Author's Note: Did you ever wonder how Albus Dumbledore became the man who so strongly believes in love after he was so terribly let down by Gellert Grindelwald? Well, hundred years are a long time to learn... I'm exploring this idea here. It's a mixture of flashbacks and moments from the books/events that are mentioned in the book. I hope the timeline isn't too confusing but if you've read the HP books more than once, you should be able to recognise all the quotes and references ;-)
My first Albus/Gellert story... Lately, I find myself oddly intrigued by that pairing. So here's one of my specialities: a too long one-shot. I hope you enjoy! Reviews and criticism are very welcome, of course.
Disclaimers: I do not own Harry Potter, I do not intend to make money with this story etc. This story was influenced by dozens of movies I watched, books I read, other fanfics... I'd like to mention one fanfiction in particular that inspired me to write this (and that really gave me the idea for the last part): Chocolate Frog Card from snowleaf. If you haven't read it yet, go take a look, it's really good.
Believe in Love
"I hate you!" he screamed, writhing on the ground in pain. "You're a weakling, Albus – too weak to dare, too weak to take what might have been yours, what might have been ours!" It was heartbreaking to see the once so great, so powerful, so handsome, so buoyant wizard reduced to this squirming mess.
Dumbledore could not take the sight anymore. He knelt down to pick up the wand – the wand. His posture was like a bow. (A bow to whom? A bow to what? he wondered.) He tried to forget all the times they had sat together, feverishly flipping through books, hearts beating more quickly whenever they found a mention of the Elder Wand. He tried to forget all the times they had practised duelling together. He had been so happy to have finally found someone who was equal to him. He tried to forget how they had bowed respectfully to each other after the training duels. And then Albus would have offered Gellert his sweaty hand to pull him on his feet again. Or Gellert would have helped Albus stand up. They always seemed to win in turns. It had been Albus's turn to win today as Gellert had beaten him in their last duel.
But Dumbledore could not seize Grindelwald's hand today. He could not simply patch up the other's injuries caused by the nasty hexes they had exchanged. There wouldn't follow a lively discussion what kind of tactic he had used to win this time – to beat the unbeatable wand.
"I hate you!" Grindelwald screamed again, his voice hoarse with pain and hatred.
Dumbledore, who wanted to leave the scene as quickly as possible (and at the same time couldn't take his eyes away from it), threw one last glance over his shoulder to see Nurmengard officials leading Grindelwald away. He was too weak from his many battle wounds to fight against it. One last time, their eyes locked. There wasn't a merry twinkle in Gellert's eyes anymore. They were flaring wildly now, deranged.
"I loved you," Albus said softly. His fingers curled around the Elder Wand, which had been their project, their dream. Now it would serve him as a reminder to never make the same mistake again. Love was only for fools. It had been love that had made him weak.
When he walked away, it was not as a winner. His eyes were downcast and every step cost him great strength. He felt older than ever before in his life. How many more years, he wondered, how many more years will I have to live with this responsibility – and with the knowledge of my mistakes?
There is a room in the Department of Mysteries that is kept locked at all times. It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than the forces of nature. It is also, perhaps, the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that reside there.
"I can't come with you," Albus said, downcast.
"What?" Gellert jumped up from his place under the willow. The book that he had just studied fell from his lap and landed in the dirt. "What do you mean, you can't come with me?" he asked sharply.
Albus felt a painful sting in his chest. He hated to disappoint Gellert. "I really wish I could, Gellert," he said softly.
"It's because of your sister, isn't it?" Gellert said darkly without looking at Albus.
"Aberforth will go to school again next month. I can't let her alone." Albus summoned up the book, smoothed its crinkled pages and handed it over to Gellert. The other boy's hands firmly closed around Albus's, which were still holding the book. They locked eyes and Gellert sounded unusually serious when he spoke.
"We have to do this, the two of us. No one else can do it, you know that. We're so close to finding them."
Albus lowered his gaze to their hands. "There are other great wizards who could accompany you." It hurt to say the words when all he wanted was to go on this trip with Gellert to search for the Deathly Hallows. It was painful to give it up now after dreaming and planning for weeks.
Albus had always thought there was something magical about Gellert's eyes. As if their gaze was magnetic. There was such a fierce quality to it when Gellert spoke the next words that Albus simply could not look away.
"But I want to do it with you." His grip on Albus's hands tightened even more.
