To love is to surrender oneself completely, to submit oneself into the hands of another, to join your mind and body and soul to another, so that you become as close as is possible to one single being. It is like… ah, but there is nothing quite like love, is there? There is nothing so powerful, nothing in this world with greater strength than love: it binds people together, whether they will it or not, whether there are papers to proclaim it or not, and it does not end until it dies.
Perhaps it never shall die; perhaps it shall simply fade and then be gone. I confess I used to ponder over this quite often in my younger days, when I still thought occasionally of companionship and of family, but I have come to conclusion that, really, there is no use in fighting the truth any more. One way or another, the truth always makes itself heard in the end. What can mere denial do, in the face of such an ending?
I must apologise for rambling in such a manner – I have been reading poetry lately, Byron and Wordsworth, and so love and romance are at the forefront of my mind, and when such things enter my thoughts, it cannot be helped but that they turn, immediately, to you.
Even now, when I think of it, it brings a smile to my face, and I wonder what others would think if I told them, in all honesty, that Gellert Grindelwald, terror of Europe, former dictator and Dark Lord, was an avid reader – and lover, indeed – of poetry? That you had once read Tennyson’s In Memoriam through the night and into the dawn without a break to sleep, that you had exclaimed in shock when I informed you that I was not at all familiar with the works of Homer or Milton.
Quite probably they would laugh, my darling, and you mustn’t blame them for it: the Dark Arts and poetry are hardly ordinary bedfellows.
Do they allow you books in Nurmengard? I cannot imagine they do; they are still wary of you, of what you might do if given the chance. Perhaps I should send you some – novels, poetry, history – if only to save you from yourself. Locking you in prison was one thing, but sitting back and allowing you to drive yourself quite mad with boredom is another.
I think you might quite enjoy Tennyson, at any rate. He talks of death and nature and thought intertwined, describing psychology through imagery; he never states things directly, as such, merely gives a sense of them to the reader, leaving you to decipher the exact meaning yourself. A poet for both politicians and lovers. Perhaps it is too bold to say (and so I shall not, at least not out loud), but having been both of those things, you seem his ideal audience.
For my part, I am far from the ideal audience. I see the words, yes, and I read them, but they do not speak to me the way they did to you; I do not admire them the way you did. Words were ever your tool, your weapon, your delight. They were never mine.
No, in this we were opposites – as we were in so many things, as we discovered in the end. I have always preferred things which do not speak directly to me, things which allow me to decipher and translate without words, to give them meaning rather than take it from them, even if I could change it to what I would like to take from it. Music was always my first love, art the second: both play on the senses, on emotions through the senses, leaving the mind out of it altogether.
Ah, I was so foolish to think that only those things, enchantments and potions and tricks, which play with the mind could be so devastatingly dangerous. Alas, that it is the curse of age to realise such truths too late.
For you the mind was a toy, a puppet, something malleable which you could pull and push and shape into what you wanted it to be, swing round and round and round in circles until your hapless victim merely frowned, dizzy, and agreed, disagreements long fled from his mind. Trickery and concealment – hiding the truth in plain sight, giving it a glossy coat of paint and persuading everyone it was a rainbow; you were a magician beyond compare, darling, and your delight in it was enough that I was loath to stop you, if only because it made you so very happy.
We agreed on something, though – a meeting point, of sorts – do you remember? Opera, dramatic and exquisitely crafted, literature in musical form, was a joy for both of us. Do you remember when we went to London, sat in the boxes, champagne in ice to one side, our chairs as close together as they could be without seeming indecent. I confess that while Violetta and Alfredo sang of a future, a blissful dream they shared, I barely noticed the movements on stage, lost in my own delights.
The music flowed and soared, and you caressed the inside of my wrist in time with the sweeps of the conductor’s baton, your fingers warm and tender, scandalously so. I was quite swept away by the sheer, raw power of it all, and I emerged from the theatre at the end of the evening half-drowned and struck dumb by sensation.
I wonder, though – you must forgive me these rambling wonders as I am old, Gellert, and my mind works in ways sometimes I struggle to fathom – if you ever thought of the words as they were sung, heard them and considered if sometimes a dream can only be a dream? If sometimes perfection is, in the end, unattainable, and that love, perhaps, does not conquer all?
With you, things were always other things – similies and comparisons, descriptions colouring my world in shades I had never dared to imagine before – and I loved the uncertainty, the thrill in learning the truths you uttered so carefully, picking them apart until I could lay them at your feet, triumphant at last. It seemed only a game, then, but at times I cannot help but wonder if for you it was more than simple amusement, more than a game, and if all those smiles, so light and pleased, were because I was merely your puppet, charging headlong down the path you had so painstakingly drawn out for me.
