Aberforth hadn’t meant to escalate things this far.
He couldn’t exactly claim surprise either, though. It stood to reason that Gellert would react violently to any challenge raised towards him or his hold on Albus; that was exactly the kind of person he was. If anything, Aberforth clung to it with a bitter, vicious satisfaction between waves of pain; this was vindication, in a way. Albus couldn’t ignore it any longer; Gellert had revealed his true self, and he would be forced to face up to that now.
What had hurt far worse than any curse could was when the pain had begun to subside and Aberforth had looked up to see his brother standing between them, indecision written plainly on his face. Even now, he still couldn’t pick a side. Even now, this cruel and arrogant stranger held equal sway over him to his own family.
Aberforth picked himself up gingerly, through gritted teeth. His entire body was still trembling; his muscles felt like they were on fire. The spell he tried to cast went wide and a glass case shattered behind Gellert’s head.
The retaliating spell struck him square in the chest and he was slammed backwards into a wall. The air left his lungs; his head was ringing as he struggled to draw in breath.
By the time he had managed to completely clear his head and regain his breath, sparks were flying between Albus and Gellert in – thankfully – the most literal sense possible. He made a move to sit up when a blur of light streaked over his head, only narrowly missing.
A movement to the side of the room caught his eye, and Aberforth’s stomach sank. Ariana. He hadn’t even thought of how the lights and noise would affect her; not that a confrontation could be avoided, but they should, at least, have taken it somewhere out of her way.
“Stop fighting.” Her voice was barely audible over the crackle of magic. “Please, stop fighting.”
Aberforth glanced between her, Gellert and Albus, and the sinking feeling in his stomach intensified. There was no way this could possibly end well. He had to finish this fight, and finish it quickly.
Another spell flew in his direction, and Aberforth had to roll to the side to avoid it.
“ Please .” The plea came from Albus, this time. “Please, hurt me, not them.”
For someone who garnered so much praise for his brilliance, his brother could be downright stupid sometimes. Fighting for all the wrong causes, then suddenly becoming a pacifist when he needed to fight. Trying to martyr himself when he needed to take a stand. He was going to get them all hurt. He was going to get himself hurt.
“ Choose me over them, ” Gellert snarled back as Aberforth climbed to his feet.
Several things happened over the course of a few seconds. Aberforth and Gellert released their curses at each other simultaneously. Black smoke flared up around Ariana. The room flashed bright white, and everyone standing in it was thrown backwards.
Aberforth came to his senses with the scent of smoke in his lungs and splinters digging into his back. He blinked several times to clear the dust from his eyes.
Scanning the room, he found Ariana first. She was curled up in a ball, knees clutched against her chest; periodically, a coughing fit would wrack her body.
His gaze landed on Gellert next. His hand went to his wand, just in case, but the boy didn’t seem to have any desire to resume their fight. His face had gone bone-white; together with the pale colour of his hair, he looked like he’d been dipped in bleach. His wand was in his hand as well, but it was trembling so badly Aberforth doubted he could have cast a spell if he’d wanted to. There was a hole burnt through his shirt, just above his heart, and Aberforth caught a glimpse of singed flesh through it. One of their spells must have hit him, after all.
Which left only Albus unaccounted for.
Aberforth followed Gellert’s gaze to the center of the room, but even before it got there a part of him knew what he would see. Albus lay spread out across the floor, auburn hair sticking to his face, wand lying several inches away from his hand. Bile rose in Aberforth’s throat.
He might just have been knocked out. The blast of magic had thrown all of them; he could have banged his head against the floor and lost consciousness -
But his eyes were wide open, and his chest wasn’t moving.
Aberforth dragged his gaze away from Albus and back to Gellert. Their eyes met. For a moment, something that was almost understanding passed between them; Gellert’s eyes were wide and horror-stricken. It was, perhaps, the first instance of genuine emotion Aberforth had seen from him that wasn’t anger. There was something almost pleading in the way he looked at him, like Aberforth could absolve him somehow; as though, if they made up now, the entire fight might never have happened. Something yawning opened up within Aberforth; it might, even, have been pity.
Then Ariana whimpered, and the moment shattered. Aberforth was on his feet to go comfort her when he was suddenly slammed against the wall. Gellert’s face was so close it almost touched his; his fingers dug into Aberforth’s throat. Any note of pleading or understanding those eyes might have held before had vanished, replaced with white hot fury.