Albus smiled shakily. Gellert made his decision all the more difficult. As if it had not been hard enough to dismiss the entrancing images: Gellert Grindelwald and Albus Dumbledore – Invincible masters of death.
"I have responsibilities," he said regretfully.
"Yes, of course you have!" Gellert replied vehemently. "With great talent comes great responsibility! Albus, you cannot throw your talent away! You have not only responsibility for one person but for all wizardkind!"
"I know, I know." Albus sighed. "We have to be rational and can't just always follow our personal needs. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices, right?" he asked his friend, begging him to agree with him to make his bad conscience go away.
"I know you love her," Gellert said surprisingly gently. "And in the end, it'll also help her. She won't have to hide anymore. Things like those Muggles did to her will never happen again to any young witch."
Albus smiled in relief. Yes, Gellert was right. They were doing this for Ariana, they were doing it for the greater good.
There was a knock at his office door. Armando Dippet, former headmaster, winked at him and wished him good luck for his first meeting in his new office. Then he closed his eyes again and pretended to be sleeping in his portrait.
"Yes, come in," Dumbledore called.
A man and a woman entered, both with a strained smile.
"Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Lupin." Dumbledore smiled back at them and they all shook hands. "Sit down, please." Once they had done so, he said, "Now, what was it you wanted to talk about to me?"
The couple exchanged a nervous glance. Mr. Lupin put down his glasses, and said, while twirling them in his fingers, "It's about our son. He's turned eleven this year…" He trailed off helplessly.
"Thanks," Mr. Lupin croaked and extended a shaking hand to take the sweet. Mrs. Lupin simply shook her head and nervously clutched her handbag.
"He's a wizard, we're sure of it," she said. "He's very talented, a good boy. He'd like to come here."
"I'd be pleased to meet him," Dumbledore said politely, waiting for them to finally address the problem.
"The problem is," Mrs. Lupin started but trailed off again.
"We heard your speech on equal rights for Muggle-borns last year," said Mr. Lupin, who was still trying to peel off the wrapping of the lemon drop. "We were wondering… we were hoping… if maybe you had the same attitude towards… werewolves."
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow in mild surprise but before he could say anything, Mr. and Mrs. Lupin broke into a nervous babble.
"He deserves a chance -"
"- such a good boy -"
"- always dreamed of going to Hogwarts -"
"- will study really hard -"
"- not any different than the other children -"
"- registered at the Werewolf Registry, of course -"
"- should grow up like a normal boy -"
"- not his fault -"
"- really talented -"
"- never done anyone any harm -"
Dumbledore finally raised his hand to stop them. "I understand," he said calmly. "I'll see if there's something I can do for your son." ---
He had discussed it with some of the other teachers. Pomona Sprout had come up with the idea to plant a Whomping Willow to guard the place where the werewolf student could transform.
"I'm going to need much Phoenix fertiliser so the willow will have grown big enough once the term starts," she said businesslike.
"I'm sure Fawkes is willing to contribute something," Dumbledore said.
"Good." Then, however, Pomona Sprout became very serious. "What if someone finds out?"
"We'll have to be very careful."
Worriedly, she bit on one of her earthy fingernails. "The school governors are surely going to sack you if they hear you admit a werewolf at Hogwarts."
"I am willing to take that risk." Dumbledore made to tickle the baby Whomping Willow to see if it would react. It did. One of its branches broke his glasses. The Herbology teacher threw him a glance that said clearly, I told you not to touch it.
"But you have to think of the other students, too. The Muggle-borns will be in real danger if you're not here to protect them. You-Know-Who'll make sure the next headmaster's a pureblood fanatic. Is it really worth it? For just one boy?"
"If not, what else can be worth it?"
"Ariana! Oh Merlin, Ariana!" Kendra Dumbledore cried and rushed to her daughter's side.
Albus stared at his little sister in shock. He hardly recognised her anymore. Her eyes were wide, her pupils darting back and forth as if she didn't even know where she was. Her hair stuck in all directions, making her look deranged. There was blood trickling out of her nose and her hands cramped convulsively.
"Ariana! Speak to me! Ariana!" their mother cried desperately.
"Them – they – coming for me," she gulped suddenly, in a voice so different from her usually cheerful little-girl-voice.
"Who? Who are they?" their father asked urgently.
Ariana's breathing sped up, raspy, she was hyperventilating. "Papa – Papa – make them go – them boys --" Then her pupils rolled up so that her eyes only showed empty whites.
