Author's Note: This is a stand-alone excerpt from my novel Epithalamium, available on this site.
I have a rendezvous with Death,
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
~ Alan Seeger, "I Have a Rendezvous with Death"
"We think he's using a magical fortress under the Zeiss Optical factory—the one in Schandauer Strasse—as a headquarters," said Fassbaender.
"It would make sense," Aegeus Shacklebolt said. "It would be fairly easy for his men to come and go without attracting much notice.
"I concur," said Albus. He waited while Fassbaender translated into German for Weiss, who passed the information on to Wronski in Polish.
Albus had arrived in Dresden two days earlier, after receiving intelligence that the beautiful Saxon city was Grindelwald's likely location. It fit: the city was an active communications and rail centre, with several factories on its outskirts and enough military activity that the coming and going of Grindelwald's foot soldiers would not be remarkable.
Moreover, thought Albus, the rich history, culture, and Baroque beauty of the city would have appealed to the Gellert he had known. All in all, it would make an ideal spot from which to birth a new world order.
The tiny, ad-hoc band of fighters that had joined Albus had been selected by leaders of several European wizarding governments from among their various elite law enforcement corps. It consisted of six fighters in addition to Albus: one English, one French, two German, one Polish, and one Czech. They were selected for their duelling skills, demonstrated judgement, and ability to keep cool under extreme stress. In addition, none of the group tended to be showy with their skills, and none was especially well known in the wizarding world. Except Albus, of course.
He was uncomfortable at being the de-facto leader of the group—he was not a military strategist—but everyone present knew that it would ultimately be down to a duel between him and Grindelwald, and that meant he called the shots, for better or worse. The other fighters would be responsible for ensuring Albus got where he needed to go and that he would be relatively unmolested once he got there. He hadn't thought much about getting back.
"I think we should watch the area for twenty-four hours," Albus said. "Try to pinpoint how they're getting in—assuming they've got anti-Apparition wards on the place."
Once again, Fassbaender translated. Before translating for the Pole, Weiss said something back to Fassbaender in German, and Albus nodded.
"Weiss says she's already sussed out the exterior of the place," Albus told the Englishman and the French fighter, who didn't speak German. "She's seen what she thinks are Blackrobes coming and going from the entry that adjoins the pedestrian bridge."
Weiss relayed the conversation to Wronski.
It was a highly inefficient method of communication, thought Albus, but Babel fish were extremely hard to come by, and they didn't have the resources to keep them alive in the field, in any event. Thank Merlin Ježek spoke English and German, as none of the others had any Czech.
The group determined to keep another watch on the area for the evening and following day.
Twenty-four hours later, Shacklebolt, Fassbaender, Weiss, Wronski, and Delacroix were all dead, and Albus was waiting to become so.
It had gone well until the bombs started falling.
Ježek and Delacroix had been able to Imperius a pair of Blackrobes into dismantling the protective charms that hid the entryway to Gellert's bunker. From there, it had been an easy thing to Stun and disarm anyone coming in or going out—the frozen bodies were stacked on a factory pallet and covered with a heavy oilcloth tarp "borrowed" for the purpose—until the way seemed clear enough to launch an assault.
Five of them had gone in: Ježek and Shacklebolt, then Albus, flanked by Wronski and Fassbaender, whose job was to protect Albus until he got to Grindelwald. There had been fewer than ten Blackrobes in the room, and the duelling between them and the five fighters had taken less than two minutes to play out, with most of Gellert's men falling to Shacklebolt or Ježek, while several made what they doubtless thought would be an escape, only to be felled by Stunners from the waiting Weiss and Delacroix.
Gellert Grindelwald was nowhere to be found.
Albus advised them to keep their wands at the ready, then he cast a series of complex spells with incantations in Aramaic and Ancient Greek, and suddenly, there Gellert was.
He looked very much as he had when Albus had loved him. Older and thinner, to be sure, but still Gellert and still beautiful. Albus knew that the same could not be said for himself.
"You've come to me. I always knew you would," Gellert said in lightly accented English, his lips just as red and full, teeth just as white and even as Albus remembered them.
"No," Albus said. "I've come for you. There's a difference."
"Always the pedant," replied Gellert, "and always so disappointing."
The other fighters moved in behind Albus, but he put his hand up to stop them, silently willing them not to get too close. "Will you turn over your wand? You are quite outnumbered," he told Gellert.
"So it would appear." A sudden flash from Gellert's wand, and the two fighters on either side of Albus burst in a cloud of dust. "But the odds are looking better for me now, no?"
Albus cast to deflect Gellert's next spell, and all at once, they were duelling.
Ropes of fire, whirlwinds of malevolent gas, hissing snakes made of acid—it was all the remaining fighters could do to protect themselves from the onslaught of spells coming from both men's wands. It seemed to go on and on, with neither wizard gaining the advantage. When the ground began to shake under their feet, they assumed it was a spell, or a series of them.
