unusual and extraordinary women could be themselves, without having to worry about what “polite society” might say about their appearance.
The lady who had just stepped inside through the entrance this particular evening didn’t look too noticeable at first glance.
She was of an indeterminate age, rather short and plump with shoulder-length blonde hair and alert blue eyes behind a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles. She was dressed elegantly, if somewhat conservatively, in a dark red frock coat dress; rather old-fashioned for the streets of London but certainly not out of the ordinary for the Leaky Cauldron.
The barmaid, a rather buxom lady with hair like a red cloud around her head, was just serving a very tall drink to a woman so tiny she needed to sit on three thick phone books to reach the table, when she noticed the newcomer.
“Headmistress!” she greeted. “As I live an’ breathe!”
The plump woman returned the smile as she made her way through the crowded barroom. “Hello, Tanya. It’s been a while.”
Her full name was Ariana Urquart, of the Dumbledore line, but since she had been the Headmistress of Hogwarts School for Wizardry and Witchcraft for several decades, she usually just went under the name ‘Headmistress.’
“Hang on, I’ll git ye a drink.” The barmaid moved back towards the bar, past three young women were loudly arguing over whose fault it was they’d lost the pub quiz, and stood in front of Ariana. “Got sum real ale on tap… or ha’ abyeut a brandy?”
“Your brandy is always excellent,” said Ariana warmly. “But I’m actually not here to drink today. I’m meeting my brother here.”
“Definitely a brandy situation, then,” said the barmaid with a smirk. “Yoor brother arrived here half an hoor ago. He’s waitin’ fo’ ye in one of the private parloors… him an’ that giant friend of his.”
“Oh, come now, my brother isn’t that bad,” said Ariana. “He is a bit of a non-conformist, but he has never been anything but a loving brother to me. I can manage a few hours in his company without feeling the need to get drunk.”
“Just as ye say, Headmistress,” said the barmaid, even if she didn’t seem too convinced.
“But perhaps a cup of tea and some biscuits?” said Ariana. “Some of those delightful coconut macaroons.”
“Tea an’ macaroons,” the barmaid repeated. “Allright.”
She walked around the bar and once more passed the three young women, who were still arguing about that pub quiz. She stopped and nodded to them. “By the wa’, ye three, ye might want tuh think abyeut gettin’ a room fo’ the night,” she said. “Room Ten’s available, ye can be as loud as ye want there.”
The three women, Ariana noted, looked like they weren’t certain if they were arguing or flirting with one another. They did at least seem to take the offer into consideration before starting to argue again.
After writing down Ariana’s order on the slate on the wall, and after the text had glowed pink and vanished to signal that the order was received, the barmaid motioned for Ariana to follow her down the passage that led from the bar.
“Young witches,” she sighed, as she led the way down the narrow passage. “One moment they’re ready tuh tear each other’s heads off, an’ the next they end up tearin’ each other’s clothes off insteed. Ah, tuh be that young an’ foolish agyen, eh, Headmistress?”
“In my experience,” said Ariana, “old witches can be just as foolish as young ones.”
“Oh, sorry,” said the barmaid cheerfully. “I meant ‘that young an’ horny.’ “
“So did I.”
They had reached the door with the number 10, and the barmaid opened it to let Ariana in.
Inside the small parlour — just as the barmaid had said — two men were waiting for her.
One man was absolutely enormous. He had a huge black beard that covered most of his face, he wore a moleskin overcoat with so many pockets that it was impossible to count them all, and at the moment he was busy taking a swig from a tankard so large that the tiny woman from the bar could have taken a bath in it. When he saw Headmistress, he placed the tankard down with a heavy thud.
“Ariana!” he exclaimed in a thick West County accent. “There yeh are! That explains the tea an’ macaroons!”
“Hello, Hagrid,” said Ariana. “And Albus.”
The other man, who was sitting opposite the giant, now set aside his own mug (hot chocolate, from the looks of it) and raised himself to greet Ariana warmly. “It’s been much too long, Ariana. Have a seat!”
Albus Dumbledore could not have looked much more different from his sister. He was tall, thin and auburn-haired, his beard was neat and streaked with grey, and he was wearing the odd combination of a purple dressing gown over an elegant three-piece suit. But when you saw his eyes, you immediately realized that he and Ariana had to be related: they had the same sharp and intelligent blue eyes.
