“What do you see in the Mirror, Professor?” Harry asked him.
“What would you like for your birthday?”
She didn’t reply for some time; her attention was fully occupied by the soup she was slurping rather audibly. Albus coughed. “Ariana?”
Her eyes were bright when she looked up.
have a birthday party,” he said. Even to himself, his voice didn’t sound comforting. He tried to smile.
“Soup,” she said, “too hot.”
“Ah.” He raised his wand. For a few moments, they watched the wand-tip siphon off the steam rising from the bowl. The ticking of the grandfather clock on the wall was too loud, Albus thought.
“Socks,” mumbled Ariana.
“I want socks.”
“Thick ones. Made of wool.”
Once more, he began to object, but she’d already returned to her soup. He waited for her to finish without speaking any further, his hands unconsciously balled into fists, thumbs rubbing up and down against the index fingers. His breathing became easier only when Aberforth bustled into the kitchen, smelling of grass, dirt and goat.
He hated himself for that, even though no amount of resentment could stop him from leaving the tiny room as fast as he could. Gellert was waiting in the study, where the air wasn’t so thick. Indeed, all thoughts of socks and birthday cake dissipated the moment he saw his friend.
The castle was quiet as it was past midnight. Albus was walking along the seventh corridor, and he had lost count of how many rounds he’d completed. In his hand was a personal letter sent by the Minister of Magic, a request to step in and help the Aurors track down and fight Gellert Grindelwald. He felt, rather than saw or heard, the door materialising on the wall behind him. Wand ready, he stepped inside. There was only one object in the vast, high room: a tall mirror that showed, instead of his own reflection, something that made him cry aloud before sinking to the floor.
Gellert’s gaze was as inexorable as it had been the night when he had left Godric’s Hollow. You dare betray me
, he seemed to ask. But Albus had to try, no matter how much his hand was trembling, no matter how blurred his vision had become. He’d never be free; the Mirror had proved that to him.
It was you
, Gellert said. His voice was discernible even above the unending cracks and explosions. You killed her
And I’ll atone for it
, Albus replied in his head, as he watched his final curse hit his opponent, forever
“I?” he said to the boy. He didn’t have to look at the Mirror for confirmation before answering. “I see myself holding a pair of thick, woollen socks.”