It was December 1926 when Aberforth saw his brother for the first time in years.
Albus was sitting at one of the tables at the Hog’s Head, amiably chatting to a young brown skinned man who looked about half his age.
“It has to be a publicity stunt,” said the wizard. “An abandoned car, ‘the Silent Pool,’ a suspicious husband - it contains all the trappings of a novel.”
“That would be the preferable scenario,” Albus said. “The Daily Prophet, I hear, has already been trumpeting about poor Mrs. Christie being devoured by a kelpie or an each-uisge.”
The wizard snorted. “Are there any each-uisges down there? I doubt it.”
Aberforth cleared his throat. The other wizard looked up and cheerily asked for a pint of firewhisky.
Aberforth obliged, then pulled Albus aside.
“For the love of Merlin, Albus, don’t pick up men at my bar,” Aberforth said.
“Good evening to you, too, Aberforth,” Albus said with a blithe smile. “How are the goats?”
Aberforth pointed at the pen that was visible through a nearby window. “They’re fine. Lucy birthed kids awhile back; Ernest recovered from a bout of infection; and--” He narrowed his eyes. “Albus.”
Albus leaned out to peer through the window. “Ah, is that one of Lucy’s kids? His horns are red.”
Aberforth scowled. “One of my charms went wrong. We can’t all be geniuses.”
He waited for Albus to play the do-gooder and accuse him of illegal charm experimentation, but, thankfully, his brother let it pass without comment. Aberforth probably would have challenged him to a duel on the spot if he mentioned it.
“What are you doing here?” Aberforth grumbled, refusing to be distracted. “Don’t you have brats to teach?”
“It’s winter hols.”
“And that still doesn’t give you the right to waltz down here and seduce my customers. Go do it somewhere else.”
“I am doing no such thing,” Albus said. “We were having a speculative conversation about the fate of a Muggle mystery writer who mysteriously disappeared several days ago. I’ve also been contemplating a modern revival of literary salons--”
The wizard Albus had been talking to, who was approaching the bar for a refill, perked up. “Yes, we were discussing that earlier. It’s an excellent idea. Magical Britain needs a bit of lively culture, if you ask me.”
“I’m happy that we’re in agreement,” Albus said, beaming. “Perhaps you would be amenable to inviting your acquaintances and I’ll invite mine? I know that you have a wide circle of friends, Mr. Shafiq.”
“Of course,” Shafiq said, reaching over to shake Albus’ hand. “By the way, I forgot to say, honored to talk to you today, Mr. Dumbledore. Your recent articles in Transfiguration Today are groundbreaking.”
That was a familiar scene. Aberforth grimaced, suddenly remembering how his old Hogwarts professors had routinely commented on Albus’ brilliance, wondering if his younger brother would turn out the same.
“I can place an announcement in The Daily Prophet,” Shafiq resolved. He took out his pocket watch and let out an alarmed noise. “I should be going, Mr. Dumbledore. The Prophet offices will be closing soon. Tomorrow night?”
Shafiq apparated with a crack.
Aberforth said, “Albus.”
“This salon of yours,” he said, “you’re not having it here, are you?”
“What did you name the kid with the red horns? The little devilish-looking creature?” Albus chuckled.
“Albus,” Aberforth said.
“I named him after you.”
Thus, Albus’ ‘salon’ commenced. The next night, the Hog’s Head was full of customers. There was a part of Aberforth that appreciated the new business, but on the other hand…
It was a baffling transformation. The Hog’s Head, derelict, dirty, now occupied by loud-mouthed artists and orators talking about arts, culture, politics, magical studies, etcetera. Aberforth was proud to say that he could barely understand a single word of it.
Albus flitted from table to table, with Shafiq at his side. They were wearing matching robes, shimmering midnight blue, and they seemed awfully close.
Aberforth dearly hoped that Shafiq hadn’t been one of Albus’ students.
When Aberforth went back to his room to retrieve a couple cases of butterbeer and firewhisky, he found a dark haired boy laughing in front of Ariana’s portrait.