Albus reached out a hand, and made a brief gesture towards an empty chair. Immediately, the chair sprang to life. On four stiff wooden legs, it walked over to them and settled down by the table, right by the cup of tea and plate of coconut macaroons that true to the barmaid’s word was waiting for Ariana.
“Will there be owt else?” said the barmaid. “If not, I’d better heed back tuh the bar and see if those three youngsters have decided on whether they want tuh fight or fuck.”
“Then by all means, don’t let us detain you,” Ariana chuckled. “Both those things should probably be done in a private room.”
As the barmaid left, she sat down on the offered chair. “I’m sorry for making you wait, Albus. You would not believe how busy I am these days.”
“I might believe it. I’ve been known to be quite gullible at times,” said Albus. “How is Hogwarts these days?”
“Couldn’t be better,” said Ariana. “Incredible how busy I get, though. Sometimes I don’t even know why I chose an academic career. Always more work, never a free moment.”
Albus smiled. “If there is anything I have learned from years of listening to you complaining about your job, it’s that the Headmistress of Hogwarts is never truly free,” he said. “But there is anything I’ve learned from years of being your brother, it’s that you wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“You know me too well,” she admitted.
“And your coven?” Albus went on. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen… any of them.”
The hesitation wasn’t lost on Ariana. “The coven is doing fine,” she said. “Elphinstone and Minerva send their greetings. As for Abby…” She sighed. “I’m sorry, Albus, but she still doesn’t want to talk to you.”
“No, I didn’t think she would.” Albus sighed as well. “I could always tell that she struggled to accept my lifestyle… to her credit, she did make the honest attempt not to judge after I came out, even after she realized I wouldn’t be starting any covens anytime soon. But then I went ahead and announced my career choice… and she never could forgive me that.”
“Actually,” said Ariana. “That was what I wanted to talk to you about. Your career.”
“I have been a private investigator for decades, Ariana,” said Albus. “I have heard all your arguments for why I should give that up, and I still haven’t changed my mind.”
“I just worry about you, Albus,” said Ariana. “I feel like I can’t open a newspaper without there being some story about how you’ve caught some deranged murderer…”
“Ah, you know how newspapers like to exaggerate,” said Albus lightly. “The life of a private investigator is nowhere near as dangerous as you seem to think. The number of deranged murderers I’ve faced is surprisingly much lower than the number of lost cats I’ve reunited with their owners. Besides,” he added, looking up at Hagrid. “I always have Hagrid to keep me out of trouble.”
“Keep yeh outta trouble!” Hagrid guffawed. “Don’ listen ter him, Ariana. Wild Hippogriffs couldn’ keep yer brother out o’ trouble! An’ thank goodness for that,” he added. “Can’t imagine how much worse off we all woulda bin if Albus Dumbledore stayed outta trouble! Don’ worry about him, he’s better at handlin’ trouble than anyone I’ve ever known.”
“Still,” said Ariana. She turned back to look at Albus. “I would feel a lot calmer if you would reconsider becoming a teacher. I need a new Head of Merlin for next year, and if you wanted the job —”
“What?” Hagrid exclaimed. “Ol’ Flitwick’s leavin’? But he can’t be retirin’ age yet, he’s barely a hundred years old!”
“I’m afraid some busybody at the Ministry found out about his heritage,” said Ariana. “I wouldn’t have been able to protect him if the Board of Governors decided that they didn’t want him teaching their children anymore… so we agreed that it was better that he withdrew quietly… oh, Hagrid, it’s all right.”
Because Hagrid had pulled an enormous handkerchief out of one of his pockets and was blowing his nose loudly. “That’s a cryin’ shame,” he said. “Flitwick was the bes’ teacher I ever had. I wasn’ ever much good at school, but Flitwick was good at explainin’ so a poor bloke unnerstood.”
“He will be missed,” said Ariana solemnly. “But my offer stands, Albus. I think you would make a good Head of Merlin — and a good Defence teacher. Even Abby thinks so. If you were to take the job, I’m certain she would talk to you again.”
Albus sighed. “I know you mean well, Ariana. But I chose my life a long time ago. I neither can nor will abandon it. Besides, if the Board of Governors can’t accept Filius Flitwick, capital fellow that he is, what would they say about having someone like me teach their children?”
