At breakfast that morning, Aberforth had announced his intention to go into town to ‘go shopping.’ Albus knew there was a Muggle girl he met there. When Aberforth went into town, he was rarely back before lunchtime.
“That’s fine, Aberforth. Ariana and I will be fine here, won’t we Ari?”
Ariana smiled at Albus, and winked at Aberforth.
Winked at – she knew about Aberforth’s girlfriend? And Aberforth knew she knew? Strange.
“Don’t worry about the goats and the chickens – I took care of them before breakfast.”
Albus was not in any way worried about the goats and the chickens.
As soon as Aberforth was out the door, Ariana asked, “Are you going to invite Gellert over?”
“Why would I?”
“I like Gellert. He’s nice. And the light in the kitchen is good for reading and writing. And otherwise you would have to take me to Mrs Bagshot’s if you want to see Gellert, and this time of year, she’ll be wanting to feed me raspberries.”
Ariana was categorically opposed to red foods – and she had a broad definition of the color red. Which made breakfast a challenge: no beans, no rashers, no tomatoes, no ham... no strawberries, no raspberries, no red currants...
“Yes, I suppose it would be nice to have Gellert over, if you don’t mind.”
”I’m the one who suggested it, silly.”
And that is how it was that Albus was upstairs in his room gathering books and quills and ink and parchment, and Gellert was in the Dumbledore kitchen alone with Ariana, when Aberforth came home three hours earlier than Albus had expected him.
It was Ariana’s scream that drew Albus from his room. He ran to the kitchen to help Gellert with Ariana, but neither of them were there.
There was another scream, then Ariana shouting, “Stop it! Just stop it!” It was coming from the back garden. Albus dropped his books on the kitchen table and sped out the back door – and there were Aberforth and Gellert, shooting off spells at one another.
Albus’ first thought was that Gellert must be holding back – Aberforth shouldn’t still be standing.
Then he shook his head. Gellert could take care of himself, and he wouldn’t hurt Aberforth too badly. Probably. In any case, Ariana was the priority. Where was she?
There she was – getting too close to them, as if she could stop such stubborn assholes.
“Stop!” Albus shouted, but they didn’t even look in his direction. Not that he had expected them to. If they hadn’t stopped for Ariana’s screaming...
How had this happened? Why was Aberforth even home? Albus would never have invited Gellert over if he had known that Aberforth was coming home early.
Who had started it? No, that question was meaningless. Aberforth was sure to have been the first to draw his wand, and he was sure to have felt that Gellert provoked him. The question wasn't who started it, but why Aberforth had felt it was necessary.
Ariana was creeping closer to Aberforth, but it didn’t look like he saw her. All of his attention appeared to be on Gellert. This could not possibly end well.
So Albus took out his wand and tried to levitate Ariana out of the way. It wasn’t working – she was too powerful – perhaps her Obscurus was fighting it? It was going to escape in a moment, if Gellert and Aberforth didn’t stop.
What was wrong with them? And Aberforth was the one always accusing Albus of not thinking enough about Ariana.
It occurred to Albus that his entire family was gathered here in the back garden – Ariana, Aberforth, Gellert – and every last one of them was out of their mind, one way or the other.
Albus threw up a shield between them, but too many spells were making it through. He couldn’t put enough power into the shield with most of his energy being spent holding back Ari at the same time.
Fuck! That was green light coming from Aberforth’s wand! Was he casting Avadas? What the fuck?!
Then the only hope was to immobilize them both. Starting with his brother. He dropped his shield and his restraint on Ari just long enough to cast a Stupefy... and just before it hit Aberforth, Ariana stepped right in front of Aberforth, and she fell. It looked like three spells hit her at once - his Stupefy, together with whatever Aberforth and Gellert had cast, but from his angle, he couldn't be sure.
Gellert and Aberforth’s wand arms both dropped, as they looked in shock at Ari’s limp form. Albus took advantage of their distraction, and tossed off two Stupefys in rapid succession, dropping them both.
