Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling. It should also be noted that the story "In Light of Silver Memories" by Taliath has also influenced the concept of this story, though the execution diverges significantly.
Recommendation: This story has been formatted to be read on a narrow page, ideally the ½ viewing option. Viewing at full width will result in very short paragraphs.
Revision notice: Chapters one to three have been edited and revised as of 27th June 2017.
The One He Feared
Chapter One: Memories
It took Harry less than thirty minutes to pack, ready to leave Privet Drive for the last time.
He was in his bedroom, sitting on top of his trunk, waiting for the Order to arrive. Outside he could hear the sounds of lawnmowers and Radio 1, of children playing and men washing their cars. It was peaceful.
Little did the Muggles know a war was raging, hidden just out of sight. A war Harry was about to return to. It occurred to him, as he fed Hedwig an owl treat, that this would be the last time for a while that he would feel safe, for every day more people disappeared; every day Voldemort came closer to taking over the Ministry of Magic.
Dumbledore's death had signalled a change in the war, the last true check on Voldemort's power gone. Nothing could scare the Dark Lord now. And as he made his final grab for power, Voldemort's tactics were changing. There hadn't been an attack all summer: no towns levelled by giants, nor villages lost to a swarm of dementors.
Harry wished he could feel relief at that, but his letters from Remus spoke of the real reason for Voldemort's silence. Control was the aim now, not fear. One by one, the Ministry's powers were being subverted by those sympathetic to Voldemort's cause. The Obliviation Squad was all but taken over.
And it was down to Harry to stop it all. The locket, the snake, the cup. And something else, some unknown item. Just how he was supposed to find them was beyond him. How had Dumbledore done it, all those times he disappeared from the school? How would Harry even begin to find the horcruxes?
Fire flashed and Harry jumped off the trunk, his wand flying into his hand.
A strong shield snapped into place before he'd even finished the incantation, but it wasn't necessary. His visitor was no Death Eater.
"Fawkes?" Harry said, lowering his wand. He hadn't seen Dumbledore's phoenix since the funeral. The bird looked so out of place, perched on the metal frame of Harry's bed. Privet Drive had never seen anything so magical. "What're you doing here?"
Fawkes trilled softly, and Harry stepped forward to stroke him, before noticing he was carrying something - a wand. He didn't recognise it. Thin and unadorned, it was made of a lightly coloured wood.
"Whose wand is that, Fawkes?" Harry asked, gently taking it from Fawkes' grasp with his free hand.
As soon as the wand was in his hand, Fawkes reared up, his wings spread wide, and slashed his talons across Harry's forearm. Shocked at the sudden, stinging pain, Harry cried out, though the injury was not severe.
"What the hell, Fawkes?" Harry said, looking at the blood slowly welling up out of his skin. The bird had never hurt him before.
And then with another trill, louder this time, Fawkes reared up again, his wings flapping, and Harry cringed back. But before he could do anything else, Fawkes shimmered and was engulfed in ball of white fire. Harry froze and stared at the pile of soot on his bed. No baby phoenix was to be found - only ashes.
"Fawkes?" Harry said, feeling a sudden, almost crippling sense of loss. Numb, he looked at the wand Fawkes had left him. 12 inches, cherry with a dragon heartstring core, he knew it was an uncommonly powerful wand.
Wait, he thought. How did I know that? But of course he knew. It was his wand. Not as powerful as the Elder Wand, mind you, but a fine fit. Harry shook his head, trying to sort his muddled thoughts. It was like he'd been drugged. What was the Elder Wand? How did he know the cherry wand?
He knew what he had to do. He dropped his holly wand on the bed and held the cherry one aloft.
A white hot light, a burning sensation, and then darkness.
Memories passed before Harry's inner eye faster than the speed of thought. Images, sounds, smells. Conversations. Books. Places, people, objects. Thoughts half formed, suspicions never confirmed. Theories and conjectures. And, above all, knowledge. Knowledge beyond anything Harry could have imagined.
Transfiguration, potions and charms were just the start of it. He knew principles and maxims, formulae and geometries and models. Arithmancy and numerology, occlumency and legilimency, and a dozen other "mencies" besides. Suddenly he understood somniamancy, cryptomancy, and transmogrification. Techniques, shortcuts, and the hard earned instincts of long experience. Deeper knowledge still was possible: alchemy and complex enchantments, the magic of the soul, the magic of life itself. Old, inefficient magics long discarded for more powerful wands.
It wasn't just magic either. He knew other things too: botany and chemistry, astronomy and mechanics, politics and literature. He could speak eight languages. He knew the systems of the body - could heal them, if need be - and understood the nature of time. The great composers were familiar friends, the great philosophers well worn tomes.
And then, of course, there were the dark arts. He could write an encyclopedia of jinxes and hexes, could sense the feel of their casting before even the first syllable of their incantations had left the mouth of the caster. Terrible curses littered his mind, some of them of his own design.
The dark arts ran deeper than he'd ever imagined. He knew black curses the likes of which were rarely seen in the modern world, born of pure malice and concentrated magical will, the kind of curses that were passed down bloodlines. Dark ceremonies and rituals. How to control the four Fiends. Inferi and resurrection, Dementors and ghosts. Horcruxes. Ten pin bowling.
He was Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.
He was four, visiting his mother in the new St. Mungo's hospital, seeing his sister Ariana for the first time. He vowed in that moment to always protect her.
He was ten, watching the man from the Ministry arrest his father from the top of the stairs. The Muggle boys deserved what they'd got - they'd hurt Ariana. She was different, now. Her magic was weird. Mother said that she couldn't go to Hogwarts.
He was eleven, sailing across the lake towards Hogwarts. He was in love the moment he saw it: he had never seen such a magical place.
Later that year he was sitting in class, watching his classmates. He couldn't understand how they found it so difficult. As a teacher called upon him, he transfigured his thimble without uttering a word.
He was thirteen, smirking as he demonstrated a spell of his own creation to his friends. They watched on with awe. When Aberforth asked him for the incantation, he refused to share it.
He was fifteen, holding a copy of Transfiguration Today. On page three was an article about elemental conjuration. He knew it was wrong. He wrote a reply immediately; a month later he could claim his first publication.
He was sixteen, sailing through his OWLs, stunning his examiners with a conjured cup of tea, completely rewriting the world's understanding of Gamp's law.
He was seventeen, humiliated by a professor with a cane. He vowed vengeance and found an old curse of misfortune. Later that year Professor Whittleworth retired after his wife miscarried and his daughter was killed in a freak Hippogriff attack. Albus didn't eat for a week. No one ever knew the truth.
He was eighteen, impressing all of his NEWT examiners. They all foretold a great future ahead of him. He planned a world tour, but his mother's death brought all his plans to a halt.
It was 1900. He met Gellert Grindelwald for the first time.
The bell rang.
"Aberforth!" called Albus, not even looking up from his book. "Door!" He may have postponed his world tour, but that didn't mean he couldn't study for it. He was surrounded by books and parchments on Egyptian Hieroglyphics. He didn't have time to be answering doors.
The bell rang a second time.
