A few minutes. They felt like eons. They had travelled a lightyear, Albus and Gellert now looked at each other through aged eyes. They were not the same as they had been a few minutes ago. They had entered a tunnel to emerge two very different people at the end of it. The Gellert of a few minutes ago had sworn he would never hurt Albus. This Gellert was about to do just that.
They stood on the front lawn still, facing each other in the unquiet darkness. The air had a chill about it despite the warmth of August. It was the sort of chill mother nature brought to remind you she was still watching, that she knew. It was the sort of chill she brought out for the sole purpose of pathetic fallacy.
The two felt oddly short of breath as they stared at each other, each searching the eyes of the other. In Albus' eyes Gellert saw confusion of what was in his own. A sad determination to return Albus to the people of the world who needed him, glazed with an ice-cold steel.
It crept on them like a fog, a hazy mist which they could barely see, but as they stood it rose and thickened, swirling around their knees in a translucent pool. Long fingers of cloud groped them, hauling itself up as they were enveloped by its tendrils, covering them entirely. It was the thickening of questions, the multitude of decisions to be made, of possibilities so numerous they were blinding. And yet emerging from there remained only two of note.
This was the moment, fight or flight. Albus was determined to fight. Gellert was braced to run.
"She's dead," Albus said, his voice quavering. He tried to hide all emotion from his voice, he tried not to mourn the girl he had never truly had to lose. He tried to hold the grief he had for the Dumbledore family at arm's length.
"She is," Gellert agreed.
"I have no ties here any more," Albus continued, trying to find the good. It was stored out in this night in abundance. Squinting through the fog Albus found it in a life unrestricted. A life spent by the side of Gellert Grindelwald. Casting a look around Godric's Hollow, he found it as empty as he had returning for the summer before Gellert had arrived. His own house behind him felt hollow. "I can come with you, we could leave."
Suddenly, despite the undeniable gravity which grappled for his heart he couldn't help but feel treacherously uplifted. Laying in front of him were countless threads, each a possibility, each a future. When woven correctly, they made a tapestry of Gellert and Albus, of absolute power.
And of home.
With growing excitement in his voice, Albus continued, "I don't have to stay here!" he exclaimed, "I- we- could just leave into the night. I'm not needed here, and you don't belong here. We could go and be powerful, you and I, we could search for the Hallows, be eternal masters of Death," the mist was clearing as choices were made.
Albus caught another glimpse at Gellert's eyes. His guard down, they looked terrifyingly sad. Then, the moment he noticed Albus' scrutiny he adopted that same steely expression. Albus wasn't sure which one scared him more. Both seemed not to bode well.
"No, Albus," he said quietly, but Albus wasn't listening, his own mind was filled with the life they could have, an eternal entanglement of the light and dark. His ears were filled with the sounds of sweet nothings, before his eyes the two grew old, on his skin Gellert's hands held him close, the taste of Gellert's lips danced on his tongue.
The world shattered.
"W-with me?" Albus asked meekly. He knew the answer, but the blunt words had stunned the eloquence out of him. As he picked his way slowly towards Gellert through the fragments of his Earth, splinters of it dug into his ankles and the soles of his feet. His blood was salty with denial as he extended an arm towards Gellert, who was backing out towards the gate.
"No, Albus, alone." Albus continued to stumble towards him, and Gellert found it harder and harder to resist, to uphold the indifference, to not run right into his embrace and forget everything. Albus had softened his cruelty. Here was the first boy to tell him he was beautiful, for the first time Gellert could not summon up the callousness which had once been as natural as breathing.
The world needs Albus Dumbledore, he can never be mine.
So, with pieces of himself cracking as Albus' face fell with understanding, Gellert tried to pull himself together. It was so tempting to explain to him, that it was because Albus was good. Because he didn't deserve Albus. But Albus would only disagree and devote himself to Gellert even more absolutely.
"Please, Gellert," Albus whispered, with all knowledge that the words were futile, "please don't leave me."
And for the smallest moment Gellert allowed it all to drop. He showed Albus what he wasn't sure Albus had seen. For some immeasurable period of time Gellert showed Albus how much he loved him, showed him the absolute purity of his love, the only absolutely pure thing he had ever owned. Gellert showed Albus that Gellert had belonged to him as much as Albus had been his. The weight of this was enough to snatch Albus' breath from him in realisation.
And then Gellert turned on his heel and was gone.
