A/N: May 24, 1941 - Sinking of the British ship Hood by the Bismarck. May 27, 1941 - Sinking of the Bismarck by the British Navy.
Ollivander walked into the Hogs Head to find an exasperated Aberforth at the bar. A quick scan revealed the most likely source for his exasperation – Albus Dumbledore was sitting at a corner table, nursing a drink.
"What is the matter with him this time?" the wand-maker asked Aberforth.
"Haven't the foggiest," Aberforth replied, "I know he and Horace made up, they were in here for drinks this weekend. I'm just finishing up here and then I'll go see."
"I'll come with you," Ollivander nodded.
Moments later, the two grabbed chairs opposite the depressed professor.
"So, Al," Aberforth began, "you and Horace haven't gotten into another fight, have you?"
"No," Albus shook his head, "No. I admit he was entirely right, and I was entirely wrong, and I should never be allowed near children."
The other two shared a look.
"That is going to be difficult, in a school full of them. Not to mention your own son," Ollivander commented.
"That is just the thing, though. I fail Tom. When I went to get him from the orphanage, I saw his power, I saw his potential, and I saw the danger he presented."
"Yes, and you were right in that. In all of that."
"I adopted him, to change him, to keep him from the Dark."
Aberforth shrugged. "Good thing you did, too. What better way was there, Albus? What were you supposed to do? Threaten him? Overpower him? All of that would've guaranteed he'd turn Dark."
"Yes," his brother conceded, "but I made several mistakes, Abe. I was so focussed on reforming Tom, so focussed on changing him into the boy I had in mind that he should be, that I forgot to simply love him and accept that he is his own person. He has a right to be that. He feels as if he will never be good enough, that I demand something from him that he cannot give. I thought I knew how to repair Tom. How foolishly arrogant."
Ollivander cleared his throat. "There are parts of Tom that are irreparable," he said softly, "you cannot expect to erase his experiences from his youth and start over. That is impossible. Those experiences formed him and while he may learn to overcome many of the problems they caused, he will likely have to fight them for the rest of his life. He may always need good friends near to help him stay on track. But the potential for darkness in him has lessened since you took him in. No matter how unfortunate his beginnings, he has made great strides to overcome them."
"His mother dosed his father with love potions to conceive him. Somewhere deep down, I have always considered his conception in that manner as something unnatural and foul..."
Aberforth clenched his fists and hissed through his teeth, "It IS unnatural and foul to use love potions, but that is not the fault of the boy! No matter how he got conceived, a child's a child and has the right to be treated as a precious life, not as some sort of monster because of something he had no control over."
"Yes...yes," Albus swallowed, "I...do not mean Tom is a monster because of his conception. I meant that I find I am a great deal more prejudiced than I had thought."
By sheer act of the will Aberforth managed not to snort derisively. It was a good thing his brother was willing to examine himself and honestly admit to his faults, he reminded himself.
Since, as a third year, Tom was allowed on Hogsmead weekends, he saw more of his uncle, Ollivander and Bert than he had the previous year.
One late afternoon, when Alastor had gone to meet his father, who had the day off and arranged to meet his son for dinner, Tom was sitting in Ollivanders store, watching the old man work.
"It takes more than just an eye," the wandcrafter explained, holding up 12 and a quarter inches of wood, "you must also feel what the wand wants. It chooses its wizard, certainly, but not all cores and not all wood wish to be combined. This oak, for example, it is sturdy and tough, even for an oak. What would you use?"
Tom thought for a moment. "I...Oak is supposed to be reliable...dependable," he said, "it starts from something very tiny though. I don't think it would combine with blood or venom. I...the tree could have enjoyed a phoenix nestling in the branches, so maybe a phoenix feather?"
"Not a bad thought," Ollivander consented, "but hold it."
The boy took it warily and held it loosely in his hand. The wood hadn't been rounded and smoothed into a wand yet, but it felt heavy.
"You are right that many oak wands would easily combine with phoenix feather," Ollivander smiled, "but this particular piece would do better with a unicorn tail hair. Why?"
"Unicorn hair wands are consistent and dependable," Tom said, "bit like oak, I suppose...that would make sense."
"Indeed. Combined with unicorn hair, this wand will be one of the most reliable, and one of the most incorruptible. No bearer of this wand would willingly succumb to the lure of the Dark Arts."
Tom turned the wood over and over in his hands. Finally he looked up.
"Am I evil, Mr Ollivander?"
The man looked at him sideways. "That is not the first time you ask that question," he remarked.
"No. But I am tired of being told I am not, and yet being treated as if I am...or might be."
His sometimes-employer sighed. "There is darkness in all of us, boy, and it pulls on some of us stronger than on others. Does it pull on you?"
Tom bowed his head. "Yes."
Toms head shot up in surprise. "What?"
"Good," Ollivander reiterated, "Good, because to be aware of its pull is the first step away from it."
"Does it pull on you? And on Professor Slughorn? And on my...Prof..." Tom hesitated.
"On Albus? Oh, yes, most certainly on Albus," Ollivander nodded, sitting down so he was eye-level with Tom, "and that is both a blessing and a curse to you, child. Albus has not only felt the pull, but nearly succumbed to it – and might fight it for the rest of his life. That struggle makes him both the best person to help you with yours, and at the same time, we tend to be much harder on those who share our weaknesses."
