THE DEATHLY CHILDREN
Chapter Five: Of Blood and Intent
Chapter Five: Of Blood and Intent
I’ve not heard of such a name. If you’re a Mudblood, I don’t deal with dirt like your kind. I am pure, can you grasp such a concept? I am blood distilled from the Peverells, from the House of Slytherin, Founding Father of Hogwarts. You come for relics but the truest treasure is and always will be the blood. But what would you know of the ancient blood magics, yours is corrupted, you come from the cesspits deep in the earth. If you’re not a Mudblood, what can you offer me that I don’t have? WHAT CAN YOU GIVE ME. Ministry genealogist indeed. I know a swindler and a liar when I meet one. You’re a collector or I’ll be damned. One of those purveyors of antiques passed down the tainted families whose lines have intersected with those of Muggle filth. I cursed one of you the other day, had the nerve to show up at my doorstep and ask me to the eye. You’ll not come near me or my heirlooms or my estate. So you’ve traced my Stone now, have you? No you can’t look at it and your hands won’t cloud its gloss. You come near and I’ll kill you, government dog.
* * *
Three of the local boys – they can’t be older than six or seven – are in Gellert’s way, skittering stones across the path. Muggles, but he knows their names: Puttworth, Jones, and Creevey.
At times, Godric’s Hollow is a curious place, a shambling antique of a village, which has marooned itself in the midst of a bland sea of scruffy farmland. There are small hills beyond the houses, and these Gellert has climbed, looking for a fresh perspective. The view is narrow and there is a circularity to the horizon, sky and field coiling together at the margins of sight. The landscape curves as he turns; he longs to unfurl the entire panoramic column, grasp the world with his eyes and lay it flat as a map: from the roof slates of the village to the bristles of woodland, to the broken fences teething through the ground. One owns nothing and does not belong to anything if he does not know the names of their parts, even a village as small as this one. Even its occupants, ticking along their brief pathways, unaware of the greater world expanding beyond them.
One of the stones reaches the tip of Gellert’s shoe and he considers flicking it off into the long grass. But the smallest of the Muggles, Creevey, darts toward him and snatches up the stone, as if sensing Gellert’s spiteful intention. They carry on with their game, ignoring him, and he stays where he is, watching these unmagical children roll their stones and squabble.
Their next game is a game for dominance. They take turns and play in pairs, hands held in secret shapes behind their backs only to be thrust forward and aggressively matched: flat palms, or fists, or two fingers stabbing the air.
“Rock, paper, scissors. Rock, paper, scissors,” they chant, and Creevey’s voice is the shrillest. He wins each time: rock crushing scissors, scissors slashing through paper, paper smothering rock. And with every win, he slaps the wrist of Puttworth or Jones, and they grimace and look gloomy each time he steps up pertly for a turn.
Something snaps at the back of Gellert’s thoughts, and he blinks, all his vague attention drifting like a net in water suddenly pulled back and focused on the trio of children before him.
Rock, paper, scissors. Rock for Stone, Paper for Cloak, Scissors for Wand.
Can it be possible? Even in the most trivial of Muggle children’s games, the signs are calling to him. It’s a stretch; quite possibly, he may be on the verge of reading signs into things, imposing his own dreams onto the blank canvas of perspective and perverting his own sense of reality. No. No. He can feel them: the Hallows are calling to him, even as he stands here under this nowhere sky, blue and domed toward the dark reaches of space. A heat flickers in his eyes, and he shuts them to prevent the warmth turning to water and leaching down his face. There is purpose in everything he sees and hears, even in these whimpering clods of children.
“I should like to have a turn,” Gellert says as politely as he can, stepping into their circle. He does not know how to address children, especially Muggle ones. The boys look up, startled. They’ve seen him before of course, striding through the main street with his pockets full of sweets, nicked from the confectionery for him and Albus to share. (Albus does not know that those are illegally-procured sweets. Or maybe he does, but has chosen to be generous).
