Nicholas understands.

He can decipher his friend's true intentions even before he finishes the conversation. Rumours have already flown around the world, of Albus Dumbledore's failing mental faculties, of the weakening of his power.

"There is a storm coming, Nick," the old man opposite him quietly says. "Voldemort will move to get the stone, and should he seize it for his own gain, then all will be lost. The Wizarding World isn't prepared to face him so soon after his fall."

Even though he doesn't look it, Nicholas is an old man himself, and he can read between the lines.

Harry Potter isn't prepared to face him.

"Let me think on it," he stalls, pretending not to notice the apprehension that flashes in his friend's blue eyes, "but for now, let us enjoy some music as I ponder." He smiles gently at Albus, who is content to wait, searching in his pockets for a Sherbet Lemon, no doubt.

The smile fades, though, as he turns away to put the record on. There is indeed a storm coming, and Harry Potter will be at the centre of it.

And Harry Potter will need a guide to help him through the perilous times. It is difficult to be interested in the affairs of mortals when one is six hundred years old, but lately he has been feeling an ache in his bones, a tiredness in his mind. Perhaps that is what makes him even consider the request.

His mind is already made up by the time he moves back to the comfort of his armchair. He adopts a thinking pose, fingers steepled, waiting for the correct moment to strike.

Albus is soon lost in the music, tapping his foot slightly to the beat. He chooses a particularly sublime moment in the music to spring his trap.

Nicholas addresses him in a low voice. "You are correct, Albus. Dark times lie ahead of us, especially with rumours of a prophecy surfacing? It is not mere coincidence that the Potters have disappeared simultaneously, is it?"

Albus' eyes take on a faraway look, and his lips curve upwards at the mention of his dear students. "As sharp as ever, my friend." He says, his mouth puckering up as he sucks on his favourite candy, not realizing that he has taken Nicholas' bait. "James is not reacting well to going into hiding, but I am sure that he will come around when he realizes how important it –"

He stops short, the fond twinkle in his eye fading when he realizes his gaffe. Like a schoolboy caught in some act of mischief, his face sags and Nicholas can just make out the tiniest of tears threatening to fall.

"I'm sorry," the alchemist replies quickly, looking up at the ceiling, at anywhere but the tall frame of his friend. "My mind wandered there for a moment, especially because of this new research I've undertaken."

It is a trick that Albus uses with great success around his students; they are both aware of this. None of them comment on it, and the moment passes.

Nevertheless, Albus' eyes flash with gratitude, but Nicholas soldiers on. He knows that they both know the real reason why Albus is here, but he keeps to the act anyway.

"Only a few months back I have discovered a special modification of the Elixir, which is most beneficial for those with...failing mental abilities, let us say?"

They both know that he is quoting Page 4 of the Daily Prophet – it is evident in the film of tears behind the half-moon glasses. "Indeed?" asks Albus, his face as impassive as ever. "I can only imagine how students of Hogwarts would react to that."

They crack another pair of smiles; the curve of their lips masking the emotions within.

Nicholas leans in, "And it is quite simple, really. All you need –"

And Perenelle watches them, and muses.

They are old men, but they were young boys once. Let them play their games.