“What did you do?” he hissed. Aberforth gasped for breath; nothing came out. “ What did you do to him? ”
“How... do you know...” Aberforth paused to suck in another breath. His vision was beginning to swim; a small, distant part of him registered fear at the realization that Gellert might actually strangle him to death, but the rest of him was too shocked to react properly to the realization. “...that it wasn’t you?”
Gellert laughed. The sound was bleak and utterly empty. “It wasn’t. It can’t have been. ” The pressure against his throat eased slightly. “I couldn’t hurt him. It could not have been me.”
“If you think I wanted to hurt him -”
“No. You do not understand.” Gellert spoke to him slowly, as if to a child. Aberforth wished he could smash his face in just to make him stop. “I could not have hurt him.” He tightened his grip on Aberforth again. “I will kill you. I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you, I’ll - !”
Without warning, Gellert released Aberforth and stumbled backwards, doubling over to gasp for breath as though he were the one who had just been choked. Aberforth braced himself against the wall, reeling, as his mind struggled to catch up with the past ten minutes of his life.
With a sudden, resounding snap, Gellert vanished, and it was just him and Ariana and Albus – Albus' body.
“Did I do this?” Ariana asked in a tiny voice, and Aberforth was at her side in an instant, kneeling in front of her to block her view as best he could.
“No,” he answered. “No, Ari, let’s - let’s get you upstairs.”
The funeral was a quiet affair. He’d left Ariana at home; he knew she still blamed herself for the incident (though she shouldn’t have – she was least to blame out of all of them, that much he was sure of), and he thought it best to avoid any possible reminders. For all of Albus’ popularity, few people had been able to show up at such short notice (if they’d received notice at all; perhaps Aberforth should have been more diligent in making sure they had, but he’d never quite cared to keep track of all Albus’ friends, and he didn’t particularly have the energy left to care now) so it was only him, Bathilda, and a few distant relatives.
Their neighbour had tried to offer her condolences, but he’d responded with a glare so sharp she’d quickly gotten the point and left him alone.
It was her goddamn fault for bringing that unhinged nephew of hers here, anyway.
Aberforth wondered if he had simply become numb to grief at this point, because he felt none of the unbridled wave of emotion he’d experienced when Ariana had been kidnapped, or their father imprisoned, or when their mother died. This was something quieter; an incessant repetition of the moment their fight had started, a constant question of what he could have done differently.
He’d only wanted to stop Albus from getting hurt by his own stupid, stupid choices.
Aberforth was prepared to leave when he noticed a figure leaning against a tree at the edge of the clearing. His arms were crossed, one leg swung over the other; the pose looked entirely too casual. He wore a stuffy black coat despite it being the peak of summer. Sunlight glinted off of his golden locks; all in all, he looked pristine.
Aberforth’s hackles rose. He stalked towards the figure, ready to give him a piece of his mind.
“I can bring him back.” Gellert’s voice, blank and toneless, stopped Aberforth dead in his tracks.
From up close, cracks began to show in his perfect facade. His face was empty of expression, but his eyes were red around the edges, his shirt crumpled under the coat, his breathing ever-so-slightly unsteady.
A hundred different responses clamored to get out, from how dare you come here to are you playing with me to what on earth are you talking about to if you think this is funny -
The only thing that came out, though, was a strangled, “What?”
“You heard me.” Gellert tilted his head. “Do you want your brother back? I can give you that.”
Rage bubbled just under the surface of Aberforth’s mind, but he managed to swallow it back. If Gellert was trying to provoke him, he wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. “The dead don’t come back to life.”
Gellert gave a little laugh. “I forget, sometimes, how limited your Hogwarts education is. That Albus knew as much as he did is truly a miracle; certainly, something that happened in spite of the education he was given, not because of it.”
Aberforth bit down hard on his tongue. “Do you really think you can win me over with some airy promises and condescension? I am not Albus.”
Something flashed across Gellert’s face; his lips twisted, and then he took a deep breath and his expression smoothed out again. “No, unfortunately, you are not. But even you must have heard of the Hallows.”
It was Aberforth’s turn to laugh, out of sheer incredulity. “ That is your hope? A children’s tale?”
“It is not just a tale. Albus and I thought to seek them out -”
“Right. Of course, you did. Was this before or after you were going to enslave all muggles?”
