Disclaimer: You cannot buy Harry Potter. You cannot make Harry Potter. You can only be Harry Potter. It is in your spirit, or it is JK Rowling.
Part of this chapter is quoted from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
A/N: This was a hard chapter to write. (Which you can probably tell by how long it took.) I thought I had it mostly done, but it turned out there was a lot more to do. Not to mention seemingly being cursed with bad luck when it comes to computers (no data lost, thankfully) and my ADHD getting the better of me for a while. But yeah, very dense material here and getting through the last proverbial mile was a lot harder than I thought.
I'm trying to establish a new writing schedule. We'll see how it goes.
Chapter 31: Gellert Grindelwald
"I do not like this," Viktor grumbled. "It is not right to talk to that monster."
Harry shrugged. When he had found out about this plan, Viktor had insisted on getting involved and suggested that Harry call the whole thing off. Harry, despite his own reservations, had declined. "I'm doing this as a favour to the Dumbledores," he said. "I'm not exactly sure what it's all about, but it sounds like there's some unfinished business there."
"Bah, vhat unfinished business could there be," Viktor griped. "Dumbledore beat him in the duel. He put him avay in Nurmengard. He should have killed him, but he didn't. End of story."
"Not that Dumbledore," Harry corrected. "His brother. He said he has a few choice words that he didn't get to say last time."
Harry still didn't know how Aberforth Dumbledore had got out of Britain. He wasn't completely certain Albus even knew. The word in the Order was that Aberforth was playing the spy, using his well-known falling out with his brother to publicly distance himself, but showing up here, now, would have to attract Voldemort's attention if he knew.
Viktor considered this. "Grindelvald had many victims," he said. "The time to confront him vas at his trial, and in public, vhere he vas powerless. He is too dangerous to be trusted elsevhere, especially behind closed doors."
Harry shrugged: "Maybe, but I'll be with both Dumbledores and Grayson. I've heard some of the stories about Grindelwald, but Dum—er, Albus Dumbledore thought it was important enough and safe enough to go ahead. Anyway, if you want to know what this about, you'll have to ask Aberforth, but I trust them enough to go along with it."
"I vill," he said, folding his arms.
That seemed to be the resolution of the matter between Viktor and Harry. However, Harry did hear that Viktor had indeed gone to Aberforth and was sent away with a tongue lashing seeing as Aberforth was far better acquainted with Grindelwald's treachery than he. In any case, the meeting went ahead.
When the day came, Harry waited anxiously with the two Dumbledores and Grayson, feeling like the odd one out in this room filled with powerful (and much older) wizards, even given his new-found status as the holder of one of the Deathly Hallows. And wasn't that still a bizarre revelation.
Grindelwald's use of the symbol of the Hallows during the war was well-known among those who were familiar with the story (or at least Harry knew it from Luna), so he had a suspicion of what all this was about, but he still didn't understand why. Either way, there was no backing out now.
The new area where Grindelwald was being imprisoned was not under a Fidelius Charm. Apparently, the operation to contain him was too large and complex for the charm to hide it, and the power required was beyond even Dumbledore's means. (One of the reasons Durmstrang wasn't hidden thus either.) Nonetheless, it was done under great secrecy, and Harry didn't know where he was when they reached the prison. (Although after he got back and described the trip, Hermione wondered aloud if it was on the Isle of Elba.) It must have been a lot of work to set up a new prison this quickly. Even for one prisoner, the security was extensive, and that meant a fair bit of infrastructure, even in the magical world.
The room where the meeting was to be held was separated from its surroundings by a dark void and connected by a winding, invisible catwalk. A guard was required to lead each of the visitors separately to the entrance. Unless you were very careful, without a guide, you would fall, probably into some kind horrific death-trap.
The room itself was a futuristic white, unfurnished save for a table that was bonded to the floor by unclear means and three chairs in the same style, though there were four of them in their party. Those chairs were reserved for the prisoner and Albus and Aberforth Dumbledore, who were able to claim some sort of official visitor status as victims of Grindelwald's crimes. For legal reasons, the other two visitors, Edward Grayson and Harry himself, were technically deputised as security guards for the visit. Albus Dumbledore glanced at the two of them apologetically before he and his brother sat.
Their guides left, and a few minutes later, Gellert Grindelwald was wheeled into the room, strapped to an upright trolley pushed along by two wizards with their wands as they walked a couple paces behind him. He was trussed up in a straitjacket and had a muzzle over his face, something Harry had seen only once before in real life, to contain the captive Fenrir Greyback at the British Ministry. There was even an orange collar visible under the straitjacket.
"My God, he really is Hannibal Lecter," Harry said to himself. The resemblance was quite a bit closer than Greyback.
"The first time they caught him," Grayson muttered, "they tried to contain him with spells alone. They learnt after that."