He walked forward to check on Ariana. Dead. A single Stupefy couldn't have done that, right? But combined with someone else's spell...
It hadn’t been so long ago that he had been bent over his mother, feeling for a pulse, listening for a heartbeat, looking for a breath. Now Ari. He began to cry as he brushed her hair from her forehead, as he closed her eyes.
What a strange thing, to close the eyes of a person after they had died. ‘Something we do for ourselves,’ Albus thought. ‘It doesn’t bother the dead.’ Now, with her cold unseeing eyes hidden from view, Albus could sustain the illusion that she was sleeping near enough to bend down and kiss her forehead one last time. It would be hours before her skin got cold, but the farther it got from her time of death, the more difficult it would be for him to touch her.
The things he knew now.
He was beginning to feel empty, distant, philosophical. He recognized that, too. It was impossible not to compare Ari’s death to his mother’s. He wondered if that was unfair to the both of them, somehow.
At this distance, Albus thought that perhaps it was a mercy for her, to die this way. She had lived longer than anyone expected. In any case, it was a mercy for him. It disgusted him that his mind went there, but there was no denying it was true.
Albus was glad that he had had the presence of mind to buy himself this time. If Aberforth and Gellert had been here, he would have had no time for grief or introspection – all of his energy would have gone to managing them. Or managing Aberforth – Gellert would probably have Apparated straight back to Bathilda’s in a panic.
Actually, that was probably the first thing Gellert was going to do when he woke up. Albus hadn’t accomplished anything but giving himself some time alone with Ari. As soon as the Stunning Spells wore off, everything was going to happen just as it would have if he had done nothing – with the one small difference of both Aberforth and Gellert also being angry at him for Stunning them.
Albus had an hour left before their Stupefys wore off – could he change anything in that time?
At least he could learn what had happened.
He gathered their wands. He waved Aberforth’s – ‘Priori Incantum!’
Avada, Avada, Avada, Avada, Stupefy, Avada, Stupefy, Cruciatus... Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. He knew that Aberforth was frustrated – angry, even – but murderous?
Then Gellert’s – ‘Priori Incantum!’
Stupefy, Bombarda, Cruciatus, Cruciatus, Depulso, Incarecerous, Depulso, Expelliarmus, Confundo, Expelliarmus... Why had none of that worked? Had Gellert been toying with Aberforth? Had every spell hit it's mark, followed by Gellert giving Aberforth the opportunity to recover, like a cat toying with a mouse? Surely not. Surely he was just distracted by Ariana. Or - perhaps he was unwell? No... Albus remembered what he had seen of the duel in the backyard - Gellert had been shooting wide. He had much better aim than to miss Aberforth every time, and yet he had.
He checked his own wand, in the interest of being thorough –
Stupefy, Stupefy, Cruciatus – what?! That one was supposed to be a Stupefy as well! Had he cast a Cruciatus at Aberforth? He must have done. Which meant that if his spell hit Ariana, he had hit her with a Cruciatus of unknown strength.
Merlin. They were all going to Azkaban.
Well. He could clean this up, probably. Given enough time – and luck.
Albus levitated all three bodies into the house.
Albus had experimented a great deal with transfiguring inanimate objects into animals, and he had an idea...
Using Gellert's wand, Albus transfigured his own wand into a hedgehog. Could one alter the memory of an animal? Of an animal that wasn’t an animal?
Now back into his wand. “Priori Incantum!” No change. Perhaps it had been too long? Or perhaps there was never any hope of it working.
Still, he had to keep trying. Albus transfigured his wand back into a hedgehog. He concentrated on erasing all of the events of the day: “Obliviate!”
And back into his wand again. “Priori Incantum!”
Aguamenti, Wingardium Leviosa, Tempus, Tempus, Incendio...
Now he knew what to do. Using Gellert's wand again, he Obliviated Aberforth's wand. Then he used his own wand to Obliviate Gellert's. The only evidence of their spell casting would be two Transfiguration charms and an Obliviation.
But it wouldn’t be enough. There was the matter of Ariana’s body.
