Announcement: I have launched a new Discord server for this story. We have a few well known authors that have already joined the server. Sam Gabriel, the person who does the audiobook of SoD, is also on the server. We have channels to discuss/promote your fanfics and an archive of great stories to read. We have a little bit of everything so everyone can enjoy! The link is below and in my profile.

discord . gg / cV3ZB2rV5B

A/N: Welcome to my new story! I'll try to keep these notes from getting too long. Of note, this story will be wildly A/U so if you see something you think is wrong or goes against canon it is very likely that is on purpose. This story will not be for everyone. It is a Flowerpot with quite a few tropes in it. I am trying to put a different twist on some well-known tropes. Either way, I hope you enjoy! Please R&R!

Shoutouts: Shout out to HonorverseFan and x102reddragon for beta'ing this chapter and their feedback to make this story better. Also, thanks to Emp for his help with Google Docs when it was acting up. All of these people are on the amazing FlowerPot Discord server. So, check out the server and give their stories a look! They are great writers.

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. I'm just writing a story for people to enjoy.

The Shadow of Death

Prologue: Britain's Son

Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, former Chief Warlock of the British Ministry of Magic, former Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, a world-renowned alchemist who personally studied under Nicolas Flamel, and the man who had defeated the Dark Lord Gellert Grindelwald fought down a shiver of fear as he passed through a set of archaic wards, the likes of which he had never felt in more than a century of life.

For a man who was considered, somewhat incorrectly, by many to be the most learned wizard in the magical world, coming across magic of such sinister and unknown origins was a rarity. Albus, in most other cases, would have paused on his venture to study the unknown magic that now surrounded him. The wards were not entirely dark, but, more impressively, they were advanced and exceedingly powerful. They were intent based wards, a style of warding that fell out of favour centuries ago due to them possessing many weaknesses. These protections, however, felt nearly infallible. He surmised that it would take more time than he would care to spend analyzing the wards. Luckily, he had passed whatever test had been given and was now free to continue on his journey through the bitingly cold mountains of Siberia.

It was most peculiar that he was now shrouded in a seeming impenetrable darkness when, before crossing the wards, the sun had just begun to rise in the east. The aged wizard reached into one of the many pockets in his garish, purple robes to pull out his wand and cast a lighting spell. He immediately paused as soon as his lined hand grasped the handle of his wand. He could feel the ambient magic of the area tightening around him menacingly, his breaths suddenly forced to come out in laboured pants.

The wards were dangerous, indeed.

He could feel eyes watching his every movement from the darkness around him. Albus could feel their penetrating gaze, though he could not see from where the stares came as he could only see a small handful of meters in any direction. Slowly, the venerated wizard let go of his wand and pulled his hand from his robes to raise it in the air, empty of any item. The magic previously constricting him vanished, though the feeling of being watched persisted now more than it had previously.

"I mean no harm," Dumbledore spoke loudly into the shadows surrounding him. "I am merely an old man who wishes to see the path he walks."

There was no answer to his rather simple request. No noise made itself known to him, but the eyes remained ever watchful.

Albus could only sigh as he began walking slowly, aimlessly once again. It was to be expected, he supposed.

Madness.

That could have been the only thing to have brought him to this place. He had received word from Severus Snape, the Hogwarts potions master and spy for the Order of the Phoenix, that Tom Riddle, also known as the Dark Lord Voldemort, had passed through this area a week prior to negotiate support from a powerful faction who dwelt in the area. Severus had been unable to ascertain whether the Dark Lord's trip had been successful at all, but he had told him that Tom had seemingly barely escaped with his life and would not speak of the matter.

Strange? Perhaps not.

An anomaly? Unquestionably.

Stumbling on an unseen rock cropping up from the ground, Albus mentally berated himself for becoming so absorbed in his thoughts that he did not pay attention to his surroundings. Not that it truly mattered, since he could not see and the only sounds to reach his ears were the shifting of rocks and cracking of twigs caused by his own feet.

The Hogwarts Headmaster had expected Voldemort to lie low and remain hidden for some months after his return to the world of the living during the Triwizard Tournament a month prior. It was rather strange, and against his cautious nature, to seek aid from such a dangerous entity so soon after his return. Albus would have expected him to send Lucius Malfoy in his stead while he regained his strength.

Whoever dwelt in these lands were most dangerous, it seemed. Even weakened, Tom Riddle was not a wizard to be taken lightly.

Albus could only hope that they would offer their aid in the times to come. They had, after all, spurned Voldemort and had very nearly caused him to become little more than a spirit once again, if Severus' reports were to be believed. He had little doubt in the man's trustworthiness, but the older wizard was beginning to doubt his own sanity in deciding to come to this wretched place.

Something in the air shifted, jerking him violently from his thoughts.

How long had he been in this place?

Minutes?

Hours?

He could not know. Time seemingly stood still in this wilderness.

Dumbledore stilled and prepared himself, but he did not know what was coming.

They crept into his mind as silent and ominous as the shadows around him. His eyes began to darken until he could not see even his own hand in front of his face. Panic rushed through his body at the foreign invasion.

What was this magic?

Occlumency shields, even ones as vaunted as his own, were of little help against the shades creeping into his mind. Memories, painful recollections, screamed in his mind against his will. It was similar to being in the presence of a dementor, but the biting cold surrounding him was not wholly unnatural.

He could hear her voice, and it brought him no comfort.

Tears bit at the corners of his eyes.

No.

She was dead and had been so for nearly a century.

The white-haired man shook like a reed in a tempest as he took one step forward. It felt as if his body were made of lead.

He could not see.

He could not hear.

He could not taste.

He could not feel pain, nor the cold wind that had been striking against him.

His mind was no longer his own.

He could not breathe.

He fell to his knees, covering his ears at the sound of her wails.

It was no use.

'Is this how I meet my end?' Albus Dumbledore thought to himself as his body hit the cold, stony ground in the middle of Siberia. 'Ariana, I am so sorry.'

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore knew no more.

*****BREAK*****

Air filled his lungs, quickly infusing him with the life he thought he had lost. His eyes were heavy and refused to open at his command. Had he finally moved on to the next great adventure?

No.

The eyes.

They were still watching his every movement.

"Welcome, Headmaster Dumbledore." The deep, monotonous voice had no accent. It came from in front of him, he knew, but it seemed to originate from everywhere at the same time. "Or should I call you Chief Warlock? Supreme Mugwump? Though I am curious as to what capacity you find yourself here, I find myself more interested that you withstood our wards for so long. For more than an hour you wandered our lands and you succumbed much later than our previous…guest."