Gellert taps his foot, then lowers himself to his knees, hand behind his back. “Well?”
Puttworth and Jones retreat but Creevey shrugs and steps forward.
“Rock, paper, scissors,” Creevey falters over the words. Gellert does not utter the chant with him.
It is Creevey’s turn to lose. Gellert can see every flickering choice in the boy’s half-afraid, half-defiant expression. Paper, his eyes flicker, and Gellert scissors his fingers. Paper again, and therefore, scissors yet again. Rock then, Creevey’s eyes flicker. Gellert’s open hand slaps the boy’s wrist with more force than necessary. Creevey winces but says nothing and stubbornly continues with his losing streak.
It takes a good twenty minutes of consecutive losing and consequent wrist-slappings to break Creevey down. His wrist is smacked into a rosiness that flares past the button-shaped wrist bone and across the back of his hand. There are unfallen tears in his eyes as he slips the smarting hand beneath his shirt and hooks his fingers into his small ribcage.
“Go home,” Gellert laughs and Creevey turns on his heel and flees. Puttworth and Jones have long since bolted.
Albus is not anywhere about. He must be at home, shut up in his room, trying to read his stuffy old books, or babysitting his brother and sister. Perhaps he should drop by; Albus had welcomed him, told him to pop in anytime. But there is a good chance that he might run into Aberforth, so instead Gellert makes his way back to Great-aunt Bathilda’s.
Great-aunt Bathilda is sitting in a rectangle of white sun by the window, a tray on a small table before her.
“Gellert,” she smiles when he enters, the skin around her eyes folding and layering over each other, and he stops, surprised and suddenly aware of an affection clasping his middle and radiating, vein-like, into his chest. “Do sit down.”
On the tray is a squat teapot dressed in a crocheted cosy, a jug of cream, a dish of scones rich with butter, a pot of strawberry jam, and a pair of silver tongs for the sugar cubes. Bathilda flicks her wand, and the teapot tips hot liquid into a daisy-patterned bone-china cup.
“Thank you, Great-aunt.”
“You seem very happy of late, Gellert. Godric’s Hollow is doing you plenty of good.”
“I do like it here,” he agrees, wincing into his cup. Tea is something he will never understand. Either it is tasteless, or it hints on a bitterness that spreads and stains his mouth with each subsequent sip. Perhaps this is why Albus is so fond of sugar cubes. He came to tea yesterday, much to Bathilda’s delight, and he had grinned at Gellert across the table, tucking three sugar cubes carefully beneath his tongue before swallowing a mouthful of scalding tea.
“And you’re getting along very well with Albus Dumbledore,” Bathilda remarks. “I worry about him sometimes, almost as much as I worry about you.”
“Albus is capable, Great-aunt. As am I. I suppose you will not listen if I beg you not to worry about us.”
She laughs. “Have you thought about staying on? You ought to consider it. I’m sure Albus could help you finish your education, tutor you, perhaps.” Here she pauses, disapproval flicking her lips askew for the briefest moment, perhaps at the reminder that he is, after all, still a delinquent who was expelled from Durmstrang. “You could set up a new life for yourself here. A new beginning. You could work with the British Ministry of Magic in the heart of London; you were so very fascinated by the city the other day.”
“No,” Gellert replies, shortly. “It is good here, but I will not be staying long.”
Rock, paper, scissors. Cloak, Stone, Wand. They call him in his sleep, in his waking moments, even if he has never met them. And strangely, each time he sees Albus, he feels the pull of the Hallows. The Hallows, The Hallows, The Hallows, he can hear himself clacking on and on to Albus, and Albus, whose interest in the matter had initially only been borne out of politeness, has begun to ask more about Gellert’s theories until both of them are discussing and dismissing each other in jest.