There was probably time enough to take care of that before the Stunning Spells wore off.
‘To take care of that.’ Albus wasn't sure he knew who he was anymore. Sure, he was feeling remote, but remote enough to hide his sister's death?
Albus supposed that it was what Ariana would want him to do, but Mother?
“Mother, forgive me,” Albus said out loud. “I don’t know what else to do.”
He waited, as if his mother might appear with the solution, but of course she didn’t. He was on his own, as he had been. Head of the house. As if he were at all qualified. Witness the events of this morning.
There would be time to think of all of that later. Time was running out. Albus transfigured Ariana into a book, and carried her out the door, as if he was going to read in his favourite clearing in the woods. 'This isn't Ariana. It's a book. Not my sister. Just a book.' It wasn't working. Albus was all too aware of the wrongness of what was in his hands.
When he got to the clearing, he transfigured the book into a pinecone. His sister had been winking at Aberforth less than two hours ago, and now she was a pinecone. Merlin. No time to think.
He dug a hole with his hands, and carefully placed the pinecone in it. He closed his eyes, and called up a memory of Ariana fussing about Bathilda slathering red currant jelly on Ariana's scone. He remembered her weaving flowers into Aberforth’s hair. He remembered holding her on his lap a year or two before the accident, reading her the story of The Wizard and the Hopping Pot.
"I'll remember you, Ari. Always. I promise." And he covered the hole, and scattered leaves, to hide the spot where his sister was buried.
Albus turned a pinecone into a book to match the one he’d left the house with - the symmetry of it was weirdly comforting. He carried the pinecone/book (this time really not his sister) home with him. There was still so much left to do.
Now what? He had erased their wands of the day’s spells (Albus felt a brief pang that he had accomplished something so extraordinary, and he would never be able to share it with anyone. Maybe Gellert?) He had buried Ariana so that she could not be found.
But he had still not taken care of the problem of Aberforth and Gellert.
Could an unconscious person be Obliviated? Albus felt he had to try. It would be so much easier than dealing with a conscious Aberforth – especially now that he knew what Aberforth was capable of. Perhaps it would be best to try now? Just before the Stupefy wore off?
“Obliviate!” If that worked, then Aberforth should have no memory of Ariana. If it didn’t... then Albus would have a problem on his hands – a problem that he didn’t have the time to think about right now.
“Stupefy!” He needed for Aberforth to keep sleeping, through all that Albus had left to do. He could learn the results of the Obliviate later.
He needed for Gellert not to wake up either. He looked at Gellert, laying there as if asleep. How had all of this happened? Albus wished that Gellert could tell him – he needed to know. But not yet. “Stupefy!”
Now. Who else knew about Ariana?
Himself, Aberforth, Gellert...
And Bathilda. Gellert’s aunt was the only other living person who knew for certain of Ariana’s existence – who would miss her, and perhaps ask questions.
Albus would need to pay a visit to Bathilda.
When he knocked on the front door of Bathilda’s house, she was wearing an apron that was covered in flour. ‘She’s such a disaster in the kitchen,’ Albus thought, fondly. He was going to permanently alter this sweet lady’s brain. ‘No, don’t think of it that way. You are saving her nephew. She would want this.’ And sweet or not, she was a formidable witch. He must not hesitate and so lose the element of surprise.
“Oh, Albus! Gellert’s not here, Dear.”
“Oh, I know, Mrs. Bagshot, he’s over at my house. I was just wondering if you had some sugar? We’ve run out.”
“Certainly, Dear! Do come in.”
Albus walked in and closed the door behind himself. Bathilda kept walking towards the kitchen, with her back to him.
It pained Albus to take advantage of her trust, but it was only because she trusted him that he had any chance of this working.
“How much do you need dear?”
“Oh, not much, just – Obliviate!”
