Chapter 1: The Garden Party
I remember the day I met Gellert Grindelwald for a good many reasons. Perhaps strangely, all these years later what I remember most is how I felt when I slipped into bed later that night, utterly exhausted, utterly alive, and filled with a sense of luck that for once was not accompanied by guilt.
For of course, I have always been very lucky. In a world filled with magic, one should never underestimate the forces beneath us that remain unseen. I’ve learned to appreciate my luck rather than regret it, but that is a story for another time. People far my better have received much less than they deserved.
The night before I met him was a rough one. Ariana was inconsolable, as she had been every night since our mother’s death. She used to stay with her throughout it—flawed though my mother was, she was endlessly patient with Ariana, but our mother is gone, now. No one knows quite what happened.
The month that I was home alone with her, called back from Hogwarts right after my NEWTS, was perhaps the loneliest of my life. The good friend of mine that I planned on travelling with come autumn was still at school. Everyone was, really. And I was alone with Ariana, as I’d insisted, because Aberforth was a fifth year, and still had his OWLS and his NEWTS. I could afford to come home and be with her.
But when Aberforth came back for the summer, I must admit that I let him take care of Ariana. I’d used every bit of my magical ability to bolster the house with protective spells—to limit her ability to hurt herself and others. I’d invented a dozen different magical solutions to problems most couldn’t imagine. Glass that turned to jelly when met with force. A music box that could predict her mood and soothe her. I gave her piles of books, and when she was herself, she loved them. But even so, she must have been lonely. In the month before Aberforth was there, I do not think I left the house. I painted the constellations on her ceiling, made a potions laboratory in the basement to see if I could cure her. Nothing I could conceive of could make any improvement. It was all I could do to keep up with her, so that she wouldn’t get worse.
And so when Aberforth came home, I’m afraid I abandoned him to the house more than I should have. I felt, so wrongly, that I’d done my part. And so, the day I met Grindelwald, Aberforth was at home.
I left the house early that morning, as I often did. On the days that I did not hole up in my room and study, I walked. Godric’s Hollow was small and quiet. It still is. And the only thing unusual that happened that morning was a run-in with a rather nice neighbor, a woman I’d seen and who had come to our door on multiple occasions but whom my mother had never used to let in. She hadn’t been by in a while, perhaps almost a year.
She had a round, small face, and seemed to be always carrying something. She could have been very young or middle aged; it was hard to tell. And though I’d passed her several times on my morning walks, this time she stopped.
She gestured at me, clearly at a loss for my name, and dutifully, I approached. She looked me up and down, and I remember feeling nearly offended. Nobody’d really looked at me at all, since Ariana had taken ill. She frowned, and said, “I don’t see much of your mother.”
It would have sounded accusing had anyone else said it, but when she said it, it felt a little like recognition. I had no reason to tell the neighbors of our situation, but that was the first time that I’d considered it. It was in the middle of the night when the aurors were called, and few knew that Kendra Dumbledore no longer resided in Godric’s Hollow.
“You have a brother, yes?”
“Well, bring him, and perhaps that secretive mother of yours along. The neighborhood is meeting for a nice little garden party. 8 o’clock. Midsummer, and all.”
She must have seen the hesitation on my face, because she followed it with, “It’ll do you good. My nephew needs someone to talk some sense into him, anyway, and you’re around the—how old are you?”
“Seventeen,” I replied.
“You’re around the same age,” she finished, and left me with a smile.
I never told Aberforth about the garden party. I suppose it was selfish of me, but it felt special, just for me. I justified it with the fact that someone had to stay home with Ariana.
I was just seventeen, you see. But I’m afraid I’ve used that excuse for my behavior far too much. Perhaps you will forgive me for my jealousy towards Aberforth, because I’d convinced him to stay at Hogwarts until he took his NEWTS—and you see, that was at my expense. I could’ve travelled the world, I could’ve invented a new potion and become rich; I could have gone to the chateau of Nicolas Flamel, whom I had met through an alchemy seminar. I am not exaggerating when I say that my skill and my hard work had made a genius out of me, no matter how self-aggrandizing I must sound. I could’ve been anywhere, but instead I was in Godric’s Hollow, by myself, debating whether or not to go to a garden party because I was so sick of myself.
I debated going to the garden party. I wasn’t sure what I would have to say. I’m not naturally social, but nor am I opposed to company. And perhaps I would find someone of interest. I knew myself well enough to know that I rather needed a distraction.
When I decided on it, it was a little late. There was the lure of voices over a high garden wall, and so I knocked on the door, twice: once softly, and again a little less softly.
The neighbor opened her door wide, a smile on her face and still half turned towards a friend of hers standing in the kitchen.
She looked surprised to see me.
“I’m Albus,” I said, “Albus Dumbledore. We’re next door neighbors?”
She smiled. “Welcome in. There’s dinner out back, and wine, too, if you’re really seventeen like you said.”
“I am,” I said.
“Almost graduated? Or did already? from Hogwarts, then,” she replied.
“Yes ma’am,” I said. “I just had my NEWTS.”