"So you are saying that darkness pulls at me, like it does at him, and he can help me because he knows how it feels, but at the same time, he is sometimes unfair to me for the same reason?"
Ollivander regarded him kindly. "Yes, Tommy. As to whether or not you are evil – that is not exactly a yes or no question. There is the potential for evil in all of us, as well as the potential for good. If you choose to be evil, you certainly can become it, and you would be a significant evil, too, because you are a powerful wizard. The things you could do would be great, if terrible."
The old man stood again, taking a box from a shelf and selecting a unicorn hair.
"In a way, Tom, but only in a way, there is no good or evil, only power, and those too weak to withstand it. You can get drunk on power like a man can get drunk on firewhiskey, to the point where the whiskey controls him, drains him and eventually ruins him. That is what happens when we give in to the pull of the darkness. But harness your own desires, and it becomes a tool that you control instead of it controlling you, and you can do great things – great, and magnificent."
Seeing the wide-eyed gaze of the pale boy, Ollivander smiled softly and touched an ashen cheek.
"Dear child, darkness pulls stronger on you than it does on most, but you have not given in, and you are also stronger than most. You are not alone, either. We will help you."
Tom was silent for a long time after that, watching Ollivander shape the wood into the wand in preparation for adding the core. Finally he took a deep breath.
"Thank you, for, for being honest," he said before practically running out the door.
On Sunday, Tom made his way to the Hall rather early, when his father appeared.
"Would you come with me for a walk around the lake?" the transfiguration professor asked softly, "I've packed some breakfast for us."
Tom nodded his consent.
For a long time, they walked in silent, nibbling on some toast and throwing some onto the water for a couple ducks to catch.
"Tommy, I am so sorry," Albus finally sighed, "I don't know exactly how to explain to you...but I let prejudice cloud my judgment, and, well..."
"I understand," Tom said awkwardly, "Mr Ollivander explained. You can see the darkness that is pulling on me, because it also pulls on you, and you want to help me with it, but at the same time, you are sometimes unfair because...because..."
"Because I want to keep you from making the mistakes I have. But it...it goes beyond that, Tommy. I tried to change you into someone you are not. I was holding you to unreasonable standards that went far beyond just helping you resist the pull of that darkness...did Ollivander call it that?"
Upon Toms nod, he continued, "very apt, I think...pull of darkness. Yes."
He glanced down at the ground as they walked, before smiling ruefully at the boy next to him. "I have never been a father before, Tommy. I have a lot to learn, too, especially not to overreact. I should never have tried to change you to fit some insane ideal of my own. You are a wonderful wizard in your own right, and I know I have not given you much reason to believe me lately, but I am very proud of you."
Hesitatingly he touched Toms shoulder. "I love you, just as you are."
Tom stood in shock as his father knelt before him in the grass, took his shoulders and looked him very earnestly in his eyes.
"Tommy, I will always love you, even if you should give in to that pull."
The child regarded him very seriously, and for a moment, it was as if the massively protected castle inside him where Tom always hid away, the heavily defended stronghold where no one was allowed, for a moment let down the drawbridge.
"Enough to stop me?"
Dumbledore felt tears well up in his eyes. "I would love you enough to do anything to bring you back, enough to stop you at all costs from spiralling down that path. I promise."
"But," he continued, "most of all, I will love you enough to help you never go there. I want you to live a good, happy life."
They walked back in silence again, but this time it was a different silence. Dumbledore kept an arm around Toms shoulders and Tom let him, lost in thought.
"This war...this wizard..." he finally said pensively, "you will be fighting him. You and Professor Slughorn, and Uncle Aberforth..."
"Yes," Dumbledore confirmed.
"I want to help," Tom said, determined.
"You are thirteen, child," Dumbledore reminded him, "you honestly think I would allow you anywhere near danger?"
"No, not yet," Tom said, "but I can prepare. I've been reading and keeping an eye out for news. There's a good chance this conflict won't be resolved very quickly."
"Great Merlin, Tommy, I most certainly hope it won't last until you're of age," Dumbledore groaned, "because I won't let you near ANY sort of fighting until then and even then only because I won't be able to stop you."
"You're right," Tom said, rather smug, "you won't be able to, when I am of age. So you can't object to my preparing. I mean, it will be worse if I'm seventeen and not knowing the first thing about duelling..."
Dumbledore's eyes narrowed. "Is this about IFOD?" he asked, suspicious.
Tom managed to look completely innocent. "Well...my grades are still good...and the Headmaster DID say that if I score high enough on my exams, I could start extra work next year to pass their exam early..."
His father stared at him for a moment, then shook his head, laughing quietly. "Alright. Alright! And I tell you what, if you pass your exams with high enough marks, I promise that I will train you myself, and let you enter the IFODs Junior competition this summer."
That piqued Toms interest. "Junior competition?"
"They organize one every year, though I imagine this year is going to be slightly difficult for them. It's for youths aged twelve to sixteen. Anyone interested can enter, but you need at least two recommendations from teachers and there are qualification rounds before the actual competition. Neither should be a problem."
Needless to say, when Alastor later found his friend in the library studying, Tom grinned at him widely.
"I am going to a duelling competition this summer!"