“Do not pretend to know our plans -”
Aberforth gave him a disgusted look. “I know enough . And if you think I’m going to take my brother’s place in them, you’ve clearly lost your mind. Now leave.”
Gellert said nothing, just looked at him, and Aberforth shivered under the intensity of his gaze. It struck him that Gellert Grindelwald was well and truly insane; he had known that from the start, but it had always been covered in a thin veneer of charm and normalcy, before. Now it lay stark and bare before him, and Aberforth couldn’t help but feel a frisson of fear.
Then Gellert vanished, and Aberforth was left staring at empty space. He shook his head to clear it.
If he had had his way, Gellert Grindelwald would have faded into nothing more than a nightmare of his past. Of course, life had never been much inclined to give Aberforth Dumbledore his way, so it was a mere two month before he saw him again.
The crack of apparition woke Aberforth a little past midnight. He descended the stairs carefully, wand in hand, and wished he could have been surprised to find Gellert standing in his living room. Instead, the only feeling he could summon was a cocktail of annoyance and weariness. “I’m still not interested in joining you.”
Gellert turned sharply, and had the audacity to look shocked to see Aberforth standing in his own home. He swayed a little on his feet. “Wasn’t asking,” he muttered, and Aberforth narrowed his eyes.
“Are you – drunk ?”
“No,” Gellert answered, but the way he had to catch himself against the table belied the answer for a lie.
A quick lumos lit up the room, and Aberforth took a moment to observe Gellert. His face was wet with tears, his curls – which he always kept neat and carefully combed – tangled. “Well,” he said, at a loss for anything else to reply with, “you’re not crashing on my couch.”
Gellert doubled over laughing as though Aberforth had just told the funniest joke in existence, but the laughter turned to sobs half-way through and he clung to the edge of the kitchen table like a lifeline. Something uncomfortable twisted in Aberforth’s gut. He wanted to hate Gellert; any pain he was feeling right now was surely far less than he deserved. But, quite frankly, the man looked pathetic and it was hard to stop a modicum of pity from worming its way in. “I’ll get you a glass of water,” he said with a sigh. “Once you’ve sobered up enough to apparate back, you can leave, and don’t even think of coming back here.”
Gellert gave no reply, so Aberforth went to the kitchen for said water. When he came back, Gellert was hunched over on the couch, hair falling into his face.
“Thank you,” he muttered as he took the glass from Aberforth, and Aberforth almost snorted. It would seem grief had taught him manners; who would have guessed?
Gellert drank the offered water in silence, and Aberforth was almost able to make himself relax when he spoke up suddenly. “I didn’t kill him.”
All pity fled Aberforth in an instant. “We are not having this conversation.”
“I didn’t. We made a pact, you know. We promised not to hurt each other. So, you see, I could not have... I do not know what spell you cast. Or perhaps it was your sister. I had a vision, after all... but we were older in it.”
Aberforth narrowed his eyes. “Ariana is innocent.”
Gellert shrugged. “I’m sure she didn’t mean to. But she killed your mother, did she not...?”
“It is not her fault. Blame yourself, or even blame me if you must, but leave her out of this.”
Gellert sprang to his feet, and in an instant his wand was at Aberforth’s throat. “You are right. I will blame you. You turned it into a battle, you forced him into a choice he could not make -”
“You tortured me!” Aberforth said through gritted teeth. “And keep your voice down, in Merlin’s name.” The last thing he wanted was for them to wake Ariana.
This is what you get for trying to give him the smallest scrap of kindness. You really should have known better. Maybe he had more in common with Albus than he’d like to admit, after all.
“You tried to come between us, when you had no right to -”
“No right? No right?! When he was my family, and you’d known him for all of two months -”
“And in those two months, I knew him better than you could ever have hoped to!”
Aberforth took a deep breath and struggled for self-control. There would not be another fight; not with Ariana sleeping upstairs. Albus getting caught in the cross-fire had been bad enough; he could not bear to imagine her in that position. “You may think that,” he said slowly, “But you only saw a part of him. The worst part; the flighty, arrogant, conceited side. You didn’t grow up with him; you didn’t see him cry over every perceived injustice. You didn’t see him try his hardest to care for us, as awkwardly and clumsily as it was. You couldn’t tell me how he broke his first bone, or what age he was when he stopped running to our mother for comfort after waking from a nightmare. You didn’t know him.” Aberforth pushed down the thought of all those moments when Albus had seemed so strange and distant, he couldn’t be sure he knew him either. “You just fell in love with your reflection.”
