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 The small brick, cottage lay at the end of a long, winding mud track. Although it was still well inside the borders of Godric's Hollow, it could not be seen from the street. nestled in a shallow dip in the ground and surrounded by trees, it was the perfect home for a small family wishing to escape from the prying eyes of the rest of civilization. The village was near enough to be in walking distance so that supplies could be bought from the local shop if needed, but the tiny farm had enough animals and crops to keep the family from going hungry.

Although the house wasn't very large, there was still enough space for four people to live comfortably. Having once been a merry little place - neat, pretty and well-tended for - Albus could not get over how much it had changed in the space of a few months.

The front garden, once covered in neatly cropped greenery, was now overgrown with yellowing grass, the flower beds nowhere to be seen. The rose that had at one point grown up the wall of the house had died and was now trailing along the ground, its brilliant red petals now a mouldy brown.

The cottage itself was something to behold. The door looked as if it was about to fall from its hinges and the paint seemed to be trying to beat it to the ground. All of the windows were covered in a thick layer of grime and dust making it near impossible to see inside. The roof, as well as the fact that it appeared to be missing most of its slates, looked ready to cave in on itself.

Albus stared at the sad sight in front of him for a few minutes longer before making his way up what used to be the garden path. The three knocks that followed seemed eerily loud, echoing around the hollow that the house sat in. He felt himself holding his breath as he waited for the door to be answered, a growing feeling of dread threatening to overcome him. Not even Fawkes dared to make a sound as he perched in his cage that was sat on top of Albus's suitcase. The two of them stood outside on the dreary June morning for what seemed like an age before footsteps sounded and the door swung open.

Aberforth stood stiffly, his clothes crumpled and his greasy hair sticking out at odd angles. Underneath his clear blue eyes were bags so dark, they looked frighteningly like somebody had painted them on with a purple pen.

There was a moment of awkward silence as Aberforth stared at Albus up and down, during which he was almost scared that he would slam the door in his face. Instead, he took him by surprise by leaping forward and pulling him into a tight embrace.

"Albus!" Aberforth's voice shook dangerously.

Minutes ticked by as the two of them clung to each other, shivering in the early summer dampness. Having known Aberforth for almost fifteen years, Albus could tell that he was just as reluctant to let go as he was. Letting go would mean facing the challenges that lay ahead and as much as he wished that he could deny it, he was scared.

The moment was soon broken when Fawkes gave a particularly loud squawk, ruffling his scarlet feathers impatiently. Aberforth regained composure, stepping to the side to allow me to enter the house and nodding at me curtly as Albus moved past.

When he reached the kitchen, Albus stopped in his tracks, a new wave of sadness washing over him. That of smoke and mould had replaced the smell of fresh baking that had once warmed the room. Chairs lay upturned, cupboard doors hung open and the remains of various smashed plates and dishes littered the dirty floor. A stony coldness hung heavy in the air, sending a shudder running down my spine as I placed my suitcase carefully on the dining table.

"Albus!"

A surge of hope rushed through him as he spun around, only to be replaced with more disappointment. For a moment, Albus had been certain that it had been his mother, Kendra Dumbledore, standing in the doorway. She had been ready to pull him into a hug and to assure him that everything was okay; that she had simply been to busy with other commitments to take care of the house and that it would be all back to normal soon. Just to see her cheerful smile once more, to feel her warm arms wrapped around him or to inhale her sweet perfume would have been enough for him.

Instead, Ariana stood beside him, as slight and fragile as ever. Her golden hair hung in tangles down her back and her blue eyes were distant and glazed over. Her face had slit up in a small smile as she sidled over, slipping her hand into his own.

"Hello, Ariana," his voice quivered. Albus found it hard to take in the fact that it had been his sister - the sweet, lovely girl next to me - who had murdered their mother. Unable to suppress a shiver of unease, he realized that Ariana could quite as easily kill him as well. At any second, she could take him by surprise and go into one of her rages. She was dangerous.

"I missed you," Ariana spoke softly.

Taking a deep breath, Albus squeezed her hand gently, "I missed you too."

"Ariana!" Aberforth peered around the doorway. "Why don't you go back to your drawings? I need to speak to Albus alone for a bit."

The small blonde nodded happily, skipping past Aberforth and upstairs to her bedroom. When the sound of a slamming door drifted down the staircase, Aberforth turned his searching gaze on Albus. Albus couldn't help but shift uncomfortably as, for the second time since he had arrived, his brother examined him - this time a lot more thoroughly. His steady eyes travelled down past his auburn hair to his pale face, taking in everything from the shirt and tie that he had worn to the funeral yesterday to his scruffy shoes, worn so many times that they were ready to fall apart. Albus was almost sure that he could see right into his very soul, that he could flick through all of his deepest, darkest secrets just as easily as he could flick through the pages of a book.

Finally, Aberforth entered the room, picking up a chair and sitting down.

"You said you'd spend the night here," his voice had a definite bite to it, yet it wasn't quite accusing. "Ariana was worried."

It was true; before the funeral had begun, Albus had told Aberforth that he would come home with him and help to look after Ariana. At the last minute however, he had scarpered, too terrified to make the decision that he knew would be inevitable. Instead, he had put it off for one more day, choosing to stay at a nearby inn.

"I'm sorry," the words spilled from his mouth before he could stop them. "I'm sorry for everything, Aberforth. I should never have left Mother to care for Ariana by herself. It's all my fault."

"No," the firmness in Aberforth's tone took him by surprise. "Even if you had stayed home it wouldn't have made a difference. I'm the only one she'll listen to. I shouldn't have gone back to Hogwarts. It's all my fault."

Aberforth and Albus looked at each other for quite some time. Albus fidgeted anxiously, wringing his hands under the table.

"So what do we do now?"

The question was left to hang in the air. When it became clear that Aberforth was not going to answer, Albus crossed the room to see what was left in the cupboards. As he had expected, they were all empty apart from a few scraps of stale bread and a jar with a few drops of off milk at the bottom.

"Let's go to the shops. We can decided what to do next once we have all had something to eat."

 

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