All the strength he had left yanked from him with Gellert's departure, Albus fell to his knees. There was a finality in the air, a vow that he would never hold Gellert Grindelwald again, that he would never kiss him. Fat, anguished tears rolled his cheeks as suddenly he felt a terrible pain in his chest. Lifting a hand to clutch at it he found with despair that Gellert's heart was gone, replaced with his own again, broken and trampled and bleeding and bleeding.
Albus was insensible to sight and sound. The night's chill was now a howling wind, piercing his bones and spreading through him like ice. Albus was consumed by a blackness all encompassing. He didn't struggle against it, he welcomed it. Misery and pain felt like friends he had missed, they sat by either side of him and pricked him with small pins and laughed when he flinched and bled. Somewhere in the distance some poor, tormented creature was wailing. Slowly, Albus realised it was him.
A self pitying instinct in Albus hauled him to his feet and turned his back on his house to grasp at the empty air where Gellert had once been, as if perhaps the mere action would bring him back. When his hand closed around empty air he felt the loss all over again, crashing over him like a tsunami. Recklessness and denial overcame him and deciding he must find him again, Albus turned on his heel.
Reeling, he landed in the New Forest where they had first kissed. Vision blurred by the constant tears he staggered aimlessly through the dirt and around looming trees, calling out Gellert's name to the empty night. At the top of his lungs he yelled for him, shouted at him for hiding, scolding him for running.
Cursing him over and over for making Albus fall in love with him.
He yelled until his throat hurt with the effort, at which point he cast his eyes down to the ground in hopelessness. Summer showers had long ago washed away the triangular eye in the ground. He realised miserably that Gellert hadn't even said goodbye.
With this thought the recklessness tempted him again, and with another spin of his heel Albus found himself in Knockturn Alley, amidst the filthy and decrepit of the wizarding world. Once, pristine and cautious Albus had avoided this place with contempt and regarded its people with this sentiment. But this broken Albus, he knew these people like old friends. No longer a stranger to pain and suffering the streaks on their faces and liquor on their breath were familiar to him. Their fractured souls felt like home to him. The only home Gellert's loss would allow.
Trudging towards a ramshackle tavern with the same defeated gait as the rest of the alley's frequents, Albus entered and threw himself into one of the stools at the bar, slumping over and looking around himself with tired eyes. The delinquents and dejected surrounded him. Scum of the earth, his brothers in arms. As he turned back to the bar the barman met his gaze. He wore an eye-patch over one eye and had long, straggly hair, but the one eye he had remaining was kind and soft and blue.
Gellert's eyes are blue.
"You alright there, lad?" he asked in a gruff voice, putting down the tankard he was drying and hobbling over. "Well aren't you a picture of sorrow? I'll get you a butterbeer, shall I?"
"No," Albus interjected, "Firewhiskey," One eyebrow and part of the eye-patch raised, but the barman was not in the business of checking for ages.
"Firewhiskey," he noted, "She must have been quite a girl." Albus nodded with a small, sad smile. When the Firewhiskey came he downed it in one gratuitous gulp and asked for another. He welcomed the burning to his throat. The sickly sweetness felt like the perfect substitute for sweet kisses and sweet nothings. Slowly he sank further and further into oblivion. Slowly he began the amnesia set it, and with it, bliss.
Eventually, he just bought the rest of the bottle and, thanking the barman and drunkenly thanking the kindred spirits around him, he turned on his heel again, back to Godric's hollow.
The moment Aberforth notified the Ministry of Ariana's death, the message was sent on to Elphias. He received it like a dull blow, like a cold shiver. His mind did not immediately fly to the deceased- who he had barely known- but to the bereaved. In every pitiable equivalent experience Elphias could draw upon which went some way to being comparable, Albus had stood by his side. Though well in the knowledge that all around them considered Elphias a 'dim-witted side kick', Albus had never treated him as anything but an equal. It had killed him to leave his grieving friend over the summer, even more so to learn that he had offended him when criticising the company he chose. The moment he heard, he thanked the Egyptian alchemists for their hospitality and apparated immediately back to Godric's Hollow.
It was night in England, or, more accurately, the earliest of the morning's hours. The two chimes from St Christine's informed him of this. He hurried towards the Dumbledore residence, noting the uncharacteristic chill in the normally warm night air. It seemed even the night had known what it had lost.
He had hardly finished knocking on the door when it was opened by a wearied looking Aberforth. His face rose momentarily at the prospect of somebody having come and then instantly fell again when he realised it was Elphias. Elphias was used to such a reception.
"Oh, it's you," Aberforth, whilst only being fifteen, looked incredibly aged tonight, his eyes sunken and his voice tired. "You won't find him here."
