Chapter 2 : Confrontational
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25th August, 1899; Godric’s Hollow, England
Already awake as the sun made her slow, measured journey up into the sky to begin the new day, he lay in the bed, gazing up at the ceiling, watching the sunlight play across the wooden eaves. Folded neatly on his lap, his fingers ran over each other in a continuous twitch. He felt restless, eager to be up and doing things; his mind was rushing about like a Golden Snitch, thoughts flying left, right and centre.
Today was far too precious a day to waste, after all. Today was the beginning of the rest of his life – the beginning of a glorious, bright future. Yesterday evening they had finalised their plans for their trip around Europe, shared a bottle of Firewhisky and spent a splendid evening in the company of only each other, a merry wood-fire in the hearth and the heady taste of the promise of success, thick and sweet.
Gellert was sitting on the windowsill, his long white shirt falling down over the side, blowing lightly in the breeze coming in through the open window. Oblivious to it as it ruffled his hair and picked at his clothes, the blonde stared straight out of the lead-lined glass, eyes narrowed in thought.
“Good morning, Gellert,” he murmured, unable to help the small smile now playing around his mouth. It seemed such a natural expression when around Gellert, one that had only grown more frequent in the last few weeks.
Startled, Gellert jumped a little in his precarious position, his head snapping round. When his eyes met Albus’, though, he relaxed and gave a small, secret smile.
“Albus,” he greeted him, letting one long leg dangle towards the floor lazily. “I had not realised you vere avake.”
“It is of no matter,” he assured the other easily, quickly. Gellert always did hate not realising things, constantly repeating that he had not meant to not notice, that he had not meant to be oblivious… he had to admit that it was a trait he found endearing, however much Aberforth grumbled that it stank of arrogance and self-importance (as did, for that matter, the entirety of the blonde boy and Albus himself).
Looking at Gellert, he felt the smile curling the corners of his lips grow, slowly taking over his entire mouth. He must look like a fool, he knew, but he did not mind, not in the slightest. However he looked at this moment was irrelevant – there were far more important things to discuss, far happier things to consider and far more pleasant things to do.
“Vhy are you smiling?” Gellert demanded, his face falling into a playful smirk. “Is it because off me?”
“It is,” he admitted, watching as Gellert’s smirk grew larger and more than faintly smug. “And it isn’t. I was considering our plans: how everything is in place so that we could leave here at the drop of a hat, if we so wished. It seems almost surreal, to be finally here in this position, but I suppose that is part of it, isn’t it? One cannot tell, after all, if something is really real until one is experiencing it.”
“Descartes,” Gellert named the philosopher instantly. “Cogito ergo sum. The only thing vun can know for certain is that he is real, and he knows that because he has thoughts.”
He smiles, giving a quick nod in response. Despite the shortness of their friendship so far, he has long stopped being awed by Gellert’s linguistic capabilities to the point where if the other came to him and asked for help (perhaps an unlikely situation, but not altogether impossible, even if he would never pronounce it directly) deciphering Shakespeare he would probably faint from shock rather than give an understanding nod. Such things as Gellert reading Descartes in English – an endeavour which took himself around two weeks to complete – in little under two months are now ordinary facts of life, taking their place alongside the grandfather clock in the hallways ticking off-beat and the melancholy notes Ariana sings when she feeds the goats.
“It almost makes you believe there is little point in discussing the weather, how one is feeling or the smell and taste of food and drink,” he commented, pulling himself upright, the sheets bunching around his waist, all the better to make conversation. “If Descartes were to be taken literally, then discussion of one’s thoughts should be the only thing permitted, since thoughts are the only thing one can know to be true.”
“In vhich case, Albus,” Gellert purred in reply, his eyes glittering as he spoke. “Vhat are you thinking?”
He felt himself blush, at a loss for what to say in response and having no recollection of what it was he had previously been thinking about, since now all he could think was that Gellert was looking very lovely sitting there like that, with his shirt falling steadily more and more open at the front, and that he had brought such a response entirely upon himself.
Gellert laughed, delighted, swinging his legs back and forth off the ledge, his hands either side of him, slipping off and landing on the wooden floorboards with a thud. Turning around, he reached up for the sash for the window, fingers batting the end a couple of times before seizing the faded cloth and pulling. Albus had half a mind to call out, to tell him to stop and that he liked the fresh air blowing through his room and that it was quite welcome to stay, but the words wouldn’t force themselves out. The windowpane banged into place, a few slivers of white paint chipping off, and then the wind was gone.
After a couple more lazy moments enjoying the sound of silence – rare in his house – he sighed and muttered, more to himself than to Gellert,
“Well, I suppose I should be up and go and fix breakfast.”
It would not be long before Ariana awoke, after all, and she could hardly make her own breakfast, let alone prepare some for the rest of the family and their guest, nor would it be appropriate or right to force her to either try or go hungry.