They wheeled Grindelwald to a stop in front of the table, just out of arm's reach. Then, Dumbledore—Albus Dumbledore—gestured to the guards, and they moved back to stand outside the door. Albus drew his wand—the Elder Wand—and flicked it. Once, and the bindings fell away from Grindelwald's body—the trolley unstrapped him; the muzzle fell from his face, and the straitjacket freed his hands. Twice, and he was pushed away from the trolley in front of the empty chair. Thrice, and he sat, and his arms were tied to the chair. He glanced down at them and them back up at Albus.
Unlike either of the Dumbledores, Grindelwald was clean-shaven, and only a short fringe of white hair ringed his head. His face was spotted and heavily lined, with sunken cheeks. Most of the resemblance to the old photos was worn away by time. The eyes were the same, though—one a blue so pale it was nearly white, the other nearly black, and seeming not quite in proportion with each other.
And the smile. When Harry saw that smile, he could see the merry-faced boy in Bathilda Bagshot's old photos of him. It was almost catlike, in a strange way—an air of being effortlessly in control of the situation. He looked as if he were delighted to be tied to a chair and faced with two of the people who hated him most.
"You're still using it, then, Albus?" he asked in a smooth voice that belied his age.
"It is a very fine wand, Gellert," Albus replied, "and I dare say I've been wiser in wielding it than you or most of its other masters were."
"Wiser?" Grindelwald said. "Gregorovitch was the fool, letting on that he had it. I kept it quiet too, and you were the only one who knew enough to take it from me." He looked at the other people in the room. "As it stands now, your lips have been looser than mine."
"Be that as it may, the Wand is as safe as it ever can be in this company." Albus spoke lightly, but Harry could have cut the tension with a knife. "And that is the least of the reasons why I asked to speak with you."
He raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Indeed. We have something to show you, Gellert…And do refrain from trying anything. All of us here can cast wandless magic."
Grindelwald's eyes flashed to Harry, and he felt the man's penetrating stare, which he of course resisted.
"And Occlumency," he observed, scanning the room. "As always, you keep the most accomplished company. How are you, Aberforth?"
Aberforth's response consisted of no words and two fingers.
"Classless as ever, I see…Edward Grayson. I didn't expect we would ever meet again."
"And I'd have been happy to let you rot, Grindelwald," Grayson replied, "but seeing as Germany's all but surrendered to another Dark Lord, I'd rather have you where I can keep an eye on you." No surprise there. In his Defence class last year, Grayson had mentioned duelling Grindelwald a couple of times. Obviously, it hadn't been pleasant.
Then, Grindelwald turned back to Harry. "And the Boy-Who-Lived," he said, and that time, Harry did react, if only by a slight widening of his eyes. The grin flashed again. "Oh, yes, I have heard about you. Albus may have figured out how to contain me, but I could still get the newspaper delivered. Animagus, wandless prodigy, Tetrawizard Champion, and you've survived facing Lord Voldemort four times, now?"
"Actually, the first one was my mother," Harry said as evenly as he could.
"Ah, of course. So, Albus," he said, flexing his hands against the bindings again, "to what do I owe this auspicious meeting?"
Albus sat wistfully for a moment, then said, "Harry, your cloak, please."
Harry uneasily took his invisibility cloak out of his robes and spread it out on the table. Grindelwald's eyes widened at once. "The Cloak of Invisibility of Ignotus Peverell," Albus continued, "passed from the Peverell line to the Potter line through Ignotus's granddaughter, Iolanthe. Thence, it was passed down the male Potter line these seven hundred years until it came to young Harry. Something we might have been able to trace in our time were it not for the great discretion of the Potters of our day. Indeed, it took me several years to learn what James had even after he told me of it."
Grindelwald's eyes flashed fiercely, and he looked on the point of speaking, but he held his tongue.
Grayson stepped forward and retrieved a small pouch from his robes, wandlessly, he levitated out a large, black gem with a crack down its middle and a strange aura about it, not touching it with his hands, and he placed it on top of the Cloak. Grindelwald hissed upon seeing its condition, but Albus continued, "The Resurrection Stone of Cadmus Peverell, which, contrary to the tale, was passed down a different branch of the Peverell line until it eventually made its way into the Gaunt line, into which had also mixed the heirs of Salazar Slytherin. As the Gaunts withdrew from public life and faded into knutless hermits, they themselves forgot what they had—until the last heir of Slytherin, unaware of the power he possessed, used it for something as base as a vessel for his soul."
At that, Grindelwald started violently and jerked against the chair. He spat and launched into a hurried muttering that Harry didn't need to know German to recognize as string of colourful swear words. Albus, however, was unfazed.
"You may rest assured that the Stone has been cleansed of any taint of Lord Voldemort's soul, and as you can see, it survived the process."
Grindelwald looked up at him sharply: "Then you have tested the Stone?"
