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Interlude – The Burdens of Leadership

March 25, 1992, 5:45 PM, Headmaster’s Office

Albus Dumbledore

It was with a weary sigh that Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, took a seat in front of his desk. He sighed again, this time in relief, as he felt his tired body relax for the first time that day.

And what a day it’s been! Albus leaned his head back and took a deep breath.

Ever since news of Gellert’s escape spread like wildfire, the European Ministries had fallen into a chaotic frenzy. That wasn’t to say that they had lost control of their governments, per se, but they hadn’t been ready for an event of this magnitude, either.

One could never have prepared for a crisis such as this. That Gellert would escape, and with such contemptuous ease, at that, suggested that the Austrian Ministry had either gone soft, or that…

Albus tilted his head back down, staring at the various implements and gadgets on his desk, though he did not truly see them.

His mind was elsewhere, deep in the depthless chasm which held his old memories.

Gellert could have made his escape at any time. Why hadn’t he? Why had he taken his punishment for almost fifty years? Albus asked himself, but he did not receive an answer. Why?

Still, no answer came.

“Albus, are you all right?” Dilys Derwent’s portrait asked him, the concern shining in her eyes.

“Of course, he isn’t.” Phineas Black countered with an acerbic tone. “Just look at him. It’s not surprising, really, considering what happened.”

“Must you always be so irksome, Phineas?” Armando Dippet glared down at him. “Though we are honor bound to give service to the present Headmaster, you continue to do nothing but get in the way!”

“We all define the term ‘service’ in different ways.” Phineas said, dismissing his colleague’s point. “If you wish to coddle the man, then, by all means. I will not participate in your asinine games.”

“Why, you—”

Enough.” Albus cut in, directing his annoyed, blue eyes at them. “You’ve made your point, Phineas.”

Phineas blinked at the aged wizard’s response, but continued, undeterred. “I haven’t seen you like this since the forties, Dumbledore. Even when that slime, Riddle, began his war in the eighties, you hadn’t been so…”

Downtrodden? Exhausted? Albus’ thoughts threatened to overtake him, but he closed his eyes, took a breath and found his center, once again. “Yes. I take your meaning.”

“It’s all right, Albus.” Armando said. “After all you have been doing, I’m sure that it must weigh on you like nothing else.”

Albus nodded, accepting his predecessor’s words of comfort. “Thank you, old friend.”

“You shouldn’t be humoring the Ministry so much, Dumbledore.” Phineas said, running a hand through his pointed beard. “Since when was it your job to run their day-to-day affairs, hm? You’ve duties as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, true, as well as Supreme Mugwump to the International Confederation of Wizards— not as the Minister for Magic.”

Professor Dumbledore raised his hand to forestall whatever response the other former Heads of the school had prepared for the unpleasant man.

He did not wish to be witness to even more bickering.

Even here, I cannot let down my guard. Dumbledore realized with no small amount of irritation. “Peace, my friends. While I do understand your point, Phineas, I’m afraid that my support to the Ministry is a necessary step I have to take.”

Phineas did not say anything for a moment, before nodding. “Considering the Ministry’s sheer incompetence this year and the last with the two incidents at Diagon Alley, I suppose I can understand your perspective. Not that I agree with it.”

Albus nodded back. I seldom expect you to agree with anything I do, Phineas.

He would have rathered that the Ministry got its affairs in order under its own power, but it seemed as if Cornelius was set on trying his best to appear as if he was doing something without actually making any meaningful changes to the way they operated.

It was a real shame.

Cornelius Fudge had seemed to be quite the promising candidate after Minister Bagnold had resigned; driven, ambitious, and with a decent sense of right and wrong.

It seemed, however, that the image he presented to everyone was fake. It had taken less than a year for the likes of Lucius Malfoy and others to sink their claws into Cornelius with promises of great riches and pleasures.

And now, the entire wizarding community was saddled with this new crisis.

Now, everyone turns to me, once more. Dumbledore thought.

For all of his knowledge, skill and wisdom, Albus did not have even a sliver of an idea for why Gellert had broken out. He knew, of course, that everyone expected him to track the Dark wizard down and defeat him, just as he did long ago.

However, Albus found that he could not bear to go through it all over again. To raise his wand against his old friend once had tested his fortitude, both mental and physical, to the very limit.

