Chapter 1 : Blue Eyes
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Fawkes appeared in the office in a burst of flame, causing Albus to look up. He hopped across to the desk and dropped something - a folded scrap of paper. Curious, he picked it up and unfolded it.
I'm sorry - GG
The ink was a strange colour, rusty brown. Dried blood. Albus stared, seemingly unable to do anything as it slipped between his fingers and twirled down to land on the desk. His hand shook, and the paper seemed to move in slow motion as it settled amongst the essays he'd been marking. GG - it couldn't be! Slowly he looked up, at the Pheonix which now sat on its perch by the window.
"Who-?" The pheonix fixed him with an unblinking gaze, black eyes like deep pools. The question was unnecessary. Albus knew who had written the letter.
Gellert had been his friend, or so he'd thought then. He'd realised since that Gellert hadn't shared his feelings. They had never been equals. Albus had been a young man, fresh out of school. He'd just arrived home after being Head Boy and British Youth Representative on the Wizengammot. He'd one prizes, and had been preparing for the traditional Grand Tour of the world. Then his mother had died and he'd gone from all of that to looking after his younger siblings.
Gellert had never cared for awards. He had experimented in the Dark Arts, had been expelled from Durmstrang and not cared. He'd used his first unforgiveable curse at seventeen, had killed before that. No remorse. Already he was planning his rise to power. How could Albus hope to be equals, when his greatest concern was caring for his sister?
Ariana. If it hadn't been for her he'd never have set eyes on Gellert. He'd have toured the world with Elphias as planned, then returned to Britain and started to work his way up through the Ministry. But he didn't regret it. His sister had needed him. He'd let her down, and he wished more than anything he could go back and do things differently. She couldn't help how she was - it was the fault of the muggle boys. They'd only done it because they were afraid. It was no-one's fault, just a terrible accident that should never have happened. Ariana had never complained, had always been as happy as could be expected given the circumstances.
Albus had never been the sort to care for someone like Ariana. Not like his mother, and not like Aberforth. He wished he was, but it wasn't who he was. He was to used to glory, and winning prizes. Too proud. If only he'd accepted that then, let Aberforth care for Ariana as he wanted to. But that stupid pride had gotten in the way.
The he arrived. Gellert Grindelwald, with all his plans for a new world in which there would be no need to hide. Ariana would be safe, and wizards would be free to do as they would. How had Albus been so blind, not to see the real Gellert. Gellert wanted power, and had justified his plans with empty words. Words that Albus had believed. The hallows - one lay on his desk now. The Elder Wand, the Deathstick. Once Albus had sought it. Now he possessed it, he remembered the warnings. A double-edged sword.
Whenever he closed his eyes, Albus saw the image of that day as though it were etched on his eyelids. Ariana, cold and still on the floor. Aberforth, trying in vain to wake her. He remembered his own horror, and he saw Gellert's face. Fear, and disappointment, before he turned and fled from the room. Bathilda Bagshot had arrived a minute later - Gellert had told her. By the time they thought of it, Gellert was gone. The next they heard of him was in the news from the continent.
So many years passed, and Albus could not forget. How could he? Even if that image wasn't fixed forever in his mind, Gellert dominated the Daily Prophet. Albus had found a job by then, teaching at Hogwarts - the same post he held now. His reputation had grown, and people were calling him to deal with Grindelwald. He didn't want to - the same fear that, combined with fascination, had bound him all those years before was still present. He didn't want to find out whether the fascination still held. He had never been Gellert's equal. And according to the rumors, Grindelwald held the Elder Wand of legend. The unbeatable wand.
But what could he tell the people who begged for him to help them? He was afraid, not just of Gellert but of the truth. Of being reminded yet again of that day in Godric's Hollow. Afraid of the truth.
The Fawkes came, soaring silently through the open window as Albus sat staring into the fire. Giving him the courage to finally answer the calls of the wizarding world and face the man he had considered a friend.
He stood at last and gazed into the black eyes of the pheonix. No words were necessary. He rested one hand on the back of the bird, then flame swirled around him and he was drawn into darkness.
A second later, the fire released him into light. In front of him, a village, and standing before it with wand raised, laughing as it burned, a man. The sky was streaked with orange and purple, the last remnants of day. The man turned slowly, and piercing blue eyes met for the first time since that night in Godric's Hollow. So many years had passed, but each recognised the other in an instant.
Albus remembered the fascination he had once felt. Gellert's eyes retained their intensity, his hair was as fair as ever, but he was no longer a boy. His face was harder, and there was no sign of the smile which Albus had seen so often. They had laughed together, planned together. But he couldn't remember that now. He focussed on the burning buildings, and saw the crowd gathering. They were afraid, but they couldn't stay away. They trusted him - needed him. Then Fawkes returned, swooping down from the sky and looping around his head with a low, musical cry.
Neither man spoke. Grindelwald raised his wand slowly, as though tired. And Albus remembered the tales. It was true - this was not Gellert's old wand. This was the Elder Wand, the unbeatable wand. He knew the stories well enough - it could not be beaten in a duel. Albus was strong, but his wand was like any other. It was like lead as he raised it before him.
