“How’s your head?” was the first thing Malfoy asked him the next day, using the tip of his wand to poke Harry awake. Harry was momentarily touched at the concern, before he added, “Because I was promised a thorough explanation of what you three are up to once the ache dissipated.”
Harry blinked owlishly, taking in the sight of Malfoy—his lanky hair had been shorn down to a much more manageable length, and he was wearing different clothes now, nicely tailored and form-fitting. Evidently one of the first things he’d decided to do on getting his wand back was to give himself a makeover, and Ron’s hand-me-downs had been Transfigured into smartly pressed trousers and a button-up with a waistcoat. It didn’t strike Harry as attire appropriate for roughing it as they were, but he could imagine just how well advice to dress down would go over with Malfoy. “Just because you’ve accepted that potato sacks are in fashion year-round doesn’t mean the rest of us must labour under similar delusions.”
Harry wiped his face. “Yeah. Right. Um.” He shook his head to clear it. “Can we at least discuss it over breakfast?”
“It’s five in the afternoon, Potter.”
He’d been out for twelve hours? He wondered how long Malfoy had been looming over him like this, waiting for Harry to wake before deciding enough was enough. “Dinner then—whatever. Food.” He shrugged. “Hermione’s probably going to be better at explaining than I will anyway.”
“Fine,” Malfoy huffed, and he grabbed Harry by the arm and tugged him to his feet and out the door before Harry could even throw on a fresh set of clothes or make sure his hair didn’t look like a bird’s nest. It was only his Seeker’s reflexes that allowed him to snatch up his glasses from the nightstand as Malfoy marched him into the kitchen practically at wand-point.
Malfoy shoved him into a chair at the table, but his rough treatment did nothing to disguise how overly tactile he was being, especially not when he plopped into a seat diagonal from Harry, one leg draped over the other and brushing against Harry’s knee under the table. Clearly, those reassurances from earlier had worn off and were in want of replenishing.
Malfoy braced an elbow on the table, settling his chin in his hand, and raised his brows. “Well?” he prodded.
“Well what?” Hermione asked as she finished tending to what looked to be a pan of sausages, served alongside a mountain of toast with grilled tomatoes already sat in the centre of the table. Despite the hour, it seemed breakfast was still on the menu. Ron joined them, looking like he’d just woken up himself, right as Harry said, “Well Horcruxes.”
Ron’s eyes went comically wide, and he dropped into his chair—which Malfoy promptly pulled out from under him with a swish of his wand, sending Ron straight to the floor.
Hermione dropped her tongs with a gasp, goggling at Harry, but he quelled any objections with an even look. “All in, right?”
“Yeah, Granger,” Malfoy said, levitating several sausages onto his plate, where he sat to work crafting a sandwich for himself from the toast and tomatoes. “All in, right?” He turned to Harry. “So what’s a Horcrux?”
Ron struggled back to his feet, muttering, “Wanna find out?”
Harry pursed his lips. “Can you maybe stop antagonising everyone within a twenty-foot radius?”
“Can you maybe finally tell me what’s a Horcrux?” His tone said he was starting to get annoyed at Harry’s apparent dodging of the question, but his eyes retained their excitement, with a glint of curiosity at the edges. Relief swooped in Harry’s chest; Malfoy was not a terribly talented actor, they had learned, so it seemed he genuinely didn’t know what Horcruxes were—which meant Lucius probably hadn’t known what he’d been holding after all. Voldemort wasn’t letting his Death Eaters in on the secret to his apparent immortality—or at least he hadn’t told any outside of perhaps a trusted few.
Harry reached for the juice jug sat in the centre of the table. “A Horcrux is a…well, it’s—”
Hermione swooped to his rescue, unable to resist a good lecture, as Harry had predicted. “It’s a magical talisman created by infusing a piece of your soul into an otherwise ordinary object to create a vessel of immortality. It’s very old, very Dark magic, involving murder as a catalyst to fracture the soul and fuse it with the object. In doing so, you create a tether to the mortal world. So long as a piece of your soul remains safe and unscathed, you can’t be killed, even if your physical body is destroyed.”
“…All right. Well that sounds rather nasty, but I fail to see what that has to do with the three of you bouncing around the British Isles in a tent that smells of cat-piss for the better part of three months now.”
“Really?” Hermione said, dousing the burners on the stove. “You can’t think of a single person who might be very interested in creating a Horcrux? Someone who, say, has had a brush with death before and somehow survived it?”
Malfoy’s eyes bugged, and he choked on his coffee. “Potter?”
“Of course not!” Harry sputtered. “You-Know-Who!”
“Oh—well. Obviously.” Malfoy frowned, processing the influx of information. “So then, wait…these ‘objects’ you said you’re looking for—the ‘pieces of a weapon’, you called them? They’re Horcruxes?” Harry nodded. “But—you’ve said there are a half-dozen of these things!”
“I did. You-Know-Who always has to play it extra-safe, I suppose, seeing as he didn’t stop at just one. That means there are six fragments of his soul out there—”
“Were, rather,” Hermione said, finally joining them at the table and helping herself to the toast and tomatoes to prepare her own sandwich. “Two have already been destroyed.”
“—and the seventh is whatever’s left inside his body. It’s our job to track down the remaining Horcruxes and destroy them. As you’ve seen…it’s a slow-going process.”
Malfoy was slumped in his chair, brows furrowed as he stared blankly ahead. “Then…what’s the sword of Gryffindor for?”
Hermione tipped a bottle of ketchup over her sausages and tapped the bottom until a large glob came splurting out. “We need the sword to destroy the objects—the Horcruxes—remember? It’s one of only three ways we know a Horcrux can be rendered useless. Fiendfyre’s too volatile, and while the Horcrux within Tom Riddle’s diary—previously owned by your father—was destroyed with a basilisk fang, we don’t exactly have any of those in easy reach. That leaves the sword, which we know will work, because it was used to destroy the Horcrux made from a ring once owned by You-Know-Who’s grandfather.”
“Those are the two that’ve been destroyed already: the diary and the ring. We’ve got Slytherin’s locket…” Harry touched his Mokeskin pouch. “But no means to destroy it just yet.”
“That’s three…” Malfoy muttered. “The other three?”
“There’s one embedded in Nagini, that snake we tangled with last night, and another was made from Helga Hufflepuff’s cup, which you know we’ve been looking for. The final one should be in something owned by Ravenclaw. Dumbledore figured You-Know-Who wanted to use items connected to the Founders, and we’re assuming he’d use an item of Ravenclaw’s over one of Gryffindor’s, all things considered.”