“How’d you get in here?” Aberforth said. He made a move to grab his wand.
“I don’t mind,” Ariana said, smiling within her frame. “This is Credence, Aberforth. I was telling him how you and Albus always quarreled over what to put in my tea.”
Yes, Aberforth remembered that. Albus used to dump in an unpleasant amount of sugar, while Aberforth stirred in goat milk, which gave tea a delightful creamy flavor, in his opinion.
“You were talking about tea?” Aberforth said. He looked at the boy up and down. He was a scrawny lad, pale, looking slightly intimidated. “Are you one of Albus’ students?”
“No, sir,” the boy said. He had an American accent. “Not officially. Mr. Scamander recently left me under Professor Dumbledore’s care, since he’s busy publishing a book.”
“Theseus Scamander?” Even Aberforth had heard about the war hero’s exploits during the Great War.
“Newt Scamander,” Credence said.
Aberforth stilled. “There was something in the papers awhile ago about Newt Scamander capturing Grindelwald, wasn’t there?”
Gellert bloody Grindelwald. At the mention of his name, Ariana’s eyes widened, stormy blue, and Credence trembled.
There was something strangely...familiar about the way Credence shook. The air seemed to thicken, and Aberforth didn’t know why, but he rested a hand on Credence’s shoulders.
“Why don’t you help me feed the goats?” Aberforth said.
He took the boy outside. He taught the boy the goats’ names and Credence memorized them all immediately.
“What in Morgana’s name is wrong with you?” Aberforth demanded, once all of the ‘salon’ participants had departed and Credence had resumed talking to Ariana again, away in Aberforth’s room. “Who is this boy and how is he connected to that German bastard?”
A plethora of emotions crossed Albus’ face, too numerous to keep track of. “Credence was involved in some unfortunate events in New York. Gellert--” Albus stopped.
“At least your old friend is safely locked away for the foreseeable future,” Aberforth said, with a sneer. “This boy Credence isn’t one of his followers, is he?”
Albus shook his head. “No. Gellert tried to use him for his schemes, and Credence, in return, tried to kill him.”
Well. That didn’t sound too bad. Pity the boy didn’t succeed.
Aberforth said, gruffly, “What’s this all about, then? Holding a salon here and bringing along that boy?”
“I thought it would be wise if Credence had interactive, positive exposure to wizard culture,” Albus said. “He grew up in a Muggle family with a mother who hated magic. They called themselves the Second Salemers.”
“And this exposure process can’t be done at Hogwarts?”
“Winter hols,” Albus pointed out. “The castle is mostly empty.”
“...Fine,” Aberforth said. Even if this salon thing was absurd, it was a fad that would eventually die down. He knew that Albus would have to go back to teaching at Hogwarts once the term resumed.
“Just try not to talk to me,” Aberforth added, because this was not an actual reconciliation, but rather a strict business arrangement that he benefited from, of course. More galleons for him.
The next night, Aberforth let his barmaid Susanna attend to the salon participants, while he showed Credence how to groom the goats.
It was soothing and slow work. Aberforth always preferred using brushes and combs to wandwork; it was easier to unknot the more intricate tangles that way.
“Aren’t they cold?” Credence asked, after a while.
“Their coats keep them warm in the winter,” Aberforth said. “Sometimes I throw up heating charms around the pen if it gets particularly cold.”
Credence said, hesitantly, that he didn’t know how heating charms worked. When Albus said that Credence had come from a magic-hating family, apparently that meant he didn’t have a magical education at all.
Aberforth was no magic academic like Albus, but having no rough practical knowledge of magic seemed unthinkable.
Aberforth told Credence the incantation and motion, and after several tries, the boy got it right.
“There, you see,” Aberforth said. “Have you tried butterbeer before? Let’s go inside; I’ll get you a mug.”
On entering the Hog’s Head, Credence found himself getting entangled in an awkward conversation with one of the salon-goers, an older dark haired man.
The stranger launched into a proud speech about his son’s business ventures (“you should try his potions; your hair looks like it might need it”).
