Disclaimer: I own nothing but the original characters and plot. Hope you enjoy, please review.
Note: Harry's view of what happened is my own. My twist is a result of me hurting for all involved and wanting to change it a little.
So they'd known all along, Albus thought as he concentrated on breathing in and out. A part of him was tempted to look down and see what Domi's reaction to all this was, but Al's head would be in the way regardless. And right now all he could think about was the fact that all this time Harry and the others had known who he was and had let him believe otherwise. They'd done it for him, there wasn't a doubt in his mind. Those who had mattered the most to him in his previous life had understood why he'd wanted to separate himself from his past and had played along for his sake.
He'd often sensed that some of them suspected, but he'd always pushed those thoughts aside, unwilling to deal with that possibility.
Love for those people welling up inside of him Albus felt tears well up in his eyes.
And then Harry's words reached his ears, informing him of the mysterious something his favorite Gryffindor had brought along with him. What else had Harry been keeping with him? What had the man retrieved from the past that was so important?
He knew it wasn't the Elder Wand, Harry had promised to put that back in his tomb so that no one else could get their hands on it. At least not without showing a willingness to desecrate a man's final resting place. It couldn't be the ring either, Harry had left it in the Forbidden Forest. So what else could it be?
Gellert couldn't help it, his eyes focused in on the box, giving it his full attention. What could be inside it? What had he missed when he'd broken into the man's vault? Did the unknown object even belong to him, or was it Albus's? And how valuable was it, if the man had taken extra pains to hide it, separate it from the rest. The only thing he could think of from his side was the Elder Wand, but surely the man wasn't so stupid as to wave that in front of him. Rumor had it that the wand was encased in Dumbledore's tomb and he'd always assumed that to be its most logical resting place. Not that he'd ever looked. He'd never gone near the man's tomb and had no plans to ever change that. But what if it was the wand?
"Any guesses?" Harry asked, curious as to what the man thought was within the box. There was no way the man would guess correctly, but he had always wondered if perhaps Gellert had been searching for something, having liberated so many collections of their artifacts concerning Dumbledore and the blonde's former self.
His eyes lifting to meet Harry's Gellert decided to give the man the benefit of the doubt. It probably wasn't the Elder Wand. "It's something that belonged to Albus." He guessed, since he was in possession of everything else he might desire to acquire from his old life. He'd hidden away and then retrieved his most important treasures years ago.
"Close. Not Albus though."
Eyes narrowing Gellert felt an unwelcome chill roll down his spine as he watched the other man unlock the box, retrieving from it a thick, leather bound journal in a faded indigo blue. Ariana's favorite color.
"It was about four years ago that Finnigan O'Connell sent me a letter asking me to pay him a visit. In the letter he explained that he was dying, and that it was very important that he see me in person before he passed away. Obviously I went, and that's when he revealed to me a secret he'd been keeping for over twenty years." Harry's eyes looked down at the book, a slightly far off look coming into his green eyes as he remembered that day. "He was a safety inspector before he retired, and was hired shortly before the Dumbledore's house was opened as a museum to look the place over. When he was in the basement, checking out the condition of the wooden flooring, he discovered that one of the boards was loose. Deliberately. A curious fellow, he lifted up the board and discovered the box, the journal within."
Staring at the book like it was a snake ready to strike it took considerable control on Gellert's part not to draw his wand and light the damn thing on fire. Unfortunately he might light the man holding the book on fire in the process which Albus would strongly frown upon.
"Why are you telling me about this?" Gellert asked slowly, forcing his gaze up to met Harry's. "Whatever is written in that journal are the ramblings of an unstable girl who was rarely capable of lucid thought and reasoning. Why would that interest me?"
Ignoring the man's question for the moment Harry continued with his story. "The journal documents about two years of Ariana's life, she wasn't one to update with any regularity. And yes, a great deal of it is…illegible and….dark is the nicest way to put it. That, and the last entry in it, is why O'Connell never turned it over to the people in charge of the museum. He'd had Dumbledore as a teacher you see. Even knowing that he could make quite a profit off of selling it he kept quiet because he believed the contents of the diary would reflect badly upon the man who'd been kind to him as a boy. But he couldn't bring himself to destroy it either, this last remaining testament of Ariana's thoughts and life. So he locked it away and kept it from everyone until he learned he was dying. He wanted me to have it because he thought that I would know what Dumbledore would have wanted done with it."
"I still have yet to see how this has anything to do with me." Was Gellert's cool response, the blonde stubbornly refusing to show any reaction to this new twist. There was nothing Ariana could have written that mattered at this point. She hadn't disliked him the way Aberforth had, it was doubtful the journal was full of disparaging remarks against him. And Potter had said something about the contents reflecting badly on Albus, but what did that have to do with him?