Being with Albus reminds Gellert of a pair of girls he had seen back home on the Continent. They were village girls, bright specks in the middle of a sun-stippled plain, skirts and lace aprons and one of them had a kerchief tied over her hair. They stood toe to toe, crossed their arms and grasped each other’s wrists before starting to twirl. Round and fast they spun, a trellis-armed twirling trap, the scarf snatched from the girl’s hair by the wind generated from the force of their play.
“I want you to stop now. Stop, or I’ll tell Mother,” cried the girl who had lost her scarf.
But they couldn’t stop. It was the sheer speed of their movement that finally dislodged them from each other’s grip and sent them spiralling into a ditch. They emerged, laughing and sobbing, teeth spotted with blood and earth. It is like this when Gellert is with Albus: they talk about The Hallows and they never stop, and then they begin spinning, round and round into the vortex of each other.
Bathilda is upset at his flat refusal. “I can write a letter to your mother. I’m sure she’ll understand; she’ll want the best for you, Gellert, and you’re practically thriving here.”
“There’s no need. I have quite made up my mind about this.”
The mention of his mother accentuates the acrid taste of tea in his mouth. He had very nearly gone to visit her after his dismissal from Durmstrang. An hour’s walk away from home, and his legs had frozen and refused to carry him a step further toward her. Instead, he had ended up arranging for the Portkey with Bartolomew, which brought him here. That was the only thing about his expulsion that left him bitter, resentful. He hasn’t written a word to her, but she knows him too well to be worried, knows his fondness for wandering far and wide by himself. His mother is still young but carries herself about with a pride that people say she doesn’t deserve to have. Her eyes don’t belong to her face; the colour has been pinned into her sockets, and the intelligence in them stolen from a wiser, kinder creature. His mother would have understood, would never have passed a single judgement on him for his actions.
They have an understanding between them: that neither belong to each other. She would have made him sit down as she conjured up two tulip glasses.
“Drink,” she would tell him, and he would lift the glass to his mouth and be spiked by the scent of pálinka, brewed and fermented from plums growing in the kitchen garden.
“I will come to visit often, Great-aunt Bathilda,” Gellert offers.
Next door, Aberforth Dumbledore lumbers down the garden path and slams the gate. He scowls in the direction of Bathilda’s house without looking in the window.
Bathilda tut-tuts. “The poor, troubled boy.”
Gellert sets his teacup back into the saucer. “I think I shall pay Albus a visit.”
They both glance out the window where Aberforth had just passed, and then back at each other. He rests his hand on her thin shoulder, which has begun to curve like a bow. She settles her own hand over his for a brief moment. “Be nice to Aberforth; he’s going through a trying time.”
Gellert grins and plucks a scone from the tray. “I shall bring one of these for Albus.”
* * *
Kendra Dumbledore was perhaps the only person to discover the true power of her daughter’s damaged potential. While Percival was serving his sentence in Azkaban and both her sons were respectably sent off to school like other ordinary magical children, she began to study her Ariana very closely. There was nothing to distract her from her daughter any longer, now that the house was mostly empty, and the absence of her brothers made Ariana restless, gravitated her toward the nearest human presence.
The child refused to have anything to do with magic, recoiling every time Kendra used her wand for some menial task or another. But magic flowed from her, untrammelled and brutal, in the form of her episodes. The magic yearned to be put to use; it colonised her marrow where the new blood was mixed and poured out into her body. It was all about blood, wasn’t it?
One afternoon, Kendra baked a batch of Cauldron Cakes and for the first time, went over to Bathilda’s house and gave the old woman quite a shock. Bathilda had to peel her hand from over her heart to take the proffered cakes, still steaming beneath a square of muslin, and she quite bluntly asked Kendra what had come over her.
“You must come to tea tomorrow,” Kendra announced, allowing a corner of a smile to show. It was as though a stone had been cast into a still pond; the smile moved about her face, but her expression seemed disturbed rather than cordial. She continued, quickly, “But I’m afraid Ariana won’t be able to join us.”
