Numengard was a dreary place, a monument to Gellert's grand schemes, schemes that Albus had helped start then had no choice but to end. He'd been told his victory over Gellert was the stuff of legends. To him it was the stuff of nightmares, when he closed his eyes he could hear the shouted incantations, see the flashes of light as spells intercepted each other in midair. Since then he'd gone over what had happened countless times, wondering if there had been another way.
The cell door swung open and its occupant greeted him with a tired smile, "Hello Albus."
"I don't understand it!" Albus' frustration was evident in his voice and face as he paced the cell. "Tom had a brilliant future ahead of him, and he's just…vanished. I thought he might try for a position in the Ministry, but there's been no sign. " Albus turned, the familiar blue eyes suddenly dim, "I don't like it. There were…incidents in Hogwarts. I tried to reach out to him, but he didn't want to listen." He sighed, and seemed to stare at something beyond the dreary walls, his voice becoming softer, less certain. "He's bright, driven…terribly ambitious…It doesn't feel right…"
"Tell me about your school," Gellert smiled distantly, sitting on the bed as he looked out the window.
"It's not my school," Albus reminded gently, "I just teach there."
Gellert shrugged, continuing to stare out the window, "I still like hearing about it."
"Hmm," he had to think for a bit, "I think I have a fairly amusing story about an essay written by one of the students in Muggle Studies. It was quite popular reading in the staff room. It's a long story though."
"I've got plenty of time," Gellert moved over and motioned for Albus to join him.
Albus blinked in surprise, still trying to process Gellert's apparently incongruous question. "Have I ever heard of what?"
"Lemon Drops." Gellert was staring at the bleak landscape beyond the barred window. "They're a candy English Muggles make. One of my allies introduced me to them. They're quite good, actually."
"I was just wondering if you had ever had one." Gellert shrugged. "They can be extremely soothing…I miss them."
Albus shut his mouth, studying his old friend. "I suppose I will have to see if I can find a few to try, and let you know what I think."
"Sometimes I think we might have been right," Albus sighed.
Gellert blinked at him, trying to figure out where the question had come from. Albus couldn't blame him, one moment they had been talking about how different parts of Europe all had a specific season where they were most lovely. Mostly they were missing their youth and the misspent time they had together. It had the unfortunate effect of making Albus thing about the way the Muggle world was going.
"About the Muggles," he said at last, "What they're doing. Their war's over, but…"
"We weren't," was Gellert's simple reply.
Gellert watched the light of the setting sun creeping slowly across the stone floor, eyes distant.
Albus cleared his throat. "Have I mentioned my new hobby yet?"
The distraction worked beautifully, as Gellert turned to look at him, surprised.
Albus nodded. "I have decided to take up knitting. Yes, I know," he added in amusement, "not what you expected. But you would be surprised how soothing such a practice can be, and it gives me something to fill up my time when I'm finished grading essays. I'm only doing scarves right now, but I hope to progress to socks soon."
Bad weather and increasingly sour Muggle politics had made the trip far more of a hassle that normal, quite the impressive feat. Still, Albus managed to smile and spend several pleasant hours talking about Hogwarts and the goings on in Britain. Gellert had asked a few questions, but he was content to listen. After finishing a particularly humorous story about Hagrid and Thestral mare that had a difficult time foaling they fell into a comfortable silence. Numengard was still a miserable place, the world still felt like it was falling apart, but for the moment things didn't feel so bad.
Since there wasn't much happening at Hogwarts at the moment, Albus had decided to "play hooky." He nodded at his old friend. "Go on, open it."
Gellert glanced at him warily, then slowly unwrapped the lumpy package Albus had handed him, fumbling at the knots. It took him several minutes, but eventually he blinked as three soft, odd shaped balls—two small and one considerably larger—fell out into his lap. He glanced up at his snow-covered visitor.
"I told you I would be progressing from scarves to socks soon. These were my first successes." Albus beamed. "Merry Christmas, Gellert."