He was seated, but he could not move his body. Panic raced through him at the feeling. Albus forced his heavy eyes open and nearly recoiled at the bright light that seemed to burn his retinas.

Movement of his head was seemingly allowed. He felt his wand was jabbing into his right leg through his pocket. The esteemed headmaster sighed in relief and closed his eyes against the harsh lighting of the room.

"Where…" Dumbledore coughed harshly, his throat feeling as if he had spent a week in the desert with no water.

The voice chuckled humourlessly as Albus felt, rather than saw, a goblet containing lukewarm water tilt against his lips. He could only drink greedily, hoping against hope he was not being potioned.

"This place is ancient and not well known," the unknown man mumbled, though it sounded as if he were yelling. "It has no name and never has. Just as none of us have a name any longer. Dim the lights so our honoured guest may take in the gravity of his situation."

After a few seconds, the old wizard cracked open his eyes with much effort, his lids feeling as if muggle fishing weights had been attached to them. The Hogwarts Headmaster was in a rather bland, domed room about thirty feet in circumference that was made of nothing more than obsidian. Small beams of white light, now dulled significantly, were all pointed in his direction, leaving the other half of the room bathed in darkness. The small beams of light, he realized with a nearly audible gulp, all came from wands, at least thirty by his quick count, that were jammed into small slits in the domed walls surrounding them. Even had he not been partially petrified, his situation would be most grave indeed.

Albus took note of the man sitting about two meters in front of him in a nondescript wooden chair. There was little of note about the man, other than his obviously dangerous aura, due to the blood red robes that covered his entire body and masked his face from view. The man, Albus' captor, was completely at ease. The only other thing discernable about him was that he was a somewhat short yet bulky man.

He was accompanied by another who was equally indiscernible. The person was fairly tall with a wirier frame and was covered in drab grey robes from head to toe. This second person stood behind the seated figure in obvious deference, likely being the only guard actually allowed in the room. Albus could not see if the second person had a wand drawn, but thought it likely hidden in their sleeve.

"Why have you come here, Albus Dumbledore?" The man in red asked without emotion or body language betraying any of his thoughts. "You would not have made it past the wards alive if you harboured any ill intent toward us. Do you too seek aid in Britain? I assure you, if that is the case, you will find little to no sympathy within these walls."

Old bones began to ache due to the hard wooden chair he had been forced into, but he ignored it in favour of focusing on the two individuals in front of him.

"I came to seek the reason Tom Riddle visited this place," he answered honestly. "I wanted to know why he thought it important to visit you. Any aid you could provide, while appreciated, was only a secondary objective."

He could feel the man's cold smirk but had no way to see it due to his shrouded face.

The unknown man stared at Dumbledore in a way that made him feel as if his soul were bared before the mysterious stranger. Seconds passed into minutes without a sound or movement being made from any individual in the room. Albus' throat dried in nervousness and he licked his chapped lips. This place and these people had set him more on edge than he had felt in many decades.

Finally, the man waved his hand almost dismissively and whatever hold the room had over Albus disappeared. The old wizard, wisely, made no move.

"Your words are true, though you are still hiding something of interest." The man looked at his compatriot but did not utter a single word. The stranger in grey, seemingly knew what was required of them and moved silently to stand behind the headmaster. "However, be warned, Headmaster Dumbledore. Any move against either myself or any other within these walls and any lie you tell me will be the last action you ever take. I know what it is you carry in your pocket. It is a great risk that you should bring it here. Though we value any gifts from Death and hold them in high honour, it is not our place to possess such items…yet. At least, not while the Elder Wand remains obedient to you."

Albus could feel the man's gaze shift to the wand in his pocket, but he made no move to protect it. He knew he had to tread carefully. The aged wizard had been caught in his lie of omission and had no desire to see the Deathstick fall into their hands. He still had great need of it in the battles to come. "What is it you want of me?"

"I want to know why Britain's leader of the light has come to this most unsavoury of places in pursuit of that same country's recently reborn Dark Lord Voldemort." The man paused as he took in Albus' shocked expression. "Yes, we know who and what he is, as well as his perversions against magic. Though we do remain somewhat ignorant of the finer details. Either way, he is of little interest to us at the moment."

Light hisses of indignation were heard throughout the room when the man nonchalantly hinted at Tom's horcruxes, but were quieted immediately when the man raised his left hand.

"How have you come to know this as isolated as you are?" Dumbledore asked hurriedly. He knew he was in no position to ask any questions, but so far the man had been somewhat forthcoming and seemed to be enjoying their conversation. "That only happened a few weeks ago and has been covered up by our Ministry."

"We know many things, Albus Dumbledore, but you will not know how we come by our information," the man in red robes hissed sharply. "We know of important events in every country across the world, no matter how well they attempt to hide such information. Tom Marvolo Riddle, son of the muggle Tom Riddle and the squib Merope Gaunt, did in fact visit with us last week. Though I believe he found the conclusion of the meeting to be most…unsatisfactory. He was a most uninteresting person and not one that we would be inclined to offer our services to, if that is what you were wondering."

Albus shook his head vehemently at the statement. "Tom will not forgive your denying him. He will return and he will take what he wants by force."

The man laughed uproariously at the sentiment; the first bit of overt emotion he had shown other than annoyance.

"Tom Riddle," he spat the name as if it were poison in his mouth, "Will never purposefully find this place again. Knowledge of our existence and our whereabouts has been wiped from his mind permanently and our magic protects us against any possible threats perfectly well. We have existed for thousands of years and our enemies, many as they are, have been unable to even reach us, something that is not possible unless our protection is perfect. We know what he is, what he has done and we will kill him if he happens to stumble across us in the future. He has usurped and violated both magic and Death. That is unforgivable."

"Then why did you not destroy him when you had the chance?"

A small chuckle escaped the man's still invisible lips. "Surely you know by now, Headmaster, that we are not charitable people? No. We do nothing for free unless we must to ensure our own survival. Lord Voldemort is not a threat to us, but he is a danger to you. That is why you are here, no? We may be of some use to Britain, but that remains to be seen. Tell us of the situation in Britain in reference to Lord Voldemort from the beginning of his first downfall and I will determine if we can come to a suitable arrangement that benefits us both. Also, tell me why you are here. Again, leave nothing unsaid and do not lie to me. I will know if you do."

Albus hung his head dejectedly, knowing he had no other choice than to follow the man's commands. "Can you at least tell me what you are, if not who you are?"

