He knew exactly where he was. More importantly, he knew when he was, an important factor to consider. Others paid attention solely to the where, perhaps also considering the number of tools involved. But He didn’t need to do that, awareness in battle had become a full-fledged habit now, nearly five decades of practice attuning every sense to threats.
“Sir, reports are in. The Ruskies are pushing the Eastern front, confirmed. The main army is retreating.”
Albus Dumbledore kept his eyes on the treeline. Ignorance lead to loss, loss lead to retreat. “Grindelwald?”
The man swallowed. “Target Alpha – he – he is in the field.”
A slow smile, long absent from his mind, appeared. “Good. He is not where you expected, behind his assault mages, is he.”
“No sir, he’s … alone.”
Dumbledore’s head snapped up fast enough to send his tied-back hair whiplash. “Alone?”
His Phoenix familiar glittered through the air, coming down for a landing on his shoulder. Dumbledore was glad for the leather reinforcement under the robe; the bird weighed next to nothing, but his talons were goblin-blade sharp. The inquisitive bird chirped once, then seemed to realize the situation. Fire erupted at his wingtips, tightly controlled but fearsome. The chirp turned into a rising shriek, passing beyond human hearing in an instant.
“Yes Fawkes,” Dumbledore absently petted the enraged familiar’s blazing crest. “It’s likely a trap. No Wells, civilians on every side. Perhaps a diversion to draw him off?”
The soldier manning his radio gulped nervously, eyes looking everywhere but the bare fingers stroking live flames. “Sir, General Patton’s divisions are about twenty miles south of Target Alpha. If you – “
“No.” Dumbledore growled. “He and young Moody need to keep the Panzers away. Allow heavy mechanized what-do-you-call-its closer, and the main body will be lost.”
The young soldier stopped looking at unburned hands. “Sir! A single Panzer division wouldn’t even make a dent in – “
“Muggle contraptions aren’t the only thing that throw fire,” Dumbledore growled down. “No, this is Gellert. If I go, the southern flank is exposed. If I don’t go, the northern flank is lost. If we shift reserves, there will be nothing with which to counter. Even if we send the muspelheim-begotten flying machines, he’ll have a plan. That’s just how he is.”
Fawkes sang a quiet melody, heartening and free. The incandescence cooled, darkening his feathers to the color of fresh blood.
“True,” Dumbledore stroked his beard. “I would occupy his focus. But what would his plan be to counter inattention?”
The fire bird’s vocal cries grew harsh, wings beating enough so that one wing buffeted Dumbledore’s auburn-colored head multiple times.
“Enough! All right! You’ve made your point!” The wizard couldn’t shy away, not with the phoenix’s claws deeply embedded in his robe. That didn’t stop him from a shimmying sort of dance, twisting his neck in vain to avoid the irritated avian.
Heaving an exasperated sigh, he set his shoulders. And winced. “I need a priority message to General Eisenhower. Tell him to begin: Flight of the Valkyries.”
The soldier didn’t bat an eye, spinning to the radio. His fingers whirled on the dials, flicking switches as certain as a Rune-master’s etchings. The speakers crackled a discharging static, like a poorly-attuned Scrying – it amazed Dumbledore that the contraption worked at all, let alone to a point where muggles could speak instantaneously over so far a distance. Old theories, partially buried from their association with his foe, began to glow once more. He returned his attention to the present as the soldier evidentially heard something, and began to speak. “Priority One-One-Aye from Valhella Turkey: Eye-Dee is Granger Five, Echo Foxtrot. Flight of the Valkyries is a go. Repeat: Flight of the Valkyries is a go. Over.”
Controlled rage burned through Dumbledore’s veins. In no time, there would be a reckoning; a reckoning indeed.
“I will call for you,” he stroked Fawke’s feathers, gazing deep into the madder-red eyes. “You know why.”
