VII.

Albus trudged through Godric's Hollow, laden with shopping bags that were awkward to carry despite his having placed a feather-light charm on them. He despised shopping, but of course it had to be done; if he didn't bother doing it then he, Ariana and Aberforth would all starve to death. His brother probably wasn't even capable of finding food for himself in the pantry, let alone actually going to the shops and buying something. Of course it didn't help that the nearest shops were three miles away and Aberforth was highly unlikely to ever wander that far on foot at all, let alone do that and carry back a heavy load of shopping (because of course his fool of a brother was incapable of casting something so simple as a feather-light charm, underage or not).

A smile crept onto Albus' face as he came in sight of his own house. Finally he would be able to prepare some food, do some work, then go down to Bathilda Bagshot's later in order to have a discussion and a cup of tea with Gellert. It was probably the best way to get away from the stress and monotony than running a household at the tender age of seventeen brought with it.

Any plans that Albus had had, however, were immediately brought to a halt when he saw that his brother was not alone in the living room. No, Aberforth was sitting on one of the armchairs, drinking a cup of tea that had evidently been burnt to the point of not being fit for human consumption – and opposite him, his polite expression belying his boredom, was Gellert.

Albus tried to hide his shock as Aberforth shot an artificially sweet smile at him. "Oh, good afternoon. I was wondering when you'd be back," his brother said. His tone would have simply seemed polite on anyone else, but on Aberforth it seemed totally unnatural.

Albus sat down on the sofa and glared at Aberforth. What was he playing at, asking Gellert over when he wasn't there? The two boys had never so much as spoken to each other, at least so far as Albus was aware, and yet here Gellert was, sitting with his idiot of a younger brother and looked torturously bored.

"I hope my brother hasn't wasted too much of your time," Albus said apologetically to Gellert, who shrugged.

"Why Albus, I simply thought I'd spend a little time getting to know Gellert," Aberforth replied, affecting an offended tone of voice whilst looking innocently up at his brother. The look didn't fool anyone in the room – not Gellert nor Albus nor even Aberforth himself. "After all, he had to be a very interesting person for you to spend so much time with him instead of your family."

Albus ignored the barely disguised insult and wondered, not for the first time, how he and his utterly tactless brother could ever have been sorted into the same house at school. Gellert seemed to be ignoring the sweetened venom in Aberforth's voice as well, and was instead busying himself by eating his way through the plate of biscuits that Aberforth had left on the table. Luckily those, unlike the tea, weren't burnt.

"Yes," said Gellert, obviously relieved to see Albus and know that he would have some relatively sane conversation now. "Your brother has been most entertaining. I didn't realise you kept goats." He helped himself to yet another biscuit while Albus mentally cursed his brother's childhood obsession with goats.

"We have two goats. Fluffy and Treacle. Do you want to see them?"

Albus realised with a start that Ariana had just come into the room. There were flowers in her hair and grass stains on her dress, so she had obviously been outside in the garden – probably playing with the blasted goats, he thought. Albus shot Aberforth a look that plainly said 'Why did you leave Ariana on her own?' but Aberforth either didn't notice the look in his brother's eyes or simply pretended not to.

"And who would this lovely young lady be?" Gellert asked, smiling at Ariana, who smiled vacantly back.

"She's our sister," Albus said, and upon seeing the surprised expression on Gellert's face, he realised that he had completely neglected to mention his sister in the past. How very strange that was, considering that she was the main reason that he was co-operating with Gellert in order to save the wizarding world.

Ariana sat down on the arm of the chair next to Gellert and picked up a teacup. She didn't try to pour herself some tea, simply gazed at the cup as though trying to figure out what it was. It was at times like this that Albus' heart broke to think of the damage that had been done to his sister, who had been ever so bright as a child. Not like Aberforth – Ariana should have been brilliant like Albus was. She would be brilliant again one day.

Suddenly Albus was aware of the fact that Gellert and Ariana had the same wide eyes and the same mess of blonde ringlets, and for a moment Albus wondered whether he was drawn to Gellert because the boy so strongly resembled the woman that Ariana should have become. He dismissed that thought almost as soon as it arose; of course that was not it. It couldn't have been. No, he was friends with Gellert because they had similarly great minds and the same views and were capable of changing the entire world between them. It had nothing to do with his sister expect for his desire to save her.

"Well," Gellert said, breaking the uneasy silence. "I'm afraid I shall have to be going now. I promised my aunt that I'd help her with dinner tonight."

Albus knew for a fact that Gellert was about as well acquainted with the fine art of cooking as the average pureblood man (that was to say, not at all), so he immediately realised that Gellert wanted to take the opportunity to escape before Aberforth started one of his mindless rants again.

"I'll show you out," Albus said. As he walked Gellert to the door he distinctly heard Ariana speak.

"I like your friend. He seems a bit scary but a bit nice, like Al."

Albus flinched upon hearing those words. His own sister was afraid of him? He could understand her fearing his magic, yes, but not him. He and Gellert would make the world so safe that Ariana would never have to fear anything again, least of all her own brother.

"You never mentioned that you have a sister," Gellert said. "And I've seen your brother around before, but never her. Why is that?"

"She's… unstable," Albus explained as they began the walk back to Bathilda Bagshot's house. "She was attacked by a group of muggles when she was very young," he felt his voice cracking as he spoke. "We never found out what exactly they did to her, but it was bad enough that she can't control her magic at all. My father taught the barbarians a lesson and ended up in Azkaban for his troubles."

Gellert frowned. "I see. I think I understand now."

"Understand what?"

"Why you've been so eager to help me," Gellert replied. "Even geniuses such as ourselves can be blind to the truth because of how we've been conditioned by our society. But you… you've seen the savagery of muggles first hand, so you know why we have to do what we're intending to do."

Albus nodded. "I just don't want her to hurt anymore. I'll do whatever it takes to make Ariana into the woman she should have been. Anything, just so long as she's not harmed."

"Albus, our final struggle for peace will not harm your sister," Gellert replied with a smile. "This only proves that our cause is even more noble than I had previously thought."

With that he wandered down the garden path away from Albus' home, and Albus Dumbledore felt his convictions about what they were doing double in intensity. Yes, in their new world Ariana would be loved rather than exiled. It was worth having to kill any number of muggle scum in order to see his sister smile again.