"For all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these: 'It might have been.'"
-John Greenleaf Whittier
This is what might have happened, the summer of 1899:
Albus says goodbye to his mother with kisses and promises to write twice weekly, if he can get his hands on a proper owl, of course. He says goodbye to his father with a gruff hug and muttered see you soon's. He says goodbye to Aberforth with shoves, with crude jokes, and with a reminder to keep up with his schoolwork. He says goodbye to Ariana with tugs on her long braid, shrieks of laughter, and her clinging to his arm for far too long.
He walks down the pathway of the house to Disapparate to his first destination: Paris, to meet with Elphias.
As the crack sounds, snapping through the heated summer air like a whip, Bathilda Bagshot leads her nephew into the house down the street.
This is what might have happened, the June month of 1899:
Ariana helps her mother in the kitchen, baking biscuits that Albus likes even though he won't be home for months. Kendra sniffs back tears over the batter and has Ariana finish stirring the Muggle way.
She herself fights with Aberforth over petting his goats, mostly the little one that she has decided is to be called Kitty. Abe scoffs and pushes her shoulder, and she pushes him back, and all of a sudden they are acting like children again (except this time there's no Albus standing over them, looking disapproving and threatening to tell Momma of they don't behave). Their father hauls them apart, yells at Abe for hurting his sister, then yells at Ariana for a rip in her robes.
She is ordered upstairs to change. Her walk has a certain stomping quality to it, and Kendra exits the kitchen to grab Abe by the ear and chastise him about the proper way to treat a lady. Ariana giggles on the stairwell, kicks off her shiny black shoes on the second floor landing, not caring when one tumbles halfway back down, and because she knows everyone is still downstairs she peels off her robes as she walks down the hallway.
By the time she enters her room, various voluminous articles of clothing flung over her bare arm, all that she wears is her undergarments. The heat in her bedroom is, as always, stifling. No breeze exists to flutter her chemise against the pale skin that goes part and parcel with her light hair, light eyes, barely-there freckles— such is life, with Al and Abe and their explosion of auburn and freckles so numerous they both sometimes appear tanned.
Ariana lets her garments fall onto the bed with a dull thump. It feels rather strange to be inside her bedroom without the sound of Al and Abe arguing from downstairs. With a sigh, she tugs apart the braid of her hair, letting the long coil of it wrap around her wrist to cool her neck. A nightgown is selected from her wardrobe (well, it wasn't as if she was going anywhere today). It is only when she lets the fabric waterfall down her front that someone speaks.
"It's the middle of the day, you know."
She whirls around, the nightgown's hem caught at her knees. On her open windowsill sits a boy, an apple in one hand, a curious mixture of smirk and smile on his foreign face.
A warm heat rises up her neck, smothering her cheeks. Ariana yanks the gown down to her ankles, letting her hair fall down her back. "What— I'm— go away! Who are— you can't just— just barge in and… and… oh, you rotten boy, get out!"
Her voice has risen several pitches by the end of her stuttering tirade. The boy seems content to allow her to ramble. He lazily lifts the fruit to his mouth, biting into it with a quick glance at her. Ariana crosses her arms, feeling suddenly exposed, although she's been running around her brothers in a nightgown since she could walk.
But, of course, this is most definitely not her brother.
"Well?" she finally demands of him, and to her surprise can catch a hint of Al's patronizing tone woven through the words. "What are you, an imbecile? Go, before— before I call my father!"
It is the ultimate threat, because her father is protective of her to the extreme— she intimates sometimes that it has a little bit to do with those boys who bothered her long ago, when she was small; but then of course, Albus found her before they had done anything other than pull her hair and dirty her clothes, so it was quite all right.
The boy only laughs throatily at her warning, through his apple.
"Call him. I don't care."
This, more than all else, gives her pause. "You don't?" she asks, forgetting for a moment that she is in her nightclothes and there is a strange boy sitting on her windowsill at the same time.
"Not a lick," he answers, a bored lilt to his voice, as though he is contemplating checking a watch to see how much longer he must put up with her. Her anger flares.
"Then go!" she hisses, and stalks forward a few steps, as though to shove him away herself, should need be. But he could obviously climb up the tree that scrapes against the glass of her window, and so he could just as obviously climb back down. "What are you, some kind of disgusting peeping Tom?"
"That's a Muggle story," says the boy. "Peeping Tom. He saw Lady Godiva ride her horse naked through the streets."
"I know that," Ariana says, and she does, because Albus knows all sorts of things like that and often repeats them to her. She had simply never thought she would find a chance to use any of them.
"Really?" Finally, a curious tone enters the boy's voice. The green of the apple he rolls against his trousers, still not having taken a second bite, catches the light of the leaves above him and tints his blonde hair a strange greenish hue. "So, do you like Muggles, then?"
Ariana takes another cautious step forward, her toes curling into the carpeting. "Why wouldn't I?"
To this, the boy gives a shrug. "Nothing. By the way," he adds, looking into her eyes suddenly. His are the same green color that floods his hair. "I'm Gellert."
