Albus broke away from the kiss, and looked at Gellert, but this time, he did not look bashful, or awestruck, or giddy, or aroused, or any of the other wonderful expressions that had washed over his face in the past hour or so. (Gellert had missed seeing him like that.) No, this time, he looked guilt-stricken.
‘Here it comes,’ thought Gellert, his throat tightening.
Gellert was ready. “Silencio!” He took Albus’ wand.
“I love you, Albus. I don’t want to forget. I refuse to forget.” He gestured between them. “This – me loving you; you, I think, loving me – this is who we are.”
They were sitting together at Bathilda’s kitchen table, studying, as they had been the first time. Then there had been the bank of the stream, then in the graveyard, then behind the pub… Most recently, Albus had confessed his feelings in Gellert’s bedroom, as they were discussing a book on magical theory. They had actually made it past the first four hours that time – Gellert and Albus had been together for three wonderful days. It was long enough for Gellert to relax a bit, to think that maybe something had changed just enough that Albus would allow it, but then… losing Albus that time had been the most painful – or maybe the most painful after the first time – or... no, they couldn’t be compared.
“Gellert, give me back my wand.”
“Not yet. I don’t trust you not to obliviate me.”
“Gellert. This is – this will ruin everything.”
“Be clear, Albus. By ‘this’ you mean me wanting you, kissing you…”
“We can’t feel this way about each other, Gellert!”
“And how is it that you feel about me, Albus?”
Gellert needed to hear Albus say it, just once. But he knew he wouldn’t this time. This was the shortest time yet. If he hadn’t gotten around to saying it last time...
“I – can’t – I – don’t, Gellert, I –“
Albus might say it if Gellert begged. It might only take a ‘Please, Albus.’ But Gellert was not going to beg. Begging was for dogs and prisoners, and he would be neither.
Albus gathered himself. “Kissing you was selfish of me. You want to leave, and I simply can’t leave, and – do you honestly think you can be separated from me feeling like this?” No, he didn’t. Not that feeling separate from Albus was new to him. For Albus, it seemed like they had just begun to express how they felt for one another an hour and a half ago – Gellert had been doing this for five weeks now.
“So – what do you propose, Albus?”
“If you would let me obliviate you, you could leave and find the Hallows, and I can stay, and correspond with you, and we can continue as we have been.”
“Albus, ‘as we have been’ includes sitting within five feet of one another. It includes long conversations in person, rather than having to wait ages for a reply. Even if I thought it possible to – just be friends,” and it was not possible – Gellert had not initiated a romantic relationship with Albus any time but that first time – he had even minimized his flirting to the point that old friends might not recognize him – no, it was not possible for Albus and Gellert to be friends for longer than… eight days? And Albus’ advances were getting closer and closer together. They had just – broken up, for lack of a better word – two days ago.
“If it were possible to ‘just be friends,’ still our friendship would be altered if I were to leave.”
“When you leave,” Albus corrected. “I would leave if I could. I would not shackle you to Godric’s Hollow as I have been shackled.”
And yet, Gellert was shackled to Albus just as surely as Albus was shackled to his younger brother and sister. And just as unavoidably. He certainly hadn’t asked for this kind of attachment. He had anticipated getting research done in Godric’s Hollow, as well as taking a break from the Continent. That was all. Then he had seen Albus – and yes, his eyes, and his hair, and his smile had all been attractive – Gellert thought that he might be good for a bit of fun – something to be put off until almost time to leave, so as to not cause any inconvenient attachments.
But the two of them hadn’t spoken an hour before Gellert knew that he had met someone like he had never met before – his mind was lightning quick, both intuitive and logical – he had a dark but quiet sense of humour, confidence in his intelligence and his powerful magic, he was fierce when defending his opinions, but ready to be swayed if the opposing argument was strong enough… Gellert had never met anyone he would rather talk to than Albus – and soon, he felt as if there was nothing he would rather do than simply be in the same room with him.
