Time crawled slowly. The seasons changed: the magnificent Alps turned lush green in spring as flowers and herbs blossomed; in winter, the mountain peaks sparkled with white snow. Sometimes, rarely, the autumn storms were so intense that the rain fell through the magical barriers around him. The summer sunshine, however, warmed his skin and his soul generously.

That was the only joy he still had in his life.

For hours, he had seethed and had walked up and down, trying to plan his escape. For days, he had glared at the darkest corner, munching on his defeat. For weeks, he had tried to dismantle something, the walls, the wards, the tiny window. During a fortnight of a blizzard, he had laid on the hard bed, shivering under a single blanket, his teeth chattering. There were months he had spent musing over one thing or another he had done in the past, wondering if anybody would carry his legacy on. He had years to go through all the spells he had once learned, and there were decades he had reached out to magic in vain.

Completely alone and without a wand – any wand – he was the most insignificant wizard in the world. Cruelest irony! But the more he wished ill to those who played a part in his downfall, the more he realized he was blaming himself. And from that recognition, remorse blossomed and sent him into an even deeper despair.

He had once been a powerful wizard, or maybe THE most powerful. Now, was that any good? Had that been any good? Was there even a point in such questions? Was there any point in an answer that nobody would ever hear?

He had watched birds nesting on a nearby rock. He had heard the parents when an eagle robbed the nest and had carried the helpless hatchling to its own brooding mate to feed on. 'His' birds had laid new eggs and had hatched them successfully. The powerful predator's own nest had been blown apart in the next storm.

And he couldn't have interfered with the way of life even if he had wanted to. What good was a wizard, with his own magic completely out of his reach?

The first time he had attempted wandless magic, absolutely nothing had happened. When he finally managed a primitive Tempus charm, he only got the year: it was 1965. A humiliating result, even if there was nobody to laugh at him. Once, he had been searching for an equal; now, he would have given his useless hands just for an hour with another human. By 1979 he would have avidly agreed to a werewolf companion. Maybe even a muggle.

Nobody asked, nobody offered.

One night he had felt something horrible happen. He cast a loud Tempus again, and for the first time, he at least got the date completely. It was the thirty-first of October, 1981.

Encouraged by the illusion of a success, he kept practicing. Charms that had been so obviously easy once, and some more advanced spells, because if something had gone wrong, there was a chance he might eventually need to use them. Disillusionment alone took him a month, but he had time. Far too much time.

He tried to follow a rhythm. Hiding under his blanket and thinking about his past was limited to the coldest hours of darkness. When he exhausted himself with his limited, primitive access to magic, he would shamble to the only window and stare down at the world that was still out there. Even on cloudless nights, he could only see a fragment of the firmament, but it was enough to keep track of the planets. Astrology was widely considered unreliable, but the Mars glowing so brightly couldn't be misinterpreted. A violent change was in the making. Could that be a muggle thing? Or was his nimbus so short-lived that he would be still alive when the next wizard rose to ultimate power, only to fall when he's at his highest? Or maybe it's a witch, this time?

The following spring he had a vision, hardly more than a dream. He had seen Albus, asking some overgrown caveman if he could saddle one of the – here the vision ended abruptly, denying him contact again.

He hated Albus Dumbledore. That man was the reason of his imprisonment, the figure in the shadows and in the flashes of spellfire, the last being he would have wanted contact to. But he was his equal. The opposite of the worthless, faceless crowd on Earth. An intelligent man one could talk to, debate with, or plan together. A potential obstacle if he would ever get out of here. And perhaps the only one who could get inside.

He hated Albus Dumbledore. He also hated himself. He hated the situation that was entirely his own making, he hated that Albus had finally been provoked into defeating him. One didn't need Divination to guess Albus even had received his own chocolate frog card for what had happened.

Then, the next day, he was deeply disappointed when the vision didn't repeat itself, and more so, because it didn't continue. He wanted to know what Dumbledore was up to. Even when the victorious wizard clearly wasn't concerned with him anymore.