“Of course, my dear. Understandable.”
Thus began the simple transactions of taking tea with Bathilda, or baking pastries for her neighbour and in exchange, she began borrowing out of Bathilda’s prized collections. She applied herself with alarming intensity to books about blood and ancient magic and people with injured magic and the magic of sigils and runes.
Kendra called Ariana to her one morning. Her daughter came downstairs, hesitating all the way, pulled up the three-legged kitchen stool and sat by the range in the kitchen.
“If you are to stay home, then I shall teach you myself.”
Ariana reached out and took the wand from Kendra’s hand, held it up to her face, as though she was going to examine it closely, or perhaps thread it through her own eye. A blush spread across her daughter’s pale cheeks, and a minute later, her wand hung broken from Ariana’s fist. Kendra only sighed.
Is this all you have to offer, she did not say. But Ariana understood, because she pushed her lower lip forward, bowed her head and glared at Kendra from the top of her eyes.
“As you have broken my wand,” Kendra said, gesturing to the fireplace, where an iron pot hung over the squat flames, “I am unable to finish brewing my Pain-Relieving Potion. So you will do it for me.”
“You know I can’t.”
“There is a reason why a subset of the older pureblood families are so protective of their bloodlines, why they resist the idea of intermarriage with Muggles or those of Muggle ancestry.”
The old pureblood families – she felt nothing but scorn for them. They were limited in their beliefs, and yet there was some seed of truth in their oft-times fanatical ideologies. To them, the blood pathways linking the generations were also the pathways of magic, and such sacred corridors should never be sullied by mingling with less-than-magical blood, in order to preserve the concentration of magic within the family. Half-true, but only in the archaic sense, when the practices of blood magic were still in fashion.
“They’re not all wrong. The direct use of blood does indeed work for some. But for the most part, magic is intent. Magic is a means of channelling intent.” She paused, watching Ariana, who had her head inclined toward the flame, challenging it. The fire sputtered and went out. “Are you listening, Ariana?”
Her daughter gave the faintest of nods. Kendra reached up to one of the kitchen shelves and brought down a round box and opened it. Cradled in red velvet was an array of implements: a sewing scissors with mother-of-pearl loops for handles, a thimble made of sterling silver, a needle case, a glove hook, a narrow-eyed bodkin, a pincushion wedged into a pointy shoe, and a star-shaped bobbin. From the needle case, she shook out a long silvery needle with a very delicate point.
This, she held out to her daughter and again, gestured at the iron pot on the range. “When the potion is complete, the liquid should be completely colourless. You do want to help me finish this potion, don’t you, Ariana?”
Before the incident with the Muggle boys, Ariana’s eyes had been an unblemished blue, but all colour had been seared out of them by the fire and by her own withering magic. Now, however, fear was a match striking a blue flame in her daughter’s eyes. She reached for her Ariana’s hand and held it.
“You must want to help me with this. You must intend for this to happen. There isn’t any other way.”
“Yes,” came the toneless reply. “I suppose I do.”
Ariana sank the point of the needle into the pad of her forefinger and a drop of blood fell into the cauldron, a scarlet punctuation mark, perhaps a lapse of breath in the recipe, altering the course of the potion. She blanched and swayed a little on her feet, leaning against Kendra, her grip clawing at her mother’s wrist. Then, she stopped and a smile swept the momentary terror from her face. In the pot, the potion became as clean and invisible as water.
“Well done, my daughter,” said Kendra.
* * *
When Albus and Aberforth came home from Hogwarts last month, there was an icefield between them; they spoke to each other in telegraphic fits of sentences. They made it a point to miss each other at mealtimes, and when this failed due to Aberforth’s poor sense of timing, they engaged in the strange habit of sitting next to each other and keeping their heads fixed forward, believing the other to be made of air and therefore, not worth addressing. Albus unloaded his trunk of books and robes in Kendra’s old bedroom, though Ariana watched him stand outside for a few minutes, staring at the door. Then, he pushed into the room with a sigh and sealed himself in. The same day, he moved the rest of his belongings out of the bedroom he used to share with Aberforth. Albus hummed throughout the day; he and Aberforth were pretending that nothing was happening.