After a seeming eternity of casting, dodging, and helpless Protego-ing, Shacklebolt and Ježek heard the ceiling above them begin to collapse, bringing burning beams and other material down into their midst, and they realised that something else was at work here. Grindelwald apparently realised it too, as he was struck by one of the beams and had to take a moment to extinguish the fire that had caught on his sleeve, crying, "Was ist das Teufelei?"
The momentary distraction was enough. Albus gathered all his strength and magic and cast a Petrification hex that exploded through Gellert's powerful shields, which came apart in shimmering bands of multicoloured light that floated to the ground among the cinders. Gellert's wand flew from his hand to Albus's as the Swiss wizard's face fixed itself in the grimace of outrage and disbelief that all despots surely wear when they finally fall.
Albus collapsed with exhaustion at the same moment the remainder of the ceiling came down. A falling beam caved in Shacklebolt's head and fell on Albus, trapping him by the leg.
Albus shouted at Ježek, "Take him! Go! Now!" As Ježek tried without success to Levitate the beam from him, Albus continued yelling, "Forget me! Take Grindelwald! Don't let him get away!" He knew that if he were to be killed or fall unconscious, the power of the Petrification hex would fade, allowing the still-conscious Gellert a chance of escape.
"Go now! Now!"
The walls of flame seemed to be closing in around them, and Ježek looked torn between following orders and rescuing his comrade.
Albus grabbed him roughly by the trouser leg. "The others are dead, Ježek. If he escapes, they will have died in vain. Take him!"
Ježek moved quickly to Grindelwald and removed the stopwatch from his own pocket. Albus watched as the young man, his eyes still glued to Albus's, grabbed hold of the Petrified wizard, then depressed the button to activate the Portkey. Five seconds later, they were gone.
Albus prayed to whoever might be listening that the international magical law enforcement agents waiting on the outskirts of Strasbourg would be there to take custody of the Gellert. He also prayed that they would not kill him on the spot.
As he felt the searing heat of the flames closing in, Albus grasped Gellert's wand and tried Levitate the heavy beam from his leg, but the little magical strength he had left wasn't enough. He managed instead to cast a weak Shield Charm. It would protect him for a little while, but he knew his air would eventually run out, and with the fire eating up the atmospheric oxygen, he would be unable to draw any from the air around him into the bubble created by the shield. When his oxygen ran out, he would lose consciousness, then the charm would fail, and he would be consumed by the flames.
So he waited to die.
He turned his head and saw Aegeus Shacklebolt lying dead a few feet away. Albus was glad he would not be the one to deliver the news to the Unspeakable's young wife—new to England, and now with no family save for her infant son.
Such a waste. And unnecessary if Albus hadn't been too much a coward to have faced Gellert down when it first became apparent that he was gathering followers.
And in the end, seeing Gellert again hadn't been nearly as hard as Albus had thought it might be. If he had felt any small twinge of regret at having to duel him, it had been effectively obliterated along with Konstantyn Wronski and Renate Fassbaender when Gellert had cast the first spell. Gellert was beautiful and brilliant, and a killer of innocent men and women. Albus could not forget it, nor that but for the grace of God, or Merlin, or dumb luck he might have been huddled down in the bunker with Gellert, planning the enslavement of millions. But for Ariana.
Albus looked at the wand in his hand. Was it the Elder Wand? The Deathstick? Maybe. He felt nothing. And for it and the other Hallows, he and Gellert had been willing to kill. Gellert had surely done so, and Albus had no doubt that he would have followed Gellert to the ends of the Earth in his quest.
But for Ariana. Her death, as accidental and meaningless as it had surely been, had been his salvation.
And now he would finally die, with the putative Hallow in his hand. It was fitting somehow, he thought.
For a time, the pain in his leg kept him alert, but eventually he began to feel dizzy, whether from pain or blood loss or lack of oxygen, he didn't know. As he drifted along at the edge of consciousness, he thought of the people he loved: his mother and father, Ariana, Aberforth—even Aberforth—and Minerva. Their faces danced and blended in his mind's eye as he faded out of being.
Albus became aware of a clanging sound that echoed in his head and made his eyes snap open. There was light shining through a grey haze, and he began to cough weakly as he inhaled soot and ash.
Then there were voices.
"Sind Sie fertig da drüben?"
He tried to shout, but his mouth was dry and full of acrid-tasting dust. After a minute or so, he finally managed to make a weak sound.
One of the voices sounded closer.
"Ich glaube, ich habe etwas gehört ..."
Albus heard some crunching noises, then a face appeared at the periphery of his vision.
"Becker! Hier drüben!"
A man crouched down to Albus and wiped some soot from his eyes and nose, then put his head down to listen at his chest.
"Schnell! Wir haben einen Überlebender!"
A second man joined him, and they conferred for a few moments before each grasped the end of the beam that had trapped Albus and lifted it off him. Albus thought at first they must be wizards using a charm, until he realised that what had been a large beam, at least fifteen feet in length, had been burnt away until only about three feet of it remained lying across his trapped leg.