Hogwarts was out for the summer, but Numengard remained cold. Gellert was wrapped in a blanket, shivering as he read a week old newspaper. Neither of them knew what to say that day.
Looking down gave Albus an answer, "I see you like my latest gift."
Gellert glanced at his brightly colored socks, "They're very warm."
"I do like thoughtful gifts," Albus joked, "I wish I'd get some instead of books all the time."
"I don't mind reading," Gellert shrugged, folding his paper.
There was a stack of battered books next to the bed.
"I'll see what I can do."
The question echoed through Albus' mind and heart, five simple words. "Why haven't you destroyed it?" He stared down at the wand, his mind filling with images of fireplaces, daggers, a goblin-forged blade, hammers…
"Do you think I haven't tried?" With a sudden gesture, he thrust it at Gellert, "Go on. Snap it."
The crack was loud in the cell…a stark contrast to the stunned silence that followed.
Albus smiled sadly, watching as the pieces lifted back together and the breech healed as if the Elder Wand had never been broken at all.
"Do you see? It can't be done."
"Your students, do any of them seem promising?" Gellert wondered.
"All of them in their own ways," Albus grinned, "That's part of being a teacher, encouraging the merits in each of them."
"What about discouraging the bad?"
He knew what Gellert meant, but none of his students caused him undue worry. Except…
"Nothing drastic, but in small ways, yes. The ideas some of them get into their heads! You remember Peeves? A second year in my morning class started an insult contest with him."
Gellert looked surprised "Peeves? That's the poltergeist, yes?"
He shrugged, "Not every Ravenclaw is wise apparently."
"A new professor?" Gellert frowned, placing a scrap of cloth in the book he was currently reading. "I thought you were doing fine? Why would Dippet hire another?"
Albus shrugged. "There has been an influx of students in the last few years. Several of the core classes have more than one teacher, now." He smiled. "I quite like her. Minerva—that's her name—seems to have an instinctive talent for the subject. She's not as adept at keeping students in line, but I'm sure she'll learn. And the other day she made some impressive modifications to the Hogwarts defense system…"
Gellert was reading a Muggle newspaper, Albus could tell because the throngs of people in the picture on the front page were disturbingly still. He couldn't tell what they were doing and how Gellert was holding the paper at made it impossible to see the headline.
At his questioning look Gellert folded the paper and put it down, "People do work here and one of them has a niece who's taken a fancy to a Muggle. He doesn't understand their news and wants me to try and make sense of it. He worries about her. He should, what they're doing…"
"I see you have a new book."
Albus smiled ruefully at the package he was carrying. "Yes, courtesy of that new Muggle Studies Professor. Muggle fantasy apparently fascinates him." He glanced over at Gellert. "I thought perhaps you would like something new to read?"
Gellert cocked his head and then smiled. "Why not? It can't be any worse than the reality these days." Taking the book, he placed it on his bed, then glanced back at Albus. "You look tired, old friend."
"I'm worried," Albus admitted. "There have been some odd things happening…something is going on, I'm certain of it…"
"When Horace got the smoke under control he saw that there wasn't a fire and he called the students back in. They all came and started stirring away. Of course after what happened they were all terrified of their cauldrons boiling over and were a little over zealous in their stirring. One must have bumped another and splashed their potion into the fire resulting in a chain reaction. The whole room filled with smoke again. The students all ran and Horace spent the rest of the day airing his classroom out," Albus paused, "His hair was pink for a month."
Albus winced as he entered the cell. "Nothing to worry about," he said with an airy wave, sinking into his conjured armchair, "Just the result of an overzealous young centaur who has yet to learn how to aim."
Gellert raised his eyebrow. "You were shot with an arrow, and it is nothing to worry about? Albus…."