"All in due time, Headmaster," the man replied easily. "If your reasons are found to be lacking then you will have no need to know what we are as you will be released with no remembrance of this place. Begin your story."

A sigh left the old wizard's lips as he began his tale.

It was a seemingly innocuous beginning to a tale, something most would believe to be completely foolish to abide by. Albus grudgingly told the man of the prophecy made to him by Sybil Trelawny in 1980 in its entirety, as well as the one she had recently made. He left nothing out of the story, to include Severus Snape's part in relaying the first two lines of the prophecy to his master, Lord Voldemort. He spoke of James and Lily Potter and the Longbottoms hiding under a Fidelius Charm as both of their only sons could have been targeted by Riddle because of the prophecy. He was thankful to this very day that Severus had come to him begging him to protect Lily and told the older wizard everything he had done. The venerated wizard most likely would not have suggested the families go under the Fidelius had he not heard of Voldemort's intentions. He had to choke back a sob as he was brought back to Halloween 1981 when he learned that Peter Pettigrew had divulged the Potters' secret, but only after the fact.

"It was a most strange occurrence, what happened that night. It was the night that I lost hope for our future." The Hogwarts Headmaster paused to wipe an errant tear that had escaped his left eye. "I am not one to place stock in Divination, but I believe even a man such as you can agree that Tom Riddle ensured the prophecy would become relevant."

Nodding, the man in red gestured for him to continue.

"I arrived at the house to gather young Harry Potter and take him to his muggle family not an hour after the incident with Tom occurred. I found Sirius Black, Harry's godfather, sobbing over James Potter's body. I stunned him so I could ensure he was taken to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement after dropping off Harry as I had believed Sirius to be the Potters' secret keeper. I later confirmed through veritaserum and legilimency that the secret keeper had been Peter Pettigrew, though he had long since vanished by the time I acquired that information. I thought he had certainly fled the country."

"You digress, Headmaster." The man's gravelly voice brought Albus from his monologue and thoughts sharply.

"My apologies," Dumbledore murmured sadly. "I fear I ramble more than I ought to in my old age."

Dumbledore waved his hand dismissively at his feeble attempt at humour.

"I made my way upstairs to a most curious scene. Severus was mourning over Lily Potter's dead body in Harry's room under a strong Notice-Me-Not Charm. The only trace of Voldemort was his robe. There were traces of magic, both esoteric and dark, that I attempted to analyze, but I could not identify the rituals that had been used. Not enough traces were left. It is my belief that Lily Potter used a long forgotten ritual using her blood and when Tom killed her the ritual was complete. Tom then began a ritual of his own, but he never finished it. I think Lily's sacrifice and her ritual protected Harry and when Voldemort fired the Killing Curse it rebounded on him and destroyed his body."

"I find it interesting that you say his body was destroyed," the man commented easily, "And not that he was killed. That is the common belief in Britain. And what of the boy?"

"I will present my theories on Voldemort's survival soon," Dumbledore replied wearily. "As for Harry, I do not have the slightest clue. He was missing and had been when Sirius arrived at the cottage."

Albus fell into a pattern, seemingly unable to stop speaking since he had started. The Ministry, Sirius, and he had spent the better part of two years searching for young Harry only to come up empty handed. The Minister, the newly elected Cornelius Fudge, had declared the boy legally dead and the Potter line was officially ended by the Wizengamot at the next meeting. Albus had held out hope that Harry would return to their world during his first year at Hogwarts in 1991.

That was when his hopes that the boy had survived were shattered, especially when dark whispers began to reach his ears. Lord Voldemort was finally strong enough to start acting once again, though in a very limited capacity. His longtime friend, Nicolas Flamel, had reached out to him asking him to protect his philosopher's stone. A dark wizard had attempted to kill Nicolas and his wife, Perenelle, to take his stone. Though very learned, the ancient couple was not known for their prowess with practical combat magic and had barely escaped the encounter with their lives.

He had readily agreed to help his friend and mentor, though this had nearly proven to be a monumental mistake. Albus had hidden the stone behind several traps, most of them somewhat simple to overcome in the event that any student bull-headed enough made it to the trap door past the Cerberus guarding it. At the end of the year, Voldemort possessing the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Quirinus Quirrell, managed to get to the stone while he was out of the castle.

It had only been through prodigious luck that the stone had not been stolen, thus denying Tom Riddle his chance at resurrection. Cedric Diggory, Hermione Granger, and Neville Longbottom had held off the possessed professor long enough to allow Dumbledore to defeat the man. Tom, predictably, had fled from Quirrell, leaving the man to die a most painful death. The three young students had very nearly been killed, but had, at the least, survived their harrowing encounter.

The next year had been even worse. In 1992 the legendary Chamber of Secrets had been opened once again and students were being petrified at an alarming rate. The school was nearing being closed when Cedric and Neville had discovered that Hermione had figured out that a basilisk had been unleashed in the school and had a hypothesis on the chamber entrance's location. The two had sought him out and led him to the entrance. It had taken all of his knowledge on magic to open the chamber and enter the tunnel leading deep beneath the school.

The three carefully ventured into the Chamber of Secrets only to find that Ginny Weasley had been possessed by a diary that once belonged to Tom Riddle. The shade of Riddle had set the basilisk upon them. Thankfully, with the help of Fawkes, Albus' phoenix familiar, they eventually succeeded in killing the basilisk. Cedric had been bitten by the basilisk but had enough forethought to stab the diary with the fang that had been left in his arm. The young man had destroyed Riddle's shade and would have died without Fawkes healing his wounds. Ginny's soul, unfortunately, had been too damaged to survive the encounter. She passed on two months after the ordeal. It was then that Albus confirmed Voldemort's most guarded secret and suspected that Tom had created at least two horcruxes to ensure he could not be killed.

Thankfully, 1993 had been a rather quiet year. Whispers from Albania told him that Voldemort was on the move through the countryside toward Britain and was being escorted by none other than Peter Pettigrew. The reports of Pettigrew's movements saw Minister Fudge place dementors at Hogwarts. There was little information of import from that year, however.

International relations had taken a turn for the worse under Minister Fudge's regime and the debacle at the Quidditch World Cup. It was decided that the Triwizard Tournament would be brought to Hogwarts to improve those relations. Albus had been against bringing back a tournament that was known for its high death toll, but he did use the opportunity to begin preparing the international scene for Voldemort's eventual return. Very little of note happened until the third task of the tournament.