Hermione nodded. “Once these last four Horcruxes are destroyed, then Voldemort will finally be mortal, and this wretched war will come to an end.”
Malfoy slowly turned to look at her, gaping. “Oh will it? Because he’ll be mortal then? Fantastic! Because no one’s really been trying to kill him so far! Once you’re done snipping his immortality lifelines, it should be a snap to kill the one wizard everyone in the magical world has been trying to take out for the past twenty years.”
“Well, it’ll be possible, at least!” Hermione said defensively, and Harry couldn’t blame her, rather irritated with Malfoy’s tone himself.
“This is a mission Dumbledore believed in,” Harry reminded. “He worked the better part of his life trying to keep the wizarding world safe from You-Know-Who and his ilk—and he probably died doing it.”
Malfoy narrowed his eyes at Harry. “…What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, a bit waspish.
Of course he’d gone and taken it the wrong way. “I left the castle with Dumbledore the night he died. We travelled to a site Dumbledore had found out housed a Horcrux, so we snuck in to steal it, but it turned out to be a fake, left behind by someone who’d already snatched the real one to try and destroy themselves. The effort…drained Dumbledore, severely; I’ve never seen someone so weak, so frail…” He could still hear Dumbledore begging Harry not to make him drink the foul potion, could smell the dank stench of the cavern—Dumbledore’s slight weight, leaning on him, had been a burden Harry would have gladly borne a dozen times over. He licked his lips and cleared his throat, swallowing down the emotion knocking at the back of his eyes. “He’d already been injured last summer on a similar mission, so to have to go through that ordeal on top of it? I just can’t help but think that…maybe if he’d been in peak shape, he wouldn’t have…”
“…I wouldn’t have been able to kill him, you mean.”
A part of Harry instinctively wanted to reassure Malfoy that it wasn’t his fault, or that he couldn’t be blamed—but well, it was his fault, and he could be blamed, and Malfoy knew that, so anything Harry said to the contrary would just come out as an empty platitude.
When Harry refused to say anything further, Malfoy just shook his head, digging into his pancakes savagely. “So it’s not a weapon you’re looking for at all. You’ll be no more capable of dealing a deathblow once you’ve rounded up all of these Horcruxes than you are now.”
“Oi, if all you’re gonna do is shoot down our efforts—” Ron started, but Malfoy cut him off with a sharp sneer.
“Clearly someone needs to do it, or else you might actually think this is going to do you any good!”
“It’s all we can do,” Harry said. “If we want to have even the tiniest fraction of a chance at defeating him, we have to do this. There’s no point in planning attacks or mastering powerful ancient spells if all we’d wind up doing is at best kicking the can another ten, fifteen years down the line. He has to die now.” He could feel Hermione and Ron giving him odd looks and winced inwardly at what must have been a rather fanatical-sounding speech; Malfoy always seemed to bring out the worst side of Harry. “Finding and destroying Horcruxes is what we can do right now, so that’s what we’re focusing on. We’ll worry about how to kill You-Know-Who later, when it’s actually feasible.”
Malfoy’s leg was bouncing up and down in nervous habit beneath the table, bumping up against Harry’s. “That’s assuming finding and destroying the Horcruxes doesn’t get you killed first.”
Harry raised a brow. “What do you think we gave you your wand back for?” He held Malfoy’s eye, impressing the gravity of the situation upon him as best he could. “All in?”
Malfoy pressed his lips into a thin line and made a sound of frustration in the back of his throat, but he eventually said, “…All in, I suppose.” It was hardly the ardour with which Hermione and Ron had insisted they join Harry in his quest to find the Horcruxes, but Harry would take it.
With the matter settled, they tucked into their breakfast-dinner with earnest, and as they were clearing the table, Hermione gasped. “Oh! I forgot to mention!” She dashed to her bedroom, returning with her beaded bag in hand. “Remember you mentioned recognising the young man you’d seen in your dreams in that picture you found in Bathilda’s parlour? And how you’d seen him before, in that horrid book of Rita’s?” Harry nodded, excitement mounting—and it crested when she drew out of her bag a dusty copy of The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore. “Well I found this on her table, just sitting there, and I knew we could make better use of it than poor Bathilda might.”
Harry eagerly took the book from her. Bathilda didn’t seem to have even opened it, for the binding was stiff and the pages difficult to turn. There was a note slipped just inside the cover, penned in a familiar acid-green ink, and Harry read it aloud: “‘Dear Batty, Thanks for your help. Here’s a copy of the book—hope you enjoy! You said every word, even if you don’t remember it. Kisses, Rita.’” He frowned. “So Bathilda was a source for the book.”
“Seems that way, though that note suggests Rita might have used her typical less-than-legal means to get Bathilda’s cooperation.”
“Skeeter’s got a new book out?” Malfoy asked, leaning into Harry to get a look at the book. “And on Dumbledore? She works quick.”
“It’s easy to churn out a book in a couple of months when you make up most everything in it,” Hermione sniffed.
“Got any proof she’s made up whatever’s in here?” Malfoy reached for the tea pot pouring himself a cup of earl grey to settle his stomach after the heavy meal. He had a delicate system, he liked to claim, and was the picture of lethargy after every meal. “Just because you don’t like what she’s got to say doesn’t make it a lie.”
“Didn’t you do an interview with her where you called me disturbed and dangerous?” Harry asked.
Malfoy shrugged. “And? Where was the lie?”
Harry rolled his eyes, though he admittedly agreed with Malfoy in a way: just because they disagreed with Rita didn’t mean her book didn’t contain at least some kernels of truth. Especially if she’d used a vaunted magical historian for a source. Muriel might have called her batty, but Rita wouldn’t have bothered with Bathilda unless she thought she really did have some untold stories that could earn her a quick Knut.
He stared down at Dumbledore’s face, smiling out at him from the cover, and felt a surge of savage pleasure rush through him; he would finally learn all those things Dumbledore had never felt worth telling him about, would finally see all those dirty little secrets laid out before his eyes and be able to judge the truth of them. Sure, Rita would have embellished things in all likelihood, but Doge had visibly struggled to defend some of the more salacious accusations Muriel had laid out, so there was every chance that at least some of the unsavoury stories hidden in these pages were based in fact.
He thumbed through the pages, scanning the headings and keeping his eyes peeled for photographs. He found the one he was looking for almost immediately: the one with the young Dumbledore and his handsome companion. They were clasping shoulders, sharing grins that started small before growing to overtake their entire faces as they succumbed to a giggling fit over some private joke. He searched for the caption—
Albus Dumbledore, shortly after his mother’s death, with his friend (and rumoured object of infatuation!) Gellert Grindelwald.