“Nein, nein,” Gellert sat down quickly on the bed, giving him a teasing look that wavered somewhere between a pout and a smirk, hiding the seriousness behind it. “You are not going anyvhere until you haf told me vhat you are thinking.”
He smiled, but gently pushed his way out of the tangle of sheets and blanket, hands groping for his clothes on the floor, tugging on trousers and shirt. If he thoughts about it, he could convince himself he could feel Gellert’s gaze on his back, watching him silently as he dressed, dragging an ivory comb through his hair in an effort to look mildly presentable at best.
Turning back around, he met his eyes, noting that Gellert had, it seemed, been watching him. A small frown creased the blonde’s forehead, his fingers clutching a piece of the blanket between them, as if he could squeeze the colour out of it, drain the ink out until it was rendered white, fuzzy wool once more. In that moment, Albus reflected, he seemed suddenly so very young; innocent and confused, he would perhaps call such an expression, like a child who has just been told they cannot have something and they do not understand why it is not allowed.
“I have to go and make breakfast,” he repeated – somewhat unnecessarily, as this was the case for him every morning and Gellert was well aware of this. “If you stay, we can finish this conversation afterwards – I will tell you exactly what was on my mind when you asked – since there is not the time to do it now.”
To anyone other than Gellert it might have been pertinent to add, ‘and I hope you will’, into the sentence, but this was Gellert and it would have been superfluous: Gellert always knew Albus hoped he stayed. It was an understanding between them which didn’t need to be spoken allowed – one of many, Albus believed.
A flash of irritation fluttered across Gellert’s face, from one ear to the other, before it vanished and he sighed, and nodded.
“I vill stay,” Gellert agreed, and he smiled, his shoulders relaxing. “But ve are having that conversation, Albus. You vill not escape from it.”
“I have no intention of trying,” Albus assured him, eager to get his words out, almost talking over the last, teasing comment.
Choosing to leave the room as Gellert, clearly assuming the conversation was over (which, in fairness, it was, as there was nothing more to add), slipped off the bed in search of his trousers and socks amongst the piles of books and parchment which lay scattered about, Albus closed the door behind himself, hearing the lock click quietly. The rest of the house was silent, and he could hear nothing behind the doors of either of his siblings when he stopped to check, lingering a little longer outside Aberforth’s.
The kitchen, as usual, was a bit of a mess when he stepped into it. Dishes from last night’s dinner – cleared away by hand after Aberforth had stomped outside to check on the goats, Ariana drifting after him moments later – had been left in a heap next to the sink, remains of sauce sticking to the china and he still hadn’t got round to cleaning the surface of the table. Another argument over dinner had not left him in the best of moods nor inclined to devote himself to half an hour’s worth of trivial, domestic duties.
He was, however, still basking in a comfortable contentment and Ariana was asleep, so a flick of his wand set the dishes to scrubbing themselves with soap and warm water, whilst a damp cloth began to wipe down the table. Stowing his wand back in his trouser pocket, Albus set about perusing the cupboards for something for breakfast.
They were looking a little bleak, he noted as he lifted half of a loaf of bread out of one cupboard and some cheese and ham out of another. All the eggs were gone, as were the corn muffins and kippers. At some point in the next couple of days, he would need to go the high street to purchase some more, before they ran out of honey and marmalade.
He had just finished laying the plates on the now spotlessly clean table when Gellert appeared in the doorway, buttoning up the cuffs of his shirt, his blonde curls still messy. Running a hand through his hair, Gellert flashed him a brief smile, although most of his attention was diverted by the bowl of fresh fruit on the table.
Pinching a blueberry from the top of the pile, the blonde moved over to him, hopping up to sit on one of the counters, telling him,
“I stopped outside your brother’s room vhen I came downstairs. I did not hear anything – I think he is still asleep.”
“I am sure he will be down soon enough,” Albus commented lightly, laying a platter of sliced bread, ham and cheese down on the table, making sure to put the breadknife back into the cupboard, out of sight. “As it is, we should probably enjoy the peace this morning, since there is no telling how long it will last.”
“I vould not care if he slept the entire day avay,” Gellert responded curtly, making the teapot levitate itself over to the table with a lazy swish of his wand. “Then at least he vould not be bothering us.”
Albus could not think of anything to say in response which had not been said before. He knew all too well the animosity his brother showed towards Gellert, and the precarious edge he himself walked on when dealing with both his siblings. It was a sore point, a confusing one, and not one to which he could see any clear answer.
Could one, he mused, ever even consider one relationship, one love, as greater than another? Can one even measure the unique qualities and peculiarities of one love against another? For if one cannot measure it, cannot say how weak or strong comparably it is, then surely one cannot classify such things as greater or lesser, and that would create an eternal impasse when a single individual finds himself torn between family and love, friendship and duty, desire and obligations.