Cedric Diggory had bested the champions from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons and reached the Triwizard Cup hidden in a maze for the third and final task of the tournament. Dumbledore had turned the cup into a portkey that would bring the person who touched it to the winner's platform. Chaos erupted when Cedric was not placed on the platform.

His body was found two days later in a graveyard in Little Hangleton, gutted and mutilated almost beyond recognition. Peter Pettigrew's body was also found only a handful of meters from Cedric's. The older man had bled to death from his hand being cut off. The investigators found it odd that they could not find Pettigrew's hand, but they could not be bothered to look into it in the end.

The official story was that Pettigrew had killed Cedric in a duel for unknown motives, but eventually succumbed to his injury given to him by the younger boy. Cedric Diggory was named a hero for killing Britain's most wanted criminal and was posthumously awarded the Order of Merlin, Second Class.

Albus knew better. Magic darker than any Pettigrew knew had permeated the graveyard in Little Hangleton, a ritual that defied nature and perverted its laws. Voldemort had returned in June 1995 after nearly fourteen years of living death. Severus had confirmed his fears three days later.

A week after Voldemort's return Alastor Moody's body was found in a secret tunnel leading to Hogsmeade. The man had seemingly disappeared during the final task. The Hogwarts Headmaster knew he had been duped but did not know how. Albus went on to warn the Minister and the Wizengamot of his fears but was publicly lambasted for his efforts. He had since been stripped of his positions as Chief Warlock and Supreme Mugwump. Minister Fudge had cited the reasoning "For being a fearmongering old fool far past his prime and hoping to bring himself more import than he reasonably should have."

"This is very interesting, Headmaster," the mysterious man interrupted, "But it does not answer why you are here or your theory on how your dark lord is still alive."

"I believe Harry Potter to be alive." Dumbledore looked around the room as if he expected the young man to pop up and claim to have pulled the greatest prank in history. He knew it was not to be so. "However, I do not know where he is nor do I have the time or resources to locate him. As to how Tom lives…I believe he created horcruxes, likely at least three. The true number of his abominations alludes me. Though, I am sure you were already aware of at least their existence."

"Your tendency to speak in circles is beginning to vex me, Dumbledore," the other man warned. "However, I am interested. Tell me why you believe the boy to be alive and then tell me why you are here if not to find the boy."

Albus chucked self-deprecatingly. "Perhaps it is just the folly of an old man who does not know when to give up his last vestiges of hope."

"We both know you are not the type of man to hold onto something so tightly," the figure shrouded in red growled. "Answer."

"Voldemort believes him to be alive and his next goal is to attain the prophecy regarding them in hopes of revealing Harry's location." Albus took his glasses off his crooked nose and began to clean them slowly. He made sure to make no quick movements so as to not agitate his captors. "According to Severus, my spy in Voldemort's ranks, the Dark Lord is most certain that the boy survived his Killing Curse and wishes to kill him personally. I have checked the Department of Mysteries in our ministry and have confirmed that the prophecy is still active. I told you the prophecy in its entirety, and we can both agree that Harry Potter is the one whom it pertains to. If Harry were dead by Tom's hand then the prophecy would be completed.

"As for why I am here, you are most correct." Dumbledore placed his glasses back on his nose slowly and stared at the man in the red cloak. "I am a sentimental man who holds to hope, but I am also a pragmatist. I followed Tom Riddle to the village Oymyakon after I learned he was looking for powerful allies. I sensed the magic of the wards from Oymyakon and returned to Hogwarts to await further news. Yesterday Severus reported to me that Tom's mission had ended in failure, but he was not sure what had happened or where he went. I spent the last day searching for this place in hopes that if you would not aid him then perhaps you would aid us in our fight against Tom Riddle. You said yourself that you consider Tom a heretic against magic and a perversion of nature. Would that not be enough for you to offer at least some aid?"

The man sat in silence for some time before he waved his hand. Complete darkness enveloped the room for a moment before torches in obsidian sconces along the wall flared to life. The feeling of being watched had not subsided, however.

"I also said that we do nothing for free, Headmaster." The man stood, beckoning for Dumbledore to do the same. The other person in grey walked around to stand behind the man in red as the old wizard gingerly stood to his feet. "Your attempt at manipulation, pathetic as it was, would normally cost you your life, but I believe we can come to an agreement."

He began walking to the far side of the room. "Come, walk with me and I will tell you of our institution."

Dumbledore followed the man warily out an obsidian door that appeared from nowhere in the middle of the domed wall. They walked for a few moments in silence, the feeling of being watched never leaving the white-bearded man.

Everything looked the same. Obsidian halls stretched in every direction in seemingly random patterns. It was obviously part of the structure's defence. A maze with no way to identify where one was located, meant to confuse any enemies who had made it this far. Though Albus highly doubted that any not meant to be here had never seen this place. He could feel ancient magic coursing through the walls, permeating the air around him, but he could not ascertain its purpose. This place was beyond even his prodigious skills.

"The main detail of import that you must know about us, Headmaster Dumbledore, is that we are assassins." The man's grumbling broke the thus far eerie silence, causing the old man to jump slightly. "We are highly augmented and even more highly trained to kill any witch or wizard placed in front of us."

"Mercenaries," Dumbledore spat distastefully. Voldemort had recruited hundreds of mercenaries in the past, each as distasteful as the last.

"No," his companion laughed lightly before turning right into another hall that appeared exactly as the rest they had travelled down. Albus wondered if he was purposely leading them in random directions to confuse him. "You would not be the first to mistake us as such. Mercenaries are little more than untrained thugs who will kill even the most innocent of children for even so little as spare sickles."

Albus hummed in seeming thought but did not voice his opinion. "And you differ how?"

"We select our contracts carefully," the man replied simply. "Like a mercenary, we do not choose any side of a conflict. We are well informed and do not take contracts that would cripple a society or would cause undue damage toward our future operations. It is a delicate process. We also do not kill children, nor do we take any action that would conflict with our tenets."

The three finally came to a door leading to a courtyard. The man in red led Albus to a corner of the rather large space while the companion in grey began barking orders into the air around him. The old wizard focused on the figure, now identified as a male, for a few moments before turning his attention back to the man in front of him.

"And what are your tenets?" Dumbledore asked curiously.

"We do not kill the innocent nor those whose loss would cripple a nation unduly." Dumbledore smiled slightly. "Do not mistake this for morality, Headmaster. We consider most adults to have no innocence. This mostly applies to children. We have had requests in the past to kill you, but we turned them down."

Shock coursed through his system, though he should not have been surprised. Many witches and wizards hated Albus Dumbledore. "Why would you turn that offer down? I would assume you were offered a great deal of gold."

