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Their Finest Hour by Cassius Alcinder
Chapter 16 : Unlikely Reunions
 
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 4


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Dumbledore walked down the quiet streets of his home town of Godric’s Hollow as he steeled his nerves, preparing himself for the confrontation that now seemed inevitable.  He knew that with Grindelwald possessing the Elder Wand, he was going to need every possible advantage he could get, which was why he was now on a quest for information, any knowledge at all about Grindelwald that he could possible use to his advantage. 

His first stop along the way was to pay a visit to Bathilda Bagshot.  Bathilda was a prominent magical historian, and her thorough knowledge of all things magical was largely unparalleled in the wizarding community.  And of course, she was also Grindelwald’s aunt.  Dumbledore reproached himself for not making this visit long ago, when Grindelwald’s threat first began to emerge.  Seeking knowledge from Bathilda seemed like such an obvious step, and the one thing preventing Dumbledore from taking it was simply the painful memories associated with the house she lived in, a house that had once belonged to the Dumbledore family. 

On the way to the house, Dumbledore passed by a small graveyard, and the knowledge of who was buried there sent shivers down his spine.  He stood paralyzed at the entrance to the cemetery for a moment, before convincing himself that he was going to have to confront his inner demons head on if he was going to defeat Grindelwald.  

He slowly put one foot in front of the other as he approached the gravestone marked “Kendra Dumbledore 1860-1900.”  He fondly remembered his mother and how she selflessly dedicated herself for caring for his troubled sister, allowing Albus and Aberforth to attend Hogwarts.  At the time, the young Albus took this for granted, but looking back it was a source of great guilt for him.  He greatly regretted how much his younger self was willing to put his ambitions ahead of his family. 

Tears welled up in his eyes as walked over to the adjacent grave, which was marked, “Ariana Dumbledore 1890-1901.”  While his mother’s death may have been unavoidable, Ariana’s death was a preventable one, and one which he held himself personally responsible for.  He could never be fully at peace knowing that she may have been killed by his own wand.  If hadn’t been blind enough to associate with the likes of Grindelwald, the whole tragedy could have been avoided.  With a grim determination, Dumbledore managed to convince himself that the best thing he could do to atone for his actions would be to bring about Grindelwald’s defeat and end the mad craze for power that had also claimed the lives of so many others. 

Dumbledore walked away from the cemetery and towards a small cottage, closing his mind off to the rush of memories as he approached the door.  A small, frail old woman slowly opened the large, creaking door and beckoned for him to come inside. 

“I’ve been expecting you for quite some time, Albus,” said Bathilda as she motioned for him to sit down. 

Dumbledore took a seat at her table, remembering how many family meals he had eaten at that very table, and how he had happily played with his siblings in this room far too many years ago.  He pulled out some parchment and a quill to take notes as he calmly stated, “I believe you know why I’m here, Bathilda.”

Bathilda smiled as she poured cups of tea for Dumbledore and herself, “I did not think this was purely a social visit, Albus.”

She pulled one of her many unfinished manuscripts from her bookshelf and shook off the dust as she opened it and placed it on the table.  Finding the right page, she looked Dumbledore in the eye and said, “It’s time to discuss everything I know about my wayward nephew.”

***

 A tense mood of panic was beginning to take hold in the city of Berlin as the Germans seemed to be increasingly surrounded and running out of space.  As their enemies launched new offensives, the American and British armies to the west and the Russian army to the east were rapidly closing in, and Germany was caught in the middle.  It now seemed only a question of when, not if, the city would ultimately fall.

Deep below the city, in a secluded underground bunker, Adolf Hitler sat on the edge of his seat, staring intently at a map, as a large group of officers gathered around to update him on the situation.  As he could see, the situation was indeed dire.  The German Army was outnumbered and retreating on every front, and the final outcome of the war now seemed inevitable. 

Hitler took in the grim reports as he paused and took a deep breath to gather his thoughts.  He then slowly and calmly announced, “The following people please remain in the room; Von Rundstedt, Goering, Jodl, and Grindelwald.”

A large group of officers expeditiously shuffled out of the room and closed the door, leaving the aforementioned group of people behind in a very tense atmosphere.  When the door closed, Hitler rose from his seat, his blood boiling with rage as he began his violent outburst, “You are the most pathetic, treacherous group of cowards I have ever had the misfortune of meeting! When I issue orders, I expect them to be obeyed! Yet you cannot accomplish the most simple of tasks! You have all failed miserably, especially you, Grindelwald!”