Peering into Kendra’s bedroom for the first time since her death, it is clear to Ariana that Albus is not comfortable with staying in the room of someone recently deceased, despite his insistence that superstition should not be allotted so much space in one’s life. Things have been shifted around in a bid to invoke some measure of unfamiliarity out of a room that they know too well. The bed with its new horsehair mattress has been moved into a position exactly opposite from where it had once stood; the wardrobe has been trundled aside, and Kendra’s simple wooden bureau has been Transfigured into a large writing desk by the window. Kendra did all her letter writing and reading at the kitchen table.
Albus is not in. He had called upstairs before leaving, saying he would only be gone for a minute, much to Aberforth’s disgust. Aberforth himself had left ten minutes ago. The absence of both her brothers is the perfect opportunity for her to forego her hated medicine; she had uncorked the vial and poured it through a crack between floorboards and the floor had drunk it up. When she put her ear to the ground, she thought she heard the sound of an animal tongue lapping up the liquid.
Ariana tiptoes toward the desk, orderly with its parchment stacks, inkstand, and a vase of snapdragons on the windowsill. A half-written essay (more of that dreary theory about dragon blood and such) is accreting a film of dust, making the slender writing look archaic. Albus has not been inspired with this current article. Too much infatuation and time spent with his shiny new friend, the boy from next door.
Right beside the desk is Albus’s bookshelf, the tomes in impeccable condition and arranged by subject. She slips her hand between the books. Experimental Potions of the Seventeenth Century by Cuthbert Thwaites. Bezoars: The Universal Poisons Panacea? by Amaryllis Waffling. New Uses of Gillyweed in Advanced Potion-Making by Theophilus Thimble. Sleeping Solutions and Draughts of Death by Phaedra Shillingworth.
There is something rather fascinating about examining Albus’s things, collecting clues on the secret neuroses of a tidy scholar. Albus will not be angry if he finds her here, merely unsettled that she could show such interest. The front door opens, its heavy bottom scraping against the floor and the rough sound of laughter swarms up the stairs to her. Ariana freezes. There is a good chance that if she tries to run back to her room, she will be seen scuttling across the landing, not just by Albus, but by Gellert Grindelwald, who is downstairs with him now. Footsteps climb closer toward her and she drops onto her stomach and slides under the bed, the grain of the floor chafing against her hands and knees. Breathing as quietly as possible, she glances to her side. The Crone is lying beside her, the black holes of missing teeth grinning at her. Her breath is that of a decaying thing. Ariana blinks and the Crone disappears. The door to the room opens and Albus’s shoes walk in, attached to the columns of his calves, which are truncated by the scalloped hem of the blankets spilling over the side of the bed. Another set of shoes enters and pauses in a lazy mimicry of a tap dance.
“In Hogwarts,” Albus is saying, “There is a system that Sorts students into four different houses based on the characteristics they exhibit.”
“How stupid,” says Gellert Grindelwald. Ariana quite forgets to breathe, lying there on her back, hoping to gather dust like a shroud. Gellert continues his chatter. “But in Durmstrang, it is stupider, I suppose. Upon enrolment, they comb through our family trees and then catalogue us according to our purity of parentage. I shared a room with several other pure-bloods.”
“And you do not agree with this?”
“It is an ancient way of thinking. Magic is magic. We put too much stock in our ancestors,” Gellert’s voice lilts to a rhythm that only he can hear. His shoes walk toward the bookcase where Ariana had been just a few minutes earlier, and she hears him peeling books off the shelves, the crack of turning pages interposed with the occasional remark: “Interesting, very interesting. Indeed.”