"Well then where will I find him?" Elphias asked, trying not to sound impatient. He found Aberforth tiresome, but tonight the boy had gone through such horrors as he could never bear to face, and he had nobody to face it with. He tried stepping around him to look into the hallway, but caught a glimpse of a lock of blonde hair tumbling out of the door which lead to the living room and took a step back. The house acquired a sudden air of death.
"I don't know, he's probably off somewhere with his boyfriend," if Elphias felt any shock from the word spat by Aberforth onto the ground where it belonged, he didn't allow it to register on his face. His instinct was to laugh it off as something immature boys said, but there was something about Albus, something hidden in half light and always left untouched, which lead Elphias to question this.
Whatever confusion he had about Albus there was one thing he was certain of, he wanted to leave. The house was making him increasingly uncomfortable, as was its sole dweller, who was looking at him with hollow eyes. Thanking him politely he backed away and watched as the door was swung back again.
He turned to the empty night, unsure of quite where to go. He wondered aimlessly around Godric's Hollow with mixed feelings. The sense of urgency to find his friend battled with the confrontation which came as a result of what Aberforth may or may not have told him. Finally, when it was approaching three in the morning, Elphias turned back with a sigh and headed towards Bathilda's house, where he had hoped he would find lodgings for the night.
It was then, walking past the graveyard of St Christine's, that he heard it. There was something about the conceit of the witching hours and graveyards which already had Elphias on edge, but staying his drumming heart as he thought he heard the clink of glass against stone he stopped, listening for the voice which steadily rose out from the headstones with a slurred and drunken tenor.
One more night, my bonnie lass,
One more night my sweet
For only one more night with you
Would make my life complete
Recognising the voice, Elphias jumped the small fence of the graveyard and picked around the gravestones, trying to find its source.
One more night with you my dear
Before you say goodbye,
Only one more night I beg
Oh don't you make me cry
A twig snapped under Elphias' clumsy feet but the singing didn't stop. The voice's volume increased as Elphias advanced towards it, finally finding its owner. Albus sat slumped against his mother's grave, stripped of his tie and jacket which lay strewn beside him, his shirt offensively open, his head lolled onto his shoulder against the cold slab of stone which pillowed it. Between his spread legs one hand clutched the neck of a bottle of Firewhiskey. A pathetic pool of honey liquid sloshed at the bottom as Albus brought it to his lips and raised its bottom to the heavens.
Some dribbled in maladroit globules down his cheeks, but whatever feeble remnants found his mouth he gulped greedily. Not yet aware of Elphias' presence, he finished his song.
Only one more night I beg
Before I must die
A tear wrestled free of Albus' dehydrated body, rolled off his chin and dropped into the bottle. Albus' other hand had been clutching a rose which he let fall back to the grave as suddenly the tear was accompanied by a flood of its brothers, staining the already sticky cheeks of Elphias' friend. Unable to bear it any longer he ran to Albus, who looked at him with large, glistening blue eyes before collapsing into a fresh flood of tears.
"Watcha doin 'ere?" he asked, making an open palmed gesture, trying to bat him away as he would a fly. His movements were sluggish, as if he were dragging himself through water. Even his tongue suffered his affliction. As Elphias stooped down to help Albus on, he could smell the liquor on his breath. Grabbing his arm, he hoisted him up so that his shoulder was wedged in his armpit.
"No!" Albus protested, reaching down towards the grave for either the empty bottle or the flower, his intentions were not clear in his inebriated state. Hastily, Elphias collected his clothes, ignoring both along with Albus' complaints. Suddenly angered, Albus struggled against Elphias, wrenching away from Elphias and falling to all fours on the floor. "You don' unnerstand..." he explained, sitting and hugging his knees to his chest. "I-I loved him."
So Aberforth had been telling the truth.
Slowly, he knelt down again, placing a tentative arm on Albus' shoulder in an attempt to comfort him. He was by no means shocked, and knowing that Albus was gay did not taint him in his eyes, but seeing him brokenhearted, this affected him. Albus had not only been Gellert's rock, he was so for every other person who had the privilege of knowing him, even Aberforth- though he'd never admit it- suffered a loss when he cut him out of his life.
But he didn't look like a rock. Albus looked like a pebble, thrown repeatedly against the seabed, scuffed and cracked. Elphias didn't know how to fix him.
"I loved him," Albus said again, weakly, looking up, holding Elphias' eyes, no doubt searching for the disapproval he had always feared. He would find none. Elphias only strengthened his hold on Albus and rubbed his arm consolingly.