Albus sighed. "Bane was not aiming for me, Gellert. The centaurs have been having trouble lately. He was trying to help. He meant well. I swear, Armando needs to find someone to look after that forest full time. Things are getting quite troublesome there…"
"Remember how we were discussion the forest?" Albus beamed, "That there were problems?"
"How could I forget?" Gellert smiled wryly, "And calling that problems, you've mellowed out."
Dismissing the latter half of his friend's comment with a shrug, he continued, "Hagrid is going to be promoted to assistant Gamekeeper for now and part of his duties will be to act as a liaison between the school and the forest."
"Half giant," Albus corrected.
"A good choice," Gellert smirked, "If the centaurs are getting as careless as you said he'll be able to take more than a few arrows."
Albus hurried up the stairs, frowning at the time. A late arrival meant less time before visiting hours were done for the day, and he really needed to talk to Gellert about this problem. He simply could not figure out what was going on…
Albus sighed as he made it to the cell door at last. Stepping inside, he looked at his old friend. "My dear Gellert, do you have any idea why a Muggle woman would try to steal a portkey to get into Berlin? She was quite insistent…something about wizards, her son, and that odd wall being built."
It had been a peaceful, pleasant visit, unlike the trip there had been and he should have left it at that. He should have, but he couldn't bring himself to.
"I've been meaning to ask, when we were younger, I thought that…"
"We were foolish," Gellert interrupted, "Both of us, we saw things as we wished. I never…"
He closed his eyes, looked away and for a time Albus thought that was all that was the end of it.
"I'm sorry if I mislead you."
It was as he'd suspected, but hearing it still gave Albus some much needed closure.
The rumors were getting worse, the most recent ones speaking of a wolf stalking children, and strange disappearances throughout Europe. Shaking himself, Albus unwrapped a lemon drop, and glanced over at Gellert, who was idly flipping through an old book of Albus'. He grinned. "Did I ever tell you how I met Nicholas?"
Gellert glanced up. "No."
"Well, it was actually because of a mistake in directions…"
Albus settled back, already feeling himself growing calm again. There would be time later to worry about the outside world. For now, he had a story to relate, and a candy to enjoy.
Gellert's eyes twinkled with a mischief that had had been absent for… Albus wasn't actually certain. Perhaps he had only imagined it there when they were younger. His imagination had certainly gotten the better of him back then and plenty of times since. Not this time though. With this he promised himself that he was going to be more realistic. Just because the other teachers all agreed with the notion didn't mean that it was going to happen.
"Nothing's final Gellert, it's just hearsay at this point," he reminded, "Armando hasn't actually said anything definite yet."
"Congratulations," Gellert repeated.
"Knut for your thoughts."
Albus started, glancing guiltily at his friend.
Gellert lifted an eyebrow. "Must have been something quite interesting."
"Interesting?" Albus smiled faintly. "Well, perhaps. It certainly is odd. I was thinking of that boy, Tom Riddle. You remember him?"
Gellert snorted. "The one with the basilisk. He's hard to forget, Albus."
Albus winced. "Yes, well, I thought saw him the other day, near Knockturn Alley. He looked…different. I can't put my finger to it, but there was something off…" He laughed, shaking his head. "Never mind, it's probably nothing. What were you saying about the dragon's blood?"
"Well, it's finally happened," Albus said the moment the door was opened.
"Really," Gellert nodded, knowing that there was no need to ask. Albus would tell him in time and if he didn't there was a reason. Times were still to some extent uncertain, sensitive thanks to the Muggle situation.
"It's been finalized, Armando retired. We has quite the party after the students went home for the summer and I'm Headmaster of Hogwarts."
"Did you suspect anyone else would get the position?"
"Well," Albus paused. Gellert knew him far too well for him to pretend, "No, not really."
"What's wrong, Albus? I haven't seen you this bad since that boy vanished."
Albus smiled grimly. "Funny you should mention Tom. He just applied for Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor at Hogwarts. I turned him down, of course."
"You what?!" Gellert sat up quickly.