Percival Dumbledore gave a shout of rage and stormed out of the door, his wand raised high above his head, ready to attack.
"Papa, wait!" Albus called. He wanted to go after him (whether to help him exact revenge or stop him, he did not know) but then Ariana's head rolled back. It looked like her neck had been twisted. Albus knelt down next to her and racked his brain to come up with a good spell to help his unconscious sister. ---
Percival Dumbledore was sent to Azkaban for attacking three Muggles. Albus hated him for it. Their father had abandoned his family, had left his wife to care for her unstable daughter and two teenage boys. Ariana needed constant supervision – how was Kendra Dumbledore supposed to work to earn them a living? They had to leave their home and move to Godric's Hollow where no one knew them. And it stayed that way. They mustn't get close to anyone. They had to hide and lie, always lie… Couldn't Percival Dumbledore have been more sensible? Why did he have to be so impulsive to go after those Muggles without thinking first? What good had it done to attack them? It had not helped his daughter at all. It had only made everything worse.
Dumbledore had gone to see the Lupins in person to bring them the good news. He had not expected them to react that strongly. Mr. Lupin was clutching his hand in a vicelike grip and kept shaking it so much that it felt already a bit numb. Mrs. Lupin was sniffing noisily and told him again and again how grateful they were.
When they led him out of the door after an hour of thanking him, he caught a glimpse of a young boy jumping wildly on his bed and singing a song of joy that consisted mostly of the words 'Hogwarts, Hogwarts!'
It is a strange thing, a parent's love for their child, Dumbledore mused when young Remus's parents told him once more, with tears in their eyes, "This is the most wonderful day of our life. Thank you so much!"
Love makes us blind. It makes us do things we would never do under normal circumstances. It makes us act irrationally. It makes us close our eyes when we should really look more closely. Albus had thought it could never happen to him. Not to him, brightest student Hogwarts had ever seen, Gold Medal-Winner for Ground-Breaking Contribution to the International Alchemical Conference in Cairo, British Youth Representative to the Wizengamot… And all of it at the age of eighteen. No, he was too intelligent to be fooled by something like love. That did not mean he was afraid of love. He was simply certain he would be able to keep a level head – as he always did in complicated situations.
All of his beliefs were blown away when he met him for the first time.
"So you are Albus Dumbledore," he stated instead of a greeting. The right corner of his mouth quirked up a bit, a bit blasé, as if he found the whole thing rather amusing. His English was perfect but he had an unmistakable accent. He spoke every word very clearly, stressing each syllable. Albus found it oddly endearing.
"Yes," Albus replied. "So you would be Gellert Grindelwald?"
"Do you really think it is impossible to transfigure time?"
"Are you referring to the article I wrote for Transfiguration Today two years ago? The one about the limitations of transfiguration?" Albus looked at the other boy with growing interest. No one had ever mentioned that point to him before. He had addressed the issue of time only roughly in that article.
Gellert gave one curt nod. "It was a poor article." He shrugged dismissively and gave Albus another smug smile.
Albus blushed slightly. He knew just as well that it had not been a spectacular article. There was nothing wrong about it but it was not really enlightening either. He had been in a rush when he had written it and had not done as much research as he would have liked to do. So far, no one had noticed. He had received praising reviews for the article.
"Not at all up to your usual standard," Gellert continued with a twinkle in his eyes.
Albus smiled and he felt a warm feeling of happiness spread in his stomach. The honest appreciation from this young boy meant more to him than the praising words from the headmaster or even the Minister of Magic. They were old fools, they did not understand anything about the idealism of the youth.
"I know," Albus admitted freely. "You're the first one to notice it's utter crap."
Gellert chuckled. It was utterly infectious and soon both of them were roaring with laughter.
"So you think it's possible to transfigure time?" Albus asked once they had calmed down.
"Of course," Gellert said casually.
"But certainly you know that Circe --"
"Albus, forget Circe," Gellert interrupted him. Albus gave him an amused and curious glance. Saying 'forget Circe' was almost an act of lèse-majesté. Circe was widely known as the best witch at Transfiguration ever. Quoting her could never be wrong. Transfiguration without Circe was unthinkable.
