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Did We Die? (Only a Little)

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If he closes his eyes, he can still feel the heat.

The stifling, humid warmth of the summer day; the giddy sparks in his chest; the comforting press of another palm against his own. Gellert had been the one to cast the spell; Albus had no knowledge of this branch of magic. Not yet, at least.

He'd watched in awe as Gellert had opened the skin of his palm, summoned a single drop of blood, had Albus do the same; the two droplets circled each other briefly before coming together, twining round and round before colliding. Then, Gellert whispered another incantation, and a beautiful silver amulet had appeared around the two pinpricks of red. The center was translucent, apparently glass, and Albus was transfixed by the image of two deep crimson pearls swimming in the confines of it, as if they were still alive.

He had looked into that pair of mismatched eyes and felt the warmth spread as easily as the grin across his face. From his chest to his stomach to his limbs to his head, until he felt light-headed and euphoric. Gellert meant it, meant everything he said: they were going to be together, forever, and they would accomplish every one of their dreams. This was proof of it, right here, cradled tenderly in his hand! Pressing their palms together again, smearing blood over the outside of the amulet as well, Gellert drew him back in for a charged kiss that held every ounce of passion they both contained. And still, Albus's elation continued to grow. This was perfection, this was bliss. And it was all his.

Staring at the amulet now made him sick.

"Will we die?" he'd fearfully asked, eyes swimming with concern as Gellert boldly proposed the blood-pact. Gellert, bless him, had smiled so disarmingly, taken his face in his hands, and crooned,

"Only a little."

To be young and stupid was one thing. But this...this was something else. If he hadn't been so blinded he could have stopped Gellert years ago. And now, here they were. Standing in front of the Mirror of Erised at the Witching Hour with the amulet in hand and guilt in heart. The glass in the center was cracked, spreading out from a single shatterpoint where Albus had broken the magic; the blood within was filling the cracks, but now behaved like liquid and not like magic. When Albus looked at it, he wondered if it would drip out, and if it did, what it would do then. But he didn't look at it now. He looked into the Mirror as he knew he shouldn't. The Gellert there looked exactly as he did now, because the Mirror would not lie to Albus. He didn't desire the Gellert of the past: he simply desired Gellert, period. Some part of him was still yearning for the man he so deeply loved, and who had so deeply betrayed him. He liked to believe that the man he had fallen in love with was still in there, alive, somehow, somewhere.

"I see you kept it," the Gellert in the mirror whispered to him, a gentle mockery of the way his lips had used to frame Albus's name on nights when they finally had a house to themselves. The manner in which he spoke harkened of another such summer's eve when they had thrown the windows open to admit the breeze, stripped down in the name of evading the sweltering heat, and then tumbled into bed together to keep sweating. Albus hated to admit that that memory didn't make him sick like it should have. "Albus...you always were too sentimental."

If Albus aims a powerful shattering curse at the mirror, that's between him and Gellert. The man laughs maniacally through the shattered glass, even as it pieces itself back together and Albus storms from the room. They both know he'll be back.

He does manage to restrain himself for several months. He's laid eyes on Gellert in reality now, stared at him with hatred and sorrow and longing in his gaze, fought dearly and desperately and intimately, and finally sentenced Gellert to a life of imprisonment in his own fortress. Casting those spells had been harder than casting the ones that he had fired during their duel; the latter felt like when they had sparred as teenagers, if he closed his eyes. Nothing more than a dance they'd waltzed thousands of times. The former felt like ash and sand on his tongue, like an immovable weight that he was being made to drag, like a crushing force around his chest. There was no pretending now.