Harry actually shoved his chair back, gaping at the print with wide eyes.
“…Now that’s rich,” Malfoy drawled, doing a poor job of hiding the nasty smile blossoming on his lips.
“What?” Hermione asked, then picked up the book so she and Ron could get a better look at it. “Holy shit!” she shrieked, scandalised, and Ron gave her an impressed brow lift.
Grindelwald. Dumbledore’s friend, Grindelwald. Dumbledore’s friend—and rumoured object of infatuation—Grindelwald. He blinked several times, then rubbed his eyes, hoping he was just seeing things. Maybe Nagini’s venom hadn’t entirely worked itself out of his system.
Except Malfoy had seen the same thing, and so had Hermione and Ron. Which meant the caption really did read what he thought it read.
“Grindelwald, that’s…” He licked his lips. “Not—that Grindelwald, surely?”
“Know a lot of Grindelwalds, do you, Potter?” Malfoy leered, and he seemed to be enjoying this far too much for Harry’s liking.
Harry didn’t know which part of it shocked him more—that Dumbledore had been friends with Grindelwald, or that he’d maybe been more than friends.
“It just says ‘rumoured’ though,” Ron reminded them all, as if Dumbledore having a boyhood crush on a megalomaniac was the truly weird part of the whole thing.
“Except setting that aside it seems he was still friends with one of the most notorious Dark wizards in modern history,” Hermione said, slumping back in her chair. “It’s hard to argue with photographic evidence…”
“Can we be sure that’s even Grindelwald, though?” Ron asked.
Hermione pursed her lips. “Probably; he’s Grindelwald, so I’m sure there are plenty of picture out there of him at all points of his life. If this was a case of mistaken identity, Rita would be forced to issue a retraction, and you know how much she’d hate that. She’d lose whatever credibility she’s managed to scrounge up.”
She closed the book and tapped it with her wand, saying, “Geminio,” and another book popped into existence. She repeated the spell until they had four books between them. “We ought to comb through this for any more information about Grindelwald and his relationship with Dumbledore.”
“Clearly wasn’t as rosy as our late headmaster might have dreamed,” Malfoy drawled, evidently still tickled at the revelation of this (rumoured, Harry reminded himself) detail of Dumbledore’s private life. “No matching his-and-his dressing gowns, no calligraphied ‘Dumbledore-Grindelwald’ stationery, no romantic honeymoons in the south of France… Little wonder the old codger was so obsessed with the Dark Lord; clearly he’s got a type.”
Harry rose to his feet, snatching up his copy and stalking into the sitting room; Malfoy seemed to love little more than the sound of his own voice, and Harry could no longer threaten a Silencio with impunity, so he had no choice but to remove himself from the situation.
Except Malfoy followed him, traipsing after him like a dog, and when Harry flopped down onto the sofa, the book open in his lap, Malfoy settled beside him with a sated little sigh, leaning into his shoulder to read along with Harry. Harry glanced back at the table, where the copy of Rita’s book Hermione had made for Malfoy still sat, untouched. “Er… You’ve got a copy on the table…”
“And you’ve got a copy right here,” Malfoy said. “Are we starting at the beginning, then?”
Evidently it was still close enough on the heels of their brush with death that Malfoy wasn’t even going to beat around the bush concerning his need for reassurance through physical contact. Hermione and Ron both studiously ignored their display on the sofa, settling into Perkins’s armchairs, and they all began to read.
Harry didn’t have the patience to start at the beginning—especially as he was only interested in one thing at this point—so he scoured the pages around the photograph for further mentions of Grindelwald’s name. He soon found another instance and dove in greedily, but he was lost without context and had to go back further to make sense of it all.
“You’ve got the attention span of a gnat, you realise?” Malfoy muttered, flipping back to the table of contents before settling on a chapter entitled ‘The Greater Good’. “Yes, that sounds about Dumbledore’s speed.”
Harry shifted the book so it sat between them and read.
With his eighteenth birthday right around the corner, everything was coming up roses for Albus Dumbledore. He left Hogwarts, fêted and honoured as he no doubt felt befit him: Prefect, Head Boy, Winner of the Barnabus Finkley Prize for Exceptional Spell-Casting, British Youth Representative to the Wizengamot, Gold Medal-Winner for Ground-Breaking Contribution to the International Alchemical Conference in Cairo, and already fielding offers from several prestigious magical universities, both domestic and abroad. He next intended to take a grand tour across the Continent and northern Africa, with a stopover in the Americas, to sort out his future plans together with Elphias ‘Dogbreath’ Doge, the faithful (albeit fog-brained) sidekick who’d attached himself to Dumbledore as a lamprey does a shark.
But then, tragedy struck. The boys had secured lodging at the Leaky Cauldron, with Portkeys scheduled for the following morning that would see them on to Greece, when an owl arrived for Dumbledore, bearing on its wings the sad news of the unexpected death of Dumbledore’s mother, Kendra. Doge, who refused to be interviewed for this book, has published his own accounting of this chapter of Dumbledore’s life, sentimentally biased as one might expect from sources without a journalist’s objective eye. He speaks of a Dumbledore humbled by the loss of his mother, a powerful witch and the family matriarch, and paints Dumbledore’s decision to cancel their trip in favour of returning to simple village life to care for his ailing sister and wild brother in rosy hues of self-sacrifice and humility.
And while Dumbledore did return to Godric’s Hollow after receiving the sad news, the purpose to which he did so is debatable. Did he truly feel compelled to take up his stead as new head of the Dumbledore household, placing the good of his family over personal gain, or was this act merely one of obligation, a fetter Dumbledore would shortly come to resent?
The Dumbledore brothers took their mother’s passing in rather different ways—where Albus adopted a stiff upper lip, Aberforth was…decidedly more emotive in his grief.
“He were a headcase, that Aberforth,” says Enid Smeek, former fellow resident. “Always runnin’ wild. ‘Course, with his mum and dad gone, you wanted to cut him some slack, feelin’ a bit sorry for the poor thing, but he kept chuckin’ goat dung at me head! I don’ think Albus was too fussed about him; never saw them together, anyway.”
And what was Dumbledore up to while not being ‘too fussed’ about his young brother causing trouble for concerned neighbours? Ardent fans of Dumbledore will be distraught to hear he was evidently ensuring his poor sister remained as much a prisoner under his tenure as she’d been under his mother’s.
No, Kendra’s death brought no respite for Ariana Dumbledore, no promised freedom or rescue from the cruel reality in which she found herself trapped. Albus Dumbledore was only too happy to continue claiming that he had no sister at all, or for those who could not be so easily duped, that she was too sickly to have company.