Aberforth wasn’t sure what reaction he’d expected; anger, outrage, tears. What he did not expect was for Gellert to fall back, a nostalgic smile on his lips. “It is not your fault,” he said. “You’re too simpleminded to see it. You may have known him, but you never understood him.”
Yet again, Aberforth was filled with the burning need to wipe that smug expression from Gellert’s face. “You’re wrong,” he said. “He would have left you anyway, you know. He may have been an egocentric git most of the time but his heart was in the right place, more or less. And he hated to see people suffer. He could never have stayed with you; I just wanted to make sure he didn’t leave the choice until it was too late.”
Gellert’s face closed off. “A damn good job you did of that, ” he snarled, and Aberforth was forced to concede the point. That had never been how he’d wanted the confrontation to go down.
Albus had always told him he needed to control his temper; considering the fact that Gellert Grindelwald was in his living room and no spells had flown between them yet, it would seem perhaps he’d learned to, but too late. If he’d been calmer then, perhaps – if he had taken his worries to Albus sooner in a rational, level-headed manner, the kind of level-headedness that had always driven him insane in Albus – but then, who could have seen his brother’s plans, and not lost their cool? Anyone capable of that kind of composure had something wrong with them in the first place, if you asked Aberforth; the kind of coolness that allowed Gellert and Albus to talk of millions of lives as if they were nothing.
“Very well, then,” Gellert said at last, stepping away from Aberforth. “Believe what you wish. Whatever you may think of me, I have no wish to harm you. I appreciate the water,” he said, and was gone.
As much as Aberforth would rather not have, he still found himself following Grindelwald’s movements. After all, he knew something more than anyone else did about him and his plans. He would have loved to have nothing more to do with the whole thing, but every time the newspapers announced a new attack in Europe, he could not suppress a twinge of guilt; could he have stopped some of this, if he had pieced together his knowledge in the right way?
One phrase echoed around his head; a fundamental clue, perhaps. We made a pact, you know. We promised not to hurt each other. Most likely, there was no real meaning to it, just an insignificant detail; and Merlin knew, Aberforth did not need to know the details of what had happened between Grindelwald and his brother that summer.
And yet, there was a chance...
It was this train of thought that brought Aberforth to France. He’d left Ariana with Bathilda for the day – he'd made peace with the historian not long after the funeral; Ariana was too fond of her to keep the rift open for long – and was now on Nicholas Flamel’s doorstep, dearly hoping this wouldn’t prove to be a waste of time.
The door swung open to reveal a frail old man who, nevertheless, radiated a certain kind of vitality. Flamel beamed at him upon seeing him, and Aberforth’s stomach sank instantly.
“Dumbledore! You’re several years late; I’ve been waiting for you. But do come in!”
“I don’t think you have,” Aberforth grumbled. “I’m Aberforth Dumbledore.”
The quickly hidden disappointment in Flamel’s eyes was annoying, but not surprising in the least. “I see. Come in, nevertheless. Your brother did say he would visit me someday -”
“My brother is dead.”
A flicker of sadness passed over Flamel’s face, and Aberforth’s annoyance intensified. This man had no reason to mourn Albus; he hadn’t even met him. “I’m terribly sorry to hear that. He was such a bright -”
“He was a flaming idiot, is what he was. But could I still come in? That is rather the point of what I wanted to ask you.”
“Yes, yes, of course. Come in, sit down, have some tea.”
Aberforth let himself be ushered in and tried to smooth over his impatience. Flamel hummed to himself as he settled a pot of water on the stove; Aberforth tapped out the rhythm against his shins. Finally, he couldn’t bear the wait any longer, so he just blurted the question out.
“What do you know of magical pacts?”
“Ah, do you mean... what is the word for it... l'irrévocable ... yes, Unbreakable Vows?”
“No, not those; at least, I don’t think so.” Unbreakable Vows were unbreakable on pain of death, and Gellert had not been the one to die. Besides, Unbreakables were usually one-sided, and the pact Gellert had spoken of had sounded mutual. “Something more like... well, pact was the exact word used. Something that would offer mutual protection?”
“Are you referring to a blood troth then?”
“A blood... can’t say I’ve heard of it.”