Still, he had his reasons for wanting to be the one to imprison Gellert himself. It gave him just a few final moments with him to make poor decisions. And he truly does. Gellert, bound, unarmed, and apparently accepting of his defeat, sitting morosely propped against a wall, simply has to look at him to bring Albus to his knees again. Dropping back down in front of him, Albus seizes his lover's face in his hands and pulls him back towards him. He tastes salt and iron when he kisses Gellert, and he doesn't question who is the source of either. He simply sets aside his wand, and he tries to forget that this absolutely will be the last time he feels his lover's body beneath his own. Gellert, despite being more skilled with both nonverbal and wandless magic than Albus could ever hope to be, does not retaliate. Perhaps he is also aware of the poignancy of their parting; perhaps he now overestimates Albus; perhaps he is simply greedy and does not want to lose the privilege of being able to reciprocate Albus's embrace. Albus would dearly love to believe the first.

When he leaves he castle, he takes care to wash his face before he exits. He does not answer when one of the Aurors asks him what took him so long.

In front of the Mirror again, he stares at the Gellert reflected back at him. Already, Gellert's cheeks look hollower, his hair has less shine, his skin has less glow. It has only been a few weeks since Albus last saw him. At that very moment, Albus knew for a fact that he could never look into this mirror again. To do so would be to watch Gellert wither, slowly, painfully, and he knew he would not be strong enough to stand it. He would either fall into despair as well and join his lover in decline, or he would free Gellert. Neither were acceptable options.

One final night of indulgence it was. And he'd already put contingencies into place. The Mirror would be removed from the Castle later that very evening, so as to remove temptation from him. Albus had asked not to be informed of the new location. Minerva was plenty competent to find a good one, especially when teamed with Nicolas, and Albus had dismissed their questions in the name of security. Anyone seeking the Mirror would think of himself first, Albus rationalized, so it was best if he could say honestly that he did not know where it was if confronted. Minerva and Nicolas, bless their souls, had not pressed, and simply made the arrangements.

This last hour belonged to Albus, though, and so when he pulled the thick covering from the Mirror it was with wretched anticipation for once untouched by guilt and shame. Gellert greeted him, as he always had, with his trademark crooked smirk and mismatched eyes. "I knew you'd come." He lowered himself to one knee, raised his left hand to press against the glass, and Albus could see the mark there that had never left a scar, and almost choked on the knowledge that, yes, he, too, had carried this in his heart-

He went to Gellert, mirrored his pose, and when he pressed his hand to the glass he shuddered violently to find it warm beneath his palm. And as much as he quaked and ducked his head to hide his face, he made himself whisper the truth: "This is the last time."

Gellert only hummed contemplatively. Ever the picture of composition, Albus noted bitterly. Tempers seemed to run in the Dumbledore family. Even now, Albus envied Gellert's steadfastness. "Tell me, then, my love: will we die?"

The words ripped a twisted, sorrowful chuckle from Albus. Finally raising his gaze to meet Gellert's, he confessed: "only a little."

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Albus had not known that he was a Seer, Gellert mused. So he likely was not aware that his reflection in the Mirror of Erised was something slightly more than most other, similar, apparitions the Mirror had to offer. Clenching his fingers into a fist, digging tightly until his nails were in danger of puncturing the fine skin of his palm, Gellert closed his eyes and let his head fall back to rest against the wall as the last vestiges of Albus's scent dissipated from the room. He could still feel the warmth of Albus's touch...

Occasionally, over the next few decades, he couldn't help himself. In waking dreams he drifted to Albus's consciousness, seeking out the mind that had brought his own such comfort and validation. They shared their dreams, sometimes, and Gellert never let on that Albus's nighttime visions were anything more than the product of guilt and pining. Still, it saved him from madness, sequestered alone in the wilds of Austria. He liked to think it eased something of the mess of knots in Albus's head and heart.

One night, Albus seemed oddly aware and conscious. He greeted him immediately, talked with him, walked with him, so much like the Albus of old that it would have brought tears to Gellert's eyes. They shared nothing more than company and conversation, and Gellert awoke painfully with the words still ringing in his ears: did we die, then?

He whispered aloud, clutching the shattered amulet so tightly it nearly drew fresh blood,

"Only a little."