Chapter 1 : all the way down
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The title is by the Decemberist, the chapter title by Soulsavers. Enjoy. Critique and comments appreciated.
As there was before great storms, there was silence.
The only thing that broke it was the sound of each of their deep inhalations and exhalations, their breathing synchronised.
But was not a calm quiet, though, like that of one before a tempest.
No - it was uneasy, awkward almost, and although both men seemed preoccupied with different things - one, the blonde haired gentleman, staring at the clock that hung upon the wall at an angle on the other side of the room, as if doing so would make the hands dance around the face any faster. The other seemed content in watching the mead within his tankard swirling as he moved his hand in small circles.
This was both familiar and foreign territory for the two of them. They knew each other inside out, or had done, but that was all in the past now, both had changed and each had not changed to fit the other. Like an old jumper, threadbare and washed of colour, shrunk from a shoddy washing charm, it did was no longer comfy. In fact, though both had tried upon first seeing each other that evening to squeeze their bodies into it, until it was even more stretched and out of shape, it just would not fit. And now they were exhausted with their efforts. They were practically drained of energy at trying to speak comfortably with one enough, trying to rekindle even a spark of what once was between them, the friendship that had shared.
They were sat in the corner, the dim light hanging in the centre of the room hardly providing anything for them, but they were sitting close enough together that each could see each other clearly. Each line on their faces, not having been there so many years ago, newly acquired with age, but every twitch and blink and squirm; they could still see it all in each other.
They were sat in the corner, shielded by the dim light in the Three Broomsticks, that set everyone in shadow, and made the dark, sticky stains on the carpet seem black like tar. It was busy, though no more than to be expected on a Friday evening, early, the winter wind causing the sun to shrink away in to the distance until the whole of Hogsmeade was drenched in darkness. The small pub was still only half-built, although already popular with regulars, both of the magic community and muggles who lived within the village. Albus briefly wondered as to what the muggle citizens of Hogsmeade must have thought, seeing all these strange people, most of whom did not live there, in great cloaks, mostly black, but some eccentric acid greens or deep purples here and there, perhaps one or two with a pointed hat sprinkled with stars. How bizarre they must have looked, like a small travelling circus.
He looked back across to the man sitting opposite him, eyes meeting forehead where he was studying his murky brown liquid, Albus noticing how much shorter his hair was now from their younger days, how much he had grown into that face - more defined now, much stronger features. And despite his obvious anxiety, his companion still managed to look confident and comfortable, relaxed in his own skin, something Albus himself had yet to master. He felt a slight pang of envy, before brushing it away.
“Al,” the man spoke, his deep, throaty voice causing Albus to frown. That was not how he remembered it. He remembered something much softer, or perhaps it was just his memory deceiving him. Maybe over the years, he had dressed the real Gellert Grindelwald up in his mind. “Are we to sit in silence all night, or do you plan to talk at some point?”
Gellert looked pointedly at him, a grin pulling up the corners of his mouth, his brow creased in a mockingly patronising frown, as he stared at his companion. Albus gave a short laugh, and shook his head slowly, before taking a sip of the firewhiskey that had been sitting in front of him. He grimaced as it burnt the back of his throat, not yet accustomed to drinking the stuff - he wouldn’t even being doing it now if it weren’t for his want of Dutch courage.
“I’ll talk,” he replied, wiping his mouth with the edge of the handkerchief he had tucked into his sleeve. “I’m sorry; I’m nervous.”
Gellert nodded slowly, as Albus bit his tongue, glad that his honesty had gone down well. He had always been honest, the only lies he told being by omission, but it had once irritated the boy, in their youth, for the short time they had known each other.
“So am I,” Gellert told him, taking a slug of the mead. He set it down in front of him and leaned forward of the table slowly, until his face was very close to Albus’ own. He wrinkled his nose, a habit that Albus had forgotten until that moment, and spoke, now in a more hushed voice. “Albus…forgive me.”
Albus swallowed, trying to hide the shock from showing on his face. Until he had calculated the enigmatic man, he did not wish to show his cards. This was surprising. In all their days spent together, he could not remember Gellert apologising at any other time. Excuses, he would make; blaming others, he would do; but accepting himself to be in the wrong? Even for something like this, Albus could hardly belief the boy - or, rather, now, the man - was familiar with the word. On this thought, Albus mentally slapped his own wrists. He was hardly in a state to be judging this man before him.
He considered his words long and hard, unsure whether he wished to accept it or not. He had not come prepared for this. Of course, he had not come prepared to see Gellert at all. It had only been at the heart-stopping moment, standing against the bar waiting for the old woman who ran the bar to serve them, that he noticed him, sitting in a booth in the corner of the room. He didn’t know if he had seen him, but as he took up his drink, Gellert had looked up at him, smiled, beckoned him over. No amount of his own confidence would have saved him nerves here. This was one man he could not hide himself from.