"Aberforth!" he repeated, louder this time, but there was no reply. He shut his book with a slam and strode out of his bedroom, hurrying downstairs. The sooner he got rid of whoever it was, the sooner he could get back to his books. He opened the door with more force than was necessary, but paused when he saw who was beyond.
It wasn't old Mrs Bagshot, nor any of the Potter spawn. It was a young man, about his own age, frightfully handsome. He was tall, like Albus, but much more powerfully built, with broad shoulders and strong hands. His blond hair was wild and long, and he had startling blue eyes.
"Can I help you?" said Albus.
"Perhaps," said the stranger. He had an accent - something Germanic - and spoke with a cocky smirk, his keen eyes piercing. His legilimency was subtle, elegant. Had Albus not been as brilliant as he was, he wouldn't have caught it. But catch it he did, and, feeling no need to hide his knowledge of occlumency, he ejected the boy from his mind.
"Now that is interesting," the stranger said, and he held out his hand. He was apparently unconcerned that he had just been caught using Dark magic. "I'm Gellert. Gellert Grindelwald."
"Albus Dumbledore," Albus replied, taking Gellert's offered hand cautiously. "Is it customary, in your country, to greet strangers with legilimency?"
"It's customary for me to do so," said Gellert, moving to lean against the doorframe. "And why not? An open door is as good as an invitation, is it not?"
A thrill went through Albus at Gellert's words. How many times had he thought such things? But of course, it was not a popular sentiment. He raised an eyebrow. "A rather Darwinian perspective," he said.
"Isn't it?" said Gellert. "I find it a great test of character. Take you, for example. I've never met someone who caught me so quickly."
Now it was Albus' turn to smirk. "I may well show you many things you've never seen before."
"Oh, I'm sure you will," said Gellert, "but for now I'd like you to show me some eggs."
That brought Albus up short. "Eggs?"
"You do sell them, don't you?" said Gellert. "Aunt Bathilda sent me out to get some."
"Oh," said Albus. He hadn't known Mrs Bagshot had foreign relatives. "Yes, I suppose we do. Aberforth normally... but never mind. Will you come in?"
Another week passed before he met Gellert again. As before, the doorbell rang. As before, Albus was studying in his room. This time, though, he wasted no time. He jumped up from his desk and ran downstairs still holding a quill.
"Gellert," he said when he opened the door, half surprised. He hadn't expected it to actually be him.
"Albus," replied Gellert, his eyes shifting to the quill. "Did I interrupt something?"
"Nothing I can't put aside," said Albus, silently banishing the quill back to his room. "May I offer you a cup of tea?"
"You Brits and your tea," muttered Gellert, but he stepped into the house anyway. "Aunt Bathilda has been trying to convert me. I doubt that you'll succeed where she has failed, but you're welcome to try."
"The kitchen's this way," said Albus, leading the way. It suddenly occurred to him that the place was a mess: dust covered every surface, and the sink was full of plates and cups.
"I remember," said Gellert, following him into the kitchen. He looked around, before turning to Albus. "No house-elf?"
Albus' cheeks tinged pink, but he tried to brush it off. "Just me," he said, and he flicked his wand, vanishing the dust and charming the plates to start cleaning themselves. Another flick lit the burner, and the metal kettle grew little legs and waddled towards the fire, setting itself over the flames like a chicken on an egg.
"So what was it that I interrupted?" asked Gellert, sitting down at the kitchen table as Albus busied himself with the business of finding the teapot.
"Oh, just a little project I've been working on," said Albus, spooning tea into the pot. "I doubt you'd be interested."
"I've recently developed something of an interest in Ancient Egyptian magic," said Albus, "the original records of which, of course, are all-"
"-in ancient Egyptian," said Gellert. "So you're learning the language, correct?"
"That's right," said Albus.
"Most people would just use a translation," said Gellert, "I can recommend a few, if you like."
"Most people-" began Albus, before changing direction "-you've studied Egyptian?"
"I have something of an interest in curses," said Gellert, entirely casually. Albus paused for only a moment at the revelation, which would shock any polite company. Gellert seemed to hold no fear of expressing his interest in taboo topics.
"Not something you hear every day," he said, joining Gellert at the table and pouring the tea.
"That's because most people don't understand curses," said Gellert, and his eyes seemed to light up with passion. "A curse - a real curse, that is, not those silly things the kids at Durmstrang thought were curses - a real curse is beautiful. You won't find a more complex magic. Do you have any idea how much is involved in, say, the lycanthropy curse?"
"I may have an idea," said Albus, remembering a number of books he found in the Restricted Section on transmissible curses. Gellert cocked his head.
"Maybe you do," he said, taking a sip of his tea. "The effect of the lunar cycle on the curse?"
Albus scoffed. That was easy. "The full moon strengthens Dark magic," he said, "giving the curse just enough power to overcome a wizard's natural defences. When the moon passes, the curse weakens again." His turn: "The role of the bite in transmission."
Gellert raised an eyebrow. "Tricky one, that. But fine: a crude ritual in which the breaking of the skin symbolises the overcoming of a wizard's defences. Now let's see… arithmetical stability."
"Easy," Albus replied, "prime." Gellert opened his mouth as if to object, but Albus anticipated him. "Unless it's the full moon, when the curse turns unstable."
Gellert smiled, shaking his head. "I hadn't thought Hogwarts taught this material," he said. "One more: the incantation to the curse."
"Trick question - there's no such thing," said Albus, waving his hand dismissively. Gellert made a sound of vague agreement. Albus frowned. "Is there?"
"No record exists of an incantation," said Gellert, but his eyes said something else.
"You can't have derived it," said Albus, "that would be..."
Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of the front door opening and shutting. Aberforth.
"Who's that?" said Gellert, turning towards the sound.
"Just my brother," said Albus. "Never mind him - he's a dreadful bore. Would you like to-"
"I'd like to meet him," said Gellert. He stood up and Albus felt a sting of annoyance.
"Albus?" shouted Aberforth, "where are you?"
"Kitchen!" called Albus, and Aberforth entered with Ariana. She was a thin, pale girl and it was clear that he and Aberforth couldn't look after her as their mother had. They didn't know how to do her hair properly, or any of the hundred other spells and potions witches used daily.
"And who's this?" said Gellert, smiling towards Ariana. She looked through him, not even registering his presence.
"Ariana, my sister," said Albus, moving to take Ariana's hand in his own. "Ana, we have a new friend. This is Gellert." Ariana swayed a moment, before her eyes settled on Gellert. "Say hello, Ana."
"Three brothers cross a bridge," she said in a sing-song voice, her eyes following things unseen. "Which one are you?"
Gellert stepped forward, his eyes intent. "What was that?"
"I'm sorry, she must be having one of her bad days," said Albus. He looked accusingly at Aberforth. "Where did you take her?"
"Don't blame this on me," Aberforth said, "she was fine up 'til now."
"I'm sure," said Albus, and he kneeled down to look Ariana in the eyes. "Come back to us, Ana. Hic nobiscum es." Her eyes focused.
"Al?" she said, the episode passing. Aberforth held up his hands as if to say 'not my fault'. "The stars spoke to me. They sang pretty songs. Three brothers met death..."
"That's the Tale of the Three Brothers, Ana," said Albus. "I read it to you last week. Remember?"