But not all blame for Kendra’s unfortunate state can be laid at the feet of Albus. No small amount of fault lies with fast family friend to the Dumbledores Bathilda Bagshot, the celebrated magical historian who has lived in Godric’s Hollow for many years. Bathilda was among the first to welcome the Dumbledores to the village and kept a close eye on them, tracking Albus’s own meteoric rise with interest. The two shared regular correspondence and forged an eventual friendship that continued until Dumbledore’s passing, bonded by a mutual academic respect and interest in themes so esoteric I shan’t bore readers with the details.
Bathilda has clung fast to her defence of the Dumbledores over the years. Even now, she maintains that Kendra was undone by a ‘backfiring charm’, a line often repeated by the Dumbledore brothers themselves, and that Ariana’s absence from the Hogwarts rolls was due only to her ill health and delicate state and certainly had nothing to do with the fact her shall-we-say-‘issues’ would have called into question the purity of the Dumbledore line and just what sorts of odd tics might pop up in Albus himself as time passed.
But Bathilda has kept a secret far more shocking than the mysterious circumstances surrounding Kendra’s passing and the true reason for Ariana’s hermit-like existence—indeed, it’s a tale she’s never shared before. But fret not, dear readers: your intrepid author has employed time-tested reporting techniques to bring to you at last the unvarnished truth of the character of Albus Dumbledore, calling into question everything his admirers have believed of him.
For you see, Bathilda has a very famous great-nephew: a young man by the name of Gellert Grindelwald.
The same summer that Dumbledore returned home to Godric’s Hollow to assume his role as head of household, Bathilda received a visit of her own from young Grindelwald, recently expelled from Durmstrang when the faculty could no longer feign ignorance of the dark deeds being enacted under their very noses. It was an unfortunate end to what had been an otherwise stellar academic career, as Grindelwald had proven himself just as brilliant as Dumbledore. But where Dumbledore funnelled his efforts into garnering awards and accolades, Grindelwald sought a very different sort of fame and was not afraid to get his hands dirty in order to attain it. While the details surrounding Grindelwald’s expulsion are sketchy, the institution’s reputation for tolerating all things Dark suggests that Grindelwald must have been up to some shady dealings indeed if the staff could no longer stomach him as their student.
At the time, though, the name Grindelwald had not yet earned its infamy, and he was deemed merely a troubled young man. Perhaps his family hoped that a summer in the English countryside with his great-aunt might convince him to correct his life’s course and channel his energy into more laudable pursuits.
Whether by fate or fortune or mere coincidence—though who can believe such a thing exists when it comes to Albus Dumbledore—the boys who would grow to become two of the most famous wizards of all time found themselves but a stone’s throw away from one another. It must therefore be of little surprise that, in short order, they crossed paths and struck up an odd but fast friendship.
“He always seemed a charming boy to me,” Bathilda insists, gaze wandering oddly about the room as she attempts to add salt and pepper to her freshly poured cuppa, “whatever he became later. I knew that poor Albus was missing the company of lads his own age, and Gellert was feeling down about his future prospects. Knowing how bright they both were, I couldn’t see any reason not to introduce them.”
The boys took to each other at once. “They’d spend all day in one another’s company—they were both so brilliant, they got on like a cauldron on fire! I can’t tell you the number of evenings I caught Gellert opening the window to receive a midnight owl from the Dumbledores; when inspiration struck, those boys lost all respect for time and place!”
Inspiration can be a terrible thing when it strikes a twisted mind, though. While Albus Dumbledore’s fans may find it shocking, Grindelwald and Dumbledore shared far more in common than the average witch or wizard might be comfortable knowing. For your perusal, we have here the thoughts of a seventeen-year-old Albus, as relayed during one of these late-night back-and-forths with his new best friend (a copy of the original letter may be seen on page 463):
Precisely! Wizards’ dominance over Muggles must be framed as being FOR THE MUGGLES’ OWN GOOD—this is the fulcrum on which to place our lever as we present our ideas to the wider wizarding world. The extraordinary power with which we’ve been entrusted by the laws of nature and fate dictate that we act with equally extraordinary responsibility. Our power gives us the right (and duty) to rule over those less fortunate—and to practice responsibility in said ruling. I believe THIS is what we must stress, for it will be the foundation upon which we build a modern magical society. We cannot naïvely assume that all will immediately fall into line with our agenda—charming and charismatic as you know I find you to be, your silver tongue cannot change every mind—so we must be prepared with strong, sound counter-arguments. We mount our revolution FOR THE GREATER GOOD. We stamp out resistance FOR THE GREATER GOOD. And above all else, we must be beyond reproach in our tactics for doing so, using only the force that IS necessary and only WHEN it is necessary. (Perhaps if you’d practised more restraint at Durmstrang, you might have succeeded in your goals—but then we might never have met, so I count your misstep a blessing of fate!)
Now, remember to collect your jaws from where they’ve surely dropped to the floor, dear readers—and don’t blame yourselves for being so thoroughly hoodwinked. Dumbledore went to great lengths to hide his erstwhile dreams of standing among the ranks of Grindelwald and You-Know-Who and Morgan Le Fay, obliterating the Statute of Secrecy and establishing absolute wizard rule over Muggles.
Now, some may wonder, what was the meaning of this? Had Dumbledore always felt this way, harbouring this contempt for Muggles, or was he, perhaps, bewitched by the charms of his new companion? Did his fondness—and some say more-than-fondness—for Gellert Grindelwald colour his views, or were these inherent to Dumbledore himself?
We may never know, but Dumbledore’s letters themselves give us profound insight into his thinking around this time, and we only may infer the true nature of the boys’ relationship from hearsay and gossip of other residents of Godric’s Hollow. While Bathilda seems to have been convinced her great-nephew and neighbour were nothing more than fast friends, anonymous sources residing in the village that summer remain convinced that Albus was utterly besotted with his new companion—and that Grindelwald knew this and took whole advantage of these feelings.
“Plain as the nose on your face, it was!” says a local landowner and close friend of Bathilda. “Why, Gellert all but led Albus about on a leash; he could do no wrong in Albus’s eyes, and it didn’t take more than a bright smile and a bat of those lashes for Albus to come around to seeing things from Gellert’s point of view if ever they disagreed on a subject. Albus was a good boy, the best Hogwarts has ever turned out—but young men, well they don’t tend to think straight when it comes to matters of the heart at that age, and I think it was the first time Albus had ever met a mind that challenged his own, and in so pleasing a package.”