His voice grew colder: "I have not, for reasons you can guess. Neither to call up my family nor for the necromantic arts you had planned, but surely, you can feel the power coming from it."
It was true. Harry could feel the power of the Stone from the moment he saw it. An artefact that could communicate with the dead was as close to breaking the rules of magic as it was possible to get—as close as he himself had come in the graveyard in Little Hangleton. It was an uneasy feeling—recoiling as if from something unnatural, yet at the same time feeling a sort of abstract kinship.
For his part, Grindelwald leaned back in his seat and nodded, bidding Albus to finish the story.
"Since Voldemort possessing it would be unacceptable, and since Sirius Black was the one to cleanse the curse and the horcrux from it, by rights, it ought to go to him. However, given the circumstances, he has signed it over to Edward as Steward, who has kept it in a vault since we recovered it.
"And of course, the Elder Wand of Antioch Peverell, I won from you in our duel in the Ardennes on the sixth of January, 1945." He laid his unusually long and knobbly wand on the table next to the Stone.
Grindelwald sighed: "You found them."
Albus nodded. "I found them. Though I have not, until this moment, united them, nor do I intend for one person to possess them. I believed only this was an an appropriate moment to bring the Hallows together."
The old dark lord was silent for a long time, staring at the Deathly Hallows, united for the first time since their creation. He flexed his fingers, casually this time. He might have been contemplating his chances if he tried to summon them, or he might have been working his stiff joints. Harry kept a hand on the corner of his Cloak, just in case.
"The Potters and the Gaunts," he mused. "For it to be so simple…"
At this, Albus gave a small smile for the first time: "We were expecting them to be hidden in a sea cave guarded by Inferi. Or perhaps in an ancient temple protected by many booby traps, where we would find ourselves chased by a giant, rolling boulder—" Harry snorted. "—not sitting in my friend Henry's closet."
Grindelwald laughed. Aberforth and Grayson both scowled. "You know, for a time, I believed the Resurrection Stone had come into the possession of Grigori Rasputin," he said. "I spent a year breaking into vaults around Russia before I decided it was a false lead."
"Ah, that would explain a few things," Albus replied.
"But truly, you had the Stone in your grasp, and you didn't use it? After you coveted it so when we were young?"
He shook his head: "I have heeded the tale's warning in my old age. I learnt long ago that it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live. And I could not be the rightful Master of Death while Harry held the Cloak, so there was no benefit to keeping it."
"So you never found out what happens when the Hallows are united?"
His bushy eyebrows rose. "No. Did you?"
"I did not. As much as it pains me to say it, you now know more about the Hallows than I do. I supposed you have changed, Albus. But I wonder…Who better to defeat the Death Eaters—to defeat Lord Voldemort—than the Master of Death? You could do it. It would be easy…or, I suppose the rightful owner of the Cloak could, at least." He looked back to Harry, though Harry didn't meet his eyes.
For a split second, Harry almost did it. He'd wager he had the fastest reflexes of anyone in the room. He still had his hand on the Cloak. And it wasn't like Albus Dumbledore was going to just give him the Elder Wand. He could do it. Maybe should do it. Maybe it was even the power Voldemort knew not. It might be what he needed to win the war.
But even in the time it took to think that, the moment passed. He didn't move. He wasn't sure why he didn't, but words came to him unbidden. Grayson's: "Don't trust anything he says, the silver-tongued devil." Hermione's: "Don't do anything stupid, little brother." His mother's: "You still have a chance to live a long, happy life. You shouldn't give that up."
He wouldn't put it past the others to know what he was thinking, but they didn't act like they noticed. "Oh, Gellert," Albus said sadly. "You never understood, as I failed to understand for so long, that the true master does not seek to run away from Death. He accepts that he must die, and understands that there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying."
"And I say you're both being over-dramatic," Grayson scoffed, making Harry jump. "Albus says these artefacts weren't created by Death itself, but just by three very skilled artificers, and yet he still professes this mystical notion about their meaning. I say they're artefacts like any others. Maybe they'll unlock some special power when they're brought together, or maybe they'll do nothing, but if they do, it'll be something perfectly earthly."
"Well, there is always that possibility," Grindelwald conceded, and it seemed as if the tension eased. "Still, you did what I could not. You found the Hallows—and you brought them here for me to see," he said curiously. "You didn't need to do that."
"I brought them here," Albus said, "because the opportunity presented itself, and because, though I have dreaded it, there is something that I need to do."
The dark wizard's eyes flicked to Harry and Grayson, understanding. "And these others?" he asked.
"A price to be paid to come near you at all, Gellert. One of us to protect each of the Hallows, plus Aberforth, as is his right."
"Damn right, it is," Aberforth muttered. "I've got a right to more than that."
"Hm, I suppose I should have expected as much," Grindelwald said. "You were always the sentimental one." Oddly, Aberforth bristled at that. "Not what I expected all those years ago, but looking back, I'm not surprised. You have the opportunity for closure, and you wanted to include me…or is it closure? Or rather, is it absolution? Putting to rest old regrets?"