The phoenix mantled, thick outer feathers creating an impression of an angry fire plug. Not that anyone would tell him as such. His harsh cry croaked through the air, death given voice.
“I know, I know.” Dumbledore clenched a fist, letting the youthful muscles bulge under the mystical bird’s grip. “But it is better for him to have false confidence than betray all evidence out of hand.
Fawkes rose high, extending his keen gaze at the carnage surrounding their encampment. Utter destruction lay in every direction, entire forests laid waste. Without looking, Dumbledore knew of the wreckage; towns that would never be lifted up, family lines now extinct beyond resurrection. Manors standing for millennia were gone, knowledge buried in secret places – vanished forever. All because of one man.
“It is a small hope,” he admitted. “But it is our best chance. There are some minor tricks on my part as well, you know.”
Grudgingly, the phoenix bobbed acknowledgement. A faint pressure on his arm gave warning, and the firebird rose into the air on thunder. Just a fraction of an inch before reaching safety, Fawkes flashed out, fire singing the edges of his short beard.
Grumbling to himself, Dumbledore checked his own pouches. Six decades of study lay behind their creation, and he’d gladly repeat it if it’d meant the lack of need that necessitated their existence in the first place.
“Sir, are you really going to face that, advisor?” Lieutenant Granger – that was his name Dumbledore remembered – had his earpiece off, looking worried.
“Dark wizard, yes,” he responded. “It should be over today.”
The man stood, facing him. He was of medium height, for an Englishman, with curled brown hair and an intelligent look that pierced layers with ease. Slowly, one hand came up in a salute. “Good luck, sir. You are truly a great man.”
Dumbledore felt his rage lessen, if for a moment. It wouldn’t truly leave him until Gellert was gone. Such was his oath.
Silently, he extended his wand, and performed the first spell he’d need.
Dumbledore’s wand rose and fell in a quick, snakelike movement, expelling a carriage-sized fireball.
The incendiary evaporated, its dazzling brightness dispelling the last of an early morning fog. A tall, thin man stood in its wake, a wand of his own twirling a slow pattern. Like Dumbledore, his features seemed distinguished, that knife’s edge between youth and elder. But his eyes burned cold, darker than most, and wore an apparently military uniform – a stark contrast to Dumbledore’s more traditional battle robes.
“The city is my hostage, Albus. Listen to what I have to say, or it will die.”
Dumbledore needed only to stretch out his senses a brief moment to know his former ally told the truth. Muggles and wizards, their signatures painfully obvious, flared and faded, only to flare again as they tried escaping their own homes. But he could see the marks, strong runes forcing the doors to act as walls, windows impervious to blasting spells. This was magic at its worst, sealing houses shut, compelling or compulsion-effect forcing inhabitants to remain – all that was needed was a quick incantation, or a prepared charm.
“You’ve truly gone Dark, Gellert.” Hatred embodied Dumbledore’s every word.
Grindelwald smiled politely in return. “And you have gone Light. We were Gray once, truth was neither Light nor Dark. But we learned the truth about truth, did we not? You and your family – I and my logic. We are not so different, you and I, even seventy years later.”
Sparks hissed from Dumbledore’s wand, melting tiny pits in the cobblestones. “Say what you came to say, Traitor.”
Sighing, Grindelwald reached into a pocket, his hand returning into sight with a modest-sized flask. “Veritaserum is a mere compulsion. Strong, but a sufficiently trained Occlumens may twist its effects. Perhaps your training under Flamel will identify this compound?”
Dumbledore caught the lobbed object one-handed, the other poised to wield offensive magics. The container itself was unremarkable, a tin sided rectangle with a tiny screw-on cap. He’d seen various officers carry similar flasks, filled with spirits of their choice. Young Moody had been taken with the idea, and now carried his own Ever-Full version – not that muggles could guess.