"Yes. Curious, isn't it? And right when I am preparing the school for a dark creature to attend, too."
Gellert blinked. Albus waved his hand. "Oh, that's not a problem, and it's a few years away yet…but I am worried about Tom's possible plans. What he has been doing lately…the company he has been keeping…"
Albus stared out the window.
Gellert turned the page of the muggle newspaper he was reading. It seemed like all of the muggle world had gone crazy in the past few years and he feared that the tensions were seeping into the wizarding world as well. Sometimes he wondered.
A bird flew by.
Gellert closed the paper, folded it and put it down on the bed between them.
"I'll see if they can get a chair for you next time. You visit often enough."
"This is comfortable," Albus reassured, "I wouldn't want to impose."
They smiled at the small joke.
"Merlin, that woman!" Albus settled onto the provided stool. "I have never met someone so exasperating in my life!"
"Sprout." Albus grimaced. "I am trying to plant a Whomping Willow, but she keeps changing things. At this rate it won't be planted until next September."
"Whomping Willow? At Hogwarts?! Albus, what—"
"A protection. I'm inviting a student to Hogwarts next year, who will need some extra…precautions…in place, and Sprout is NOT helping."
Gellert sighed. "Who are you inviting now?"
"Oh, didn't I tell you? Remus Lupin, a werewolf, but otherwise a very promising boy." Albus smiled. "Lemon Drop?"
They'd stopped giving him newspapers, even Muggle ones and there had been questioning about his time back in Durmstrang, if he'd had any friends from Britain. Except they hadn't said friends, they'd said accomplices.
His first thought had been of Albus, that it was an attempt at some sort of entrapment years after the fact.
Waiting for Albus to visit after that had been agonizing.
Then he'd come and explained, the truth turning out to be far worse. The war that he'd hoped to start was happening in Britain.
"Things are bad, but we'll manage."
Albus' reassurance wasn't very reassuring.
"They scare me, Gellert. Especially with things as they are right now. The four of them are extremely intelligent, and with one of them from that House and another a werewolf…perhaps I was wrong to invite him…"
Gellert raised an eyebrow. "This is a change. What has you so worried?"
Albus sighed. "They're a group of bright, charismatic boys, who enjoy taunting other children for being "pathetic," and "wrong", and recently two of them—the two most troublesome —have begun sneaking into the Restricted Section, looking up obscure spells." He looked up, his eyes grim. "They remind me of Tom..."
"And so, after complaints about a strange smell, Pomona went to the basement to see exactly what was going on and found that some of the barrels outside the common room weren't empty. Some enterprising Hufflepuffs had decided to experiment in the fine art of brewing," Albus paused to let that sink in.
"What were they brewing?" Gellert inquired with no small amount of trepidation.
"Mead," Albus laughed, "And not a bad batch at that. Pomona put an end to it of course, but whichever students were the culprits have quite the future if they decide to pursue that path."
"So any more problems with students brewing mead?"
Albus smiled ruefully. "Not mead, no. But there has been an interesting occurrence in the kitchens. It seems that a great deal of food has lately been vanishing. And according to the portraits, four boys have also been vanishing-and appearing again-in that area." He chuckled. "I do believe Fleamont has continued the Potter tradition of buying his son an Invisibility Cloak."
Gellert frowned. "A budding Dark Lord stealing food?"
"I may have been wrong about that." Albus admitted. "I haven't caught them in the Restricted Section in some time now."
"You're not talking about…" Gellert trailed off, folding his newspaper and putting it under the bed.
He wasn't quite fast enough and Albus was able to see that it wasn't a Muggle paper.
"I thought you weren't allowed to read news about –"
"Don't change the subject," Gellert scowled, "Why didn't you tell me there's a war going on? Were you afraid?"
"Not at all," Albus looked away, "It's just that our visits are a chance for me to get away, to forget about all of that for a short time and pretend that…"
Expression softening Gellert sighed, "I understand."
