Chapter Nineteen: For the Greater Good
The 1,937th Day: March 5, 1987
His counterpart was making a speech at the Ministry today—he could hear it playing on the background on the WWN, and he paid half a mind's worth of attention to it as he worked. The poor fool had been roped into assuming office right away—for the first time in over four hundred years, elections for Minister of Magic had been cancelled due to public support for the sole candidate. That thought brought a frown to his face; he disliked it when circumstances led people to disregard important laws.
The radio crackled slightly, and his own voice continued:
"…I am pleased to announce my choice for Deputy Minister of Magic, Bartemius Crouch, Senior. As you all know, Minister Crouch has headed the Department of Magical Law Enforcement for many years, during which he…"
Turning back to the book in his lap, Dumbledore tuned himself out. Someday, he supposed, he would have to make that speech…but that was for another time. He was certain that he would say the right words when called upon. Time worked like that.
Ever since he had received that cryptic letter three and a half years ago, he had researched the Safe Harbor Charm. He had not studied it in over seven decades (and even then not seriously; it had simply been an afternoon's entertainment for bored and brilliant boys), but found the basic principles the same. He had long known that he would need only three or four days of preparation to complete the spell, although when Moody had come to bully him into becoming Minister of Magic, Albus had not yet been certain how he would carve out enough time to perform both the required spellwork and run for office at the same time.
He had forgotten that everything he had to do he had already done. Dumbledore had allowed himself to get overcome by events until he had received a letter from himself. Receiving that had made him unearth the one he had received in October of 1984.
Smoothing the crinkled paper, he read it again:
March 5th of 1987 would be a good day for what you know you need to do. There is a lovely little shop at 72 High Street in Oxford, named Pendulum Games. The proprietor, I believe, is a stately old gentlemen who goes by the name of "G" Bishop. Perhaps you should play chess with him from time to time.
And while I am making suggestions, there is a bit of magic you may want to look into, one I believe you studied many years ago. The name is entirely misleading, but I am sure you remember the Safe Harbor Charm.
Your old friend,
P.S.: Tell me that the shop was my idea.
He had never managed to drop by Pendulum Games to play chess, but somehow Dumbledore knew he would do so in his future, in the past. Today was the sixth, so today he would go to Numengard Prison and stage the most subtle jailbreak in history—one he would not see the results of for twenty years or more, assuming his calculations were correct. He had only seen his counterpart once, and that in the frenzied outcome of Voldemort's attack on Hogwarts. There had not been much time to talk, then, but Dumbledore assumed he would find out what happened in good time.
At least his counterpart had remembered well enough what he needed to do today. Dumbledore—this Dumbledore—had departed Hogwarts and left the interview with the Daily Prophet to his elder counterpart, disappearing to a Muggle hotel not far from Numengard itself. Four days of quiet, however, was about all he could stomach; even listening to the WWN was not enough to keep his mind busy. During his many years at Hogwarts, Dumbledore would have said that he treasured peace and quiet, but he would have been wrong.
Now he had a bad feeling that he was going to face silence and inaction for far too many years, and the thought made a cold lump form in the pit of his stomach.
But when it came down to choosing between what was right and what was easy, he had always been predisposed to pick the harder course, no matter how unpleasant it would become. And this was right, no matter how legally wrong it would be.
Rising slowly, Dumbledore pulled his wand—once his old friend's—out of the pocket of his robes. It was time.
"Cautufuga Iterum," he whispered.
He had one hour, and then he would be moving through time if he wanted to or not.
"Are you all right, Albus?" she asked with concern.
"Hmm?" he blinked, and then seemed to focus. "Oh, yes, Lily. Of course I am all right. I was just…daydreaming."
Lily chuckled. "You, daydreaming? Never!" she teased.
"Oh, but I am a dreamer, Lily. A hopeless dreamer," her old headmaster said quietly, wearing a sad smile. "I always have been."
"Well, then I'm in good company," she said, squeezing his arm affectionately.
His eyes twinkled for a moment, and Lily was glad to see that she had brightened his mood a bit. She knew him well enough to understand that Dumbledore wanted to be the Minister of Magic about as much as he wanted to be immortal. He really did prefer to work from the shadows with organizations like the Order of the Phoenix, but she also knew that Albus Dumbledore would always step up when he was needed. Still, she allowed him to reflect for a moment before she asked:
"So, why did you call me in, Albus?"