And all that had transpired between them that summer? Surely impossible to forget - completely and utterly so - but perhaps not impossible to forgive? He did not know the general procedure for it, did not know how to deal with the situation. It did not help that the situation was unique to him, and only him. A dead mother, a dead sister, one down to his own clumsy mistakes. He shook his head - clumsy was too light a word to apply to the situation, but there was nothing he could find that was strong enough. Catastrophic? Horrific?
Gellert was staring at him, and he could feel those dark brown eyes, so much more dramatic from his own, in Albus’ opinion, on him, watching for his reaction. He was careful to keep his face as closed as possible, not to allow himself to slip.
“I - I don’t know if I can, Gellert.”
There was a pause, before Gellert nodded slowly.
“I understand,” he said, licking his lips and sitting back into his chair. He gave a great sigh, raking his bony hands through his hair, and it seemed as if he spoke truth - that he did understand what Albus was going through, the inner struggle. Gellert was an intelligent man, something Albus had tried never to underestimate.
They slipped back into silence again, broken only by Gellert’s gulps of mead.
“You didn’t have to leave.”
Gellert looked up at this, frowning slightly, lips pursed as he stared right into Albus’ eyes, searching them. When he search was apparently unsuccessful, he gave a great sigh and slowly shook his head.
“I couldn’t stay, I was scared,” he said, his head dipping so he could stare at the table instead of Albus. “Young and vulnerable, I didn’t know what to do, how to handle the situation. You were so much older than me, Al, in mind, you always were.”
Albus nodded slowly. It made sense, and Albus had always suspected it was the case, but he was sure there was more to it - more too it than that. The boy was a fool. There was no doubting that, and one who had thought he knew the world, when really he knew nothing. Albus wondered if anything had changed.
“I missed you when I left. Probably a lot more than you did,” Gellert continued, eyes wondering the room - whether to not have to look at Albus, or to ensure no one was listening, Albus wasn’t sure. “I didn’t mean to abandon you. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Our friendship…it meant a lot more to me than what you might think from how I treated it.”
“Have you ever been back?” Albus asked suddenly, the conversation making him uncomfortable.
His eyes finally found Albus’.
“To Godric’s Hollow.”
Gellert’s eyes opened slightly wider, and he looked away again, a slight blush in his cheeks.
“I stayed there this summer. Only for a few nights. I wanted to find you,” he told the other boy, biting down on his lip whenever he paused from speaking. “I was so anxious when the old lady who lives there now told me you had moved, didn’t know where.”
Albus nodded; he knew the woman she spoke of. A mother of two children, her husband a drunkard. It had been on a very fleeting visit to collect some things he had left behind in the garden that he had discovered that. He wished he could have done something to help her, but there was very little he could do.
“I had to go. I couldn’t stay in Godric’s Hollow, not while Aberforth was there.”
“Is he still there?”
“No, he left years ago. He lives here now.”
“I’m a professor.”
Gellert nodded slowly, stroking his chin, an old habit coming back to him. A ghost of a smile playing across his lips. Albus was curious as to what the man was finding amusing, but he held it in, watching as the smile dropped into a frown in a fraction of a second.
“Don't you remember? Don't you ever think about what you left behind?” Gellert asked suddenly, an urgent tone to his voice, eyes now locked on Albus’ where before they had wondered.
“I try not to,” he whispered in reply, unable and unwanting to break away from Gellert’s eyes.
“Why would I want to remember it, Gellert? Why would I want to remember all tha -”
“I don’t mean Ariana -”
Albus flinched. After all those years, it was still hard to hear her name. His stomach flipped, and his hand felt for the table leg to hold onto. He didn’t feel quite stable, but he cleared his throat, looked back at Gellert.
“I meant, us,” Gellert explained, seemingly unaware of the reaction the little girl’s name brought up in Albus.
“I know what you meant,” he spoke through gritted teeth.
Gellert looked pained - understandably so. Albus felt quite sorry for him. Had he come here, expecting Albus to throw himself at his feet and ask him to return with him to Godric’s Hollow? Still a fool, he mused.
“There is nothing I want to remember from that summer,” Albus told him defiantly.
Silence flooded in to meet them both once more, eyes on each other. Albus was struggling now to keep the stare up, unusual for him. But they were so familiar, reminding him of everything that went between them and around them. Gellert leant in to him again.
“Albus Dumbledore, you told me you loved me,” Gellert whispered, a dark look in his eyes.
Albus would not allow himself to be threaten, not by this boy, not again. He gritted his teeth once more.
“People will hear you.”