With an elaborate flourish, his foe’s wand ended its lazy circles, held it loosely between two fingers. “I’d make an oath as to its contents, but your Light sensibilities would not trust me. As surety, I will release two families of your choice. When you verify what it is, I will release another two families. And once you agree to speak with me under its influence, I will permit your choice of a quarter of the city to depart.”
The auburn-haired wizard felt his anger intensify. Carefully he examined the flask. No runes were carved into its structure, nor buried within its metal. The only charms working on its contents were stability enchantments, utterances to preserve less-combustible liquids. Even that bore little taint of Darkness – over the years he’d perfected wandless senses, and even Grindelwald wouldn’t be able to deter them. There were no compulsions, no Soul-based magics, not even owner protections. It seemed to be just what it looked like: a flask full of a liquid.
More careful still, Dumbledore cast a stasis charm, ready to envelope the thing with a shield in case it reacted. But nothing happened – and he finally lifted its cap.
The scent wafted through the open air; filtered through a protective spell known only to Flamel and himself. They’d co-developed the Hazard Protection field, and it had saved their lives multiple times. But the scent was familiar, not the cloying odor of the mental-debilitates, but a clean smell of the truth compulsions. Its clear appearance, combined with the mild viscosity gave a rough idea of base material. The odor of pine indicated brewing techniques used only for mental stimulants, but the truly confirming aspect lay in its burning feel.
“Vere absolutum.” Dumbledore mused, “Nicholas thought all of the last samples were destroyed, by Edward the Confessor. I had my doubts of course.”
“Of course,” Grindelwald echoed, a note of fondness almost detectable. “You always had your suspicions. I hear your home country school had a bit of excitement a few years ago – did you ever decipher what kept petrifying your students?”
Strong fingers tightened on the flask. “What do you want, Gellert?”
Another put-upon sigh heaved from somewhere around the Dark wizard’s toes. “I will drink the Vere absolutum, then you will drink. Or vice versa, I care not. Then we will ask each other our questions, and I will tell you why you are wrong about my being wrong.”
Irritation flooded through Dumbledore’s nerves. Throwing caution to the winds, he threw back his head and swallowed several large gulps of the liquid. Cold chills ran down his arms, meeting his spine, rebounding to the outer limits of his consciousness. Buying a single mouthful of the liquid would have cost more than half the Malfoy fortune; but one of its unique properties forced the second drinker to imbibe the same quantity as the first.
Capping the precious liquid, Dumbledore threw it back at the Dark wizard. “Your turn.”
Grindelwald hefted the flask, taking its measure. “Never one to go half-way, were you?” The flask went upright; the sounds of gulping crossing the stone-work street.
Finally the man finished, screwing the cap back on with a metallic creak. No bystanders watched, but the tension could be felt from afar, the heavy presence a storm gave, long before its actual form arrived.
“The people.” Dumbledore growled. The ritual-enhanced rage burned in his chest, aching to be freed.
Grindelwald winced, squinting at the ground. “Powerful magic; I do not believe the descriptions quite served it justice.”
“The people.” Dumbledore growled again, his wand lowering into place.
“Fine, fine. Always impatient, weren’t you?” Grindelwald put two fingers to his lips and shrilled out a whistle, louder than humanly possible. “Which quarter do you desire removed?”
Dumbledore hesitated. Such a choice hadn’t been in his plans; would there be significance to which quarter left first? If he had his way none would be in danger, but assured safety meant something completely different than probable safety.
“Did you not study the map? I am surprised at you, Albus.” Grindelwald started walking up the street, angling his path across its broad length. “Know your enemy, and yourself, and you shall not lose in a hundred battles. Sun-Tzu, I prefer the original editions of course. It loses – heart, I suppose, in the later translations. If I might suggest the southwest quarter? Mostly residential, women and children for the most part. The men are all attempting to guard the more sensitive places I suppose – as if there were anything of value left in a French city.”
Dumbledore kept his equanimity. “Very well, the southwest quarter. You gave good advice.”
