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Chapter Two: The Women in the Walls

July 24th, 1899

Dear Master Thimble,

I must confess that I received your letter with much surprise and pleasure; it has been some time since I’ve corresponded with someone as fascinated as I am on the subject of magical relics and their origins. These days, everyone seems more preoccupied with the modernity of the times, the latest developments in Muggle technology – awful things, those sooty Muggle cities, growing and sprawling and stacking up and swallowing all our little peaceful villages. Goodness, what is the world coming to, I must ask. Hardly a soul cares as much for the richness of our magical history; a sad state of affairs, indeed!

Your sources are most accurate; they’ve directed you to the right person as I do possess quite a sizable (and private) library of magical texts and documents. I was a bit of an acquirer during my younger years, you see.

The information you are seeking is sparse; very few texts from those times were adequately preserved, but happily, I have indeed come across the old Peverell legends: that of the three brothers and their fabled creations, the Deathly Hallows. It is unknown if these artefacts were, in fact, real, and not mere fabrications of humankind, oral tales passed down the generations and enshrined in legend over time. It is up to you to draw your own conclusions, I suppose. One of the things I adore about history is the complete unreliability of it, the irrelevance of any measure of objectivity.

The Deathly Hallows were an arcane set of objects – extraordinarily powerful, and forged by extraordinarily potent magic. Legend has it that magic was different in those days of yore; people wielded magic differently, channelled it in ways which are no longer well-understood in these modern times. Of the mythical Hallows, there are three: the first is a cloak that supposedly grants its wearer complete invisibility, the second is a stone that summons the dead from the grave, and the third and most coveted is a wand hewn from the branch of an ancient elder tree, imbued with the very power of the earth. Wands were new in those days, you see. They were good for channelling power, for concentrating spells, for tapping into reserves of magic buried too deeply within ourselves to access and put to use.

I can tell you little else about these mysteries, except perhaps this: there is an old saying that accompanies the legend, a strange and somewhat nonsensical one: ‘Death is the Harnesser of the Hallows.’ Or a variation of it: ‘All is Harnessed in Death.’ Make of this what you will.

You might also be interested to know, if you aren’t already aware of it, but the village where I reside, Godric’s Hollow – a simply delightful place during the summertime – is believed to be the final resting place of one Ignotus Peverell, youngest of the three brothers and one of the famed creators of the Hallows himself (the Cloak of Invisibility). Then again, it is still unknown if the Hallows are indeed real, or if they are merely products of mankind’s enthrallment with things far greater than their very selves.

I have enclosed several texts for your perusal; I especially recommend The Mythos of Death by Callisthenes Copperfield, which is a fairly rare text. I believe there are less than five copies in the left in the world, but since you’ve been such a delightful correspondent, I will gladly loan it along with several others to you. I would appreciate their return by summer’s end, preferably in the same condition as I have sent them. My books are dreadfully precious to me and these days, my personal library is my sole comfort; if you’ll excuse me, I fear I’m becoming maudlin.

Kindest regards,
Bathilda Bagshot

* * *

Summer, 1899

Liberation, at last.

Gellert Grindelwald is standing at the beginnings of a great plain; it unfurls from his toes like a dream, a shock of space, mile after mile of pale grass swarming to the far sky. The morning is slate-coloured and cool on his skin; in a few hours, the sun will be hot enough to drain the air of any moisture and the grass will crackle and blanch in the heat. Freedom is empty. It is not enough, but for now, it is a start.

This is a day Gellert has been waiting for, perhaps ever since he’d set foot into Durmstrang Institute of Magic, that wretched excuse of a school. The administrative fools running the place have managed to get something right for once.

The corners of his mouth twitch, rearranging his features into a very subtle sneer, at the thought of his former teachers parading up and down the stony hallways, of the dullness and utter mundaneness of his schoolmates. Had it really been a whole week since Headmaster Hedlund had sent for him? Gellert had known at once the reason for the summons: Averin, a second-year student, had been confined to the hospital wing for nearly a week now; his parents had been notified and they had arrived at the school demanding justice against the perpetrator, and while nobody had dared inform on Gellert, all the evidence pointed to his involvement.

Unfazed, Gellert had gone willingly to the headmaster’s office and sat down, head dipped in deference to Hedlund’s harsh expression, listening without interrupting.