Ariana giggled, and kissed Albus on the cheek. Suddenly she was a normal girl. "What's for tea, brother?"
"As if he knows," said Aberforth, resting a hand on Ariana's shoulder. "I can't remember the last time he cooked."
Albus stood, bristling. "As you know, Aberforth, my studies-"
"My studies," imitated Aberforth. "Well, some of us have to live in the real world. Come on Ana, let's get you ready for tea."
They left, heading back into the house proper. Gellert watched them go, strangely quiet. He seemed to be thinking something over. "What's wrong with her?" he said.
"Tangled magic," said Albus, returning to the kitchen table. It burned him still, what had happened to her. She should have been at Hogwarts, now. "Her vital system's all blocked up."
"Resulting in spontaneous discharges?" asked Gellert, but it wasn't really a question. "Wouldn't Hepzibah's Cleansing...?"
"Only if it were a curse," said Albus, with a sigh. "She did it to herself."
"A traumatic event, then?"
Albus blinked at his directness, before remembering with whom he was talking. "A group of Muggle boys attacked her when she was six. They saw her doing magic and… well. Muggles are Muggles."
"I'm sorry," said Gellert. He sighed and shook his head. "It's just one more of the many evils created by the Statute of Secrecy."
"I'm sure you're doing this deliberately," said Albus, leaning back in his seat. Gellert seemed determined to shock and provoke. "But go on. Convince me: what's the problem with the Statute?"
The next day Albus and Gellert took a long walk. It was the height of summer and the day was perfect: sunny, warm, but with a gentle breeze.
"I've been thinking about what you said yesterday," said Albus as they crossed the ford by the edge of the woods. "About the statute and utilitarian ethics."
"You have a counter argument?" asked Gellert. His tone was curious, not confrontational.
"Not as such," he said, absentmindedly drying the trim of his cloak. "I could present many counter-intuitive utilitarian judgements, but I suspect you would be immune to them, given that the commitment to the greater good is supposed to replace our moral intuitions, not explain them."
"That's it exactly," said Gellert, excited. "And why shouldn't we develop a calculus of morality? Why should morality be forever subject to whim and intuition, while the rest of human endeavour advances? And if we develop that calculus, with the greater good for all as supreme... well, we must thereafter abide by its dictates."
"And if we make a mistake when devising the code?" said Albus, pausing to pick up a large stick. It twisted and mutated under his grasp, forming itself into a fine walking staff, polished and engraved in Celtic fashion.
"Details," said Gellert, waving away the objection. "In the final analysis, one would of course provide a method of amendment, if any of the particulars prove to be false. But always justification must be towards the greater good. Welfare, Albus. That is the ultimate good, not following rigid laws made by men and Muggle gods."
"A great amount of evil could be justified so," said Albus. Gellert opened his mouth, but Albus interrupted. "I know the objection already, Gellert. It's only evil by one's intuitive judgements. Within the utilitarian system it's justified. But still... intuitions are not so easily done away with."
"I understand your reticence," said Gellert. "I, too, once struggled with this problem. At its core is a lack of long term thinking. We wizards are not naturally disposed to think in the long term. We think in days, months, years, not eons - hold on."
Albus waited while Gellert jogged away from the path to find a stick of his own. A moment later he returned with a staff like Albus', unmarked but for a single symbol at the top.
"Where was I?" Gellert said, and they resumed walking. "Oh yes. A thought experiment. Imagine that you could create a great empire of peace, ruled by the wise, where all prospered and sought the good. An empire that would last a thousand years. And imagine that this empire could only be forged through a great war, more terrible than anything the world has ever seen. What is the good?"
"The good is surely to seek to create such a place without the use of violence," said Albus, knowing where he was going. Gellert snorted.
"And if violence was the only way? What then?"
"Then... I suppose the war could be considered just," said Albus, reluctantly. It went against all common sense, but Gellert's argument compelled him.
"And here's the good part: the intuition that such a war is evil is perfectly rational," said Gellert, "but only in the short term. During the war, certainly suffering outweighs good, and the war is evil. But from the thousand year perspective... well, surely a thousand years of peace and prosperity are worth five or ten years of extreme suffering."
"You make a convincing argument," said Albus, still thinking it over. It was true that it didn't sound so evil when one focused on the years of happiness. But it wasn't perfect. "Thought experiments are dangerous things, though," he said, the counter unfolding before him. "They often possess arbitrary or unrealistic limitations. Your stipulation that war is the only way to create peace, for example. That is far from a trivial thesis."
"True. But on that point I make no philosophical argument," said Gellert. "Rather, I would argue from history. The Pax Romana, the Pax Britannica... historically speaking, great periods of peace follow domination, not democracy."
"And yet we speak of the future, not the past," said Albus. "We can always strive to achieve peace without war."
Gellert laughed. "You're more optimistic than I."
They passed out of the woods into a large field of grass. A small hillock lay at its centre and at the top was a single tall tree.
"There it is," said Albus, pointing to the tree. "Godric's mound."
"Shall we?" said Gellert, and they apparated silently to the tree. Though the hill wasn't very high, it was enough to provide a striking view of the forest and the village on the other side. To Albus' surprise, Gellert knelt down and started undoing his laces.
"What are you doing?" he said with a laugh.
"This is a hallowed place," said Gellert, pulling off his boots and socks. "A great man is buried here. I honour him."
Stunned, Albus watched as Gellert stood once more, his toes digging into the soft soil. He looked down at his own boots. Why not? He knelt and removed them, and his socks too. Despite the summer sun the ground was cool to the touch.
Gellert walked to the tree and placed his hand upon its trunk. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "Would that I will one day be buried as this," he said. "History is built by great men, Albus. Gryffindor was one of them." He turned and looked Albus in the eye. "You and I - we will be counted among their number."
"For our egos if nothing else," said Albus, cracking a smile. "Come now, Gellert. I'm sure we will do great things. But this?"
"The time for false modesty has passed, friend," said Gellert, "it's time you open your eyes to who we are." He stepped forward, and suddenly his wand was in his hand.
"Gellert..." warned Albus, but Gellert didn't listen. He walked to the edge of the bluff, and raised his wand. Faint tendrils of smoke began to swirl around it. He wouldn't... Gellert turned to look at Albus.
"Stop me, if you can," he said, and he jabbed his wand towards the sky. "Terror Infernus!"
For a moment the world was still, as if holding its breath, then suddenly red-orange fire blossomed in a giant ring around the hill, unfolding out of the air like it had been just waiting to burst free. It roared and swirled, blasting Albus' face with dry heat, raging around Gellert, his eyes glowing in the reflected light of the fire. And out of the fire sprang figures, diving in and out of the furnace: lions and snakes, gryffins and manticores, and other shapes besides, long extinct creatures no book mentioned. All of them danced to Gellert's will.
"Come on, Albus!" he called, having to shout over the roar of flames. "Stop me!"
Albus took his wand from within his robes, his mind racing over different possibilities. Disrupt Gellert's casting? Too dangerous with Fiendfyre. Wrest control of the fire from him? No guarantee of success. There was only one thing for it:
The conjuration exploded out of him, a shockwave of water swirling with silver lights, expanding rapidly to smash into Gellert's fire, meeting it with a hiss. The strain of holding it was immediately taxing. The water wanted to be free. It wanted to lay waste to all it met. Above all, it wanted to turn back on the one who had conjured it and consume him.
