Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Harry Potter.
Pain-numbing potions, bone reparative potions, tissue regenerative potions, and all others of their ilk didn't work. After the standard healing potions failed, Ariana hid under the cover of a Disillusionment Charm and scoured the dark recesses of Slughorn's private cabinet as well as Madam Pomfrey's secret cache of emergency potions. Yet again, potion after potion had little to no effect to ease the curse that was desecrating her body.
Ancient tomes, forbidden codices and decrepit grimoires gave her nothing of value. Her vast knowledge, accrued after years of reading and research, was useless, for her eidetic memory could not locate a single instance where she had chanced upon information on dispelling this type of curse. The Room of Requirement was also completely worthless to her, as was the Restricted Section of Hogwarts Library, for the books they housed refused to prostrate themselves and offer her the answers she was so desperately looking for.
In bouts of rationality, she tried to recreate the same blood magic ritual as she had previously done for Albus recently. To her dismay, after rereading the relevant chapter in that book again, she realized that the ritualist needed to be fluent in Parseltongue – not the recipient. So, unless she somehow tricked or persuaded another user of Parseltongue into reversing the consequences of her fatal mistake, that path of action was null to her.
After many more hours of fruitlessly searching for a cure, she then turned back to her secondary source of magic, one which was untamed, wild and refused to be caged – Old Magic, a power that was birthed from her transgressions against nature. No matter how many times she summoned a swirling ball of light and blasted it against her blacked hand, the curse would not go away; however, a sliver of respite was that it dampened the agonizing pain down to a biting sting – only if she reapplied the orb of light every ten minutes or so, if not the physical torment would return.
As the day waned, the cursed waxed; and the canvas of her body, one carrying angry splashes of red and black from trials and tribulations of both past and present, was defiled once again.
A full day had passed since the latest addition to the Potter family had discovered the aftereffects of her botched ritual. She found herself wandering around aimlessly as the coolness of next night fell, still undercover with her spell of invisibility as she cradled her left hand against her trembling chest. Her entire hand was now fully blacked as her bone tissue slowly died from Dark magic cutting off the supply of blood to the affected areas.
It hurts. She wanted to whisper as she stumbled along, but it took too much strength for her to even open her mouth. All hope had been extinguished from her soul as she realized that if the bastion of power that was Albus Dumbledore couldn't remove this curse, no one living in this world could. She also realized that at the rate the curse was metastasizing, one that was far more aggressive on her weaker body than on its previous host, it would not be long until it fully spread to the rest of her body.
After many more hours of her brain being disconnected with her body, the Potter heiress' mind finally decided to reconnect with reality. She realized with a start that she had been standing motionless in the Owlery for quite some time.
Drowning in the sound of beating wings and contented croons from owls and other exotic birds of a passerine nature, voices started to whisper in her head. They were loud now, louder than ever before. They were also… comforting somehow, in her dark hour of need. Almost delirious, she began to chant out loud, repeating whatever the voices were saying in her mind.
"I-I deserve this," she slurred, speaking with with difficulty, her tongue feeling as if it was tied into a knot, "It's b-better me than Albus; the world needs him m-more."
Almost in a dream state, unable to control her body, she realized only halfway that she was climbing up to the top of the Owlery, grimacing the whole time as her pain reached almost unbearable heights. It was as if someone had attached a live wire to each her nerves, causing her body to violently twitch as pulsations of Dark magic coursed through her.
A mist fell on the young girl's eyes when she finally reached the highest stone parapet in Hogwarts, stumbling to her feet and standing silently as she swayed precariously in the wind. Her heart, once drenched by fear, did not throb any longer. Strangely, she could feel her cheeks getting wet with tears, though she didn't know why. Her breaths were coming in faltering gasps now as her consciousness ebbed.
The voices then came one last time.
…end all the pain…
…end all the suffering…
…just take one last step….
Her will – seduced by words of false deliverance, her body – wracked under the onslaught of physical trauma, her mind – broken from finding no possible way out, she then did the unthinkable: she gave up.
And thus, Ariana fell.