3rd January, 1901; Langres, Lorraine, France
It is an undeniable fact of this world that Christmas, above all other holidays and celebrations, is a time for family; a time for making peace and sharing joy, both giving and receiving, and basking in the comfort of being surrounded by those you love the most. Considering this, perhaps it is not so strange, after all, that those first two Christmases after that day I spent alone, or as near to alone as one could get, and as far from my family – any part of it – as I ever have been.
Do not concern yourself, Gellert, I am not telling you this in a quest for pity; I am quite well aware I shall likely receive none, and I do not require any. It is a long time past.
The first Christmas, so soon after, I was utterly, inconsolably miserable. My lone companion was a vintage bottle of tawny port – the kind my father preferred on the rare occasions he indulged himself – and, when that ran out only a few days into Advent, bottles of absinthe and sherry bought from the local town. For a little over a month, I trudged around my cottage, deep in the French countryside, so beautifully laden with snow, and sulked, reading anything I could get my hands on, but determined to hide myself away from the world.
It is a truly wretched existence – I do not, nor would I, ever wish it on anybody – to be at such a complete and total loss. I had never experienced it before, such loneliness and such uncertainty, and I never wish to do so again.
On Christmas Eve, I attended Mass in the local church: a lovely, squat building, its stone weathered to a deep, cracked grey. It was in Latin, of course, so I could only hum along to the hymns and guess at the prayers which were being said, but I could feel the weight of it, the lightness in the air, as the priest spoke of redemption, a saviour born, and the most precious gift of family, his sermon delivered in a pleasing baritone which, along with the spiced incense and flickering candles, lulled me into relaxing, softening even as I shivered.
I was the last into the church, and the first to leave it: I could not have stayed any longer, because a sudden burst of German in front of me, a flash of a blonde head, and I was suddenly trembling, and no longer because of the cold or a sudden need for a tumbler of sherry.
Within seconds, I was back at home, sunk into an armchair with my head in my hands, and what could I do but cry? Alas, my darling, it was not all for you, but the mere threat of seeing you, the mere thought of you and the hope, the longing that provoked in me… I did not know whether to be appalled by myself or desperately wanting, and settled for simple misery as a mid-point.
Then, of course, once I had cried for you, I remembered Ariana, I remembered the sermon and family, I remembered how Aberforth had spat in my face and broken my nose, I remembered my poor dead parents, and I cried again for them.
That was last year, though – the turn of the century, the great beacon of light and hope the bleak end of the previous era had been waiting for – and I approached the next year, 1901 and nothing special, with the determination that this year I would not let myself fall into the same trap as I had done before.
I promised myself I would be happy at Christmas, but the truth about happiness is that you can promise it to yourself as many times as you wish, it will not necessarily do anything.
Langres in winter was beautiful; ice dripped down from the edges of roofs, clung to windowpanes and laced the top of the canals in thin, snow-flaked sheets. The wind whipped through the town, harsh and snarling with the voice of the mountains, but the sunlight was strong, if not warm, and the land glittered as though covered with fairy dust. All around, houses and fences were being decorated with holly and strings of ivy, enchanted candles lining paths to restaurants and bars, slotted in between the marble columns of the famous magical hôtel de ville and sending beams of red and green up their sides.
Ah, it was truly lovely – a far cry from the wet and mild winters we had had back in Godric’s Hollow, it put me more in mind of the Christmases I had spent at Hogwarts, the castle blanketed in snow and festooned with candles and ribbons and sprigs of ivy, the German tradition of Christmas trees having taken a long time to migrate to Hogwarts. With memories of laughter and mugs of Butterbeer (and, I have to admit, tumblers of Firewhisky once we thought ourselves old enough to fool the bartenders) and the pleasant company of friends, and something of a joy in life again, I was quite swept away by the sheer romanticism with which the French viewed the holiday.
So it was that two days before Christmas I found myself in the hall of the hôtel de ville, sporting a new pair of pine green dress robes Euphemia had sent me in lieu of her own attendance being as she was on her honeymoon at the time, attending a party hosted by the French Ministry. I had not been invited personally, of course, but Tiberius was there with the British Magical Embassy and had extended the invitation to all of his friends, assuring us – Elphias in particular – that they would have no issue with it; they were remarkably relaxed about extra guests.
Indeed, upon entering we had received a ‘bonsoir, messieurs’ from the maitre d’ and a glass of champagne, without mention of any kind of proof of invitation.
It was spectacular, truly – a perfect recreation of forest clearing in winter, the pillars around the hall twined about with twigs and ivy, the ceiling shedding sprinkles of snow every now and then onto the crowd below, and, in the corner, a choir of wood nymphs sang ‘Ave Maria’ in soft, haunting tones, the violins smooth and sad.
Looking at it then, one would never have guessed that usually the walls were merely plain sandstone and lined with velvet-covered chairs and portraits of past Ministers, but that, perhaps, was the magic of it all.