The Generals kept their heads down, hoping to absorb their browbeating and just get it over with.  Grindelwald, however, was greatly incensed and responded in kind, “Do you dare blame me for your failures, Adolf? When it is your pathetic army that cannot win a battle? When you have ridden my coattails to power all these years?”

Hitler pounded his fist on the table as his face turned red with anger, “How dare you insult me! You are nothing but a second rate magician!”

Grindelwald turned equally red as he reached for his wand, but then he quickly restrained himself, that Muggle scum wasn’t worth it.  In an angry huff, Grindelwald turned and violently kicked the door open.  He stomped his feet loudly as he stormed off through the hall, knowing that the time had come to fend for himself and make his stand at Nurmengard.  Whatever may happen the rest of the war, Hitler would now be on his own. 

***

Dumbledore walked the familiar grounds of Hogwarts, yearning for a simpler time when he could peacefully remain there and teach, and comforting himself with the thought that that time may come in the near future if he was successful in his mission.  The majestic castle towered over the still waters of the lake, taunting him with its simplicity and tranquility.  Dumbledore briefly allowed his mind to drift before reminding himself that he was here because he had been summoned to an emergency meeting by his fellow faculty members. 

Dumbledore walked over the hills and into the small hut where young Rubeus Hagrid, who was now the school’s gamekeeper, made his residence.  Armando Dippet greeted Dumbledore at the entrance with a look of concern.  “Albus, thank you for coming so quickly.  I couldn’t tell you everything in the owl for fear that it might be intercepted, but here’s the situation; we apprehended an intruder, one of Grindelwald’s followers, on the ground a short time ago.  He gave himself up without offering any resistance, and he has been insistent that he must have the opportunity to speak with you.”

“Thank you, Professor, I can handle things from here,” said Dumbledore, as he walked through the door to see a short, slightly overweight wizard tied securely to a chair with Hagrid and groundskeeper Argus Filch keeping a close watch over him. 

Horace Slughorn nervously paced back and forth as he chattered away. “I knew it! I knew Grindelwald was planning to attack Hogwarts! He obviously sent this man here the scout our defenses or something.  Well you all can do what you like, but I am going far away from here!”

The captive objected, “I told you already, Grindelwald did not send me here.”

“You’d better keep yer mouth shut,” warned Hagrid as he clenched his fist near the prisoner’s face. 

Dumbledore confidently stepped up and took control.  “I thank you for your assistance gentleman, now if you will please leave us and allow me to question our prisoner.”

“Are you sure about that, Professor? He looks dangerous and I don’t trust him being on the school grounds,” objected Filch. 

Dumbledore calmly explained, “I am well aware of the situation, and if I require further assistance, you shall be summoned, but until then, I must be permitted to speak with the prisoner.”

Reluctantly, Hagrid, Filch and Dippet walked out the door that Slughorn had flung open moments earlier as Dumbledore took a seat across from the bound wizard. 

Dumbledore took a long look at the prisoner before observing, “I believe we have met before.  We fought a skirmish at Normandy the day of the invasion if I am not mistaken.”

“Yes, you fought very well there,” the prisoner confirmed.

Dumbledore began to pace as he adjusted his half moon glasses.  “Sebastian Schwartz if I remember correctly, a member of Grindelwald’s inner circle.”

“That is correct,” Schwartz confirmed.  He expected Dumbledore to be highly knowledgeable and perceptive, yet he was still slightly surprised and taken aback that he had known his name. 

“And I believe I am also correct in surmising that you are here on your own accord rather than Grindelwald’s,” Dumbledore continued, “So then, Sebastian, why have you come here and turned yourself in so readily?”

Schwartz paused briefly before answering, “Grindelwald’s cause is lost, his power has corrupted him.  I have concluded that this madness must be brought to a stop, and that you are the best hope for doing so.”   

“And you put yourself at risk to seek me out, why?” Dumbledore pressed. 

“I have information you need,” Schwartz told him eagerly, “Nurmengard is unplottable, you won’t be able to find it on your own.  I can show you how.”

Dumbledore paused and studied him carefully before asking, “And what do you ask in return?”

Schwartz briefly had visions of piles of gold sitting in his vault, before he came to his senses and answered, “Let me hide in this country, under you protection and out of Grindelwald’s reach.”

Dumbledore contemplated this proposal and then finally decided to unbound Schwartz and offer him a firm handshake.  “We have a deal, and I believe there is much to discuss.”