It’s easy to imagine, then, that Dumbledore, bored and bereft of friends who could stand up to his intellect and left to care for his rough-and-tumble brother and invalid sister, might have latched on to the first person he met who he thought of as an equal. Certainly, none of his Hogwarts peers save the under-performing, middle-of-the-pack Doge professed a close friendship with Dumbledore—and then in swept a handsome, mysterious foreigner from a far-off land with larger-than-life ideas and an easy charm that won him so many fervent followers in later years.
But such notions are, of course, mere speculation, and regardless of the reasoning behind Dumbledore’s beliefs, we can be certain that the did indeed entertain them and dreamt of one day carrying out his plan to subjugate Muggles and purge the world of any who would dare stand against him. Perhaps, in another lifetime, it might have been the fearsome combined forces of Dumbledore and Grindelwald instead of You-Know-Who against whom Harry Potter would be pitted.
What a blow this must be to those who have always sought to portray Dumbledore as the Muggleborns’ greatest champion! How hollow now must those speeches promoting Muggle rights ring in light of this damning new evidence. Would any have rallied to the side of this would-be despot had they known he was busy plotting his own rise to power when he should have been mourning his mother and caring for his sister?
Now, undoubtedly those determined to keep Dumbledore perched atop his crumbling pedestal will protest that he did not, ultimately, put his plans into action. “He was but a boy!” they will claim. “He obviously came to his senses! Look at all the good he did for Muggles and Muggle-Wizarding relations in his long life!”
Here again, dear readers, I fear I must dash such hopes, for the truth behind Dumbledore’s apparent change of heart is altogether more shocking.
But a few months into their new friendship, before summer’s end, Dumbledore and Grindelwald parted ways, never to meet again until that legendary duel (for more, see Chapter 22: A Wizard Spurned). What caused this abrupt rift between a pair who once had been as close as a Niffler and a Knut? Did Dumbledore truly, as many would like to believe, come to his senses? Had Grindelwald crafted a plan too barbaric for even the starry-eyed Dumbledore to overlook?
Alas, no; it was tragedy that brought these boys together, and it would be tragedy that tore them apart.
“It was just too much to bear, little Ariana passing so quickly like that,” says Bathilda, eyes gone bright with unshed tears. “Everyone was absolutely gutted. Gellert was there when it happened, and he came back to my house flustered as anything, saying he couldn’t stay here anymore, and that he wanted to go back home the next day. I think he must have grown very close to the Dumbledores, and to lose one of his new friends so quickly and so tragically… I arranged a Portkey for him, and then he was gone, just as quickly as he’d come.”
Bathilda goes on to say that Albus was utterly distraught by the death of his sister so soon on the heels of his mother’s passing. It seems little wonder, then, that tempers flared. Still, could grief alone explain the coffin-side brawl that erupted between Albus and Aberforth Dumbledore?
“That was a sight! I know grief preys on us all in different ways, but for Aberforth to haul off and break his brother’s nose at the funeral, in front of all the guests?” Bathilda tuts under her breath. “Kendra would have been appalled to see her sons fighting like that, before her daughter’s body was even cold! Probably for the best Gellert couldn’t bring himself to stay for the funeral…”
Eye-witnesses say that the fight was sparked when Aberforth made statements blaming Albus for their sister’s death—but why? Unfortunately, no one but the Dumbledore brothers and Gellert Grindelwald knows the truth of how Ariana Dumbledore died—so what does Aberforth Dumbledore know about his brother that the rest of the wizarding world doesn’t? Grindelwald, as is known, was expelled from Durmstrang for attempted murder of fellow students, and he fled Britain mere hours after Ariana’s death. Rumours concerning the cause of Ariana’s death have run rampant in the years since the tragedy—a dark rite gone awry, murder most foul for witnessing something she shouldn’t have—but as for the truth…we may never know.
What we can conclude is this: something happened between these two young wizards, something that would drive a wedge between them, pitting them against one another. Or else why did Grindelwald flee the scene, and why did Dumbledore—whether out of shame or fear of exposure—never see him again until all but forced to do so, when he could no longer turn a blind eye to Grindelwald’s terrorism?
Neither man ever referenced this brief boyhood friendship in later life, and many still with us will recall how Dumbledore dithered for years, seemingly reluctant to raise a wand against the man he had once considered his closest confidant and partner, a right hand with whom he meant to bring about a revolution. Whether it was lingering affection or simple worry the world would learn of their boyhood friendship, he hesitated, costing countless lives.
Dumbledore’s pride and shame are now legend, history almost too fantastic to believe, but the ideals he once prized so dearly live on in the dark corners of the world. We may hope that, as he matured over the years, Dumbledore did feel on some level regret for what he’d helped bring about, what he’d encouraged in his good friend Gellert—but the fact of the matter is this man was such a consummate liar, who knows where his true feelings lay!
We may thus never know if in the end Albus Dumbledore died believing still that some ends justified the means in the context of the greater good.
Harry let the book fall into his lap, staring ahead but not seeing anything. Beside him, Malfoy was quiet for once, no more rude quips on his tongue about “Mr. and Mr. Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore-Grindelwald”. Ron was still engrossed in reading, but Harry could feel Hermione staring at him, a torn expression in her eyes and worrying her lip between her teeth.
He stood, letting the book drop to the floor and shaking off the hand Malfoy had been resting on his shoulder.
“Harry—” Hermione started, but he shook his head.
Why was he shocked? Hadn’t he known, before he’d even opened that book, it would be less than charitable in how it painted Dumbledore? Hadn’t he hoped to read that, even? Why then did he feel like a child, too stupid to see beyond the mask of goodness and wisdom Dumbledore had worn all these years? He’d thought Dumbledore infallible, that everything he’d done, he’d done for a reason—a good reason.
…The greater good.
Hermione set her book aside, rising slowly to her feet, as if worried she might spook him into bolting. “Listen to me, I know what it looks like. It…it paints an unkind picture of Dum—”
He snorted derisively. “You can say that again.”
“But don’t you dare forget who the author is; this is Rita Skeeter writing.”
He could practically hear Malfoy rolling his eyes, and truthfully Harry felt about the same right now. “Sure; supposing everything she wrote herself was a lie—but how do you explain that letter then, hm? You did read it, didn’t you?”
“I—I did…” she said, fingers playing at the hem of her shirt as she stretched the fabric in nervous habit. “I have to admit, I think that’s the worst bit, to think that’s where Grindelwald got his slogan…”
Harry’s brows furrowed, and his heart began to race. “What slogan?” He’d missed something horrible, he felt, and he could tell it was bad when Hermione’s face went ashen.
