You remember the boys, always remember them, see their faces in the dark, ugly and twisted and they hurt you. They hurt you so much and you want it to stop. You want it to stop so you scream and scream and scream and you hurt them, too.
Only they aren’t really there, they’re long gone, Aberforth tells you, rocking you in his arms, both of you sprawled on the floor where you fell, hands pressed to your ears, eyes screwed shut.
You fell and you screamed and you hurt and then you hurt the boys too, but there were no boys.
There are never any boys.
Albus looks at you sometimes with his eyes cold and blue, and you think he hates you. You think he’ll hurt you like the boys did.
Aberforth says he won’t, says Albus loves you but he doesn’t see how Albus looks and you’re not stupid. You don’t work right anymore and sometimes you scream and rock and make people hurt without meaning to, but you’re not stupid. You know Daddy went away because of you and that Mama made the family move because of you. You know that Aberforth spends all his time locked inside the house because of you, because he loves you.
You try to make it right, try to make sure they don’t have to worry. You try to make Albus look at you with something other than the cold indifference he shows you when no-one’s looking.
You try and you fail and you get so angry, so angry that you scare yourself and then… Mama doesn’t move anymore and you know that this is your fault, too.
Gellert is nice to you. He brings you sweets sometimes and he smiles at you like he means it and when Albus wants to send you to your room where you can’t hurt anyone, Gellert says to let you stay.
Albus doesn’t like that, but Albus doesn’t like anything about you, least of all how you can’t forget the boys and what they did and how they hurt you.
You always fail.
But Gellert is nice to you. He talks to you softly and once, when someone screams outside and you remember the boys, remember what they did, how it hurt, you curls up and rock and all the china in the cupboards explodes and shards fly everywhere. You feel them cutting into your skin, hurting you, making you bleed and Albus is yelling for you to stop and you wish Aberforth were here because he makes the boys go away, makes the fear and the screaming stop.
The screaming is always you, but you can’t stop it anyway.
And then Gellert is there, on his knees in front of you and he presses his big hands against your smaller ones, which are pressed against your ears. He presses, slow and steady and real and the screaming stops and then the pinprick pain of flying debris stops, too, and you open your eyes.
Gellert looks at you, blood dripping from his brow. “Such power,” he says.
He spends a lot of time with you after that and Albus looks at you again, cold and blue, and you wait for Gellert to lose interest but he never does.
So you say, “I’m broken, you know? Can’t be fixed.”
He brushes your hair out of your face and smiles at you like he means it, really means it and you think he could make the boys go away for good, maybe.
“I know,” he tells you and kisses the top of your head.
One day, in the middle of summer, he kisses you on the lips like no-one’s ever done before and you feel dizzy in a good way. A way that makes your heart beat fast but not want to explode out of your chest.
He tells you, then, what he is going to do, of his great plans for the wizarding world. “I will make it so your suffering was not in vain, Ariana,” he says and you frown, wondering how anyone could profit from you and your screaming and crying and the boys, the boys.
You draw a sharp breath, hands itching to fly to your ears, to shut out the noise. Gellert sees, catches your hands in his, hums quietly into your hair until you can breathe again.
“Gentle,” he tells you, “gentle now.” And then, “I will show the world what happened to you. I will make them see why we have to be separate, why we have to protect ourselves. Your suffering will be the example and we will change the world. For the Greater Good.”
There is nothing great about what you are, a scared and broken girl, and nothing good, but what do you know of the world? You haven’t left the house since you were six years old.
So you nod obediently and echo, “The Greater Good.”
You think that maybe, if it all means something in the end, you can live with it. For the Greater Good.
There’s screaming and curses and yelling and Aberforth is angry because Albus isn’t taking care of you because of Gellert but Gellert is taking care of you and that makes Albus angry and everyone’s screaming, screaming, screaming and you can feel the boys coming, behind you, catching up, so close, and you scream, too, because can’t they see, the Greater Good.
But this time it’s a scream of anger, of rage, not of fear. You’re not six anymore and you scream and fling yourself between them to stop them, stop them all and then –
- You wake to white ceilings and white walls and a woman who looks a bit like Mama, cradling you close to her chest, holding you and you think that you’re suddenly very, very small and that’s not right.
You wonder where Gellert and Aberforth and Albus are and what happened. You wonder if they stopped screaming and then the woman says, “My sweet baby girl, you’re finally here. My baby, my Buffy.”
You grow up without fear this time and there are no boys that bash in your skull to make you do another magic trick.
You have words this time and explanations for what happened. You were hurt badly and your magic spun out of control and your trauma blocked you off from ever regaining that control.
The boys become my trauma and eventually, that, too, stops mattering because you died and were reborn and you think you left most of what you were behind, your memories and quirks, your damaged, broken self.
You miss your brothers and you miss Gellert but once you are old enough to read the calendar you know that looking for them is futile.
You grow up pretty and loved, like you might have been, before, and when you’re twelve you find a magical library and smile when you find that Albus is famous because you always knew he would do great things and you do not begrudge him that.
You frown when there is no trace of your other, your favorite brother, and you hope, hope fervently, that it wasn’t you that made him disappear from life so thoroughly.
This is not the Greater Good he spoke to you about, the wonderful world he was going to build you, so you would never have to suffer again. This is not the Gellert you knew, the man who dreamed so big, so beautifully and made you feel special, the center of your tiny, restricted world.