"The last entry was made just before she died. The contents are…illuminating. I've spent the years since I read this journal debating whether I should show Albus the last entry." Harry held the book out towards Gellert like a hunter throwing out bait. "I was hoping you'd read it and give me your opinion as someone who knows him in ways I never did."
This was a trap of some sort, Gellert could feel it in his bones. And you didn't live over a hundred years without knowing when you were being played. But he couldn't see where the man was going with this. Just what the hell had Ariana written before she died? How else was she going to screw things up for him?
Harry waited patiently. He was in no rush. There was a good chance he was about to hear the answers to questions he'd never wanted to have answered. Or at least not most of the time. As an Auror he had a well defined sense of curiosity, and he'd spent plenty a night trying to figure things out for himself.
He was smart enough to know he had engrained biases, but Harry thought he knew what had happened the night Ariana had died. To his way of thinking it made no sense for Gellert to have been the one to deliver the killing blow. The boy had already proven to be very skilled at covering his tracks by that point, and if Grindelwald had been the one who'd killed the girl the blonde would have covered his tracks by altering the Dumbledores' memories and done away with the body. The blonde had also been smart enough to know that Dumbledore would never forgive him for killing either of the man's siblings, and Gellert had wanted the eldest Dumbledore on his side. Blaming the man because of who he'd go on to be had always struck Harry as wistful thinking.
It had made no sense for Dumbledore to be the one either, because even if the man had lost control and forgotten himself, the man had loved every person in that room that night. His former headmaster's intent wouldn't have been to harm any of them. That would have been the last thing on Dumbledore's mind in that time and place. The man's only thought would have been to end things with no one getting hurt.
And to have ended Ariana's life inadvertedly, without deliberately using a kill spell…there had to be a lot of negative emotion involved to have mutated someone's spell into becoming deadly.
Which left Aberforth. The man who had hated his brother's lover and had at that point nothing but hurt and angry feelings towards Albus. Aberforth, young, immature, volatile, upset and hurting, lacking in the self control the other two men had had in spades even then despite their ages.
Maybe he didn't want it to be Dumbledore because the man had been family to him, Harry thought as he watched Gellert closely. And maybe he didn't want it to be the man in front of him because he wanted Albus to get his happily ever after this time around. Wanted the man to have a second chance with the man Harry desperately hoped loved the man as much as Albus had apparently always loved his German bad boy.
At the end of every musing he kept coming back to Aberforth…but he might be wrong. He might be about to learn he'd been wrong.
Because while he knew that the Dumbledore men had never known the answer…he didn't know what the man before him knew.
And in the end, none were truly to blame. It had been an accident, he'd always believed so.
Gellert didn't want to take the book, didn't want to read the last written thoughts of Ariana Dumbledore…but he hated the idea of appearing weak or afraid in front of the other man more. And this man who dared to call himself Albus's man might show the journal to Albus, which might hurt the man because Potter was right. No one knew Albus better than him. So he finally reached out and took the leather bound journal from the other man and started flipping through to find the last entry. Many of the pages were covered in illegible scrawl, or words that took up half the page, written so hard the quill had ripped through the page. Then he reached the last, and there could be no more stalling as he read aloud the last words his man's sister had written before her death.
This will be my last entry. I can't bear it any longer. I'm killing my brothers slowly, destroying their lives the way I destroyed Mother's. Albus and Gellert are arguing about me, they can't do their great works to punish and control the Muggles with me around to slow them down. Aberforth says he won't go back to school, but wants to stay with me instead. He and Albus say such terrible things to each other when they talk about the future. I'm the stones around all their necks, pulling them under the water, drowning them.
When they argue I can feel my magic start to go crazy, the way it did when I killed Mother. I'll kill them all if they don't stay away from me. But they won't. They love me. So I have to help them and free them from me.
I've stolen some Strictriccin powder from Albus's room. Albus told me it's very poisonous when in liquid form. He made me swear on Mother's soul not to touch it…but Mother would understand because it's for Albus and Aberforth.
So I'm going to
And that was it. She must have been writing it when she heard them arguing upstairs and had come up to try and referee, Gellert thought as he closed the journal. So she'd been planning to kill herself with liquid Strictriccin, the blonde mused, shaking his head, even as a strange sort of pain blossomed inside him as he processed the information. Of all the things she could have used-
All the color draining out of the blonde's face Gellert stumbled backward, his legs giving away as he fell to his knees on the floor, his lungs struggling to get in air as the enormity of his realization hit him with the force of a tornado.
Hurry over Harry knelt in front of the boy, placing his hands on the blonde's shoulders as he instinctively tried to offer some comfort. Up until now the boy's face had been a mask perfectly suited to a man who'd killed, changed history, and known suffering few did or could survive with a conscience. But the face Gellert wore now was a boy's. A child's. One in an overwhelming amount of pain. "Gellert? Gellert? What's wrong? What did you realize?"