When, he shook his head internally at himself, when on earth had he become quite so whimsical?
“When is Miss Bagshot returning?” he questioned, settling himself down in the seat beside Gellert, watching as the other wielded a bread knife, carving two slices and flipping them onto his plate.
“Afternoon,” came the reply as the blonde stretched to grab the marmalade. “Vhy? Ve haf plenty of time before then – do not vorry, Albus.”
“I am not worried, I was merely curious,” he responded, his tone somewhat indignant. Worried? Why would he be worried? There was, as far as he was concerned, nothing at all to be worried about – and if there was, then it was hardly likely to involve Miss Bagshot. The historian was quite fond of him and positively doted on Gellert, encouraging them to spend time together and ‘do whatever boys do these days’, and neither of them was likely to complain about such suggestions.
The look Gellert shot him, however, was simply amused, rather than anything else, and the German sniggered softly to himself, the spoon in his teacup stirring itself to the sound of the clock ticking.
“Vhat do you vant to do today?” Gellert asked politely, taking a sip of tea.
Albus sighed, the list of things he needed to do running through his head, parallel with the list of things he wanted to do – there were many of both, but they very rarely intersected. His time with Gellert and his time with his family were so different as to be virtually incompatible, and, in a way, the thought of mixing the two made him wince. He could not explain it, would not even like to try. It just was.
“I regret to say that today will likely mostly be given over to things which I must do, rather than things which I would like to do,” he replied, pushing a piece of kipper on his plate with his fork. Had his mother been there, she would have slapped his hand and scolded him for such behaviour, particularly in front of a guest.
Was Gellert really still a guest, though? He knew the house almost as well as Albus himself did and was privy to all the secrets its walls had known – what more did he need to do to shake off that label? Had he perhaps even gone past it already?
To his right, however, Gellert frowned – the second time that morning, he noted – and paused.
“But, Albus,” he began, drawing out Albus’ name in that strange way he always did, the ‘u’ elongated and stretched. It was the one thing he associated most with his friend, before anything else, and he had been reluctant to teach Gellert how to pronounce his name properly. “You vill haf to do something vhich you vant to do today,” the look on his face was expectant, bordering on demanding, though the tinge of mischief which ran through it softened it somewhat. “You are going to tell me vhat it vas that you vere thinking upstairs, ja?”
He had to admit, he was very glad Gellert had remembered that, otherwise he might have been in danger of forgetting, or remembering too late, and the shame of having let something so simple and so important slip his mind would have been almost unbearable.
“Of course,” he nodded instantly. “I remember. I should be able to be done by about lunch, if that is all right? We can go down by the stream again – the weather should hold up, I think.”
“That is fine,” Gellert shrugged, polishing off the second slice of bread, though a small smile seemed to flicker on his mouth. “I vill see you then – there is not much to do at Aunt Tilda’s expect for reading.”
The little kitchen was quiet for a while, neither of them speaking, both preoccupied: Gellert with watching the little sparrow outside flutter from branch to branch, quick head snapping from side to side as it observed the area with beady, intelligent eyes; Albus with his breakfast, listening attentively for the creak of the stairs or the landing which would tell him that one of his siblings had woken up.
It was peaceful – or as peaceful as it could be, given the circumstances.
Draining the last from his cup, Gellert tipped his head back so that his curls draped themselves over the back of the wooden chair, before straightening and placing the cup carefully back down onto the table. A flick of his wand sent the plate and cup zooming over to the sink, beginning to wash themselves clean.
If Aberforth was to believe that he had never been here, they could not leave any evidence suggesting otherwise. It was a ruse they had, regretfully, become rather good at in the last few weeks.
“I should be going,” Gellert murmured, although Albus noticed that he didn’t move; instead, the other simply looked at him intently, studying him.
For a moment, Albus waited for the inevitable contact, for Gellert to stop simply staring and move, but as he tilted his head slightly, shifting closer, the floorboard creaked. Not a soft creak, either – the kind made by a light foot, such as Ariana – but the heavy, stomping step of Aberforth.
A fleeting, bitterly amused smile flashed across Gellert’s face before he leaned in, kissing the corner of Albus’ mouth quickly.
“Bis bald,” he muttered, slipping out of the room silently, like a cat.
Albus barely heard the click of the front door as it closed behind him, but had no time to consider that or, indeed, consciously translate Gellert’s parting words, as the footsteps clattered down the stairs, growing louder and louder. Less than a minute after Gellert had jumped up from the table, Aberforth entered the room, turning to catch the door and leave it partially open behind him.
“That friend of yours scarpered already?” Aberforth asked, plopping himself down in the chair opposite Gellert’s abandoned chair.