Her perception of time distorted, slowing everything down until there was nothing left, only her and the midnight sky above, one that seemed to swallow her whole. Her hand reached out, kissing the blanket of stars, grasping the endless canvas of black. Everything was a blur, a blur that swirled out of existence. Falling in the air, she calmly closed her eyes and surrendered herself to infinite, to whatever her next Great Adventure would bring in the grand journey that was life.
She heard the loudest crack she had ever heard in her life, almost as if the world itself had split open. She felt her body twist and knew instantly that her spine had completely shattered. She felt bones in other parts of her body move in a way they shouldn't, jangled. There was no pain however, just gentle warmth. Warmth from blood that was seeping from skin that was seconds ago smooth, but was now torn, reddened, weeping.
Unable to even breathe as her lungs turned inoperable, the flames of her life slowly snuffed out, leaving a sombre thought circulating through her mind as it began to systematically shut down.
I'm sorry everyone… I just wasn't good enough….
She had often died in dreams. Terrifying as they were in her mindscape, it was completely different in reality. In the mortal realm, it was kind of… peaceful. As her vision gradually faded away to nothingness, the gentle warmth grew, and she welcomed the encroaching oblivion with open arms, greeting Death as a friend just one more time.
I'm ready to go home.
"Home," an old wizard murmured softly under his breath, "Home at last."
Rows of tombstones stood erect in silence to his left and right, in front and behind, like a sea of the dead. Some were crumbled with the weathering of centuries, some were smooth marble with new black writing and laid with floral tributes. Most though, were overgrown and unkempt, for even their mourners had joined them under the clay soil.
All except one; one grave was neat and sparklingly clean, standing out from the rest like a shining sun.
The old wizard gave a melancholic sigh as he laid down a posy of roses atop that particular grave, bowing his head and reading the epitaph just one more time, even though he knew it back and forth, for he himself was the one who had inscribed it. It was short, simple, and poignant.
In loving memory of Ariana.
A soul that gave so much and received so little.
May your spirit rest in peace.
Footsteps behind the first wizard broke him out of his quiet introspection, one that had crossed an entire gamut of emotions. He refused to turn around, opting to stand solemnly where he was as one hand gently rested atop the gravestone, holding that pose until the new arrival finally decided to speak.
"You look like shit."
Albus smiled wanly at the familiar voice, pulling himself out of his memories before finally turning around to address the person who had uttered the remark.
"Aberforth," he greeted as pleasantly as he could, "How've you been doing?"
The addressed wizard sneered, "Spare me the platitudes, Albus. We are both here for only one thing – and one thing only. Nothing else matters."
Aberforth Dumbledore, younger brother to the arguably most powerful wizard alive, seemed to have a permanent snarl etched onto his face. Long, matted hair coloured grey wreathed his head in an angry mess, giving him a feral look. Unlike Albus' deep blue eyes, his were bright blue. They crackled and sparkled, almost as if was electricity coursing through his irises. His clothes followed no vogue and looked like it was in a state of perpetual untidiness, clearly signalling his outward appearance was the last thing on this particular wizard's mind.
Albus bowed his head in respect to the wishes of his brother, stepping back and letting the other wizard walk up to the grave and place a single rose atop the cold, hard slab of stone he had been resting his hand on. After a short period of respectful silence, his brother turned his head towards him with a gaze that one could only describe as lifeless.
"You betrayed me, and every last thing that I held dear to me," Aberforth started woodenly, no restraint in his voice, "Even to this day, it continues; your cruelty rivals that of a Dark Lord."
Albus struggled to rein in wild emotions that swept through his body. On this particular day of remembrance, the day that his sister had died so many years ago, Aberforth would usually turn up slightly inebriated, ranting and cursing at him for hours on end until his energy had been spent. This year however, his words were cold and biting, striking the mass of guilt that sat upon his very soul.
Aberforth gave him no chance to respond.
"You still remember it, don't you? All those years ago," he carried on emotionlessly, "How I battled both you and Gellert at the same time? How you let him torture on me over and over again until I nearly went mad? How I protected Ariana from the darkness you wielded, shielding her eyes from the rivers of blood that you yourself created?"
All traces of anger vanished from Albus' system as memories rose to the forefront of his mind, only to be replaced by undying shame, never-ending regret, and an old sorrow.