Albus didn't let it. He clamped down on his thoughts, refusing to let them drift or be distracted. He twirled his wand, further binding the spirits of the water to his will. He pushed with his mind, and with his wand, and the water went where he desired, flowing through the air with no concern for gravity. It leaped and bounded, chasing down the fires of Gellert's spell in the forms of serpents and krakens, mermen and nymphs, all of them glowing with an inner light. Where the two met they annihilated, exploding to form more steam.
Through it all Gellert laughed. Time to end it, Albus thought. Animo draconis!
He swung his wand like a lasso, gathering all the water of his spell. It rushed together, slamming into a single huge sphere, before mutating into the figure of a great dragon.
The dragon roared, the ground reverberating beneath Albus' feet. Gellert stopped laughing.
"Had enough, Gellert?" called Albus, his wand pointing at his dragon. He held the leash - it would wait until commanded.
Gellert yanked his wand, and all the fire rushed back into it with a sound like a deep, gasping breath. Albus followed suit: with a flick of his wand the dragon dissipated, dissolving into nothing.
The world fell silent. Steam still drifted around them, and the air smelt of ozone. Miraculously - or perhaps magically - the tree was completely undamaged.
"Do you see, Albus?" said Gellert, walking back towards him. "You are meant for greatness."
Albus returned home in the clouds. Never before had he felt so alive. His future stretched out before him, full of possibilities. The things Gellert spoke of... Albus knew they weren't merely hypothetical. A powerful wizard could change the world. Two working together would be unstoppable.
He entered the house to find Aberforth waiting for him. The entrance hall was a mess: the table was smashed in two; the chairs looked like they'd been banished into the walls. One of the paintings was ripped, and the other seemed to have disappeared entirely.
"Back, are you?" said Aberforth
"What happened here?" Albus replied, though he could already guess.
"What do you think?" said Aberforth. "Ariana had an episode and you weren't here to help."
Albus swallowed. The last time she'd had an accident mother had died. "Is she well?" he said, looking in the direction of her bedroom.
Aberforth glared at him. "She is now," he said, "no thanks to you. I'm fine by the way. Thanks for asking."
"Of course you're fine," said Albus, taking out his wand to clean up the mess. A casual flick and the room began to right itself, furniture reassembling itself, smashed glass reforming. He sat in one of the armchairs, indicating for Aberforth to take the other. He didn't. "You're seventeen, almost a qualified wizard."
Aberforth ran his hands through his hair in frustration. "You know that I - I'm not like you, okay? There, I said it: you're better at magic than me. Happy?"
"Believe me, I gain no satisfaction from your poor performance," said Albus, "if you just studied a bit harder, maybe I wouldn't have to do all -"
"Oh, don't even start on your responsibilities," said Aberforth, giving Albus a scathing look. "You cast a spell here and there and think it counts as contributing. Well, it doesn't. I dress her, wash her, play with her, take her on walks. I feed her. You do nothing."
"I seem to recall repairing this room a moment ago," said Albus, raising an eyebrow. "How long would that have taken you, without me?"
"That's exactly what I mean!" said Aberforth. "You might be able to magic away a broken table, but that's not what Ana needs. She needs her brother, Albus. Are you part of this family or not?"
"Don't be ridiculous," said Albus. "I would do anything for this family. Perhaps you remember my abandoning my travels in order to return home?"
"Fat lot of good that did. You might as well have gone, and good riddance!"
Albus hesitated, surprised by his vehemence. When had Aberforth developed such a grudge? "You're being irrational," he said after a while. "May I offer you a cheering charm?"
"No you may not," said Aberforth, clenching his fists. He took several deep breaths, apparently calming himself. "This is all beside the point. There's something else we need to talk about."
"Money is becoming a problem," said Aberforth, and Albus stiffened. He didn't like where this was going. "I know we don't need much, but we do need to buy food, and pay for the Floo. We still haven't given Mr Potter this month's rent. And the cool-box is acting up and we need to get an artificer to look at it. Not to mention Ana's medicine."
"I see," said Albus. That was a problem. "Your proposed solution?"
Aberforth sighed, and took the seat opposite him. "You need to get a job, as soon as possible."
A job. No doubt as some paper pusher in the Ministry, writing memoranda on the best way to write memoranda, toiling under some lazy excuse for a wizard. Wasting his talent. Oh, he was sure he could succeed in time. But it was such a chore. People like him didn't work their way up from the bottom. People like him led.
"A job," Albus repeated. "Is that strictly necessary?
"Unless you have some other way of getting money..."
"I can enchant the coolbox," said Albus. "We don't need an artificer. And no doubt I could replicate Ana's medicine with a bit of experimentation."
Aberforth shook his head. "Even if you can tear yourself away from your books for long enough, it's just a couple of problems off a long list. Face it, Albus, we need a regular income."
"Very well," said Albus, standing up. He felt empty, the fire Gellert had lit within him all but extinguished. "I shall search the Prophet for listings."
A week passed with no sign of Gellert. Every day Albus checked the papers for jobs; every day he found nothing. Or at least, nothing appropriate for his qualifications. Eventually, tired of his fruitless search, he decided to seek Gellert out.
Mrs Bagshot's house was on the other side of town - the richer side. He walked there, in case Gellert was out and about, but he arrived without running into anyone. Preparing himself for a potentially tiresome conversation with Mrs Bagshot, he knocked on the door.
He waited for some time, but no one answered.
"Hello?" he called, peering into the windows. He knocked again. "Gellert, are you there?"
The tap-tap of footsteps came from behind the door, and it opened to reveal Gellert. He had dark bags under his eyes, his robes were in disarray and his hair was a mess. It looked like he hadn't slept for days.
"Albus," he said, greeting him with a distracted nod, before turning and walking back into the house.
Albus raised an eyebrow. Something was amiss. He entered the house, closing the door quietly behind him, and followed Gellert's retreat. Books and scrolls were strewn everywhere, most of them left open as if abandoned mid-read. Scraps of parchment covered in messy scrawl were scattered amid them; Albus paused to take a look at one, written in German.
… scroll BH145, dated 986, mentions Godric Gryffindor carrying "a wand moste potent, carved in peculiar fashion, adorned as if with berries", with which he bested the goblin Hring of the Glott clan, winning from him the famous sword of Gryffindor. The wand was AT HOGWARTS. Is it still there? Or maybe buried in the Hollow?
He frowned. What was Gellert studying?
"Gellert?" he called, having lost his friend.
"In here," came the reply, and he followed the voice to Madam Bagshot's library. If the rest of the house was messy, the library seemed to have taken a blasting curse. Gellert had raided the shelves, spreading priceless historical records over every available surface. It looked like he hadn't moved for several days, and though it was midday the curtains were closed and candles lit. Gellert had already returned to his studies, pouring over a worn, leather-bound volume.
"Where's your aunt?" asked Albus, browsing some of the books Gellert had taken down. Many didn't have titles, but some were recognisably rare tomes. The Collected Writings of Rowena Ravenclaw, Volume III was splayed across the back of a chair, a biography of the Dark wizard Loxias was on the desk next to it.