“Well, go on then, go talk to someone your age,” she said. She ushered me towards the back, and as soon as I stepped outside I was rather unsure of why I’d come. Most of the people there were twice my age, the sort of people that managed to make me feel odd just by looking at me.
I meandered towards the wine, or maybe it was mead. I poured myself half a glass—I wanted to look purposeful more than I was thirsty—and was surveying the garden when I spotted them. There were four boys, perhaps my age, perhaps a little younger, lounging around a table that looked like it had been half-heartedly transfigured.
I approached the table with more confidence than I thought possible, with the vague idea that if all else failed in my attempts to be social, I could fix the table rather well. Transfiguration—well, that’s always been what I’m rather good at.
When I finally reached the group—it had only been a few strides—I was almost surprised by how quickly time had moved. Two of the boys looked at me expectantly.
“I’m Albus,” I said.
One of them looked at me another moment, before turning back to what a third boy was saying. In my self-conscious insecurity, I had interrupted what seemed to have been an enchanting story, one that kept the three other boys in silent rapture.
The third boy caught my eye, winked, and carried on with the conclusion of his story. I remember feeling shocked by the eye contact itself, let alone the wink. It wasn’t flirtatious, necessarily, but it was—it was brash, genuine, personal. I was confused for a minute and thought perhaps I’d met him before and didn’t remember.
But surely I would have remembered.
I think, much to my embarrassment, I stood staring at him for a minute, him with his long, light-brown or maybe blond wavy hair, his wide, smiling mouth and bright green eyes. And while I was watching him, feeling almost as if I didn’t exist except as an observer—that I couldn’t be interacted with, he stood up.
“I think it’s time for some more wine, don’t you think, boys?”
The speed at which the boys stood up to fetch the wine from the table set out for it was astounding even to me, and I was at that moment both dumbfounded and perhaps a bit bewitched.
He extended his arm in a fluid, large action. “Gellert Grindelwald,” he said. “Don’t worry, I saw you there.”
I shook his hand. “Albus,” I said. “I live next door.”
“Bathilda’s my aunt. Well, great-aunt, really.”
“Bathilda,” I said, and I realized she must be the neighbor, the one that invited me. “So you’re living here?”
“Just for the summer,” he said, and for some reason I was shocked when the rest of the boys came back with the wine. They put down their cups on the table, but Gellert didn’t move to take any. He was waiting for something.
Am I a Gryffindor or not? I asked myself, and I decided, in that moment at least, that I was.
“Care to go for a walk?” I asked, as nonchalantly as I could muster—which was admittedly not much.
“I rather would,” he said, and turning to the boys, he said, “I’m afraid I have some catching up to do with a very old friend. Please do enjoy yourselves.”
He said it like it was the simplest thing in the world, and he followed me out of the garden, through the house, and out the front door before we spoke another word.
It was a lie, that we were very old friends. But it was the sort of lie that felt true, and feels true, even now.
Chapter 2: The Owl
I was not, nor perhaps have ever been, a miserable person. I had plenty to live for as a seventeen-year-old, and however much I imagined escaping the unfortunate situation that left me tethered to Godric’s Hollow, you must understand that I was happy enough. Whatever dissatisfaction that existed in me was always temporary.
That is not to say I did not mourn my mother—I did—but she had stopped being a source of comfort to me some five years earlier, and I recognize now that the surge of energy I had upon her death was indeed a form of grief, a form which was convenient to my newfound responsibility for my sister’s care.
But I digress. I tell you this to assure you that I was not depressed, as they now call it, or desperate, when I met Gellert Grindelwald. I was quite alright. But it is no exaggeration to say that from the moment I laid eyes on him, I came alive as if from a deep slumber. It was not bravery so much as electricity that inspired my fateful invitation.
We walked. I avoided looking at his face, and it seemed to me that the tree by the creek, always old, had never looked so sharp, so detailed, so withering with all stages of life and death.
I must once again interrupt myself, dear reader, for you know me as a man of patience if you know of me at all. That is a disposition that has taken me a hundred years to cultivate; it did not come naturally.
“I haven’t seen you here before,” I said, because I would’ve known if he went to Hogwarts and had he lived in Godric’s Hollow long, I would have caught a glance of him on my morning walks.
“I’d be unnerved if you had,” he said, “I got here just last week.”
“But what are you doing here? Surely not just visiting your aunt.”
“No,” he shrugged slightly. “I’m in search of something rather particular, and I couldn’t continue my search back home.”
I could’ve asked where home was, and I almost did, but my curiosity got the better of me. “What are you searching for?”
He waved his arm, a sudden motion clearly dismissing the question. “That’s a question for our next conversation.”
I wondered right then and there how he did it—how he said something so blatantly, almost rudely, and managed to make it feel conspiratorial. Like we two knew a secret forbidden to everyone else.
He looked at me straight in the eyes, and began a new topic of conversation. “You must go to Hogwarts.”
“I did,” I said, and I must have sounded a little sad as I added, “But this year was my last.” When I looked back at him, the grin sketched onto his features was nowhere to be seen, and his face was a mask of gravitas.