"I don't regret standing against you as I did, Gellert," Albus said, shaking his head. "Though I would give much to change what happened that day, I was wrong, and I was correcting my mistake. I saw that day that I was wrong to neglect my family as I did even before our mother's death."
"And for that, you gave up the great work. I suppose it wouldn't have worked anyway. Your noble principles and my pragmatism."
Aberforth scoffed. "That's what you call it."
The others ignored him. "There were other options," Albus said sadly. "You could have stayed. If I'd finally started trying to help Ariana instead of treating her like a problem to be hidden away, she could have done better."
"Hmph, would've believed that when I saw it," Aberforth muttered.
Albus frowned, but didn't retort. Meanwhile, Grindelwald shrugged his shoulders: "What can I say? I was young and impatient."
"But our great work wasn't urgent," Albus said, almost pleadingly. "Not in 1899. Your visions said as much. And helping Ariana was never going to be a fast process. She'd already lived so much longer than other Obscurials, I could see her potential—" He paused as Aberforth growled loudly. "I mean her potential to get better, Abe. To be able to function in society and not have to hide herself away anymore. My motives were selfish; I admit it, but I did truly wish to help her. But as you say, Gellert, you were young and impatient."
He smiled again: "I was a man on a mission, Albus. Could you have loved me if I were any different?"
And suddenly, Aberforth snapped. "How dare you!" he roared. He started to lunge across the table, but Grayson grabbed him by the arm and held him back. "You used him! You only wanted him for Ariana's power. I know you saw it. You really had him going, spending all your days together and still owling each other at night. He loved you, and you treated him like just another pawn!"
Harry moved. His instincts were screaming at him, and before he even knew what he was doing, he raised his hand, and a Contego shield charm appeared down the length of the table. With his other hand, he yanked on his Cloak, and the Wand and Stone fell into Albus's lap. His shield wasn't a moment too soon because Grindelwald cast a spell, seemingly shooting it directly from his eyes. At the same time, Aberforth looked like he was throwing a punch, and a wave of magic shot out from his fist. Both struck the shield at the same time, and it shattered after resounding like a gong. Harry felt the jolt shoot up his arm so hard that he nearly fell over.
Everyone turned and stared at him. Grindelwald perhaps looked the most surprised of all.
"Er, I know I'm just watching here," Harry said, "but I think we need to calm down." He tried to keep his voice from shaking while he read the room, wide-eyed and alert. This had got a lot more personal than he had bargained for very fast. He knew Albus Dumbledore had some connection with the dark wizard. "Known associate of Gellert Grindelwald," Voldemort's leaflet drops said, and Albus hadn't denied it. But the idea that they were together? And his mother and sister? Albus had told him they would be using the Resurrection Stone just so he was forewarned, but this was much further down the rabbit hole.
He looked to Grayson and saw that even he was watching with raised eyebrows. He hadn't known the full story either. However, after a moment, he made his way to the door, where the other guards were looking in and told them, "We're alright. Just slipped on the floor." Interesting move, Harry thought. "We're good?" he asked the room.
Hesitantly, Harry nodded, though only for himself. It took a couple minutes of stand-off during which Harry was convinced Aberforth was going to try to attack again at any moment before they finally relaxed—or something close to it—and he felt able to relax with them.
Finally, Albus spoke again, as calmly as ever, though still with a sad note to it, "To answer your question, Gellert, I loved you for your brilliance—for your vision, your passion…and that carefree smile of yours…I overlooked your flirtation with the Dark Arts. I refused to see your crueller side as more than a boyhood indiscretion. I was blinded by my own feelings. But alas, love makes fools of us all."
Harry still couldn't believe it, even hearing it straight from the horse's mouth. He could picture Albus Dumbledore doing a lot of strange things, but being a lovesick teenager? His mind wouldn't process it.
Grayson cleared his throat: "Maybe it's time we got on with our…business?"
Albus looked at him, and then looked down at his lap. "Very well." He picked up the Resurrection Stone from where it had fallen and held it up to the light with trembling hands. He gazed at the cracked Hallows symbol as if not quite believing this was happening. His eyes darted to Grindelwald.
A smirk started on Grindelwald's face, but it stopped. He remained solemn. An understanding passed between them. "I wouldn't deny you this closure, Albus," he said.
Albus nodded and, hands still trembling, he turned the Stone over three times.
Harry wasn't sure where she'd come from. It was as if she'd stepped out from behind a curtain while he blinked, except that there was no curtain. One moment, she wasn't there, and the next, she was.
