Albus said the same thing every day: Aberforth is, as always, unrelenting.
And Gellert would answer: well, you've got five weeks. Four weeks.
On the first of August, he said, "Gott in Himmel! It's the first of August. Three weeks. We're leaving in three weeks." It was nearly nightfall, and they were in Albus' room (Gellert hated the dust and the peeling wallpaper and the lingering smell of smoke, but it was the only place where they could be alone and had a door that locked), sprawled side-by-side on the floor, hands together, Albus enchanting little scraps of parchment to fly around like birds, for no reason besides the fact that he was bored. They had spent all day hunched over the draft of their political programme, but as of yet they had met with little success. Gellert would add some word or phrase, and Albus would cross it out, and vice-versa; they stumbled over each other and themselves, unable to properly put in writing what they wanted to say.
"Yes, I think we should," said Albus, watching one of his paper-birds dive and swoop in the dusty air. "Do you have a family, Gellert, or did you just spring into being fully-grown?"
"What makes you say that?" said Gellert.
"Well, won't they wondering about you if you run off to search for the Elder Wand? I remember you mentioned your mother passed away some time ago, but – "
"No," said Gellert. "My father's a Muggle-loving bastard, and he wants nothing to do with our world. He married one. Now he mends their clothes."
"But surely he still cares for you."
"I think he does. He wrote me a letter a couple of weeks ago asking where I was. I don't care for him, though, so it doesn't matter."
"Callous," said Albus.
"I haven't any use for him; he only gets in my way." Gellert turned his head and kissed him where his ear met the curve of his jaw. "Like your brother."
"At least your father can support himself."
"True." He raised himself up on one elbow, leaned over Albus, and kissed him; the paper-bird fell to the floor. "How are we going to deal with dissenters? We haven't talked much about that."
"I don't know," said Albus. It was hard to talk like this; they were so close their noses were almost touching.
"There aren't any spells to eliminate large numbers of people at once, are there?" Gellert asked.
"Why on earth are you wondering about that now?" said Albus. "The only killing curse I know is Avada Kedavra. I imagine most of those against our regime would be Muggles, though. They attempt to overthrow us with conventional weaponry; I see no need for us to retaliate with magic. In fact, I see no reason to use violence against them at all. Perhaps we could find some way to re-educate them."
"That never works. We need to eradicate them fully. 'Never do any enemy a small injury, for they are like a snake which is half beaten, and it will strike back the first chance it gets.' "
Albus sat up, pushing Gellert off his chest. "Machiavelli," he said. "I will never cease to be amazed by the amount of Muggle philosophy you read. Don't you remember what I said in that letter I wrote? We should use no more force than is absolutely necessary. We aren't murderers, Gellert, and this isn't the French Revolution; there's no need and no justification to haul out the guillotine."
"We won't use any unnecessary force. This is a war, a revolution: some people must die."
"If you say so. Your intensity is admirable, but I must admit that I find it a little frightening at times."
"Look at this," Gellert said, leaning back against Albus' bed and running a hand through his mass of tangled blond curls: "We've already begun to have serious disagreements about policy."
Albus chuckled. "Such is the curse of all revolutionary movements. I know how you feel, Gellert, I really do; I wish those boys who did what they did to my sister were in Azkaban and not my father, but I would never want to see them murdered. Even they don't deserve that."
"I suppose that's true," said Gellert.
"We must never stop debating. I like it." Albus took off his pince-nez, set them aside, and leaned in to kiss Gellert, who put his arms around his waist; the two slid to the floor, pulling the quilt on Albus' bed down with them. Albus' hands had somehow become tangled in Gellert's hair; though thin, he seemed heavy, and Gellert could hardly breathe for the weight of his body –
"Albus – oh, hell," said Aberforth. Gellert wondered where he came from, how he managed to be standing there in the doorway, above the two of them, looking decidedly confused. Albus rolled off of Gellert, fumbled for his pince-nez, put them on with one hand, and smoothed his hair with the other, as if that might somehow convince Aberforth that he had stumbled upon nothing. "Oh, Merlin's scrawny arse – I-I'm sorry," Aberforth stammered.
"It isn't what you think!" said Gellert.
"No," said Albus. "It's exactly what you think."
"Well, it certainly explains a lot," Aberforth said. His face had gone from milk-white to faintly pink in a second. "Gellert, get out."
Gellert stood: "You have no right to tell me what to do."
"Well, I really can't bring myself to give a shit," said Aberforth tersely. He turned suddenly; Ariana, in a blue pinafore, her hair in disarray, had appeared behind him and tugged on his sleeve.