“I went to Durmstrang,” he said, after pausing a moment. “In many ways, it was more of a home than any place I’ve been. But it was time for me to move on. I learned much of what I could have.”
“What will you do now?” I asked. In a second, the glint of joy was back in his eyes, and a broad and easy smile on his lips.
“Whatever I want,” he said. The skin on the back of my neck prickled instantly—was he—but as soon as he’d made eye contact—brief and sharp—he let it lapse. For a reason I did not fully understand, I felt incredibly foolish.
He kept speaking, which saved me my embarrassment. “But as I said, I’m searching for something, and I do imagine you’ll find out what quicker than most.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Because you don’t bore me,” he said simply.
I didn’t want to seem taken aback, so I replied, “Good. Because I’m not boring.”
He chuckled at that, and the way he met my eyes made me know deeper than anything that we were friends.
When I fell into bed that night, I couldn’t sleep but was too tired to think in anything but a train of images. In my excitement, I am ashamed to admit that I did not check on Ariana, or even Aberforth—a gesture that would have been nearly effortless and very much appreciated. Indeed, I felt quite righteous in ignoring them, in that instant. I felt as if everything I’d been living for before wasn’t wrong, necessarily, just incomplete.
It was like having a brush with truth—I could never go back. Even if I’d never seen him again, something in me that night woke up and sucked in its first breath of air, and wanted. And that part of me has spent the rest of my adult life hungering--hungering for something that I do not fully understand.
I woke to an owl tapping at my window, softly at first, and then loudly. This was not unusual; I had several friends and faculty at Hogwarts and abroad with whom I frequently corresponded. I grasped the letter from the owl’s beak, and unfolded it. The owl did not fly away—a response was expected, and soon.
Two characters were scrawled on the paper. No signature.
I cracked a smile. It was impossible not to. I felt as if some cosmic, wonderful, all-encompassing game had begun. And in a way, it had.
I scrambled for a pen, and replied.
“b6. Meet me at the creek.”
And I sent the bird off, unable to hide the joy that swelled in me, and unable to deny that whatever change in me this was, it was whole, it was fiery, and like all things that are intense, whispered violence.
Chapter 3: The Tales of the Beedle and the Bard
I cannot convey to you in mere words how instinctual my connection with him was. It overtook me, indeed, overtook both of us; in a way, we hadn’t ever realized that we’d spent our whole lives being misunderstood until we finally weren’t. We understood each other.
The second time we met, he told me about his search for the hallows. I knew he didn’t tell just anyone, and it was then that we became partners of sorts. Partners in thought and in time spent. His mission became mine, and my research, my hopes, my vision, my projects—they became his.
When we met at the creek, he wore a purple waistcoat underneath his robes. He was already waiting, by the oak tree where we had walked, when I approached. The day was cloudy but still warm. The creek bubbled.
He held a book and a quill and a stoppered vial full of ink. He was forever in motion, tapping the quill against the tree, fidgeting, but when he knew that eyes were upon him, he was still.
He met my eyes when I was still a few meters away, and I asked him how he got here so quickly.
“Apparition, of course,” he said, and indeed I could have apparated had I chosen, but it was such an unpleasant method of travel. Seemed a rather drastic way to travel only a few hundred meters.
Every interaction contributed to my fascination and added to my knowledge of him--one of very few people I was curious about. And what I learned from this was that Gellert Grindelwald was the most impatient person I have ever met. He later told me that Apparition made him horribly sick—he was excellent at it, but it never agreed with him—but that once he had learned it, he simply could not go through the motions of walking when he had a destination in mind.
But if it struck me as odd, I did not let on. Instead, I focused my eyes on the book in his hand.
“The Beetle and the Bard.”
I read the title aloud for my own benefit more than for his; it seemed strange to me that this was the book that Grindelwald had clutched in his hands. A book for children.
He opened his mouth to speak, but I held up a finger. “Wait. Let me think; I’ve almost got it.”
It was a clue.
He smiled at that, light glinting in his eyes, as if my words gave him newfound excitement. I knew it would impress him if I guessed right, as if I needed a reward apart from correctness. There was a joy in the puzzle itself, and joy in the puzzle being shared.
He was searching for something. Something that he thought was in Godric’s Hollow—if not in it, then nearby, or else he wouldn’t have left Durmstrang, the home he so clearly loved. The book must have been a clue, both to his impatience at appearing by the tree and to the object of his search. It gave him some sort of information, but how—it was a children’s book. A children’s book. His best clue. Whatever artifact he was searching must be mythical, with little proof it existed. There were five stories in the Tales of the Beetle and the Bard. Four of them do not mention any sort of artifact—well, unless you count the fountain, but it turns out not to be enchanted at all—so it must be—
“The Deathly Hallows. That’s what you’re looking for,” I said. As soon as I landed on this answer, it fit too perfectly for me to re-evaluate. I was right, and I knew it.
There was a good deal of triumph plastered on my features.
He gave the book one last cursory tap with his quill. “Excellent logicking,” he said, “although I did give you generous hints.”