The morning after he woke with a headache that wouldn't pass until he stumbled to the tiny window for some fresh air. There in the distance, amidst the morning clouds, something was flying, disillusioned, but sending the vapor into turmoil with every flap of large wings. Too small to be a dragon, and way too quiet. He lost sight when the wind blew apart the cloudscape, but he couldn't tear his heterochromiac eyes from where he suspected the well-disguised phenomenon to be travelling.

Indeed, suddenly large claws grabbed the tiny window edge, and large grey hippogriff wings appeared out of seemingly nowhere. A moment later, the entire camouflage was gone.

The rider in the saddle was an old man, wearing brilliant robes and a pair of half-moon spectacles, both his hair and beard were long and white, and both had been tied into a lose ponytail. The two wizards looked into each other's eyes, full with a million emotions. The visitor muttered something, perhaps a name, perhaps an apology. The wandless prisoner, though forewarned, took long minutes before he could speak, not to mention coming to a decision. Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore was the only wizard capable of breaking the monotony in this place. Even loathing him from close was better than scrying at him in an abruptly-ending vision from hundreds of kilometers away.

The wandless man put both hands on the sides of the window, reaching into his own magic that had filled and formed the dark walls. With all his strength, desperate not to let the opportunity drop, he pushed the window frames apart, the structure's magic reluctantly giving in to his command. Soon, the hatch was large enough that the visitor could fit through. "Come in. It's been a while."

It's been far too long. Albus was old, pot-bellied, he had to take a rest after pulling himself inside.

But when he looked at the wizard he had abandoned, his blue eyes were full with regret, remorse, and somewhere beyond hose, undeserving hope.

"I'm so…"

"Late? Yes." They both knew, 'sorry' was the word Albus couldn't say out loud. "Did something happen?"

Dumbledore looked around in the tiny place, not coming closer, and eventually, he settled on the windowsill.

"Since you're asking, yes, I have a bit of a Dark Lord situation."

Grindelwald nodded knowingly. "Already." He took a breath through his mouth. "So, continue."

"He calls himself Voldemort. Being without a body right now didn't stop him from breaking into Gringotts in London, or from possessing a teacher at Hogwarts. He's after the Philosopher's Stone, and once he gets his hand on it, his return would be horrible. I told everyone that I already destroyed it, but he might see through that – I need to hide it in a place that's properly warded and where he would never look and never reach. And not even the school is safe from him."

The prisoner nodded in cold understanding. His blue eye's gaze was like a piercing iceberg; the brown eye resembled the infinite space. "And where else to hide your pebble, if not with a wizard who doesn't want to live?" He didn't add 'forever'. He didn't add 'at all'.


"When I saw you, I thought you'd need my help. But no – you are desperate for it."

A second wave of guilt flashed on Albus's face. Well deserved. But throwing him out would have been extremely counterproductive. He was the first and only visitor in over four decades, and that secured some privileges for the old man.

The prisoner took a breath, again. Saying incantations aloud wasn't exactly the same as holding up long conversations. "Well, it's not like that stone would be in my way. There's a rock lose just a handspan below your left thumb." Albus's eyes lit up at this hint of future forgiveness, a very uncertain smile appeared on his face. Here was the opportunity to ask something in return. "But now, tell me what happened on 31st of October, 1981."

It was only 29th of May, 1993, three more days from June. At the end of June, Albus would be back and fill him in with the school year's events.

Wasn't it just pitiable, to count the days until he could have a word with the one who defeated him?! But pride and self-esteem have a very unfortunate aspect to them: they both work only when there's somebody else who would judge you for being weak. To the lonely wizard, they lost their meaning frighteningly fast. The more he tried to hold on to his reputation, the more acutely he was aware of his losses. Again.

The Philosopher's Stone was safely embedded in the wall, a handspan from the window. Nothing but a thin fracture indicated that Dumbledore had been here. That visit could have been a game his own mind was playing, if not for the fact that the window frame was still slightly bent and dented. He never had found the drive to enlarge the hatch when he had been alone.

The sun slowly set; it was time to settle down on the bed, maybe not yet for sleeping, but to sit with his chin on his knees - this way he could still see the cloudless sky. The sun set at 20:29. It rose again at 4:52 the following day.

It wasn't even six o'clock in the morning when a huge fire burst out in the middle of the sole inhabited cell, and in the phoenix-fire, an old man appeared.