Pain struck with ferocious intensity a moment later, and Albus howled.
"Immer sachte. Wir kümmern uns um Sie. Alles wird gut."
He screamed again when the man picked him up and slung him over his shoulder. As they trudged through the debris and out into the open, Albus thought he must have been hallucinating.
The entire city—what he could see of it—was a smouldering ruin.
Men and women were using shovels to stack burnt corpses in grisly piles near the side of what once must have been Schandauer Strasse, and the porcine odour of scorched flesh hung thickly in the sooty air.
Albus squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself not to believe what he had seen.
What in the name of heaven and hell had happened here?
Later, in the makeshift hospital outside the ruined city, he would scarcely believe what he heard. A series of British and American bombing raids had dropped more than 3,500 tonnes of incendiary bombs on the city over two days.
Albus closed his eyes and willed himself not to dream.
As the days wore on, he became a minor celebrity among the hospital's inhabitants, thanks to his mysterious and miraculous survival and the surprising speed with which his mangled leg seemed to heal. When he had first arrived, the kind but harried physician who had examined him had told him gravely that it was likely the leg would be lost, but two days later, the bones appeared to be falling back into place of their own accord. The doctor was baffled but ultimately too busy to worry about it. In the end, Doktor Friedmann was forced to chalk it up as a mystery never to be solved, although in later years he would often think back on his strange English patient and wish he had been able to investigate the matter fully. It would have made an interesting case report at the very least.
Despite the oddities of his survival and recovery, in a city with tens of thousands dead and injured, and innumerable missing, it was easy for Albus to lie low. The people who cared for him accepted him as "Llewellyn Morgan", Welsh-English businessman, discovered among the ruins of the Zeiss Optical factory and without family or friends back home to worry about his whereabouts. Most were kind and caring, despite his nationality and the horrors his countrymen had visited upon them. For his part, Albus was courteous and grateful, and he amused the staff and other patients with his earnest attempts not to manhandle their language.
Doktor Friedmann released him three weeks later, with a crutch, the shake of a baffled head, and good wishes. Frau Vogel, who had served as his primary nurse, kissed him on his clean-shaven cheek and slipped a few Reichmarks and a packet of cigarettes into his coat pocket.
With that, Albus hobbled his way through what remained of Dresden's streets and disappeared into the shell of a burnt-out house to begin the journey home.
More in the Epithalamium Series
For anyone who is interested, there are links and information on the backstory for characters and events in the "Epithalamium universe" on my website ( ).
If you'd like to know more about Minerva and Albus's adventures, you might enjoy the following stories, set in the same universe.
Bonnie Wee Thing | Epithalamium #0.5 ~ A short story that takes place on the day of Minerva McGonagall's birth.
One to Keep an Eye On | Epithalamium #0.72 ~ Young Minerva has her first Transfiguration class. It does not go as Albus expects.
From Jupiter's Head | Epithalamium #0.75 ~ Thorfinn McGonagall observes his daughter, Minerva, as she grows up, and finds that she is a very unusual witch.
Epithalamium | Epithalamium #1 ~ An epic romance novel that follows Minerva McGonagall from her seventh year at Hogwarts through her first year of teaching.
1945 | Epithalamium #1.5 ~ An excerpt from emEpithalamium/em. Albus Dumbledor travels to Germany to confront Gellert Grindelwald.
Come Autumn, Sae Pensive | Epithalamium #3 ~ A novel following Minerva McGonagall and Albus Dumbledore through an unexpected pregnancy and its aftermath.
Winterreise | Epithalamium #3.5 ~ A short story about tension between Minerva McGonagall and Albus Dumbledore.
Familiar Rituals | Epithalamium #3.6 ~ A short story about some end-of-term rituals and how Minerva McGonagall became Head of Gryffindor House.
Mammals of the Order Chiroptera | Epithalmium #3.7 ~ A short story in which Severus Snape observes members of the Order of the Phoenix at closer range than he would perhaps like.
Ca' the Yowes | Epithalamium #3.8 ~ A fluffy short story featuring Minerva McGonagall just after the Stunner attack in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart | Epithalamium #4 ~ A novella about the lengths Minerva McGonagall and Severus Snape must go to in the prosecution of the war after Dumbledore's death.
This work of fiction is based on characters and settings created by J. K. Rowling. All recognisable characters, settings, and plot elements are copyright © J. K. Rowling.
The author believes this work falls within the scope of the Fair Use Doctrine as a itransformative work./i For more information, see the Organization for Transformative Works.
All original characters, settings, and plot elements are copyright © 2020 Squibstress.
This work of fiction is available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.
The works quoted in the story are in the public domain, with the following exceptions:
Doctor Zhivago, © 1957 Boris Pasternak (Feltrinelli), translation © 2020 Squibstress.