"I… I know I'm not worthy to call myself your brother," he murmured sorrowfully, his guilt-ridden eyes clashing against the stormy recesses of the other, "I know I should've protected you more. You, mother, father and… her."
Surprise sprung across Aberforth's face before he could hide it.
"What game are you trying to play this time?" he hissed loudly, trembling in anger and confusion as his brother admitted his own faults out loud for the very first time, "You don't know what penitence means. You don't know what selflessness means. You do not know what love means; can you even comprehend concepts of emotional conveyance?"
"All you know is control, manipulation, order… obedience. How many do you continue to sacrifice for the greater good? How much more must you destroy to attain new powers? You think it's a coincidence that your magical strength and influence remains uncontested even after a century?"
Albus flinched, turning his face to the side, staying silent from the verbal barrage and accepting whatever came his way. His brother was usually never this vocal – apart from this day of the year.
There was a certain cruelty to Aberforth's voice in his next taunt.
"Still trying to buy your way into heaven?"
"What?" Albus gasped out loud, unable to keep silent from the bizarre question.
"You heard me. Still trying to do good deeds like a good little wizard? Hoping to find salvation in Purgatory?" Aberforth sneered before his eyes lit up dangerously, "Whatever place you think our sister is in, you will not join her after death," he intoned lowly, "You will never lay eyes on her again. This, I guarantee."
Albus clenched his teeth in anger, trying to calm himself down with the help of Occulumency, a mental barrier to reap dominion over his emotions. After successfully pulling himself together, he began to speak emphatically, his powerful voice rising on the highs and skirting on the lows.
"I've have battled, and won, against a Dark Lord at the peak of his power, freeing the lost people of Europe from the clutches of mad wizard. I have saved tens of thousands of lives as I've dismantled new, potential Dark wizards and witches that could've posed a danger to our people and homeland."
"I have pushed forward hundreds of policies at Wizengamot that allow Muggles, Muggle-borns, Goblins, and many more creatures to roam free in our world, untouched and unscathed by the anachronistic ideals of a generation past. I've donated millions of Galleons to war victims, orphanages and charities in and around the country."
Albus was trembling, "These are just the start of my past ventures. You dare question my devotion to the Light?" he said in an uncharacteristically hard voice.
To his shock, all his brother did was laugh in response. A harsh, mocking cackle that sounded like layers of sandpaper scratching against each other, the noise grinding unpleasantly on his aged heart.
"F-For a second, you had me worried," Aberforth rasped, unable to fully recover from his laughing fit, "I-I really thought you had somehow changed. But from the way you spoke about your previous… conquests, ones that you refer to as valorous deeds, you quickly reminded me of who I'm speaking to."
"You will forever be the master puppeteer, no matter how you try to mask it, pulling the strings on everything and everyone you touch," he chuckled humourlessly, "You will remain incorrigible, even if Judgement Day descends upon us."
No. I have changed. He wanted to say, but his tongue wouldn't move. I know what I will become in the future. A man even worse than who I currently am. A man with neither affection nor pity in his heart, treating those around him like chess pieces, discarding them once their value had been expended.
I'd vowed to a certain young girl that I would not become the man of that future.
Brother… please… forgive me.
His mouth moved, trying to echo his thoughts onto the physical realm.
His tongue twisted at the last second, "…c-calm down," he finished with difficulty, unable to follow through with what he wanted to convey.
Aberforth sneered coldly and turned on the spot, already walking away and ignoring whatever his brother was stuttering about. Their yearly custom of placing their sister's favourite flower atop her gravestone was complete. There was nothing else for him here, the graveyard near their old home he considered sacrosanct reminding him of nothing but madness and sorrow.
The unusually desperate tone of Albus' voice caused the other wizard to freeze mid-step. He then turned back and faced the speaker with hard staring eyes that never blinked, silent as he waited for the other to continue.
"I… I want to tell you something."
"Save it. Your confessions mean nothing to me," Aberforth said flatly. He desperately wanted to leave, but something shining in Albus' eyes that gave him pause. They shone with guilt. Dangerous guilt.
"Albus… what have you done?" he asked slowly, his eyes narrowing as the muscles in his body unconsciously tensed up.