“And let them. We could take on anyone who tried to threaten us Al - don’t you remember?” Gellert let a smile play across his lips as he sat back in his chair, remembering their summer together. “We were going to take on the world.”
“We were children.”
“I was a child. I was besotted with the pictures you painted, the stories you told me,” Albus told him, anger rising in his voice, struggling to keep it under control. “It all seemed so easy.”
“But not anymore?”
“Of course not anymore.”
There was a few moments of silence, Gellert fiddling with his collar, flattening it out where it had curled up at the front. Albus concentrated on this, the methodical way he ran his fingers over the material, pinching it down, was somehow soothing.
“We still could, you know,” Gellert spoke suddenly. Albus frowned, and, sensing his confusion, the other boy continued. “We could still take on the world.”
Albus gave a gruff laugh, shook his head. He truly had not changed at all, with his wild plans and even wilder attitude toward the world. Albus smiled, and drank the rest of his firewhiskey.
“I should go now,” he told the other man.
“I’ll walk you out.”
Albus nodded, somewhat reluctant. He had rather hoped to leave without him, to catch his breath and feel the cold air on his skin, which was now heating up, both from the pub itself and from the situation he had found himself in.
They both lifted themselves from their seats, and slowly wormed through the crowd to make their way to the door. Albus was first out, taking a deep inhale as soon as the cold December breeze caught him.
Albus turned to him as he left the pub behind him. He noticed there was a strange look that had come across his face, one that was reminiscent of a begging dog. Albus quickly took a step away.
“Gellert, please. I need to go.”
“Al, you’ve got to at least tell me where you are,” Gellert insisted, frown deepening. “Where you’re living now?”
“I told you - I’m a professor. Most of the year, I’m at Hogwarts. The summer I spend here, lodging. There’s a small wizarding community. It’s nice.”
“Maybe I can stay with you sometime.”
Albus was caught by surprise by this situation; did Gellert really think he’d accept such an offer? That he’d allow him anywhere near him and his home.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Gellert looked hurt, withdrew from Albus, a nervous smile on his face as he nodded reluctantly.
“I don’t think you’ll ever forgive me, hm?” he said, so softly Albus almost missed it.
“I don’t know if I want to,” he replied bluntly.
Gellert carried on nodding, harder now, as if he had been expecting such a reply; perhaps he had been.
“I understand that,” he said (and Albus suspected he was telling the truth). “I didn’t expect you to ever. I hoped, but I didn’t expect.”
Albus gave a half-smile, guilt wracking his stomach. How was this fair to him? For Gellert, after all this time, all those years, to turn up on his doorstep and remind him of the things he said? He had buried this, he had buried this long ago, along with the rest of that summer and the tragic events that unfolded in it. He had only just rebuilt his relationship with his brother, he did not have the energy to do so with anyone else. Besides, like he had said, he was not quite sure he wanted to forgive Gellert. When he had needed him most, he had deserted him. How did he know that would not happen again? After all, the man seemed not to have changed at all.
“If I could though -” Albus said, hesitantly, before stopping midsentence, biting his tongue. He shouldn’t have gone down that road - shouldn’t have given Gellert a chance to clutch at straws. He had just looked so hurt, and Albus could not resist him. He never could.
“Could?” Gellert looked up hopefully.
“If I could forgive you, Gellert,” Albus said softly. “If I could, I would.”
“But you can’t. I know. It’s okay.”
Albus nodded; maybe he did understand after all. Maybe he had grown up, just Albus hadn’t seen it. But he knew he couldn’t take that risk. Not only that, but what would Aberforth say if he knew? If he knew he had allowed Gellert Grindelwald back in his life after he had practically torn them apart.
Gellert nodded. This was all Albus needed, and he turn around, ready to make the short walk back to the cottage he was renting a room in, before Gellert stopped him again.
Albus turned back, frowning, frustration growing in him as he waited to be rid of the man.
“Did you mean it? Did you ever mean it, any of it?” Gellert asked him, eyes wide and pleading once more. “Everything we said, everything we shared.”
Albus mulled over this question, feeling the answer on his tongue, coppery like blood, waiting to be spoken. He knew that he could not lie to him, could not pretend. Gellert already knew the truth, even if he needed to hear it.
Something happened then that Albus had seen before; a dark look running across Gellert’s features, before they settled back into their softer looks. Albus frowned; had that been what he wanted to hear? So he could have some sick ego boost?
“Are you married?” Gellert asked, distracting him from his own thoughts.
Gellert nodded, biting down on his lip.
“I didn’t expect so. You’re getting on now, you should find someone.”
Albus smiled, understanding it was a joke, but the smile did not reach his eyes. Instead, there lay a pained expression.