"Without you, Wizarding Britain's government would fall into chaos." The man shrugged nonchalantly as if speaking about a small anomaly in the weather. "You are considered to be the greatest headmaster Hogwarts has ever seen, you were a fair and impartial Chief Warlock who fights for the rights of lesser beings, and your work as Supreme Mugwump prevented at least six major wars between other countries. If civilizations are seeking to wipe each other out we cannot hope for any financial gain from them over the long term. You hold too much political power for us to consider killing. Also, your existence has seen others attempt to rise to power and kill you, which, in turn, gives us more business. However, if you held such power and caused discourse of a different kind amongst your people then we would not be having this conversation."

"I notice you mentioned nothing of my prowess with a wand," Dumbledore stated slowly. "Not to sound arrogant, but I am a rather powerful man."

The man in red tilted his head slightly and considered the old wizard for a few moments. "Irrelevant," the man stated emotionlessly. "You are no longer the titan of magic you once were, Headmaster, regardless of the wand you carry. Your power is declining closer to that of a mage now. Either way, assassins rarely face an opponent in open combat, but if we did I do have a few who could have killed you even in your prime."

Albus' eyebrows rose at the claim. He had once been considered a magical titan, and many still considered him as such. But the man's words did hold truth. His power was slowly declining as he aged. However, there were only two to three known magical titans across the planet at any given time. According to this man, he was in possession of a handful. Most interesting.

"And your other tenets?"

"We worship magic as the highest deity, above all others," the man whispered reverently. "Magic's ruling is our law. Any defilement of magic, such as the alteration of the human soul, is heresy. We adhere to Her teachings. Below magic, we stay true to our institution and place it above all others. We have stood for millennia and will continue to do so."

Dumbledore stroked his beard at the simplicity of the last two tenants. They followed the old ways that had been long since forgotten by modern wizards.

"I will not ask much of your inner workings as I doubt you would answer them." The man in red nodded his agreement to the statement before Albus continued, "How do you recruit your assassins?"

"We do not recruit, Headmaster." The man in red waved his arm to his left. Albus turned his head to see a little less than fifty people dressed in drab grey cloaks standing in a formation. Only one stood alone at the front of the formation, all of them at attention. None moved whatsoever. "You are either born here, or, as is the case with most, you are brought here as an infant. Magic leads us to those who join our ranks. Nothing more, nothing less."

The old man scowled slightly at the new information. "You kidnap orphans, young children, and turn them into killers."

"You do not stand so high above us as to have the right to judge me, Dumbledore." The man's growled whisper echoed through the courtyard, but none of the grey cloaks so much as twitched. "If magic determines the child is to be taken then we do so without question. We ascertain much from the fates and follow their guidance in such matters. Others, we leave to their own fate. You told me yourself that you would have the young Harry Potter placed with his muggle relatives."

Albus sighed deeply. He was in no position to argue further and anger the man. "And your training regimen? Would any of these witches or wizards be capable enough to defeat Britain's Dark Lord?"

"I will not go into detail about how they are trained." The man began to walk toward the formation, leaving Albus little choice but to follow him. "The training begins with many rituals. After that their body is infused with thousands of runes that are powered at their discretion by their magic. If they survive then they are trained to be the most lethal assassin they possibly can be. At thirteen they are sent on their first mission. They are taught to obey orders and kill without a second thought. Nothing more, nothing less."

"How many rituals do they undergo?" Albus noticed the man had not answered his second question, the more important of the two.

One of the assassins twitched slightly as the two men walked by. Faster than Albus could follow, the man in red drew his wand and pointed it at the offending person.

"CRUCIO!"

The person, obviously a witch, screamed in agony as she was held under the unforgivable for several dozen seconds. After he stopped channelling the spell, the man continued his walk in front of the formation as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. Albus looked back over his shoulder at the witch. She lay on the ground twitching, attempting to stand back to her feet, but none moved to help her.

"If you do not move back to your feet in the next three seconds, I will hold you under the Cruciatus for much longer than I did previously." The assassin spared her no further attention, continuing to walk as if nothing significant had happened.

Albus was shocked at the man's words and watched in slight horror as the witch clambered clumsily to her feet to stand back at attention without complaint. Still none moved to check on her or assist her.

"The children undergo seven sets of seven rituals to be completed on their third birthday. Some live, but most die due to the stresses on their bodies and magic. However, only the strong can survive here."

Spreading his arms wide, the man looked out over the assembled witches and wizards. Albus turned his head to take them all in but failed to see anything that stood out amongst the sea of grey cloaks.

"The lowest class of magical that we have here are warlocks. Those in front of us are either mages or titans. These are our premier assassins. Most of the others work in areas ranging from intelligence gathering, research, or are sent on less important assassination missions, usually in the muggle world. There is much more to this organization, but I will not be discussing it further with you. That is all you need to know about us."

Albus mumbled his agreement. "And what of my second question?"

The man turned around and began walking toward the lone figure in front of the formation. Neither made a sound as they approached the man in grey. Both men stopped when they stood less than three feet in front of the person. Albus attempted to get a closer look at his face, but it was still indiscernible through the shadows of the cloak.

"We have three assassins who could defeat Tom Riddle, though it would not be an easy task and they may well fail." The man in red reached out to touch the taller male on his shoulder. "Though I believe this one would be of special interest to you and would be the most likely to succeed. Would you care to test his prowess, Headmaster?"

The old wizard turned to look at the man. He was not paying Albus any mind and continued his stare at the taller male.

"I am not as powerful as I once was," Dumbledore replied softly. "But I am a very experienced and knowledgeable wizard, if I may say so. Are you sure this is wise?"

The man in red shrugged carelessly. "It matters not to me. Riddle is your Dark Lord to contend with, not mine. If you wish to take a risk on what I suggest then be my guest, Headmaster. Although, if you do choose to accept then I would ask that you do not kill my assassin. This one was the first and only assassin who was able to complete thirteen sets of thirteen rituals. He is far beyond the others. We have spent a great deal of resources on him. He will, of course, show you the same kindness."

Albus considered his options, though he did pale at the casual admission of how many rituals the man had endured. Such an undertaking was mind boggling. However, ending the coming war sooner rather than later was his main goal, but he also did not wish to take a chance on losing the duel and losing ownership of The Wand to these…people. Such a powerful artifact should not be in their hands. However, bringing a wizard of unknown skill and power into the fight ahead could prove detrimental.