Albus took a deep breath before taking something small out of the deep folds of his purple robes. He rested the object on the open palm of his hand, almost proffering it towards his brother. It was small, geometrical and glowed in an otherworldly manner; power oozed from it in undulating waves of unseen magic.
"After nearly a century of searching, I've finally found it. The Resurrection Stone," Albus revealed in a soft whisper, though still loud enough to carry over the silent graveyard to the other wizard, whose face had turned ashen from the momentous revelation, "The stone that is said to grant its wielder power over the realm of undeath."
He then sighed as the glanced toward downwards a particular tombstone, "With the stone at long last in my possession," he continued in a weary tone, "I came to this very place many moons ago with an intent ignoble by any standards. Foolishly, I tried to–
He got no further as a blur suddenly appeared in front of his face. A fist came out of nowhere, giving him no time to react as it smashed into his face, breaking the bones in his cheek. He tried to recover but a second blow came at his body this time, even harder than the first, causing him to fall to the floor with a pained cry.
"DEMON, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO OUR SISTER?" his younger brother howled in fury, his wild magic manifesting as physical augmentations on his skin as he kept punching the downed wizard with all the physical strength his aged body could muster.
Though the Dumbledores came from a lineage of powerful witches and wizards, Albus had differed from Aberforth when it came to this regard. Where he studied, Aberforth practiced his fists; where he theorized and innovated in the realm of spell creation, Aberforth trained his techniques; where he mastered ancient powers beyond reckoning, Aberforth honed his body to be a living weapon – achieving a singularity between Man and Magic.
Had he not been Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, who constantly carried layers upon layers of protective magic constantly on his physical being, he would've been truly worried about staying in this mortal plane under the brutal assault of the other Dumbledore brother.
Fists imbued with three types of different magics battered hard upon Albus' arms as he shielded his face, each one destroying the films of defensive spells that were intricately interwoven into his clothes. He could feel the burning rage of his brother grow with each hit, the strikes reverberating around his soul in ferocious waves.
"ANSWER ME, CREATURE OF DARKNESS. WHAT DID YOU DO?"
"THE STONE DIDN'T WORK!" Albus roared in response, his vast wells of magic automatically rearing up in response the physical abuse – albeit muted from his defensive charms. He also felt his Elder Wand re-energize his body, healing his broken bones and sending an overabundance of unquantifiable magic into his magical core. He quickly quelled the surge of energy and banished it away, for he no intent of harming the only person left in his family.
"WHAT DO YOU–"
"IT. DIDN'T. WORK!" Albus bellowed louder with emphasis, opting to let a sliver of magic leak out to magically amplify his voice.
The fists paused in their pummelling. There was silence, then laboured breath, then the sound of a heavy body dragging itself to one side.
Then came his brother's voice.
"Why… why must you keep tormenting me so?" came Aberforth's pained croak from beside him.
Hesitantly, Albus brought his hands down once he realized the episode was over, pushing himself up into a sitting position and staring at the pitiful sight of the kneeling wizard beside him. His brother's sallow skin clung to his skull like a wet rag to a rail. Baring unevenly yellowed teeth, his spent fury was fizzling out like the wick of dying candle, growling in a voice seemed more of an animal than that of a human. His matted hair seemed more dishevelled than ever as it shrouded his face in a tangled mess.
"I knew you would get upset, but that was not my intention," Albus informed quietly and in full honesty, "I merely wanted to share with you what I consider my greatest sin."
"Because I want this madness between us to end. For decades, bitterness and hate has consumed your life, as it did mine," Albus replied sorrowfully. Unbidden tears sprang to the corners of his eyes as he bowed his head, saying words he wanted to say his entire life to the person before him. His craven thoughts all but vanished in the light of his next, life-changing words.
"Brother… please… forgive me."
Aberforth was about to snarl in anger but stopped at the very last second. There was something off with his brother today. Was he perhaps under a Confundus Charm? No, no person alive could pull that off. Maybe he was under the influence of any potions or spirits? No, that was impossible. All that was left was…
"Lies. Even now, you lie," Aberforth finally responded in a defeated voice, one with no more strength behind it, "You may fool others with that silver tongue of yours, but you forget that in this world, only I know who you truly are."
