In another world, when a niffler slips free in a catacombs of Père Lachaise, he finds his way to a silver pendant hanging from a coat of a strange looking man. It's not particularly shiny, but he niffs it anyway, and then goes on his way, until Newt Scamander catches him again.
In that world, there is almost twenty years of war brewing, and it all ends up in a duel. A final fight between light and dark, good and evil. Everyone agrees it was a great duel, even if no one witnessed it, and so it goes on. A great triumph and fifty years of loneliness, while the world get caught up in another war, another darkness. Later, when people will remember this story, no one will think of a niffler.
In this world, the niffler doesn't see a pendant, because he's busy stealing a diamond necklace from a witch's neck. It's very big, and very shiny, and so very, very distracting. (Newt Scamander finds him anyway, and then takes the necklace away, so for the niffler it ends up mostly the same.)
And so things change.
Newt Scamander comes back from Paris empty-handed, weary, and grief-stricken. Albus thought he might, though he hoped otherwise. He sent Newt to Paris thinking it could help avoid the very thing that happened.
He knew what Grindelwald could, would do in Paris, just like he knew his arrest in New York could only be temporary. Albus has long been able to predict Grindelwald's moves, though this knowledge did him little good. It only weighted on his mind, a familiarity he would rather forget, while he uttered warnings only a few heeded.
When he comes down to Hogwarts gates, it to greet a handful of survivors, not victors. They stand near each other, but not quite together, and from the distance he can recognize only few familiar figures. It's a sunny day, unusually warm for Scotland's weather, but the light doesn't suit tired, drawn faces of newcomers. It makes them look solemn and lost, without a sense of purpose. They look nothing like Aurors who came to question him only a few days earlier.
Then again, most of these Aurors didn't return from Paris.
Newt meets him halfway on the bridge, alone, and for that Albus is grateful.
"Is it true?" He asks. "About Leta?"
He already knows, of course, though he hopes otherwise. Nicolas gave him the account of what happened at Père Lachaise, or at least what he could piece together. Albus could guess the rest well enough.
"Yes," Newt answers, and doesn't look him in the eye.
"I'm sorry," Albus says, and he knows he isn't sorry enough, not when he was at the cause of all this. He didn't send Leta to Paris, and he did try to warn Theseus against interrupting the rally, but it wasn't nearly enough. In the end people still died and Grindelwald got away, stronger and with new allies, including Credence. Perhaps, if Albus had done more, it would have ended differently. Perhaps if he had only acted...
"Grindelwald had something," Newt changes the topic suddenly. He still doesn't quite look at Albus. "At the rally. A pendant, or a necklace."
Newt gestures to his own chest, as if to indicate something. His bowtruckle peeks from the breast pocket, then hides away again. It's a shy creature, though admirably loyal.
"It's a blood pact, isn't it? You swore not to fight each other?" Newt says, and Albus feels cold all over.
If only he had acted, things might have happened differently in Paris. But he couldn't act, not directly, could he?
"That's why you cannot move against him?" Newt continues. "Because of this?"
Albus nods. He doesn't trust himself to speak.
"Well," Newt says. He looks back towards the gates, for a moment, where the Aurors are still standing. Albus wonders whether he thinks of walking away. There's a moment of silence and it seems neither of them knows how to break it. Albus has questions, of course, ones he wants to asks and ones he doesn't, really, but should ask anyway. He's sure Newt has his own, but it doesn't feel like a right time or place.
It's still a sunny day, but the air feels cold and unpleasant on his skin. Maybe the Aurors aren't the only ones who are weary.
"Well," Newt repeats. "I had to choose my side."
The following question is unspoken, but Albus hears it anyway: on whose side will he be, in the end?
The admonitors stay firmly on his wrists.
Later, in Albus's office, they talk more.
Newt tells him about the trip to Paris; of looking for and their finding his friend Tina. More than friend, if Albus correctly interprets his sudden talkativeness when their conversation concerns her. Newt never liked to talk much unless it involved his creatures and even then it was not much. Maybe there is one good thing to come out of this mess; it is a warming thought.
The room gets gradually brighter as they talk, morning light turning into afternoon. It gets softer, more golden, touching the papers and books laying on his desk. There are children running outside, classes Albus should be teaching. The tea doesn't get cold, thank to house elves' magic, but it does taste bitter.
Newt tells him about meeting – and being briefly abducted by – Yusuf Kama, and then looking for the Lestrange records at the French ministry. How Leta found them, and then what story she told them in the tombs of Père Lachaise.
It is a humbling experience, to be wrong, and one Albus doesn't live through often. He'd been sure Credence was Leta's brother, but with the children switched... It will be difficult to learn whose Credence real mother was, but not impossible with proper research. The bigger concern is Credence choosing to join Grindelwald, and then disappearing with him.
He wonders if Grindelwald knew. Was he surprised, when he learned Credence wasn't the missing Lestrange heir? Was it Credence who told him? Did he figured it out on his own?
And, more importantly, did he know who Credence's real mother was?