“Mm,” I replied. “As if anyone else has guessed it.”
He tilted his head and acquiesced to my point: “And some of them have a good deal more information than you’ve.”
He could’ve made any sort of jibe in return, and it would have been warranted, but he didn’t, and I appreciated it. He met my eyes, smiled, and jostled his materials into a stack before balancing them in his left hand. He reached out with his right hand and clasped mine in a handshake.
“Congratulations, Dumbledore,” he said.
I met his smile with genuine warmth. “Tell me what you’ve found,” I said, and my query was not nearly as demanding as the written word makes it sound.
“In good time,” he said. “I need a guarantee you won’t go looking for them without me. Or what’s the point in giving you my research?”
“No such promise given,” I said, though my tone was light. “ I’d much rather look for them with you. But if something were to happen--”
I must have been feeling rather brave to admit it.
Chapter 4: An Equal
Days flew, and nights crawled by. I woke early, ate, and then read or wrote letters to the people I corresponded with most often. Among them, Elphias Doge, Nicolas Flamel, Griselda Marchbanks. My exact goal remained unclear even to me, although I do confess that I find discussing ideas and forming connections nearly as satisfying as developing those ideas.
My life was, and to an extent still is, dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. Hogwarts gave me a direction to point my intellect, it gave me a structured understanding of the basics of courses so that I could discover what I truly wanted to know. And naturally, I wanted to know everything of importance: dueling, transfiguration, potions, alchemy, arithmancy, herbology, the study of magical creatures and beings that one should not in good conscience call creatures; simply put I was insatiable.
And so my mornings were spent on knowledge. I struggle to remember now because my memories of that summer are so colored by Grindelwald’s presence, but I think my area of study for the summer was concentrated exclusively on one spell.
Protego is a curious spell, you see, because its strength is entirely dependent on the wizard that casts it. At its best, it works against any spell under the sun exempting three—you, of course, are well versed enough in magic as to know which three I am referring to.
A most difficult problem and thereby a fascinating challenge.
It was the fourth day of our acquaintance—four days spent in rapture and in conversation—that he came to my attic while I studied and puttered—he himself immersed in notes and poring over a book of wizard’s genealogy that must have been centuries old and meticulously edited through the years. When we worked together, he was a calm, comfortable presence, and not as distracting as he might have been. It did require a bit of self-discipline to keep on my own projects, but not so much as you might assume. I loved what I studied, and I would have been happy to do it with or without him there.
Nevertheless, I liked to watch him read and write, because his self-awareness seemed to vanish into whatever material he was absorbed in. What began as all charm shifted into all-focus, and he seemed not to mind his own intrusiveness: he would hum occasionally, clear his throat, ruffle through papers. It seemed to me rather genuine, rather honest, and rather personal. For him, his social graces were held close to his chest—he kept people at an arm’s distance by being polite, or funny, or easy going, or sharp. And throughout it all he was meticulously self-aware. But with me, he didn’t think about being watched.
And I suppose, although I did not think so at the time, my actions mirrored his, or perhaps he mirrored mine. When I was with him, I was true. I did not efface my own intelligence with humility or humor. I acted utterly in the moment, felt that anything and everything I could do or say or think was correct, because with him it truly seemed to be.
“Who are you writing today?” he asked, walking through my kitchen towards the stairs as if he’d spent years living here.
“I think we’ll go with Elphias, I’ve neglected him a while.”
“I assume because of the world tour,” said Grindelwald, and I nodded a little grimly.
“I’ll just write him a short note, and get back to protego ,” I said.
He mounted the stairs without invitation; he was the sort not to need invitation.
I spread out my books on one of the two desks in the attic; I was lucky Aberforth never used his. Grindelwald took the other, already looking contemplative.
“What are you thinking?” I asked.
“How to track the wand,” he replied, still looking at his papers. “I’m missing something but we’ll get there. Maybe this afternoon.”
“It could be any day,” he said, “But I believe in being just a little optimistic.” His eyes left his book and he flashed me his signature grin.
I didn’t have anything to say to that, so I didn’t say anything. My fondness of his company felt foolish—there is no need to study in a room with others. Although, there is if one wants to take a break for the sake of wizarding chess. But regardless of the activity, I was glad he was there.
That I wanted him was secondary to my desire to keep him around me in some respect. I have wanted many things over my life, thought I wanted others. I can tell you now only from experience that what I truly wanted at seventeen was an equal. Not a bed companion, not a best friend, not a brother, not a mentor. Simply an equal. And when I found that in Gellert Grindelwald, it was the most natural thing in the world that I fell in love; that he loved me back was both proof of the divine and of my own power.
But I get ahead of myself, dear reader, because while I hoped -- and maybe in my heart of hearts, knew--that I’d garnered his affection, the first two weeks of our acquaintance still felt more surreal than anything.
I will tell you this, of that afternoon. We did not find out how to trace any wand, let alone the Elder Wand. At half past two, Aberforth, the brother I’d been neglecting since the beginning of the summer, rapped sharply on the door to our makeshift study.