"I will duel him, though if he manages to disarm me then I wish to remain in control of the Elder Wand."

Dumbledore could feel the man's sinister grin from the shadows of his hood. "You may change your mind on that yet, Albus Dumbledore. THE REST OF YOU! OUT!"

It took less than thirty seconds for the assembled mass in the courtyard to dissipate back into the shadows of their dark building. Albus felt eyes on him once more as soon as the last assassin left the courtyard.

The two men walked silently until they stood thirty paces from one another while the man in red returned to his corner of the courtyard and began to place what Albus believed to be dueling wards of unknown origins over the two of them.

Drawing his wand, Albus bowed slightly to the unknown man across from him without taking his eyes off him. Even as polite as he was, he would never trust an assassin beyond what was prudent. The man in grey only quirked his head slightly, as if he were confused or even slightly amused as to why the old man was bowing.

"BEGIN!"

Albus snapped his wand to shoulder level, a spell nearly coming from the tip of the Elder Wand. The spell fizzled to nothing when he noticed the man across from him had made no move to stop him. He had not even drawn his wand! Albus lowered his wand slightly but left it in a position to easily defend himself if needed.

"Draw your wand, Wizard," Dumbledore called to his opponent. "I will not cast against an unarmed man unless given reason to!"

"BEGIN, DUMBLEDORE!"

The Hogwarts headmaster scowled slightly at the man in red, whose only reply was a vague arm gesture toward his opponent, before turning his attention to the man in grey across from him. Raising his wand, he fired a blisteringly fast salvo of six stunners toward the man in grey before pausing in his attack. He expected the other man to draw his wand quickly to shield or to dodge, but he was completely nonplussed when the man made no move whatsoever and the spells harmlessly went through him as if he were not there!

"Surely you can do better than these schoolyard tricks, Headmaster Dumbledore." The man's voice was deep and smooth, though it cracked slightly from disuse. The now befuddled educator tried to distinguish the man's strange accent, something that should have been easy due to his long tenure in the ICW. However, it was not an accent that he had ever heard before. It almost sounded like several European and Eastern accents blended together.

The man spoke. So, the grey figure across from him was no illusion, but what magic was it? Voldemort had a similar ability where he dispelled into smoke, allowing most spells to pass through harmlessly. But the stunners had seemingly passed through the man's physical body. There was no known spell that allowed for such things. Perhaps more powerful spells would be more effective.

Lights of multiple colours sprang from his wand at a rapid pace, his wand little more than a blur, as he cast curses and spells of increasing lethality at the man across from him. It was not his usual style of combat, but he wanted to test the man's abilities. However, his ire only continued to grow as the man continued to stand in the same spot, completely unconcerned at the spells coming his way. And why would he be concerned? They all continued to pass through him. Dumbledore paused in his casting to consider his options.

"Have you not figured it out yet? It is rather obvious." The smooth voice grated on the old wizard's nerves. The wizard was amused at his mounting frustration. Normally, Albus was not one to condone banter during a duel, but he had little doubt that the man was still ready to act at a moment's notice.

Perhaps he was using a device of some type that created a disruptive barrier in front of him and created illusions of the spells behind him. It would be considered cheating in any sanctioned duel, but it was a possibility he could not ignore.

The esteemed headmaster cast two spells in rapid succession to either side of the man, a Bone Crushing and Blood Boiling Curse. Waving his wand almost negligently, he made the spells change trajectory to miss by a larger margin before they suddenly shot toward the man from either of his sides. Albus' opponent shifted his head to both sides calmly to look at each curse before he simply shrugged. The white-haired man bristled slightly as the spells continued to pass through him. He could feel the man's taunting smirk though he was still unable to see his features hidden beneath his cowl.

If spells did not work, then perhaps something physical would have more success. There was little in the way of transfigurable material in the courtyard. Albus flicked his wand and watched as multiple Blasting Curses coursed through the air and impacted the ground around the man. He stood uncaring as thick chunks of rocks coursed toward him. With another flick of the Elder Wand and a violent jerk of his wand arm, he took control of the rocks. He smirked, his blood pumping in anticipation, as he took control of the debris he had created. He twirled his wand in a tight corkscrew to force the rocks to twist around in the air as if caught in a tornado before bringing his wand down to the ground. The rocks followed the elder wizard's command and surged toward the ground where Albus knew the man to be.

After a few seconds, the dust cleared to show the man in grey still standing, without a care in the world and surrounded by rocks. He remained untouched.

Albus was determined to figure out this sorcery. He ignored the uproarious laughter coming from the corner of the courtyard. The old man flourished his wand in the air and mumbled unintelligible Latin words at a rapid pace under his breath.

A spark issued from his wand, but Dumbledore continued to wave his wand as if he were directing a muggle orchestra. Orange flames sputtered from the wand before winking out of existence. He continued chanting.

Two seconds later a torrent of white fire issued from the Elder Wand with all the grace of a blazing forest fire. Albus swung his wand like a lasso above his head, forcing the flames to fall under his control. It was not as hot as Fiendfyre, but it was nearly as destructive. Only the most powerful of magics could resist these ancient flames.

"You can produce the Flames of Myrddin," the man called out. "How quaint."

Albus narrowed his eyes at the infuriating man before he brought his wand down in a sharp motion to point at him. The white flames followed the commanded path and rushed toward him with impunity. The old man knew, hoped rather, that the man was skilled enough to survive the onslaught of the flames. It was a rather esoteric spell that few knew how to counter. It could only be shielded against by the most ancient of magics and those required a great deal of power.

Seconds later the flames finally winked out of existence, leaving the ground a bright, molten orange that began to rapidly cool.

A gasp rang out across the courtyard when Albus realized the man was still standing with nary a burn on his body.

Impossible!

The boy made no movement to retaliate. His body radiated his amusement.

The ground directly around his feet was untouched.

Wait.

An idea formed in Albus' mind. He was slightly embarrassed that it had taken him so long to figure out. The spell he assumed the man was using somehow altered some of the wilder theories surrounding how a witch or wizard apparates. Apparition, though heavily studied and used, was still shrouded in mystery. The most bizarre theory was that when a magical apparates they created a passage through a portal that led them into a void space called "Nothing" and were led to their destination through an exit portal. The theory, and the clearly unimaginative name, had not gained any traction in scholastic circles over the years. Perhaps, the assassin had found a way to use that to his advantage if the theory proved to be true. There was really no true way to test it.

He allowed a small smirk to cross his weathered face.