Albus was erasing his sister from existence. Aberforth, Bathilda, Ariana's body... Albus hated himself for doing it, but he knew that erasing the wands had not been enough to keep all of them from going to Azkaban. Or something – the consequences of Ariana disappearing alone would be a problem, one way or another. Aberforth would surely accuse Gellert of Ariana’s death, and the only two possibilities from that point would be Aberforth and Gellert (and maybe himself) being convicted of her death, or Gellert being driven off so that he could be made a scapegoat. ‘Why else would he have run away?’ Aberforth would tell everyone.
That was most likely. Albus could not allow that. Aberforth had been the one casting Avadas.
If he hadn’t had access to Aberforth's wand - if he hadn't known about the Avadas, and if Gellert had then run – what would Albus have done? What would he have believed? He didn’t want to think about it.
No. He was doing what he had to do. All he had to do was to keep putting one foot in front of the other. He had a list of things to accomplish, and they needed to be done, one at a time.
So Albus went to clean out Ariana’s room.
This was even more painful than burying her as a pinecone. It didn't make sense. Maybe because it was the last erasure?
Albus had loved his sister. He hated that she was dead. Sure, she didn’t have long to live, but he had been trying to give her a good last few months - or years. He wasn’t good at it, but he did his best. And it wasn't all hard work. She had been so beautiful, so mischievous, so graceful, so funny. She had been delightful to live with - except when she wasn't.
But now? He could do no better for her than remember her himself. He would carry her by himself. She would not be forgotten. That was all he could do. Doing this any differently would destroy everyone who still knew that she existed.
With this resolved, he wiped away a tear with the back of his hand, and began vanishing things: her hairbrush, her clothing, the flowers she and Aberforth had collected together in Bathilda's back garden...
Then he came to the drawings she had made, pinned to the wall, and Albus started crying in earnest. They were astonishing. He had had no idea that she was so talented. She was always drawing, but she never let anyone see them. ‘My drawings!’ she would say, then run up to her room with them.
Albus had often wondered what it was like for her to be imprisoned by her own family, knowing she would never go to school, never court, never marry – what it was like to stand outside of ‘normal life’...
Now he knew. She was not outside. She had a life – a life of observing, of loving what she observed. Albus had so often felt badly for her, that her extraordinary power was not a gift, but a manifestation of the creature that lived inside her – that what gave her power was also what made her dangerous – what doomed her to a life at the margins and would ultimately kill her.
But that was not all that Ari had been. She had been a girl, not just a host for an Obscurus. Albus had known that all along, but it was never so obvious as it was in that moment, looking at her drawings. He couldn’t bring himself to destroy them.
He collected the drawings and conjured a portfolio for them. He would hide them under his bed for now.
Right now, there was more left to do, so Albus ran back downstairs. He vanished the portrait of Ariana from the living room, and vanished her shoes and cloak from the front hall.
Then he sat and looked at Aberforth and Gellert, thoughtful.
Should he Obliviate Gellert as well? And if he did, exactly what should he erase? He briefly considered Obliviating his entire family from Gellert’s existence – perhaps Gellert would have a better chance at finding love if he didn’t know that Albus and he –
Albus couldn’t. The very idea made him want to throw up.
Albus sighed. He levitated Gellert into a kitchen chair, and bound him with an Incarcerous.
He came to much more quickly than Albus had imagined he might.
“What the fuck, Albus?”
Albus took a deep breath.
“We killed Ariana.”
“We? What do you mean, ‘we?’”
“Do you remember the duel?”
“Yes... Yes! Where is he?!” Gellert started looking around, straining at the bonds. Albus was grateful that Gellert's wandless magic wasn’t good enough yet to get out of the situation. In another year or two, it might be impossible to contain him.
“Albus! Let me go! He was trying to kill me!”
“I know, Gellert. I know he was. He’s still knocked out.”
Gellert’s face went from angry to grief stricken.
“She fell. Ari – I saw her fall.”
“That’s right. Each one of us hit her at the same time. A Stupefy, a Cruciatus, and an Avada.”
“So – when you say ‘we killed her’ you mean Aberforth killed her.”