“Too far, Master Grindelwald; you’ve gone far too far! Your reckless and irresponsible actions have left Master Averin fighting for his life in the hospital wing. We have no choice but to hereby dismiss you permanently from the Institute,” Hedlund stated, baldly, but not without a sliver of regret. Gellert had been a talented student.

He was only half-listening to Hedlund; his thoughts were on Averin, dangling upside down from such a precise height that Gellert was face to face with the younger boy’s inverted features. Averin’s eyes had been dilating, his cheeks swelling with red, and his mouth stretched open, tongue flicking back and forth. A bead of blood trickled across his front teeth, staining them scarlet, and out the corner of his lips, crawling up his cheek and toward his eye, a tear going the wrong way. Averin couldn’t speak or make a sound.

“For all your talents, you seem to be unable to bring them to good use, and your presence here has become a menace to your fellow students,” Hedlund continued.
Gellert nodded, almost sympathetically. “I understand.”

The headmaster seemed astonished at his submissive and excessively courteous manner. Gellert had not always been so calm and civilised during his years at school. “You have nothing to say about this?”

“If you would like me to show some remorse, I will gladly do so.”

“I would like to see you exhibit some sincerity for once, Master Grindelwald.”

Gellert’s eyes lit up at his teacher’s irritation. “That is not something I have learned at your school.”

“We require you to turn in your wand.” Hedlund straightened up and rose from his seat; he was a tall man, and he used his height to look down at Gellert, to encroach upon the boy and make the latter shrink into himself. “It will need to be snapped, of course. You will not be allowed to perform magic until your Ministry deems you ready and responsible enough to apply for the acquisition of a new wand.”

He could have refused. He could have walked away, straight out of the school and never returned, and not one of the teachers could have prevented him from doing so. In fact, he could tell that Hedlund was half-expecting him to do just that from the clenched white of the man’s knuckles at the edge of the desk. That wouldn’t do at all.

Gellert reached into his robes and his hand closed around the ridged handle of his wand. He drew it out and examined it, savouring the way it seemed to melt into his grip, as though the wood was seamed into his flesh. Eleven inches, olive, unicorn hair. If he uttered the words, twigs would split and fork from the tip, sprouting leaves, like a living branch. Biblical tales spoke of sacred olive branches, symbols of peace borne aloft in the beaks of white birds.

He held the wand out toward the headmaster who started, his jaw unhinging slightly in disbelief, but at the very last minute, just before the latter could take it, Gellert jerked back, his grin widening. Very serenely, without taking his eyes off Hedlund, he twirled the wand twice between his fingers before snapping it into two. The crack was sharp in his ears and even sharper in his head, a fracture in his thoughts.

“That has been taken care of, Headmaster,” he said, cheerfully. Both halves of the wand clattered to the floor, and then without a backward glance at Hedlund, he walked out of the office.

If anyone asks, he will tell the truth: that he has sloughed off his school like an antiquated skin, one that no longer fits the contours of his body, or the swelling proportions of both his intellect and his imagination.

Gellert throws himself onto the ground and pulls off his boots, flexing his toes against the prickly grass. This vast field annoys him – this unexciting stretch of it. If given the choice, he would have chosen a landscape with a little more heterogeneity to it. But this place, in its expansiveness, is also anonymous: an ideal spot for latching on to a Portkey unsanctioned by the Ministry.

From behind comes the unmistakable snap of Apparition, disrupting the lull of the morning. He jumps to his feet. An old wizard is hobbling toward him, tatty robes hanging just above his ankles. Brown leather sandals are strapped to his feet, and his toes are large and knobbly and capped with rough yellow nails, protruding beyond the soles.

“Master Grindelwald,” the old wizard raises a hand.

“Bartolomew,” Gellert greets him with a ridiculous flourish and a half-curtsy, as he is always inclined to do when beset by boredom, before straightening. “I trust that you’ve made the arrangements?”

In response, Bartolomew bends over, his bones squeaking woodenly, and pulls the left sandal off his foot before tossing it toward Gellert, who catches it gingerly.

“Had to be done this way,” Bartolomew shrugs, his face cracking into a leer and revealing stained gums and teeth like broken shingles. Grey stubble covers his jaw and climbs all the way to the back of his ears. “All the Ministries are tracking Portkey spells very carefully.”

A stale odour rises from the piece of footwear in Gellert’s hands. Bartolomew shifts, rubbing his left foot against his right calf to alleviate the itch induced by the coarse blades of grass. His robes part a little at the front, and peeping out of an inner pocket is what appears to be the sleek handle of a wand.