Albus raised his head and stared straight into the stormy orbs of the other, his suspiciously wet eyes swimming with emotions he had kept bottled up for far too long.
"If that is the case, then you know I am not lying."
Any words Aberforth had planned to say died on his lips. He wanted to keep cursing and screaming at his brother until his voice wore out. He wanted to blame him for Ariana's death. He wanted release from decades and decades of toxic thoughts that clouded his every thought and blinded his every action. But after staring into the heavenly blue eyes of his brother, ones that he knew oh so well, he came to a confusion conclusion.
"You… are not lying?" His tone almost turned questioning at the end of his sentence.
"No. I'm not."
Bewildered by the sudden turn of events, Aberforth uttered just one more word, a word that longed for answers he desperately wanted and needed all his life.
Aberforth unconsciously flinched as his brother leaned forward put his arm around his shoulders, a gesture that was all but new to him. And thus, the next few hours went by as Albus revealed everything to his brother, trusting him as he knew Aberforth was steadfast and devoted to the Light – unlike him.
Albus spilled everything out. Tom Riddle, his political machinations, Horcruxes, forbidden powers he had amassed, cliques he was secretly a part of, the numerous prophecies, his current plans and goals, and even revealing the time-travelling girl that had caused him to change so.
Albus laid his soul bare in front of his brother, causing Aberforth to respond in kind, for the blood of the covenant was thicker than water, was it not?
The bond between the reconciling brothers was by no means healed after they parted ways in the cemetery, but it was a start. To bridge the emotional gap that had been created from decades of fighting, only time could heal the wound. However, unbeknownst to them, the rift was healing at a quicker rate than either of them could anticipate, for Aberforth in his heart had already forgiven his brother many years ago, but had always been too afraid to say it out loud.
One often thinks that forgiveness is weakness, but it's absolutely not; it takes a very strong person to forgive.
Albus stood alone in the graveyard, not moving an inch even after his brother had long departed.
"Say, Ariana," he murmured quietly, glancing down to her gravestone, "Would you say I was righteous and just? Good enough to witness the awe of Elysium?"
"Or is it too late for me? Am I doomed to walk through the fiery pits of Tartarus for the rest of eternity?"
He then gave a low chuckle, wondering just where all these questions on the philosophy of death were coming from. He gave a soft, almost cathartic sigh as he pooled his vast amounts of magic and prepared to Apparate back to the outskirts of Hogwarts.
He wasn't sure if his eyes were playing tricks on him, but when glanced upwards he noticed a curiously shaped cloud that hung low in the sky. It looked suspiciously like a young girl's face. As the winds of change pushed the oddly shaped cloud out of sight, Albus could've sworn it gave a ghostly smile before vanishing into the heavens for the very last time.
Ariana was floating like a cloud, weightless… free.
Unfettered from all manner of earthly bonds, she gently levitated under an omnipresent light. Her pains were gone. Her aches were gone. Her fears were gone. There was nothing else left in her system but peace. Raw, undiluted peace.
Her state of mental quiescence was short-lived however, for she soon heard a faint voice calling out to her, causing life to infuse back into her body as she sluggishly lifted her head up.
She hadn't heard her mother's voice in many years. But the second she heard it she knew it was her, though it sounded far melancholic than in her recollections. With great effort she tried to open her eyes to see what was happening but was forced to close them immediately from a harsh glare of white light.
"M-Mum…?" she whispered with eyes still closed, aware that she was lying down on something divinely soft, "Is that you?"
She flinched when someone touched her hand, but soon relinquished all feelings of uncertainity when she felt the same someone lean forwards to hug her in a way that only a mother could, a hug so tender that it engulfed and raptured her very soul. She tried to return the gesture, her arms wouldn't move for some reason.
"Not yet, Harry," came a voice from above, so softly, so sweetly, so full of love, that the young girl almost burst into tears upon hearing it, "Not yet."
Terrified as the warmth started to recede, she summoned every last drop of willpower and sat up forcefully, opening her eyes, "WHAT IS HAPPEN–"
She stopped halfway as her body was wracked by a violent coughing fit. Wheezing and trying to regain composure as the episode abated, she realized immediately that her surroundings had changed. Blinking in confusion, the owlish movements of her head quickly relayed to her that she was in a dark room of some sort; there was no omnipresent light; there was no gentle warmth; there was no hug.