“You let me worry about that,” said Ariana firmly. “If they have a problem, I can simply point to your list of merits… they should speak for themselves.”
“And they would speak against me,” said Albus. “As I know the Board of Governors, they are a rather traditionalist lot… and alas, I am far from traditional. Besides, I am not sure I would have made a very good teacher.”
“I, however, am certain that you would make a great teacher,” said Ariana. “If you had been a woman, you would have been Headmistress at Hogwarts by now.”
“And if I had been a wood nymph, no doubt I would have made an excellent Keeper of the Forest,” said Albus. “But since I’m neither woman nor nymph, I think I’m better served focusing on the career I did choose. No,” he added, gently but firmly, “I thank you for your offer, my dearest sister, but I must decline. I made a promise, seven years ago, to keep an eye on young Holly. Which I can’t do if I’m busy teaching at Hogwarts.”
“Holly? Oh, of course. Holly Potter, of the Evans line.” Ariana nodded. “The famous Impossible Child, or is it ‘the Girl Who Lived’ they’re calling her these days?”
“I think ‘Impossible Child’ is slightly more popular,” said Albus. “Though depressingly many still refer to as ‘that poor girl who had to go live with Muggles because her mother was too selfish to join a coven.‘ A bit of a mouthful, and not quite fair to poor Lily, but…”
“There is some truth to it,” said Ariana. “You can’t pretend that the child wouldn’t have been better off if Lily Potter of the Evans line had consented to share her man. James Potter was a popular boy, as I remember… rich and handsome. He could have had as large a coven as he wanted.”
“There is nothing to say that any other wives James Potter had would not also have perished when he and Lily did. In fact, I fear that is exactly what would have happened.”
“Not necessarily,” said Ariana. “If they had a coven, they would have had an elf to protect them.”
“They would,” Albus agreed. “Though in this case I wonder if this would have been enough. You weren’t there when it happened, Ariana, but I was. Riddle was on a rampage, he would have killed anyone he encountered. That final confrontation between him and Lily… I barely had time to get young Holly out of the house before the final explosion. If there had been anyone else alive there at the time, I’m not certain I could have saved them.”
“But you saved the child,” said Ariana. “Only to dump her off on her Muggle relatives.”
“It was Lily’s wish. The will she set up was quite clear that Holly should go to her Muggle sister.”
“Dunno what she was thinkin’, mind,” said Hagrid. “That sister an’ her husband. Nasty folks. Not treatin’ the girl right at all.”
Ariana took a slow sip of her tea and chose a macaroon while thinking of what to say next. “They’re not beating her, are they?” she finally said. “I remember those Muggle books you used to read when we were young, Albus…”
“Thankfully, Muggle treatment of children has generally improved since the days of Nicholas Nickleby,” said Albus. “No, her aunt and uncle have never so much as raised a hand to her. With due lack of modesty, I would have known instantly if they had. Still… I do not think she is getting the love and attention a young child needs.”
“We never shoulda left the girl with them, hang what that will said,” Hagrid grumbled. “I know Lily wanted ter bury the hatchet with her sister an’ all, bu’ some folks are jus’ lost causes.”
“Perhaps so,” said Albus. “But I can all too well understand Lily’s desire to reconcile with an estranged sister.” His tone turned slightly wistful; he was probably thinking about Abby. “I think Lily’s hope was that Petunia would overcome her own feelings about us and our world, and take Holly in as her own. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Petunia took the girl, but she resents her. And she has taught her husband and son to resent her as well.”
“But if this is the case, Albus,” said Ariana, “why is the child still with those people? Why haven’t you —?”
“Why haven’t I taken her from them?” Albus shook his head. “I have been tempted. But the problem is that such a thing is called ‘kidnapping.’ Her aunt and uncle are her legal guardians, in our world and theirs, and I’m merely a concerned friend of her deceased parents. I have no authority in this, no matter how you look at it. And if I’m to be honest, and honesty is supposed to be a virtue… I’m already skirting the limits of the legal with being as involved in the case as I am.”
“If I remember correctly, Albus, you have never been one to care what the Ministry wanted,” said Ariana dryly. “Or did you have a number of wives hidden somewhere, and simply never got around to introducing me to them?”