"Gellert, you've always been a morning person, I hope you don't mind me dropping in a bit early."

Albus's beard wasn't even tied together yet. The overall impression was that of an aged child, having sneaked out of his own school after curfew. Not exactly how a headmaster acts under normal circumstances.

"How's the Cloak Boy doing?"

"Harry's well, I assure you. Sleeping off a basilisk attack in the infirmary right now. He's quite the warrior, at this tender age."

"What BASILISK?" Belying his age, the frail one jumped from his bed, as if ready to punch his defeater in the face. "How far will you go testing if Death really cannot find him? Until he has a son?"

Dumbledore didn't rise to the bait. "I wasn't even at Hogwarts at the time. I was trying to get our gamekeeper out of Azkaban."

That didn't sound like a very good excuse. That boy had inherited the Cloak of Invisibility after his father had been murdered while in hiding. What was even worse, now the child had to be raised by muggles! An heir of one of the Hallows!

Sadly, imprisonment didn't match well with his wish to offer the boy a safe home and proper education. And throwing Albus out wouldn't have helped the situation any bit. He forced himself to sit back.

"As you just pointed out, the one and only thing about you that I don't mind is your setting this place aflame at six in the morning. So, what couldn't wait?"

With a relieved smile, Albus handed over a small black booklet, then settled on the windowsill, just like the year before.

"Tom Riddle's diary. Would you share an expert's opinion?"

Most obviously, the block of papers wasn't important for some text that had been written on the pages. The entire thing was soaked in what felt more like blood than ink, and it had been stabbed with a sharp, round object, perhaps a huge tooth.

"Basilisk?" he queried.

"Harry took out the fang from his own wounded arm and did what he felt right. Fawkes was already there to see to the wound."

Then the bird was of more use to the Cloak's master than the old wizard.

"So what do you think?"

The blood-like ink was a plain giveaway. Being destroyed this effectively by basilisk venom was another.

"Do you know of any unexplained deaths around the time this was made?" the thinner wizard finally asked, not looking up from the pierced pages. "Any mortal enemies? Someone really meaningful to him?"

"Other school children," Dumbledore breathed. "Horcrux, isn't it?" That was a rhetoric question, ignoring it was good enough an answer.

"So, wrong place, at the wrong time?" the prisoner asked, now checking the cover for any further clues.

Albus nodded.

"The most dangerous art of soul magic, and it was tied to such an unremarkable object…" the previously so feared wizard mused aloud. "I suppose I'm just confirming what you already suspect: this was only a test for your dark lord."

The visitor's jaw dropped. No, he hadn't picked up the clues yet. Too naïve. "How could it be a test?"

"He read about horcrux creation and applied it to the first object at hand. Look here – clearly, it's been in use before, he must have been seen with it. A horcrux is meant to keep the soul safe, even after a downfall, when any personal object might be destroyed. A diary, even when it's really nothing more, is far too obvious a target. Even portraits get destroyed all the time, don't they? Also, there's nothing glorious to having it conquered. This might have been a first, but was never intended to be the last."

With that, he handed the tiny black book back to the school headmaster. "Making up to three horcruxes is a very scarcely studied art, usually observed in long-standing wars. Theoretically, there's no limit on how many other people one can kill, but splintering the soul comes with wicked side effects."


"In the worst case I read about, the soul parted from the witch and moved into her own pet kneazle. In hindsight, she was lucky she wasn't working with flobberworms at the time."

Albus rubbed his forehead, lost in thought. "Any ideas where I could look that up, please?"

Now that was a tougher question. "There was a sorcerer in the XV. century who experimented with tearing apart souls, although most of the time, it wasn't his own. Ask my dear alma mater if there's anything about Ekrizdis in the private collections, although he wasn't quite the helpful guy to share his knowledge."

Unlike a certain once-a-friend. Maybe, once-an-enemy. Why was he willing to help? Was there a point in giving honest answers, while all Albus had done, was making Harry's life worse? Really, what was a crime against the entire Wizarding World, if leaving innocent orphans with muggles wasn't?