Since he had started with such a strong physical attraction, Gellert had not once placed Albus in ‘just a friend’ territory – over the space of two days, Gellert went from ‘he looks like fun’ to ‘perhaps we could be friends with benefits’ to ‘I am completely in love – I cannot live without Albus.’ He agonized for six more days over whether or not to tell him before he finally did.
‘I would not shackle you.’ It always came back to some variation on this theme. Albus trying to set Gellert free, as if he could ever be set free. Gellert had tried every possible response at this juncture, and none of them had made a difference. No matter what he said, Albus always ended with the conclusion: ‘Fine. If you would not have me obliviate you, then I would have you obliviate me.’
But had he tried everything? Was there still a chance of altering the ending?
Sure enough, Albus had moved straight to the end… “Fine. Then if you won’t be obliviated, obliviate me.”
Commanding this time. Ok.
“And what purpose would that serve? I would still love you, whether or not you loved me.”
Albus thought for a moment “Perhaps it would be too painful for you to stay if I didn’t love you?”
That hit near to home.
Gellert couldn't help but react. “Perhaps you are a coward.”
“Perhaps I am. I can’t – I can’t live like this, feeling like I am the one thing keeping you from pursuing your dreams.”
That was – dramatic.
“No, Albus. I won't obliviate you.”
“Please, Gellert. If you truly love me - please.”
Gellert did love Albus. But after all of these weeks, he had grown to feel that doing what Albus asked was not the best way to prove it.
“I am going to give you back your wand, Albus. But only after you swear on your magic not to obliviate anyone, including yourself, with this wand or any other, for the next two days. And that you will not obliviate me against my will at any point.”
Albus paused. “No. An Unbreakable Vow. I’d sooner lose my life than my magic.”
“Oh no you don’t. I am not risking your life for anything. You may have your wand if you will swear on your magic.”
Albus looked first indignant, then chagrined. Had he seriously been considering suicide by obliviation? Gellert began to question whether this new strategy was the best course of action, if Albus was so desperate. But something had to change. Gellert was desperate too – he couldn’t keep doing this.
“Fine, fine. I swear on my magic.” Albus held out his hand for his wand.
“I doubt that even the English are that sloppy, Albus. Take my hand and make your promise.”
Albus blushed as his hand touched Gellert’s. “It’s ok,” Gellert said gently. “Just say the words.”
“I, Albus Dumbledore, swear on my magic that I will not obliviate anyone, including myself, which would be stupid anyway since I’d probably scramble my brain –“
“Right. I, Albus Dumbledore, swear on my magic that I will not obliviate anyone, including myself, with this wand, or any other – or wandlessly –“
“You can obliviate wandlessly?”
“I’ve not tried it, but – shush! You’re interrupting.”
Gellert smiled. He loved Albus so much it was painful. He wanted to tell him constantly, and had been able to tell him almost never.
“Ok. I, Albus Dumbledore, swear on my magic that I will not obliviate anyone, by any means, for the next two days. And furthermore, I swear on my magic that I will never obliviate Gellert Grindelwald without his knowledge or against his will.”
“And I, Gellert Grindelwald, swear on my magic to return Albus Dumbledore’s wand to him the moment this vow is sealed.”
Then together they said, “So mote it be!” And Gellert returned Albus’ wand.
Albus sighed. “So, will you obliviate me now, Gellert?”
Would this work? Nothing else had.
“First, I want you to see something, Albus. You know Legilimency, right?”
Albus looked suspicious. “If you think that your feelings are going to convince me…”
“No, Albus. You have asked me to obliviate you before.”
Albus looked stunned. “I don’t remember that.”
Gellert waited for the obvious to sink in.
“Oh. Of course I don’t. And – “
“I want you to look for every time that I’ve obliviated you. It shouldn’t be too hard – they are all strung together in my head.”
“All? How many? Gellert!”