The old wizard notices Gellert staring. “Pretty thing, eh?” he says. “Made by Gregorovitch. Nine inches, oak, Kneazle hair. The only good thing I own.”

For a moment, Gellert contemplates stealing it from the old man. He needs a wand badly. But oak! Oak is stolid and lustreless and stupid, for making furniture, not for being crafted into an instrument of power.

Wands have been plaguing his dreams for some nights now, ever since he had come across the story tucked within the pages of a musty old book in the Durmstrang library: a grand, fanciful story it was, and it had been nigh impossible to tease apart the strands of fiction from history, myth from fact. Fragments of the tale slip through his dreams at night like pieces of glimmering glass in sunlight. There had been a tree, an ancient elder tree, its roots sinking into a huge boulder rising from the middle of a shallow pool, black and still beneath the sunless gloom of the leaves. The rock is glossy with damp and the roots are inextricable from the stone; they curve over the surface of the boulder like stout, grappling fingers. Gellert has seen himself climbing the tree, his bare feet slipping over the slick wood, making his way to the crown, to the topmost branches where the new leaves are budding, fingernail-sized and of the palest green; he sees himself snapping off a twig, and in his hand the wood becomes cold as a bone, sentient, appraising his touch, the strength of the magic streaming through his blood –

A flare of blue distracts Gellert from his thoughts and he blinks. Bartolomew’s sandal is haloed in bright light. The Portkey has been activated.

“Well,” Bartolomew says, stepping backward. There is a curious expression on his face, one of scrutiny, possibly theorising on Gellert’s age and why he needs an illegal Portkey to such a distant land. He isn’t the first person to look at Gellert, to wonder at the boy’s origins, and his easy manner, and perpetual solitariness. “Farewell, then.”

Gellert does not deign to reply. The old man is a contact, nothing more. If, by some unlikely circumstance he needs a quick, unauthorised Portkey in the future, he will know how to reach Bartolomew. Gellert does not forget people.

The Portkey grows more and more blinding until his vision is completely swallowed in blazing blue. The flatlands and the sky vanish, brightening into pure light and then his feet lift off the ground; his hands become stuck fast around the rough strap of the Portkey-sandal and it whirls him away, slashing through magnitudes of time and space, quicker than the passing of a thought in his eyes.

* * *

Magic is a strange force, a current that once flowed through Ariana’s body as organically as blood, and all her life she has been aware of it – of the tiny leaping movements beneath her skin, pulses of hummingbird energy jolting from heart to head to limb. Her fingertips prickle with possibility; they are extraordinarily sensitive, as though her nails have been filed too deeply into the soft flesh. Ariana’s magic has always been wholesome, clean, lively.

That was before the two Muggle boys, – Stebbins and Unsworth, they were called, – scrambled through the hole in the hedge, into the back garden of the Dumbledores’ old house in the village of Mould-on-the-Wold.

Something she cannot forget: how the leaves had been falling off the trees in flakes of brown, red, and orange, crisp beneath her tread. On that day the boys came, there had been a breeze rummaging through the fallen leaves, sweeping them into a spin of colour. How pretty it had been, how very much she longed to be part of that autumn flush crackling around her so exuberantly. A strange shiver passed beneath her skin, and before she knew it, the leaves abandoned their dizzying spirals and flew toward her, swirling around and sticking to her body and nestling in her hair, ignoring the pull of the wind; the force of her inadvertent magic was far stronger than any common gust of air.

The two boys must have been watching through the hedge: her radiating her accidental magic, wearing the fiery tatters of leaves – a strange, unearthly creature indeed, something that both frightened and intrigued them. Fear made them hostile.

“How are you doing that?” Stebbins demanded, making her jump.

She whirled around to face them, trying and failing to shake off the rind of leaves stuck to her body.

“I didn't do anything,” she told them, warily. Muggle boys were not supposed to see magic; that much she knew.

“Is it magic?” Unsworth asked in a hushed voice.

“Are you a witch?” Stebbins added.

“It isn't and I’m not,” Ariana snapped. She gathered up her skirt and tugged a cluster of leaves from her hair and dress and crushed her fist around them. But before she could leave, Stebbins caught hold of her wrist. He was a rough boy, a whole head taller than her, with strong hands. Unsworth moved to block her way. Unsworth was a small and weedy-looking boy with a hard mouth like a piece of twisted iron, and enormous protruding eyes, constantly darting in all directions.