"Ari," he said. "Go back to your room."
"You're arguing," she said.
"Oh, Ariana, it's nothing," said Albus, rising from the floor and pushing past his brother to pat her on the shoulder. "No need to worry. Listen – " he turned to Aberforth and, speaking quietly, continued: "I don't want to upset her."
"As if you even care," he hissed, but his brother had already begun to speak again:
"Gellert, we ought to leave."
"You wouldn't dare – " Aberforth began.
"It won't be for long," Albus said calmly.
"Not this time," added Gellert.
"Gellert -" Albus said sharply. He turned looked towards his brother: "It's late. I'm taking Gellert home."
"Fine," said Aberforth, scowling. "Really. Go. Get out. I don't care." He turned on his heel and stomped off into some other room, slamming the door behind him. Gellert almost wanted to laugh; it was one of the most ridiculous and non-threatening things he had ever seen. Albus grabbed Gellert's hand and marched him briskly down the stairs and outside into the warm and darkening evening.
"How can you stand him?" asked Gellert.
"He can be a bit trying, can't he?" said Albus, smiling. He looked exhausted; Gellert hadn't realized it earlier, but he could see the greyish smudges beneath his eyes, and how pale he had become. "Come on. Bagshot's probably wondering where you are." Albus laced his arm through Gellert's and they began the walk back to Bathilda's cottage. Gellert wondered how it looked, two boys arm-in-arm, but it didn't seem to trouble Albus and it was nearly dark, anyway. "You know," said Albus, after a moment. "Perhaps we don't need to find a place for Ariana to stay."
"What do you mean?" Gellert asked.
"We could bring her with us to Lvov. It may be a bit much to ask of you, but she'll be safer and happier with us than with Bagshot or in Saint Mungo's."
Gellert chewed his lip, thinking. "I don't know," he said after a moment. "That is an awful lot to ask."
"I know," said Albus. "But I'm afraid it's the only way I'll ever be able to leave this place. Aberforth should be pleased; he wants me to look after Ariana, but he never specified that I look after her here. Then again, I'm not entirely sure that Aberforth will agree to anything after tonight."
"I thought you said most wizards wouldn't have a problem with us."
"I don't think Aberforth has a problem with the concept in general, but I believe he thinks that I'm abandoning Ariana in favour of you. I don't know; I'll talk with him. He may be stubborn, but I'm sure he'll respond to logic."
"We could leave tonight, while he's asleep," said Gellert.
"Oh, he'll find us and he'll be furious, I can assure you. I think you underestimate my brother; he may get poor marks in school, but he's a fairly capable wizard. Look at the family he comes from. It would be better to try and reason with him. If he refuses after tonight, we'll leave regardless of what he says or does. I'll send you an owl and let you know."
"I don't see why not. Go home."
"This is incredible," said Gellert, his eyes wide and gleeful. "It's really happening, isn't it? I think I shall die of anticipation. Go home now, and write me as soon as you can."
Bathilda was neither downstairs nor in the spare bedroom, so Gellert assumed that she was in her own bedroom, despite the fact that it was still relatively early. She had left a meat pie with a slice cut from it on the kitchen table with a note that said to help himself. Gellert cut a large piece from it and ate it as he packed, sprawled across his bed and levitating his books and clothes and things into his trunk. He was bursting with excess energy and anticipation, and when he had finished packing, he paced back and forth across the narrow room, his eyes on the window, watching for the black speck of Albus' owl in the sky. It was a useless endeavour – it would be too dark to see the old owl until it was on his windowsill, but he couldn't help himself from watching anyway.
After a while, he grew sick of pacing back and forth and flopped back down on his bed. He tried to read, but he found himself unable to concentrate. No matter what he did, his mind would wander back to Albus. Why hadn't he written yet? The energy subsided a little, replaced by a mild irritation, and beneath that, sleepiness. He could not sleep, either: he would not let himself. He took his quill and a piece of parchment and wrote: what does Aberforth say?, but he didn't send it, knowing Albus was probably caught up in an argument and couldn't write him. Still, the act of writing made him feel as if he were doing something useful. Finally, he could stand it no longer and Apparated to Albus' parlour, trunk in hand.
There was no one there. "Albus?" he called.
"What the bloody hell do you want?" Aberforth, his sleeves rolled up to his skinny elbows, strode into the parlour from the kitchen. He was flushed with anger.
"There's no need to be sharp with me," said Gellert coolly.
"Gellert," said Albus, pushing past his brother. "Go home. You shouldn't be here." There was a chilly firmness in his voice that Gellert had never heard before.