Things were getting worse. After dodging several of Tom's people—he really didn't want to waste the time, or the lives, it would cost to win those fights—Albus then had to face a guard at Numengard who was suspicious for the first time in…well, forever, really. He frowned. Surely things had not reached this far already?
Albus shook himself. It was simply coincidence. The war was in Britain, not here. That thought lasted right up until he noticed Gellert's expression, the supposedly banned newspaper in his hands. The war was everywhere, and he had no idea how to win.
"Tell me something not war-related. What about your school?"
Albus considered. "An older Hufflepuff student made a wrong turn yesterday and ended up in the laundry room, of all places."
"How did that happen?"
Albus' smile widened. "Apparently, Mr. Lockhart got his shirt dirty on the seventh floor, and demanded it be cleaned. Peeves overheard and gave him directions to a chute that dropped him straight into a vat." His eyes twinkled. "Oddly, he did not seem to appreciate it. I can't imagine why. Once he sloshed himself out of all the soap and water, his shirt certainly was clean."
"The four troublemakers I was telling you about," Albus began, "I was wrong about them, or mostly wrong. I still don't know entirely what they were up to, but they've grown into fine young men, all of them. They graduated this year and so you know what they've done?"
Gellert laughed at the absurdity of the question, "Of course not."
"They've joined the Order of the Phoenix."
"That's good," Gellert's tone was guarded.
Resting his hands on his chin, Gellert shrugged, "Is it because they've joined your little resistance that you've changed your mind or is there more?
"This time I've got a story for you," Gellert said with a smile.
"Yes, one of the guards told it to me," his smile widened in anticipation of the joke he was about to tell. It was a Muggle joke so he knew that Albus hadn't heard it. Not only that, it was long and involved, enough that he hadn't been sure the point of it until the punchline. The pun was terrible, but it was the kind of terrible that Albus loved.
"Many, years ago a man was traveling through the desert," he began with relish.
"Albus, are you alright?"
"Sorry." Albus shook himself. "I'm a bit distracted today, I'm afraid." He hesitated. Dare he mention it?
"Albus?" Gellert's eyes stared at him, waiting.
Albus' will crumbled. "James loaned me his Invisibility Cloak yesterday, so I could travel in safety to interview a potential Hogwarts professor. Gellert…it's the Cloak. I'm sure of it."
The silence in the cell was deafening. Albus waited.
"Throw it away."
The tension drained from his body. "It's not mine to destroy, Gellert. I will return it to its rightful owner after I have finished the interview at the Hog's Head, tomorrow."
"Tom's dead!" he announced the moment he entered the cell, "We've won the war!"
Keen as always, Gellert picked up the worry beneath Albus' joyful announcement.
"There are always casualties in a war," he offered, prepared to offer sympathy for witches and wizards he'd never known.
Sitting down next to him Albus closed his eyes, "So many are dead because of decisions I made, I keep wondering where I went wrong."
"Back when we met," Gellert put an arm over his shoulder, "That's when you became the kind of man able to make the decisions necessary to win a war."
"I'm curious about that new professor of yours, the one you hired last year. What's his name again? Snipe?"
"Snape." Albus corrected. "Severus Snape. He's teaching Potions. A bit rough with the students, but he'll learn."
Gellert frowned. "Didn't he want to teach Defense?"
"Yes, but I can't risk that. Tom's jinx is still working." Albus' eyes suddenly became darker, filled with painful shadows. "I've lost too many of them, Gellert." He whispered, "Too many people came to me for help, and I couldn't do a thing." His smiled grimly. "This one, I can save. This one, I will save."
"It's been another quiet year," Gellert smiled.
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," Albus chuckled, his hands behind his back, "This year's staff Christmas party was something else. You wouldn't believe the gift I was lucky enough to get."