At first they pleaded with her, urged her to show them more tricks, to pick up pebbles with her eyes, to light fires with her fingertips, to make rain fall with the sound of her voice.

“I can’t do it. Let me alone,” she said stubbornly, but they grew more and more demanding, and Stebbins’ hand tightened around her wrist, until she could feel her arm beginning to bruise. A burst of anger billowed through her thoughts and seemed to surge down her legs, and with one tremendous jolt, she tore away from Stebbins’ grip. Her feet took off, crunching through the ground toward the direction of the house but she had not gone two steps when escape was foiled by a sly indentation in the ground catching at her feet, sending her sprawling. A stone bit at her knee and earth grains wedged between her teeth.

The boys caught her as she jumped up, rubbed dirt from her cheeks and the wrinkles from her dress. “Alright, I’ll show you,” she nearly shouted, even though she knew she shouldn’t, and that calling for Mother was a far more sensible thing to do.

Unsworth and Stebbins fell back a step, their faces alight with greedy curiosity. She did not know how to light a fire with her fingers. But she tried, anyway.

Fire, she thought, but nothing came.

Burn, she tried again. Still nothing. Every word associated with fire that she knew of, she tried, but to no avail. Her magic did not work in such a pedestrian manner, was not subject to her beck and call. The wind whistled blandly around her. Her hand was held out, palm turned skyward, in a dreadfully foolish manner.

The Muggle boys glanced around. "Hurry up," Unsworth snarled. The muscles around Stebbins’ neck began to bunch.

She looked around her. The colour of fire was all around, in the dead leaves on the ground, hanging on the bald boughs, in the afternoon light angling downward, lancing thinly through her eyes no matter which way she turned. She bit the inside of her cheek, so hard that the taste of blood broke through the soft, gummy flesh and stung her mouth.

It worked this time: the magic, the fire. Light, heat, movement, and blood uncoiled like a striking snake from some deep vault within her, inundating her arteries and rushing about her body. Some of it left her; she felt it. A tiny flame leapt into life at the toe of Stebbins’ shoe and he kicked at it and danced away. The flame caught the edge of a dried leaf and grew larger and larger. It tongued at the ground, flammable with its dead leaf carpet. The wind stirred the flames up and a burnt smell filled the air.

Unsworth smiled. "So you’re a witch after all, then."

“I’ve done it. Now go away.”

Unsworth took a step toward her, Stebbins at his heels. “Don’t you know? Witches burn. Like kindling.”

He seized her by the elbow, Stebbins grabbing her other arm, and together they shoved her into the fire.

* * *

In the quiet of her room, Ariana reaches under her impossibly high bed and extracts a small chest, which her father, Percival Dumbledore, had carved for her out of oak wood. On the cover, he had engraved a strange jagged sigil. She had never been able to read it before, but now as she looks at the chest with a growing sense of indifference, the meaning of the rune is clear to her. Treasure, it says. Ariana, my treasure, it implies. Father had been skilled in woodwork, mediocre at runes, and downright terrible in conveying sentiment of any sort.

According to Mother, Father had worked at this box during the years he spent festering in an Azkaban cell, whittling away at the crude floral patterns on the sides. She runs her finger absently along the grooves and bulges in the wood, noting the unevenness in the carvings, how Father’s hands must have trembled as he worked. The box is not finished. She cannot remember on which birthday Mother had passed it to her, saying Father was gone, Father was in a better place now, Father would not be able to finish this box, his last gift to her, Ariana.

She tips the contents out. An odd assortment of objects clatter to the floor: a set of crooked yellow sheep’s bones, a number of wooden figurines and straw-stuffed dolls with pinecone heads, and several glass marbles with warped streaks of brilliant blue. The marbles roll as far away from her as possible, to the other end of the room. They remind her of eyeballs. Eyeballs that perhaps belong to Albus and Aberforth. Such knifelike eyes her brothers have; they look at her and they can cut her out of her skin, peel her apart until there is nothing left of her, nothing but that throbbing core of ruined magic. And yet. And yet they do not see. How blind they are, how very blind.

The sheep’s bones are knobbly and hard in her hands; she lifts a fistful of them up to chin-level, blows on them, and lets them fall. They make an odd pattern on the floor, and she studies it, her finger drawing imaginary lines on the ground, connecting one bone to the other.