No one needed to say the words this time, but the impression was made all the same.
Grindelwald whistled once more, and a stream of black-garbed men erupted from behind a street. He gave them a lazy wave, which they seemed to understand immediately, running to obey. One man however, remained behind, a murderous glare aimed at Dumbledore. Grindelwald ignored the man, until it became obvious he would not leave of his own volition, and addressed him directly. “You have your orders, Colonel.”
The man continued expressing his hatred visually. “Herr Grindelwald, this man is a threat. He destroyed mine cousins two weeks nigh!”
“And,” Grindelwald delivered a harsh look. “He is here. I will deal with things in my own time. Now go.”
“But! He – roooaaak. Croooak,” An eruption of sound finished the man’s sentence, terminating in a basso repetition, more commonly expected to be surrounded by algae.
“Gellert!” Dumbledore’s wand drooped in shock. “He – a toad? You turned your own man into a toad?”
“A frog, Albus – much more humane. No warts. Not to worry though, he will go in my pond. I have many frog comrades there.” Grindelwald’s hand closed around the small green amphibian, lifting it to eye level to meet a freezing-cold expression. “And if he disobeys once more, I shall put him in a far less hospitable environment. Perhaps a concrete floor, where the Führer’s men have marching practice.”
The frog gave a single, terrified croak before vanishing in a puff of smoke. Grindelwald’s expression calmed, returning to the bland, mild form it had previous. “Now, I have held up to my bargain. Will you listen now? Often have I wanted to speak with you, but circumstances –” an emotive shrug finished the sentence.
“Say what you will. We both know how it will end.” For once Dumbledore felt tired; the ritual-enhanced anger failing against entropy. It would return, it always did, but not for the moment.
“Splendid! Please, right this way, I had tea prepared for such an occasion. Entirely untainted by potions or spells I assure you.”
The two formed a strange pair, walking up the path. It lead to what had once been a charming chateau, over a small stream. Willow trees, drooping over the water brushed the ground with their branch tips, sending ripples across its surface. Lush groundcover cushioned their footsteps, turning the harsh clicks of Grindelwald’s boots into barely-detectable whispers against the leaves. Dumbledore’s own boots did not make a sound in either case, rich dragon-leather inset through engravings both utilitarian and attractive – he’d made them himself.
A table, white-painted iron sat under the largest willow, a covered tea service balanced atop the perfect, flat surface. Grindelwald gestured at the near chair, a simple affair of wrought iron and cushions, before flicking away the covering with a snap of his fingers.
“Earl Grey is your preference, I believe?” Liquid poured from the silver teapot’s spout into a teacup, so thin the rising level could be seen through its sides. “Milk? Sugar?”
“Two lumps, no milk,” Dumbledore waited until the obligatory ceremony completed, and stirred the granules into the hot beverage. “You wished to talk.”
Grindelwald inhaled the fragrance wafting from the cup held in both hands. “You have been patient. Could we not let cares rest a short while longer? This war has rendered peaceful moments infrequent.”
“This war is your fault,” Dumbledore contradicted. “Not solely, of course, but you are the one man whom has kept the fight going for so long.”
“Is that what they say?” the other man seemed amused. “Great evil Grindelwald, whispering behind thrones and poisoning the opposition? They are too kind.”
A moment of silence passed between them, the rumble of distant shelling a subtle hint to their purpose. Dumbledore let the china settle back on the table. “You deny it then?”
“Naturally,” Grindelwald folded his hands before his own cup. “The young muggle fool became Minister of Germany. You know the law, decreed by the ICW no less. The highest recognized authority of muggle governments must be made aware of the magical presence. Since I was the temporary Mugwump of the Prussian Federation – Magical side you understand – it was my duty to speak with the man.” A shudder of distaste ran through the aristocratic brow. “As soon as I made my appearance, he made all sorts of accusations. First I was a communist, then a Western spy. He must have worked through a dozen iterations until I’m afraid I lost my temper and – demonstrated, a few things.”