“It is a bond between two people. It does offer mutual protection, of a sort, though it would be extremely unheard of – not to mention ill-advised – to use it solely for that. Highly forbidden almost everywhere; though, of course, that does not stop people from making them. There was a time when they were popular to use as a form of marriage, especially between people who for whatever reason cannot procure a marriage of the official kind; individuals of the same gender, for one, or even between a wizard and a no- maj if said no- maj is willing to entrust themselves to a magic bond – though that last scenario would be highly controversial, not least because the wizard has full control over the process, and the no-maj none at all.”
“Yes, yes, that sounds about right.” Aberforth’s stomach churned. A form of marriage, especially between individuals of the same gender. Albus would go and do something like that with a man he’d known for less than two months, hopeless romantic that he was. If he knew Albus and Gellert at all, the highly forbidden and ill-advised aspect would only serve as an extra incentive to them. “Could you get to the point?”
Flamel frowned at him, but stopped talking. “What, precisely, do you wish to know? I should say, they’ve rather fallen out of favour these days due to the extremely fickle and volatile magic involved in forming them; not to mention that should anything go wrong, they are far harder to dissolve than a traditional marriage; near impossible, really. You do not strike me as the type to come to me with a purely theoretical inquiry, but I should tell you now, I will not aid you in making one of these. If you have a lover you wish to be bound to, there are far safer -”
Aberforth almost choked on his tea. “I do not have a lover.”
“Of course; I should not have presumed...”
“And I wasn’t asking to make one. I simply wanted to know what could happen from one that was already made. ‘Specially what could happen, that’s not meant to happen.”
“Ah.” The smile returned to Nicholas Flamel’s face. “Now, there, I can help you. What you must understand about blood magic is that although it is both dangerous and forbidden, and generally considered dark magic. This is, however, a mis categorization; blood magic is really quite the opposite of dark magic; but, to use an apt metaphor, the lighter a cloth, the more visible the stains on it. In fact, blood magic is not really its own branch of magic at all. It is a magic that draws heavily upon the caster’s intentions; of course, all magic does to some degree, but blood magic especially so. It is not the kind of magic that can be evaded through manipulation of exact words; it is the spirit of the law that counts, much more so than its wording. The reason it is used as a form of marriage is because it is very much a magic based in emotion; as a matter of fact, one could consider it a form of love magic.”
There were some things in life Aberforth Dumbledore really wished had more power to shock him than they currently did. The sudden loss of those close to him was one such thing.
Having the most wanted Dark Wizard in all of Europe appear intoxicated in his kitchen was very much another.
He had changed a great deal since the last time Aberforth had seen him; his features had grown sharper, blunter, his build sturdier. He was not in tears this time, which Aberforth counted as a small mercy; seeing his previous breakdown had been profoundly unsettling, and Aberforth preferred not to dwell on it. He was, however, judging from the strange glint in his eyes and the unsteadiness of his gait, definitely drunk again.
“I should alert the Ministry.” He shouldn’t have said that aloud, either, but it was the first thing he could think of to say. Gellert just laughed, however.
“And what good would that do you? It won’t help them find me; by the time they get here I’ll be back across the sea. They’ll only take you in to question you, and I don’t think you want that; Albus always did say you had a problem with authority.”
Hearing his brother’s name on Grindelwald’s lips made Aberforth want to retch, or possibly throw something, but he couldn’t deny that he had a point; his hands were tied. “A problem with authority,” Aberforth scoffed. “That’s rich, coming from the man who was expelled from school and has now fallen afoul of every single government in mainland Europe, and more besides. If you are here to kill me, get it over with.” Aberforth tried to keep the tremble from his voice. Truth be told, he did fear Grindelwald – how could he not, when he had suffered under the Cruciatus Curse from him – but he’d be damned if he let it show. Besides, if nothing else, this would be a test for an inkling he was beginning to form.
“I’ve already said I mean you no harm.” Grindelwald stepped closer to him. “In fact, I came to renew an offer I made you long ago. I’ve already found the wand; I may have a lead on the other two. If -”
“I will not join you.”
“You would not have to help fight for my cause. Only to find the Hallows.”
“Absolutely not. Grindelwald, let me make this perfectly clear, since I have somehow failed to thus far. I despise you. I despise everything you stand for, and I will never forgive you for tearing my family apart. I want nothing to do with you. If I could, I would put you in prison, or even better, have you dead.”
