Search Home Read Write Forum Login Register

Our laughs, shivering and stuttering, would rattle off the ice-plated surface of the lake and the long, winding river which embedded itself in a line from the castle to the fjord, as we stripped off clothes with blue-tipped fingers, a pool of vodka warming our bellies and our chests; we would slap muscles, grasp shoulders, and clink together a last glass, the traditional cry of “Vechnaya pamyat!” swallowed up by the bitter night air, and as we downed the toasts, all the way to the bottom, we breathed in deep and long, praying silently that the toast might not come true; then and only then, steadied, licked by flames along the inside of our skin, we would jump into the lake, cracking ice on our shin-bones and sinking into an ink-dark underworld.

Starlight coalesces on ice, did you know that? It slides along it, through the veins and cracks in it that you or I could never see, travelling down, down to below, to the saltwater and the silt-covered beds and my white-boned body, still slowly drowning, blue-lipped and open-eyed, heart skipping and shuddering and almost-but-never-quite halting.

There, as the last of the light faded and my limbs and hair meandered about in the water, heavy and helpless, I was never afraid.

I grew up along the Danube, from Visegrád to Regensburg – I know saltwater; how it tastes and feels and how it dries, harsh and sticky, along your skin as you dry in the sun – and I always remained half in love with it.

Months after, you and I were laying on the banks next to the stream behind Godric’s Hollow, our feet muddied and our shirts and trousers lost elsewhere, and I told you of it: how I had spent evenings, night after night, plunging twelve feet down into ice-tipped water, how it had felt to hover somewhere on the knife-thin bridge between life and death, to feel Death’s hand reach out and brush the back of mine, spindly fingers reaching to grasp only for me to pull back and away and up, out into the air and the galaxy of stars littered above my head, to warm furs and the rush of adrenalin surging through me, magic pulsing in time with my heartbeat in golden, glittering thumps so that I was immortal.

You cannot know life without death, my Albus, though you knew that long before I did, did you not?

An endless circle: one giving way to the other, only to repeat again and again and again until all you taste is ash and all you see is the red roar of life at its fullest.

Gold and red and black – do not think the irony has escaped me.

I miss nothing these days, nothing and everything and nothing again. You sit in your tower and Fawkes butts your hand with his head, cooing at you, spreading his wings to show off to you, much as he did to me once; much as I did to you once, no? You sit in your tower, surrounded by your books and your students, and you push people across a chess board no one else can see: in this landscape, this universe, there is only you and I and your new prodigal son, all of us deluded enough to believe that we can win; that there is anything we can win except pride.

Pride comes before a fall – but if the falling is bliss, why wait?

Do you remember, how in those days – in between those long, delirious hours we spent together, buried under a pile of sheets and soft, Angora wool blankets in a honey-yellow sheen; turned gold and sugar-brown by the trio of candles we had lit – how we stood on the surface of the lake, spinning and wandering and threatening, always, to vanish suddenly as the ice groaned and fractured underneath our feet, spider-webs of slender, silver lines spiking out from both of us, overlapping and blending, merging together.

We could not touch, not there on the ice, wound up in scarves and gloves and heavy, trailing cloaks, and I missed it suddenly – missed the way your hands would so often press against mine, hot and dry, missed the way you would press your thumb into the back of my hand, rub against the bones and the paper-thin skin there, reminding me how you were there, how you were still there. It tethered me to reality, whispering in soft, tender strokes that this was not all a dream, not all simply something I had imagined, a shadow of something which might have been, in another life and another time.

Turning, I could see you, then, framed against the backdrop: the twinkling, yellow-tipped lights of Hallstatt on one side, and the looming white brush of the mountains, speckled with black and grey, on the other. Your hair still red, starting to fade, shone in the weak light which surrounded us, copper-tinted and bright, bright against the rest of it all; you blended the two, dark and light, cast half in the night and half in the stretching, reaching fingers of the town-lights.

You looked old then, old and worn and handsome, but the way you looked at me was the same: the same hunger, the same flare, reborn once again.

As you stepped closer, puffs of breath swallowed by the cold, you became everything I could see – around you the landscape blurred and bleached, cast in greyscale; a ruined watercolour of a thought, half-formed and left to fester.