“Not as vast a collection as your Great-aunt Bathilda’s, I’m afraid.”
“My great-aunt has begged me to stay on in Godric’s Hollow and make a life for myself here.”
Albus’s voice catches, like a crinkle of cotton beneath the hot press, the flaw stamped deep into the fabric. “And will you?”
Gellert sounds troubled. “I am sorry, Albus.”
“For choosing a logical path of action? I hardly think an apology is in order. I would not wish–,” here, Albus’s voice drops into a cheerless tenor, “– such incarceration for anyone in this desolate town. You ought to go, Gellert. You won’t find anything you’re seeking here. Certainly not those fabled Hallows that we’ve been researching so earnestly of late.”
The frame of the bed shivers above Ariana, and the mattress lets out a downward sigh. Albus has sat down on the bed. Her cheek is pressed against the floor now, and she is looking directly at his heels, one of them lifted off the ground by the arch of his foot. The chafed leather of Gellert’s brogues walk their way across the room to where her brother is, and he seems to be crouching, resting his arms on the edge of the bed and leaning his chin on them. She imagines him gazing upward into her brother’s face, and Albus looking down at him, both of them contemplating the best words to elude each other.
“I was not seeking anything when I came here. Maybe this is why I feel that I have found something. I found you, Albus. You have listened to me like nobody else has, and I understand magic as only you do. I swear that you were waiting for me here, all this while.”
“You’re awfully conceited, Gellert,” Albus laughs. “Remember that day in the churchyard? You were waiting there for me. But I stick to what I have said: that you should not stay here. We both know how it is to feel bigger than our prisons, to be enslaved to our own selves by our own selves. But one of us should have the chance to go free.”
There is a loud flap of air, like the downbeat of a massive wing in the room. Albus has leaned backward and slumped onto the bed.
“I have a solution,” Gellert says, carefully. “You want to leave? Why not leave? With me. We are old enough; we can visit all the places we want. We can search for the Hallows together.”
Albus is impatient. “You know very well –”
“Your family? Your brother will be going back to school. And your sister can come with us. I don’t care. If she is what anchors you here to this place, then why not weigh anchor and bring her along?”
“She’s ill; her condition is unstable.”
“And you are the best physician for her, so it seems. You are not abandoning anybody. Your sense of guilt is intolerable, Albus.”
Another rush of displaced air and another thud. Gellert has thrown himself on the bed beside Albus, and the horsehair mattress exhales again. It is harder to hear them now; they are so close to each other. She can imagine them, their heads turned to their sides, facing each other in a manner that is both intrusive and impossibly familiar. Their speech is low and confused with the sound of breathing; words are sucked into the sheets, becoming part of the mattress, a massive buffer keeping Ariana away from the boys. Her toes and calves and knees are beginning to twitch against the absolute stasis that she has imposed upon them, and the floor is pressing an ache into her back.
“You know what I find stories to be? I find them to be shells, shells to be cracked so we may scoop out the truth of their insides. We have dreams, both of us, Albus. And your love of stories and my desire to bring these stories out of the shells of themselves and into the real world has brought us together. The Hallows have brought us together. We can bring them out of their shells. We can capsize the myths and create new ones. Do not disbelieve them any longer, Albus.”
“You’re asking me to take a leap of faith. Just for you. One morning, you waltz right into this – trite, did you say? – life of mine, with all your dreams and your tales and demand that I jump off the cliff for you, that I turn my whole existence around, just so that it continually looks upon your face.”
“Nobody takes their saviours seriously at first.”
“You arrogant sod!” Albus laughs. “That takes the cake!”
More laughter, then Gellert speaks again, and there is distance and contrition in his voice. “I am selfish. I am sorry. But I am thus only because we have shared so much together in the short weeks since our first meeting, and I do not want to lose such a dear friend. Promise me that you will at least consider the things I have said.”