“Maybe some day,” Albus shrugged, even though they both knew this to be a lie.
“I never meant to hurt you, you know.”
Albus was growing weary now of all the apologising that was coming from his friend; it was not in his nature to be sorry for anything, the stubborn boy insisting that everything was someone else’s fault (usually Albus’). It could be a sign he had grown up, surely, but Albus knew to suspect be on that. It was most likely a way to get back under his skin, he knew, and as much as the boy could try, Albus would not allow him to have that power over him any longer. It was dangerous, and he refused to allow it.
“I know,” Albus said shortly, half turning on the spot so he could try to leave once more. He wished he lived much further away, and could apparate on the spot instead of having to walk away into the distance, where Gellert could catch up with him at any moment.
“But I did mean it - all of it.”
Gellert nodded, apparently satisfied with this. Albus took a few steps away now, expecting to be called back, and Gellert did not disappoint him.
He hesitated, hearing Gellert’s heavy footfall behind him, waiting until he was close, before he turned, looking questioningly at the boy. But before he could say a word, Gellert’s hand was around his waist, and he had pulled him close in the dark of Hogsmeade. Albus heart was in his mouth, feeling once more like the boy of seventeen he had been, eyes looking up searchingly into Gellert, ready to receive his lips.
But then he saw it.
That look, once more, dark, serious, eyes hardening like granite, not allowing him in. He hesitated, and this was enough for Albus, the mixture of fear and excitement causing adrenaline to rush through him. He pulled away just as Gellert leaned down, a few inches taller than him, turning his head so the other boy’s lips only caught his cheek. His rough lips grazed the soft skin there, and Albus struggled from his grip, which Gellert loosened as realisation sunk in, allowing Albus to break free.
That expression was gone, instead one of confusion taking hold of him, but he knew he had seen it before. Seen it before many times, as young men.
Albus felt sick suddenly, the world spinning for a few seconds until he regained his composure. He was going to let him kiss him. The realisation that he was weak enough to allow Gellert to do that, after only an hour or so back in his presence, made him want to throw up on the paving. He had thought of himself more strong willed than that, and, as always, Gellert proved him wrong. Anger was burning within him, both for himself and for Gellert.
Gellert still looked surprised, frown creasing his brow, and this only made the expression more so. This was evidently not what he had been expecting, and Albus could see that now. What had this been to him? Just a game?
“You should go back inside now,” Albus instructed him, voice stern. “I can see myself home.”
Albus watched as Gellert considered this for a moment, before he dropped his head and nodded, walking back towards the Three Broomsticks, and letting himself back inside - with one last look at Albus - and disappearing.
His own breath was loud as he stood alone in the street, dim light filtering out through the already grime encrusted windows of the pub. Albus swallowed, tears welling in his eyes, sick making its way up his throat, though he tried his best to keep both down. He wasn’t sure how long he could keep both back, his willpower not as strong as it had been earlier that evening. Softened, always softened by the same man, the same man who could bend him at his will and always could. But he had held strong - strong enough, at least. He felt relieved that Gellert had not pushed him; he didn’t know how much longer he could hold under that dark stare, that charming air.
Out of nervous habit, he found his hand rubbing the wrist of the opposite hand, feeling the leather strap of his watch beneath his fingers. Time was such a funny thing, he mused. It did not heal, nor erase, it seemed, as many people had told him growing up (and still did, as he continued to grow). Maybe it was a comfort thing, or a psychological thing. Or even just because memory fades like photos, light bleaching them of colour. But even when the image went, Albus felt as if the pain might stay.
He took another deep breath, finally breaking his gaze from the pub door, and turned slowly, reluctantly. He had wanted so much to give in, that was what seemed to hurt the most. He had betrayed himself, wanted to cave in to every demand he made and everything Gellert ever wanted from him. He had been happily ready to give it all to him. Again.
What was it about him that made him so hard to resist? Albus shook his head. Perhaps one day he would properly understand love and all that went with it. He hoped that time, if not healing, at least bought knowledge of many of life’s mysteries with it. Not all of them, of course, for then where would the fascination with life be?
He gave a great sigh, low heeled boots clicking across the cobbling.
It had been a long night, and he was drained of emotion, of energy. All he could wish for now was for sleep to wrap its arms around him and rock him to sleep. That, and that he would never have to set his eyes upon Gellert Grindelwald again. It was too much for him, far too much for him to handle. And yet, somewhere in his heart, he knew it would not be the last time; there were many years left to live, and the Wizarding community was not big enough to keep them apart forever.
It would have been easier to give in, but he seemed to remember someone once telling him that the right thing was oft the hardest thing. Perhaps they were right.
Or perhaps he would regret this like so many other choices he had made in life.
It was so hard to tell with love.
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