She frowns. It is getting harder to concentrate these days. The people – the people are in her room again. They grow bolder each day, and lately they have begun pressing closer and closer to her, peering over her shoulder, trying to make out what she does with her bone dice and her patterns and her dolls.

There are three of them now, the outlines of their faces pulsing in the surface of the walls, slowly becoming visible; they press forward through brick and plaster and the wall bulges with their emerging bodies. They sink into the stone and rise out of it again like waves, and they stare curiously at Ariana, crouching low on the floor, front teeth gnawing tracks into the skinny peaks of her knees. The first of them is an old Crone, craggy as a tortoise, draped in black sackcloth. Her balding head is sunk deep into a black cowl, which casts a perpetual shadow over her eyes. The hands that protrude from the sleeves are curled and crippled by arthritis, and her back is buckling over itself; she seems more akin to a gargoyle, an ancient thing made of stone rather than a living person. The Crone reaches to the floor and pats about until her fingers close on the spilt marbles. She picks two and thrusts them onto her face, where her eyes are. There is a brilliant glint of blue, and Ariana knows what the Crone has done; those marbles do look like eyeballs, after all.

The second person, standing in the corner of the room is frightfully tall, with her head grazing the high attic roof. She is clutching a crooked staff, slivers of wood hanging in shreds along its length. The splinters dig into her palm but she does not bleed. Her face is gaunt, starved and socketed and the rest of her seems incomplete, various parts of her body blurring and blackening into ill-defined patches, which appear more as errors in the eye of the beholder rather than actual flaws on the woman’s body. She reminds Ariana of Mother. Indeed, in her absent-mindedness, Ariana sometimes addresses this woman as Mother.

The third person is disembodied. Her face is clear as glass and nearly featureless, and the rest of her is formless, a cloud drifting in the stagnant air of Ariana's attic bedroom. Glass Girl is the name that Ariana has bestowed upon this third person. For some reason, she cannot bear the sight of the faceless girl, and whenever the latter flits too close, a harsh, piercing sound shrills through Ariana's ears, and sets the volatile magic in her blood on an edge.

Ariana first saw these three when those Muggle boys set her on fire, made her magic burn in the flame of its own making, turning it against her. The world had gone white, and in the blind and incandescent world of pain, she descried the shapes of these women, standing and watching, and somehow she had called to them, called to them with words that crumbled like ash in her mouth; every breath that left her was charred. They heard her and they had come, just before her thoughts closed in on themselves and the pain left her, momentarily.

They have stayed with her since. They have also remained utterly useless to her in any way.

"What are you drawing today, dear one?" the Crone asks, shambling over to Ariana.

"Nothing you could ever understand."

“Are you so sure about that, dear one?”

"You are a conceited little girl," the tall woman, the one who resembles Kendra Dumbledore, cuts in. "Do you think your magic is so great? It has turned against you, made you into an invalid and a cripple. A burden on your beloved Albus."

"Be quiet, Mother," Ariana says, frowning. "I'm trying to concentrate."

"I'm not your Mother."

She carries on tracing those strange lines on the floor, completely absorbed by her sheep bone constellation. When she is sure of the patterns, she presses her fingernail into the stone floor and scratches in the lines on the floor. Thin white scratch-lines cross and mesh on the floor. Her fingernail breaks, so she uses a different one. When that breaks as well, she uses yet another, and then another. By the end of the process, the pale scratches connecting the points of the odd constellation of bones form a strange mark, a sigil of some sort. I come, the sign says. Her fingertips are pink and raw. Some of them are bleeding.

"Ariana," a voice comes from outside the door. Albus.

"Come in."

"You've locked it, Ariana."

"You can still come in.”

She hears the murmur of an incantation, and the snap of the lock giving way.

Ariana looks up from where she is crouching on the floor. She smiles at her brother, a rare smile that slips on so naturally, almost a note of happiness, – the closest she will ever get to happiness, undoubtedly. She gestures at the ground. “Look at this.”

Albus bends down to examine the sign. "That's a pretty drawing, Ariana," he says carefully, though his eyes are not on the floor, but on her sore fingers in her lap.

"It most certainly is not a drawing," she says, indignantly, "It’s a sign. Someone's coming. Someone new."

