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"'Where will you go, Dumbledore?' whispered Professor McGonagall. 'Grimmauld Place?'

'Oh no,' said Dumbledore, with a grim smile, 'I am not leaving to go into hiding. Fudge will soon wish he'd never dislodged me from Hogwarts, I promise you.'"—Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, chapter 27.

Chapter 1

Like a sleeping dog at its master's approach, the little cottage seemed to wake up as he entered.

The candles started to burn in their cups as he walked through the door, the fine layer of dust on all the surfaces vanishing.

The vines that he had carefully trellised up an entire wall seemed to grow brighter with his presence, the small flowers amongst the creepers suddenly becoming vibrant and vivid.

He dropped heavily into the armchair in the centre of the room, his eyes wandering around his haven.

It was a simple place, nothing more than a sitting room, a bedroom, and a bathroom, located in a lovely meadow in the British countryside.

The only furniture in the sitting room besides for his armchair was a small table and a bookshelf and cupboard.

It was not home. Hogwarts was his home.

It was simply a place for him to go when he felt he needed the privacy, when his mind became too burdened by responsibility and he needed a change of scenery to clear it.

And now he had been banished there.

He stared at the vines without seeing them, feeling more enraged than he had in decades.

"They think to arrest me?" He muttered, one of the glass candleholders exploding and punctuating his words with a pop.

Once upon a time, cities would have been laid to waste if a wizard of his power had been offered such an insult.

He could not even blame Harry for his brash foolishness. That was who the boy was.

Had he been any different, Albus wouldn't care for him quite as much as he did.

No, Harry had been foolish, but he was blameless.

Fudge and the Ministry, on the other hand…

The vines began to shrivel up under his gaze.

He took a deep breath, closing his eyes and thinking of nothing in particular.

When he opened them again, a few minutes later, the burning rage was still there.

The Elder Wand vibrated gently in his hand, begging to be used.

The chair creaked as he rocked, making an eerie and somehow fitting harmony to Fawkes' song.

"I chose to lead by example," he whispered, "I chose to use careful and logical discussions to make a difference. I did not force them to make the right choices."

He breathed deeply, whispering as he often did in such times, the reasons for his decision.

"Greater intelligence does not make my moral compass unflawed. Power corrupts. If I force them to do good they will merely rebel, or abandon my orders once I am dead. They should not be making the right choice because Albus Dumbledore tells them to."

'Is it not better for them to at least be making the right choice, regardless of their motivations?'

He ignored the Wand's siren song, brushing it aside as neatly as he had the dying leaves before him.

"I could have taken complete control. I chose not to. Corruption is human nature. I am as susceptible to it as Fudge is."

His voice went cold at the mention of the Minister's name, one of the silver candlesticks groaning and twisting itself into a circle.

"Have I not demonstrated, time and time again, that I have no interest in his position? What have I done other than assist him, other than answer his every letter begging for guidance? Who was it who the world turned to when Gellert threatened all?"

The Wand shook even harder, memories of that terrible, glorious day flooding his mind.

He could still hear the faint screams in the distance, could still smell the smoke.

He could still see Gellert's smirk as he'd approached, so certain that the Elder Wand would defeat even a superior opponent.

And he could still see the mounds of corpses, the innocents whose lives his hesitation had claimed.

He shook his head, turning away from his memory before he could feel that moment when the Elder Wand had gained a new master.

He'd taken the Wand and fought off its bloodthirst, choosing to send Gellert to Nurmengard instead of simply ending him.

Since that fateful day, he'd shied away from the power he so easily could have taken. He'd turned down the post of Minister more times than he could count and had only accepted Supreme Mugwumpship after making it clear that it would be a mere ceremonial position. He'd never used his executive privilege as Chief Warlock, only accepting the position to keep it out of the hands of less trustworthy individuals.

He'd known since the end of his childhood that he could not be trusted with absolute power. The Wand's whispers had only cemented his decision.

"It was I who kept their children safe," he said, "I who made Hogwarts a place Voldemort never dared attack, I who prevented Voldemort from advancing beyond our borders. I who gave them the freedom to deride me. I who faced opposition in my every attempt at bringing equality to our world."

He'd worked within the system, never once simply forcing the incompetent to bend to his will no matter how infuriating their stupidity had been. The closest he'd come had been his attempts at changing the werewolf laws, and even there he had eventually allowed the wheels of bureaucracy to turn, allowed it to go to a public vote where it had been shot down.

Another two candles went out, darkness beginning to spread within the little hut even though the sun still shone in the meadow.

"I tried to create rehabilitation programs for Death Eater," he said, "I pushed to remove the Dementors from Azkaban. And still they despise me, still they mistake my kindness for weakness."

The final two candles flickered, casting long shadows that crept across the dirt floor.

"Throughout the millennia," he said, his voice shaking with barely-comprised fury, the vines on the wall now falling to the ground as dust, "a wizard of my stature would have simply forced them to obey. I have had countless opportunities to wrest control of this ungrateful nation, and never once have I even seriously contemplated doing so.

And what do I get in return?"

He jumped to his feet, the walls shaking with the power of his voice even though it was no louder than it had been.

"Cast out of my home," he snarled, "derided and ignored even as I seek to save them. Hated and branded an insane criminal."

His fingers tightened around his wand, golden sparks flickering from the tip.

"Vermin sent to my school, to torment the children under my protection, while the Death Eaters whose very lives I spared whisper poison in the Ministry."

"They have forgotten who I am," he whispered, raising the wand to eye-level, "they see my kindly actions, my attempts to make this world a better place, and they think me a fool. All I have ever wanted was to help them make the right decisions. All I have ever wanted was to brighten up all our lives."