In the aftermath of the great battle, Albus had nothing left but despair and regret. He had continued his life as a teacher, to be sure, but it had been a surreal experience. His body moved, his mouth imparted the lessons upon the children, but he felt like he had not truly been there— like he was watching himself from outside of his own body.

Only when he stared into the Mirror of Erised had he felt his true self come back, again.

Albus gave a minute shake of the head before reaching into the bowl to his left and snatching a piece of candy. Popping it into his mouth, Albus closed his eyes and savored the lemony taste of one of his favorite confectionaries.

Albus stood and made his way to the window and gazed upon the vast grounds of his school. From this height, he could not see it, but he knew that the leaves were already budding. Soon enough, the muddy fields beneath would be awash with green.

He could scarcely believe that life had been far calmer, mere weeks before. It was amazing how things could just change at the drop of a hat.

True, they still had problems from within the school that he and the staff needed to deal with. Voldemort could not be allowed to reach the Philosopher’s Stone, but his threat had been minor, at best.

Using Quirrell to enact the theft, well… Albus was not sure what kind of game Tom was playing here, but it seemed as if his time as an incorporeal shade had addled his former student’s wits, in some way.

Still, it wasn’t as if Albus was underestimating Quirinus. The man was an accomplished wizard, to be sure, but he could not equal the likes of Minerva McGonagall or Severus Snape.

However, he was quite stealthy, Albus would give him that. While the man had not made any overt moves for the Stone— aside from the troll incident— Dumbledore kept an eye on him whenever he could.

Still, you could never be too prudent, I suppose. Albus thought.

“Dinky?” Dumbledore called, and one of the Hogwarts elves appeared with a faint pop from behind him.

“Headmaster calls for Dinky?” Dinky said.

Dumbledore turned and gave the elf a kind look. “Hello Dinky. Could you pop over to Severus? I have need of him.”

Dinky wilted at the mention of his Potions Professor, and Albus had to smother the urge to shoot her an amused grin. Severus was a frightening man when you had to drag him away from his Potions. The man held the practice of Potion-making higher than he did most people.

“Of course, Headmaster, sir.” Dinky said and popped away without a word of complaint.

Albus smiled a little. While the man may have been cold and almost poisonous to others in the way he spoke, Albus saw in Severus the same regret that gnawed at his own heart.

Just as he had not been able to save Ariana, so too had Severus not been able to save the woman he had loved; Lily Potter. However, instead of wallowing in self pity, Severus had dedicated himself to his studies, and to the destruction of the man who had taken his precious friend away.

Albus admired him for that.

If only he could curb his hatred of James Potter long enough to see that Harry is his own person. He lost his smile, there. I suppose there’s nothing to be done, on that end.

The fireplace roared with bright green for a few moments, and Albus turned to see a face popping out of the coals. It was Alastor.

“Dumbledore.” Alastor Moody greeted with his usual rough voice.

“I take it that you’ve found something?” Albus said, making his way to the fire with careful steps. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to hear the answer, but it was not like he had a choice in the matter.

“Aye, and you’re not going to like it.” Alastor said, his magical eye swiveling every which way. “Are you alone?”

“Severus is on his way, though I suppose it will take him some time to get here.” Albus said.

“All right, then. Good.” Moody said. “I kept my ear close to the ground, got in touch with a few old contacts of mine.”

Albus nodded, knowing that his friend would continue.

“Grindelwald’s already begun to put feelers out.” Alastor said, confirming Albus’ suspicions. “Though, not many seem to be taking any of it seriously.”

“I suppose not.” Dumbledore said, shaking his head. “Considering he has already failed in his endeavors before, it would take a considerable win for him to amass the sort of following he would have had at the height of his power.”

“Aye, you’d be right about that.” Moody said, agreeing. “Which can only mean one thing.”

Albus suppressed the urge to sigh. “You think he’s planning an attack of some kind.”

“It’s what I would do, if I were in his shoes.” Moody said, ever the pragmatist. “I’ve already taken the liberty of reaching out to my contacts in the mainland to warn them.”

Albus nodded. “I will do the same.”

“What of Scamander?” Moody said. “He’s got a history of altercations with the man, too.”

“I have sent words of warning to him.” Albus replied, pacing in front of the flame. “I hope that he heeds them and keeps his family safe.”

“No chance of him joining the fight?”

Here, Dumbledore smiled, shaking his head. “Newt Scamander is a special man— able to communicate with all manner of magical creatures on a level far beyond almost anyone else in our world, save perhaps a scant few.”

