"Toss down the ladder, you bastard!"
"What's the password?" said the boy sitting comfortably in the tree.
"What? We don't have a password!"
"Yes we do, Watson. We agreed on it yesterday."
Watson stood on the ground, craning his neck to glare at his amused friend.
"Why do we even need a password? There's no one else around."
"You never know. Just because we haven't seen anyone, it doesn't mean they aren't around here somewhere."
"Davies, you're a twat. Just let down the bloody ladder!"
"The password is, you're not getting any of the blueberries I picked if you don't let me up!"
With a sigh, Davies let the ladder fall down so Watson could climb up. The other boy quickly scaled the tree, and then sat down of the main platform of their treehouse. It was formidable; it spanned several trees, had some rooms that were completely enclosed, and never once strayed below twenty feet off the ground. They had made it completely themselves. It had taken several decades to get it just right.
Watson rolled his eyes, but he reached into his satchel, and tossed a bag of blueberries to his friend. Davies immediately opened it and began eating ravenously, leaving Watson to haul up the ladder.
"Oi! Leave some for me! What've you been doing all day, anyways?"
Davies threw a blueberry at Watson's head. It bounced off, and fell to the ground, 30 feet below. Davies sniggered.
"All right, then. Don't tell me. Is there food, at least?"
"The hamper in the kitchen is full again. There's sausage, and potatoes, and corn, and apple pie. We haven't had apple pie for ages."
Watson leaned back against the thick trunk of the tree. "Davies, d'you ever wonder where the food comes from?"
"We spent that one day watching it, remember? No one came by to put anything in."
"Yeah, I remember. But it's gotta come from somewhere, doesn't it? And it isn't like we've ever seen anyone else around here."
Davies threw another blueberry at Watson. "You think too hard. It doesn't matter where it comes from, it matters that it's there, and we get to eat it all."
Watson waved him away. "Yeah, I know. But- how long have we been here? And we haven't seen anyone ever? How likely is that?"
Davies stood up. "Look, you can keep thinking your deep thoughts if you like. But I'm going to go have some apple pie, and if you take too long there won't be any for you." He tossed the empty bag at Watson's head.
"I guess you're- Hey! Did you eat all my blueberries?"
Davies smirked. "They were delicious."
"Those were for me too, you tosser!" He jumped to his feet, but Davies had already dashed off down a hanging walkway. Watson raced to catch him, both of them yelling good-natured insults back and forth.
"It's difficult to hate them, is it not?" said Ariana Dumbledore.
She and her eldest brother stood, observing the scene, but concealed from the boys.
"I don't find it that difficult." Albus said, but his uncertain tone belied his words.
"Albus, they're just boys. Not psychopaths."
"It would be a different world, if it took bad people to do bad things." he said softly.
"Precisely." Ariana said. "I've forgiven them, Albus. You need to, as well. For your own sake, if not theirs."
"But how could they do such a monstrous thing to you? There is no hint of it in their voices, their actions. They are just like the countless students who have grown up before me."
"In another world, they could have been those selfsame students."
Albus looked up, locking eyes with Ariana. "Do you really think so? Do you think everyone has the potential for such darkness in them?"
She took his hand. "I do, brother. But most never use it. And just as each child has chances to be a monster, so do they all have chances to walk in the light. As for which take each path, I think it is largely determined by circumstance."
Albus' eyes shone with unshed tears. "Circumstance, Ariana? The difference between Tom Riddle and Harry Potter, mere circumstance? The difference between Gellert and I?"
"I said largely, not entirely. Harry Potter and Voldemort were opposite. In no conceivable circumstances could one have turned out to be anything like the other. But I think you know this, and it is not the example that is worrying you."
Albus knitted his brows together, and the pain he had been hiding for a century was finally written across his face. "Was it me, Ariana? Did I stoop so low? Did I stoop so much lower than those misguided children, and actually end the life of my beloved sister?"
Ariana bowed her head. "I will not say. Gellert has asked me, and I have not told him. Aberforth will ask me when he arrives, and I will not tell him either. It is a secret known to me alone, and I will not divulge it."
"No, Albus. It is better this way."
He turned from her, to watch the two boys in their little world. They had stopped fighting, and were dividing up the pie to share while chatting companionably about their plans for the next few days.
"Their punishment is their solitude." Ariana said, watching Albus. "For all of eternity, it will just be them, here in their forest. You could not speak to them even if you wanted to."
"Do you find that adequate? After what they have done?"
"I do. They are just boys, Albus. They were scared, lonely children, each desperately trying to impress the other because without the other, each would be alone."
Albus reached up, and dabbed at his eyes with his handkerchief. "Perhaps… perhaps you are right."
"Yes." Ariana said, smiling. "Now come, Albus. We have much to do."