Disclaimer: They're JKR's characters, I'm just playing with them :)

Author's Note: This was originally my entry for the Reviews Lounge Valentine's Day Project, but… yeesh, over-write, much? So I'm trying my hand at a multi-chapter with an actual plot… Shocking, I know :)

"Abe, go get Ari, would you?"

Aberforth scowled at his apple. "Why can't you do it?"

"I'm busy. Please?" He turned looked over at Albus, who was scribbling something down on a bit of parchment. His hands were stained with black ink, as well as his face, and Aberforth resisted the urge to snicker at his elder brother's appearance.

"Fine," he grumbled after a few seconds of silence. He pushed away the apple he had been eating, not putting up as much of a fight as he normally would have, still conscious of the sandwiches Albus had made them all for lunch. They had been better then normal, so he could put up with retrieving Ari out of the garden—but not without guilting Al a little more.

"You're the one who let her outside. Why do you make me do everything?" He heard Albus sigh and crumple up a piece of parchment.

"Please, Abe? I have things to do."

"And I don't?" This was a complete lie, and they both knew it. Albus didn't answer, and Aberforth slammed the door on his way out as a reprimand, not bothering with his cloak. He trotted around the side of the house, slowing down when he heard the soft swish of grass ahead of him, letting him know that Ariana was still there. Of course, he had always known she was; he methodically checked on her every few minutes, and had been doing so for the last several hours. Aberforth reflected that Albus had gone and peered out the curtains himself when he had waited an extra minute or so, but chalked it up to his brother expecting that German boy and didn't think much on it.

"Bloody hell," he murmured softly, kicking away the brambly branches that had claimed his trouser leg, carefully keeping his voice low so that Ariana couldn't hear him. Once she learnt swear words, he and Albus were hard pressed to stop her saying them, as she didn't particularly realise their status as unacceptable in daily vocabulary—at least it had got Albus to stop saying several other curses, one of which started with an 'f' and made Ariana laugh when she heard him mutter it.

Aberforth heard someone talking in the back garden, and wondered briefly what had caught his sister's interest this time around to get her talking. Usually when Albus relented and let her play in the garden, she was simply sat quietly underneath the apple tree. Oh well. As long as she wasn't screeching or crashing things.

"Ari?" he called quietly, the cool wall of the house pressed against his cheek as he struggled not to fall over completely in the gale of the wind. Aberforth shivered slightly and wondered once more how Ariana could stand air like this with only her nightgown to keep her warm (of course, he and Albus had agreed for once and forced her to don a normal dress before she went out—it was highly improper for a young girl to go out in her nightgown, after all). Then again, she adored the snow and winter in itself, so it shouldn't seem all that odd.

"Ariana?" Aberforth knitted his brow together when she didn't come running around from the back garden like usual—he could tell she was still there, of course, by her soft voice still lingering in his ears. Surely, she had heard him the first time. "Ariana!"

Her voice continued flitting across the air, and yet she didn't respond to his calls. Aberforth cursed louder than he had meant to when, in his haste to reach her, he half tripped over a thick root that snaked through the grass, evidence of a small oak tree that had been growing directly beside the house ever since the family had moved there. It had only taken Albus and he a few days to realise that, no matter her past, Ariana would never stop climbing trees if left within the distance of one for several minutes, and Albus had had to use his natural commanding tone to make her see that climbing the apple tree in the back garden would result in severe punishment.

"Ariana!" he called again, louder. She didn't reply, and yet Aberforth could hear her talking. Surely she wasn't that wrapped up in her mind. He felt the first flutter of panic beginning to rise in his stomach, and pushed away memories of the last time they had found her babbling to herself. "Ariana!"

He rounded the edge of the house and was suddenly accosted by late afternoon sunlight. Blinking furiously, Aberforth strained to see over to the apple tree over the abrupt sparks and spots filling his vision.

"Ariana Grace Dumbledore!"

"Abe!" a voice said happily, and he felt himself go almost limp with relief. Rubbing at his eyes, he hurried over to where her words had come from, and he heard her scrabble up from the ground; before he could once more see properly, Aberforth felt her arms hook around him. The fuzziness of his vision fading, Ari's bright, tangled hair invaded his eyes, and he coughed slightly.

"Hi Abe."

