Milena Horakova moved her wand towards her head, her silvery hair suddenly lengthened in silvery mist, until they floated in the whole room and they were now sitting inside a giant Pensieve. Harry shivered, for Dumbledore was back again, younger and red-bearded.
He looked grave and concerned, but not about Harry, whom he ignored. Dumbledore was facing a handsome and golden-haired woman, the same woman Harry was sitting with in a cosy room. And he said to her, gently :
“What are you hoping for, Milena?”
“Does it sound silly if I say ‘redeem’?”
“Not to me. I believe it one of the most serious words in our world. But…”
Dumbledore paused, as if looking for words.
“You don’t think Gellert might regret, nor change?” she asked. Harry expected her to speak fiercely, with a kind of defiance, but she did not. She seemed just sad.
Dumbledore perceived this sadness, of course. He answered in a comforting but equally sad voice: “Don’t misunderstand me. I think he might. But even if… even if he does, he will never be allowed to be out of jail. No one would accept it. Even if you were right, if Gellert learns to feel remorse… he will never be free. He will endure his guilt in the darkest of jails. Lifelong. Are you aware of that? Are you… prepared to that?”
She threw her head back, and now she looked fierce, her deep blue eyes piercing Dumbledore’s.
“Do you really think that is the only important thing? Don’t you think that Gellert’s redemption does matter, even if he stays a prisoner? Don’t you think it could change things, in a way or another? Don’t you think it could change… not his own fate, but something of ours?”
And she was right, of course.
It had changed things, in a tiny but decisive way. Many years later, Grindelwald lied to Voldemort, laughed at him.
She had been right. And there was more in the stake than Gellert’s soul.
The mists were dissolving, as long as the younger Milena and Albus, and Harry was staring again to a very old woman.
“So he let you visit him…”
“He did. And I went, ans talked to him, week after week. Once per week, until the very end. Until he finally met his end.”
Proving her right in a way she couldn’t rejoice about, in the bitterest of ways.
Harry felt suddenly ashamed to have come and awaken such memories, memories that didn’t concern him in anything.
Something else was disturbing him, something about his own story, compared to this one, but he couldn’t find it.
The little girl entered the room in her dancing walk, picking a cake, looking curiously at Harry and smiling to the old witch, then walking away in the same fluent move. Had Milena walked like this, in her youth? Could it be… Harry thought at last, could she be Milena and Gellert’s grand-grand-daughter or something? He heard nothing about children. Or had she married after the war, with another wizard?
She was quite a mindreader after all, because she smiled and said: “I raised my sister’s children, and their children after them. I never had children of my own. I don’t know if that makes us better teachers.”
Then she stood up, came to him and took his hand.
“You shall not regret, Harry Potter. You shall not be too prompt to compare Tom Riddle and Gellert.”
And so he found it, the worm in his mind, the anguish he was going around for years. Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald without killing him. Had he the right to kill Voldemort, was he right to do it? Was it the only choice?
“I am sure Albus told you, Milena went on. Tom Riddle renounced his own soul while parting it into so many Horcruxes. He was far beyond redemption.”
“But where is the difference? Harry wondered aloud. I mean: what is it that made Grindelwald able to redeem, whil Voldemort wasn’t? What is it that mark the border beyond which there is no return?”
“I am not sure about that. I know little about Tom Riddle. However, Albus told me about his pasr, about his childhood, and I suppose one might find the difference there. Many darkness have their roots in childhood.”
And he wouldn’t have got a better answer, but that one felt really unsatisfactory. After all, Harry himself had a terrible childhood.
What was it that made him different, that made him change, and turn towards a way rather than another?
Then he saw again Milena and Dumbledore, how they both were, fierce and brilliant and sad.
And it was like a serene light illuminating him.
“It was you, he said quietly. It was because of you, and Dumbledore. He had met you. He had been… loved by you. Both of you. That’s a difference, a huge one. Haven’t you said that yourself? Encounters bind the course of your life forever. Well, Gellert Grindelwald encountered Albus Dumbledore and you, as a teenager.”
And I had my own encounters, he thought.
Not Voldemort, after all. But Ron, Hermione, Sirius — Ginny.
And he turned back to them. Every quests are about returns.