If he did, he gave no sign of it during his rally, at least according to Newt. Grindelwald had been confident, but not boastful. Respectful towards his fellow wizards to the point of almost seeming humble. His words were persuasive, seductive, enchanting, as they always were. They almost seemed reasonable, Newt says reluctantly, especially when Grindelwald showed them his vision.
His vision. Newt lacks words to describe them, but Albus thinks he can guess what Grindelwald choose to show his followers. War – muggle war – and the devastation it will bring. Weapons strong enough to annihilate cities, in hands of people filled with hatred and ready to use them.
They used to scare Gellert, these visions, and fill him with righteous fire and a need to alter this future. They scared Albus, too, when Gellert first shared them with him. Such weapons in the hands of muggles were unthinkable, not when they used violence so frequently, without any thought. And what if people yielding this weapons were like boys who attacked Ariana? What defence did wizards have against them?
Back then, he was also scared for Gellert. It seemed a terrible burden for a teenager, to know such a dark future, or even a possibility of it. They made plans, together, on how to change the world, how to make it into a place where there would be no such war, no such weapons. A perfect world, really, built on hopes and dreams.
And these plans are still in motion, even if Albus wasn't a part of them in almost thirty years.
He can understand the people – people like Queenie, like Credence – falling for Grindelwald's charm, his charisma, his visions. He, too, believed in Grindelwald's words, not so long ago.
The rally ended much like Albus expected – Aurors, charging in and right into Grindelwald's trap. A perfect proof Grindelwald needed, to show his supporters how his methods weren't truly violent, not when it was the Ministry who used unforgivables on its own people.
Newt struggles to describe the spell Grindelwald cast after. A circle of blue fire, allowing only few chosen to pass, disintegrating all others. Gellert offered them a choice: join him or die. Albus thinks it very like him; he always required absolute loyalty.
There are few words to be said about what happened then: Credence choose to go with Grindelwald, as did Queenie, Tina Goldstein's sister and Newt's friend from New York. Leta Lestrange choose not to and died trying to stop him, and then Grindelwald unleashed an inferno they could barely stop.
It is a failure, and a personal one. Albus sent Newt to Paris hoping to avert this outcome; hoping Newt would be able to bring back Credence and stop whatever plans Grindelwald was brewing, as he did in New York. He thought Credence was a Lestrange and so Leta would be a key to bringing him back, and so advised her accordingly. He misunderstood the situation entirely, blinded by his own sorrow, and it all ended in fire anyway.
Newt doesn't asks anymore questions about the blood pact, and it is a kindness Albus doesn't deserve.
He's summoned to the Ministry few days later.
He's rather surprised it didn't come sooner. Whatever leniency the Scamander brothers' goodwill bought him, it was bound to run out sooner rather than later. At least this time he's not getting ambushed in his classroom.
The Ministry is as busy – and as ostentatious – as it always is. Albus moves through the Atrium, intent on getting to security, when he's intercepted by two Aurors.
"Mister Dumbledore," says one of them, a tall, well-built woman. He cannot remember her name, though he's sure he's seen her before. Not one of his Hogwarts' students, then. "If you would follow us."
It's clearly an order, not an offer. Albus nods, and she turns on her heel, setting a brisk pace. The second Auror waits a moment, and then follows behind Albus.
It's such a warm welcome.
Albus can feel more than one pair of eyes on himself while they walk, but it doesn't exactly feel good to be recognized. Not when the fear and distrust are palatable in the air. The Aurors, in particular, seem wary of him – but why shouldn't they be, when more than a few of them died in Paris, only a few days after Albus had, once again, refused to fight Grindelwald?
When he looks at it that way, he can almost understand why Travers hates him so much.
The Ministry's corridors are lined with red, plush carpets; they muffle the sound of his steps when he walks. He briefly entertains the notion of whether it's merely an aesthetic choice or if it's supposed to make sneaking up on people easier. He's entirely too aware of his escort, even if he cannot hear their steps. These days, the Ministry seems excessively fond of tailing people.
The Aurors lead him to a corridor outside of Travers's office, and then tell him to wait until his name is called. The woman leaves, but the second Auror stays standing politely a few feet away. He's not exactly looking at Albus, but his observation isn't all that subtle, either. There are no chairs around, so Albus guesses he, too, is supposed to just stand there.
If this is an intimidation tactic, it's rather an uninspired one. He won't suddenly become afraid of Travers because the man made him stand outside his door for an hour. The only thing benefitting from the whole charade is Travers's own ego.
Albus supposes he could be more irritated about the whole situation, but there's no point to it. Whatever he chooses to do or feel, Travers will remain as nice and friendly as a fire crab. It doesn't matter if he gets angry or just spends an hour staring at an opposite wall.
For Aurors' offices, it's unusually busy. There's a number of people getting escorted, most of them looking scared. Ordinary witches and wizards, by the looks of it, stepping in and out of offices. Some of them are waiting, fidgeting anxiously.