During the next few years, the Cloak's ability to hide its master from Death had quite been put to a test. There was a dementor attack, then falling off a broom from high above the Quidditch stadium. A werewolf forgetting his potion and a traitor who had only been waiting for the opportunity. Another dementor attack, from which the kid had to save his own self by going back three hours. Somebody (Albus loudly denied to have had anything with this) had the idea of pitting the child against a nesting dragon. Then there was a returning dark lord, complete with a fistful of followers. Having survived all that, the Cloak's master was yet again forced to spend the summer holidays with muggles, only to be attacked by his Ministry for righteous self-defense. The way dementors appeared so obsessed with tearing out his soul was also more than concerning.

Albus was running errands all July, trying to gather his forces against a dark lord whose return the British Ministry of Magic was denying loudly. He became the secret-keeper of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, a traditional (and almost extinct) pureblood family's abandoned home. In his spare time, he was trying to gather a list of important objects lost in the time window between murdering Moaning Myrtle and Voldemort's rise to power. The death of Hugrabug's descendant was the best lead, but she had had an excessive collection of probable horcrux material objects, and a senile house elf who could never tell the aurors if anything was missing.

Eventually, on a warm August night, Albus arrived to share his recent findings. They spent hours with wild speculation, narrowing down the list. Then Dumbledore remembered Riddle attempting to get his hand on Gryffindor's sword, and suddenly there was a pattern: one object from the Hogwarts founders each.

But, even if one ignored the test-horcrux diary, there were four founders, not three. That sent the three-horcrux theory out the window. The next considerable magical number was seven. Even hoping that Voldemort counted his own remaining self (according to Albus, he was egomaniac enough to do so) in while he was planning, that meant six intended objects he had intended to trap his own self in. One was destroyed, two identified, something belonging to Ravenclaw was never accounted for, one he had failed to get – and no information how far he had managed to get before that killing curse had been cast at the Cloak's baby master.

The Sun rose, and they were still arguing, this time about the muggleborn mother's sacrifice, and whether that was reason enough to leave the Cloak's heir with magicless relatives, who were reportedly despicable even in their own category. By the time that debate cooled down (without reaching an understanding – Albus had way too much faith in his own ideals), it was nine o'clock, local time. Dumbledore was impressed, but not surprised at his once-opponent's wandless Tempus. Seeing the date, Second of August, had however sent him shouting for his bird, then vanishing in phoenix-flames in an unprecedented hurry.

Albus was not expected to show up in the middle of the spring term. Much less, in a cold evening, wearing his formal robes, and without his usual cheerful manners. No, he looked around as if to check that the phoenix didn't get the wrong address, and within moments he let go of his last ounce of self-control, ranting about a highly incompetent Ministry, the Wizengamot members whose stupidity and shortsightedness were only rivaled by those of the International Conference delegates. Something pink was being mentioned in the context of selected insults, with "I quit, I quit, I QUIT!" ending the tirade.

Grindelwald patiently sat through his mortal enemy's nervous breakdown, only discarding his one and only blanket when Albus finally shut his mouth to sit down on the other side of the only piece of furniture. This was a never returning opportunity to be magnanimous.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but that sounded like the Chief Warlock and Supreme Mugwump seeks asylum. In Nurmengard."

Before Albus would have regained his center, the unwilling hermit climbed down from the one-person bed, placing all his fingertips on a dark stone floor-tile. He had once enforced this cold fortress, fusing the walls with powerful protections. Now his magic once again found focus, hope, and the certainty that he was doing it for something larger than himself, and maybe (just maybe) the wand Albus must have been carrying on his person had still recognized him. The floor tile sank and broke up into a steep staircase, granting access to the lower levels.

The area below was covered in thick dust with an occasional weed growing here and there, just a corridor with a few open doors to barren cells, but Albus was a wizard with a wand (quite a powerful one…) in a place where the use of magic wasn't limited by stupid laws. He could see to the personal touch of his quarters, once he recovered from the shock.

"Asylum granted," he announced with a proud smile, getting back on the bed. "My place is yours."

Once in a lifetime, Albus didn't seem to have expected this level of generosity, didn't expect to receive help. He stared with tearful blue eyes, muttering his thanks. Unlike him, the phoenix immediately descended to the level below, making himself at home.

"You'll have to do your own shopping, however. And I recommend some disguise for that."