Aberforth closed his eyes, waiting for the wave of pain that was sure to follow his little speech, but nothing came. He opened them again; Grindelwald had not touched his wand. He was watching Aberforth with a strange expression, one Aberforth found more than a little unnerving. “Besides,” Aberforth added, more to break the tension than anything else, “why do you even want me? I can’t imagine I’d be much use to you.”
“There were three brothers, in the tale.”
“I am not your brother. And even with me, we would only be two.”
Gellert said nothing, but his silence spoke volumes, and Aberforth felt a sinking realization settle in.
Gellert had never given up his mad fantasy of reviving Albus. Whatever Aberforth had once thought, it was clear now that there must have been far more to... whatever happened that summer than simple pragmatic manipulation. He refused to call it love, but there was something genuine in Grindelwald, however twisted.
Looking up, Aberforth realized that Grindelwald was standing far closer to him than he had any reason to be. It was not the first time Gellert had invaded his personal space like this, but it was the first time he had done so with an expression that fell anywhere short of murderous. If anything, he would call the look on Grindelwald’s face wistful. Almost soft.
Aberforth jerked away. “What do you think you’re doing? I am not Albus.”
“No. You are not. You’re far inferior. But you are the closest thing I have .”
“Get the fuck away from me.”
Gellert’s expression spasmed, his fingers twitching about his wand. But then, to Aberforth’s shock, he complied and disapparated.
Aberforth braced himself against the table. The thought of being Gellert Grindelwald’s closest thing to Albus – even, maybe especially, if far inferior – made him feel sick, soiled. He would need to take a very long bath. Maybe several.
Aberforth had a plan.
Well, perhaps to call it a plan required a certain stretch of the imagination. He’d never been one for elaborate schemes; that was Albus’ area of expertise. It was more of an impulse. Maybe just a vague intuition really. And if it went wrong – which it more than likely would, considering how loose its grounding in anything bordering concrete – he was as good as dead.
Gellert Grindelwald was not his responsibility to deal with. Albus may have dragged him into Aberforth’s life, but Aberforth had hardly agreed to it. He should just wash his hands on this and focus on his pub, his goats and building a better life for Ariana.
But the thought wouldn’t go away, and with every day bringing in a new wave of news from Europe, he couldn’t exactly ignore it either.
“I have the stone.”
“Merlin’s fucking beard!” Aberforth spun arou nd. “What stone? And why are you here? I am not your friend! I’m not your confidante, and I am not in any way, shape or form anything approaching a brother to you. I’m your enemy, for Merlin’s sake.” If Ariana were not in the house, he wanted to add, he would fight Gellert in an instant; but he kept his quiet about that. The last thing he wanted was to inform Gellert of her presence.
Gellert leaned against a counter, arms crossed, face seemingly empty of emotion; though that emptiness , Aberforth knew by now, could hide half a dozen rapid fluctuations of absolutely anything.
“The Resurrection Stone,” he answered calmly, ignoring the rest of Aberforth’s outburst. “What else?”
Leave it to Gellert Grindelwald to appear in Aberforth’s kitchen and reference an object from a fairy tale as though it were the most obvious thing in the world, and Aberforth were the stupid one for not catching on immediately.
And yet... something wasn’t adding up. Aberforth took a long look at Grindelwald. “You haven’t used it.”
Grindelwald said nothing.
Realization settled in. “You’re afraid. ”
The ensuing silence was as good as confirmation. Aberforth could have laughed at the absurdity of it all, except laughter was the furthest possible thing from what he felt. He felt vaguely nauseous. “You want me to tell you if he’ll forgive you,” he continued. “Why would you come to me for that? You’ve already said you don’t believe I understood him, and you know damn well my opinion won’t weigh in your favour . I don’t even believe the Hallows are real. I sure as hell hope they aren’t, because if you drag my brother back from the grave for your own twisted agenda, I wil l find a way to make you pay.”
A sudden recollection from the Tale of Three Brothers flashed through Aberforth’s mind. It had been so long since he’d heard it, and he’d never liked it all that much anyway, but...
The second brother had used the Resurrection Stone to bring back the woman he loved. He’d wasted away before a hollow shell of her that was miserable among the living, only to eventually take his own life to be with her.
Aberforth’s sense of nausea increased.
“If you want the truth, though... I have no idea if he will forgive you. I hope he won’t - I can’t imagine how he would – but then, I never wanted him to fall for you in the first place, and look how well that turned out. Just... don’t bring the stone anywhere near me. I want no part in this.”