Given the stories he'd heard he suspected Albus was right, but Gellert wasn't about to give him that, "Try me, at this point in my life you'd be surprised by what I'm willing to believe."
"Are you going to try and guess?" Albus teased.
"You said I wouldn't believe it so why bother?"
Beaming, Albus revealed a large book, Knitting for Beginners.
The snow swirled past the window, glinting in the dim light from the setting sun. It had been another pleasant visit, filled with gentle teasing and quiet reminisces. Gellert seemed happier, more relaxed. Almost like the man he had been when they were much younger, before it all went so horribly wrong.
"Knut for your thoughts."
Albus smiled as he turned from the window. "Just wondering where the time has gone. Do you know it's been almost three years since Tom died and the troubles ended?"
Gellert grimaced. "Don't jinx it, Albus. I rather like seeing you happy, and alive."
Another year, another simple visit, no talks of troubles, no long, worried silences punctuated by anxious sighs. Being able to relax and listen to stories about students, his coworkers and the happenings at Hogwarts was a wonderful thing. There was something he wondered about, though, one thing that worried him. Albus had no stories of his life outside of work, no mention of family, occasional vague references to friends, who were more of fellow soldiers in the war, and knitting of course. He wasn't going to mention it if his Albus didn't, but he wondered if he was to blame.
"There was a bit of a ruckus in the ICW this year. Those dogs the Muggles have guarding that wall in Berlin attracted a wizard's attention. Would you believe that the creatures were actually Gytrashes?"
"What?! How on earth did the Muggles get them!? I thought the pack was destr—" Gellert broke off quickly, looking away from the sudden narrowing of Albus' eyes.
After a moment, Albus sighed. "They weren't pure Gytrashes. They were a cross between a Gytrash and a German Shepard. Quite nasty." He paused. "They were put down and replaced with normal dogs."
Gellert nodded. "Good."
"You know how sometimes you think of the oddest things?" Albus smiled distractedly.
Gellert shrugged, "I think that's mostly you, but I'm curious about your strange thoughts. They always give me something to think about."
"This isn't a puzzle," Albus said slowly, "More of a loose end. Years ago I gave Ollivander the wand maker two feathers from Fawkes' tail. You know what happened to the one, but I wonder about the other. I suppose Ollivander will let me know when someone purchases it. What will the person who ends up with it will be like? I try to imagine…"
"I recently heard from Arabella."
"Who?" Gellert frowned.
"The Squib I have watching the Potter child." Albus gave a strange smile. "It seems young Harry has started to display some interesting bouts of magic…the latest involved apparating onto his school roof."
Gellert looked at him sharply, trying to decide what he saw in that smile, concern, regret, something else entirely? "Apparating?"
The shift in Albus' eyes was unmistakable. Gellert sighed. "Albus, you need to be careful. You left him with Muggles and only a Squib to watch him."
"I had to, to keep him safe."
Gellert shook his head.
"The Muggles have gone sane again," Gellert laughed, folding the newspaper he'd been reading when Albus arrived.
"I know," he smiled back at his friend, "One crisis at least has been averted."
Gellert nodded, his previous good humor ruined, "You still think that Tom's alive after all this time?"
"I know he is," Albus' conviction was frightening, "There are rumors, troubling things happening. This time I'm not going to ignore the warnings."
"And now you're going to ask what I think Tom is doing, how he might have survived."
"There is a way, we both know it," Albus' stare grew distant.
"Who's teaching Defense this year?"
"Melody, a talented former student. She is contracted for a year, and then another will take over."
"Yes, young Quirrell. Defense is his hobby. He is traveling abroad on Sabbatical to gain some practical experience, and will return next September."
Gellert glanced at him sharply. "Isn't that when the boy starts school, Albus?"
"Precisely." Albus smiled. "With a year of practice, and his excellence in theory, Quirrell will give the students a nice grounding in the subject, without going too far too fast. I am very much looking forward to seeing how Harry does."