He stepped in the room before either Grindelwald or I replied--neither of us were easily drawn away from our studies, although perhaps he was the more distractible of us two.
Aberforth was not pleased. “Albus,” he said, without waiting for any sort of introduction to be made, “I need a word.”
“This is Gellert Grindelwald,” I replied, standing, and gesturing to my friend. A moment passed. “And this is my brother Aberforth.”
“Charmed,” said Grindelwald, his trademark smirk the centerpiece of his face.
“I know,” said Aberforth just as impatiently as he’d knocked. “Albus. A word.”
In my heart of hearts, dear reader, I was annoyed. But I swallowed my discontent, nodded as serenely as I could manage (which, I assure you, at age seventeen, was not very serene), and followed Aberforth out of the attic. As soon as the door closed behind me, I turned on him, and half-whispered, “What was so important?”
Aberforth’s temper has always been quick to flare, and flare it did then, “You’re not around often enough for me to talk to you without interrupting something ever so important,” he hissed. “You run around with that boy and you don’t have time for your family.”
“Must be difficult,” I said, “To have to give up something for your family. As if that’s not what I was doing before you got here.”
“That was your choice,” he retorted. “I would have come home if you had asked.”
“That’s not the point,” I said, “You know I couldn’t let you do that.”
As I write this now, I realize that our words were closer to the truth than I remember them being; it must have been our voices that told the sort of falsities that only anger can manufacture.
“I need to know you’ll protect her,” he said, his voice sounding almost kind until he rounded upon the next sentence, “And I don’t have any proof of that. When’s the last time you’ve seen her?”
I knew even then that it had been too long, but I was angry--that his accusation was the truth was what made me angry. I confess being a great wizard has always come easier to me than a good man. But in my old age, I will not hide behind whatever greatness I managed to muster in my many years. I was wrong, unequivocally and entirely, and I assure you this is just the beginning of how wrong I managed to be that summer.
“You’re jealous,” I said, already working hard to think of whatever would hurt him most. “Jealous that you’ve left no mark at Hogwarts, have no friends, and are defined by your father’s scandal and your older brother’s genius. And careful, it’s making you pathetic.”
He waited a long moment, fists curled up into tiny balls, pale blue eyes shining with fury and hurt, wavy brown hair curled just past the nape of his neck, his hand-me-down clothes slightly askew. It’s a picture of my brother I will never forget. After an angry moment, he took a threatening step towards me, half-heartedly shoved me into the door, and turned tail before I had a chance to retaliate.
I took a few heavy breaths before my anger faded and I felt slightly sick with guilt. But being Albus Dumbledore, I pushed that guilt aside, put it in a tiny box where I could so easily forget about it, and walked back into the peaceful room I’d left.
Grindelwald pretended he hadn’t heard a thing.
Chapter 5: Newton's Cove
“Let’s not study, today,” he said, and I agreed in a flash. He was in a reckless mood, irrepressible and bright and so joyful that I wondered what I could do to keep it like this, between us, always, light and full-to-bursting.
I suggested a walk, and then felt foolish given his penchant for Apparition, but to my surprise, he agreed. “Walking’s not so bad if you don’t have a destination,” he said, “and the summer’s nice enough right now.”
We walked, languidly at first, as suited the morning. It was warm but not hot, with clouds that passed over the sun regularly but quickly; it was windy, too, this morning.
“How did you learn to Apparate, anyway,” I asked, because most professors won’t teach it, no matter how advanced the student might be, until they’re fifteen or, more usually, sixteen. I’d learned it in the weeks after I passed my OWLS fifth year, but I had been a special case.
“Durmstrang’s more…” he paused slightly, as if gathering the right word, “flexible,” he decided on. “If you’re talented, you’re treated as an adult.”
That sounded nice to me, although I suppose I had already been granted my fair share of respect from those older than me as well as younger.
We lapsed into a comfortable silence. The town, the brook, the wind in the trees, the humming of insects, became increasingly loud as the day warmed into late morning.
“How far can you Apparate?” he asked.
“I’ve never really approached my limit, I think,” I said, “although I don’t truly know. The farthest I’ve gone is about 20 kilometers. And that was only because I didn’t realize how far I was away.”
He nodded seriously. “It’s something I want to improve, but it always seems to be such a risk to test it. And I suppose I haven’t thought much into it.”
Again, silence. A moment later, we tried to speak at the same time, but I let him go first and whatever had been on my mind vanished at the prospect he suggested.
“Let’s Apparate north, to the beach.”
I thought for a moment. “It’s only what, 50 kilometers? But we don’t know the area, or any place in between. So there’d be nothing to visualize.”
Grindelwald shrugged, but he was not in the mood to be deterred nor deflated. His grin reappeared as if he had an exciting secret and I smiled wryly back at him.
“Do you trust me?” he asked, and his face just then was as kind as it was devious--but it was his eagerness that won me over.
But I am not one to admit my vulnerabilities, and so, naturally, I replied, “I’ve known you less than a week.”