His Groundskeeper, Hagrid, came to mind.

“However.” Dumbledore said, shaking his head a little. “Newt never wanted to take part in any of it— and he’s done enough; certainly far more than many of those in power.”

“All the more reason to regain his allegiance, wouldn’t you say?” Moody said. “We need all the allies we can get.”

Albus shook his head. “I doubt he’s changed his mind on the matter, but I have asked it of him, regardless. I would be a fool not to. Is there anything else?”

“There is not.” Moody said. “But I’ll definitely keep an eye on anyone I think is even looking in Grindelwald’s direction. Not that I know his location.”

“It seems that we must practice, as you say, constant vigilance.” Albus said, taking a short breath as he heard a knock at his door. “That must be Severus.”

“I’ll get out of your hair, Dumbledore.” Moody said, before giving the Headmaster a closer look. “Get some rest. You look like you could use some.”

“The wicked do not sleep.” Dumbledore countered, giving the man a sad smile. “And so, neither do we. Be well, Alastor.”

He cut the connection off and took a few steps away from the fire, inspecting Fawkes’ empty perch. “Come in, Severus.”

The door swung open, revealing Severus Snape.

“Headmaster? You’ve called for me.” He said as he entered the room. The door closed behind him without a sound.

“Severus.” Albus turned and moved towards his trusted ally. “I hope I have not pulled you from any delicate work.”

“As it happens.” Snape said in his usual silky voice. “You have not— though I was quite keen on enjoying my evening meal.”

The old man smiled at that. “I apologize, my friend. This won’t take very long, and I’m just as keen on having some dinner.”

“Indeed.” Severus tilted his head slightly. “You seem… troubled.”

“Alastor said much the same.” Dumbledore replied and gestured for the both of them to take a seat.

“You have news, then?” Severus sat down with an interested gleam in his eyes. “I’ve spoken to a few of the others in my circles, and they have shown little to no interest in the matter. Though, of course, it is possible that they consider me to be untrustworthy and are keeping things to themselves.”

“In this too, Alastor said the same.”

“Then…” Severus said; Albus could see the gears whirring in the man’s mind.

“Yes.”

“He wouldn’t dare attack here.” Severus shook his head. “Or anywhere in Britain, for that matter. He fears your retaliation?”

“I do not know.”

That caught the man off guard. “You do not know?”

Albus smiled, drawing a little happiness from the man’s incredulous reaction. “Contrary to popular belief, I am not omniscient, my friend.”

The man scoffed, not at all convinced by this statement. The two sat in silence for a few moments longer before Dumbledore spoke again.

“I have not kept an eye on my old friend since the early fifties.” Albus admitted. “True, I’ve had contacts in the Austrian Ministry who would apprise me of the situation every now and again, but no true surveillance. There was no need.”

Severus nodded, seeing where this was going. “And as the years passed and Grindelwald hadn’t escaped, the need for it lessened further.”

“Precisely.” Albus raised a finger. “It’s hard to say what really happened at Castle Nurmengard, but I have had a few conversations with representatives from the Austrian Ministry.”

“I thought they’d said that they didn’t have a clue on the events which took place— the sheer incompetence.” Severus said with a sneer. “Have they finally admitted to that, at least?”

Albus sent him an amused look, as if to say ‘what do you think?

“My questions were of a different sort.” Dumbledore waved Severus’ statement off. “I asked for information concerning Grindelwald’s living conditions during his incarceration. I believed that it could provide us with a clue.”

Severus leaned back in his chair as he processed this. “You wouldn’t be telling me this unless you’ve found something.”

He knows me too well.

“Several things, in fact.” Albus said. “Forgive me if our conversation is turning long-winded.”

“Nothing to apologize for. The food can wait a little.” Here, Severus smirked. “By all means, go on.”

“Very well. Thank you for your patience.” Dumbledore said, smiling back. “The state that Nurmengard Castle was left in seemed very peculiar to me.”

“A massive crater full of glass.” Severus said. “The site of an explosion of monumental proportions. A spell of this destructive power… did he devise it?”

“Possible.” Dumbledore said. “But unlikely. He possessed no wand of his own and he was not allowed any form of magical texts. The Austrians did not wish for him to accumulate more knowledge than he already had.”