Albus sighs as he levers himself up, and his shoes land on the ground again. “You’re too persuasive to be trusted, Gellert. But you’re right; this is worth thinking about. Meanwhile, you can carry on convincing me until I reach that point of tipping over and conceding.”
Gellert, too, rises off the mattress. Any moment now –
“I must look in on Ariana,” Albus suddenly exclaims. “I’ve forgotten completely. I shall have to fetch some more potion for her. But I expect she’s asleep.”
Ariana bites down a groan.
“I shall wait for you here.”
The door opens and Albus leaves. For a minute or so, there is neither sound nor movement from Gellert, and the stillness grows unbearable. Heat is swimming off the floor, into Ariana’s body, or perhaps her body has warmed the narrow atmosphere beneath the bed to an insufferable temperature. There is no way of getting out.
Then, Gellert’s shoes walk toward the edge of the bed, toeing the wavy line separating the shadow from under the bed with the exposed sunlit floor of the bedroom. Do not cross the line. I forbid you to do so, Ariana wills the words in her mind. The heavy hem of the blankets are peeled back, and clearer than ever, she can see the scuffed toecaps and the perforations of his brogues, which he probably stole from the cobbler’s. His feet tense and turn like a sideways glance, and his ankles press forward until they are almost horizontal. One knee plants itself on the ground, and then a fan of pale hair, and a careless hand banishing the hair to the back of an ear. The face of Gellert Grindelwald is looking directly at Ariana.
They stare at each other, both too surprised to move or say anything. A moment longer, and Ariana will refuse to come out. Albus will have to come in and shift the whole bed to extract her from underneath. But Gellert acts first: he holds out a generous hand toward her. When she reluctantly takes it, curling her fingers so he won’t see the pinholes among the whorls, he pulls her out from under and slides her upright to her feet, in one smooth effort.
“Hello,” he says, cautiously. “Ariana.”
Should she be airy and aloof, like Albus sometimes is? Or sulky and clipped like Aberforth? She chooses silence.
“I did not know you were under there the whole time,” Gellert tries again. “Or we would have invited you out sooner. To talk, perhaps. We have not met. I am Gellert Grindelwald. Albus speaks very highly of you.”
She smiles. “He speaks of me as an invalid.”
“You heard us,” he replies. “What excuse can I give, except that people are not as careful with their words when they think they are alone. Perhaps we should be take into account that the walls in this house have ears?”
She ignores him. “You heard him. He says that I’m ill.”
“Are you ill, Ariana Dumbledore?”
Behind his shoulder, the air dithers. The ripples bunch and curve into the outline of a girl with eyeless hollows and a surprised mouth. Glass Girl is watching Ariana, evaluating the situation.
“There’s a girl behind you,” she says. “Can you see her?”
Gellert turns to look. His eyes search the space behind him and return, blank. “Suppose I cannot,” he says, playing along, “but I will be able to once you describe her to me. After all, some people or things cannot be seen until their presence is pointed out.”
Glass Girl’s languid shape becomes rigid when Ariana opens her mouth to reply; she walks around Gellert, gathering definition with each step, the sound of windowpanes crunching beneath pressure, until she stands nose-to-nose with Ariana. Her presence is the touch of an ice sculpture on her skin. Through the translucent body, Gellert’s gaze is fogged and puzzled. Ariana steps back in shock and then closes her mouth firmly.
Alright, you win. The girl dissolves.
“She doesn’t want you to know that she’s here.”
Gellert’s cautious smile doesn’t waver. “Well, is it a good thing that she is there, though? Or is it a bad thing that I cannot see her? If the latter, that would make it an augury of some kind, would it not?”
“Maybe she’ll tell you herself someday.”
Something catches her eye: a strip of paper peeking out of Gellert’s pocket. He sees her staring and draws it out, unfolding it and flashing it past her face.