Malfoy scoffed. “I know Binns’s class was dull as dirt, Potter, but you don’t remember anything about Grindelwald’s campaign?”
He didn’t, but he sure as hell didn’t want to admit as such now.
“‘For the Greater Good’ became his slogan, Harry…” Hermione said in a small voice. “He…he did just as Dumbledore suggested in the letter: used those words to justify all the horrible things he did, the people he killed, the terror he wrought. He even had it carved over the entrance to Nurmengard.”
His irritation was peaking; he didn’t want a history lesson, he wanted to know what the fuck Dumbledore had been thinking. “What’s Nurmengard?” he huffed.
Malfoy picked at something in his teeth, bored. “The prison Grindelwald had built to hold…well, anyone who stood in his way, really.”
“He ended up there himself once Dumbledore beat him,” Hermione added. “And, all right, it’s an awful thought that Dumbledore’s own ideas helped Grindelwald grow firm in his convictions and may even have encouraged him to put his plans into motion. But, well, you read that chapter! Take away all of Rita’s over-the-top gilding, and it’s clear they only knew each other for a few weeks one summer when they were both really young and—”
“They were the same age as us.”
Ron had apparently finished the chapter himself, staring down at his copy of the book, his knuckles white where he gripped the cover. He seemed to be almost shaking with rage and confusion, and he spoke in a voice with such softness it was terrifying. Harry wanted to hug him, badly, but he thought he might also like to punch someone too, so he held back.
Ron glanced around the room at all of them in turn, then his eyes fell on Hermione and stuck there. “You’re excusing this—this bullshit, saying ‘they were young’, when they were the same age as we are now.”
Harry could feel his pulse spike. “Yeah. Except here we are, risking our lives fighting against a madman, and there he was, holding sleepovers with his new best friend, discussing how best to frame their plot to subjugate the Muggles.” He began to pace, knowing his temper wouldn’t remain in check for much longer and trying to work some of it off.
“I’m not defending what he wrote, all right?” Hermione said. “Believe me—a ‘right to rule’? They weren’t the first to entertain those ideas, and they certainly won’t be the last. It’s just more ‘magic is might’ bullshit; you don’t need to be a Dark wizard to be an ignorant bigot. He would have seen my parents under his own boot, based on what he wrote in that letter, so don’t you dare say I’m excusing that. Either of you.” She sighed. “But his mother had just died, and he was stuck alone in that house—”
“Alone?” Harry laughed, a bit maniacal. “God, he wasn’t alone! He still had his brother and sister—people depending on him!” He thought of Ariana and her imprisonment—and he suddenly wasn’t surprised anymore that Dumbledore had let him suffer under the Dursleys’ cruelty for so many years. The ends once more justifying the means. “His Squib sister he was embarrassed of, keeping her a secret lest other people think—”
“Now that I can’t believe,” Hermione huffed, and her eyes were starting to get puffy. “You know Rita, you know how she’ll twist anything and ignore good sense in favour of a salacious story. There may have been something wrong with her, I’ll grant you that—some magical affliction maybe, but not a Squib. The Ministry keep detailed records going back as far as the mid-eighteenth century of—” She shook her head, clearly conscious she was going off on a tangent. “Regardless, the Dumbledore we knew would never, ever have allowed—”
“Never?” Ron snapped. “You think he’d never have let someone keep a child stashed away in secret because they were afraid of them, or embarrassed of them? I dunno about you, Harry, but that sounds pretty familiar to me!”
“Yeah, Ron,” Harry said, crossing his arms. “Sounds damn familiar. Sounds kind of like a pattern if you ask me!” By the end of the sentence, he was shouting, and he heard the cry of a flock of birds outside taking to the evening air, disturbed from their nests by his tone.
Hermione was crying now, and Harry knew he was going to feel horrible about this later, but right now he was just so damn angry.
“He changed, though. He did, I’m sure of it.” Her tone was pleading, and she was sniffling through tears. “M—Maybe he did believe those things when he was seventeen, but look at the legacy he left behind! Look at the legislation he championed, the measures he voted for, all to support and protect Muggles’ and Muggleborns’ rights. He was the one who first warned the world about You-Know-Who! He’s the entire reason we’re here, and it’s only because of him we have a chance in hell of bringing that bastard down!”
Harry’s head was hung; he stared down at the book lying in a heap at his feet, lip curling at the image of Albus Dumbledore’s face looking up at him with a warm, grandfatherly smile. Harry wanted to grind his trainer into that dopey smile so badly it frightened him.
“He loved you,” Hermione whispered tearfully. “I know he did. He cared for you, and everything he did, he did—”
“—For the greater good,” Harry finished viciously. “If this is his idea of love, it’s right fucked up. Leaving us in this mess, with an impossible task on our shoulders and no leads? That’s not love. That’s—I dunno. A cruel joke from beyond the grave. One last kick in the bollocks.” He shook his head. “He didn’t care for me—he didn’t love me. He had more love for the likes of Gellert-fucking-Grindelwald than he ever spared for me.”
He needed to get away from this. All of this. He wanted to be alone, but as much as he needed privacy, he needed open air and freedom and the option to blow something up if the urge struck him, so he made a beeline for the Sanctuary, ignoring Hermione’s pleading, “Harry!” at his back.
He snatched up one of Perkins’s brooms they now stored in a trunk just inside the Sanctuary’s entrance and mounted it. The sun had nearly set, as it did on these short winter days, but Harry didn’t care. He wasn’t going to be hunting a Snitch; he just wanted to fly.
He pushed off and urged the broom as high as it would go, the Conjured forest floor disappearing beneath his feet as he soared up and up and up through the cloud cover into the frigid, quiet stillness of the heavens, with only the earliest few stars twinkling in the soft lavender-grey above. He couldn’t help but be silently impressed with Hermione’s skill in creating this place; it seemed to go on forever.
He angled the broom into a banking turn, then kept banking until it took a sharp dive, pouring as much speed into it as he could and letting gravity do the rest. The treeline rushed up at him impossibly fast, and he barely pulled out of the dive in time to avoid becoming a skin-sack of bones on the ground. That had been terrifying—so he did it again.
He repeated the climb and dive a few more times until his eyes hurt from the wind and his fingers started to the go numb from gripping the broom handle so tightly in the frosty weather. The adrenaline high was doing wonders for his temper, and he rode it for a bit, switching from his death drops to practising a few routine manoeuvres just to keep his mind off that letter and Dumbledore and the “Greater Good”.