"London," replied Gellert, but he said no more. He didn't even look up. Albus glanced over another parchment.
Octavius Malfoy's diary is a reliable source. The 15th volume (1044-1046) mentions how his friend Salazar Slytherin, after fleeing Hogwarts, becomes obsessed with a wand that he is convinced will grant him revenge on Godric. He even shows the wand to Octavius, who describes it perfectly. He also describes how Salazar is unable to use it for even the simplest spells. Salazar never defeated Godric - he stole the wand. So theft alone is INSUFFICIENT to gain mastery of the wand! But who took the wand from Salazar? Octavius himself, or another?
Albus looked speculatively over the books, suddenly seeing the connections. Gellert was trying to trace a particular wand through history. But why?
Gellert jumped up, brandishing his book. "That's it!" he said, and he thrust the book towards Albus. "Look!"
"What am I reading?" said Albus, taking the book. It was handwritten, and not carefully - it looked like more of a notebook than a published work.
"Diary of Brandon Swann," said Gellert, and Albus looked at it in a new light. It had to be worth thousands of Galleons. Swann was generally considered the founder of the Ministry of Magic. "I thought he had it, but he didn't. See?" He indicated a passage near the bottom of the page.
We divined the royalists to be outside Nottingham and engaged them there. I estimate their numbers were at least 75, and hundreds more Muggles besides. The Muggles broke and fled when they saw our powers; those few who stayed were quickly slaughtered. The battle was in our favour from the start: the training I had devised was effective, and we were able to use appartation to outmanoeuvre them. Many of the enemy were still attempting to duel in the traditional manner and were cut down from behind.
But we were not completely successful. I faced Alexander Hornwood myself, finding him in the centre of the field, and we engaged in a mighty struggle. Never before have I been so stretched, nor come so close to defeat. His every spell was like a hammer blow, as I have heard mine own sometimes described by others. And yet Hornwood was never a famed duellist - indeed, I attended Hogwarts with him myself, and never thought much of his skill. Through some sorcery or alchemy he has increased his strength beyond that of a normal wizard. And it occurs to me now that his wand was of a like I have never seen before, marked with strange runes and carved with growths in the wood. If he had possessed such a wand at Hogwarts I would have surely remembered it. Could this wand be the source of his power? It is a childish folly, but I cannot but wonder if it is one of the Five. If it is, then the Warlock's Council has even more to answer for.
Nonetheless I prevailed through my superior skill and our family's alchemy; Hornwood fled the field and I was not of a mind to pursue him, electing instead to see to our victory and the taking of Nottingham. Rumour has reached me from Dover that Hornwood was spotted there. I suspect he has fled to France.
"Do you see, Albus?" said Gellert, a light in his eyes, "the wand left Britain in 1646 - it's in Europe!"
"I'm afraid I'm not following," said Albus, placing the book down. "I feel like I'm missing the start of the story."
Gellert frowned. "The Elder Wand, obviously," he said, apparently surprised that Albus hadn't realised.
Albus laughed. It the kind of laugh that starts deep in the belly and pushes up, only it was suddenly cut off when he saw the stony glare Gellert was sending him. "You're serious?"
"Does this look like a joke?" said Gellert, gesturing towards all the books. "You saw it yourself. It's all there, if you're willing to look. The evidence is undeniable."
"Come now, Gellert," said Albus, still somewhat surprised. Gellert was too intelligent for this. "I admit, you've found something interesting. A single powerful wand passed down through the ages, wielded by both Gryffindor and Hornwood. But the Elder wand? I've seen nothing to connect it to that tale."
"You haven't seen the things I've seen," said Gellert. "I know I'm right, Albus. The Deathly Hallows are real."
Albus tried to reason with him. "If they are, then you will know that the Deathly Hallows are a curse," he said. He was familiar with the tale. "All but the cloak lead their owners to disaster. Are you so keen to meet Death?"
"Of course all the part about Death is nonsense," said Gellert, waving his hand in dismissal, "but there is truth behind the tale. Here, I'll show you."
With a flick of his wand he levitated a scroll so large it resembled a rolled-up carpet. He moved it over the table and set it down, not bothering to clear the mess beneath it. The vellum unfurled with another flick, revealing a title in grand calligraphy:
The House of Peverell
"They're not so hard to find, really," said Gellert, pointing to a group of names about half-way down the family tree. "Three brothers, two of whom died early, renowned for their magical abilities, and who lived during the eighth century - I'm surprised no one has found the link before."
"You think the Peverell brothers made the Deathly Hallows?" said Albus, leaning in closer. It was circumstantial evidence at best, but at least it meant Gellert wasn't insane. Death indeed.
"I'm almost certain," said Gellert. "I had Aunt Bathilda introduce me to the Potters down the road. They claim descent from the Peverells, did you know?"
"I didn't," said Albus, looking to the bottom of the tree. And there it was: Esther Peverell, the only daughter of Ezekiel Peverell, had married one Hamish Potter.
"They allowed me a look in their library when I said I was doing research on the Peverells," said Gellert, "all their wills are there. And every one mentions an unnamed heirloom, a cloak of vague description but definitely magical in some way. It's the Cloak of Invisibility, I'm sure of it."
"Perhaps," said Albus, still quite unconvinced.
"There's more evidence besides," said Gellert, and he passed Albus a parchment. "A haunted house that I'm sure was once Cadmus Peverell's, who wielded the Resurrection Stone. The Warlock's Council made it unplottable in the 15th century after a series of Inferi raised themselves spontaneously there." Another parchment. "The unexplained disappearance of Edmund Potter during the Welsh Green crisis of 1779." Another parchment. "Mention after mention of a powerful wand of unique description passing through British wizardry, the first reports beginning with the death of Antioch Peverell, right here in Godric's Hollow."
Albus was impressed. While each individual piece of evidence was weak, together they painted quite a clear picture.
"It's so hard to believe," he said quietly, looking through the parchment in his hands. It had been a long time since he had been so challenged in his world view. But then the possibilities began to occur to him. The Elder Wand... if it was anywhere near as powerful as said, imagine what he could do with it! And the Resurrection Stone - if it really could raise the dead, it was a miracle of magic, breaking every rule of wizardry known to modern scholars. "Do you think we can find them?"
Gellert grinned. "Together, I know we can."
Albus and Gellert continued meeting for the next month, talking much of the Hallows and more besides. Often their conversations would take place in the secluded dark of Madam Bagshot's library, but occasionally they would go for a walk in the woods, breathing in the fresh country air. But soon even those woods grew small. For Albus in particular the familiar paths of the woods offered little stimulation. He had trodden them since he was a boy.
And so, at the end of July, they apparated to the beach at Brighton for a day out. The day was overcast and the wind off the sea brisk, but Albus didn't mind. He quite enjoyed the stiff breeze as they walked down the promenade. It felt like it was blowing away all the cobwebs of Godric's Hollow, freshening his mind.
"You must visit me in Berlin," said Gellert as they passed a man selling ice cream. He had no customers. "We have a real summer there, not this drab, grey affair."
"Perhaps," said Albus, liking the idea of Berlin rather more than the heat, "though high temperatures have never agreed with me. I might prefer the winter."