He sighed quietly.
"I need your help."
He had never needed a cloak to be invisible, and today he was grateful for that talent. After all, he had never been the big battle type, and had no desire to engage in one today—all of Dumbledore's famous duels had been mostly individuals against individuals, even the latest one against Voldemort. Aversion to engaging in melees was one of the many reasons he had refused to pursue a career in one of the many areas that directly combated the dark arts, so many years ago.
If he played his cards right, he would not need such skills today, anyway. Dumbledore checked his pocket watch—not his actual watch, but the specially enchanted one he had received as a behest from his old friend Inigo Lufkin after his death. Dumbledore did not know where Lufkin had acquired it (though he could tell that the watch was not his work), but he had been checking it regularly since his friend's death.
The watch still read "Chance."
Dumbledore frowned. He had hoped that his—or his counterpart's, anyway—stepping up to become Minister of Magic would make the watch return to another setting. As odd as it sounded, even pointing at "Danger" would have been better than chance, because as Lufkin once told him, Chance described moments in which the fate of the entire Wizarding world hung in the balance, ready to tip either way for good or for evil.
When he had noticed what the watch was telling that him right before Alastor Moody barged into his office several fateful days ago, Dumbledore had assumed that it would change once he became Minister. Apparently, however, he had been wrong.
Strange. But there was no time to wonder why—the less enchanted pocket watch he still carried told him that he was down to forty minutes left. Twenty minutes had passed while he slipped into Numengard, uttering the soft spells that allowed him past the wards. He had researched the way in long ago, back when he had started campaigning for Millicent Bagnold to do something about Numengard's star prisoner. Even then, he had begun to suspect that he would have to act in order to save the world from what Voldemort might decide to do.
He knew Gellert well enough to know that he would not work with Voldemort by choice, but if the alternative was death, Gellert would cheerfully work with the Dark Lord up until the moment he could double-cross him. And while the strategist in Dumbledore thought that idea rather appealing, he could not in good conscience subject the Wizarding world to the fallout of such an endless battle.
And he did not think that Tom Riddle was foolish enough to kill Grindelwald, either. In the end, he would be the winner of any battle between the two, and the benefits of creating such chaos would only strengthen his position. No, he could not allow Voldemort to snatch Grindelwald out of Numengard, not under any circumstances. He was doing the right thing.
Even if his former best friend was going to mock him for it forever.
Ten minutes later, he cast the spell that put the on duty guards to sleep for just two seconds, and then used that time to slip straight though the door to Grindelwald's cell. He did not open the door—disarming the wards on it would have been far harder magic than just walking through the door would be, particularly for someone who had been doing such silly tricks since childhood. The magical effects of doing so were not undetectable, which was why he put the two guards outside the door to sleep, just long enough so that he could slip through the door.
Unfortunately, Gellert had watched him do the same trick thousands of times, and he started laughing almost as soon as both of Dumbledore's feet were inside the cell.
"Is this a social visit, Albus?" he chuckled, looking right at the invisible wizard he still could not see. "I understand the need for secrecy now that you're famous all over again and about to become Minister of Magic."
He was very glad that Gellert could not see his scowl.
But his continued invisibility did nothing to diminish his old friend's smile. Cheerfully, the prisoner waved a copy of the Daily Prophet. "My guards thought that I might be flattered to know that the man who defeated me was about to become the most powerful wizard in all of Britain." He giggled. "I refrained from telling them about your aversion for power and how miserable you must be. I thought it might hurt their feelings."
Sighing, Dumbledore finally whispered the word that would make him visible once more.
"Hello, Gellert," he said heavily, the enormity of what he was about to do sinking in.
"Oh, you do look miserable, Albus. Come to commiserate and wish you had joined with me to rule the world? I doubt young Tom would have gotten nearly so far if we had been in charge."
The damnable thing about that was that he was right.
But he squared his shoulders and forced himself to face the facts. "I'm here for another purpose, actually."
Gellert had not aged well; the young man he had still appeared back when they dueled in 1945 had vanished. His blue eyes were still lively, but his face was lined almost beyond recognition, and he looked old. Dumbledore had grown accustomed to the changes in his own features over the years, but seeing Gellert so changed was a shock. Yet his smile was just as wide as Albus remembered, though there was an undercurrent of sadness that had not been there before.