When I opened my eyes, breathless and bitter, you were not there.

There was ice on my skin, then, plastered along the lines of my cheekbones and the backs of my hands, following the shape of my hipbones and the stripped muscles in my legs, tight and stiff. My shoulders shook and if there were tears in my eyes, who would have known – they flattened themselves over each other, petal-shaped and sharp, hammered in by an invisible smith one by one until they enveloped me from head to toe: a suit of armour which did not have breaks, each links overlapping the one behind it.

How old was I then, when I stood on that lake, staring at something which was not there, had never been there, while around me Winter sighed and the Austrian mountains shivered, the warm lights of the town sparkling in the distance, cheerful and mocking? How old was I, then? Fifteen or fifty or ninety-five or nothing, nothing at all?

Your Winter King, Albus – have I ever been anything else?

4th February 1937; Hallstatt, Austria

“Sir,” the soldier said, saluting as she stopped, tall and stiff, just inside the doorway. The silver roping braids which looped from her right shoulder to the nearest row of polished, gleaming buttons glimmered in the afternoon sun: clouded grey but bright. “You have a visitor.”

There was silence; a stuttering, juddering thing, beating out of time and thoughtlessly, matching my heartbeat step by step by step. In my hands, the book tilted towards the floor, red-edged pages drifting imperceptibly as they rested on my fingers; in the corner, Fawkes twitched, cocking his head to one side, opening his beak as though to caw before thinking better of it, wiser and older than that, and closing again, shaking his head and looking away, to the wall and the looming, empty fireplace.

Everything in the room was still; all I could hear, all I could see or feel or think was the rise and fall and soft, slight hitches of my own breath.

The book slammed shut; I glanced up.

She had flinched – without looking at me, without looking anywhere than above my head, she had flinched nonetheless. In that second, I righted myself, settling my mind and my chest in one go, pulling back my steel-plated resolve.

“Send him in,” I told her, even and imperial and bored.

Would anyone ever guess what had happened? Would she ever query it later, alone or with a lover, with a husband or mother or sister? When they wrote about it, in the future, would they ever think to look beneath the monstrous, poisonous surface to see what boiling beneath; to see if something lived, breathed, red-blooded and full-hearted, underneath the coating of ice and snow and thin, airless space?

They should do; for you and I both, no?

Still waters can sometimes hide the most wondrous, delicate of treasures, is it not, my Albus?

(Does your chest still burst and your cheeks flush pink when someone quotes you to you – or have you grown used to it over the years, as you have taken title after title after title; Headmaster and Supreme Mugwump and Chief Warlock, creating for yourself a legacy which will last the ages. Do you still refuse your achievements, wave them away and diminish them with that same careless air you had that summer, laughter and disinterest and gloom all in one?

Do not pity me my disdain – it is all you have left me, and I need something to keep me alive.)

With a bow, the soldier left, closing the door behind her with a tiny click; it was followed, almost at the same time, half a second behind, by the thud of the book landing on the table, and I leaned back into the sofa, velvet-covered and fussy, to wait.

It seemed an eternity then, as though the world inside the room moved quicker, the hands on the clock on the mantelpiece spinning faster and faster and faster than the grandfather clock in the hall outside , winding round and round the centre bolt, until it was a gold-streaked blur, until it left me dizzy and bewildered and disconcerted.

It was a gloriously familiar feeling, that sick, uncertain excitement; the giddy, incandescent anxiety.

Between the pages of the book – smoothed flat and carefully preserved – the letter lay, the three-line message on it scribed in your florid, cursive handwriting; violet ink dried dark and gleaming on the parchment.

It was nothing, nothing at all but possibility, and possibility has always been endless.


We ought to talk, in person. Would it be possible to meet somewhere private? Wherever you are, I can reach you there.


Skulking about like a murderer, a thief in the night – you had run away to Austria breathlessly, recklessly, to arrive in front of my hotel door, flushed and wild-eyed for the handful of seconds it took for you to see me, for you to breathe in and out and reach for me in stiff, jerky movements, unsure and bold at once, for you to swallow everything of me whole in a single fire-tipped look: for you to remember everything that stood between us, those silent venerations we did not need to voice, and the glittering adamantium ribbons which still inexplicably wound about our wrists drawing us ever closer and closer and closer until eventually we were more than a man each and less than two souls, until the lines of our beings faded into faint, hazy outlines; we would merge and blend into the shadows, into the heart of the night as soon as dusk fell, captured by it for the short sweet hours it could give us, until we were thrown out and left stumbling, cracked and bleeding, in the first rays of sunlight.