They'd talked about the Philosopher's Stone, how it was protected; the boy, who'd been Sorted into Gryffindor, how he showed a great deal of promise, when Albus abruptly changed the subject.
"Harry found the Mirror."
Gellert drew in a sharp breath.
"I've taken care of it, there's no need to worry about him," Albus flashed the ghost of a smile, "He asked me what I saw. I told him just myself holding a pair of comfortable socks. A half-truth."
Gellert looked away, "I'm sorry I mislead you."
Albus looked at him, waiting for the answer that neither of them knew.
Gellert was seriously considering asking the guards to check his hearing. Albus could NOT have said that, could he?
"Oh, come now. Gilderoy does know some things—he must, to sell his books—he just has never done anything himself."
So Albus had said it. "Albus, you told me Lockhart scored the lowest on his Defense exams—on all his exams—in his year. And Tom just tried to return. How does hiring this fool help matters?"
Albus sighed. "Quirrell died. That somewhat…dampened…interest. If Gilderoy wants to try to break the curse…it's better than not having a teacher at all."
Albus was waiting. It was something they'd discussed previously, purely theoretical and they'd dismissed it. The notion was too terrifying and now Albus had proof. They'd agreed that Tom, Voldemort, might have made a Horcrux, but the idea that he'd made more…
It was unthinkable. After this visit Gellert suspected that he would have many sleepless nights. When he was younger he'd dabbled with the idea, simply the idea. To think that someone had done such a thing in his lifetime.
"I have no idea Albus. If he made one then the next would surely be easier and after that…"
"I'm worried. I fear I may be losing my edge, just when I need it the most."
"You, lose your edge? Never."
"I have made some bad mistakes these past few years, old friend. Quirrell…the Horcrux…innocent men hunted and maligned…a murderer hiding at Hogwarts, endangering my students, for 7 years…" He grimaced. "Lately, some extremely worrisome events have occurred. The Dark Mark appearing…People disappearing…and more recently, at Hogwarts, someone crossed my wardline and entered Harry Potter into a deadly competition against his will…"
Gellert frowned. "You don't think-?"
"I don't know, Gellert," Albus answered softly, "I just don't know."
Albus said nothing, precious minutes of the visit passing.
There was nothing for him to say.
Deprived of information as he was on the world outside of his cell, there was no way he could have remained unaware of what was happening. All of their conversations had been leading up to it.
He sat there, staring out the window, tensing slightly when Gellert put a hand on his shoulder.
As much as Gellert wanted to press him for what had happened, who'd died this time, he knew there was no point to it.
"You're doing what you can."
Afterwards, he couldn't have said what told him. There was nothing immediately different about Albus, no tell-tale sign. But he knew. It was torture, talking about other things, the fight, the people lost that he had never known, the past, the search….and then Albus said it.
"I've made a mistake."
Gellert waited. Albus sighed, and pushed up his sleeve. The sight was horrendous. All the more so because of the very familiar ring sitting on his finger.
"How long?" A soft whisper.
An answering smile. "Less than a year."
Gellert closed his eyes, and nodded.
"It's up to Harry now."
"Remember when we were young?" Albus asked wistfully, "All the ideas we had, such big ideas for such little boys."
Gellert managed the ghost of a smile. There was a sense of finality to this visit, hurried and without warning. After all these years the guards were willing to make accommodations which said a great deal about how highly Albus was regarded or how little a threat they believed him to pose after so long.
"We were young and like all young men we thought we could save the world," Gellert said, embracing his old friend, "But you might still."
He waited. He did not look at the newspaper, months old now, still lying where he had hidden it. He still didn't know if the guard who gave it to him had meant it as a kindness, or a cruelty. No matter. It had told him what he needed to know. He straightened as the wall exploded. The waiting was over. It was time for one last move, one last trick, one last gift to his old friend.
A few minutes later, as the green light arced towards him, Gellert laughed at the fool, and knew that they had won.