Albus chuckled. “Me, in a coven? Now, that is a dreadful thought.” Then he grew serious. “Truth be told, I’m not afraid for myself, but of making the situation worse for the poor girl. For now, Hagrid and I have had to content ourselves by watching over her and making certain she’s safe. It did mean moving from London to Surrey, but luckily even Surrey can use a private investigator every now and again.”
“You’ve appointed yourself her guardian, have you?”
“Guardian is a strong word. But I made a promise to her mother. I think you will like her when you meet her,” Albus went on. “People might call her ‘the Impossible Child,’ but I find her to be quite a delightful one.”
“She’s a good ‘un,” Hagrid agreed.
“I’ll look forward to having her at Hogwarts in a couple of years, then,” said Ariana. “Isn’t she nine already?”
“Eight,” Albus corrected. “Or rather, she will be eight this July. To be honest, Ariana, I am concerned for her. There are too many people out there who would exploit her, people she is too young to defend herself against, and which her relatives either couldn’t or wouldn’t defend her against. There have been incidents… And then there is of course Tom Riddle.”
Ariana frowned. “You still think he is alive, then?” she said. “Nobody has seen or heard anything of him for seven years. He’s been declared officially dead.”
“I don’ care about the official part of it,” said Hagrid darkly. “I know that bloody bastard. They didn’ call him ‘The Man Who Couldn’ Die’ fer nothing. I was there that time when Albus fought him. Saw with me own eyes how yer brother chopped the man’s head off with Gryffindor’s Sword. Yeh know what Riddle did?”
“I have heard the story,” said Ariana, without much hope that this would dissuade Hagrid from telling it again.
True enough, it didn’t. “He didn’ even fall down! His headless body calmly walked over to his head, picked it up, an’ then put it back on! Like it was a hat or somethin’! An’ then he went straight back ter hurlin’ curses! Someone who can do that, they don’ jus’ keel over an’ die,” Hagrid finished with a certain grim satisfaction. “Nah, he’s still out there somewhere, tryin’ ter regain his power!”
“I’m afraid Hagrid is right,” said Albus. “The question is not if, but when, he builds up enough strength to go after Holly.” Then he suddenly smiled. “So, as you see, with one thing and another, it’s quite impossible for me to accept your generous offer of a job.”
“And when Holly is of Hogwarts age?” Ariana inquired. “That’s only three years away. Will you change your mind then?”
“By then you will already have hired a new Head of Merlin,” said Albus. “It wouldn’t do for me to steal the poor fellow’s job after he’s only had it for a couple of years. Besides, at Hogwarts, she will have protections even I can’t provide. Tom Riddle will never get past Argyra and her daughters.”
“And what about those who would exploit the child, as you say?” Ariana looked at him.
“Oh, I have every confidence in your ability to deal with them, at least until Holly can do it herself,” said Albus cheerfully. “At the very least, I know you will not allow anyone to lure her into joining a coven before she is old enough.”
“I will at least do my very best,” said Ariana. “Mind you, I doubt I could stop her from doing a bit of experimenting with her schoolmates as she grows older. But that’s only to be expected.” A slightly mischievous smile appeared on her lips, as if she was either planning or remembering something vaguely naughty, but very funny. “I haven’t quite forgotten what it was like to be a young witch… even if the students would probably never believe that.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to isolate her,” said Albus. “Quite the contrary, she will need friends and allies among her peers. If this should lead to her joining a coven sometime in the future, then that will be her decision. Just so long as she doesn’t have to make the decision before she is ready for it.”
“Oh, I agree there,” Ariana nodded. “I think there are some things I could do to help the girl. It would take some time to get everything organized, but we have three years until…” And then, all of a sudden, she laughed. “Albus, you are an incorrigible rogue.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Albus; a statement which, whenever it’s said, is usually a lie.
“I daresay you do! Here I arrive, all set on convincing you to give up that private investigator job of yours and come work at Hogwarts, and now you have me talking only about Holly Potter of the Evans line, and how to help her.”
“That does sound like a much worthier conversation topic to me,” said Albus. “As a teacher, you have often said that children are the future.”
“Well,” said Albus. “Holly Potter may be a vital deciding factor when it comes to what kind of future we will have.”