They bowed to each other, observing tradition and delaying the inevitable. Then there were no more excuses, and Grindelwald unleashed the first curse.
Gridelwald was capable enough of unforgiveble curses - he had proved it often enough. He had used one first aged seventeen, and again on Albus' own brother that night- This was a simple jinx, and it was absorbed harmlessly by Albus' shield charm. Albus saw the crowd, huddled in front of the smoking remains of their homes. As Fawkes called, he released his first curse.
No going back now, the duel began properly. At first, they used the most basic spells, but every one was blocked without effort. So they began to move, spells flying, a wild and deadly dance. The unbeatable wand twirled in the hands of the most powerful Dark Wizard in history, and Albus wondered why it was taking so long. The Elder Wand was unbeatable. It was only a matter of time. But he would not give up.
The curses grew stronger as the mild ones were abandoned. For the first time Albus' shield failed to block a curse, and it struck his chest making him fall to the ground.
Pain as he had never known before. Every nerve, burning in agony. The scream was torn from his throat, and he wondered when death would finally come. But this pain was only physical. True pain was what had crushed him every day since that night in Godric's Hollow. Knowledge. Knowledge that the sister left in his care was dead, and he was at least in part responsible. It had been his task to protect his family, and he had failed. His brother had known this pain that night.
The curse lifted unexpectedly, and Albus' body twitched with the last residues as he uncurled himself and opened his eyes. Blue eyes met, piercing, and both glistened with tears. Albus barely noticed, for now anger coursed through his veins. Fawkes was beside him, but he held out a hand to keep the pheonix away. Healing would come later. Now, he needed the anger. Not the calm that the pheonix would bring.
Adrenaline gave him the strength to stand and raise his wand. Grindelwald watched, face glistening with moisture. Then the duel began again. Grindelwald knew more curses, had no doubt devised many of them himself. Albus was angry, and he combined spells in new ways to create chaos. Spells flew faster and faster, and the first light of dawn began to show in the sky. The sun edged over the mountains as green light flew from the Elder Wand.
There was no time to dodge, no way to block it. And Albus knew he had failed, yet again. Before it had been his family he had failed - his sister, his brother, and his mother. Now he had failed every wizard and muggle in Europe, perhaps the world. Why did it hurt less?
The green flew towards him, and he threw himself aside although he knew it was already too late. One last spell, the only thing he could think of. Then a burst of fire between the duelers, and the Elder Wand arched through the air as Albus crashed to the ground. And as he fell his wand was driven against the ground, and shattered.
The wand struck the ground and bounced twice before coming to a rest at Albus' feet. He lay still, and did not see as Gellert collapsed onto hands and knees.
Then Albus opened his eyes and saw the new light of day, and slowly he stood. He unclenched his fist, letting the splintered remains of his wand fall to the ground. The Elder Wand lay where it had fallen, and he bent down to take it. It felt comfortable in his hand, as though made for him. But he hated it.
Albus crossed the plain to where Grindelwald hunched unseeing. He crossed a circle of burned grass, saw a golden feather caught in the grass nearby. But he had no tears left.
Gellert did not move until Albus' shadow fell over him. Then he turned his head, and blue eyes met yet again. But now only one was bright and piercing, and the other was dull and blank.
Gellert opened his mouth, and spoke three words before Albus silenced him. The words hung in the silence. "Kill me, Albus." Then Albus' spell struck, and Gellert lay still.
All he could hear was the last word. "Albus." It rang around and around his head, unwanted. Both pairs of blue eyes were closed.
The croak was quiet, but it broke through the silence. Broken, but healing. Albus opened his eyes and turned. In the centre of the circle of ashes, a tiny beak opened to croak again. Exhaustion gone, Albus ran and knelt beside it. He laid down the Elder Wand and lifted the chick with a gentle hand, brushing off the ashes. He gazed into its black eyes and raised it to his face. A silver drop grew beside its eye and fell onto Albus' shaking hand, and strength flowed through him.
He took Grindelwald to the prison he had built, the fortress of Nurmengard. He knew the words carved above the entrance, but he did not look. The prison gates were opened, the prisoners freed, then he carried the unconcious man to the room at the very top. Gently, he laid Gellert down upon the bed, then he locked the door behind him and left before the man woke.
Back in England, he paid a visit to Ollivander and gave him the feather. Fawkes had given only one before. This one meant more, because of the way in which it had been given. Then he returned to Hogwarts, where he remained when he could. Many thanked him, and he waited for the world to move on and allow him to do so himself. His chief concern was the students.
Albus fished amongst the rolls of parchment until his fingers grasped the slip of paper again. He read the words over and over.
Only two words, but what did they mean? An apology, for what? There were many things Grindelwald could be sorry for. Was is meant to be an apology to the wizarding world, to all the people he'd hurt in his quest for power? Or was it more personal, intended for Albus alone.
Writing those words had clearly been a struggle - the letters were uneven, and the weak hand had slipped more than once. Albus hadn't returned, hadn't seen Grindelwald since he locked the door and left the man unconscious on the bed. He'd done his best to forget.