Forty years in prison will do that to a man, even to him, Albus thought, feeling guilty. He had done what he had to do, but—I put him here. I consigned him to this, even when I knew what he really wanted. And I always knew that he was never actually evil, too.
He almost felt like weeping. His methods I disagreed with, but I do almost wish I had helped him achieve his goals. It might have been wrong, but we might well have avoided the horrendous war the world is now facing.
"Are you going to share that purpose, or will you make me guess?" his friend asked, forcing Dumbledore's mind back to the present.
And I never even visited him. I should have. Much though I wanted to hate him, I never could, and these years must have been lonely for him.
Fortunately, the heavy regret he felt actually made saying the words easier—much though he was reluctant to do so.
"I'm come to break you out, actually," he admitted, trying his damnedest to keep a straight face.
He expected shock. He expected questions. He didn't expect Gellert to burst out laughing.
"Oh, beautiful!" his old friend cried, almost doubling over with laughter. "The great wizard, the law-abiding, self-sacrificing Albus Dumbledore has come to execute the greatest jailbreak of all time! And he's done it, no doubt, 'for the Greater Good!' Oh, the book I could write about this."
Albus tried to get a word in. "Gellert—"
"No, let me enjoy this. Really—your timetable can't be so close that you didn't allot me a few minutes to gloat, because you know me far better than that. You are going to break me out of the prison that you put me in, all because you're afraid that young Tom is going to come rescue me." Gellert's eyebrows were dancing all over the place. "And then you're afraid that I might feel inclined to join forces with him, having lost my moral values somewhere in this dreary monstrosity that I built."
"You wouldn't join with him."
"Wouldn't I?" was the quick riposte.
A long moment passed, during which the pair did not quite have a battle of wills; saying they each slowly grappled their way towards understanding one another after over forty years of separation would be more accurate. After a moment, though, Grindelwald shrugged.
"Well, you're right, of course. I wouldn't," he admitted. "Not unless there was nothing else to do, anyway. And I'd curse him in the back the first chance I got—might do the Wizarding world a service, in fact. But he'd expect that, so it could get messy."
Biting back the urge to say something pointed about Gellert's definition of messy was hard. He just waited.
"So…you whisk me off to safety, become Minister of Magic, and try to save the world. What's in it for me?"
"Freedom," Albus said simply.
"Not good enough," Gellert said immediately.
He frowned so hard that it hurt his face. "Would you rather stay here?"
"Would you rather I join him?"
"We've gone through this, Gellert!" It had been years since he had let his frustration get the better of him like this, but Grindelwald did have that effect on him.
"So we have," was the cheeky response. "What's in it for me?"
"Freedom," Albus snapped again. "Peace and quiet. A nice little shop from which you can watch the Greater Game unfold. A chess set with which to play it."
"A shop? Could you see me as a shopkeeper? Wouldn't that be rich." Blue eyes rolled, and Gellert muttered half under his breath: "A shop. You're going to have to do better than that, Albus."
He had to chuckle. "It was your idea."
"My idea? This ought to be good."
Instead of answering, Albus just reached inside his robes and handed Gellert the letter.
"I assume you'll recognize the handwriting," he commented mildly.
A few short seconds passed as his friend digested the letter's contents; Gellert had always been a swift reader. Comprehension dawned in his eyes, but the mildly amused expression on his face did not waver. He had seen that look before; it meant that Grindelwald was going to be difficult. Meanwhile, Dumbledore checked his watch—ten minutes to go.
"Sorry. It's not familiar." But he snuck a glance back at the letter while Dumbledore watched, just waiting. "You said a chess set. Which chess set?"
"Is there another? I rescued it from your old flat, the one you never let your followers anywhere near." Now Albus' smile turned sad. "It occurred to me that if I was going to ask you to simply watch, I should at least allow you to do so in a familiar fashion."
He could tell that mattered to Gellert, but the other man looked at him incredulously. "And what, I'm supposed to promise to sin no more?"
"I'll settle for you staying out of things."
"What's the difference?" his friend challenged.
"I think that's for you to decide." Albus replied, knowing that doing so was a gamble, but needing to offer him something.
Their eyes met; a moment passed.
"Throw in a new bird, and you've got a deal. And…please not an owl."