Romance has always been so shadowed, has it not?

You and I, my Albus, we have always been running. We will never be still; we are too boundless for that.

(I say this, I say this to you now as we wither and rot with age, as time eats at our bones, sucking the juices out from the ends to leave them dry and cracking, chipping: we will be stone soon enough, clumps of clay and dirt and rock – history, told through statues and stilted snapshots in books and carved wooden frames.

In a world which never was, we are fleshless. In the world which is, we are husks awaiting our time, biding our time.

They will bury you in summer, on the edge of a lake, in the last throes of a glorious, blazing summer sun. You will sleep there, cradled by the tall round bumps of the hills and the sweeping juts and stumbles down to the shoreline, in a house made of white marble; your hair will be silver and your shroud soft, gold-tinted violet. You will not smile.

I will not say goodbye.)

“Albus Dumbledore, sir,” the soldier had returned, stepped to one side – and in truth, I did not look at her, did not even glance at her – to allow you through, your beard longer and your hair trailing down your back again, in much the same way as it had done that summer, though it was faded now, darker and beginning to fade.

We said nothing, you and I, simply watched each other, frozen like a pair of statues, strangely domestic, and in the silence, the click of the door closing was loud.

You looked tired; did you think that too, when you looked at yourself in the mirror? You looked tired and worn, bored beyond belief, as though you had spent too many hours sitting and thinking, as though you had nothing you loved left in this world.

I did not like it, I did not want to see it – I wanted to set that spark until your feet again, but I said nothing.

This was a battle, was it not: a duel in itself, and I was not prepared to lose.

“Gellert,” you said eventually, and it was half a sigh, half a plea. Did you know what it was a plea for, then? Did you even think about it at all?

“Albus,” I murmured, and the silence rang, heavy and thick, commanding us both to stop.

Fawkes, out of your sight, looked up from his water bowl to see you, standing there in your navy blue patterned robes, half-moon buttons and neat rows of Arabic alchemical symbols stitched in copper thread twinkling; cooing gently, encouragingly, he ruffled his feathers and flared his wings. He was young then, the last few pecks of fluff still littering the carpet beneath his perch, but he shone red and gold like a beacon, black eye watching us both beadily, shrewdly, waiting for our judgment.

“He is remarkable,” you commented after a pause, watching Fawkes intently.

I smiled, a small, fleeting thing, “Thank you.”

“Does he have a name?” you asked, clasping your hands behind your back in a manner you had picked up since I had last seen you – you looked then like a teacher, like a professor enquiring about some new piece of culture, of fascinating titbit he did not understand, and I could not look at you.


You laughed, then, free and light and when you glanced at me there was a spark back in your eyes; you sat on the sofa opposite, adjusting your robes, and seeming perfectly relaxed, watching me with a fond, amused twist to your lips.

“You are joking, surely?”

“If you can think of a better name for a phoenix, for a phoenix who lives with me,” I quipped quickly. “Suggest it.”

“I was merely surprised at your choice of an English revolutionary,” you told me, your voice gentle, appeasing, though it had not yet crossed the line into fatherly, reproachful – the steady, calm voice I imagined you would use with your students. “Given your oft-expressed dislike of the English.”

You studied me, and I wondered what you saw, what you hoped to see, what you searched for in me; could you see that I was scrambling for a response, for something which would not sound feeble and weak and romantically pathetic. For something which would give a voice to the things we had never said, never even named alone at night when no one could hear us whisper or read the letters as they unfurled across our minds.

I looked away first. One all, then: the score.

“Stay for dinner.”

There was a moment when you blinked and you regarded me, frowning and uncertain – did you think that this too was a joke? Did you think that this all was a joke?

You smiled, quick and full and gentle, and nodded, “I would like that.”