Dumbledore remained silent, eyes studying every angle through peripheral vision while Grindelwald talked. He could understand more information than nearly any other man alive, and had yet to perform his next Ritual, which would combine all the previous iterations into a new whole.
“After that he became extremely polite. Inquired about the state of magical society in other nations, continents, the flora and fauna of his own backyard. Remarkable mind, a bit on the other side of genius if I do say so myself,” Grindelwald waved a hand, causing the creamer to pour out a new serving for his freshened cup. “Might I trouble you for the crumpets? Black market I’m afraid, what with the war. But as I was saying, young Hitler became downright obsessed with what he called the ‘occult’. The ICW was most put-out with me, but it was their own regulations that required he know what he did. Hiring squbs as bodyguards was a brilliant stroke; they cannot be compelled to forget like a muggle, the law doesn’t apply in such a case. At first I remained a simple scholar, studying my magic and being left relatively alone – a touch boring if you understand. And he was frightfully intelligent. Before I knew it, we had plans.”
“Plans.” Dumbledore murmured. “Old plans perhaps? For their own good?”
“For the greater good, Albus,” he returned. “Hitler decided that if such a miracle as magic could exist, he could manufacture one. Astounding, those muggles – they turned around a faltering economy, in the depths of arrears, and became a powerful entity, all within the space of a few years. When he showed me what he’d done, how could I refuse his offer?”
“Offer?” Dumbledore jerked to attention. “What offer?”
Grindelwald smiled, a genuine expression. “After our, disagreement, I had to flee. Durmstrang wouldn’t have allowed me back, Hogwarts would of a certain ensured my incarceration, and Beauxbatons didn’t have anything I needed. Very polite and charming people, but useless in a fight. Less than five percent actually shot to kill when Hitler invaded – an entire society given over to shell-shock. Can you imagine?”
“The offer, Gellert.”
“Ah yes, the mind wanders in intelligent conversation.” Grindelwald’s eyes gathered a faraway look. “He offered me research, Albus. Research! Everything the muggles had recorded on magicals, manpower, tools to further my studies beyond what I’d dreamed! All I had to do was but ask, and a new installation was created. I have hundreds of muggle assistants, and when the word came out on my efforts, the wizarding populace sprang to my aid as well. I have grimoires from families going back to the Roman era at my fingertips, the power to go wherever I want with as much firepower as an army can carry, and all I had to do was offer a few suggestions on manufacturing. And perhaps, a history lesson or two.”
“It was you then, all along.” Dumbledore felt the rage beginning to build once more. He clung to it like an old friend.
“Hardly. Hitler declared war, decided to make that boorish concentration camp. As if I needed help in necromancy? No he was beginning his own studies; blood magic is available to even the weakest wizard, and some muggles if they know what they are doing. With magicals attacking a muggle army, I had to send appropriate responses. Can’t break the Statute you know; some of the Polish and Russian wizards knew far better than to do that. I taught them myself.”
The anger rose higher. “You taught the Russians?”
Grindelwald smiled again. This time, Dumbledore could see the hint of madness lurking in its depths, the madness so insane it became rational thought.
“Indeed; after leaving Europe I had a few friends that sent me to China. Delightful folk, very open to the idea of universalism. Then I headed north to Russia when it looked like the locals were about to start feuding again – and my hosts were becoming quite insistent that I join their ‘glorious revolution.’ The Russians were much more peaceful – until that Red and White Bolshevik nonsense started up.”
“And what did you do to instigate that I wonder?” Knuckles clenched white on his wand.
“Nothing at all.” Grindelwald didn’t appear to notice the effect he was having. “I simply pointed out the flaws of the current Tsar – it was his own people that began a muggle uprising to cover casualties. Nothing like a bit of civil war to disguise a magical conflagration, don’t you think?”
