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Life Altering Decision

Everyone's idea of what constitutes heaven differs. When Albus Dumbledore died he saw, in the place some called heaven, his family, the people he'd hoped to see when he'd sealed his fate by slipping on the cursed ring. All his planned apologies, the countless speeches he'd written in his head had died in his throat, but they had understood. They had told him there was nothing to forgive. Love, as he'd always tried to teach others, was stronger than any other force. The greatest of magic.

Forgiving himself was another matter.

That the one he loved most was not with him weighed even heavier on him. For how could it be heaven, if the man he'd loved all his life was not with him. Would continue to forever be out of his reach.

It was this that drove the wizard from heaven, requesting to be reborn back into the world he'd left behind. A chance to live a life without constant grief and haunting shadows. A chance to become the man he'd always wanted to be. And perhaps, if he was lucky, a chance to love and be loved the way he'd always longed for. A chance to finally let go of his love for Gellert once and for all. And so Albus Dumbledore returned to his past world, reborn as Albus Wimbledon.

)

And he didn't regret his choice for a minute, Albus thought to himself as he leaned his head against the trunk of an old oak tree. He had returned to the living world with his most important memories still intact, a fail safe of sorts. Little things, everyday stuff had faded, but the events that had most shaped his past life were still crystal clear in his mind. They had shaped him in this life so that he was, much to his relief, a better man than he'd been at four times his current age. And if he ever began to think otherwise, he now had someone to tell him differently.

That person was currently lying nearby, soaking up the sun that would have turned Albus's skin as red as his hair. His namesake didn't have that problem, the young man's skin a tanned golden brown from his time outdoors. Albus Severus Potter. Named for him by the closest thing Albus had ever had to a son. And in this life time, Harry Potter's youngest son was his closest and best friend. They would be going into their final year of school in a month's time, both Gryffindors who'd roomed together since their first year. They were even affectionately known as the Albus twins, due to their identical first names and the fact that they were rarely separated. Two peas in a pod, as Molly Weasley liked to say.

"It wouldn't kill you to get some sun. You're almost as white as Nearly Headless Nick."

Called out of his wool gathering by Al's voice Albus's gaze returned to his friend, who had sat up and put his shirt back on.

"The sun hates me, remember?" Albus replied, a small smile on his lips. His was a scholarly face, long and fine boned. His dark red hair went all the way to his waist, though it was always braided for convenience. His eyes were sky blue, covered by fashionable glasses Al's Veela cousins had forced him to buy the last time his glasses broke. He was very tall and thin, with skin, as Al had just pointed out, as pale as milk. He looked much like he had in the past, the resemblance to his former self explained by the fact that he'd been born to a couple distantly related to his former self.

Al looked like his father, though he wore his raven black hair longer than Harry ever had. Al's hair was shaggy and layered, the longest strands ending half way down his neck. Intelligent green were just visible under the long bangs, and went well with his toned, runner's build. Al was definitely the looks in their duo, Albus thought with a small smirk.

Though they were both gay there had never been anything between them. They'd tried a kiss only once in their fifth year and had spent the next half an hour laughing their fool asses off at how little chemistry they had. And though their relatives held hope that they would become more Albus and Al were content to be friends only. Albus had dated no one seriously as yet, his fears of dating apparently having been carried over into his next life. Al had had only one serious relationship, and that had blown up in his face. A relationship between a Potter and a Malfoy was doomed, but Al had risked the odds and fallen hard for Scorpius Malfoy. The love had not been returned to the same degree and Scorpius had transferred to Durmstrang at the end of their fifth year.

And good riddens as far as Albus was concerned.

"Wonder who that is." Al murmured, pointing to the figure of a lone man making his way up The Burrow's laneway. "Do you recognize him?"

Squinting behind his glasses Albus raised an eyebrow. "It looks like the Headmaster."

Sharing surprised looks the two young men got to their feet, brushing off any debris they might have collected. Together they walked out to meet the man, who was indeed their Headmaster.

"Hello, Boys." The Headmaster greeted them, pleased to see two of his best students looking hale and hearty as they returned his greetings. Albus Wimbledon was one of the best students to ever pass through the halls of Hogwarts, some said even as great as Albus Dumbledore. Albus Potter was forth in his year and as charismatic as he was brilliant. Which was exactly why he'd come to see them, though he was loath to part with them even for a few months.