He made himself dizzy doing a series of rolls and inverted spiral dives. It was kind of funny, when he thought about it. Between training with Malfoy and his own evenings destressing with a bit of flying, Harry had spent more time on a broomstick in the past few months than he had in the six years before. He recalled there’d been a time—quite a few years ago by this point, admittedly—when he’d thought he might play professionally one day. That had been back when his biggest problems had been Snape’s four-foot essays and Malfoy’s rude cracks and Filch’s handsy pat-downs, though. Now, he just hoped he survived—though he wasn’t really counting on it.
“Feeling better after your tantrum?”
Harry nearly fell off his broom when Malfoy drew up beside him, clutching the fabric of his jumper over his chest. “You almost gave me a heart attack!” he snapped.
“What was it Moody used to say? ‘Constant vigilance’?”
“That wasn’t the real Moody,” Harry grumbled, raking Malfoy with a suspicious eye. “And I came in here to be alone, if it wasn’t obvious. If Ron and Hermione sent you in here after me, then—”
Malfoy laughed, one loud bark that echoed across the Conjured heavens. “You actually think they’d send me to talk you down from whatever pique you’ve worked yourself into? Merlin, but you’ve read the room all wrong.” He shrugged, slender shoulders rising and falling with an elegant carelessness. “I’m only here to watch you have your fit. It’s the most entertaining thing I’ve seen since Weasley missed his chair at breakfast-dinner.”
“He didn’t ‘miss his chair’. You pulled it out from under him.”
“Mm, well, six of one.” Malfoy’s broom floated closer, and given Harry knew what a careful flyer Malfoy was, it must have been deliberate. “And you didn’t answer my question.”
“Feeling better after your tantrum?”
“It wasn’t a tantrum,” Harry huffed, cutting his lift and letting the broom spiral downward lazily. Malfoy didn’t take the hint and followed, keeping pace with Harry. “And of course I’m not. But I was doing a decent job of distracting myself in here until you showed up.”
“Yes, I’m told I can be quite distracting with a receptive audience.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Do you actually need something, or are you just here to annoy me?” Granted, there was no discounting he was here for both, but it had really been a rhetorical question.
“You’re angry,” Malfoy said, stating the obvious.
Harry leapt off his broom five feet from the ground, shins complaining when he hit the hardpacked earth. “Aren’t you observant.”
“You’re angry,” Malfoy repeated, slipping smoothly off his broom and into a light jog to draw up alongside Harry. “And I’m going to tell you why.”
Harry snatched Malfoy’s broom from him. “I know exactly why I’m angry, thanks.” He tossed the brooms back into the trunk, slamming the lid shut; where could he go now for peace and brooding quiet? If he wanted, he could slap Malfoy with a Silencio, but then Malfoy might just turn into a dragon and eat Harry, and that wouldn’t be very helpful for a lot of reasons. “I don’t need it spelled out again.”
Malfoy crossed his arms. “Well clearly you do, because you’re angry for the wrong reasons.” Harry turned on him, agog; a few months in forced proximity, and this arsehole had the gall to think he knew Harry? Understood how he ticked? He opened his mouth, a hot retort ready on his lips, but Malfoy cut him off. “You aren’t angry your hero wasn’t everything he’s cracked up to be—though I’d wager you’re pretty teed off it’s turning out everyone else has been right about him and you’re every bit the foolish child you’ve been called. And you aren’t angry at the things he did, either. You know Granger’s right, and you know he didn’t believe any of that drivel anymore by the time he reached the ripe old age of five-hundred-and-fuckteen or whatever he was.”
Malfoy leaned close, which Harry thought was rather brave of him, seeing as Harry was about half a second and one more good insult away from clocking him across the jaw.
His breath was soft and tickled Harry’s ear when he whispered into it, “The real reason you’re so angry is because the old fart never told you any of this himself.”
Harry shoved him away hard, both hands splayed over Malfoy’s chest, and bellowed, “Maybe I am!” He didn’t know why he was yelling, only that he had to, and that it felt safe to in here. He could scream himself hoarse, listening to his fury echoing across quiet hill and dale, until he had no more breath to spare. He’d kept it all bundled up, shoved deep down in his gut, for so long—his grief and sorrow and frustration and yes, red-hot, bright-white anger. Anger at Dumbledore, anger at himself, anger at Voldemort, anger at everyone.
He felt like Malfoy had claimed to feel, when the dragon had tried to force its way out: something hot and acidic was clawing at his chest, tearing through him, and it was going to burn him alive until there was nothing left but pain and rage and ash. Unless, like Malfoy, he let it all out.
“Look at what he’s asked of me! Risk your life, Harry! Again and again and again. But don’t expect me to explain myself, don’t expect me to let you in—just trust me. Trust me blindly, trust that I know what I’m doing and that I’m doing it for the right reasons. Trust me, even though I sure as hell don’t trust you.”
Malfoy swooned mockingly, one hand at his forehead. “Oh, poor, pitiful, precious Potter. He’s the only person in the world who ever learned that the person he looked up to most wasn’t everything he was cracked up to be.” His lip curled in disgust. “The old coot left you holding the bag with an impossible task before you and stars in your eyes—so what? You think you wouldn’t be in exactly the same position if he’d told you everything you wanted to know?”
“Of course I wouldn’t! We’d know where all of the Horcruxes were—”
“Oh, so Dumbledore knew where the final two we’re still looking for are?”
Harry didn’t have time to indulge the little frisson of happiness that rippled through him at Malfoy’s use of the word we. He released a small huff, irritated with how Malfoy was being deliberately obtuse. “Well, no, but he had some ideas—”
Malfoy waved him off. “Granger won’t shut up about her ideas; next.”
“We’d probably have them by now, is the point! And they’d be destroyed to boot! Then all we’d have to worry about is the snake.”
“And the Dark Lord.”
Malfoy ticked off points on his fingers. “You’d have destroyed what Horcruxes you could get your hands on but you’d still have to worry about the snake and the Dark Lord. Getting rid of the Horcruxes doesn’t get rid of him.”
Harry threw his head back with a huff, irritated at the pedantry. “We’d be able to get rid of him, though. There’d be hope. One Killing Curse away is where we’d be, if Dumbledore had bothered to—”
“You may as well be a dozen away, a score away, then! It’s not that easy, and it wouldn’t be any more or less easy even if Dumbledore were here to massage your little stub toes and ruffle your hair and offer you a fizzing whizbee because of what a good little boy you’ve been.”
The argument was only stoking the fire of Harry’s anger higher and hotter, and he spit out with as much venom as he could muster, “Guess I’ll never know, will I? Seeing as you killed him.”
Malfoy’s face went stony as he shut down. Harry watched the light leave his eyes and immediately regretted his words.