Dumbledore trembled in rage. He’d read the reports, seen the statistics. Over eight million muggles alone had died, and thousands of magical families, wiping out family lines, leaving behind empty manors and decaying secrets. Even the Orient hadn’t escaped – by his count the bodies stacked over thirty million deep, and they were just getting started. He heard something unusual, when had Grindelwald resumed speaking?
“ …and then I found a reference in some local rumors. A wizard that lived in a tower of silver, undefeatable by any mortal. They were right – I found it Albus! The first!” The man sat back, sheer joy gleaming from every feature.
“Found … what?” Dumbledore replayed the conversation in his mind. His eyes widened. “ ’Undefeatable’, you said. That … that cannot be true.”
“Ah, but it is, it is!” Grindelwald actually preened like a peacock, a trait Dumbledore had once thought an endearing characteristic. “I managed to win its loyalty from the old bastard. He had some silly idea of letting the thing die with him. Fool. Power is meant to be used, like we thought Albus!”
“The Death Stick ….” Dumbledore felt horror wash over him. “That explains everything. Your defeating every Hit Wizard sent after you, destroying companies of wizards singlehanded. Everything!”
A delighted laugh escaped Grindelwald’s lips before he stopped it, a polite hand covering the embarrassment. “My dear Albus, the Elder Wand is nothing but a tool. A method of enhancing what is already present. It doesn’t make decisions for us, or even greatly enhance mental acuity. But it does serve as a catalyst for true Power. It works on an entirely different plane of existence from mere wands, and yet it seems more normal than any focus I have ever used. Which brings me to my final point.”
The wizard leaned forwards, hands folded under his chin. “We dreamed of this, Albus. We shared a same desire for greatness, for doing good with the power we have. For the better good, those were your own words, were they not? You and I are the most powerful beings in Europe. Between us, there would be no one that could stop us. We could unite Them, Albus. Them! The Cloak, the Wand, the Stone, and we could do anything to improve the whole world, should we so choose. Or why stop with the world? We could destroy the Netherworlds, the Hinter-realms. Anything we desired to do, we could do. Think of the possibilities!”
Dumbledore froze, mid-thought. Controlling Death. He could – no. She was long gone. Everyone had died so long ago; he was only a century and some old, he would live another century without trouble, barring accidents. But the others were gone – Old Headmaster Dippet, whom had made frequent comments on the Hundred Years War, the former Headmaster before him, who knew mages that had sailed with Sir Walter Raleigh.
Any of them. All of them. Able to be brought back.
She could be brought back. And he could be forgiven, at long last.
Then his gaze turned to the town walls. Valenciennes boasted a population of hundreds of thousands. Beyond it, nations were struggling, titanic brutes slamming broadsides into each other. Yes, he could quell rebellion, instill a new order. But the cost was too high. Loathe as he was to admit it, this was for the greater good.
Grindelwald sighed. It sounded long and deep, like it came from his very toes. “Alas. I had to try, Albus. I owed you that much.”
Dumbledore took a final sip from his cup. “For what it is worth, thank you. But you know what must be done. I shall not falter, not again.”
The other wizard’s wand hand came up in a lazy salute. “I have always wondered who would have won. You were handicapped, what with the baggage and an overly moralistic spare spine.”
“That baggage was my sister!” Dumbledore lowered his brow; the taunts would begin. “And that ‘extra spine’ as you phrase it, my infinitely better half.”
“Your ‘better half’ seems to be lacking a presence today,” Grindelwald rose to his feet. An ancient Power wafted from his form, a wand extending from his hand like an extension of his arm. “Call your Phoenix. The city is evacuated. Let us truly see whom is more powerful: the man who followed his dreams, or the teacher who stayed at home and cowered.”
Dumbledore’s own wand appeared, and Fawkes’s screaming cry echoed overhead, its aura flaring like a lightning bolt. “Let’s.”
Part 2 Edit
Can be found here.
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