"Hi Ari." Without thinking, he reached over and plucked a fallen leaf off of her back. Ariana laughed and took a step back so that she could spin around. Despite his earlier panic, Aberforth felt himself smile. "Did you enjoy your day outside?"

Ariana nodded eagerly. "Yes, yes."

"Are you ready to go inside now?" To his vague surprise, she shook her head, whipping around in a circle once again, making the hem of her dress dance in the barely there breeze.

"Why not?"

"Friend." Aberforth felt his eyebrows knit together.


"Friend." Ariana blew a strand of hair out of her face, seemingly irritated at her elder brother's inability to understand what was obvious in her mind.

"Come again?"

"Abe!" she moaned, tugging at his arm. Aberforth detached her gently, struggling to see the point she was desperately trying to get across. "Friend."

"What are you talking about, Ari?" he asked, eyes flickering towards the back door, feeling half disgusted that he fleeting wished for Albus.

"Er, are you okay?"

Aberforth's head shot up from where it was bent over Ari. Who in the hell—

"Friend," Ariana reminded him, noticing his shock. She gestured towards the girl leaning against the apple tree several feet away. "See, Abe?"

"Who are you?" he demanded, narrowing his eyes at the girl. She looked vaguely affronted.

"You needn't sound so rude about it," she said snappishly.

"I can be rude if I so wish. It's you who's on my property, talking to my sister," Aberforth shot back, not feeling the urge to mention that it was technically Al's property, him being the oldest and all.

"You make it sound like a capital crime!" announced the girl, who stepped up a notch. Aberforth could clearly see the rips in her dress and petticoat, the kind that Ari got when she climbed trees—Wonderful, she's a Muggle, and she encouraging Ari to climb more trees.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, changing tactics, and crossing his arms over his chest the way Albus did when he got angry. The girl stepped forward even farther, her hands on her hips.

"I happen to be talking with your sister, who also happens to be quite good company," she said, the words stabbing the air as she spoke. Aberforth allowed a grimace to cross his face.

"Do you even… do you even know what's—" his voice faded slightly as he became very aware of Ariana hovering at his shoulder— "what's wrong with her?" The girl looked more than vaguely affronted this time, and he thought he might have actually heard her teeth grinding.

"What do you think I am, dim?" Her tone promised a very explosive ending were he to confirm that this was in fact what he thought; Aberforth chose his next words carefully.

"I find it hard to believe that you've befriended Ariana," he told her coolly, mentally congratulating himself on how able he was to imitate Albus. His smugness died, however, when the girl drew in a deep breath and locked her eyes on his, spitting fire.

"And why is that?" she asked. Ice would have frozen over at her command at that moment, and Aberforth tried not to let himself flinch. "I happen to have no problem with her! Is that your problem, then? Are you trying to stop her having friends?" Just as he was about to interrupt, feeling aghast, the girl went on, the spark of anger still flaming in her voice— "Well, there's nothing wrong with her, I'll tell you that! I'd rather hang about with her than with all the other girls in the neighborhood who do naught but gossip! They've all made fun of her, you know, when she's out here alone," she told Aberforth, and he felt his heart sink. "Babbling all to herself. But you and your brother couldn't care less about other girls, could you, so long as the boys leave her alone—you're the dim one, then, not knowing the havoc girls can wreak, should they please!"

The girl finally saw fit to take a breath. Her chest was rising and falling rapidly, and her face had gone, to use one of Ariana's favourite descriptions, brighter than Al's hair.

"Are you quite finished?" Aberforth asked eventually. The girl's face twisted slightly, but she gave a tight nod and leant slightly towards Ariana. He didn't step back from his sister, but stayed where he was, watchful.

"Fun time, eh?" the girl asked Ari, smiling for the first time since he had met her. She nudged Ariana's arm. "Your brother's a right bit uptight. I can only imagine what the other one—Al, right?—is like. My mother'll be having conniptions if I'm not back by dusk, but I'll visit soon." She swooped down and pecked Ari's cheek. Ariana smiled and waved as the girl turned around and, to Aberforth's slight shock, hoisted herself up onto the garden wall in a surprisingly catlike fashion.

"Bye!" Ari called, clutching his arm. "Bye bye, Viv!"

With one last wave and a flip of her hair, the girl—Viv?—disappeared onto the other side of the wall.

A/N: Please review!