That was a wise advice, they both knew it. "Anything for you?" Albus asked, not missing the hinted request, but still blinking very awkwardly.

The hermit picked up a recently-dropped phoenix feather, and carefully placed it next to his bed. He looked up shyly, remorse shining in his blue eye, and pleading hope in the brown one. After all he had done, he didn't deserve any leniency. That was a fact.

"Ink. And something to write on."

Albus had outdone himself. Around noon the other day, he reappeared with a huge writing table, its top carved out of the trunk of an old wand-oak, with a pair of shelves that would always give the owner his papers back in neatly arranged piles, no matter how those sheets and rolls of parchment were tossed in. It also came with a cabinet that would always refill itself with blank paper, and several notebooks that would have exactly as many pages as the writer would need. There was also a collection of quill-tips and a flask of ink that wouldn't spill. Dumbledore must have forgotten that the greatest dark wizard of the century (and he was not about to surrender that title to some muggle-raised half snake!) had a weapon much better than any wand. Even that one made of elder.

Out of some very basic politeness and in honor of their once-so-strong friendship, his numerous questions had to wait until Albus had slept out his ordeal with his Ministry and all those committees he had once been nominally the leader of. Upon arrival, he had been on the verge of collapsing. Grindelwald had never seen him so exhausted.

In his wait for Dumbledore to recover, he started making his first notes. There was nothing on the sheets that Albus wasn't already familiar with, so him coming across the drafts was, in fact, welcome. He corrected a few factual mistakes.

"What makes you so obsessed with Harry's life?"

"Perhaps the fact it's unfiltered propaganda against muggles?" Fun fact: that was quite the opposite of why he would start writing about him. Albus didn't need to know just yet. "Best of all, it's true."

"Because being killed by Voldemort would be any better than him staying with his aunt?"

"He will willingly walk into Voldemort's curse if his family continues like that."

"Only two months now, and one before his last birthday there!"

That argument was getting old. Maybe switching the topic would feel random, but wouldn't raise doubts.

"As a former Supreme Mugwump, Albus, what would you do if someone managed to break the Statute without causing harm to anybody?"

"There is no such thing as breaking the Statute without leading to violence," Dumbledore said, deflating. "That's why it was agreed on, in the first place. Maybe the violator would only mean good, but fighting against what you're unwilling to accept is still in the human nature. I do find it within me, for certain."

"Yes, but I was asking theoretically. If the lack of acceptance is entirely omitted."

Tough question.

"First I would try and calmly talk the offender out of doing it."

A twinkle appeared in Grindelwald's blue eye, and it spread into a huge grin.

"Calmly?" he asked with the most innocent smile, so that it was Albus who broke out in a laughter first.

"That's not what I meant!"

"That's what you said last time, too!" the hermit laughed. "Calmly!"

"And I meant it, at the time!" Dumbledore insisted, shaking with laughter. Oh, he had! "I intended to be calm!"

"Yes, you did, only when Auntie Bathilda…" But he couldn't continue, Dumbledore's laughter was infectious, and that hilarious argument between of the old witch and teenager Albus was still too vivid in their memories.

"She tried a silencing charm…"

"And you blocked it. And continued, double volume," the hermit recalled in high spirits.

"It was your idea to start digging up the local cemetery."

"But you told me you'd ensure she doesn't interfere. And you said, calmly. C-A-L-M-L-Y."

"Yes, well, it was a bit of a Gryffindor version of calm!"

Grindelwald delightedly nodded. "So I remember." His momentarily-serious face sparkled a new burst of laughter from the other wizard. "You speaking calmly. Calmly!"

"And I truly meant, calmly!"

The other great wizard just nodded, grinning all too widely. Their tears came out, cracking up again and again at something so old in their shared history, and their shoulders shook whenever either of them managed to repeat the word 'calmly'.

Eventually, they both needed something to lie against, so they hugged each other, tighter than ever, shrieking at their past, holding on to the memories in the present, and never, never willing to let go.

"…And it was a fine ride over the ocean, until, somewhere halfway between the continents, a flock of seagulls crossed my way."