“- and you know my friend Mr Dumbledore, of course,” I heard Tiberius say, English sounding out-of-place and almost crude in a hall with French ringing around the room in quick, fluid bursts, and I could not help but wonder if finding another English speaker was the cause for quite the level of excitement in his voice.
A cynical thought, and so one I naturally kept to myself – even more so since my own linguistic skills have always been poor, despite your best attempts at instruction, my darling.
Though I should say that I am certain it was not your teaching that was at fault, more my lack of concentration. Perhaps if you had worn more clothes that day I would have been less hopeless a student? It is, after all, difficult to think about dative verb constructions when one is focused more on mapping out the plains of another’s body, even if only by eye.
I never did learn German, as I promised. Goethe sits on my shelf, untouched and dusty – but, alas, you see, I cannot look at it without remembering and so I avoid it, all previous incentives lost.
In that time, though, both poetry and prose were far from my mind, preoccupied as I was with circling around the room, the glass of champagne never seeming to dip a jot, bubbling away with the crackle of a newly-popped bottle, searching for someone to talk with on any topic.
Most people were happy to chat about the weather, enquire after plans and thoughts on the day’s politics (which I knew regrettably little about), and on the Ministerial gossip (the French Minister’s daughter had been arrested earlier in the week, hence his absence from the party, and it was widely rumoured that his wife had been having an affair with the Swedish diplomat for months), and I was equally more than content to keep conversation at a light level. It was easy enough to keep up with, and here I had no one I was looking to impress.
Truthfully, I liked being unknown, being just another face in the crowd, assumed to be nothing more than average – at least, then I did, having spent so long out of any kind of elite society, however such a group would be defined, so that returning to it felt almost strange and invasive, as though any privacy I had had been stripped away, even if I was only an addition after Nicolas Flamel’s name.
“Albus Dumbledore?” a voice, heavily accented and not one I recognised, sounded from behind me and I turned with a smile, ready to repeat once again what an honour it had been and how lucky it was that I had got to work with Nicolas Flamel; the words were beginning to taste sour in my mouth.
It was not at all that they were lies, or in any way untrue, it was simply the continuous repetition of it which frustrated me. I could not help but wonder if people could not think of a different question to ask? If there was truly nothing else they wanted to know?
“Yes,” I responded, shifting my glass into my left hand to proffer my right for him to shake. “And I am afraid I have not had the pleasure, Mr…?”
“Dillonsby,” he replied quickly, shaking my hand with a strong, surprisingly crushing grip, his smile bright and pointed. “Ivor Dillonsby. I haf wanted to talk with you for a while but you haf been quite busy talking.”
He laughed, and though it sounded genuine, I was certain there was a joke in there somewhere at my expense; underneath the pleasantry, there rang a strain of discord, a hint of something hollow.
“My apologies if I have been delaying your plans,” I smiled back nonetheless, determined to be perfectly agreeable even if he could not manage it. This was a party, after all, and I had no intention of letting a true stranger ruin it for me; optimism was running high that evening, my darling.
“No, not at all,” he assured me, flashing me that smile again. “I voz meaning to ask about your Potions work – about that theory of yours, vith the dragon’s blood? How you believe it has properties? You see, Mr Dumbledore, I believe I have discovered some of them.”
It was said so bluntly and so suddenly that I admit I was quite taken aback by it, and so stood there for several moments with my mouth open, lost for words.
You know, Gellert, I find it immeasurably strange that of all the accomplishments I have achieved over the years, people remember most the dragon’s blood and my defeat of you. One I doubt I truly earned, and the other… ah, the other was a hastily scribbled down thought, barely half developed, and sent off for publication without real consideration before I raced off to find you. Indeed, even as I wrote it, candlelight flickering from the breeze coming in through the window, my mind was not really on the properties of dragon’s blood, more on ideas like justice and righteousness and whether or not Darwin’s theory of evolution could really be applied to wizards and muggles.
Nonetheless, whatever I think of it, that rushed article grew and grew, and when I left Nicolas to find a new apprentice, it was the first thing I thought of, the first papers I found in the reams that remained from that summer, which I found caught my attention. It is curious how these things happen, do you not think?
Perhaps not; you never did believe in coincidence, I do not see any reason why that would have changed.
“If you vould like, I could send you my papers, so you could test and see for yourself?” he suggested, and I could only nod and manage a ‘that would be delightful, thank you’ before he left, even as irritation and arrogant, brash anger stirred in my stomach.
The idea that someone else could discover what I had not yet managed was unthinkable, and the suggestion that I would be useful merely to check his results was insulting. I was both bitter and furious; refusing really to believe that he had, that he could have, and it embarrasses me to think of such things now.
Arrogance is always such a costly trait.