If the Ministry is down to calling people for random interrogations, then the war maybe going worse than Albus thought it did. He doubts any of them are going to tell the Aurors anything of use. They certainly don't have such a clear connection to Grindelwald as he does. But they are here, just like he is, waiting to be asked questions they don't know answers to.
It's clearly a power move, one intended to intimidate the same people Aurors are supposed to be protecting. He wonders how they are justifying this to themselves, after what happened in Paris. Does it give them an illusion of doing something, of fighting against some unnamed evil, even when they are only frightening an older witch, who later stands lost in the corridors, quietly crying and squeezing her purse?
He tried to warn Aurors against this, but that had been unwelcome.
There's a sour taste in his mouth by the time he's finally called in Travers office.
It's an ugly room, as boring and unimaginative as the man it belongs to. There's a desk right in the middle of it, massive, made of dark, carved mahogany. The chair standing in front of it looks small in comparison and is no doubt uncomfortable. There are file cabinets by the walls, but these too are bulky, hideous things. The only source of light is magical; a pale, flickering globe hanging over Travers's head, casting his face in shadows. It makes everything look grimmer and greyer than it really is.
"Dumbledore," Travers says, in lieu of the greeting.
He doesn't offer him a seat, but Albus takes it anyway.
"In the light of recent events, it's been determined your behaviour is... unpredictable." Travers's mouth twists on the last word, like he meant to say something else. Albus can easily imagine what it was. Untrustworthy. Dangerous. Traitorous, even.
"It's been decided to extend the current level of surveillance over you indefinitely," Travers continues. He doesn't sound pleased, so Albus can only assume he finds the arrangement unsatisfactory. "For safety reasons, as I'm sure you understand."
"Safety reasons," Albus repeats. "Whose safety?"
"Grindelwald's actions endanger the whole Wizarding World." Travers voice sounds monotone, repetitive. "He almost exposed us in New York, and could’ve destroyed Paris entirely. He plans to start a war."
"And stopping Grindelwald will be accomplished by terrorizing ordinary witches and wizards?" Albus asks, in the same tone he would discuss the weather.
"You're much more than an ordinary wizard, Dumbledore."
"Oh, I don't doubt that." Albus smiles lightly at the unintended compliment. "But I do doubt all those people in your foyer will tell you anything of note."
"Simple precautionary measures." Travers waves his hand dismissively.
"As is stealing memories?" Albus doesn't know how, exactly, Travers acquired the memory of Grindelwald as he has been in the summer so long ago, but he knew enough to recognize it as his own.
"Let's be frank, Dumbledore. I think you should be locked up." Travers looks straight at him for the first time. "But the Minister disagrees, and I doubt you would go quietly. And there's still a matter of your little network of followers."
"Followers?" Albus asks. "I don't have any. And if you mean my friends-"
"Oh, I doubt they are that," Travers interrupts him. "I doubt you have friends. Just people that like to listen to you every word."
He drums his fingers on the table. "You sent Scamander to Paris to being you that obscurial, and look how that ended up. You delivered him straight into Grindelwald's arms. Whatever games you think you are playing, they end now."
There he goes again. Choosing sides and drawing lines in the sand, like the whole world can be divided into simple, black and white pieces.
But this, Albus supposes, was exactly how Ministry sees the world.
"I told you before," Albus says, "we both want to see Grindelwald defeated."
"But you're still not going to do anything that would actually help us defeat him, are you?" Travers looks like he'd prefer to hex him than to talk. "No, you're quite content to sit and wait while others will fight and die in the war against the darkest wizards we've known."
Albus doesn't have an answer to that. It's true, after all.
"The admonitors will stay, as will the watch over you. We will need access to your correspondence, syllabi, lessons plans. Any trips outside of Hogwarts should be consulted with the Ministry. I hope this won't be too much of an inconvenience for you, Dumbledore." Travers tone conveys how untrue the sentiment is.
It's quite clearly end of conversation.
When Albus leaves the Ministry, his hands are still tied.
There is little he can do, so he chooses to busy himself with other things, as he did before. Teaching has long become his refugee; changing the subject taught has not changed that. It makes him feel useful. On a good days, it almost makes him feel kind.
But these days are not good and even with the additional challenge of writing a new syllabus and teaching an entirely different subject he feels uneasy, unsettled. Restless. He thinks he should be doing more. He knows he should be doing more and cannot think of a way to accomplish it.
Outside of Hogwarts' walls, there's a war in making. People are dying, the Ministry is full of fools, and Grindelwald will only get more powerful.
He longs to stand in front of the mirror again, even though he knows what he will see and he knows it will not bring him any solace. He wants to see Gellert again, and he hates himself for it.
Instead he starts looking for Credence real parents. It is slow and boring work, but it's suitably numbing.
Leta Lestrange said she switched babies on a ship going to New York, moments before it sunk. It's as good a place to start as any. Finding out the ship's name is an easy matter, and then he just has to find appropriate records.
There are always records: passengers names, probable causes of the wreckage, measures taken to avoid similar occurrences in the future. Casualties lists.
He goes through the list until one name makes him pause.
Honoria Dumbledore. And then, right after: Aurelius.