The two wizards were sitting on a ledge just outside what functioned as Dumbledore's bedroom, not far from the large Deathly Hallows symbol. The normally invisible wards flashed menacingly whenever the prisoner tried to climb just a little further, and Dumbledore's small gestures hinted at his regret that he wouldn't diminish them. His reluctance to do so was more than understandable, and he had already gone out of his way to do whatever he could to help the war criminal harboring him: he had forgiven the worst wizard of the century.

"Have you ever tried to steer a hungry thestral from chasing its prey? Trust me, you don't EVER want to try that with six!"

"And the couch had apparition blocks on it, I suppose."

"Except for a spot between the wheels."

He took a long sip from his beer before continuing. Albus had found an excellent brew in a hütte just out of sight: unlike the creamy butterbeer in Britain, this one was prepared purely from cereals, with a whole stem of dittany thrown in for its characteristic bitter taste, and as decoration. Fawkes, who was so fond of various herbs, had already fished those out of both their drinks, and he didn't look very sober at the moment.

The moon was already up between the Alpine peaks that were now glowing in silvery white. The snow caps would never melt completely, they only shrunk for the summer. Without warming charms, the two wizards would have been freezing up here, although it was late June. The OWLs and NEWTs were probably already over, unless something unpredictable had happened. More unpredictable than usual, that is.

"Talking of thestrals, Albus. I trust you still have the Wand?!"

"I do. But I know better than to tempt a wizard who already has a history of stealing it once."

Point taken.

"I am in no shape for a re-match. And I guess, I guess I wouldn't even need it. That's not why I asked."

Lying to himself was one thing he was never good at. He would have attempted a re-match if he still had any plans to do with it. But he had grown old in captivity and under the weight of his deeds, older than most wizards his age. All he wanted to do was to wreck the Statute of Secrecy, laugh once more in the face of the International Conference, then – he would accept whatever fate was to come. He needed Albus for that, however, more so than his wand.

"Then why did you ask?"

"According to Gregorovitch, it has thestral tail hair in it. Now, we know Antioch Perevell boasted about how he received it, right? And even in his version of the story, it was just broken off a nearby elder tree, without any thestral being mentioned."

Albus put his jar of beer down on the ledge and watched how his friend's blue eye reflected the snowy mountainsides' pale glow, as they were lit by the Moon, its light being a reflection itself.

"Not everybody can see thestrals; only those who have met and recognized… Oh. I see the problem. Interesting question, indeed." He reached for his jar again, but as he lifted it to his lips, he spotted something silver-white coming towards him through the crystal-clear sky. It resembled a wolf, although it was easy to mistake for a dog of some sort.

"Albus, where are you? Snape just told us that Harry had been lured to the Prophecies! The Order is getting ready to go in there as I cast, but please hurry back! We need you!"

With that, the patronus disappeared. A dragged-down old man remained, who had just been told that his much-needed holiday was over and he was due to return immediately. Seeing this, the other wizard grabbed his hand, pulled him closer. "You go back and fight alongside the Cloak Boy, alright? Do me a favor: don't let that worthless Riddle defeat you. Run like a coward, if you must. Trust Harry to the protection of his Hallow. Do not let Voldemort be my successor, you know what is at stake."

"Gellert, I…" The once-victorious wizard hugged the long-ago defeated one, sobbing his tears of goodbye into the shoulder of the other's threadbare shirt.

"You are needed over there. I am not. Go get your slightly illuminated phoenix, apparate to the hütte, then take the Floo home. And after saving the day, make sure those muggles treat the Cloak heir appropriately."

"I'll be back with you. I promise that."

He never returned.

The autumn was stormy and wild, full of clouds and rain. During winter, the wind and snow penetrated the wards more so than ever since his great defeat, and, every day felt gloomier than the one before. By spring, Grindelwald noticed his range of motion growing day after day, and he could tell this was because Dumbledore's magic on the fortress was getting weaker and weaker.

With great dedication, he kept writing, and by spring, he was ready with the first book of propaganda he needed for his new plot.

Then, on the last day of June, the phoenix appeared with only a letter.

It addressed him as 'my dearest'. Then the next lines broke his heart.

Albus was dying. He had contacted a horrible curse while destroying a family ring that had belonged to Riddle's maternal family, and there were too many people he had to protect while he had too little time. Feeling his end near, he had already arranged his own murder, hoping that death on his own command would leave him undefeated, and this way the hallow would follow its last master to the grave.