Wizarding France has Fallen.
Muggle World In Chaos.
Terror Spreads Across Europe.
Aberforth walked into the Ministry Building. He had to do this now, before he lost his resolve and realized how batshit crazy the whole thing was. The welcoming officer gave him an impatient look. “Name and purpose?”
“Aberforth Dumbledore.” He could only pray he’d be able to convince them he was not a madman, or worse, a spy. “I have information about the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald. And I believe I can fight him.”
It had taken a lot of string-pulling to arrange the duel. The Ministry had considered him a madman, and probably one with a death wish. In fairness to them, Aberforth himself was not quite certain he was not mad. Certainly, he was probably placing far too much faith in his brother. But eventually the Minister had given the idea what amounted to a shrug and if he wants to die trying out this hairbrained scheme then let him; what have we got to lose?, and so a duel was arranged.
Aberforth’s heart hammered in his chest as he and Gellert Grindelwald took their places in the dueling field. Facing Gellert in his kitchen, under the strange, unspoken truce that had been somehow forged the moment their eyes met over Albus’ body, was one thing; facing him on the battlefield was something else entirely. Aberforth still felt the phantom burn of pain tearing through his muscles. Albus, he pled silently, this one time, do not let me down.
The look Gellert cast him as they circled around each other was entirely dismissive. “I know the level of your dueling ability. Are you really so eager to die at my hands?”
“You haven’t used the stone yet, have you?”
Grindelwald’s face closed off. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Just that if you had,” Aberforth answered, desperately hoping he was right, “he might have warned you.”
Gellert scoffed. “For Albus’ sake,” he said, “I’ll make this quick.” He raised his wand.
Aberforth closed his eyes.
It was a shot in the dark. Several disconnected things coming together into a pattern he might well have imagined, that he was about to bet his life on.
We made a pact, you know. We promised not to hurt each other.
It is a magic that draws heavily upon the caster’s intentions.
“Please, hurt me, not them.”
A flash of blinding light that looked nothing like Ariana’s Obscurus, nor like any combination of spells Aberforth had ever seen before, that left Gellert’s shirt and skin singed right where a pocket should have been.
Light exploded across the insides of Aberforth’s eyelids and his entire body flinched, but nothing else happened. Slowly, he opened his eyes. Grindelwald was staring at him, wide-eyed.
It worked. Oh, Merlin, it worked. Adrenaline coursed through Aberforth’s veins, and he found himself laughing breathlessly. “You can’t hurt me. You made a pact, you cannot hurt me!” He raised his wand. “Stupefy!”
The spell hit Grindelwald straight in the chest, but nothing happened. The man did not move an inch. For a moment they stared each other down, and then it was Grindelwald’s turn to throw his head back in laughter.
“It cuts both ways.” His eyes sparkled. “ You cannot hurt me either, not from under his protection.”
Aberforth’s heart pounded. The one time he had thought -
But Albus had protected him, hadn’t he? The fact that that protection covered Gellert as well did not diminish that.
Still, he couldn’t help but feel somehow betrayed.
“It’s a stalemate,” Grindelwald announced. “Run back to England satisfied in the knowledge that I’m no threat to you.”
Aberforth scowled. He could not let Grindelwald just walk away, but what else was he to do? Grindelwald was right; it was a stalemate...
No. Grindelwald thought it was a stalemate, only because he could not fathom fighting without the intent to hurt. Intention is what matters. If one were to disarm someone, in order to protect others from them, surely that would not count as harm.
Grindelwald had already turned his back by the time Aberforth raised his wand. “ Expelliarmus !”
The Elder Wand flew from Grindelwald’s hand and Aberforth snatched it out of the air. “I believe I’ve won.”
They were giving him a say in the trial.
He really wished they wouldn’t do that. Nothing would have given Aberforth more pleasure than to personally sentence Gellert Grindelwald to death, but he could not in good conscience do that. Not when the crux of his victory hung upon fighting without the intention to do harm. He owed his brother that much, as bitter as the fact tasted.
“Do not execute him,” Aberforth forced out against the knot in his throat. “Imprison him. Permanently, but humanely. Somewhere that is not Azkaban.”
From the chair he was bound to across the room, Gellert Grindelwald’s eyes met his, and once again that thing that was almost understanding passed between them. I know why you are doing this, it said. And, I may hate you with all my heart, but we both care for the same person, and that is not nothing.