"What brings you here, Headmaster? Would you like to come inside for a drink?" Al asked as he shook the Headmaster's hand.

"No, no, I'm afraid I can't stay long. Thanks to…well a decision made by the Ministry…I'm a little pressed for time at the moment. So much to organize and plan in a month you see. It's actually quite handy that Mr. Wimbledon is visiting you, Mr. Potter. Can talk to you both at once. I actually just left your cousin, Dominique Weasley's house."

"Oh?"

"Yes. You see, you two, the Ministry has decided that there should be more interaction between the three wizarding schools, Hogwarts, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. Of course nobody wants to go through what happened last time, with the Triwizarding Tournament, so an alternate meeting of schools had to be devised. What has been decided is that four seventh year students from every school will, for the first half of the school year, be exchange students at the other schools. Two students each. Your cousin, Mr. Potter, will be one of our exchange students going to Beauxbatons. I hope you two will consider being the two to go to Durmstrang."

"Us?" Albus repeated, casting a weary look in Al's direction. Albus didn't have to be a mind reader to know exactly what his friend was thinking. Scorpius Malfoy would be there.

"Yes. The committee thought that given your excellent grades you are both capable of catching up and adapting to the changes in coursework that would no doubt occur during your time there and when you return. You won't miss graduating from Hogwarts of course and the committee is offering financial incentives for those who participate. Since it looked as though we would be repeating the Triwizard Tournament up until last week the thousand galleons was already raised. That prize money will be divided equally between all the students willing to enter the program."

Immediately seeing dollar signs Albus quickly did the math. The family he'd been born into wasn't poor, but he didn't want to be a financial burden on them either once he graduated. His share of the pot would be a very comfortable nest egg to build off of.

"How long do we have to decide?" Al asked quietly, too quietly.

Picking up on it immediately Albus looked to his friend and knew he wouldn't be going anywhere. Al would never go to Durmstrang because of Malfoy and Albus would not go off to the school without him. He too would have ghosts of the past to deal with at the school, though not living ones, thank Merlin. But it was still Gellert's former school, and he had never liked going there the few times he'd visited in the past.

"I need to know by the end of the week."

)

Al was very quiet for the rest of the day and Albus left him to his silent thoughts, inwardly wondering why Al was even thinking about it. The answer was clear enough to him and Al had to know he wouldn't go without him.

It was just before bedtime, with the two comfortable settled in their beds, that Al dropped his bomb.

"I think we should go to Durmstrang."

Sitting up in bed Albus blinked at Al owlishly, his shock written all over his face. "What?"

"I know you could use the money and that you won't go without me. I don't want to mess that up for you. And he's there, Albus. He'll be there and…I think I need to see him again. I think I need to be around him and face the fact that he's never going to change. That he's moved on without me. And I need to prove to myself that I can be around him and not fall apart. The last time I saw him I begged him not to leave me, Albus. I begged, for Merlin sake. I need to know I'm better than that now. I need to face him as a man. Do you get that?"

"I do." Was Albus's soft reply. "And I'll do whatever I can to help you. But are you sure you can bear to be stuck there with him for five months? I mean after you give him the brush off. "

"We'll find out I guess." Trying for a lighter note Al winked in his friend's direction, working up a smile. "And hey, maybe you'll find yourself a good looking Russian while we're there."

The grin quickly faded from Al's face however as he recalled that Albus had already had a relationship with a student of Dumstang. One that had left his best friend even more emotionally scarred than Scorpius had left him. At least his ex hadn't yet tried to take over the world and enslave the Muggle race. Scorpius would probably consider that too much work.

Understanding Albus made himself smile. "Maybe I will."

Al knew about his past life, his best friend was the only one he'd ever told. Of course there were people alive who'd known him from his past life and could be convinced, but Albus didn't want to be remembered and compared to who he had been. Harry was the only other person Albus had ever considered telling, but had as yet chosen not to confine in him.

"We'll keep each other away from the dark wizards of Durmstrang, deal?" Albus finally said, knowing that once Al made up his mind it was pointless to argue.

"Deal." Albus agreed.

)

A Month Later

Absently drumming his fingers of the wooden table Scorpius Malfoy paid little attention to the speech his Headmaster was making, already knowing about the exchange program. They'd actually been stupid enough to approach him about going to Beauxbatons, since he'd already been a student at Hogwarts. As if he'd ever want to go there. Or to Hogwarts.