He nodded, fake deliberately, and returned, “So you do trust me!”
“With many things, sure, but not to not get splinched trying to apparate 50 kilometers without knowing your destination!”
“That’s where you’re wrong, dear friend”--oh, how my heart leapt, why did it leap?-- “I do know my destination. Both of them. Which will break up the apparition and allow us to only apparate as far as we know we are capable.”
“You can’t know the destination,” I said calmly, because it was true, unless he’d traveled this exact path by foot before, and because this was not the sort of thing I could allow him to remain mysterious about. “Either of them.”
Grindelwald raised his eyebrows so smugly it was nearly obscene, his face sharp and almost cruel. He stopped walking, turned to face me, and I crossed my arms, meeting his glare with as much confidence as I could muster.
His serious face turned smiling after only a moment, harsh angles turning back to his open-lipped smile. “Of course I know,” he disagreed, dropping eye contact with me and all at once continuing to walk. “I’m a Seer.”
I was shocked enough to take a moment before speaking. He grinned over his shoulder at me, hiding his face just slightly, and I gathered my response.
“So?” I said, letting no expression at all take over my face. I couldn’t bear to give him the satisfaction. “That won’t help you find the destination, I know how Seeing works, I’m not a fool.”
“Of course you’re not,” he said, stifling a laugh, again. “And yes, while I am a Seer, that’s not how I plan to find our destination, obviously.”
“Obviously,” I echoed, a little mockingly. “You are in a strange mood today.”
“Maybe so. But come on, you’re clever enough to guess how we can do it.”
And I was, or so I thought. And part of me loved this dynamic, this always-with-something to prove one upmanship, because before, no one had ever kept up. But that day, perhaps a sign of what was to come, I was tired, and I didn’t feel like being one step ahead. Perhaps I should have.
“I don’t need to prove my cleverness,” I said, and I must have scowled more than I intended, because his facade collapsed, for a moment at least, and he became kinder than I’d seen him before.
“I know you don’t,” he said. “The world might ask you for more and more, to prove your greatness over and over, but Albus…” he paused, trying to find the right words, and he put his hand on my shoulder. “You’ll never have to prove anything to me. You’ve already proved yourself a hundred times over?”
How? I thought, a word, a question, that cleared away every impulse I had and made me stand stock still.
Instead, I said, “I’ve only known you a little while.”
“Time doesn’t move at the same speed for us as it does for the rest of the world,” he said. Somehow he always knew what to say, and I remembered how, when I first met him, he’d introduced me as his old friend.
I smiled at him, and he held my eyes for a moment before dropping his hand off my shoulder. “I suppose you’re right,” I said. “Sometimes--”
I stopped speaking, suddenly hesitating, because I was not the sort to say what was on my mind simply because it was on my mind; there had to be a reason, a benefit, something that would be gained for the other person and not just for myself. So I stopped speaking.
He saw me stop, and said, “You can say anything.”
In my memories, though I do not know if these are accurate, he looked almost hopeful.
It didn’t take much for me to continue: “Sometimes, I feel like I could lose anything in the world and still be happy if I knew for sure that we could do--” I paused, and gestured around us, “ this, all our lives.”
Just walk, and talk, and learn, and live, and do magic.
He laughed, in his appreciative, light way, and said, “We can!”
I smiled back at him. “Now,” he added, “Let me tell you what I had in mind to make it to the beach. I was thinking Newton’s Cove, I’ve seen it on a map in my aunt’s library.”
He told me his plan--a banishing charm to send a two way mirror to our first location; apparate to said location, and repeat the process to the beach. It was simple enough. The hardest part would be to assign an accurate location to depulso, which is difficult to manage, although the charm itself was taught to thirteen year olds.
We got there not more than a half hour later, tired from our journey, but laughing, always laughing. His face was so bright--and we walked around the rocky shoreline, watched the waves, small but still impressive for one that does not live near water. We watched gulls shriek, measured the day with the sun, and I felt so overcome with joy that my cheeks ached.
We wandered into the muggle town in the early afternoon, on foot, of course, rather than Apparition, though I’m sure our wardrobes still drew attention to us. We were hungry. I loitered by the town entrance, because Grindelwald said that I’d be hopeless if I accompanied him--I knew he meant stealing, but I didn’t consider it too deeply, somehow failed to consider, in my youth, that stealing is stealing from someone, not merely from oblivion. Magic makes you forget things like that, I think, when anything in the world is so easily summoned in front of your fingertips, that you forget from whence it came.
He came back with a smorgasbord of items--a side of grilled fish, several hard boiled eggs, and even salt water taffy. I’d only ever had taffy at Christmas; I didn’t know it was made in the summer.
He rushed down the street, clutching what he held in his arms, some of it wrapped in newspaper, some of it not--and beckoned to me to follow, laughing; it occured to me that he had stolen it without any magic, after all, I knew not why, and I followed him, heart in my throat though I was hardly an accomplice.