Albus was glad he had thought this conversation through in advance, because it would have been so easy to say ‘she wouldn’t have died if the two of you hadn’t been dueling – if I had been able to stop you.’ That would have certainly backfired – Gellert would have latched onto that as a betrayal.
And Albus had decided that it was better not to share that it was possible that the Avada had missed - that his perspective had not been good enough to tell for sure. A strong enough Cruciatus together with a Stupefy would have been enough to kill a girl as fragile as Ariana. But if he were to say so, Gellert would think he was just trying to excuse his brother. They could talk about that later, but not now.
“Yes, fine. But we’re all going to Azkaban, because we all used Unforgivables.”
Gellert looked confused. “Albus?”
“The Cruciatus was mine. I cast it at Aberforth. I didn’t even realize I did it. I saw he was trying to kill you and I – lost my head.”
“You cast a Cruciatus. For me.”
“Yes, Gellert. For you. I couldn’t let him kill you.”
Gellert’s voice became bitter. “Well, the Blood Pact only requires –“
“Fuck the Blood Pact, Gellert! I love you!”
Gellert looked stunned.
“You hadn’t –“
“I know. You’ve said it a lot, and I haven’t said it at all. I’m an idiot.”
Why hadn’t he said it before now? How could this be the first time? If Aberforth were not Stunned, if Gellert were not tied to this chair... would Albus have never had the chance to say it at all? He was worse than an idiot. Kissing? Sex? Great. Even a fucking Blood Pact? Yes, please. But saying I love you? Too dangerous.
What had he been thinking? He could have lost Gellert. He might still lose him.
Gellert looked at Albus for a long moment, and then down at his bonds...
“You love me so much you’ve tied me up. Planning to hand me over to the Aurors?”
“Gellert! No – I – I’m keeping you and Aberforth away from each other while I clean this up.”
“Clean it up.”
“I Obliviated our wands. No spell done this morning will register.”
“That’s amazing! How did you-? Wait, no. No, it doesn’t matter. You are going to let Aberforth get away with it. How could you let Aberforth get away with killing Ari?! Albus, you complete -”
It was clear that Gellert was enraged by being silenced, but if he kept interrupting, Albus was never going to say all he needed to before Aberforth woke.
“Gellert, this morning ends badly for everyone. The only option is for it not to have happened. I’ve Obliviated your Aunt – and Aberforth. Neither of them knows Ariana ever existed. I transfigured Ariana and buried her in the forest. I’ve removed all trace of her from this house. Right now, the only evidence that there was ever an Ariana Dumbledore is in my mind and yours.”
Albus continued, “I love you, Gellert.” Now that he’d finally said it the first time, he was determined to say it as many times as he could.
“I love you, and so I’m giving you a choice that no one else here gets. You can keep your memories, or you can lose them.
“If you keep them, then when Aberforth leaves for school next week, you and I can walk away from here, go anywhere you want in the world, together. But you can’t touch Aberforth. There is no way for him to be punished for what he did that won’t hurt all of us. So you will have to let all of this go. You will have to let him trying to kill you go. But I know that is a lot to ask, so the alternative is that I can Obliviate you.
“But Gellert, if I erase your memory of the duel, and of Ariana’s existence, then – gods. Then I’m going to have to make up some stupid excuse to break up with you, because I am not going to be able to share a bed with you remembering that I erased a part of you. You’ve always said that we’re partners, and that wouldn’t be an equal partnership anymore.
“Please don’t make me do that, Gellert. I don’t want to lose you over this. I love you so much. I don’t want to lose you for anything in all the world.
Gellert was speaking the instant the Silencio was lifted.
“Oh, very generous, Albus. There’s always the third choice, where I keep all my memories, and leave without you, because you’re an asshole. I can’t believe you erased Aberforth’s wand! You are letting him get away with killing your sister! With trying to kill me! What the fuck, Albus!”
Albus removed the Incacerous. Gellert slumped forward, until his head was laying on the kitchen table. Gellert was right. He was an asshole. And he was letting Aberforth get away with everything. But he didn’t know what else to do.