"I must say, that your defence is rather astounding." He watched as the man only shrugged slightly in response. "However, it does have some weaknesses. You are unable to move and unable to attack. How taxing is it?"

"Not as much as you would think, but it would be for the average magical being," the man replied easily. His tone was confident, but not arrogant. "You have figured out part of it, but likely not the whole of it. How will you overcome it?"

Albus smiled at the parody of the situation. The assassin was treating him as if he were a student. The humour was not lost on him.

"Well, I could simply wait until you tire yourself out, but it would be a most boring affair. Don't you agree, my boy?" The man nodded once. "I shall simply have to force you out."

The man in grey tilted his head slightly as Albus stabbed the tip of his wand into the ground in front of him. The ground began to quake slightly for a few seconds before it began to split, beginning near the tip of the Elder Wand still planted in the ground, violently making its way toward the assassin.

He wasted no time to dive out of the way.

"You are the first to force me out of that defence besides my master," the man called across the courtyard. "Congratulations."

Albus made no reply and began to cast multiple spells at the young man. Some were rather benign, but most would injure quite severely if any hit him.

But none hit.

He was casting as fast as he could.

The assassin moved with the grace of a professional dancer and the strength of an Olympic athlete as he danced around and jumped over spells. Albus cast every chain of spells he could think of and attempted to bracket the younger man in multiple different ways, but no matter what he did he could not connect. The assassin was faster than was physically possible for the human body.

The rituals.

He operated far outside of normal human capability. The man operated outside of even his own highly vaunted capability. It meant that he had already been extraordinarily strong before he undertook the rituals. Those ancient magics did not give additional power or capability immediately, at least not without great cost, but they did raise the undertaker's potential ceiling beyond what it had previously been. It was up to the witch or wizard to meet that ceiling. Rituals were finicky things, dangerous at best, and wickedly easy to mishandle. It was why they had been all but outlawed by the British Ministry and throughout most of the ICW countries.

It was the most likely theory, at least. The more rituals a person undertook the more unstable their body and magic became if not done correctly in sets. Rituals had been studied for thousands of years and were incredibly tedious when trying to find sets that did not interact poorly. The most rituals one person had successfully completed in a stable fashion without help had been forty-nine, but Albus greatly doubted Voldemort would share his secrets to success.

The man in front of him had successfully completed more than one hundred before he had turned seven years of age. Forty-nine would see a person go beyond what any human feasibly could. Thirteen sets of thirteen would make a human unfathomable. However, the price had to be great. All rituals came with a price, even when properly balanced.

Finally! A small smile broke through Albus' uncharacteristic scowl as he watched an overpowered Impediment Jinx racing toward its target. Though the assassin was extremely agile, he had overextended himself in a leap to the side and it would be too slow to cast a shield to stop the racing spell. Excitement rushed through the old man's bones at the thought of finally tagging the aggravatingly fast wizard with a spell after his own shortcomings had been put brazenly on display. True, the spell would not damage him in any overt way, but it would at least give him a handful of seconds to act and possibly defeat his foe before it was dispelled.

But the spell never hit its target.

Albus could only gawp in shock as the grey-cloaked wizard seemingly disintegrated in midair, the spell passing through the air harmlessly. Shaking his head, Albus forced himself to focus on the duel. It was not over yet. His blue eyes darted around and he kept his head on a swivel, wishing silently to himself that he had an eye like his departed friend Alastor Moody. Several seconds ticked by in a thick, heady silence as Albus took in the courtyard. It was empty other than the master of the facility and himself.

A slight flinch went through his body when he felt the cold kiss of steel against his wrinkled neck. The movement caused the knife at his throat to nick him. The warm blood slid down the column of his throat before he felt it converge with the collar of his undershirt.

"Do you surrender, Wizard?" The voice came from behind him and was as hard as the steel blade still at his neck. All prior levity, if it could be called that, was lost in light of the situation. "Have I proven to be of worth to you?"

Albus raised his hands and let the Elder Wand fall to the ground in front of him. "I have seen you have the ability to dodge and turn a situation to your advantage, Assassin, but I have yet to see you fight. If you are to be of use to me, you will need to be able to fight in a pitched battle."

An unimpressed snort met the older wizard's assessment, though he made no move to lower the knife. Albus was slightly impressed, though he should not have been. The man was obviously more intelligent than the average wizard and had noticed that Albus had not actually surrendered. Most would have assumed the friendly duel to be over. Albus took the short silence that followed the snort to contemplate his next move. It would be risky, but he had little doubt that it would work as intended.

Wrinkly hands shifted slowly so both his thumbs to point at the younger man. If he had noticed, he did not comment. Perhaps he was allowing this to happen. Albus somehow knew that he understood the situation and what was to happen. Perhaps it was curiosity, or perhaps the assassin merely did not mind continuing the assessment. Surely, had this been a real fight he would have died at the slightest movement. He supposed it did not truly matter either way.

Pushing an obscene amount of magic through his thumbs, Albus cast two overpowered Disarming Charms at the assassin. The man grunted as he lost control over the knife, which was sent across the courtyard, and was pushed back ten meters. It was impressive that he had kept his feet. Most men would have been blown back into the wall of the courtyard rather violently. A wandless Summoning Charm saw the Elder Wand return to his hand.

He turned quickly, wand raised, but was once again met with empty air. The old wizard flushed in frustration. Albus knew the assassin could evade perception very well, but he wanted to see him fight.

"Why do you continue to fight from the shadows, Assassin?" Albus asked wearily as he continued to investigate the shadows around him. The already darkened air in the courtyard began to slowly grow and twist around him malignantly. It almost reminded him of the time he had spent in the Siberian wilderness a few hours prior, though the shadows did not cause his mind to whisper to him seditiously. "I merely wish to test you in a straightforward duel. Is that too much to ask of your kind?"

A silky laugh echoed from multiple corners of the courtyard. Albus cursed under his breath. He had wished to locate the assassin by sound, but the man had seen through his ploy easily. "You think to test me according to your own standards, Wizard? I am an assassin, trained to kill from the shadows and escape quickly, though I can fight if the situation calls for such. If you wish to face me fairly then you will have to force me to do so."

The voice still echoed from multiple locations, though it was neither due to rapid silent apparition nor a Sonorus Charm. The shadows continued to creep toward him, and he was not willing to see what would happen when they reached him. Albus tapped the Elder Wand against his half-moon glasses, activating a rune cluster that would allow the unneeded apparel to assist him in seeing hidden magic.

