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Bruises [+podfic]

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Aberforth did not understand. He had seen his father carry his sister in -- seen the bruises on her arms and legs -- but if she had hurt herself, why was she not crying? Instead, her eyes were wide and staring, and her mouth hung open as if she had forgotten to close it.

Their father had taken Ariana into her small bedroom, and he and Aberforth's mother had closed the door behind them. Aberforth pressed his ear to the wood, but all he could hear was the muffled sound of his mother's weeping and the low, tense murmur of his father's voice. His mother had left the room once, carrying a bowl of steaming liquid and a bloodstained cloth. Her eyes were red, but Aberforth was too frightened to ask what was wrong. His parents seemed to have forgotten about him entirely.

Albus will tell me.

Albus was ten and clever and had a way of patiently explaining things that made them easy for his seven-year-old brother to understand. Albus had come in with their father. He would know what had happened to Ariana.

Going upstairs, Aberforth pushed open the door to the bedroom he shared with his brother. Albus lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. An echo of the look that haunted Ariana's eyes lived in his as well. That frightened Aberforth even more. He was used to confidence from his brother, bordering on arrogance. This fearful silence was too much to bear.

"Al?" he whispered, climbing onto the bed beside the older boy. "What happened to Ari?"

Albus continued to stare at the ceiling, as if watching a scene play out before him too terrible to look away.

"Some Muggle boys," he said at last. "They saw her do magic. They -- hurt her."

Aberforth was more confused than ever. "She didn't seem too bad hurt. Just some bruises. Mum can heal those in about a minute." But then he remembered the bloodstained cloth, and fell silent.

Albus shook his head. "They didn't hurt her like that, Ab." His voice was soft, lost in a wilderness of pain and fear. "It wasn't hitting or kicking. They -- I didn't know people could hurt each other that way."

"What did they do?" Panic rose in Aberforth's throat. Muggle boys had done something to Ariana that even Albus had not known about, and Albus knew everything.

His brother looked at him at last, and Aberforth saw a depth of anger, sadness, fear, and pain that he had never known in all his short life. "You're too young to understand, Ab," he said grimly.

Aberforth felt tears spring to his eyes. "Is Ari going to be all right?"

"I don't know," said Albus, who hardly ever uttered those words.

The younger boy leapt off the bed. "I'm gonna find those boys!" he declared loudly. "I'm gonna make them pay!" Anything was better than just sitting here, doing nothing.

Albus sat up and grabbed his arm, looking more frightened than ever. "No, Ab. You can't. They might hurt you, too. Think of mother."

"But why?" Aberforth wailed, subsiding back onto the bed. "Why did they do it?"

Albus shrugged, bright blue eyes cold. "They're Muggles, aren't they? They're stupid. Magic scares them."

"I hate them," Aberforth said hotly. "Someone should make them pay."

A door slammed downstairs. The two brothers hurried to the window in time to see their father striding purposefully down the road, wand drawn.

"I think they will," said Albus, but he did not sound as if the thought made him any happier.