"I take it he said no," said Gellert.
"I'm standing right here, you know," snapped Aberforth. "And you have no say in this, Gellert. I hate to admit it, but my brother's right: get the hell out."
"Shut up," hissed Gellert. "Albus, you said we would leave tonight, regardless what he said."
"He isn't leaving," said Aberforth. "Why is it that I have to be the responsible one here? I'm younger than you both!"
"This is the responsible option," protested Albus. "Ariana will be safer with us than with anyone else."
"If you stayed here, she would be," said Aberforth. "What if you two get arrested for trying to start some stupid revolution? What if Ariana gets sick or has another fit? What if a Muggle sees her?"
"Aberforth, we're doing this for her," said Albus. "We're going to avenge her. Avenge Mother and Father."
"No, you aren't," said Aberforth. "Maybe you believe all of the lies this – this –" he gestured angrily towards Gellert, apparently unable to find a suitable insult - "Maybe you believe whatever he's telling you. I don't know. But don't pretend you're doing this for the 'greater good' or whatever you call it. You're doing this because you want people to get down at your feet and worship you. You don't give a shit about Ariana or Mum or Dad or me."
"Aberforth, that's a lie and you know it," said Albus. His face was pale and drawn.
"Your brother is the most selfless person I've ever met," said Gellert to Aberforth. "He is willing to give up everything in order to emancipate all of Wizardkind. You are an ignorant, petty, small-minded boy who can't – who refuses – to see two inches past the end of his nose. It isn't all about you and what you want. We must all make sacrifices to ensure a better future for Ariana and the countless girls like her, for your father and others who refused to bow down to an unjust and unfairly restrictive government – "
"Don't you dare make my father a martyr for your cause!" cried Aberforth, whipping out his wand.
"Aberforth – " Albus reached a hand out towards his brother, but his protest was lost beneath his brother's shouted stunning spell.
Gellert fell to his knees, dodging the red bolt of light and pulling his own wand from his waistcoat.
"No, Gellert," said Albus; Gellert looked up and saw that Albus' own wand was drawn and trained on his forehead.
"You can't," said Gellert, breathing heavily.
"I don't want to," said Albus.
"I – " Gellert began, but something exploded next to him, showering him with dust and splinters.
"Aberforth, please!" cried Albus, attempting to stun his brother, who dodged his spell as Gellert had.
"You are on his side!" Aberforth shouted, but his cry became a shriek of pain; he collapsed to the floor, his face even redder than before, his eyes clenched shut and his mouth wide open, pink and gaping. "Please – stop it – stop – " he gasped, panting and fumbling for his wand, which had fallen from his hands.
Gellert advanced on him, wand trained on his crumpled body, and lifted a foot to kick Aberforth's wand away, but his own wand flew unexpectedly from his hand and clattered to the floor, feet away from him; he dove to catch it, and red light burst over his head. He snatched his wand up off the floor and flung his arm out, wordlessly casting a stunning spell of his own. The whole room was filled with red light, bright and hot; Gellert realized dimly that they must have all cast a stunning spell at once –
Ariana stood at the top of the stairs, her hand above the railing and one small foot poised above the next step, eyes wide with terror, their blue turned to an impossible violet in the red light. She seemed frozen there, cast in brilliant red; her eyes closed, fear faded from her face as the light faded and returned to its normal colour, and she tumbled forward. Gellert was transfixed, his wand still raised and pointed at where she had been seconds – minutes – ago. Ariana hit the floor with an impossibly loud thud, and it seemed to Gellert that she had Apparated to the bottom of the stairs, she had appeared there so quickly, though he knew that couldn't possibly be true.
"Ariana!" cried Aberforth, or possibly Albus; Gellert wasn't sure. Both of her brothers rushed to her side; Aberforth reached her first and held her head to his chest, calling her name over and over. Her blonde hair was matted with blood, and Albus was murmuring healing spells that did nothing. Aberforth pushed him away, shouting, and Gellert rose shakily to his feet.
"No, no," Albus said, pale as death and blinking back tears. "It's my fault." Aberforth could only cry and cling to his sister, as if holding her body would keep her there with them. Their grief was strange, bizarrely lurid, vulgar and somehow shameless. Gellert's chest was tight and there was a lump in his throat; he knew he had to leave, but something had rendered him immobile.
Albus, his pince-nez askew, looked up at him; Gellert stared back. Both were silent. Albus raised his wand and opened his mouth, but it was too late; Gellert only saw him out of the corner of his eye as he turned and Disapparated.