“I want you to see for yourself. If you still want me to obliviate you after seeing it – I hope you don’t, but if you do, I will. I love you - I - if you think it will make things easier for you... But obliviating you may not make the difference that you think it will.”
Albus looked uncertain, but still he raised his wand.
It might have been more painful for Gellert if he didn’t relive it on his own so often – if he didn’t lie awake at night cataloguing every confession, every kiss, every touch… every time Albus withdrew, every time he tried to obliviate Gellert, every time he demanded Gellert obliviate him. If it hadn’t become his daily lived existence, it might have been more painful to relive each time Albus returned to being a friend who had no notion of Gellert’s feelings for him. Not that it was easy, feeling Albus access that stream of memories all at once – but the pain was familiar.
But it would be different for Albus…
Tears were streaming down Albus’ face as he withdrew from Gellert’s mind.
“I – love you? I think?”
Gellert’s chest hurt. “Don’t – not until you’re sure, Albus.”
“I’m sorry – I didn’t know what I was asking of you, I didn’t know that… so many times… I just – I didn’t know…” Then he sob-laughed, “Obviously.”
Gellert reached out for Albus, almost near enough to touch his face, but then pulled back. He didn’t know what Albus wanted – maybe Albus didn’t know what he wanted. He needed for Albus to be sure. So instead, he gave Albus a handkerchief, which made Albus cry even harder. Oh right. The third time, when he handed Albus the handkerchief just before obliviating him.
Gellert silently waited for Albus – it felt awkward not to hold him, but – Albus would have to ask for comfort if he wanted it. Gellert was too tired to ask and be rejected.
“Gellert – I – what happens if you don’t obliviate me?”
“I kiss you again?” Gellert said.
Albus huffed impatiently. “I mean – will you stay?”
Gellert had known what Albus had meant, but he wanted Albus to think about now. The future was uncertain for them, but they had a lot of now left. But Albus was, as ever, insisting on talking about consequences.
“I don’t know, Albus. Do you really want to stay here?”
“I have to stay.”
“You don’t have to do anything. Is staying something you need to do for yourself?”
“I don’t know.”
Of course, he didn’t know. Regardless of whatever Aberforth was spewing, Albus rarely thought about his own needs. He was always making sacrifices, trying to make things right for everyone else – even if they didn’t want or need the help he was offering. Not that it wasn’t obvious where that impulse had come from.
“That’s ok. You have time to figure out what you need, what you will do.”
“Is it ok though, Gellert? Really?”
It was better than the alternative. Gellert had been so stubborn about needing Albus to come with him right away that he had lost Albus over and over again. He could not miss Albus any more than he did sitting right next to him, with Albus not remembering what they could be to one another.
“If I leave without you, I will keep coming back to you until you can leave with me, if – will you wait for me?”
Albus climbed onto Gellert’s lap, took his face in his hands, and kissed Gellert, first lightly, and then deeper and deeper until he almost forgot that Gellert had asked a question.
When they finally broke apart, Albus gasped, “Sofa?”
Gellert wanted to simply agree, but he had been on that sofa with Albus too many times.
“Will you want to remember? Afterwards? Because I can’t…”
"I love you."
"Albus - "
"No, I'm sure. It's obvious, isn't it? How could I not? I'm sorry I never said it. I will wait for you, Gellert. I won’t resort to obliviation again, I promise. Anyway, it seems I can’t stay away from you one way or the other. Two days, this last time? If you obliviated me now, I might be in love with you again before breakfast - it seems there is no stopping me from wanting you.”
Gellert laughed. He felt lighter than he had since the very first time he kissed Albus.
“I know the feeling." Then he kissed Albus on the neck, and whispered, "Nevertheless, no sofa. Bathilda will be home soon. Come to my bed?”
“Alright,” said Albus, “But you know, we’ve not been together three hours – this time – so don’t think you are getting away with anything, having me in bed with you.”
Gellert smiled. Having Albus in his arms was all he wanted right now, anyway.