We stopped after a while, realizing that no one had followed him, and I doubt he expected anyone to. Grindelwald was perhaps a little too talented at a few nefarious activities, but in the delight of that summer afternoon, I did not think of that. I did not think of anything at all, and we ate, and laughed, and when we had eaten, put our hands and our feet in the ocean, shoes abandoned just a few meters away from the shore.
The sun passed behind a cloud, and I realized it was late afternoon. A twinge of guilt possessed me, for a moment, but indeed, only a moment. I had gone another day without seeing Ariana, and suddenly it felt unforgivable.
He saw the change in me--he was remarkable, that way, and, dear reader, I must challenge you--if someone that you knew could read you, could see you, that easily, would you not fall in love? No matter how sinister their character? For to be seen, to be understood--well, let me leave it at this, my friend. To be seen fully is a once-in-a-lifetime event. And who you are seen by tells you much about yourself.
He asked me if I was alright, and suddenly the water seemed a little cold.
“Fine, I suppose,” I said. I still was unused to being honest with anyone, for honesty works only for those who are already socially adept--something that I was not by nature, and perhaps am still not.
But I remembered, that he wanted--he wanted to know. And it was as simple as that.
“Ariana,” I said, “Aberforth--when he came up to speak with me, that’s what it was about. I haven’t been very good to her.”
I do not know what I expected as a response, but what he said was not it: “It bothers you because you’re good, Albus,” he said. “But sometimes you have to put aside good things to be great.”
With that, the sun seemed a little warmer--not as warm as it was before, but still resplendent in the way that it only can be on a late summer afternoon.
Chapter 6: The Lanterns
The first time I kissed him it felt natural, correct, inevitable.
It was three weeks after we’d met. I hadn’t kissed anyone since childhood, something playful but not meaningful. I didn’t wait for him to kiss me. The way he was looking at me left no doubt and there was nothing to consider, nothing to think about. His mouth was soft and his hands were cold and he reached up and touched my face so gently, breathed in and pulled me closer to him, and it was the most natural touch I’d ever felt; I cannot tell you how alive I felt, how fast my heart was beating, how all my limbs went weak.
He pulled away for a breath, one of his hands still buried in my hair, the other hovering by my shoulder, and it was then that I knew we were meant for each other, that I made him feel how he made me feel--insatiable, like one touch was more than anything I’d ever had, like every second on earth was wasted unless we were together.
He drew a shaky breath. “Thank goodness,” he said, ever so quietly, and he chuckled a little at himself. I couldn’t help but laugh, because it was thank goodness for him, too, and I—
I pulled him back to me, kissed him again, emboldened by euphoria—this beautiful boy, this wonderful mind—meeting with mine, seeing me, wanting me, craving me in a way I didn’t know I needed to be craved—and those beautiful lips, on mine.
He pulled back again. “Someone could see,” he said. As if he was the sort of person to care. He paused, and added—that crooked grin back on his lips again, why couldn’t I stop looking at his lips?--“and I wouldn’t want to have to Obliviate them.”
I smiled back at him, reached out to touch his hand, and nodded. I was the sort of person to care.
Sounds emerged around us, then, sounds I didn’t realize I hadn’t been hearing. Birds. I must have looked dazed, standing there, just having kissed the one person I’d ever regarded as an equal, dizzy from shock, wondering how this could be real—
He met my eyes, his face just so close to mine, and asked, cocky as ever, “Speechless?”
He quirked an eyebrow, and I knew there was no way I could give him the satisfaction of fumbling my answer.
“Not quite,” I said. “I guess you’ll have to try a little harder next time.”
He laughed, easy and untethered, and we stood there, by the oak tree and the little creek, smiling like two idiots, united in our secret and the sacred feeling of that little garden.
We must have sat down by the tree, leaned up against its trunk. Even today, though I have not been back to the creek since that summer, I can summon exactly how it smelled. Warm. Earthy. Sour. Perpetually blessed with a warm breeze. I cannot remember sitting, but I remember hearing the birdsong, feeling so comfortable despite the summer heat—his sleeves were rolled up, there was a light breeze, and people chattering from a block or two over. Nothing needed to be said and yet there was so much to be shared.
He snapped his fingers as if he’d had a sudden thought, and it almost startled me.
“Don’t worry,” he said, and he leaned away from the tree and towards me so that he was facing me: “I’d love to come back to this.” He gestured. “But think of this—”
And I could tell by the light in his eyes that he was so very far away, his mind working on one of his interminable projects, and I must admit I found his excitement ever so infectious.
“The spells that the Ministry uses to track wizards—” he saw my look and anticipated my question, “I know that they’re easily confounded, so no one uses it very much anymore, but I’m getting to that—they’re based on wizards having unique magical signatures. Some seers can sense magic, almost like recognizing someone’s unique smell. Well, what if wands do, too—or at least a wizard’s magical signature interacted with his wand?”
“It’s worth testing,” I said. “we’d need to test someone’s magical signature before, with one wand, and see how or if it changes if they get a new one. But if the wand does influence the signature, or have its own one—”
He interrupted. “That’s how we’ll find it. The elder wand. The first deathly hallow.”