Gellert laughed. "Believe me, you wouldn't," he said, "it's quite freezing."
They turned onto the pier. It was the largest in Britain, both long and wide, filled with cafes and restaurants. Despite the weather it was crowded with Muggles, mostly courting gentleman and ladies walking arm in arm, but families too, kids running around and making noise. Thanks to a small charm they all ignored the two wizards and their strange robes.
"And Durmstrang?" said Albus, curious about his friend's old school. "I understand that it's quite cold there. Is it in Berlin too?"
"No, not Berlin," said Gellert, quite casually. Normally Durmstrang students were rather prickly about school secrets. "It's further north, near Königsberg."
"Königsberg!" said Albus, surprised. It made a kind of sense, though - Durmstrang had been founded when Königsberg was still the capital of Prussia. It was a city famed for its learning - and no wonder, with a magical academy within its limits. "I should have liked to visit. With all the secrecy, it carries a certain air of mystery absent at Hogwarts."
"You would be disappointed," said Gellert, a hint of bitterness in his voice. "As was I. The only true secret of Durmstrang is its extraordinary dullness. Now Hogwarts, that's a real school. None of the hand-holding you find at Durmstrang, timetabling your day to military precision."
"I think you may be idealising Hogwarts somewhat," said Albus.
"And you, Durmstrang," said Gellert.
"True." Albus conceded the point with a slow nod. "But when it comes to dark magic, you would have found Hogwarts quite stifling."
"And yet you managed," said Gellert. "How was that?"
Albus laughed. "Ingenuity, years of work, and the trust of the staff," he said. "It's true, the Restricted Section there has quite the selection of dark magic - if you can get the permission to study it."
Gellert smirked. "My downfall," he admitted, "I've never had the talent for accommodating the feelings of the incompetent. I was not popular with the Masters of Durmstrang."
"Truly?" said Albus, surprised. Gellert possessed all the qualities teachers loved: intelligence, curiosity, charisma. "Students like us are every teacher's dream. They should have loved you."
"Perhaps you should tell that to the High Master," said Gellert. "I'm sure he will rescind my expulsion forthwith."
Albus was stunned. Gellert had been expelled? The pieces fell into place: his presence at Godric's Hollow, his bitterness towards Durmstrang, his reticence in talking about his past, focusing always on the future. And the anger bubbling within Gellert, which Albus had sensed just once or twice - that was explained too.
For a man as powerful as Gellert to be humiliated so by an inferior wizard... Albus could only imagine how much it would sting. How much the need for vengeance would tempt him, eroding all control. It had happened to Albus, once. When you held so much power it was easy to give in to that temptation.
They arrived at the end of the pier and Albus realised they had been walking in silence for several minutes. They stopped there, at the end, and rested on the barrier, looking down into the sea. Eventually, Gellert spoke. "Does it change your opinion of me?"
"No," Albus replied, and it was the truth. Gellert was an amazing man. If Durmstrang expelled him, it displayed a grave inadequacy within the school. But still, Albus wanted to know. "What exactly did they expel you for?"
Gellert spread his hands. "No single thing, really. The staff and I had disagreed on what material was appropriate for study on many occasions. And then we had a final disagreement."
"A violent one?" said Albus, hearing the implication.
"The High Master drew his wand on me," said Gellert, and a smile crept across his face. "He regretted it."
Whatever Gellert had done, Albus was sure it had been justified.
"I severed his wand arm."
… if perhaps overzealous in execution.
"And so you came to Godric's Hollow, taking refuge at your Aunt's," said Albus, connecting the dots.
"My father sent me away," said Gellert, his tone light. "Said he wouldn't have a 'dark wizard' under his roof. And who offered to take me in but my batty Aunt Bathilda, who just so happened to live in the hometown of the Peverells?"
So Gellert had confunded Mrs Bagshot. It certainly explained the free rein she gave him. "A stroke of luck, to be sure," said Albus, "without her library, we would be blind in our search for the Hallows."
"Indeed," said Gellert. He was staring out to sea, his eyes lingering on the distant horizon. "And yet we've reached the end of that road, I fear. The trail has gone colder than the English summer."
Albus chuckled. "Perhaps we could look again in the Potters' collection. They might have some volume your aunt lacks."
"I doubt it," said Gellert. "The wand went to France, we know that. From there, who knows? You British are an insular lot. I fear no library here will have the information we seek." He turned to Albus, and took his hand. "We need to go to France."
Gellert's suggestion was not a surprise to Albus. It had occurred to him many times over the last month. France! He longed for it: the knowledge waiting to be discovered, the people they could meet, could make connections with. The culture, the art, the food. It sounded so glamorous compared to England. And from France, where then? Rome, perhaps, or Athens, or Gellert's own Berlin?
Together, he and Gellert would take Europe by storm.
Reality hit. "I cannot," said Albus, his thoughts turning back to Ariana and Aberforth. He had a responsibility to them. He still had to find a job, a project he had neglected somewhat since Gellert had told him about the Hallows.
Gellert sighed, and took his hand from Albus'. "Why not?"
"You know why," said Albus, "my obligation to my family... Aberforth shall return to Hogwarts soon, and I must care for Ariana. I am trying to find a job."
"A job!" said Gellert, clearly aghast. "A job?" He shook his head in disbelief. "Albus, what is this madness?"
"Dreams are well and good," he replied, "but eventually one must live in the world. And in the world, one needs money - especially if you have a sick sister."
"I don't believe it," said Gellert. "You would abandon our quest for - for what? Writing papers on wand standardisation?"
"It need only be for a few years," said Albus. "Until Aberforth is out of Hogwarts and possessing a secure job himself. After that-"
"Listen to yourself!" said Gellert, seizing Albus by his shoulders. "Did Alexander delay his conquest? No! We must do this now, while we still possess the foolishness of youth. Now is the time, Albus. Greatness calls."
"The are many forms of greatness," said Albus. "I've been thinking. If I must focus myself upon gold, I might as well do it well. If you and I went into business together, we could-"
"I have no interest in gold," said Gellert, his voice low, bitter. There was the anger Albus had sensed. "How can I persuade you from this insanity?"
"Present me with a realistic alternative."
Gellert fell silent and for a while they just stood there, looking out on the sea. Albus wondered what he was thinking.
"What would you do, if you had the Hallows?" said Gellert.
"Study them," said Albus, "try to understand them. Perhaps even replicate them."
"But not use them?" said Gellert.
Gellert shook his head with a smile. "Only you would ask that. To cure your sister, for a start. To wield influence. To change the world."
And there it was. Albus was not stupid - he was, in fact, rather uncommonly intelligent. He had been expecting this conversation. "And how, Gellert, would you change the world?"
"Do you not remember, Albus? A great empire of peace, where all, wizard and Muggle alike, prospered and sought the good of all. Together, with the Hallows, we could make such a place. We could rule."
"I believe I said realistic," Albus joked, but he wasn't laughing.
"Oh, but it is real, Albus," said Gellert. "It's too real, isn't it? That's why you shy from the idea - you know that we're capable of it, and it scares you."
"It takes more than magical skill and a powerful wand to do what you're suggesting," said Albus. "No two wizards could take Europe by force, no matter how powerful. You're speaking of tearing down the Statute of Secrecy. The whole world would oppose us."