"It is another time now." Gellert's voice had an almost bewitching tone now and his eyes bore into Albus's. "Certainly someone like you does not have to rely on wizards who died centuries ago? Forget all those traditions, we have the future. It is up to us to make a change. We don't need those authorities anymore. The whole system is outdated. What we need it innovation."
Albus nodded slowly. "You're right. We can do our own thing." Gellert was right, in every aspect. Finally someone who understood. Finally someone who knew what it felt like: this feeling that everything was just too small for you.
"I did," Gellert simply said and his lips curved into his somewhat teasing grin again. "I experimented. I managed to transfigure time."
Albus gasped. "You didn't! How?"
"I asked people to lend me some of their time and then I preserved it in the form of flowers. The saved time can be released just as easily: You just have to touch it and it all comes back to you."
"That is… truly amazing," Albus had to admit. The wheels were spinning in his mind. It was such a fascinating new concept! Just imagine what you could do with the additional time! It meant wizards could rule over time! But was it really possible? Wasn't there a fault somewhere in the calculation?
"But I don't know if it could be really classified as a transfiguration," he pointed out his thoughts. "I think you're merely changing the shape while essentially it stays the same. If you compare it to a simple transfiguration from a Sickle into an apple, there's nothing left of the Sickle in the apple."
Gellert thoughtfully tipped his fingers against his chin for a few seconds before he said, "And what about transfigurations of the human body? Wizards can make themselves invisible, turn into animals – but don't they stay still human too, even when they take on another form?"
"I suppose that's a marginal case then." Albus really enjoyed this conversation. It was like a game of chess that did only take place in their minds.
"We obviously need a more accurate definition as to what can be classified as a transfiguration."
"That would revolutionise the whole subject of transfigurations."
Gellert shrugged smugly. "Well, that's good then. Good matter for a new article of yours, isn't it?"
"Will you help me write it?" Albus asked on the spur of the moment.
"Of course." The two boys exchanged a smile, feeling as if they had already known each other forever.
"You have no idea what you have done, have you?" Gellert said good-naturedly.
"What do you mean?" Albus asked in confusion.
"Well. Ever since I had read that article of yours I've wanted to prove you wrong. And now you destroy with one sentence what I've been working on for two years."
"I'm sorry," Albus said dryly.
"It's brilliant!" Gellert retorted, laughing mirthfully.
From then on, Albus would do everything Gellert wanted him to do. Whenever Gellert addressed a topic that made alarm bells ring in Albus's head, he turned a blind eye. Aberforth tried to warn him. Rough, unlettered Aberforth could see much more clearly – because he was not blinded by love. But Albus ignored him. Ignored his brother like he ignored all the signs that had been there undoubtedly. All he saw was Gellert's charming smile, his carefree laughter, his quick mind, his eyes, in which Albus believed to see himself.
He was happy then, during that summer a long, long time ago. He was happy together with Gellert. It was strange: Gellert had been thrown out of Durmstrang, Albus's family had no money left. Their mother had died and Albus was forced to stay at home. They did not know what would happen to Ariana once Aberforth left for Hogwarts again. They were facing an uncertain future and yet Albus and Gellert were happy.
"Hide them all, then," he croaked. "Keep her – them – safe. Please."
"And what will you give me in return, Severus?"
"In – in return?" Snape gasped.
There was a long silence in which Dumbledore watched him closely. So his former student really loved Lily Evans. Loved her enough to make him turn against the Dark Lord he had sworn to serve. Curious. Very curious…
"Anything," Severus Snape finally answered.
It was so easy, so easy to manipulate people by love. Dumbledore could practically use Snape's feelings to make him do everything. As it looked, his love for Lily was even strong enough to overcome his hate for James Potter. The once inconspicuous student was suddenly willing to risk his own life – Dumbledore had never before met a Death Eater brave enough to turn against their master. Curious, indeed…
Love is never enough. Love could not save Gellert from the darkness. It was not love either, that had made Dumbledore win their 'famous duel'. His misplaced feelings – his fear – had only made him hesitate. He had been too cowardly to confront him. How many more innocent people had died because Albus Dumbledore had not been able to bring himself to attack his old friend earlier?
"James, please. All I ask of you is to choose your Secret Keeper carefully."
"We have already chosen," his former student replied stubbornly.
"Who?" Dumbledore asked warily, already knowing the answer.
Dumbledore closed his eyes and sighed deeply. "You know that I have evidence that someone really close to you is a spy --"
"Not Sirius," James said firmly, full of trust. "He's like a brother to me. And he loves Lily and Harry just as much as I do."