She was almost, but not quite solid. She stood on the floor and immediately stumbled and leaned against the table rather than floating like a ghost; yet she was transparent, and her colour was…not fully absent, but faded. Harry was immediately reminded of Luna. She was small and slight, not much younger than Luna, and with her faded colours, what might have been golden hair and the Dumbledores' piercing blue eyes resembled Luna's bleach-blond and silver. Most of all, she wore a haunted, not-quite-there expression on her face that he'd seen on Luna at her lowest points.
"Ariana…" Aberforth breathed.
Already, tears were rolling down Albus's cheeks. Perhaps even more surprising, the normally gruff Aberforth was crying even harder. Grindelwald…well, he wasn't crying, but he did look genuinely sad. Harry really felt like he was intruding now, but he couldn't back out.
"Hello, Abe," Ariana said. "Hello, Al." Her voice was soft and shaking a bit—not like Luna's. Perhaps with a similar note of sweetness, but with Luna, you had to really know her to tell when she was hurting. For Ariana Dumbledore, it was obvious. "It's good to see you again."
Aberforth sighed as he wiped his eyes on his sleeve. "We've missed you, Ari."
"I've missed you too," she said.
Albus composed himself and spoke up: "Ariana, words cannot express how sorry I am for what we put you through…before. I have done many things of which I am not proud, but you were always my greatest regret."
Aberforth side-eyed his brother with an annoyed glance. "Yeah, what he said."
Ariana smiled at that and even giggled a little. "You're still not one for fancy words, are you, Abe?"
"It's not my fault I can't keep the letters straight in my head," he said, "or that Albus couldn't imagine a powerful wizard who didn't live in a dusty library…Anyway, it's worth it to see you smile again." A ghost of a smile crossed his own face.
She looked to Albus. "A dusty library?" she said, still smiling.
Albus couldn't do anything but answer like it was a normal conversation: "Well, not under present circumstances, as you can imagine. And not too dusty, if I can help it."
Ariana turned to face the other side of the table—the other person whom they almost might have forgotten was there: "And Gellert."
At the edge of his hearing, Harry was sure he heard Aberforth hissing slightly.
"Hello, Ariana," Grindelwald said politely. "I trust you are well?"
She climbed up and sat cross-legged on the table. "Oh, yes, I am. It's not like this world. I could find peace there." Her gaze turned down slightly. "It's hard, coming back here after so long."
Grindelwald tilted his head curiously. "You can feel the difference of this world, even now?"
"It's like…" She searched for the words. "It's like standing in the cold winter air, pressed up against the window of a warm cottage. Even if you can feel the heat of the fire, you can never forget the cold glass between you."
Harry turned to Grayson and silently raised his eyebrows. To hear the stories, it sounded like Ariana had been barely functional in life. Now, she sounded…well, more than a little like Albus. Grayson just shrugged.
Aberforth was the one who said what they all must have been thinking, his voice grim: "You can't stay for long, can you?"
She shook her head: "Please don't ask me to stay…I can feel the pain creeping back in already."
There was a pause, and then Albus said, "We know of the…trap of the Stone. We understand that you cannot stay, as much as it pains us, and we know how much pain you yourself felt in your short life. We would not keep you. But we hoped you would be willing to come to us and help us finally put the conflict among us to rest."
"I'm always happy to help you if I can," she assured him.
Albus sat in silence for a minute, as if woolgathering. When he spoke again, it was almost as if it were to himself: "I've wanted to talk to you for so long—as did Aberforth, of course." He looked up at her. "I wanted to talk to you, and at the same time, I dreaded it, because I was afraid to learn the truth…None of us really knew what happened wh…when you died." He struggled with his words as Harry had never seen from him before.
"He means we never knew which of our curses went astray and—killed you," Aberforth said. "I've tried picturing where you were standing at the side of the room, then when you got caught in the middle of it, and I tried to push you away, which of us was in a position to have a spell reflect your way…None of it made sense. I told myself it was Albus because I wanted someone to be angry at. Plus, it was all his fault anyway. But I never really knew, either."
"But don't you remember?" Ariana said, looking surprised. "I wasn't standing at the side. I was fighting with you."
"What?" Aberforth gasped.
"I was trying to help you, Abe. When Gellert attacked you, I ran to grab Mama's wand to try to protect you."
"Er, yes. I know you had a wand. I know you were there in the thick of it. That's how…how it happened. But you didn't know what to do, and—"
"But I did," she insisted. "When I got her wand, I tried to do things I'd seen Albus and Mama do, and…it worked. It was…it was the only time magic ever worked right for me."
"She's right," Grindelwald said, and everyone snapped to look at him. "Didn't you know that? I didn't know who did the deed, but I do remember that. I was surprised when I saw her fighting with a wand. I even tried to steer the fight away from her when I saw it, but it didn't go as well as I'd hoped."
The Dumbledore brothers stared at their sister. "But then…" Aberforth stammered. "Well, what happened?"