"I know you did," he said softly, as if speaking to a child, "I know, but you have to go home now," Albus shook his head violently.
"No, no not home..." something like despair flashed in his eyes and suddenly the moment of cooperation was gone and Albus wasn't looking at him anymore, he was simply reaching for the bottle again. Or perhaps the rose. Neither were within his grasp.
When the moon had clambered slowly down from its pedestal to allow the sun his place again, Albus finally allowed Elphias to help him to Bathilda's house. In the mid-darkness Elphias instructed him to hold on tight, and- despite much protestation- turned on his heel.
The combination of grief, alcohol and side-along apparition was too much for Albus as he turned away from Elphias and retched fiercely into the bushes beside Bathilda's house. Turning away from the moment of indignity, Elphias rang Bathilda's doorbell, hoping she wouldn't mind being woken too much. She answered almost immediately, somewhat shocked to see Elphias at the door, but to Elphias' own surprise she showed no apparent shock at Albus' condition. Instead, she extended and arm to him and ushered him quickly inside, showing him to one of the guest rooms. He ran immediately for the bathroom. Elphias closed the door behind him.
"Gellert left," Bathilda explained as Elphias looked at her quizzically, "not before Albus fell in love with him."
Elphias' eyes widened, "You know?" he asked incredulously.
"I have always known," Bathilda sighed. "I should have done more to stop it, only I was fascinated. I wanted to see what happens when a hurricane meets a cyclone." Through the door came the sound of retching again.
"A disaster," Elphias said in a faraway voice, looking behind him into the middle-distance.
"A very powerful disaster," Bathilda agreed.
Albus stumbled back towards the bed, wiping vomit from his chin. The liquored haze was lifting, intoxicant glasses, tinted rose, were ripped from him by the cruel hand of sobriety. His sense of invincibility was replaced by a horrible nausea and the numbness was gone. Albus remembered, and once again he felt the agony.
When you are in pain there is nothing but that pain. There are no profound and poetic thoughts that haunt your mind, there is no romanticism which you find. When in pain one struggles to see any beauty which dwells there, in fact when in pain nobody is looking. When in pain there are only two things. The pain, and the urgent need to not feel it. Albus' pain stemmed from the Gellert he was missing in his heart and spread through his veins as the alcohol wore off. Memories plagued him, Gellert's blue eyes, the way his hair curled at the back of his neck, the scars which ran up and down his body, the taste of his lips.
The way he said I love you, as if it were true.
That last look he gave him, in which Albus had been so sure that it was.
Memories attacked him with rapiers, slashing at his skin, opening old wounds, creating new ones. Wounds, Gellert's scars, Albus flinched at the tang of blood in his mouth. He longed for more alcohol, or for the memories to just go away. Gripped with a sudden elation which almost blacked out the pain momentarily, Albus remembered that he could.
Drawing his wand out with some effort, he brought it up to his head with a sigh and closed his eyes. The room was still, his wand barely quavered in his hand as he brought it to his temple. Albus relished the last few moments he would have of ever knowing that Gellert's face existed. His injured heart beat the last few laboured beats in his name before he opened his mouth.
Albus waited for the pain to alleviate, for all memory of Gellert to be gone. He sat up on the bed and waited. And waited. But it never came.
"Obliviate," he tried again, frustrated. Was his wand not working? What was going on, why couldn't he make the spell work? I husky voice in his mind told him it was because he didn't want it to. To drown it out, Albus began to shout the spell over and over again.
"Obliviate! OBLIVIATE! DAMN YOU GELLERT!" The door to the room burst open and Albus' wand flew out of his hand and into Elphias'. Albus launched himself at him but stumbled, weakened and nauseous, and fell to the ground. Casting the wand far out of reach Elphias clutched onto Albus, who was struggling against his grip, screaming incoherent threats. Elphias held on to Albus no matter how much he thrashed, gripping the fabric of his shirt in tight fists until finally Albus stopped struggling and collapsed, fatigued and hopeless. Elphias felt tears fall on his shoulder as Albus allowed him to hold him and cried like a wounded animal.
Finally Elphias put Albus in bed and lay with him as Gellert had, arms wrapped tightly around him.
It was of no comfort to Albus. The arms were not Gellert's. There was no replacement for what he had lost.
He dreamed that night but one dream, the one thing he wanted more than anything in his trampled and maimed heart. He dreamed of a life with Gellert. A life of power and beauty and the purest of loves too pure for even the word love.
And of home. Always of home.