Was that all it took – a handful of slight, sharp words and a trio of smiles, however thin and truthful – for us to forget the chasms which we had dug out between our feet? Was that all that was needed for a bridge to clatter down across it, arching high and wide and perilously unstable, so that we could run across, childish and foolish and free, to crash into each other and pretend, wilfully ignore the world which sat waiting.

Convictions are so flimsy in the end, so very breakable – but then, so are men, no?

There, surrounded by chatterings in quick, tilted German, the quiet laughter of a restaurant, the chinking of wine glasses as you insisted on toasting to me, to my Germany with a smile which burned for days after in my mind – you, glowing in the firelight, with the smile I had seen you wear so often when you looked at me that summer: boyish and fiery and adoring, your eyes dark and everything in you turned towards me and me alone – we sat and talked, of nothing and of everything and of nothing again, and our hands crept closer and closer across the table, twitching and reaching.

It hurt that we stuttered, that at once we existed and did not exist.

A ricochet, if you like, flitting back and forth and back and forth between two binary poles: opposites, mutually exclusive and impossible, impossible to both be true at once. Yes and no and yes and no and yes, yes we are we are we.

(Does it not tire you, my Albus, now alone in your tower? All those secrets you carry, locked inside your chest with the key dropped like a torch down your throat all those years ago.

You reap what you saw, my old friend, and you have written your own reputation, your own history. What will you do when you are dead and it is someone else’s turn to grasp the pen and paw, blind and scratching, at the deep, dark wells of your life?

If I am a liar, Albus, what does that make you?)

We have our places, no, us creatures of the night – we steal away to the edges of villages, down to the trickling, bubbling brooks and streams, or high up into the mountain-tops with the eagles and where you think, delighted and afraid, that if you reached up your hands you could touch the stars: in Hallstatt, we wandered through the winding streets, through the tall shadows of wooden houses on either side, flanking us all the way along like a strange, silent guard of honour, until we burst out of the village, slipping through the snow into the vast, hushed landscape.

It was cold and my gloves, fur-lined and soft, were too thick to push fingers through fingers; it left me restless, jittery and excited, thrumming with a low hum of energy I had not felt in years.

Beside us, as we tramped a path around the edge of the lake, a long and slender trail of footsteps tracing back our entire evening, the lake, blue and glittering as the starlight fell on a dusting of snow scattered over the top like sugar, lay vast and stiff, mirror-like from a distance.

You had a lake at Hogwarts, did you not? You had snow there, too, in the mountains of Scotland. I was not so ignorant of your precious cage as that.

The remains of a glass of champagne and half a bottle of sweet, white Riesling stirring in my stomach one last time to lend me a blindly thoughtless courage, I slipped my arm through yours – presumptuous, demanding, and you only short me an amused look, tugging me a little closer as you adjusted and kept going.

We did not break a step, either of us.

Having you closer, I steered us to the right, pulling us to a halt. In front of us, the scene lay like a tapestry, a glimpse of a paradise: Hallstatt on the right, brown beams and slats lit up with orange bubbles of candlelight, coated with a thick layer of white, sparkling snow, picking out the rooves of houses one by one and hiding the tall stretch of the spire, a needlepoint thing topped with copper, from view. On the left, the mountains loomed, ragged and jagged, laden with firs dyed black in the night and grey-white runs and coverings of snow; they hovered over everything, towering over the small, delicate village with its spun-straw halos and the sputtered patches of colour here and there, lit up so they shone, dark and heavy.

You dropped my arm and wound an arm instead around my waist, brushing your thumb over my hip.

“I would like, I think,” you spoke, whispering it into the wind and the speckled flurry which had just started to fall; you turned your face skywards, and you sounded as though you were smiling. “To come here again – it is quite beautiful.”

“Beauty fades,” I murmured half-heartedly, nestling further into your side, glancing down briefly at our reflections in the ice: orange-copper and pale gold, and you in your navy blue and red. We were spotlights in the night, the only dots of colour around for miles.

Contrary and contrarier: it is a game, you had told me; it is a way of life, I had told you; we had laughed and laughed, then, lovesick and brushing hands, fingers, cheeks, calves – anything and everything as we argued, avoiding agreeing with an effortlessness that was half-feigned, half-true.