Albus took Aberforth up to his room, uttered a Renervate, followed by a light Confundus to slow the waking process, and hurried out of the room.
Less than five minutes later, Aberforth was downstairs, looking a little bleary.
“Oh! I didn’t know that Gellert was here. He must have been up all night to fall asleep at the table, poor guy! I’ve never seen him sleeping before – he’s adorable.”
Albus’ eyes widened – he looked at Aberforth with a look of mortification and incredulity.
Aberforth laughed. “Don’t worry! I know he’s yours.” And then Aberforth winked. Winked!
Aberforth knew Gellert – and liked him? Aberforth knew that Gellert and Albus were together? And didn’t hate them for it? Was Ariana the only reason Aberforth had hated Gellert so much?
“I can’t believe I slept in so late – you should have woken me! My goats –“
“Don’t worry, Abe. I fed and milked the goats, fed the chickens, gathered the eggs, and watered the garden...” Of course, Aberforth had been the one who had done all of those things, but since he didn’t remember... “Can I fry you some eggs?”
“I can fend for myself perfectly well. You had better get Sleeping Beauty up the stairs and into bed. But no kissing him awake, Al! You let him sleep! If you can’t treat him right, I will!”
Albus shook off this surreal turn of events, and levitated Gellert up the stairs and into his room. One last time: Albus Obliviated his wand with Gellert's wand, then Obliviated Gellert's wand.
Albus set Gellert's wand on his desk on the other side of the room, and returned to the bed. He sat astride Gellert, and leaned forward until his face was just out of head butting distance, putting as much of his weight as he could onto Gellert’s shoulders.
“You have to be quiet, Gell. Aberforth is downstairs, and he doesn’t know anything – he thinks that he just woke up and that he came downstairs to find you asleep in the kitchen with your head on the table. He’s – he actually likes you. Ok? He asked me to bring you up here so that you could rest in a more comfortable place. So please, just – I want you to look. To see what I saw, what I’ve done – but first what Aberforth is like now. Please?
“Fuck you, Albus.” Gellert said it without any real heat. He sounded irritated but – almost fond? Perhaps he was having a hard time feeling angry with Albus on top of him like this, looking down at him with a soft and sad expression. Albus hated that he couldn’t give Gellert more choices – that Gellert was feeling so trapped. That Gellert was so trapped. But they all were.
“That’s fair. I'm sorry, Gellert. I am. I don't like anything I've done in the past two hours. But I did what I thought I had to do. It seemed like the best of the bad options. With your record? It would have been easy for a case to have been made against you – for you to end up in Azkaban with Aberforth, or even for Aberforth to walk free.”
“Seriously Gellert? Britain is a lot more conservative than the Continent. The things that got you expelled from Durmstrang? You would have easily gotten ten years in Azkaban here – which is essentially a death sentence, what with the Dementors.
“The only other option was for you to flee and never come back to Britain again – but you would have been painted a murderer – and Aberforth would have not only gotten away with it, but known it.
“Just – look would you?”
Their eyes met, and Gellert entered Albus’ mind. He was rougher than he needed to be. They had done this before, so Albus knew that Gellert knew how not to make it hurt – he was doing it on purpose. But it was not bad enough to do damage, so Albus did his best to relax into it, to breathe through the pain while he waited for Gellert to finish.
He felt Gellert withdraw, and he saw Gellert’s face soften, saw the hint of an apologetic smile.
“You really do love me,” Gellert said.
“Oh is that what you were looking for?" Albus huffed. "Contradictory evidence? No wonder that hurt so much – there isn’t anything there to find.”
Gellert looked away from Albus and changed the subject.
“Aberforth – thinks I’m cute? When I’m sleeping? That was fucking bizarre.”
“I think he thinks that he has liked you all along. I’m thinking that his objection to you must have centered entirely around his anxiety about Ariana. He certainly told me enough times that you were distracting us from taking care of her – that he worried you would take me away when she needed me to care for her. Remove Ariana, and all you are is a charming intelligent wizard who is his older brother's best friend. ”
“He did seem - more relaxed.”