"James," Dumbledore said patiently, "love may not be enough to protect you against Voldemort. He knows magic many of us have never encountered or imagined. Sirius… is only a twenty-year-old boy."
"Twenty-one," James corrected him.
Dumbledore sadly shook his head. He looked at James's determined face and felt a mixture of affection, worry, pity and maybe even contempt welling inside himself. So young, so stubborn, so trusting, so idealistic, so naïve, so foolish…
"If you wish, I could become your Secret Keeper. I could provide the necessary protection," Dumbledore offered although he knew the answer would be 'No.'
"Sirius will do it," James said, as expected.
"Very well then," Dumbledore agreed gravely. "On another note, do you think I could borrow your Invisibility Cloak? I'd like to take a look at it."
"Sure," James said simply. He had no idea what he was handing over so willingly. To think that those boys had used one of the Deathly Hallows for kitchen raids…
So they had been wrong to trust Sirius. Dumbledore had been right. Even the best friend could let you down. And still… still James and Lily had been right.
Albus Dumbledore, by many considered the greatest wizard of modern times had never been able to defeat Lord Voldemort. A one-year-old baby had done it. A mother's love for her son had succeeded where the unbeatable wand had failed. Love was stronger than the Killing Curse. Such a simple thing – and yet so powerful.
But instead of wondering who had been wrong and who had been right and how exactly the ancient magic Lily had used had worked, Albus cried silent tears, together with Fawkes, who was perched on his shoulder.
Sometimes at night when he could not sleep, Albus would sit down at his desk and start composing a letter.
Sometimes those letters were full of anger (How could you?!), sometimes full of guilt (I should have seen it – should have stopped you.), sometimes full of sadness (Are you as lonely as I am?).
They always brought up memories of summer nights full of animated discussions, the two of them sitting back-to-back, each of them a mug of hot chocolate in their hands, Gellert's curls tickling his neck, the vibrations that ran through their bodies when one of them laughed.
Sometimes the letters spoke of a deep bitterness (Aberforth was right about you right from the beginning.), sometimes they expressed hope (Is there still a part of you that remembers?).
They always spoke of a passion that Professor Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, could not allow himself. Over the years, it happened less and less frequently that he wrote such letters. He had responsibilities.
But sometimes he desperately sought understanding (People always seem to expect me to have solutions for everything. They do not see that the old, wise wizard is only human, too.) and sometimes he wished there was someone to give him advice (Is it just the old temptation or could the Hallows really help this time?).
There was no one Albus could really confide in. Maybe Minerva and Hagrid, but usually it was the other way around. There was no one who had the nerve to challenge him. Okay, he sometimes received a sarcastic comment from Severus but usually everyone played the part he had assigned to them.
The only witness of those one-sided conversations was Fawkes, who, fortunately, did not treat the letters with the proper respect but often marched over them, pecked at them and once even left droppings on one letter.
Albus never sent them anyway. He always burned them as soon as he had finished his hot chocolate.
You would think that at the age of one hundred and thirteen nothing can really surprise you anymore. Nonetheless, Albus Dumbledore was more than amazed when a relatively sane Sirius Black told him the tale of friendship, betrayal and three teenage boys becoming unregistered Animagi – on their own! And, most amazing, how they had kept it quiet from him.
He had no idea how they had done it. How had they got hold of all the books in the Restricted Section? And how had they managed to understand what was written in them when even Dumbledore himself considered those books sophisticated reading? And where had they gotten all the forbidden ingredients for all the forbidden potions from? It was a miracle to Albus.
"Well, we had to do something to help Remus, right?" his former student commented simply.
And how had he escaped from Azkaban prison, something no one had ever done before? How had he been able to find the strength to defy hundreds of Dementors after they had been draining him of his powers for years?
"It was because of that picture. I knew Peter was at Hogwarts. He would've killed Harry if he'd heard Voldemort was back!"
"I see. Mhm. I see. Can I ask you one more question?" the old headmaster allowed his curiosity once more to get the better of him.
"I haven't quite understood yet how it worked when you transformed into Animagi. You just changed shape but stayed still human on the inside, I take it? And that was the reason why Remus could keep his human mind as well, even in his werewolf form?"
"I suppose that's the reason why it worked. I'm not sure, though. It wasn't really important why it worked but simply that it worked."