Contrary and contrarier.

“We are too told for you to say such things,” you told me, amused, turning to look at me and brushing a trio of loose strands away, wet and turned to brown. “Age changes most things.”

I rolled my eyes – what did you expect? Age changes most things, but not all – and tugged at your collar for a kiss; as you raised a hand to my cheek, I pushed you out onto the ice, watching you stumble and slip, tripping and falling onto your bottom with a plop and the sharp, splintering sound of ice cracking.

I laughed and ran down to you, taking your hand and whisking you up and away, and you kissed me again, gripping onto my arm and our hands still linked to one side, fingers squished between gloves and gloves squished between fingers.

You kissed me and you kissed me and somewhere in between it all, I kissed you, and we skipped from patch to patch as the ice cracked beneath us, children again speeding from spiked spider-webs etched into the snow with a knife, breaking through the surface to the cold, rippling waters underneath, biting and grasping up towards the sky.

You fell in and I jumped in after you, laughing and abandoning my rich, fur-lined cloak to the mercy of the snowfall.

“You did not do this at school?” I teased you, treading water while you sat on the side, shivering, and searching for your wand, the syllables of a charm on your lips already, so much so that steam was already starting to rise from your shoulders and the ends of your hair. “You were not this brave?”

“Hardly,” you replied, slipping a hand around the back of my neck as I tipped my head back to dip my hair in the water again, stretching out the strands so they lay long and flat down the back of my neck, making me shiver and shudder, delight mingling with a bone-deep cold. “I was not this wild.”

“Mmm… perhaps,” I smirked up at you, resting an arm on the edge of the ice as I pressed a kiss to the inside of your thigh. “Not that wild.”

(In your story, in your life as you have written it, did you go back with me to the hotel, then, dragging me out of the water and anchoring us together, damp and frosty, bowed under a layer of snowflakes knotted in our hair and in the lines and sweeps of our clothes? Did you follow me back and stumble with me over the threshold, into the wide circle of the steaming, perfumed bath, trailing hands laden with soap and then oil and then nothing along the trail of my spine and the backs of my thighs, circling like vultures while you waited for me to beg?

Did you push me onto the bed with a thud, your turn now to kiss a path, straight and forthright, up along my thigh, rising higher and higher and higher until I gasped and felt you laugh against my skin, teeth scraping as I whimpered.

Do you even admit that, in the fateful, golden summer, you had once laid on your side on your narrow, creaking bed as I stared up at you, plying me with sweet, eager kisses as your fingers fumbled with the buttons on my trousers?

Lies, Albus; they are a sin, remember?)

In the morning, when I stirred, you were there: a red-tipped blur as I blinked, and you pressed a slow, familiar kiss on me, once, twice, three times, and sighed on the end of a breath,

“Happy birthday.”

I rested my head on your shoulder, fingers brushing the same old lines over your chest – up and down and across and up and down and across – and smiled, curling into you.

(I will give you this – consider it a present, if you like. A gift. The last, I suspect, as we both wither away, roses buried under snow, cold and cracking and drying out.

Minutes after you had left, as the sun set on the horizon, throwing purple-tinted shadows out across the lake and the brown-and-white of the village to blend and blur into an orange-beige mess, I rang a small, silver bell once.

It was loud and shrill and Fawkes, disgruntled, screeched at me and fled.

My head rang, the Elder Wand rumbled in my hand, and the soldier appeared at the door – the same as she had been this whole stay, day after day, solemn and still, perfectly obedient.


I did not give her time to blink or even to think; a split second and my arm had raised, steady. The word was already on my tongue, already fully formed, and the wisps of it were starting to collect at the end of the wand.

The Elder Wand pre-empts its Master, once it knows him well. You must know this by now.


They drifted across the room in a twisting, flowing ribbon, squirming and wriggling like bait on a line and I took them, I took them all: every glimpse of you, every mention of your name, every hour and minute and second she had seen or heard anything of you or you and I and that tumultuous history we had borne between us.

A truth, then, and a gift – but remember, my Albus, in our lives now, I cannot tell lies, for I have no one to tell them to.)  

Track This Story: Feed

Write a Review

out of 10


Get access to every new feature the moment it comes out.

Register Today!