It turns out to be a long letter written in Albus’s slanting hand, words compacted into sturdy squares across the parchment; it is tiresome just looking at it, trying to pull out loose strands of individual sentences for clues to its general content. But at the bottom of the letter, below Albus’s spiralling signature is a symbol: the very same symbol she had seen some days ago and scratched onto the floor of her bedroom. Circle, triangle, line. The rudimentary geometry of it. Gellert tears the letter in a crooked streak between Albus’s signature and the sign. The piece with the letter, he folds carefully and returns to his pocket, but the strip with the symbol, he closes her fingers around it.
“I see this fascinates you. Well, keep it. Maybe you will understand it someday.”
“It’s a sign of Death,” she blurts out.
“Death?” he laughs. “No. I see it as deliverance. Deliverance from the tragedy of unimportance that is all our lives at present.”
His dismissal angers her. The jar of pink and orange snapdragons on the windowsill leaps to her thoughts and disintegrates mid-air in a flash of temper. Shredded flowers fall from the ceiling. Gellert looks up, open-mouthed.
“And they said that you are magically impaired,” he marvels. “How wrong they are. Or how badly they have been treating you. You are very good in wandless magic.”
The stairs reverberate with angry footsteps, and in rushes not Albus, but Aberforth, whose fury is instantaneous upon seeing her with Gellert. He leaps in between them and shoves Gellert in the chest.
“You don’t belong here.”
Gellert’s face turns ugly. “I belong where I please. Besides, your brother insisted I make myself at home here. And we are indeed dearest friends.”
A round of shoving ensues between them, though Gellert steps far back when Albus enters.
“You let this scoundrel near our sister?” Aberforth demands. “Have you lost your mind?”
“Ariana, are you well?” Albus crosses the room to Ariana, lifting her face to meet his.
Looking into her brother’s incisive eyes has a lightening effect on her, turning her demure and empty. “I would like to go to my room now.”
“I’ll take you,” Aberforth says, still furious, but his hold on her elbow is incongruously gentle.
“It was nice meeting you, Ariana Dumbledore,” Gellert calls after her, and Aberforth swings back again, hissing, “Don’t you dare!”
Albus restrains him. “Go on. Ariana’s had enough.”
Gellert Grindelwald’s expression is nothing short of joyful.
Back in her bedroom, Ariana takes it upon herself to console Aberforth. “You needn’t worry about me. But you’re right; he isn’t to be trusted. What did he do to you?”
“Nothing!” Aberforth explodes, then pulls in a breath and exhales an apology. “He’s violent and dangerous.”
“He will take Albus away from us,” Ariana agrees idly. She slips into bed and pulls the covers up to her waist, sitting upright like a legless trunk of a body.
“We don’t need Albus. We can manage without him.”
“I’m tired, Aberforth. I should like some rest now.”
Aberforth nods. He sinks a kiss to her temples and leaves quickly, still fuming. But Ariana doesn’t rest. She scratches at her throat, trying to swallow the slow burn of magic back into her centre. She rattles her bone dice into meaningless constellations. She ignores the Crone’s endless chattering, her mother’s constant reproach and sends all of them back into the walls. And at last, she sifts through her collections of dainty broken things, seeking a new quill and some ink.
A/N: I'm sorry this chapter has taken so long! I completed it a couple of weeks ago, but took ages to edit. If I'm not mistaken, I'm kind of halfway through the story now. I'm going away for the rest of October, so I'm not sure when the next chapter is coming, but I'll definitely be working on completing this fic for NaNo, if I'm doing it!
Secondly, THANK YOU SO MUCH. SO MUCH. SO MUCH. To everybody who nominated and voted for this story in the recent Dobby Awards. The Deathly Children won the Best Description Award AND was a finalist for the Best Wielding of A Canon Character Award, and I'm truly humbled and a bit awed at just how supportive all of you are for my writing. ❤ ❤ I love you all, and this really means a lot to me.
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