"We were fighting, all of us," she said. "I tried to tell you to stop. I didn't want you to fight over me. But you were all yelling spells and I thought you couldn't hear me. I wanted to protect you, but Gellert was too strong. I could tell he was trying to hurt you really bad, and even Albus couldn't keep up, protecting us and fighting. His shield spell slipped, and I ran in without thinking and jumped in front of Gellert's next curse aimed at him."
Albus seemed to go limp. His voice trembled in shock: "Y-you…you sacrificed yourself…for me?"
Aberforth was equally incredulous: "You sacrificed yourself for him?"
"Of course," she said.
"But…" Albus seemed torn, unsure whether he could asked the next question. "Why?"
"Because you're my brother."
He was crying again, shaking his head slightly. "I certainly did not love you as well as I should have, Ariana. You always responded so much better to Abe, and I don't blame you. I only ever treated you as a burden."
She smiled sadly: "You were still my brother, Albus. I didn't want to see you get hurt."
"Yeah? He was my brother too, Ari," Aberforth said, "and I sure as hell wasn't in a mood to jump in front of a curse for him."
At that, she climbed down off the table and stepped closer to him, cupping his cheek with her hand so that he looked up at her—though it was hard to tell whether she was actually touching him. "Oh, Abe," she said. "It's been hard seeing the two of you like this all this time."
Aberforth looked uncomfortable. "What do you mean?" he said. "We get on fine. I wouldn't say we're close, but—well, we never were, were we?"
"You're getting by," she admitted, "but the wounds have never fully healed."
He half-looked to the side, not meeting her eyes. "Can you blame us? Stuff like that leaves scars."
She shook her head: "But it doesn't have to end with that. You need to learn to forgive, Abe—to forgive Albus and yourself."
"About what, Ari?" he said. He sounded like he was trying to keep up his gruff demeanour, but there was no heat in it. "I made peace with myself—or at least, I like to think I did. Albus…he's changed a lot since then, in some ways, but that doesn't mean it's easy. It was his bloody fault in the first place."
"But we all make mistakes, don't we? Isn't that was you told me…after Mama…?"
Aberforth's face fell. With that one, he looked truly chastised.
"Albus made a mistake just like I did. Maybe Gellert did, too. And you blamed yourself whenever you couldn't blame either of them, but it was my choice. It didn't go how I'd hoped, but I still chose it. Even in the middle of it, I was so happy that I finally got Mother's wand to work. Everything after that…" A flash of pain crossed her face, and she started crying. "I lost control again."
Silence fell. Harry had long since felt completely out of his depth, and he thought Grayson didn't look too comfortable, either. No one seemed to know what to say.
This time, Grindelwald spoke up. "The reason I didn't know which of us had cast the fatal curse, Ariana, was because I didn't know what had actually killed you. It wasn't until I found Credence that I even had a clear idea of what happened, so little was known about Obscurials."
"You mean that orphan you tried to set up as our long-lost brother?" Aberforth said.
Grindelwald ignored him. "The spell I used would have hurt you badly, but it shouldn't have killed you," he told Ariana. "I wasn't using lethal spells—at least, nothing definitely lethal. For I long time, I thought it might have been Aberforth, because he was the most aggressive of the three of us. I later guessed that the shock of my curse must have pushed you into your Obscurus form, but with the injury it caused, your physical body couldn't take the stress—though you certainly tried. Before you died, you completely destroyed the room. Nearly killed me and knocked both of them out, which is probably why they couldn't remember what really happened."
"Well…good you gave him what for, at least," Aberforth said.
"Please, Abe, do we have to fight?" Ariana asked.
He sighed heavily and looked down at the table: "I'm sorry, Ari. It's just that it's been a long time in coming."
"For what it's worth, I wasn't trying to kill anyone," Grindelwald said. "Least of all you, Ariana. I admit I was willing to kill Aberforth, but I didn't want to if I could help it."
"And that's supposed to make it okay, you bastard!" Aberforth snapped. "You started with the Cruciatus Curse!"
"Please don't," Ariana pleaded.
"I have never claimed to be a good man," Grindelwald replied, looking into Albus's eyes. "Visionary, passionate, you said, Albus? True. For the Greater Good—but not good. Rather, ruthless. I dare say even uncaring. I struck hard because I was angry; I wanted you to submit. And yes, I did want control of Ariana. I saw her as a weapon, and Aberforth only as an obstacle. You, I saw your full potential, Albus. I saw in you an equal, but I still wanted you to submit to my will…Strange how our passions rule us, isn't it? I got carried away by them. You said it yourself: that was my mistake at Durmstrang."
"And you still haven't learnt from it," Aberforth sneered.
Grindelwald tilted his head: "How uncharitable of you. I should think that with age has come a bit of perspective…"
"Well, I hope you're not expecting me to forgive you."
"No, Aberforth, perspective only. I hope that you can recognise my growth." He looked around the cell. "I've had plenty of time to think, after all. But I don't expect forgiveness, least of all from you. I don't deserve it."