"Not the whole world," said Gellert. "There are always those who would follow great men. We could persuade them, Albus. And if they cannot be persuaded, we will make them. For the greater good."
He could see it, now. Together, they would make their way through Europe, searching for the Hallows while making friends and allies. A series of bloodless coups to unite Europe under one banner. Small resistance would form; it would be crushed, and the rest of the world would follow. The building of a new world, ruled by the wise and talented, not the incompetent and the corrupt. "For the greater good," repeated Albus, speaking under his breath.
"And for your family."
Plans were made, itineraries debated, and by mid-August Albus and Gellert were almost ready to set out. Only one problem remained: Ariana. As Albus returned home, groceries floating besides him, he thought about her - about how soon Aberforth would have to return to Hogwarts. Could someone else in the village look after her? Surely impossible. They wouldn't understand her condition. They'd send her to St. Mungo's.
Only one solution presented itself to Albus: they would have to take Ariana with them. It wasn't ideal, but Albus couldn't think of any other way. He would just have to convince Gellert.
"I'm back!" he called, closing the door behind him. He banished the groceries off to the kitchen and listened for his brother's voice. "Ariana? Where are you?"
No-one answered. Albus frowned, and tried again. "Ariana?" He was met with silence. Perhaps she was playing hide and seek. He started searching the house: the kitchen first, and then upstairs. Aberforth's messy room was empty, as was Ariana's own. Her bed was made and the potion on her bedside table was empty. That was good: her magic wasn't going to explode, at least.
He was about to leave when he heard the sound of a girl giggling. It was coming from the open window. And sure enough, there she was, running around the back garden with Gellert. Albus smiled. Maybe convincing Gellert wouldn't be so hard after all. He took a moment to watch from above, knowing they hadn't spotted him. Gellert was lazily waving his wand, conjuring butterflies for Ana to chase with abandon. But as soon as her hands were about to clap around one, Gellert would laugh and the butterfly would divide with a pop, and suddenly there were two butterflies.
By the number of butterflies in the garden, they'd been playing the game for a while. Grinning, Albus rushed downstairs to join them, entering the garden by the kitchen door. By the time he reached them the butterflies were gone and Ana was sitting cross-legged on the grass opposite Gellert. Neither of them were talking, or moving: they were just staring at each other.
"What're you doing?" said Albus, sitting down next to them.
"Playing," Ana replied in her sing-song voice. She didn't break eye contact.
Albus raised an eyebrow. "Oh? What game is that?"
Ana laughed. "A staring contest, silly! I'm winning."
"Don't count your chickens, Ana," said Gellert, "I've got a few minutes in me left."
"I don't need to count them," said Ana, frowning. "We've got eight."
Albus laughed. "It's a figure of speech, Ana," he explained, placing his hand on her knee. "It means don't make assumptions."
"Oh," Ana said, and with that they fell into a comfortable silence. As the minutes stretched on, Albus coughed lightly, trying to indicate to Gellert that he should concede. When Gellert ignored him, his eyes intent upon Ana's, a suspicion began to grow in Albus' mind.
He wouldn't. Albus looked at Ana. He'd never seen her sit still for so long. She wasn't even fidgeting. She had a distant look to her, like she was somewhere else. Yet her eyes remained locked to Gellert's. He would.
Anger bubbled within Albus and he moved to cover Ana's eyes with his hand, blocking the connection.
"Hey!" said Ana, pushing his hand away, "I was winning!"
Albus turned to glare at Gellert, who was looking at him stony-faced. "No, Ana," he said, wondering how on earth he had so misjudged Gellert. "You weren't."
"Come now, Albus," said Gellert, standing up. Albus moved to follow. They were facing each other, with Ana still sitting on the ground between them. "It wasn't harming her."
"You had no right," said Albus, almost trembling, "rifling through her mind like that. You can't just-"
"Have you forgotten our first meeting so quickly?" asked Gellert. He didn't look worried by Albus' anger. "You had less of a problem with it then."
"Against me!" said Albus, pointing violently at his own chest, "not my sister."
Gellert raised his hands, palms outwards, like he was trying to calm a horse. "She knows something," he said, "I just wanted to know what. I promise I didn't hurt her. She's a sweet girl."
Albus snorted in disbelief. "How could she possibly-"
"That's what I wanted to find out!" said Gellert. "She's made several comments about the Hallows, Albus. We need her."
Albus put his fingers to his forehead and looked to the sky, trying to calm himself. "She's a sick child," he explained, trying to get Gellert to see reason. To apologise. "She's not some kind of seer. It's just her imagination."
A door slammed. "What's going on out here?" Aberforth called, striding across the grass. "What's he doing here?"
Albus looked Gellert in the eyes. "He was just leaving," he said, his voice level.
"Not yet I'm not," said Gellert, and he turned to Aberforth. "Stay out of this."
Aberforth bristled. "This is my house." He pulled his wand from his robes, and pointed it at Gellert. "Get out."
Gellert sent a sideways look at Albus, laughter in his eyes.
"Don't," Albus said, pleading. He prepared to draw. "Don't do this."
It happened in less than a second: all in one movement, Gellert's wand appeared in his hand, faster than the eye could follow, and silver light flashed - only to break upon a blue-white shield in front of Aberforth.
Albus lowered his wand. "I believe my brother told you to leave," he said. "Please do so peacefully."
"Put your wand away, Albus," growled Gellert. "You're making a mistake."
Albus sighed, and prepared to cast another shield. "I won't let you hurt my brother."
Gellert's wand twitched - Protego! - and another silver light smashed into Albus' shield with a high-pitched clang. The deep wump-wump-wump of three more spells followed, rocketing from Gellert's wand like strobe lights, but they too broke on Albus' rock solid shield.
Ariana was crying.
"Stupefy!" called Abe, thinking Gellert distracted, but he had barely finished the incantation before Gellert countered it with a thought, the nimbus of red light fizzling out around Abe's wand.
Albus raised his hand towards Abe. "Don't antagonise him," he said. "We just want him to-"
With a flash of red light, Gellert's spell smacked into Albus' stomach like a hard kick. Winded and shocked by the sudden pain, Albus collapsed to his hands and knees, struggling to breathe properly. Through the corner of his eye he saw Gellert turn back on Abe, crimson light forming around his wand.
"No!" he gasped, struggling to point his wavering wand at Gellert.
"Abe!" cried Ariana, and she appeared suddenly between them with the crack of apparition.
Two spells flew, blue and red, each travelling too fast to follow.
Ariana crumpled to the ground without a sound.
"NO!" Abe ran forward, not caring about the wand still trained upon him. He rushed to Ariana's side and kneeled down next to her. "Wake up, Ana," he said, shaking her shoulders, "please wake up! Reenervate!"
She didn't stir. Albus clambered to his feet.
"Leave," he said, his wand pointing straight at Gellert's heart. "Leave now."
"Albus…" Gellert began, but he stopped when he saw Albus' wand. Tiny motes of green light stirred around it. He disapparated.
After Ariana's death, Albus couldn't leave Britain fast enough. By October he had sold their possessions and fled to Italy, leaving all the money to Aberforth.