I cannot tell you how my heart soared when he said “we.” Nothing with Gellert Grindelwald was guaranteed, but that ‘we’ sounded like a promise that he wouldn’t leave me behind. And, dear reader, I had never wanted anything as much as I wanted him not to leave me behind. Yet my mind only dwelled on that for a moment, because what we were proposing was in itself fascinating.
“Assuming we can figure out what the elder wand’s signature is,” I said.
“Yes,” he said, brows furrowed.
“But we will,” I said. “And I think I know where to start.”
We walked and talked until late that night. And when it was nearly midnight, he walked me home, and muttered a spell—intentionally obscuring it so that I would not hear. It cast us both in darkness, the flickering street lanterns going out one by one.
“What spell is that?” I asked, knowing he would not tell me.
“An invention of mine,” he said. “Let me keep my secrets.” It was so dark I couldn’t see if he was smiling, but I knew he was.
“I’ll figure it out,” I said. “But fine, waste my time.”
He took my hand in his and kissed me.
“Now no one can see,” he said. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” I echoed. When the flame from the lanterns returned, he was gone.
Chapter 7: The International Statute of Secrecy
When I slipped into bed that night, I could not sleep. And so as I often did, when I had nothing but the dark to preoccupy myself with, I thought.
The promise of Grindelwald’s partnership, let alone a romance with him, had seemed too good to be true from the beginning. Something nagged at me, even in my seventeen-year-old, naïve heart, though I knew not what. And I admit that the size of that worry was so small proportionate to the magnitude of my joy that I was not willing to investigate it. I should have been more worried. I should have probed it, should have prodded my doubts until they bloomed and then, maybe then, the tragedies to come could have been averted.
But even by that night, lying in my bed, the weak light of an oil lamp casting shadows on the walls of my bedroom, my point of no return had already passed. I was more attached than I care to admit. It had been three weeks since I had met him, and I, dear reader, would have followed him to the ends of the earth had he asked me to.
In my youth I thought that was rather out of character for me, but now I realize it is not. Until that point, I had lived blissfully ignorant of my own loneliness, and when I got a taste of understanding, it was natural for me to cherish it, to follow it, to protect it at all costs.
He did not ask the world of me, not yet. When we met the next day, we played chess. He was unusually quiet, although he was often quiet when he was pondering something. I knew better than to question it, because now that our partnership was established, I knew he would tell me what it was when he was ready.
And ready he was, half-way through our game. I had just placed him in check—it was a small point of pride of mine that of the dozen or so games we’d played, he’d only won three—and he placed his hand on the table and tapped his finger, agitated.
“Say it,” I said.
He gestured as if to say, “You asked for it.” And yet he still seemed conflicted.
“Very well,” he said. “It’s wrong.”
“What’s wrong?” He enjoyed drawing out conversations, making people confess their interest in him. I was happy enough to play along, since he returned the favor.
“The International Statute of Secrecy.”
I nodded once. “Yes, I agree,” I said, “But why?”
“You first,” said Grindelwald.
“Absolutely not,” I replied. “You started it, you get to explain yourself so I can make sure we’re even talking about the same thing.”
He rolled his eyes, and I realized suddenly that where that gesture would normally have been all gaiety, he was a little tense, and trying to hide it.
“Tell me,” I said, “Tell me because I’m curious, curious to know you and for you to know me.”
There was a long pause after that, but I knew I’d said the right thing.
“There’s things about me that would scare you,” he said, and he said it simply, without any bravado, without any joy, with the sort of resolve that made me instantly understand that he was serious, and moreover that he was correct. There would be things about Grindelwald that once I learned, would frighten me.
But that did not come as a surprise.
“I’m ready to be scared,” I said simply. “I can be brave if you need me to be.”
He smiled at that, a small smile but one that made me feel a little bit triumphant. (As I think of this now, it makes me feel foolish. But it does not make sense to lie in one’s own memoires.)
He drew a breath and began.
“It’s wrong that we have to answer to Muggles, it’s wrong that they’re in control and have been since the witch trials. We learn so much about magical history in school but ignore the truth, which is that we’ve been in hiding, in America, in Europe, and probably the East, although it’s impossible to find information on it. They expect us to protect them from ourselves and from the truth, and we have laws to enforce this because we’re afraid, because there’s 10 of them for every 1 of us. But we shouldn’t be afraid, or persecuted because we’re more powerful than them. We shouldn’t have to hide. And, well, if they don’t like it, and it’s us or them, then I choose us.”
My readers may recognize this rhetoric as some of Grindelwald’s more sensible arguments, jumbled slightly though it was from his ardor. I have never been particularly fond of the International Statute of Secrecy, though I have seen the wisdom in it since Ariana’s attack.
“Is it worth a war?” I asked him, though I knew how he would answer.
“Isn’t freedom worth everything?” he replied. “Even the Muggles agree with me on that.”
When I think about the countless sacrifices that people have made through centuries, when I think about everything parents have risked just so their children could live their lives out from under the shackles of poverty, or sickness, or the tyranny of other people, I have to agree with Grindelwald. Even the Muggles agreed with him.