“Then…”

“They allowed him access to Muggle books.” Albus said, disappointment entering his tone. “It had seemed harmless enough, at the time. Books on mathematics, physics, chemistry… His wardens thought it amusing to torment him with the books of the people he wanted to exterminate.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose.

Severus stared for a second as things dawned on him. “This… this is beyond mere incompetence.”

“Yes.”

Severus went quiet, still taken aback at the information he’d just been given.

“And so we have a fairly good idea of what could have taken place.” Dumbledore said, leaning forward. “it would not have taken more than a few transfigurations for the average wizard.”

Severus stood and began to pace. “This could be very dangerous. With access to this kind of knowledge…”

“Oh, yes.” Dumbledore said. “Grindelwald could unleash destruction on a level most cannot even begin to fathom.”

“What are we to do, then?” Severus said, racking his mind for answers.

“Nothing, for now.” Dumbledore said.

Nothing.” Severus was taken aback again.

Albus took a breath. “There is nothing we can do, aside from making attempts to track his location— but the various European Ministries are doing that of their own volition. To make our own attempt would end up causing enough friction to hamper our cause.”

Politics.” Severus spat and took a breath to calm himself before sitting down. “Then we simply… watch and let things unfold?”

“We don’t have much choice in the matter.” Albus said.

There was a long moment of silence before Severus spoke again. “What of this other matter?”

“Ah.” Dumbledore snatched a candy and began to unwrap it. “We know of how the escape came to be. What we do not know is the ‘why’ of the matter. Why did he escape?”

“I assume he wishes to resume his campaign of conquest.” Severus said, but Dumbledore only popped the candy in his mouth before raising a finger.

“Yes, but why now?” Dumbledore said after he was done. “He could have left at any time.”

“An education in the Muggle sciences does take time to gain.” Severus reasoned before shaking his head. “But it would not take fifty years, I would imagine.”

“Precisely.” Albus said. “Gellert could have made his escape ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. Why now?”

“I assume you have thoughts on the matter.”

Dumbledore nodded. “Do you remember news of the burglary at the Apothecary?”

“Yes.” Severus blinked at the shift in topic, but nodded in confirmation anyway. “A terrible business. I had to procure my Potions ingredients from elsewhere, for a time. Sarah was distraught for nearly a fortnight.”

Albus gave a sad inclination of his head at that. That Auror’s death had been senseless— all because of a substance worth only fifty Galleons.

“According to our Department of Magical Law Enforcement, two of our Aurors were dispatched to Castle Nurmengard to speak with the man over the nature of the attack.” Dumbledore steepled his fingers together. “Auror Hope O’Conner and another. I can’t recall the name.”

Severus tilted his head. “And how would such a case warrant a visit to a man who’s been a prisoner of nearly fifty years?”

“Ah.” Dumbledore said. “While the official reason behind the Auror’s death is being referred to as Dark Magic, it is actually a modified Shield Charm— a spell which has seen much use at Grindelwald’s hands.”

Dumbledore remembered that terrible spell of unrelenting blue fire. It had taken every fiber of his being to snuff it.

“A modified Shield Charm?” Severus said, shaking his head. “I have seen much, but to pervert the nature of a spell meant to defend like this… That is not something I could conceive of.”

“Neither could I.” Dumbledore agreed, sharing his Potions professor’s sentiment. “Regardless of the mental state of this unknown wizard or witch, the fact that they could cast a spell of this level implies a certain aptitude in this field.”

“And you believe that Grindelwald would have broken out of prison just because of a burglar following in his footsteps, in some way?” Snape scoffed. “That seems unlikely, Headmaster.”

“I could very well be wrong.” Dumbledore said, allowing this. “I am merely presenting everything we know. Perhaps, in time, we shall know more. And that leads me to the reason why I have called you here, Severus.”

Severus said nothing, waiting for the man to get to it.

“In the coming weeks, possibly months, I may be called away.” Albus said. “I do not know when, exactly, but it will happen.”

Severus nodded, taking his meaning without any further issue. “I will see to it that the Stone is kept safe.”

Albus smiled. “Thank you, my friend. And—”

“Yes, yes.” Severus said, fixing him with a sour look. “And Potter, too.”

But Albus continued to smile as he got up and moved around the table to pat Severus on the shoulder. “Come, my boy. Let’s not keep ourselves from our delicious dinners. I do believe they will be serving your favorite, this evening.”

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