The conversation left Albus deep in thought. In the end, he reached the conclusion that the young boys had been much wiser than him if it came to the use of the Cloak of Invisibility.
So love can make us strong. Love can make a thirteen-year-old boy produce a most powerful Patronus. It can drive Lord Voldemort out of Harry's mind because it is too much to bear, too much pain.
Because love always hurts.
"I DON'T CARE! I'VE HAD ENOUGH, I'VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON'T CARE ANY MORE –"
Albus understood every enraged word Harry threw at him. Albus had seen enough, too. He had seen too many people who had been pained by love. His brother Aberforth, who spent hours sitting in front of a portrait of his beloved sister and talked to it. Severus Snape, who had broken down when he had learned that his great love had died. Remus Lupin, who had withdrawn completely after all his friends were gone. Neville Longbottom and Harry Potter, who had to grow up without their parents.
And yet, Albus could not bring himself not to care. Every time he had to see Harry struggle with another burden, his heart broke all over again. He wished he did not have to put the boy through all the pain. He wanted Harry to be happy – the greater good be damned!
"You do care," he told Harry. "You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it."
"I – DON'T!"
"Oh, yes, you do. You have now lost your mother, your father, and the closest thing to a parent you have ever known. Of course you care."
"YOU DON'T KNOW HOW I FEEL! YOU – STANDING THERE – YOU –"
But Albus knew how it felt. It had happened more than a hundred years ago and still the pain was just as fresh. His father, his mother, Ariana… all of them gone… all his fault… Ariana…
Exhaustedly, Dumbledore walks through the Hogwarts Express. Everything is completely quiet but he can see laughing faces in all the compartments. Young boys are playing Exploding Snap, a boy and a girl are shyly holding hands, a father is giving out cauldron cakes to his family… Albus walks on, down the corridor until he reaches the last compartment, which is still empty. Almost empty.
In the corner of the room sits a skeletal figure clad in rags. The old man is reading in a copy of Challenges in Charming. Tiredly, Dumbledore sinks down in the seat opposite him. Finally. It is over. He can rest now.
Just then, Grindelwald puts his journal down, and Dumbledore sees his face for the first time after more than fifty years. The years in Nurmengard prison have not been gentle to his erstwhile friend: Most teeth are missing and the remaining hair sticks out of the skull like crooked wires. But when the great sunken eyes fix upon Albus, he doesn't see anything of that anymore. Instead he sees gleefully twinkling eyes, golden curls, young and healthy skin, and the quirk of the right corner of the mouth.
"There was a mistake in your essay in The Practical Potioneer from 1971," Gellert announces with the familiar haughtiness he always adopts when starting a conversation, just to tease Albus. Competition has always played an important part for them back then – it has not been a rivalry to defeat each other but to push each other to peak performance and see how far they could get.
"Oh, really." Albus crosses his arms behind his neck and leans back. He notices with surprise that his muscles are not protesting as usually. His skin is not being strained from all the wrinkles either when his face erupts into a smile. "You mean Morals in Alchemy during the Late Middle Ages?"
"I cannot believe you got Agrippa's birth date wrong. You said he was born in '1468' instead of '1486'."
"Did I? I'm afraid I transposed the digits."
"How embarrassing." Gellert slightly shakes his head in a mix of arrogance and amusement. "To give a wrong birth date to one of the most accomplished potions masters ever… really, you can do better than that."
"Wasn't it you who told me to forget all about traditions and the old masters?" Albus challenges him.
"Well, obviously you didn't listen to me. And if you quote them, you should at least get the facts right."
"Now you're really being nit-picky."
Once again, they laugh together, and Albus feels young and free, like a huge weight has been lifted from his shoulders.
"How did you get hold of my essay?" Albus asks curiously.
"They sometimes gave second choice books to the prison. And the guards always gave me their old newspapers. Fortunately, there was once a guy who had a subscription of The Practical Potioneer. He was so nice to give it to me when he had finished reading it. You can't imagine how happy I was to find your essay in there one day!"
"Why would that be? You were never really interested in medieval potion brewing, as I recall."
"But, Albus! Reading anything from you after I had wasted my time with trashy romance novels, crosswords, weather forecasts and the rubbish the Daily Prophet writes – honestly, your essay kept me entertained for half a year. I can tell it by heart. I even got the acrostic, and the little allusionto Archibald Alderton. Funny idea."