Albus started crying, and fell down onto Gellert’s chest.
Gellert wrapped his arms around Albus, and started rubbing his back. Habit, Albus supposed. He tried not to read too much into it.
“Albus? Tell me.”
“We’re all better off with Ariana never having existed, and that’s so wrong. She was so clever and kind and she loved all of us so much. It wasn’t her fault that she was also so needy and so dangerous.” He lay there crying while Gellert held him for – he didn’t know how long.
Then he remembered – he had to show Gellert the drawings.
Albus got off of Gellert and out of bed.
“I want you to see these – “
Albus pulled out the portfolio, and laid it beside Gellert. Gellert sat up. Albus sat across from him, so that he could see Gellert’s face as he flipped through the drawings.
Ariana had drawn everything in her world. Her chickens, Aberforth’s goats. The view from every window: the church and the graveyard, the village square, the path to the forest. She had drawn Aberforth, Bathilda, the sunflowers in the back garden, a caterpillar on a leaf...
Gellert’s breath caught when he came to the last drawing. It was amazingly lifelike, so well observed. Gellert was sitting on one end of the sofa, and Albus was sitting with his back against the opposite arm, his feet on Gellert’s lap. One of Gellert’s hands was wrapped around Albus’ foot. They both were holding books, but they weren’t looking at them – they were looking at one another and laughing.
Gellert couldn’t say that he remembered that day, because that had happened so many times this summer.
But then he saw the date. Only a week after Gellert had met Albus.
Ariana had seen that they were in love before anyone else had.
Gellert looked up at Albus. “I don’t want to forget. What do you need for me to do?”
Albus breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn’t wanted to carry the memory of Ariana alone. He hadn’t wanted to lie to Gellert. He hadn’t wanted to live without him.
“I need to see the duel from your perspective.”
“You don’t trust me to tell you?”
“I – need the details.” He had to know if his Cruciatus hit Ariana.
“Alright then. What else?”
“I need you to be nice to Aberforth – to give him a chance – you’ve never met him before – not this Aberforth.”
“After seeing your memory of him after you revived him this morning, that is - not impossible.”
“And finally – I want to know if you might forgive me one day – if you still love me?”
“Albus, that’s not ‘finally’ – that’s first.” Gellert looked down at the drawing. “Look at us, Love. How could I stop wanting that? You make me happy. I may be hurt right now, but – it could have been worse. I don’t know that we would have come up with a better plan together.”
It had not at all been that Albus thought he could plan better alone. He had thought he couldn’t trust Gellert not to murder Aberforth when Albus’ back was turned.
“As for forgiveness... some day. Maybe soon. Right now – we’ll see.”
“You didn’t say – “
“If I love you? Gods, Albus. Yes, I still love you. I’ll never stop loving you.”
The tightness in Albus’ chest started to give way – he felt like he was breathing for the first time since hearing Ariana scream that morning.
Then Gellert added, “Thank you.”
Albus looked at Gellert quizzically.
“For giving me better choices than exile or Azkaban.”
If he hadn’t had the time to think over the problem uninterrupted, those might well have been the only two options Gellert had. Albus was glad Gellert could see it. And glad that Gellert was not leaving him to remember Ariana alone. Glad that he would not be the only one to know all that he had done to erase her, and why.
Albus moved the drawings back to the floor, and moved closer to Gellert. Reassurance was a higher priority than Legilimency at the moment. But he stopped about eighteen inches away – he wanted to leave plenty of distance for Gellert to know that any further physical contact was his choice to make. He felt badly about Gellert waking to Albus pinning him down.
Gellert met Albus’ eyes and whispered, “I’m sorry.”
There were so many things to be sorry for. And they were the only two left to remember - to know to be sorry.
“Shh, I know,” said Albus. “I'm sorry too. But it’s done now.”
Gellert nodded, then leaned forward and kissed Albus gently. He rested his forehead against Albus'. "It's ok, Albus. I have you, and I'm never letting go.”