She hesitates. The boy, she thinks, looks vaguely nymph-like, brown trousers and white shirt with the sleeves pushed up to his forearms, sitting on her windowsill like he had sprung there with a single leap.
"Ariana," she finally says, and holds out her hand.
This is what might have happened, June 3rd, of 1899:
They shake, Ariana in her nightgown, the boy in his trousers. She has never shaken a boy's hand before. She expects cold, clammy, slimy— what she gets is cool, rough, firm.
Silence reigns for several moments. She wonders what she should do— invite him in? Lead him down the stairs, tell Mother and Father about the boy who showed up in her window and wouldn't leave? Let Abe wrestle him to the ground, like he did to Albus sometimes when their duels turned Muggle?
This conundrum is solved very easily. By the boy, of course.
"How old are you?" Gellert asks, finally taking another bite of the apple. It crunches loudly, and she flinches, certain that any moment now Mother will come in… though what she's doing wrong, Ariana cannot quite pinpoint.
Besides talking to a near-stranger perched on her windowsill, that is.
"Fourteen," she replies. Nervously, a finger comes up to twirl a strand of hair. "Fifteen in August."
Gellert gives no reaction to this. "I'm sixteen," he offers, another nugget of knowledge about himself.
"That's close to me," she answers, for lack of anything better to say. Why are you still speaking to him? flits through her mind, sharp and stinging, but she ignores it. He is fascinating— his hair, without the greenish tint, looks to be almost the same shade as hers; his cheekbones are the most sharply defined she has ever seen on a member of the male species. She has an envious wish for his lashes, long the nail on her last finger. There is an old tilt to his voice, a strange quality to his pronunciation.
"Where are you from?" Ariana blurts out.
At this, Gellert raises an eyebrow. "Germany," he says, then, for the first time, grins. "Es ist wunderbar, mein Heim."
She pretends puzzlement for a moment, the gloats with, "And why is your home so wonderful?"
Ariana can see his attempts and tamping down appreciation, amusement. "You speak German?"
"Some," is her modest reply. "Albus— my brother, that is —taught me a little. He went to a special seminar in Berlin last year. You know, that Muggle city next to Göttzauber?"
Gellert nods slowly. "Ah. Your brother, he is intelligent?"
"Very." There is a hint of pride in her voice. "I want to beat his marks, though. Mother's been helping me study for O.W.L.S. Ordinary Wizarding Levels, I mean. They just started them a few years ago, some department requirement. Albus missed one on Herbology— he's rubbish with plants. I'm going to ace it all."
She pauses, embarrassment just now catching up. She raises a hand to her throat. "Oh… I'm awfully sorry— I didn't mean to go on. I just…"
"Adore education," Gellert finishes blithely. He bites into the apple again; juice beads on his cheek. "I assumed so."
Ariana ventures farther, so that now they are only a few steps apart. He still has his legs stretched out on the sill, part of his left arm dangling into her bedroom. "Well, what about your school?" she asks, cheer in her voice. "Are you coming to Hogwarts? You would only be a grade above me…"
Gellert answers before she can even imagine such things. "No. I was expelled from Durmstrang. I've been sent to live with my aunt."
The carelessness of his tone makes her already too-wide eyes widen even more. "I— oh." She has never known someone who was expelled. Gellert, she thinks, tilting her head slightly to the side, does not look like the type of boy to be expelled. And he hasn't used crude language. Those expelled always use crude language.
He gives her a half smile, half because most is hidden behind the curve of his apple. "Sorry. You seem to like school. I suppose now I've ruined things."
"No, no," Ariana hastens to assure him. Her nightgown flutters around her ankles. "I apologize if you're… offended, I suppose, but…"
"It's all right," he assures her. "I understand." But, then, a soft pause. The day's heat suddenly seems to have a stifling sound. "I'm not an imbecile, you know. I do enjoy books. It's education that eludes me."
It is a concept that, try as she might to grasp it, continually flits away from Ariana's petulant grasp. "I don't understand," she admits. To her surprise, Gellert grins once more.
"It's good to acknowledge that," he says, then holds up his almost-eaten apple. "Want a bite?"
It feels as though she has suddenly passed a test she didn't realize she was taking. Ariana's teeth caught her bottom lip. "There's only a bit left. You have it."
In lieu of a verbal answer, Gellert only turns the apple slowly, as if it lay on a circular pendulum. She sees that, of all he has already eaten, there are still two places left on either side for one to bite into.
If this was a book, she thinks dazedly, he would have done that on purpose.
This is what might have happened, 2:07 p.m., June 3rd, of 1899:
But this isn't a book, and she is quite right in thinking that it was pure coincidence. However, she also underestimates the fact that chance is just an equally large motivator as fate, at times. And so, still very conscious of the fact that her mother, father, and one remaining brother are milling about downstairs, she leans forward to eat part of an apple offered to her by a strange boy who had climbed up a tree to perch on her windowsill.