“He is not ‘that friend of mine’, he has a name, please use it,” Albus sighed, knowing there was no point in asking but saying it anyway – perhaps the repetition would pound it into his brain. “And why would you suggest that he was here?”
His heartbeat was already thudding in his chest even before Aberforth gave him a look which implied he was the one who flung dung at their neighbours and spent all his time talking to goats, rather than the other way round. Being treated so by his brother didn’t happen too often (although more often recently than previous to their mother’s passing), but whenever it did happen it left him with a strange urge to take a bath and an annoyed, cold fury curling around in his chest.
He was better than this, he knew, he was meant for more than this. For something greater than this; destiny had plans for him far beyond this small house in Godric’s Hollow, perhaps even beyond England, beyond Britain.
Whatever fate destiny had laid out for him, the one thing he could be perfectly certain about was that he was far above his brother taunting him.
“There are dishes in the sink, and a chair’s pulled out,” Aberforth replied slowly, as though explaining something simple to a small child. “Someone was here, and who else would it be? You’re practically joined at the tip with him – never going anywhere without him, hanging off everything he says, drooling over his pretty blonde locks and blue eyes –“
“Enough!” Albus refused to hear another word of it. It was ridiculous, really – he did not ‘hang off’ every word Gellert said, nor ‘go everywhere with him’ and he prided himself on having enough composure not to drool over his companion.
Even so, despite his indignant anger, there was a strange little twinge in his chest which suggested that maybe, just maybe, Aberforth had a point.
So, naturally, he ignored it.
He sat there, in silence, glaring at his brother, identical blue eyes equally fierce. Numbly, he registered that Aberforth was speaking again, waving the knife clutched in his right hand for emphasis.
“Yes, you are. You’re always off with him – prattling on about world orders and revolution and all that,” Aberforth’s tone was biting, bitter, an accusatory edge ringing sharp and clear. “You’ve forgotten all about us. Me and Ariana. She needs looking after – she needs help. You barely know anything about her; you’re supposed to be her brother.
“But no, the great Albus Dumbledore has far more important things on his mind to think about than his younger sister, doesn’t he? Far more great and interesting things to talk about, all cuddled up in a corner somewhere with that stupid German, who no one even likes apart from Bathilda and everyone knows she’s starting to lose it –“
“Aberforth!” Albus cried, intending to leap to the defence of Bathilda, who he would admit without any hesitation he considered a friend, despite her tendency towards gossip.
If Aberforth had heard him, though, he didn’t acknowledge it and ploughed straight on:
“Ariana hates him – says he’s dark, says he’s dangerous, not that you’d know since you’re never around and when you are you blank out anything bad anyone ever says about him. The thing is, Albus, you’ve been doing a crap job of looking after this family since mother… since we lost mother, and if you don’t have the guts to do it, then I will.”
“If you are so certain that this one thing would solve all of our problems, Aberforth, I would glad do it,” Albus sighed, mentally adding ‘if only to prove you wrong’ onto the end of it. “But you haven’t said what it is you want me to do exactly.”
“Get rid of Grindelwald,” Aberforth replied flatly.
Albus stared at him, hearing the words, understanding what they meant, but feeling somewhat stunned by their utterance. He supposed he should not have been too surprised – Aberforth and Gellert had an understanding founded solely on mutual loathing. Still, hearing him say such a thing out loud suddenly made it seem a lot less simple a problem than it had been on the occasions when he’d considered it.
“How do you mean get rid of him?” he managed to ask a minute or so later, though from the ugly expression on his brother’s face it was a minute or so too late.
“Get him out of this town and out of our lives. None of us need him here, none of us want him here.”
His reluctance, deep and profound, must have shown on his face, because the next instant Aberforth had stood up, shoving his chair backwards.
“Fine,” he spat. “If you won’t, then I will.”
As his brother stomped off towards the back door of the little house, not bothering to grab a coat or a cloak or change his shoes as he went, Albus dropped his eyes to the table and sighed softly.
It wasn’t that he was concerned for Gellert, as such – he was well aware that Gellert’s skill and power were on a level with his own, and that his friend would be in no danger if and when Aberforth should confront him – it was more that he was concerned about what would happen afterwards. He knew, inexplicably, that such a confrontation would change things definitively. Aberforth would not rest until Gellert left, and Gellert wanted Albus with him.
He himself had no idea what he wanted.
Yes, it was a tricky situation – and he couldn’t, no matter how hard he tried, see it ending well.
A/N: 'Cogito ergo sum' is Latin for 'I think, therefore I am' and is a philosophical theory by René Descartes, found in several of his works, including 'Discourse on the method' and 'Principles of Philosophy'. It therefore belongs to him and not me.
The word 'nein' is German for 'no', 'ja' means 'yes', and 'bis bald' is 'see you soon'.
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