"Quit it."

Looking over Scorpius stopped his tapping, knowing better than to irritate his closest friend and roommate. Gellert Stalanski was not someone anyone wanted to piss off. He was just nervous, wondering who from his old school would be coming, Scorpius thought as he ran a nervous hand through his short, white blonde hair. Al would never come of course, and Al's annoying little shadow would never come if Al didn't. And just thinking about Albus Wimbledon was enough to kill any appetite Scorpius might have previously had. The two's closeness had always driven him crazy, even when he and Al had been together. His dislike had not lessened with time.

"So without further adieu let me introduce you to our new students. Make them welcome." The Headmaster added in a tone that suggested dire consequences for those who did not.

The far doors opened on cue and four students made their way slowly into Durmstrang's Great Hall. They had all been given Durmstrang uniforms; more to keep them warm than because their own uniforms would set them apart from the others. The girl from Beauxbatons was thinking of leaving due to the ugliness of the uniform alone. They walked up towards the front of the room together, three boys and one girl.

Looking over from his seat Scorpius felt all the air leave his lungs as his grey eyes zeroed in on the one person he had hoped never to run into again. Al. Al was here. It shouldn't be possible, but he would know that face, that form anywhere. Al had come to Durmstrang.

Curious as to the reason for the look on Scorpius's face Gellert lazily turned his head to get a look at the four exchange students. Brown eyes passing over the girl, who seemed to be nervously clenching the hand of the boy walking beside her, Gellert's gaze paused as they recognized the next boy as Albus Potter. The resemblance to Harry Potter was too striking to be coincidence. Albus's protégé, Gellert thought with a disparaging smirk. So they'd sent the Chosen One's Golden Boy as good will ambassador. Typical government thinking. Assuming that Potter was the reason for Scorpius's agitation, since Potters and Malfoys were said never to get along, Gellert almost didn't even bother to glance at the final boy walking on Potter's other side.

But he did. And he saw. And he recognized.

Albus. Albus Dumbledore. For that was who walked between the tables in that familiar, somewhat coltish way, so unique to him alone. Transported back into memories of a different time and life Gellert remembered vividly the first time he'd laid eyes on the only man he'd ever thought of as his equal. The only person who's wellbeing had ever remotely mattered to him.

Albus had been almost eighteen, he just seventeen, their eyes meeting over the tombstones of the dead. He'd been in search of the grave of Ignotus Pervrell, Albus there to place flowers upon his mother's grave. That they would first meet in such a place had always struck Gellert as having foreshadowed what was to come between them. And he did remember it all, every moment spent with the man who would be called the greatest wizard of the twentieth century. Those were memories Gellert had etched into his brain, the ones he had relived over and over again in his cell at Nurmengard. He'd held tightly onto those memories in his second life to remind him always the price there was to be paid for hope and dreams. To want and need anything or anyone. No one had ever been closer to him than Albus Dumbledore, and Gellert had spent the rest of his life after that summer cursing the man for making him think, even for a moment, that there might be more to life than the revolution he'd envisioned.

Albus was to have been his partner, his companion, the one person he would always be able to trust and depend on. But Albus had chosen family over him. His words of love and devotion revealed to be false. To be fair his own words of love had been just as empty, Gellert acknowledged, for what was love but an excuse for one's stupidity. And while stupid was not a word anyone would normally associate with Albus Dumbledore, in love Albus had been the greatest of fools. 'Love' had not stopped Albus from neglecting Ariana and Aberforth. 'Love' had not stopped Albus from getting into a duel that had lead to the death of his sister. And 'Love' had not been enough to make Albus give up everything for the man he's sworn to love forever. They said the fool went to his grave still believing in it.

But could it be that Albus had been reborn as he had been reborn, Gellert wondered, his eyes thoughtful. But why would that be? Shouldn't the little goody two shoes be up in heaven, accepting his dues for having lived such an exemplary life? But if it was…if it could be him…well that would be a most interesting development indeed, Gellert mused, his eyes never leaving the other man as the redhead stood up at the front with the others.

Listening as the four were introduced Gellert had his answer when he heard the redhead's first name. Yes, it was him. Gellert didn't believe in coincidences this pointed. It was Albus.

And they had unfinished business.