Gellert leans with her, intending the other bite of apple still left. They are synchronized in their bites, Ariana stumbling slightly because she has leant from too far away, Gellert wavering slightly because he has tried to lean too close. The taste, when she sinks her teeth through the skin, is a burst in her mouth, much too sweet for a mere apple to possess, and her tongue flicks out on the fruit's surface just as her head tilts. Gellert's head tilts in its own way from the other side of their lone barrier, and then that barrier is twisting, and she is following the taste with her mouth, and suddenly there is no barrier and the apple has fallen to the floor and their mouths are on top of one another's.
Ariana startles. Heat from the long-open window scorches the top of her head; Gellert's lips taste of (what else?) apple, and of something deeply bitter. German food, she supposes. She has, of course, never kissed anyone before. It isn't what a proper girl does, especially in her nightgown and especially with a boy with enough audacity to climb up to her window and sit there like he belonged.
And that, of course, begs question: Are all good ladies wrong— or is she simply utterly improper?
Ariana is not sure she wants the answer.
As all first time kissers do, they quickly beak apart. Ariana finds several strands of hair fallen across her cheeks. She lifts fingers to her lips, grazing there. Gellert leans back, but only just, so their foreheads still hover close.
"I've never," she begins.
"Thank you so very much."
They are so close she can see the barely-there spots on his cheeks that cave in when he smiles. "Just an observation, mein Liebling."
Her heart jolts.
This is what did happen, 2:07 p.m., June 3rd, of 1899:
Ariana is coloring when the doorbell sounds, chiming throughout the house.
"Me!" she shrieks, scrambling up. Abe's footsteps halt from down the hall.
"Be careful," he advises as she rushes past. She nods, flyaway hair straining to release itself from her brother's clumsy braid. She really does wish Mother was still here; Mother did lovely braids.
Her bare feet skid on the floor. There is no hesitation as she flings open the front door as soon as she reaches it, the burst of heat making her frown, squint. "Hi," she says, though she cannot discern the figure standing outside.
"Hello," he answers, voice lilting oddly. Her eyes begin adjusting to the bright. "I am Gellert Grindelwald. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Madame. You are the lady of the house, yes?"
Ariana peers up. The stranger has hair the color of the sun and eyes the color of her second-favorite crayon. "Hi," she repeats. "Ariana. Name?"
His face, so sharp, turns puzzled. "I have said— Gellert."
"Funny name," she observes, hand swinging the door back and forth slightly on its hinges. She suddenly brightens. "Want Al?" Al knows what to do about strange men with funny names. Al knows everything; he's very smart.
"Per-haps," answers the man, caution in his tone. Ariana watches him look her up and down. Her nightgown flutters in the barely-there breeze, making her smile. She had hated the scratch of it at her ankles, and so had found one of her oft-used hair pins and bunched the fabric until she could clip it all up around her knees. It was a very clever idea. She was very clever, just like Al.
"Get Al," she promises, then leaned back into the house and yelled her eldest brother's name. But it was Abe who came.
"Who's this?" he asked, suspicious. The stranger gave an odd sort of bow.
"Gellert— I am Miss Bathilda's nephew, you see. From Germany."
The familiar name seems to calm Abe a bit. Ariana leans against his shoulder, humming softly. She likes Miss Bathilda. Miss Bathilda lets her drink tea from a grown-up teacup and use doilies at the table. Miss Bathilda is a lovely lady.
Al is there suddenly, bearing down on all of them with his height and his glasses and the sheer power his presence exudes. People always listen to Al. The doorway is getting very crowded. Ariana slips away from the three men, wandering back down the hallway. Her colors are still fanned out across the sitting room floor, splashes of them decorating the long sheet of paper Abe had given her to draw on. She sits back down, cross-legged, and began to add the new visitor to her collage of people, known and imagined.
Things are peaceful until Al and the Gellert-man walk through the archway, Abe trailing behind with a glare in place. "—and don't worry about her, she's a little… out of it," Al is saying, waving a dismissive hand. Ariana watches them curiously.
"Apple?" she says.
"What? You hungry, Ari?" Abe asks, immediately. Even Al spares her a glance. She shakes her head, loose hair swinging over her ears, her cheeks.
"Uh-uh. Apple. Have an apple?" she demands of the Gellert-man. Al rolls his eyes.
"Of course he doesn't, Ari. Go back to coloring."
The disappointment that floods her is a shock to her system. "No apple?"
Abe winces at her pitiful voice. "I'll get you one, all right Ari?" he promises, and makes good on it several long minutes after Al and the Gellert-man have gone to Al's bedroom and shut the door tight. She eats it; it is a good snack.
But she has a feeling, deep in her stomach, that something should be different.
a/n: I wrote this to satisfy personal questions about what would have happened had Ariana retained her sanity. Obviously, Albus would have left the summer that Gellert arrived, and they probably would never have met. Perhaps because Ariana never died, Albus never looked for a profession involving children. If he never became Headmaster, James probably wouldn't have been made Head Boy in 7th year (the honor going to Remus, 5th year Prefect)— and that's the year he and Lily got to know each other and fell in love. Maybe Harry would have never been born.
As you can see, I have way too much fun with this. ;) I'd love to hear any and all thoughts!