"Gellert," Ariana said with a tremble in her voice. "You shouldn't—t-talk like that."
He shook his head: "I'm not a good man, Ariana. I've never held much with that sort of thing anyway. Frankly, I don't much care if your brother hates me."
"But that's n-not how it works on…on the Other Side."
"What? You're not taking his side, are you?" said Aberforth.
"I'm…I'm n-not going against him, is all," she said.
"You can be expecting him to change, Ari. He said it himself. Rotten to the core, that one."
Ariana shook her head. "You d-don't know what's to c-come, Abe," she said. "Even I d-don't know. All I know…all I know is that the p-path is open. If…if he can f-find it in himself to follow it, that's only between Gellert—" for a split second, Harry could have sworn her eyes flicked his way with Albus's trademark twinkle. "—and the Boss."
Aberforth didn't have a rebuttal to that, and as the silence stretched, there was an unspoken feeling that that was the final word.
Albus was wiping his eyes, but he looked more composed again. "Thank you, Ariana," he said. "For you to protect me like that—it was far more than I deserved. And after all this time, it is good to finally know the truth."
"For me as well," Grindelwald spoke up. "I suspected, but it is good to be certain. Looking back, perhaps I did make a mistake in forcing the issue as I did, and for that, I apologise."
Aberforth opened his mouth, but then thought better of it and held his piece.
"So, I haven't butted in on your little family affair, but I do have one important question, Grindelwald," Grayson cut in.
"What is that?"
"Do you have a horcrux stashed away somewhere?"
"Edward!" Albus said in horror.
"Don't give me that. Under the circumstances, we need to know."
"Gellert committed many terrible crimes, but I can't imagine him resorting to such crude means."
"And we've already established you have a blind spot with him," Grayson said.
"This is hardly the time." He gestured subtly toward Ariana.
"H-he doesn't have one," Ariana spoke up, surprising both of them. Her voice had grown weaker and shakier as the conversation progressed. Harry could see the pain written on her face. Merlin, what had happened to her in life? Or what was the Stone doing to her? "I—I can see more clearly from the O-other Side, sometimes. I know he doesn't."
"Thank you, Ariana," Grindelwald said with a smile, and not his usual grin. This one looked…almost kind. "I would never have made a horcrux, Edward. Regardless of the other considerations, I didn't want to risk a bad reaction to one of the Hallows."
Grayson narrowed his eyes, studying him carefully. "You know, I actually believe that," he concluded. "Well, that's all I wanted. Albus, if you feel the need to continue this little get-together—"
Suddenly, Grindelwald jerked against his bindings in a way that Harry somehow knew wasn't of his own volition. He tensed again in case there was another fight, but this time was different. Grindelwald slumped over in his chair and looked up at them through half-lidded eyes, and he spoke in a harsh, rasping voice that wasn't due to age, "Hallows will bring the turn of the war."
"Oh, bloody hell!" Grayson muttered.
"The four corners of the Earth stand against the darkness," Grindelwald went on,"and the four corners stand with it."
"No. Not again," Ariana whispered to herself, leaning on the table for support.
"One must fall, and one must fail; one must flee, and one must fade. And all Hallows will rule."
"Why? Why now?" she whispered.
"Hallows call Death's own to Death. Hallows bridge the two worlds. Hallows aid their Master. Hallows turn thrice in hand and thrice in time, and thrice again to make up nine."
"Hallows will bring the turn of the war."
Grindelwald jerked back upright with a gasp. He looked around at the group, seeming to get his bearings, and he spoke in his normal voice—still sounding oddly casual, but no longer smiling: "Well. That hasn't happened in a while."
Harry looked around at the group. They were silent except for Ariana's quiet whimpering. As if this day weren't ridiculous enough. Had Gellert Bloody Grindelwald just made a prophecy?
Slowly Grayson turned to his fellow Grand Sorcerer: "Something we should know about Albus?" he demanded.
Albus shook his head slowly: "It was as you saw it, Edward."
Harry just addressed the man directly: "What was that? Madam Fan said you weren't a Seer."
Grindelwald smiled again: "Madam Fan never knew of my true abilities, Mr. Potter. It is true that I made extensive use of scrying, yes, but I did it to enhance my natural abilities, and those have never fully left me."
Ariana was still whimpering, backing against the wall of the small cell and hugging herself: "No. No. No, this is wrong."
"What's wrong?" Harry asked without thinking.
"I can't. I c-can't…N-not again…"
"Crikey, do you know something about this?" Grayson jumped in.
"N-n-no—yes—I don't know," she said. "His visions…He t-told me about them b-before…and they caused so much p-pain…And I can't do this again!" She swiped out for Aberforth's hand, trying to hold it for comfort, but her own hand passed through it as it didn't for any solid objects. "N-not like this," she whispered.
"Look, if you know something, you need to tell us."