After a second of calming her nerves and analysing the situation, Ariana deducted that she was in some sort of tent. With a start, she realized it was also raining, the melodic pitter-patter of precipitation drawing her to scan the area above her. A tarp above her head showed long tears and wayward holes on their surface, but no water was leaking through, for the rain was inexplicably repelled by some sort of magic. A diffuse light of a stormy evening shone through the droplets, throwing its brindled radiance onto the saturated cloth.
Looking downwards, she also observed that she had been tucked under a thin blanket and was lying on a bed of what seemed like hay. Before she could surmise about the whereabouts of her current state of being, a pair of glowing eyes suddenly shone in the darkness, causing her to jump in fright.
Before she could do anything drastic however, the other had already begun speaking.
"How fares thee, Child?" came a euphonious voice, definitely feminine, sounding both old and wise.
The beating of Ariana's heart lessened from the obvious concern laced within the other's words; she weighed the other individual in her mind as she stayed silent for a full minute.
"Am… Am I dead?" she finally asked in a quavering voice, wondering if this was some bastardized version of the afterlife.
As the other took a step forward out from the shadows, Ariana gasped when she realized the smouldering eyes belonged to a large centaur. The stranger, one whose body was adorned with all manner of exotic jewelleries, then knelt down beside her makeshift bed, one that was lined with straw, before replying.
"Nay, Child. You live and breathe yet, as all creatures of this realm do."
There was a pause.
"A member of my clan, Firenze, found you by the castle wall and brought you back to us," the stranger continued informatively, sensing the near palpable desperation that the young witch was emitting in her need of answers, "He said you were a sight most terrible to behold."
The stranger tilted her head, a look of pity crossing her equine-like face, "Did the fall hurt, Child?"
Ariana's brow furrowed as she struggled to remember what she was doing last, "Fall?" she repeated slowly in confusion once her mind failed her, "W-What are you talking about?"
The stranger hummed thoughtfully and gazed down into her forest green eyes.
"Firenze also said something quite extraordinary," the mysterious centaur carried on, ignoring her question as the voice lowered down to a dulcet murmur, one that caused the young witch's ears to tingle, "He said that your broken body suddenly lit up, describing it as magic he had never seen before. You were then miraculously healed, almost wholly, as you can ascertain for yourself right now."
Ariana sucked her breath in sharply as recent memories assaulted her mind, the cogs and spurs in her mind stirring to life as she realized she was still residing in the land of the living.
THE FALL. She remembered with a terrified gasp. H-how… why… what was I doing…
She then stilled, temporarily side-tracked as she replayed what the stranger had said last.
Hold on… my magic was healing me? Does that mean…
She immediately looked down at her left wrist. To her sorrow, her entire hand was still blackened – but the curse somehow wasn't spreading any further past the silver bangle on her wrist.
Death it seemed, had other plans for her.
The stranger noticed what she was staring at. "We have bathed you in special oils that are only reserved for the direst of occasions," the centaur explained gently, "They have eased the pain and stopped the spread of Dark for now, has it not?
After a quick pat down, Ariana did indeed realize that all her pains were absent. She also noticed that her Hogwarts robes were nowhere to be seen and she was instead wearing a thin, translucent dress that nearly showed everything underneath. Quickly crossing her legs and folding her arms across her chest in an effort to maintain modesty, she chewed her lip as her thoughts turned inwards.
As her body rocked back and forth in an effort to remember how she got here, she then noticed the most curious thing. Her midnight black hair was longer than she remembered it to be. It used to be only down to the small of her back, but now was cascading down to her waist like a river of molten onyx.
Ariana stilled in terror, as now only one question burned like wildfire in her mind.
"H-How… long was I unconscious for?" she asked in a trembling voice, trying to remain as calm as possible.
After the centaur hesitated, her fears skyrocketed.
A/N: Sorry for the slow update. You know how unexpected life is :)
P.S. Thanks for all the (very informative) reviews and enjoy the rest of your day!