"Agreed." Albus had a hard time restraining his smile; for a moment, it felt like old times, like fifty years of hatred had not passed between them and everything was the way it once had been. The feeling was so pleasant that Dumbledore wanted to weep.
Don't think about that, he told himself sternly. Things can never be the way they were. But Gellert always had had a love for exotic birds.
"We'll leave in…" he checked his watch, "six minutes."
"I'm a bit out of practice, so I do hope that you've woven the entire spell and aren't counting on me to do anything for it. If I recall correctly, the Safe Harbor Charm requires quiet a lot of preparation," Gellert replied, nonplussed.
"We'll wind up in a Muggle motel not too far from here," he answered, enjoying the sensation of not having to explain everything. No matter how many extraordinary witches and wizards Dumbledore had trained or associated with over the years, not one of them measured up to the standards set by Gellert Grindelwald.
"Uck. Muggles." But the sneer was for show, so Albus ignored it, and Gellert's mind swiftly returned to the subject at hand. "Twenty years, is it? That's going to be a long time to hide while I'm stuck in here. No wonder I decided to write you letters and goad you on."
"No wonder," Albus echoed. Four minutes.
Gellert chuckled again. "It's a shame that you already know there's two of you wandering about right now. Takes away all of the mystery about if we'll kill one another or not."
"I'm sure we'll try," he could not resist saying with an answering laugh. Oh, it had been too long! But he could not voice that. Would not. "Let's get ready."
Three minutes later, the pair vanished into a swirl of light, spinning backwards through time to the safe harbor Dumbledore had designated. They both landed somewhat hard, retching; if Albus remembered correctly, Gellert had always been prone to motion sickness, and even Dumbledore's usually-stoic stomach objected to having been twisted through time in such a primitive fashion.
"That," his friend declared, "was not pleasant."
Dumbledore waved his wand to clean up the mess they'd both made on the floor, and Gellert gave him an annoyed look.
"And that," Grindelwald added pointedly, "is my wand."
Sighing, Albus reached inside his robes and pulled a second wand out. "Here."
I am not going to argue about this, he didn't add, but he didn't have to, either. Gellert seemed to scrape up a modicum of grace before replying:
"I'll take it back from you, you know."
Dumbledore smiled. "I'm sure you'll try."
March 5, 1967
A few hours later, eating shepherd's pie (Grindelwald's favorite food, although this variation did not seem to measure up to his standards, judging from his complaints) in a grungy looking diner, the Dark Wizard commented quietly:
"You don't think you'll survive this war. That's why you're letting me out to watch the Game—a Game which would be singularly boring if you defeat Voldemort in the first few years after those we just experienced."
I'd been hoping that he'd not notice that. Albus hesitated before answering.
"There's no way to know for certain," he said after a moment. "But I do know that victory will not come easily, and there will be nothing quick about it. You'll have plenty to watch."
"Those old visions?" his friend questioned.
In one hundred and fifty years life, Gellert had been the only one Dumbledore had ever told about them, and even to Gellert he had not explained why he had them. Oddly enough, though, even in their darkest hours, Grindelwald had never tried to use the visions against him.
"Yes," he said heavily.
Several more minutes ticked by in silence; Gellert scraped the remainder of his dinner out of the plate with gusto, despite his earlier disparaging remarks about the food's quality. But the silence was not awkward—not at all. It was simply…quiet.
"So, go forth and sin no more, eh?" Grindelwald asked lightly.
"Can you manage that?" he had to know.
"Obviously I have, or will, depending upon which way you're viewing the timeline at any given moment," was the easy response. "Though I will admit that I'm counting upon you to entertain me."
For a moment, he felt like a boy again, and Dumbledore grinned. "I think we'll manage."
It was 1967, after all, and Voldemort had barely begun to rise. The world was a quiet, peaceful place, and they might even have fun. Dumbledore might even be able to forget what task was waiting for him in twenty years' time.
Ye Olde Other Author's Note:I've actually done it. This story (save editing) is actually complete. So, work allowing, I'll be updating at a faster pace as I get the rest of the story edited…and try to figure out if the epilogue I have in mind wants to be written or not. The jury's still out on that front, I'm afraid.
That said, in the meantime, stay tuned for Chapter 20 "Constant Vigilance," in which Voldemort makes a fateful decision.