Out of the corner of my eye, there was a flash of blonde curls, the hint of a curved waist and I stopped dead in my tracks, head turning round painfully. For a moment, I simply stood there, my heart racing, breathless, wondering why I had never considered before that you might be there, wondering why I had ever accepted the invitation to come, before I found myself moving off in search of you.
The crowd parted easily, almost too easily, and yet there was no sign of you – no touch of gold anywhere around me.
My head was swimming, weightless and thoughtless, and as I took another sip of champagne, I headed for the garden, quite desperate to leave the room, to feel the breeze on my skin and let the cold sink in through the haze of alcohol.
Balancing my champagne flute carefully on the balcony, I slipped a thin rectangle of paper out of a pocket and neatly arranged a line of tobacco down the centre, rolling it up and sealing it with a faint lick of blue fire. It was not such a vice then, nothing scandalous, and for me it was always more of an indulgence rather than anything else (though I must admit that every addiction is declared an indulgence by its owner, and so it is hardly a choice phrase to use), but on the continent such behaviours were common and I had found myself slipping into the habit more quickly than I would like to believe.
Even as I breathed smoke into the night air, the scent of it familiar and soothing, expelling the fog from my head in wispy, delicate clouds, I saw something – only a small thing, insignificant really – but it stopped my heart.
A snap of fingers, quick and crisp, the flicker of a flame wrapping itself around the end of a cigarette, even as slim fingers dangled it carelessly; then, as I blinked, golden curls made silver in the dim light, and dear god, for a moment I was back in Godric’s Hollow, in Bathilda’s garden, watching as smoke left your mouth, pressing against your lips in a caress and wanting to do the same.
Of course, it was as I was staring that he looked up and I saw that he was not you. He was only like you, nothing more; an imitation, if you like, or a copy. Regardless, I found I could not look away, searching for traces of you in him, for something to cling to.
He saw me looking, and smiled, and it was pretty, charming even, though it lacked your intensity.
That, as I discovered, was the difference between you and him. Where you were Germanic steel, beautiful and strong and unyielding, he was light and eager and so very pliable beneath my hands. You had inspired longing in me, brought out passion and wanting and a hunger I had always known but refused to acknowledge, and I could not muster up those emotions for him. There was desire, yes, and there was perhaps need of a kind, but he did not captivate me in the way you had.
So it was that at four o’clock in the morning on Christmas Eve, I found myself sitting on a window-seat, gazing out across the Moselle, feeling terribly, desperately alone.
A bouquet of lilacs lay across my lap from where I had been admiring them, their leaves brushing across my stomach as I breathed in and out, slow and deep. It was strangely gentle, and the petals felt like satin under my fingers, coloured a lovely, vibrant royal purple. They were beautiful –enchanted to last forever, to withstand the ravages of time – and as I rested my head against the windowpane, at a loss to understand my own melancholy, I found myself thinking of their meaning, how they spoke of love, first love, that slow, creeping realisation that you cannot live alone. That life is not made for that, that one single person can mean more to you than the world entire.
Even as Alain turned in bed behind me, sweet and charming and so very much what I should want, I sighed, imagined what it would be to be in love, and thought of you.
As far as realisations go, there was no fanfare, there was no great shock or amazement or horror. I did not leap up from the seat, spilling flowers onto the floor, or exclaim under my breath; all I did, in truth, was think and know and feel that I loved you.
There was no need for a spectacle; after all, I had been in love with you for years then, even if I had not thought of it until that moment.
Without thinking, the mixed taste of champagne and tobacco lingering on my tongue, I tied the bouquet with a ribbon – yellow, perhaps, though it was hard to distinguish the colours in the night – and sent it off with the owl in the corner of the room. Before she left, she gazed at me reproachfully, as though well aware of what I was doing and disapproving.
The window clattered as I shut it, and Alain stirred without waking, innocent to my bold, desperate gesture. I looked at him as I slid back into bed beside him, and now, now I could see it, just how much like you he was, how much your shadow and I knew from where the attraction had sprung.
Slipping an arm around his waist and brushing a few slender tresses out of the way, I drifted off to sleep, adamant that in the morning, I would leave and not come back, and dreaming of you, wreathed in smoke in the moonlight.
A/N: I just want to say a huge, huge thank you to everyone who voted for this story in the Dobbys - I'm utterly blown away by it all, I honestly never expected to win and I really can't express how much it means to me! So thank you all so much - this chapter is dedicated to you all! :) I love you all so much!
The beautiful CI at the top is by nyx @TDA
The references in this to Violetta and Alfredo is a reference to the opera La Traviata, by Verdi, which is set to a libretto by Piave, and so is not owned by me.
Nor do I own the song 'Ave Maria', which is currently set to music by Bach and the lyrics by Gounud.
Nor do I own Goethe, who was, in fact, a real person.
And, lastly, hotel de ville = town hall in French.
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