His body ached, as it often did. The duel had been a strain, but the Cruciatus Curse had done the most damage. Albus would never forget the pain completely, although his mind had shielded the memory somewhat. Was that what the words meant? Was Grindelwald apologising for using the unforgiveable curses on him? The Cruciatus Curse was the only one which had touched him, but Grindelwald had tried to use the Killing Curse at the end. And would have succeeded, had Fawkes not flown between them.
Albus had used many curses in that duel, even turning to the dark arts as his desperation grew, but he had not reached as deep as Grindelwald. He had never come near, never considered, the unforgiveable curses. Unforgiveable curses had to be meant, so at one point during that duel at least, Grindelwald had wanted to hurt him. At the end, he had wanted him dead.
Had he? Was it possible that with the Elder Wand, an unforgiveable curse could be cast without meaning it? Perhaps that was its great power, why it was invincible. But deep down, Albus knew that it was not that. Grindelwald might not have wanted to fight, but he had meant those curses. He allowed nothing to stand in his way, and caught up in the fight his opponent was nothing but an enemy. He had seen the fire in the blue eyes as magic swirled, had seen the darkness there. When he had cast the unforgiveable curses, Albus had not been his childhood friend but an enemy standing in his way.
Albus knew he had been lucky that it was the Cruciatus curse first. As he writhed on the ground, the heat of battle had faded a little and Grindelwald had remembered who Albus was. He'd stopped meaning it, and the curse had lifted. As Albus struggled to his feet, their eyes had met and there had been tears in both. For Albus, tears of pain and of betrayal. For Gellert - the realisation that he had hurt the only friend he had ever had, and that he had meant to do it.
If it had been the Killing Curse, Albus would be dead. The curse brought instant death, no time for regret or a change of heart.
So was Grindelwald apologising for the rage that had made him forget everything except that Albus was his enemy? For the Cruciatus Curse, and for trying to kill him? Or was it something else?
The fight, which had cost Ariana her life. For breaking up their family - although most likely that would have happened anyway, but in a less permanent fashion. Grindelwald had used the Cruciatus Curse on Aberforth, had shown Albus then what he was capable of. That was before the duel was properly underway, so it could not be blamed on battle rage. Or-
For the death of Ariana. The moment that had destroyed plans and friendship. For being at least part of the cause of the fight, or-
For casting the curse that ended her life.
They did not know the exact cause of death. It could be that the excitement caused her own unstable magic to well up inside her and destroy her. Or any one of them could have cast the curse that ended her life. Aberforth did not know - or at least he had never said it, and he would have done - and Albus himself had no idea. Could Grindelwald have seen?
Albus had not noticed any green amongst the spells, but there had been so many. Grindelwald was capable of unforgiveable curses, particularly when roused by the fight. He could easily have been the one to cast the curse, even knowledgeably - Ariana had been the reason for the duel, and although he hated to admit it Albus knew that Grindelwald was ruthless.
But there was no proof. Albus wanted to blame Grindelwald, wanted more than anything to know that it was not he who cast that spell, but he couldn't. Even if it had been Grindelwald, it was Albus who had invited him into the house. Albus who was responsible for putting his sister in such danger.
If Grindelwald had never come to Godric's Hollow, never brought his ideas of wizard dominance and the Greater Good, Ariana might still be alive. Was that what the words meant?
Or perhaps they covered every one of those meanings.
Weeks passed and the paper grew worn. Albus left it to teach, but it was waiting when he returned. A reminder of a past he'd rather forget, and a dilemma. Should he go? Should he go to the top cell in Nurmengard, see once again the one who had been his friend and who had hurt him? Could he forgive?
He buried himself in his work, concentrated on the students. Young, whole, free still. They valued what he taught them, listened to his advice, sought his help on occasion. The scrap of paper stayed in his pocket, and alone in his rooms he took it out and gazed at the letters. From the perch in the corner, Fawkes watched with deep, black eyes and made no sound.
Armando Dippet retired, and Albus was invited to become Headmaster. Finally, a chance to move on. He accepted, and for the first time when he entered the Headmaster's office it was his. He sat at the desk, stared unseeing at the scrap of paper worn thin with handling. Then he stood and walked to the fire, held out his hand and opened it to let the note fall. He watched the edges glow, curl, blacken, vanish at last. Then, slowly, he made his way back to the desk. Blue eyes met black, and the pheonix sang.
Late into the night Albus sat staring into the fire, watching the flames die down and the final glow of embers fade. He stared at the mound of black embers, as the room cooled. Then at last he rose from his chair and climbed into his bed. He rested his head on his pillow, and the tears fell, then he slipped at last into a sleep free from dreams.
And Fawkes sat on the bedpost and sang softly a sad song, and with deep black eyes watched the man who slept with pillow still damp from tears. He sang, and a silver tear dripped to the end of his beak and fell to join those of salt and water. Then he fell silent, rested his head under his wing, and slept.
A/N: This one-shot was inspired by a review from MargeretLane on "For The Greater Good", which covers the life of Gellert Grindelwald from his point of view, saying that she wished Dumbledore had responded to the letter. I wrote it over Christmas and have finally gotten round to putting it up.
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