***

A strong wind blew over the battlements of Nurmengard as Grindelwald stood on the rooftop overlooking the hills and valleys below.  Satisfied with his inspection of the outer defenses, he walked inside to the main hall, where Heinrich Himmler was patiently awaiting an audience. 

“Heinrich, I can’t say I’m surprised to see you here, although I can only guess how Hitler would react if he knew,” Grindelwald greeted him.

“Hitler is finished,” Himmler snarled with disgust, “My loyalty is to power, and whoever wields it, and that would be you, Grindelwald.”

“You’re a man after my own heart, Heinrich,” said Grindelwald with a grin. 

Himmler’s small, beady eyes lit up as he informed him, “I have brought a regiment of my most loyal SS troops along, and I place them at your disposal.”

“I have just the assignment in mind for them,” explained Grindelwald with a grin, “I have constructed an outer fort a mile away from here that guards the outer approaches to the castle.  I want your men to man the fort’s defenses.  You can lay low there for a while, and when we return to power, a new Nazi party, with you at its head, may lord over the Muggle regimes.” 

Himmler was thrilled to give his approval to the plan, as the room soon filled up with Grindelwald’s wizards, returning from their assignments throughout Europe.  Yomuri Yomoto proudly took his seat, having just carried out a series of attacks across China and Korea.  Landalfo Padovisi returned as well, after successfully launching an explosive attack on the Italian Ministry buildings in Rome.  Franz Dietrich and Wolfgang von Wolfsburg also returned from their missions closer to home. 

Hans Panzerlieder entered the room as he regretfully informed Grindelwald with his altered memory, “My lord, I’m afraid Schwartz was killed in action.”

“Thank you for informing me, Hans, but we all know Schwartz was useless,” Grindelwald said dismissively. 

When the room was filled with wizards, Grindelwald rose to address the group.  “My friends, we have suffered set back and losses, for which we all share responsibility.  But fear not, this is not the end of our plan; it is merely the first act.  Powerful resistance has been raised against us, led by the champion of mudbloods and half breeds, Albus Dumbledore.  Because of this, I have instructed you all to return here, to our impregnable fortress, where we can meet this resistance on our own terms on grounds of our choosing.  If and when Dumbledore ever comes here, I will kill him.  And when he is out of the way, there will be nobody foolish enough to oppose us.”

There was an excited murmur among the wizards, who never ceased to be impressed by Grindelwald’s charismatic style, and fully believed his assurances that victory would still be theirs in the end. 

With a mighty air of confidence, Grindelwald closed the meeting with one last instruction.  “Begin your preparations now, a battle is coming, and we are going to be ready for it.”

***

Evans propped his feet up on his desk and took a very long puff from his cigar as he happily read the latest news reports from the front.  The Russian Army had laid siege to Berlin, and Hitler was holed up in his bunker, determined to defy them to the end.  Though some heavy fighting remained, the conclusion of the war seemed to be imminent.  For the first time since he originally signed his name at the recruiting station, Evans allowed himself to contemplate life after the war.  He had begun to search job postings to see which local schools might need an English teacher, and he had also started comparing the rates of various jewelers, in search of the engagement ring he was planning to buy for Daisy in the near future. 

“Did you read these reports yet, Bromhead?” he asked as the dependable sergeant entered the room. 

“Looks like we whipped the Huns again,” he responded with a satisfied grin, “You’d think those bastards would have learned their lesson the first time.”

 Evans laughed, “And you know what else is really getting to me right now? I find so much amusement in the fact that MacDonald and Reynolds are currently out to dinner with an ambitious witch and a pretentious socialite.  What could they possibly have to talk about?”

Bromhead had a good chuckle at that mental image as Elphias Doge, in the midst of emptying out his temporary office quickly passed through the room. 

“Where are you off too, Elphias?” asked Evans, who had observed that the wizards seemed to be acting a bit strangely lately.

Doge stopped what he was doing to provide an answer, “While your war is nearly over, we wizards have a major battle left to fight.  The fate of our world is in Dumbledore’s hands now.”

“Well is there anything we can possibly do to help?” Evans asked.

“You have served bravely and admirably, John, but facing Grindelwald is a task for which magic is required,” Doge informed him.

Bromhead, never one to avoid a battle, raised an objection, “The day we met Dumbledore, I asked him why you wizards were getting involved in our war, and he told us that the same problems affect all of us and that we are all in this together.  Therefore, I believe I speak for all of us when I say that we want to see this thing through, together.”

Doge took a moment to contemplate, when he remembered something in Nurmengard plans Dumbledore had recently obtained that had jumped out at him, something about Heinrich Himmler and a secondary fortress.  “You know, we actually might just have a role for you,” he thought out loud. 