For more than ten years he wandered across Europe, burying himself in study, finding jobs here and there to suit his needs. He translated ancient texts in a library in Rome, drafted policy for the French Department of Education, offered his services as a tutor in Königsberg and a cursebreaker in Egypt. He even spent six months training as a Healer in Paris, but quickly grew bored. The work offered no challenge for him.
Word reached him occasionally of Gellert Grindelwald, the bright young philosopher-wizard making his way around Europe. He debated in cafés, spoke with politicians, and founded institutions, all the while preaching the unification of the wizarding world and interference in the Muggle one. Albus almost ran into him once in the French Ministry. He left his job there the same day.
In all his years travelling, Albus never stopped working on various projects and publishing his most interesting findings. He studied wandlore in Italy, the home of wand crafting. In Konigsberg he investigated all kinds of secrecy and protective charms, trying to locate the hidden Durmstrang. In 1904 he moved to Berlin to practice his duelling. After the shock of losing his first match, he ended up spending two years honing his skills against the best in Europe. In Egypt he learned more than he knew he'd wanted about all manner of Dark spells and curses, but it was alchemy that led him to stay four years.
When Nicolas Flamel read his research, he immediately offered the chance to work together. Albus jumped at the opportunity and, under Nicolas' guidance, he discovered the twelve uses of dragon's blood. But the outbreak of war in 1914 drew that collaboration to an early and abrupt end.
Now internationally renowned for his knowledge of magic, Albus returned to Britain at the request of the Minister for Magic. He was given charge of the enchantments monitoring British borders and set about modifying them to repel unauthorised travel across the Channel. Though the International Confederation of Wizards had forbidden magical interference in the Muggle war, no one expected Grindelwald to play by their rules. When Albus' work was done he left for Hogwarts to take up the post of Transfiguration Master.
Gellert Grindelwald shot to unprecedented prominence when he and his followers engineered Muggle Germany's surrender in clear violation of the Statute of Secrecy. Albus grew troubled, but didn't leave Hogwarts.
For the next eighteen years Albus continued to teach, quite happy to lead a quiet life within the castle's walls. He spent his days studying and passing on that knowledge. And if he saw Gellert's face in the paper, he always spoke of peace and prosperity. But in 1936 a Confederation assembly of dubious composition voted Grindelwald into the position of Supreme Mugwump. He continued to speak of peace, but Albus could see his intent.
War broke out in Europe once more, just after a disturbing boy called Tom Riddle started his first year at Hogwarts. One by one the magical governments of the world ceded emergency powers to Gellert's Confederation. Everything seemed ready for the Statute of Secrecy to come crashing down: the wizards would reveal themselves, and save the Muggles from themselves by ending the war.
But by 1943, the international wizarding community had rallied. The tables turned. When Grindelwald refused to relinquish his position, war between wizards was the inevitable result. The conflict made for strange bedfellows, and Albus found himself aligned with a powerful faction of Pure-bloods and anti-Muggle Americans fighting to restore the status quo.
It was in April 1945 that Albus came face to face with Gellert once more.
Berlin was in ruins. Gunfire and explosions echoed throughout the city as the Muggles destroyed themselves, but Albus wasn't there to help the Muggles. He had been given one mission alone: to stop Gellert Grindelwald at all costs. Even as he strolled down the bombed-out street, broken glass crunching beneath his boots, hundreds of wizards were apparating all over Berlin, subduing Grindelwald's lieutenants in a secret battle the Muggles would never see. But Grindelwald himself was nowhere to be found.
So Albus let himself be seen. He wore colourful robes and walked casually, whistling with a spring in his step. He passed a destroyed tank and took a moment to marvel at how far the Muggles had come in his sixty-three years alone.
He knew Gellert would find him.
The years had treated Gellert well. He was as tall and broad-shouldered as ever, but now the lines on his face added authority to the strength of his body. He was dressed simply, but well, his dark blue robes cut in a military, high collared style. He looked healthy and hale, and showed no sign that his kingdom was falling apart around him.
"Good afternoon, Gellert," said Albus, speaking as if he had met an acquaintance while walking a dog. "I dare say you've made quite the mess."
Gellert looked around him, as if only just noticing the destruction surrounding them. "This?" he said, waving his arm, "a minor setback. Streets can be cleaned, armies rebuilt. So long as the leader remains."
Albus shook his head. "It's over, Gellert. Surely you must see it? Even should you escape today, your grip on the wizarding world is at an end. Your philosophy has been laid bare and soundly rejected."
A moment of silence passed between them. "It doesn't have to be that way, Albus," said Gellert. "Join me. We both know that you are the only one who can match me. Together, we could set this right."
Albus had to laugh. Did Gellert really believe him still to be that nineteen year old boy? "What you suggest is madness. I could never join you."
"You would have, once," said Gellert. "You almost did."
"I was young, and foolish, and infatuated," said Albus with a sigh. "I am no longer that boy."
"Nor am I, Albus. Much has changed since that summer." Moving slowly, as if to show no trickery, Gellert plucked his wand from the air and held it aloft. It was long, and thin, marked with strange runes down its length. "I wield the Elder Wand! You should never have doubted me, Albus, for now I am undefeatable!"
Albus drew his own wand. It had never failed him. "The very fact that you possess it proves that the wand does not grant invulnerability," he said. "If we should duel, I will prevail, Gellert. Throw down your wand."
Gellert grinned, and Albus knew in that moment that there would be no peaceful surrender. For all his talk of joining forces, Gellert wanted this. He wanted to test his strength.
A grim smile tugged at Albus' own lips. Gellert was not alone in that. "Now, at long last," he said, taking a deep, elegant, bow, "we shall truly find out which of us is stronger."
Gellert bowed in return. "So we shall," he said, and he raised his wand. "But that is not the knowledge you fear."
The duel was as spectacular as it was deadly. They traded spells of truly awesome power, summoning firestorms and shadows, smashing through whole streets with curses of devastation and conjured guardians. Even more powerful were the spells less noticeable than a whisper, designed to bind the spirit and sap life. It was a showcase of all that magic had to offer… yet neither wizard seemed keen to end it. Neither went in for the killing blow, more interested in testing their powers, pushing each other to even greater heights of magical skill.
Their defences were as mighty as their curses. Shield charms so expertly cast they were almost solid, powerful counter-curses undoing spells before they could form, and transfigurations of every kind. Albus transformed a tank into a giant mechanical man; Gellert transfigured a shell mid-flight into a poisonous living gas.
The Elder Wand was powerful, but truly it was wasted in the hands of a wizard like Gellert. His spells were already cast so powerfully, so close to perfection, that the Elder Wand had little to add. And Albus always had been a shade more skillful. Slowly but surely, he gained the upper hand.
It ended with a Banishing Charm. Gellert took a split-second too long to cancel one of Albus' spells and he took the opening. Gellert was blasted back, slamming into a concrete wall. His wand fell from his hand.
Albus advanced upon him, wand pointed at his heart. "Tell me," he said, his voice commanding. "Was it my spell, or yours? Which one of us killed Ariana?"
Gellert chuckled, and shook his head. "You already know," he said, and Albus stunned him. His hand shaking, he took up the Elder Wand.
He was Albus Dumbledore, master of the Elder Wand.
He was Harry Potter.