It is exciting to finally have someone again who understands what he wants to say, someone who doesn't start a conversation with, "Congratulations to your election for…" or "I read your article in…" or "I heard you won the…" But at the same time, it tears at Albus's heartstrings to picture the emaciated prisoner in his dark cell, who feverishly flips through old books and tattered journals to find something to satisfy his hungry brain.
"If I'd known that, I would've written more and better articles for The Practical Potioneer," Albus says, meaning every word of it.
Gellert smiles his little, enticing smile again. "No, you wouldn't have."
It's a statement, not an accusation. It's not meant to make Albus feel guilt or regret. It says no more and no less than, "I know you."
Of course Gellert is speaking the truth. Albus would have stopped publishing in The Practical Potioneer altogether if he had known it. Does he feel regret for not sending him at least one letter or visiting him at least once during the fifty-three years in his own prison? No. There are other things he regrets. He regrets that he couldn't save Gellert. He regrets that he couldn't save Ariana.
Gellert leans forward to put one hand on Albus's knee. His eyes, as always, draw Albus's in. Albus is surprised to find seriousness there. He knows this is one of those rare, precious moments in which there is sudden clarity and he does not have to decrypt Gellert's messages. Sometimes Albus thought life was just a game to Gellert. He always had that air of superiority around him, the ironic smile that always seemed to dance around his lips… later, the cruel nonchalance with which he treated his enemies. How surprised everyone was to find the arrogant dark wizard scream a heartfelt "I hate you!" , which really meant something else only Albus could understand. It meant that he still cared, that he was still human.
"It wasn't your fault," Gellert says softly, all playful banter gone from his voice.
Tears are threatening to spill, and all Albus can do is nod curtly.
Albus places his thumb on Gellert's lips and gives an almost imperceptible shake of his head. He doesn't want to hear apologies now. He already knows Gellert feels remorse. He can tell just by looking into his eyes. It has nothing to do with Legilimency – he just knows. No apologies now, no tears. Albus just wants peace now. Happiness for them.
All of a sudden, Gellert is grinning cockily again. "I just wanted to offer you a chocolate frog. Don't you want one?"
Albus chuckles merrily and does not ask where Gellert has suddenly gotten chocolate frogs from. "A bit of chocolate would be lovely, indeed."
Gellert hands him one and tears off the wrappings of another chocolate frog for himself.
"Oh, I have Ignotus Peverell," Albus says while examining his card. "Wonderful, he always missed in my collection."
"I got you."
Albus looks up to see Gellert examining the card with a picture of his old self on it. While reading, a little crease appears between Gellert's brows. Albus sighs inwardly. He is not particularly fond of the text on the card. If it had been his choice, it would have read something along the lines of:
former headmaster of Hogwarts.
Considered by many the greatest wizard of modern times, though he likes to differ on that because it is his firm belief that it is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
Therefore he would like to bestow that title upon his younger but so much wiser brother Aberforth Dumbledore or upon Dobby the free house-elf.
Dumbledore is particularly famous for allowing a werewolf, a half-giant and a former Death Eater to teach at his school, and for finding a way so Harry Potter did not have to die in order to defeat Voldemort.
Professor Dumbledore enjoys learning from his students.
"They got it all wrong again." Gellert rolls his eyes and quotes a part from the chocolate frog card: "Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945 – oh really, calling this your greatest duel would be an insult to your memory (and to mine, too, might I add). What about the duel in Aunt Bathilda's back garden in the summer of '99: the longest duel wizarding history has ever seen! That's what I call a real duel."
"Well, wizarding history hasn't really seen it. The only one who saw us was your great-aunt's cat. I don't think that counts. And frankly, I'm glad no one witnessed how I fell into that river. It was quite embarrassing." Albus's face feels warm and his heart beats happily when Gellert laughs fondly at the memory. It all comes back now: burning rays of sun on sweaty skin, refreshing splashes of water, Gellert's hands on his shoulders, the taste of cool pumpkin juice, the smell of freshly mown grass drying in the sun, warm and long nights spent with talking, talking, talking until both of them were hoarse.
"Couldn't have people knowing that about you," Gellert teases him. "That would really destroy your image: The old, wise Professor Dumbledore who fell into the river."
Yes, Albus has become wise over the years. He has had much time thinking about himself, and he has learned from his mistakes. But when Gellert smiles at him now, he is falling in love all over again.