'Your methods have failed. They will not listen to reason. They are like infants, like animals who understand nothing but force. It is time to try something different.'

He stared at the wand, remembering the piles of bodies in Gellert's wake, the millions of deaths his opposition to seeking power had caused.

"Greater intelligence does not make my moral compass unflawed. Power corrupts. If I force them to do good they will merely rebel, or abandon my orders once I am dead. They should not be making the right choice because Albus Dumbledore tells them to."

'Comfortable excuses to keep from doing what is necessary. Comforting lies to sway your hand from action. You could do it. You could change the world. You could end the war, you could end the corruption and incompetence that so plagued this nation. You could usher in a new era of enlightenment.'

The wand seemed to fill up the world, the promises of power that would be his for the taking, the joyous possibilities of the change he could bring.

"It-it wouldn't be right. That choice is not mine to make. It shouldn't be."

'When no-one else is making it, the choice is yours. You are the only one who can do it. All your dreams can come true. You just have to make them happen.'

He closed his eyes, seeing Harry's face in his mind. The loneliness and fear, the heartache and worry.

All inspired by the Ministry's careful treatment of him, all done to destroy a child he cared for.

'They chase you away from those who need you most, and you think of still acting peacefully? They have declared war on you while paving the way for Voldemort's coup. They will destroy everything you have worked so hard to accomplish and set Wizarding Britain back hundreds of years. If you allow it.'

"No," he said, as calmly as ever he'd spoken, "no. It will not be borne. I will stand for it no longer. No."

He stared at the now barren wall, the path before him clearer than it had been for decades.

"But I cannot do it alone. The Ministry would be difficult enough at the best of times, as would Voldemort."

He dropped back onto his armchair, possibilities flickering through his mind at lightning speed.

The Order were already near the end of their rope. They were few in number, and though they were brave and loyal, actually declaring war on the Ministry might prove beyond their capabilities.

Besides, most of them would surely prove far more useful if their connection to him remained unknown.

"And most of them would not manage combat, not against the Ministry's forces."

"Alastor, perhaps," he mused, "he could certainly survive a fight. He also does not have the familial bonds so many of the others do. Yes, he could do well. But…"

Well, Alastor was certainly a powerful, talented wizard and a wonderful ally, but he was only one man. While Albus knew that Alastor could hold his own against perhaps three or four enemies, he was also certain that the forces ranged against them would be greater than that.

Of course, Hagrid would fight as well, and Sirius could probably be relied upon. But it was not enough.

"What I need," he murmured, "is someone like me. Someone who can inspire terror in the enemy, someone who could face down a small army. I need someone like me."

He shook his head slowly, restlessly tapping the Elder Wand against his knee.

"There isn't. There-"

He looked down at the wand, his eyes widening.

That could work. If there was anyone who fit the bill, it was him.

"But dare I trust him? Dare I trust myself with him?"

He rocked on the chair, closing his eyes and thinking, analysing his idea from all directions.

For hours he sat like that, following the threads of possibility in his mind, picking apart his options and placing them back together.

By the time he opened his eyes again, the sun had set.

He nodded once and stood up, twirling the wand through his fingers.

"I cannot do this alone," he said. "I need his help."

He rose to his full height, the wand settling back into his grip, his cloak flying off of its hook and wrapping itself around him.

"If Fudge desires my enmity, he shall have his wish."

The final candle was snuffed out as he opened the door, whistling for Fawkes.

It was time to pay an old friend a visit.

The ground around his prison shook again, making Gellert scowl as he dropped the paper.

He cursed the stupid building as he picked the newspaper up again, wiping the dust off of it and settling back to his reading.

The smiling picture of his old…friend greeted him, waving out of the page.

He just continued to scowl, re-reading the headline.

Head case of a Headmaster on the run!

He snorted, staring at it for a moment and shaking his head.

As he let his eyes drop to the article itself, some sixth sense made him look up.

There was no warning, no sound or sight or smell to precede it.

His cell's wall simply exploded, the flying stones and bits of cement coming within an inch of his face before veering away.

Albus Dumbledore walked into Gellert's cell, stepping off of empty air as if there had been a solid platform.

Gellert's knees went weak as he took in Dumbledore's appearance.

Dumbledore radiated might, the lines on his face exuding power and skill.

Old though he was, his body showed no signs of the weakness that had begun to attack Gellert.

He looked like nothing if not a warrior of legend, the setting of his jaw promising pain to any who dared interfere with his mission.

His eyes were as piercing as Gellert remembered them, twin sapphires of the purest icy blue.

Gellert's old wand rested comfortably in his hand.

The Phoenix perched on his shoulder seemed to bathe his face in ghostly flames.

And he had the exact same sense about him that had once led Gellert to abandon his plans, if only for a summer.

Being in his presence was as enthralling, as exhilarating as it had been all those years ago.

His heart began to beat faster, excitement filling him.

"Had I known you were coming," Gellert said, finally recovering, "I'd have made tea."

Albus said nothing, simply standing there with the wand in his hand.

"Are you here to kill me?" Gellert asked. "To prove to yourself that you can still handle a dark wizard?"

Albus just sat, flicking his wand and making an armchair appear below him an instant before he would have fallen onto his backside.

"Flashy," Gellert said, shifting uneasily in his hard wooden seat, "flashy and gauche and exactly like you."

Albus said not a word, the Phoenix moved not an inch.

"Why are you here?" Gellert demanded, suddenly feeling annoyed beyond reason, "have you come for a purpose or just to torment me with your eyes? Say something, damnit!"

He stared at Gellert for a long moment, before saying three words.

"You were right."