“So this overall mission, does it have much chance of success?” Evans prodded.

Doge was very much uncertain of this himself, but he answered as best he could.  “All I can tell you is that Albus Dumbledore is the greatest wizard and the greatest man I’ve ever known, and if anybody is capable of defeating Grindelwald, it is him.”

***

Dumbledore took one last long look back at the majestic castle of Hogwarts before walking into the adjacent town of Hogsmeade, from which he would be able to dissapparate.  The thought lingered in the back of his mind that if he was unsuccessful in his task, then this would be the last time he ever laid eyes on the school that meant so much to him. 

Despite the great difficulties he would be facing, Dumbledore felt as if his position was strong.  Thanks to Bathilda’s insights and his own personal experience, he possessed a thorough knowledge of Grindelwald’s tendencies and his potential strengths and weaknesses.  Thanks to Schwartz, he now knew how to find Nurmengard, in addition to having full diagrams of the castle’s layout at his disposal.  With the allies on the brink of victory in the Muggle war, there seemed no better time to confront Grindelwald.    However, on a deeper level, Dumbledore was still haunted by the guilt that he, like so many others, had once been duped by Grindelwald, nearly becoming a willing accomplice to his plans.  He knew that he could not allow his personal feelings to interfere with his mission, and he felt that to ensure that he was in the right mental state to face Grindelwald, that there was an important bridge in his life that must be mended. 

Dumbledore walked along the magical streets of Hogsmeade, which were finally beginning to show signs of life again after being largely moribund throughout the war years.  With a strong dose of humility, he swallowed his pride and knocked on the back door of the Hog’s Head Tavern, a place he had not dared to venture for many years despite its close proximity to Hogwarts.  Dumbledore’s heart raced as he waited for a response, and finally, the door was opened by a man who very much resembled Dumbledore in appearance, if not in temperament.  The man, of course, was Aberforth Dumbledore, his estranged younger brother. 

With a look of embittered shock, Aberforth was fully prepared to slam the door shut when Albus placed his arm in the door frame to prevent him from doing so. 

“You wouldn’t turn away a paying customer from your establishment, would you? Why can’t a simple professor enjoy a drink in his local tavern?” Dumbledore pleaded. 

Aberforth then reluctantly held the door open and let him walk inside.  He resumed his duties of wiping down the tables while Albus took a seat.  “So after all these years of not speaking to each other, you just decide to waltz in here today.  You really have some nerve, Albus,” said Aberforth with a hint of disgust. 

“That is a very unfortunate situation, for which the blame resides entirely with me,” Albus calmly responded. 

Aberforth poured two glasses of butterbeer as he took a seat across from his brother.  “We haven’t seen each other in 43 years,” he reproached him. 

Albus felt the need to remind him, “Well I did see you that one time at the Wizengamot, I spoke on your behalf at your trial if you recall…” 

Aberforth raised a finger to cut him off, “Don’t bring up that business with the goat ever again.”

Albus allowed himself just a hint of a playful grin before Aberforth confronted him, “You‘re obviously plotting something so you might as well come out and tell me what it is.”

“I will soon be departing to confront Grindelwald,” Albus informed him. 

Aberforth grimaced with disgust at the mention of Grindelwald’s name.  “It’s always the same for you, Albus.  You’re always on some quest for power and glory, oblivious to us common people who may be affected by it.  How many more must die before you are satisfied?”

Albus looked down, “I am deeply hurt that you cannot see that I have changed, Aberforth.  I deeply regret my past, but everything I am doing now is for the greater good.”

“Why don’t you tell that to her?” said Aberforth, pointing to a large portrait of Ariana that hung on his mantle, “And everybody else who has been collateral damage to your maneuverings.”

Accepting this criticism, Albus calmly pleaded his case, “There is nothing we can do to bring our sister back, but defeating Grindelwald will prevent countless others from suffering a similar fate.  It is within our power to make the world a better place for all involved.”

Aberforth nodded, but was still confused, “But what do you want from me then?”

Albus looked into Aberforth’s clear blue eyes that were a perfect reflection of his own as he pleaded, “Come to Nurmengard with me, brother.  Help me right this wrong.”

Aberforth paused to take it all in before reluctantly giving his assent.  “Fine, but remember, this changes nothing between us.”

After a terse goodbye, Albus departed, knowing that this was probably as good of a reunion as he could have hoped for.  With everything falling into place, he was now ready to face the greatest challenge of his life. 

 
 


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