The knock at the door came as Albus was clearing the lunch dishes, and Aberforth was preparing to take Ariana out to the back garden to tend to Mother’s roses. He and Aberforth exchanged a glance, and Aberforth moved to make sure Ariana was all right while Albus went to answer the door.
“Hello Mrs. Bagshot,” he said, forcing a smile for his neighbor. She had been extremely kind, taking care of Ariana after their mother’s death, until Albus had finished his schooling and he and Aberforth had returned home from Hogwarts.
“Hello, dear. I just wanted to check that the three of you are getting on all right,” she said, with a sympathetic smile.
“Oh,” Albus said, pretending that he hadn't expected her to say just that, “Well, yes, as well as can be expected.” He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly, wishing she would go away.
“I'm glad to hear that, Albus. I really am. And you'll be staying in Godric's Hollow?”
“Yes,” Albus told her, “There's no reason to upset Ariana...”
“Of course not!” she agreed, “I think you're making a wise and admirable decision.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Bagshot,” Albus said, through gritted teeth.
There was a moment of silence between them, before Albus remembered his manners. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” he asked.
Bathilda beamed. “Well, perhaps,” she said, “You see, my nephew is staying with me for the summer, but I’m afraid I can’t be very interesting to spend all his time with. He's about your age and I thought you might be good company for each other. Gellert, dear?”
She stepped to the side to reveal a boy with cheerful features and radiant golden curls, which looked as though they had a habit of falling into his eyes. The movement with which he pushed them back behind his ear seemed almost reflexive.
“Albus Dumbledore, meet Gellert Grindelwald.”
The youth stepped forward with a wide smile to shake Albus' hand. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
In short order, Gellert and Albus were spending all of their free time together. On most afternoons, they could be found in the graveyard, strolling or sitting, but always talking. Albus was, quite simply, fascinated by Gellert. The young man was vivacious, he was intelligent, and he was stunningly handsome, his face framed with gentle curls that did, indeed, often fall in his eyes.
“Loving may be hard sometimes,” Albus was saying one afternoon as they wandered through the knee-high forest of headstones, in the midst of one of their favorite pastimes: debate. Fundamentally, they agreed on almost everything, but hours could be expended discussing subtleties. “But it’s the only thing that makes us feel alive. It’s what makes us human.”
“But, my friend,” Gellert replied, chuckling. “Cannot animals love? Or are you referring to the more abstract concept of love that humanity has created?”
Albus took a moment to respond, considering his answer. “In a way,” he said at last, “I believe they are the same. But now we are speaking of semantics, in a language which is so imprecise on the subject. Were we speaking in Greek—”
Albus was abruptly cut off by the absolutely unexpected presence of Gellert’s lips against his own. Having struggled with a deep attraction to his friend since their meeting, Albus had never marked any signs in Gellert’s manner that said his affection was returned. Yet there he stood, centimeters away, grinning mischievously.
It took but a moment for Albus to abandon his rhetorical argument before he cupped his friend’s face with both hands and brought their lips together again. He was half afraid Gellert would pull away, but this fear was banished in a heartbeat when Gellert returned the welcome pressure, wrapping his arms around Albus’ waist and pulling him closer.
Aberforth harbored a deep dislike of Gellert, so Albus did not dare to reveal the depth of their relationship. Instead, they met in secret, which sometimes made Albus feel like a child, and sometimes made him feel like a young lover out of the old legends, or Muggle fairytales.
Gellert would, most nights, appear at Albus’ window, sliding the pane up carefully and slipping noiselessly inside the room. Sometimes, Albus would approach Gellert as soon as he crossed the windowpane, kissing him deeply and unbuttoning his clothes. On occasion, however, Albus would pretend to be asleep, and have the immense pleasure of being woken by a kiss from his lover, who would slip into the bed beside him, bare skin cooled by the evening air.
More than once, Gellert had tried in the early morning to sneak out undetected, only to be tugged back into bed, half-dressed, or followed to the window and kissed in the pre-dawn light. On those occasions, he would hold Albus close to him, and whisper in his ear, “’Til our eyes meet, you won’t ever be alone.” And the pair would giggle softly, and pepper each other with light kisses until dawn had almost broken and they would reluctantly part.
That was the time, mused Albus, when it seemed as though their eyes never closed but they opened on each other; a time when their hearts remained unbroken, and through the mercy of Bathilda Bagshot’s hobby of amateur photography, there were smiling moments forever frozen still.
One photograph showed the two mid-burst of laughter. Another of a gentle kiss, when they thought Gellert’s great-aunt wasn’t looking. There were portraits of the boys together and alone—enough to fill an album—and there was never a trace of sadness to be found.
Now, of course, looking back so many years later, Albus knew how wrought with tragedy their relationship would turn out; he knew that he would eventually defeat his once-lover in battle, taking from him the Elder Wand, a relic which served only to prompt bittersweet memories.
Gellert was his first, and only, love. For years, he had told himself that he could not risk loving again, and choosing the wrong partner again, but after decades of fleeting affairs getting farther and farther apart until they dwindled in number to nothing, Albus had faced facts, and admitted that there had never been a chance for another to win his heart, or lose it. He lived for that summer that he and Gellert had been happy, but for nothing. Now it was only in the confines of the photo album that Gellert would hold him, and never let him go.
He brushed a tear from the corner of his eye, under his half-moon spectacles, and flipped to the end of the album, where a scrap of paper was pressed. It said nothing but, “Wait for me to come home,” yet it was the only remnant of his affair with Gellert that Albus had found he couldn’t burn.
Albus removed the note from its place stuck in the spine of the album. The paper was frail with age, but he folded it and put it in a pocket over his heart.