“…Dammit, I didn’t mean that—”
“No,” Malfoy said, shouldering roughly past Harry, heading back towards the tent. “I guess you won’t know.”
Harry turned to follow, exhaustion dogging his steps. “Seriously, I didn’t mean it like—”
“Fuck off, Potter. You want to be left alone to mope? I’m leaving you alone.”
Harry’s shoulders slumped. “I’d rather you didn’t leave angry with me, at least.”
“Clearly can’t have everything we want, can we?”
Harry jogged around Malfoy, blocking the door to the Sanctuary.
Malfoy glared at him. “Move.”
“…I haven’t finished my tantrum,” Harry tried. “Thought you wanted to see it?” He wasn’t very good at apologies, especially not with Malfoy, as it was entirely too easy to go low when they were really heated.
Luckily, though, Malfoy seemed rather quick to forgive—probably because he didn’t care all that much whether Harry liked him or not. After a moment’s consideration, Malfoy sighed, then walked over to a scrub bush and raised his wand. With a flick of his wrist, he’d Transfigured it into a squat loveseat, settling down with his arms crossed and one leg thrown over the other. Harry didn’t know if this was some sort of signal, but given Malfoy hadn’t left the Sanctuary, he supposed this was a good thing and moved to join him.
They were sitting close again, their sides pressed together, and Harry tried to relax into it. The cushions still felt a bit prickly and poke-y, and Malfoy was stiffer than he usually was when they sat together. Certainly he wasn’t draped lazily across Harry like he’d been earlier, and Harry knew this was his fault, that he always wound up saying things he didn’t mean and hurting others for it. When Malfoy said something hurtful, at least he meant it. Every word that came out of his mouth was considered and planned. Malfoy didn’t have temper issues. Malfoy didn’t have trust issues.
Harry tilted his head back and stared up at the cloud-strewn sky. It was fully night now, and the stars were out in force, peeking through the clouds at every opportunity they could find. “You’re wrong.”
“That doesn’t sound like me.”
Harry told himself not to smile; he was still cross. “I’m not angry because he didn’t tell me.”
“You’re a little angry because of that.”
And all right, he had a point. “…Yeah, I suppose.”
“So I’m right.”
“I guess.” Malfoy cocked his head to the side, giving Harry a pointed look, and Harry rolled his eyes. “Fine: You’re right.” Malfoy nodded, satisfied. “It’s just…I’m so angry at him. For everything. Not for any one thing but because of who he was at his core and how that influenced everything he did and everyone around him. Because of his secrets and—and his schemes and his secrets—”
“You said that one already.”
“Well it bears repeating!” Harry leaned forward, letting his head fall into his hands. “Why’d he go out and try to take on a fucking dragon when he was already so weak? Why didn’t he let the rest of the staff handle it? Why didn’t he think about how we were supposed to do this if anything happened to him?”
Malfoy shrugged, though he kept his tone carefully even. “He had a will; clearly he’d considered it.”
“Yeah, sure. The most cryptic will in existence, and items we’ve either got no idea how to use or no clue where they are. Nice of him to leave Ron a Horcrux killer, but couldn’t he have at least done us the favour of smuggling the real sword out of Hogwarts and then told us where he’d hidden it? Of course not! Because why be direct, why tell me anything when he could leave clues and hints, send us wandering from one end of the country to the other on a fruitless quest when time’s of the essence!” He buried his face in his hands, groaning. “…I just feel so stupid.”
“Come on, don’t say that,” Malfoy tutted, tucking a lock of hair behind Harry’s ear. “Be confident that you’re stupid.”
Harry looked up, glowering. “I know where you sleep.”
“It’s not your fault, either—only an endemic failing of your House. Dumbledore should have known better than to lay out breadcrumbs like this and expect a bunch of Gryffindors to put two and two together.”
Harry slumped back against the bush-sofa; Malfoy had his arm resting across the cushion, and Harry used it as a pillow. He was so tired now, even though he’d slept most of the day. Anger was draining, and he’d been angry a lot over the years. He just wanted to stop. He wanted his heart to stop breaking and his images of people to stop shattering. Malfoy was safe that way; he was always what he presented himself as, no more, no less. Harry would never discover some deep, dark secret he’d kept hidden that would forever change how Harry felt about him. He was just Malfoy.
He closed his eyes. “…And more stupid is the fact that I still miss him.”
Malfoy snorted. “Well I certainly don’t. He was never a doting, batty old grandfather to me like he was to you lot.”
Harry frowned, opening his mouth to remind Malfoy of all the good Dumbledore had done, and how he would have surely helped Malfoy and his parents if they’d bothered to ask him—before he realised this had been Malfoy’s intention all along, forcing Harry to defend Dumbledore in order to mute his anger. Fucking Slytherins.
He swallowed any comments, reaching down to pick up a dead leaf and tearing it apart piece by piece. “It’s just…once they’re gone, that’s it. You never get to have the last word, or get the answers you want, or—or even say goodbye. No matter how you felt about them, you’ll never have that closure.”
“Hogwash,” Malfoy sniffed, rolling his eyes. “If that’s true, then what was that display back in Godric’s Hollow for? You hadn’t the first clue that the sword of Gryffindor might be hidden there, so why did you want to go at all if you honestly believe that confronting those who’ve passed is meaningless? You wouldn’t get the last word or the answers you want even if the man were still alive. And if it’s goodbyes you want to say—” He extended an arm, sweeping it around the Sanctuary. “Then scream them as loud as you like. There’s no one else here, and I promise to wait until after this whole mess is sorted to sell the story of the Boy Who Had a Breakdown to Rita Skeeter.”
Harry tried not to smile, but it was a losing battle, so he was grateful when Malfoy stood and started to stretch, pacing a bit as he did so and moving away from the short brush surrounding their campsite. He recognised the signs of Malfoy prepping for a shift; he evidently wanted to fly too, and not with brooms this time. Harry thought he’d like that and stood to follow him.
Then Malfoy stopped, staring up at the moon riding high above them. “…He was the same age as me, too.”
“Before—you and Weasley, you said that Dumbledore and Grindelwald were the same age as you. That age didn’t excuse what they were doing, because they were old enough to know better, just like you’re old enough to be on this quest of yours.” He glanced back over his shoulder at Harry, his eyes dark, in stark contrast to the eerie glow his pale skin took on when struck by moonlight, just like the dragon’s scales. “He was the same age as me, too. So what’s the point of it all, then, if you can’t imagine you’ll be a better person when you’re five-hundred-and-fuckteen years old than you were at seventeen?”
Harry didn’t have an answer for that, and after another heartbeat and a flash of white in the dark, Malfoy couldn’t press him for one.