"He wasn't lying." Gellert whispered, not even really seeing Harry as he spoke the agonizing revelation. "He wasn't lying to me. All this time…but he wasn't. Strictriccin…purplish lips, glazed eyes…body binding curse."
"Gellert, I don't understand."
"I thought I knew. I thought I knew…each of the final blows. Aberforth missed me…terrible aim. Albus…Albus's spell hit my wand arm, to disarm. Just disarm me." Gellert said slowly, needing to get the words out now. "My spell…body binding curse…at Ariana. Take her out of the equation. Just take her out because arguments set her off and with her out of the way I could deal with Aberforth. Someone had to, annoying little bastard. Lashing out at Albus all the time because he could never hope to be a fraction of the man Albus was even then. Albus too soft on him…teach the git a lesson. Show him his place. The two lowered their wands, go to Ariana…I opened my mouth to tell them she was fine but Albus…the sound he made…the terrible sound. I went over and I could see in her eyes. See that she was dead. Not me, and the physical markings of the curse…didn't recognize. Aberforth useless, could barely read, teachers passed him for Albus's sake…so how could it have been him? And the guilt…the terrible guilt in Albus's eyes." And now tears welled up in Gellert's brown eyes, the blonde not even aware of them as they silently began to fall down the boy's cheeks. "So it had to be Albus. Albus had to have done it. Had sent a killing curse in my direction and she got in the way. He'd tried to kill me. I couldn't kill him, could never kill him. Couldn't kill Aberforth or Ariana because he would never forgive me and he was everything to me and…I…so he was lying when he said he loved me. It was all a lie. But…but Strictriccin poisoning…purple lips…glazed eyes…my curse."
"Oh God." Harry breathed as he realized what Gellert had just realized. "She'd already taken the poison. That was what killed her. Your curse would have prevented her body from spasming, and that, plus the eyes and lips…are the three visible indicators of Strictriccin poisoning."
Covering his face with his hands Gellert's whole body shook as he hunched his shoulders in incredible grief as he realized the truth of what had really happened that night.
Head coming up instinctively Harry's horror filled eyes widening as he watched Albus walk into the room with Al and Domi flanking him, his niece clutching one of Albus's arms with one hand, the other over her mouth as she silently wept. Al had a bracing arm on Albus's other arm, and Harry could see tears shimmering in the eyes he'd passed on to his younger son. He didn't hear when Albus said to the two, but they let him go and Albus approached him alone while Al and Domi watched.
Instinctively picking up the journal Gellert had dropped Harry got to his feet and stared into Albus's blue eyes, tears streaming down the redhead's cheeks without shame or real notice. Moving to meet the man halfway Harry didn't know what to say.
"Harry, I would ask you to do me a favor."
"Burn that book." A small, sad smile curved Albus's lips. "A big brother should never know the contents of his little sister's diary. And she deserves better than to be remembered…by the contents of it." He'd heard enough already. He would mourn the knowledge later. In the end they'd all been equally to blame…and none to blame.
He could live with that.
Albus's smile was more genuine when Harry nodded his agreement to destroy the journal. "Thank you. You remain a better man then I can ever hope to be. Domi and Al could use some hugs now. And I need to speak to Gellert."
Understanding perfectly Harry nodded and then walked around the man who'd so impacted every aspect of his life. Collecting Al and Domi Harry ushered them out of the room, closing the door behind him so that Albus and Gellert had the room to themselves.
Walking over Albus knelt down in front of Gellert and wrapped his arms around the man's heaving shoulders, closing his eyes as he laid his cheek against the man's curls. He didn't speak for several long moments, and then spoke very softly.
"I loved you then. I loved you even when I wanted to hate you. And after I died I couldn't call the existence I entered heaven because you weren't there. I cannot be truly happy without you. I have loved you for over a century and my soul is so entwined with yours that separating them would be impossible task, which is how we ended up here together again. We both made mistakes….but loving each other was the one thing we got right. I want to live the rest of this life and the eternity after it with you. I love you. I love you to a degree that can never be put into words."
Slowly Gellert raised his head, his pale cheeks stained with tears, his eyes vulnerable and unguarded for once. "I…I want that too."
Framing the other man's face with his hands Albus leaned forward and pressed his lips against the man for a slow loving kiss.
And when the kiss ended Gellert found the strength to say the words he'd sworn he'd never admit to feeling again. Had pretended not to feel for so long that he'd almost made himself believe it. But he'd always known the truth in the back of his mind and it was okay now. It was okay because it was Albus and the man loved him. Had always loved him. Just as he'd promised a lifetime ago.
"I love you too."
"And we'll make this work."
"We'll make it work." Gellert agreed as he pressed his lips up against Albus's again.
And they would this time around.
The End…Of This Part
Go to 'Always You' for the first chapter of the continuation of this story as promised.