"What? Fawkes, tell your idiot of a Dumbledore that his plan is ABSOLUTELY certain to fail!"

The phoenix turned around as if expecting to be grabbed. He let out a last trill, then took off, leaving only a tail feather on the windowsill in Albus's usual place.

He was still in sight when, all at once, the wards around Nurmengard collapsed. The one who had cast them was dead.

And there was the opportunity to properly honor him.

First he checked the lower levels for some cutlery, because proper wandmaking tools were most certainly not available. Then he cut off the edge of the writing-table, and placed the tail feather in it. The result was primitive and lacked any proper bonding, and it was, of course, no match to the one he had lost – but it was a wand still. Spilling some blood on his one and only blanket, he formed a shadow of his own magic on it, to mislead the auxiliary security charms. In the magical sense, he would still be at home. In the magical sense.

He cast some less suspicious clothes on himself, changed the color of his left eye (perhaps today's aurors were less stupid than their predecessors), grabbed the final draft of his first book, and apparated into the night.

Morning found him in London.

The world had changed a lot. The traffic jam, the flashing lights, and clashing colors were worse than what he remembered, and a drastic change the quiet mountains. Here and there he'd spotted dementors feeding off the muggle crowd, a Dark Mark was floating on the far side of the city. In Diagon Alley, the local newspaper had Dumbledore's death was on the front page and an advertisement for Rita Skeeter's oncoming book about him was on the back cover. Albus hadn't even been buried yet, and the hyenas were already out for his memory. He grit his magically regrown teeth and marched on. The sooner he would finish here, the sooner he could retreat home. He was not happy with any of this. Just a few hours before, Albus had been, maybe not well, but alive! But if the long-ago defeated wizard was to deal a real blow to wizarding secrecy, he had to act now, he had to act here. The British had managed to alienate themselves from all considerable international organizations with their lies about having the situation under control and refusing any outer help. They had their hands full with death eaters, and those who didn't busy themselves chasing them had to be either in hiding or trying to turn a blind eye to reality as a whole.

He held the manuscript close and left for the foul-smelling muggle streets again, following the address he found. Well… She found.

For weeks he had been struggling to come up with a pen name that had the initials I, O and A, preferably in this order. It had to stand for his chosen symbol, after all, but the matching name eluded him. A month after Albus left their mountain refuge, he decided that a small dash wouldn't matter, and J-O-A quickly led to 'Joanna'. He needed all the transfiguration skills his primitive wand could channel, but the disguise of a muggle woman would be the least likely to point all the aurors to a wizard like him. 'Joanna' already had her tearjerking backstory he would need when he'd be talking to his publisher: poverty, children, dreaming of an entirely different world – well, this last one was actually true. He was still dreaming of a world where wizardkind doesn't have to hide from lesser humans. Maybe he would live to see that, even if (oh, irony again) he has to hide himself from both sides. Albus provided him with everything he might need.

Before reaching his destination, he checked 'her' appearance again, gathering his thoughts. That crudely finished, knife-carved wand with clashing components would have given him a hard time if he would have had to resort to violence. But his greatest weapon had never been a wand, not even that treacherous stick from elder, with (possibly) thestral tail hairline.

Persuasion would do the job just fine.

The Wizarding World didn't even notice what he had done to their precious secrecy until February 2000. By that time he hadn't only published two sequels (right under the British Ministry's nose) but the muggles were busy translating the novels to so many languages, he was losing count. Wizardkind was not only on the way to be accepted, but, with all its faults, it was getting popular. He had been a hated wizard (now declared dead) but she was a becoming a celebrity. Seeing a line of muggles in a vision never prepared him for the queue of fans 'she' encountered in every autograph session.

He had one problem, however, one bigger than all what the wizarding authorities could have ever given him. Without Albus, he had lost inspiration to continue.

He was staring at the sheets of the fourth novel, and the words just felt like an empty mess. The cemetery scene was technically correct, they actually had that ritual's theory in Durmstrang's sixth-year curriculum, but the rest of the story was lacking the fluent, convincing style. The one and only powerful tool he still had.