You weep that night, silently, face pressed into your pillow, you weep for what became of him and what he did because you can’t reconcile it with the boy you knew, powerful but good, caring and always, always gentle with you, gentler than your own brother.
Later, when you have the heart to read on, you find Albus’s words, speeches he made, talk about that familiar phrase. The Greater Good.
You try to take comfort in the knowledge that at least the idea lives on, Gellert’s beloved Utopia, but it tastes like ashes in your mouth because between the lines you read the truth.
Something went horribly, horribly wrong after you died.
And so many decades later, it is still not fixed.
At first, when Merrick walks up to you and tells you that you are the slayer, that you have power now, and strength, you think that this is the universe’s way of repaying you for a life of weakness.
Then everything starts going so, so wrong and you know that Buffy is not the universe’s way of making up for Ariana. Instead, Ariana was the universe’s way of preparing you for Buffy because it hurts, it hurts so badly.
Some days, the only thing holding you together is the memory of boys hurting, screaming, beating, beating, beating and the knowledge that nothing can ever be worse than that day or the ten years that followed, the helplessness, the pain and fear.
Somehow, you survive because you’ve seen the worst the world has to offer and you survived it once already. In a manner of speaking.
Then you turn seventeen and that is older than you have ever been, and Angel dies by your hand.
If Gellert loved you a quarter as much as you loved Angel - and him – then you understand what might have turned a bright boy into a dark wraith. You understand how he could set the world on fire and watch it burn because there is a burning in the pit of your stomach, a raging wildfire of hate against the world that took Angel from you and if Gellert felt a quarter of that, only a quarter…
You never finish that thought.
It’s better that way.
You are twenty-five when an old friend of Giles’s calls and asks for help. Help to kill a man named Voldemort, a Dark Lord, as bad, if not worse, than Grindelwald.
You flinch at the name, flinch and agree to go and help before Giles finishes explaining about the magical world. You need no explanation.
You step through Hogwarts’ front doors and your heart soars and sings and you finally understand why Albus loves this place so very much.
Loved, because they tell you that he is dead, fallen off the highest tower, his body in pieces. The entire castle mourns him, mourns a wise and powerful man and you feel strange, because all you ever knew of him was the boy, bright and eager, with his cold eyes, reserved for you only.
You wonder if he looked at Gellert that way, in the end, disappointed, angry, full of sorrow. You wonder if killing his best friend hurt him. But his grave, white marble, pretentious and stunning, like he was, does not answer.
You find Aberforth in his bar, hiding from the world, old and bent, full of memory and pain and you don’t need to speak to him to know it was you that made him run, made him give up all his dreams.
He looks at you with wide eyes, like you are a ghost come back to haunt him, and he flees before you can open your mouth.
You do not bother him again.
What could you say, a hundred years later?
You are twenty-six when Harry Potter wins his war and have been dead for exactly one hundred and three years. A single lifetime, for a wizard. Forever, for a girl that keeps dying at sixteen.
You ask to be taken to Nurmengard, and the headmistress grants your wish, despite her obvious confusion.
“You know that it’s empty,” Hermione tells you as you are about to leave.
You shake your head. “Not completely,” you return.
There is no grave for Gellert Grindelwald, the great terror, the murderer, the monster. They cast his body down the mountain to shatter and break, to be eaten and destroyed.
Such hatred still, after all these years.
The prison, carved from rock, built into it, is empty since his death. The guards left when there was no-one left to guard. In the highest tower you find a single room, heavy with cobwebs. A bird built its next onto a half rotted bed in the corner and loose book pages fly everywhere.
You try to see Gellert in this pitiful, this disgusting room, but he’s not here. You guess that the boy you loved never set foot in this place. He died long before it was built.
Hermione, who brought you here out of curiosity, mostly, stands in the rough doorway, watching as you walk the room, touching walls and torn books on your way.
There are words carved into one of the walls.
For the Greater Good.
You sit on a chair that looks like it’s about to crumble away and rub a tired hand over your face. Did he ever love you? Or did he love what he could use you for?
The Greater Good.
You believed in it, then, but never in this life. Not really. You fight for those you love, for what is right. The world can go to hell for all you care and you laugh at that thought because oh, what would Gellert think? What would Albus think, to hear you cursing, to hear you having an opinion on anything.
You are strong, in this life.
You wonder if Gellert could have loved you like this, unbroken and sure of yourself despite all obstacles.
You don’t think so.
But then, what does it matter? Everything you knew is dead, your love, your brothers. One might still be walking, but he jumps at shadows and sleeps with ghosts.
That life, what little you had of it, is dead and in the end, you all write your own stories.
Gellert chose this, the ugly and cold and hard. He could have had anything, done anything, but he chose to build a prison into a mountain and it seems fitting that it became his own place of punishment for all the people he killed.
Albus and Gellert. Best friends. The most powerful of their generation.
Between them, they tore a continent to shreds and you think, sitting here, that you were the first casualty of their war.
You stand abruptly, walking to the windowless hole in the wall that the guards threw his body out of. You look down, the icy wind biting your eyes, making you cry. You look down, searching the rocks below for a body, a few bones, anything. Any trace of the man you knew.
You find nothing.