"Signs? Signs are superstition. It is best not to read signs into everyday things." Albus’ voice is gentle but there is a faint note of amusement in his voice.

Ariana looks around her room, but everyone is quiet, sunk into the walls save for their unblinking eyes, watching the scene before them. They really are a worthless lot, especially as she is the only one able to see them.

Albus holds out his hand. Sitting in the centre of his palm is a vial of grey liquid. “Today’s potion.”

She shakes her head. “It won’t work.”

“It will reduce the frequency of your episodes. I’ve made some recent calculations and changed a few things in Mother’s recipe. Drink the potion, Ariana.”

Her episodes. She has to smile at the euphemism. She tries to imagine herself in episodes, a series of herself halted in various stages of movement. But somehow, she can only see herself in pieces: her head separating from her neck, her neck detaching from the trunk of her body in a solitary column, the arms and legs unlatching at the joints, and finally, her hands and feet and toes and fingers, breaking off and floating aimlessly, mid-air. Episodes of Ariana Dumbledore. Episode One: The Head of Ariana Dumbledore. Episode Two: The Neck of Ariana Dumbledore. And so on and so forth.

She takes the vial from Albus and shakes it. The contents appear to be more gaseous rather than liquid; so light and gauzy is the substance, swirling with the movement of her wrist.

Mother would always remind her how these “episodes” should not be taken lightly. They had become increasingly frequent over the last few months, and accordingly, Mother had grown more and more preoccupied with trying to find something to alleviate them, to quash them and send her insubordinate magic back into those cryptic reservoirs that cannot contain them.

Albus is tracing the corner of the newly-scratched rune on the floor with his shoe, looking mildly interested. One of the bones is knocked askew by his heel.

I come, says the rune on the floor again, insistent.

Outside, a cloud seems to jolt and give way and a thorn of late afternoon sunlight falls in through the windows, stabbing at the centre of the sigil. Bright light sets her off. Something in her ignites, flames through her bloodstream and pulls down blinding luminous shutters over her eyes. The vial of potion shatters; the glass crunches within her fist, and the liquid splashes on her dress, staining the bodice a silvery, shining grey.

She slumps to the ground, her voice jumbling in her throat but it hurts to speak, to call for help, to scream. Nevertheless, she screams, and the sound scalds the lining of her mouth. Albus is on her in a flash. She hears his choked cry, calling Aberforth’s name, and the resulting pounding of boots up the narrow attic stairs. Aberforth pins her down on her side, and Albus’ steely grip fastens around her lashing ankles. Both of them are speaking. Both of them are unintelligible to her, as she is to them. So she shuts her eyes and her ears to her brothers, and instead, turns her frenzied thoughts to the women in the walls. The Crone and the one who looks like Mother flitter around her, hovering behind her brothers, tutting and sighing. Glass Girl keeps her distance.

“My dear one, surely you’re a bit too old to throw another tantrum?” the Crone says, marble-eyed.

“You should always take your medicine,” the tall Mother chimes in. Her face is cold with disapproval. “Medicine will take away the tantrums.”

Glass Girl opens her mouth and wrings out a shriek from her pale throat, a taunting mimicry of Ariana’s condition. Even in the midst of her pain, Ariana finds the strength to hiss a fierce go away toward the Glass Girl, who obeys and wafts back toward the walls like a stray vapour.

The episode passes. It always does. Ariana is ragdoll-limp on the floor. Tears collect beneath her eyelids but she does not let them fall, and they melt back into her eyes. The sides of mouth are glazed with dried spit.

“Are you hurt, Ariana?” Aberforth’s voice is coarse with concern as he lifts her into a sitting position. She leans heavily against him and does not answer.

“I’ll fetch another vial of potion. And some essence of Murtlap for your hands,” Albus says. Always the sensible one, she thinks, bitterly. He leaves and she hears the unevenness in his step, the imprint of his fear on the floorboards. When he returns, it is with yet another vial of potion. He has forgotten the essence of Murtlap.

Albus draws the curtains and sits beside her so she is between both her brothers. All three of them are leaning into each other on the floor, in the dimness of the room. Albus uncorks the vial and holds the rim to her lips. She swallows.

There is a faint rustling beneath the skin, a deep-seated itch as the magic in her twists like a snake at the presence of this intruder in her body, at this new potion meant to subjugate it, – calculated and measured and brewed to perfection thanks to Albus’ cleverness at Potions.

Let be, she instructs herself. Let Albus have his way today.