There was no hex on the notebooks (he checked) and there was absolutely no chance anyone could have cursed the phoenix-feather quills. There had been one break-in, years before, when that mindless, soulless half-blood snake-wizard had ruined the window and had thrown a killing curse into the shadow he had left behind, but he the stationery was unharmed. (Nor had the uninvited visitor found the Philosopher's Stone, although its hiding spot had got cracked open with that uncivilized entry. Albus had been right when he had said Voldemort wouldn't even recognize his own nose.)

His own person was free from curses, too. Even if he had been hit without noticing, dropping all those self-transfiguration disguises would have washed the hex as well. After going through all the possibilities, he had to admit: the problem was him missing Albus. Their debates, or talking throughout the night, Fawkes leaving his feathers in random and most impossible places.

Just when he was about to admit he had achieved everything he could do alone, on the verge of giving up, he received help from the most unexpected source: along with a thank-you card, sealed with a stamp only used in the Auror Departments, the Cloak Boy himself asked if he wanted to compare notes with him.

They agreed to meet where it all began: Godric's Hollow. In the spring sunlight, it was all green and homely. Albus's presence was all but palpable, as if they could have run into the young, auburn wizard at any turn. Harry talked, most of the time, frequently thanking his writer for clearing up things he would have had trouble with in public. For someone who'd been the chewing toy of journalists from his early childhood, the ability to clarify things and retell the events would have been an essential ability. Harry had been lied about so much, and he was grateful for the honesty about him.

Clearly, in this one case, Albus had judged somebody's character well. The young auror was the epitome of forgiveness, altruism, and innocence. He also mentioned, casually, how he became the first Master of Death, having earned the Wand's loyalty after the plan to take it to the grave had failed so obviously, inheriting the Stone from the headmaster after displaying the self-control Albus himself was never capable of. He was already familiar with Cloak's story.

"And do you want me to write all that? Including that the Wand is, again, in Albus's tomb?" Foresight truly wasn't the young wizard's best talent. "How long do you think it will stay there?"

The Master of the Deathly Hallows smiled. "According to Hermione, that depends on how you'll elucidate the fate of a wizard who claimed it but never mastered it."

"So she really is the brightest witch of her age." Or maybe not; but only time would tell.

From the village, they side-alonged to the Hogwarts grounds, because Harry wanted to show the memorial erected after the battle, the freshly reconstructed Entrance Hall, and even the campsite where he had willingly taken the deadly curse to rid the Wizarding World of an abomination.

Where he had opened that snitch and had thrown away its content.

"Talking of stones, Mr Potter. Albus left this one with me when he couldn't bring himself to destroy it. I was but a guardian, no, a neighbor to it in the past decade. You have already proven to be worthy to keep it, and use it well."

They thanked each other and promised to stay in touch; then they went their own separate ways. Harry was excited to tell his friends about the Philosopher's Stone he just got back. The aged wizard stayed behind until the young one was out of sight, then he pointed his wand at the path connecting the campsite with the renovated Hogwarts castle. "Accio – Stone of Resurrection."

Then he left the forest as well.

He collapsed on the bed and stared at the magnificent mountain range of the Alps.

He had the Stone.


Snow was still glowing softly in the moonlight, pale white patches against the darkness. Nothing compared to the calm and quiet here. But… did he spot motion, there, in the corner of his eye? Was that the sound of somebody turning a page?

He stood up to check. There was an intruder, all right.

Sitting at the wand-oak table, holding a quill that was given by his own phoenix, sat Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, with his usual amused smile on his face.

The hermit dropped the Stone. The phenomenon disappeared, but that didn't stop him from picking up another part of the manuscript, holding the quill above the paper.

"Lumos." In the wandlight, the table seemed to be abandoned, but the text on it was in a mess. The topmost page of the manuscript appeared to have been vandalized: one scene (one he never liked) had been crossed out almost entirely. Instead of the long paragraph of a meaningless debate, with the ink still wet on the paper, now stood only one word.

It read, 'calmly'.

"Albus, you meddling coot!" He picked up the Stone so that he could look into those twinking blue eyes.

The dead headmaster jovially patted his shoulder. "Haven't we agreed to do this together?"

Yes, they had. Over a century before.