“And,” the man went on, “there was an article in the Prophet today about how enchanted defense objects are becoming popular. I often wish my son had gone into battle potions instead, because he could have brewed something amazing! You see, there’s a cloak passed down through our family that renders the user invisible; it’s strong, old magic and hasn’t worn off. I wager my son could make a potion based off of that, one that doesn’t wear off--”
Albus sauntered by, Safiq right next to him as usual. “Credence,” he said, “Aberforth is searching for you. He says he fetched a glass of butterbeer and he’s waiting in his room.”
The stranger he was talking to waved a polite goodbye and ambled off.
“Apologies--I hope I wasn’t interrupting anything too important or interesting,” Albus said.
“No, not really.”
On the third night, Aberforth showed Credence how to tend bar.
“My mother used to say that alcohol is a sin and a vice,” Credence said. “She joined the local Anti-Saloon League chapter to help get Prohibition passed.”
Aberforth blinked. Credence looked nonplussed--or even, rather pleased of his own handiwork as he mixed drinks together.
“If you have alcohol to spare, maybe you can send it to America,” Credence said. “My ma worked with other neighborhood churches for Prohibition and the war effort, and there was this Catholic priest who was always kind to me. My ma said he was a sacrilegious blasphemer--anyhow, sir, I know he stocked up sacramental wine and...distributed it. But he was always complaining that there was never enough.”
“Er,” Aberforth said, stunned.
Within a couple of hours, Credence talked to several people at the salon and received discounts for shipping packages through international floo.
And that was how Aberforth Dumbledore became a bootlegging supplier.
On the other side of the world in prison, Gellert Grindelwald raged at the newspaper photographs that showed Albus Dumbledore draped around a handsome young wizard.
“He’s supposed to die a virgin,” Gellert said, sulking. “A heartbroken, pining virgin. None of my visions predicted anything like this.”
The guard, who had to bear Gellert’s ramblings, said, “That seems like an unorthodox use of divination abilities.”
“But don’t you see?” Gellert exclaimed. “That means something’s gone wrong. My predictions are usually on the mark--excepting the Ariana, Credence, and armadillo love potion incidents--but with this now as well! This casts into doubt my other plans. I have to be very cautious where I tread next…”
After a week of bartending and goat care, Credence told Aberforth, quietly, that he was an Obscurial.
And again, Aberforth confronted Albus.
“You,” Aberforth said, “are trying to trick me into adopting that boy.”
Albus didn’t say anything.
“It’s irresponsible,” Aberforth said, through gritted teeth. “Just because you’re used to pushing Ariana onto me--you’re doing it again. Falling into old patterns. You’re going to get that boy hurt.”
“I’m not trying to trick you,” Albus said. “I’ve already persuaded you.”
Aberforth opened his mouth, closed it, and realized his brother was right. He did want Credence to stay.
“This salon has been an elaborate ruse,” Aberforth said, realization dawning.
“Oh, something like that, perhaps,” Albus said. “I’ve made sure that Credence Barebone has an adequate caretaker who knows how to manage Obscurials out of personal experience, and genuinely wants to look out for his interests. I’ve formed significant political connections through Mr. Shafiq, because I’ve realized that this might be important when, not if, Gellert escapes. And in the meanwhile, I’ve successfully psychologically unbalanced Gellert.”
What the fuck, Albus, Aberforth thought.
“When we were boys, Gellert made a prophecy to me that he tried to pass off as a joke,” Albus said. “That I would always be attached to him. It still is technically true, in more ways than one, but I’ve had a feeling he’s still held onto this thought. And so I decided to shake his faith in his Seeing powers.”
“Which is why you’re publicly traipsing around with that Shafiq fellow,” Aberforth said.
Albus nodded. “It falls together rather neatly, don’t you think? As for Credence, I truly want him to find a home with you.”
“He isn’t a replacement you can give me instead of Ariana,” Aberforth said, weary. “I will take him in, Albus, but you know--I still don’t forgive you.”
Albus turned around, and Aberforth couldn't see his face. “Yes,” he said. “I know.”