He had to close his eyes against a sudden burst of bright light that was amplified by his spectacles nearly seared his retinas and overloaded his glasses as a result. Albus felt, more than saw, the lenses of his spectacles crumble to glittering dust as a result of their magic being overloaded. The assassin had known what he was doing and had immediately cast the simplest counter to his mage sight.

The assassin still made no move to attack as the shadows continued their silent march toward him. Casting a light spell would obviously do nothing, as the assassin had done just that and it had not affected the darkened air whatsoever.

Albus muttered a spell under his breath and slashed his wand from right to left violently. A large wave of water began at the right end of the courtyard and rumbled forward brutally before smashing into its centre. A quick look around confirmed that the assassin was still invisible. Another spell saw the ground quickly absorb the water from the flooded courtyard, turning its floor into a veritable mire.

No footprints. He was not on the ground. Albus slowly trod backwards until he back was against the wall as he slowly gathered his magic for yet another overpowered spell.

"Depluso Maxima," he quietly incanted. The recoil from the spell caused him to jam his wrist rather uncomfortably, but Albus ignored the pain in favour of watching a large spray of mud erupt in all directions.

As soon as the mud settled back into the ground, he could vaguely make out a figure covered in the wet earth at the edge of the shadows that had managed to come within fifteen meters of him. Albus raised his wand and sent a silent Glacius at the assassin, hoping to freeze the mud covering his body.

The spell was batted aside easily before the figure used a spell to quickly displace the earth from his body. At the very least, he was visible again.

The ancient headmaster wasted no time in renewing his assault. Deadly spells raced from the tip of his wand, mixing in transfigurations and elemental magic between his charms and curses. The assassin was forced to move again and lost his concentration on the creeping shadows, causing them to retreat back to their corners.

It was strange, watching the grey-cloaked figure move and shield in perfect timing. He had still not drawn a wand and most of the time he did not even move an arm to signify he was casting a spell. This assassin had a strange power over magic that Albus had never encountered before. Frustrating as his movement and impenetrable defence was, it angered the older wizard further that the man was not hindered at all in his movements by the thick mud beneath their feet. Even Albus' considerable transfigurations were dealt with swiftly and brutally. His elemental conjurations fared little better.

And he will have a power that the Dark Lord knows not…

The errant thought niggled the edges of Albus' mind. He had hoped, of course. But surely this assassin could not be him. It was likely a case of his hopes overcoming his rational senses.

Albus broke in his constant casting to form a flowing sphere of water around himself when the figure jerked somewhat erratically, white hot flames licking from his entire form. The fire, which was conjured in nearly an instant, raced across the ground and turned the thick mire into dry earth that resembled a sun-hardened desert in an instant. Fire met water in a loud hiss and threatened to overwhelm his soothing elemental shield. Albus struggled to keep the flames at bay and had to reinforce his creation several times over the course of seconds, but he eventually prevailed. The flames extinguished revealing the courtyard to be covered in thick white steam, once again obfuscating his vision. Albus lifted his hand to clear the offending, misty screen.

The ground rumbled violently before a column of earth struck his wand hand from behind, breaking it and causing the Elder Wand to fly from his grip. Albus brought his left hand up to summon it back to himself, gritting his teeth through the sudden pain he found himself in. The wand started to move back to him before it halted in midair between the assassin and himself. He took one step forward before he was forced to stop. Large spikes of rock rose from the ground and surrounded him in what would have been a rather macabre tomb had any of them pierced his body. He could not move without causing himself serious harm and he could not deal with the earthen prison until he had The Wand back in his hands. Another earthen spike raced up and pieced the hand attempting to summon the wand. His summoning spell broken, the Elder Wand flew into the assassin's outstretched hand.

The man looked down at The Wand in apparent confusion as fire, ice, and rock burst forth and flowed around him in a deadly display of power. Albus could tell that he had not cast the spell since the duel was now over and the assassin had not moved whatsoever. Even for the most skilled practitioner, most elemental conjurations required movement of some kind to guide their motions. No, this was the Elder Wand accepting a new master. Though it was markedly different than when he had won the loyalty of the Wand from Gellert Grindelwald. The display lasted for a few more seconds before it abruptly stopped.

Still staring at the Elder Wand, the assassin in his now slightly charred grey robes jumped slightly when the sound of slowly clapping hands reached their ears.

"Give him the Wand," the master of this strange institute muttered as he made his way over to them.

He did not immediately obey his master's command. The assassin waved the wand almost experimentally as if he were not used to using such an object. It was done somewhat clumsily, but the earthen spikes surrounding Albus quickly retracted into the ground. The feeling of magic overwhelmed his senses. Though it was not a spell he could recognize, Albus knew the assassin was healing his pierced hand, his other broken hand, his many bruises, cuts, and mild burns simultaneously.

And he had done it with one spell, something even Poppy Pomfrey would not have been able to do.

"His Wand, Assassin," the master groused when he reached the two men, wand in hand and pointed toward the assassin. "Do not make me repeat myself."

Letting go of the wand immediately, the grey-cloaked man floated it back to its previous owner. Albus snatched it out of the air as it reached him, though the wood of the Elder Wand felt cold and dead in his hands. With a flick of his wrist, the old man holstered the Deathstick in his sleeve.

"What say you, Headmaster Dumbledore?" The man in the red cloak did not attempt to hide the obvious glee in his tone. "Does my assassin meet your lofty standards?"

Albus nodded somewhat gravely. The situation had become more complicated than he would have liked. "Yes, though before I reach my decision, I would see the face of the man who bested me so soundly."

Both men hissed at the request. Albus held up his hand to forestall their refusal.

"If I am to buy your…services, I would see the man whose life I own." The older man scowled slightly at the statement. It had left a better taste on his tongue. "I believe I may already know who he is, but I would like to confirm my supposition as such. If he is not who I believe him to be and do not wish to buy him then I will leave here with no knowledge of him or this place. I have allies who can pay for your services, you know this. You, Sir, have everything to gain and nothing to lose."

Silence met his monologue for a time until the man in read nodded his head jerkily. The grey-cloaked wizard reached up to his hood calmly and slowly lowered it. Albus noted the man's hesitation, but it was well concealed. What, or who, he saw was a confirmation of his theory, but it still shocked him nonetheless to see a young man thought dead for over a decade.

Glowing eyes stared at him emotionlessly without a discernible colour due to the intensity of their radiance. Short cropped, black hair sat atop his young head.

Nothing about his appearance mattered, as Albus would recognize that face even had he been senile.

Trelawney had been right. Her newest prophecy was true.

Albus had finally found him.

Britain's Son.