"Edward, please," Albus tried to stop him.
"I'm s-sorry. I have to g-go," she said.
"Ari?" Aberforth blurted.
She turned to him with a weak smile even as she sounded like she was straining to speak. "I'm s-sorry we d-d-didn't get m-more time, Abe. P-please. I have to go. It hurts."
Aberforth leaned back and nodded sadly, but Grayson wasn't done yet: "Now, wait just a minute! We get a prophecy about turning the tide of the war—all of us get a prophecy, and you know something? We need to know what it means."
She shook her head, muttering to herself again. "I can't."
"Well, why bloomin' not?"
"Edward, that's enough," Albus said sternly.
She shook her head harder as she searched for words: "I…I shouldn't…I'm n-not…I d-don't think I was supposed to…I'm sorry. I-I have to g-go."
Grayson took a step toward her. Harry started to reach for his wand, but Albus stood and put himself between them. His voice was cold.
"P-please d-don't," Ariana said. The two men ignored her.
"I'm the caretaker of the Stone, aren't I?" Grayson demanded. "I should be able to get some answers."
"That is not how the Hallows work, Edward," Albus said.
"P-p-please don't fight…D-d-don't fight…"
"You don't bloody know how they work!" Grayson. "You're still holding on to your mystical ideas!"
"Professor!" Harry tried to cut in at the same time Aberforth yelled, "Albus!"
"Stop it! Stop it!" she squealed.
"Mystical? And what do you see before you?" demanded Albus.
"I don't know. But I do know she—"
"Stop iiiiiiiiiii!" Suddenly, Ariana's voice rose to a shriek, and something lashed out from her body—all black, but with a shape Harry couldn't parse: part-cloud, part-veil, part-tendrils, part-cobwebs. Almost faster than the eye could follow, it whipped at the room, and everyone jumped back, even Grindelwald scooting his bolted-down chair with some sort of magic. Harry could feel the violent power pouring into the room and couldn't think of anything to do but shield himself.
Luckily, Aberforth was on the ball. With gestures that looked so steady as to be old habit, despite not being used in nearly a century, he eased the black mass away from the rest of the group and spoke soothing words that Harry could just barely make out. "Ariana. It's okay. You're safe here. No one will hurt you here." When the black tendrils surged forward again, lashing about, he did what must have been some sort of magic, casting wandlessly and left-handed with that same assurance, and they drew back drew, though not before lashing at his extended arm. He pulled back as if he were burnt and cradled his arm. To Harry's horror, Aberforth's hand had turned grey and looked to have taken on the texture of cracked leather.
The cloud coalesced, forming back into the translucent shade of Ariana, now huddled back against the wall and hugging her knees. "I'm sorry," she squeaked, sounding far younger than she looked. "I'm sorry, Abe."
"It's okay," he soothed her. "It'll be okay."
"It hurts, Abe. It hurts so much."
"I know. You can go now. We'll be okay."
She steadied herself a little, and her eyes scanned the room. They rested on Harry, and a slightly lost look crossed her face that reminded him of Luna more than ever. When she spoke, it was only in a whisper: "I'm sorry. The time is not yet right, Harry Potter." And like a curtain being drawn closed, she vanished.
When she did, some sort of barrier covering the door vanished too, and the guards rushed into the room. They were professional enough to not just curse anything that moved, but it took some fast talking from Grayson and both him and Harry shifting into their Animagus forms to prove their identities to keep them all from getting stunned or worse. It was clear they had overstayed their welcome. It was time for them to go, too.
The Resurrection Stone was almost forgotten on the floor until Grayson stooped to pick it up. Albus jerked toward him with a warning hand in case he tried to call Ariana back, but he instead pocketed it.
That crisis resolved, he turned to his brother: "Aberforth, you're hurt." He reached out a hand to help.
Aberforth swatted it aside. "Bugger off. I'll be fine," he grumbled, already casting some sort of spell on the cracked skin. "It's not like it was the first time."
That wasn't reassuring.
"But…how?" Harry finally had a coherent enough thought to ask. "I thought projections created by the Resurrection Stone weren't supposed to affect the living."
"Clearly because the Obscurus is a spirit and not a being, its influence can cross between the world," Grindelwald said.
"Clearly," Albus countered, "because there would be no need for an Obscurus on the Other Side. It's a manifestation of magical power, not a spirit in the usual sense. In this case, it was an interaction of her soul with the living world and the magic that fuels the Stone, just as she said the pain was coming back."
"Hm. Maybe," Grayson cut in, "but we can debate that later. We need to go."
They filed out of the room, but just before the door shut, Grindelwald called out, "Albus."
Albus Dumbledore paused in the doorway.
"Aberforth said I was just using you, but he was wrong. I did love you, Albus," Grindelwald said. "It was the same as you, I think. You were the one person I ever met who was truly my equal…but then, I suppose I was never very good to the people I loved."