Just today, another voice slices through her thoughts.

Ariana lays her head on Aberforth’s shoulder, but her hand finds Albus’ own, and their fingers interlock. There are blisters on his palm from the heat her skin had radiated during her fit. There had been blisters and burn marks on Mother’s hands as well.

“I am sorry,” she says to neither of her brothers in particular.

“Do not apologise for nothing,” Albus answers and Aberforth grunts his assent.

The potion swells through her thoughts, cooling the fever of her magic. Some part of her goes to sleep and she is thankful for it.

* * *

The village of Godric’s Hollow, then.

Gellert brushes off the dust clinging to his trousers. He is barefoot, having had no time to collect his boots from where he’d left them in the field before the Portkey whisked him away from the Continent and deposited him here, in the heart of this village.

As expected, there is little to it. Somewhere behind him is the main street: a tidy row of brick shops and bay windows with painted signs creaking over the doorways. The shops are shut now for it is evening, and a cool blue dusk is descending on the village. The cobbled street is rough and familiar beneath the soles of his feet. Gellert is standing before a small, low building: a church with a white steeple rising into the deepening sky.

He makes his way along the lanes lined with sprawling gardens and crooked cottages, coils of smoke unwinding from the chimneys. He is late; his great-aunt would have expected him to arrive a day earlier. Time is a devious creature, stealing past him, though he has to confess that he largely ignores the whole concept of it. Time is only precious when it is malleable, when it can be warped and fashioned to his will. All things that are beyond him are useless. Still, it will not do to turn up at his great-aunt’s home, an empty-handed and late guest; it will do little good to anybody to earn her disfavour so early on in his stay.

He stops and glances around. The cottage garden nearest to him is a beautifully kept one; the flowerbeds are neatly pruned and spilling with colour. They will do. He vaults over the fence easily, selects a handful of pale flowers and begins assembling a small and polite-looking bouquet: nothing too lurid, just whites and light blues and pinks. He does not look over his shoulder. Nobody will catch him trespassing.

Nobody will see him anyway, not when he does not wish himself to be espied by others; he knows himself too well.

The house of his great-aunt is a tall, narrow cottage, through a rose-bowered gateway, past untidy flowerbeds brimming with hollyhocks, marigolds and evening primrose; the walls are whitewashed, and honeysuckle, clematis and more roses scale the trellises beside the front door. The garden is perfumed with the mingling scents of lilac and roses.

Gellert hears footsteps within the house as he approaches the door; his great-aunt must have seen him walk through her gate. The doorknob turns, and the hinges squeak with a trace of rust. His great aunt is an old woman with sharp eyes, a shiny cane and a surprised look on her face, which is turned down toward his bare feet.

Gellert speaks first. “Good evening, Great-aunt Bathilda.”

“Gellert!” Bathilda Bagshot exclaims. “I thought you might have changed your mind about coming after all.”

“If I had, I would not be so disrespectful as not to inform you in advance,” he answers smoothly, and gives her the bouquet. The scent of the flowers is thick and heady, far stronger than the scents of all the flowers growing so abundantly in Bathilda’s own garden.

“Well, I certainly know why your mother used to refer to you as her ‘dear Gellert Giftbearer’. This is most thoughtful of you,” Bathilda laughs. “Do come in.”

“Thank you for inviting me to your home. I hope to be able to repay your hospitality someday.”

Gellert steps across the threshold into Bathilda Bagshot’s house, and it seems as though the house welcomes him, the yellow-lit parlour folding around him warmly as he passes through. But before she shuts the front door, he turns and looks out into the night, to steal a last glance at the darkling street and the ranks of cottages and gardens; the village is silent, swathed in sleep. Already, he feels as though he knows this place intimately, as though he has lived here all his life.

A/N: So I've been in a bit of a slump lately, and I haven't been too well, either. This chapter really shouldn't have taken so long to post up, seeing as I had most of it written by the time queue reopened. And goodness, this feels like an incredibly hefty chapter. I've crammed in a lot in here, and hopefully, just hopefully, it won't be too overwhelming...?

Thank you to everyone who read, reviewed, favourited the first chapter! If not for you lovely lot, I wouldn't be as invested as I am in this story! And thank you for reading this chapter as well; do let me know what you think.

The three women in the walls thing was influenced by the Triple Goddess figure. Clearly I have not much clue where this story is going. :P

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