A Different Kind of War @ajjax
A War Within

TITLE: A Different Kind of War

SUMMARY: Confronted with the daunting threat of war looming over Britain, Harry must prepare for the inevitable confrontation. But when an enigmatic French beauty arrives to assist Hogwarts in preparation for the coming dangers, Harry soon learns that matters of the heart and battlefield are of equal difficulty.

CHAPTER TITLE: A War Within

PAIRINGS: Harry/Fleur

RATING: M

A/N: Welcome to the beginning of ACT II - RESISTANCE RISING, A War Within.

Perhaps it isn't the most pleasant start, though war rarely is - even fictional. A big thank you to my beta readers - NerdDragonVoid, x102reddragon and Triage, alongside the support from my discord. Speaking of which, the discord is currently on my profile, there you can get early access to upcoming chapters, teasers and announcements.

Outside of that, enjoy the next stage of the story and as always, stay safe and enjoy!

ACT II - RESISTANCE RISING

The scarlet sky was hot and luminous, the backdrop of shining constellations obscured by the flarings of heated colours.

Life is rarely so simple.

The glow could have been innocuous from this distance, leafless trees hiding the Burrow with their branches. There was no way to glean anything from the sky; it could've been the twins' fireworks - a final gambit to restore dwindling the festivities.

It could be anything.

Harry stood rooted to the ground, little different to any of the surrounding trees, her hand clasped in his - a remnant of the warmth they just shared.

A warmth replaced by the glow they both observed. Harry cocked his head in an attempt to understand the image before his eyes; it was an action that imitated something a child would've done - one that yielded no results.

"Harry." Fleur breathed, enshrouded in her words, a tone he'd seldom heard from her.

Fear.

Her feet carried her towards the Burrow at the behest of something he couldn't comprehend, he followed suit, seeking answers just as she was.

It wasn't hard to find what had drawn her, his ears strained for anything to give away the situation, and soon, he found it.

It was the taunting cackle of flames that met his ears, the roar of a rushing inferno that forced tension into his shoulders. A grievous song spun with fire that cut through the cold air.

The passion that had emboldened them mere moments ago was shattered, a tenderness left at their backs as they pushed forward. Harry's head lowered, the muscles in his legs recoiled, then fired.

And he ran as fast as his feet would carry him.

The distance between the orchard and the Burrow wasn't terribly far, a little under a kilometre if he was to guess. Close enough to see the sky darken as they approached but far enough to obscure the tall house.

Fleur had been in front of him for a brief moment but had soon fallen to his rear, long strides and fast feet born from a lifetime of fleeing heavy hands finally paid its dues, even if he sorely wished they hadn't.

He could still hear her footfalls behind him; however, the crunch of worn, dead leaves and snow under her feet ensured she wasn't far behind. They were impeded by the thicket of barren trees and shrubs that concealed the perimeter of the Burrow. Errant branches reached down menacingly to halt their rapid advance, their inopportune positioning rewarding Harry with a plethora of small scratches across his body.

Despite such impediments, he soon broke into the clearing, then the pair stilled, confronted by the sight before them.

The Burrow was alight.

It was a ghastly sight, one that chilled him to his very core. The scarlet sky born at the behest of the crimson inferno that encircled the wooden house, the harsh howling of the wind formed a morbid tale of mourning.

It appeared almost too late.

Flames shrouded the structure, surging and rolling like rushing waves higher into the atmosphere. It fought against the dull blue ethereal barrier that was the Weasleys' wards until they flickered and fought one final time.

Soon, the blue dulled to nothing and gave a final forlorn screech before it fell apart, descending towards the earth slowly. With their target free of its protections, the structure creaked ominously, listing back and forth under the concussive force of such magic.

Magic-born gales whipped through the surroundings, scattering ashes and smoke around him to obscure his view.

In spite of such efforts, he could still distinguish figures beyond the flames. Darkened cloaks and glittering masks glimmered in the heat, misshapen beasts emerged at the apex of the inferno, encouraged by lit wands held aloft. Imbued with the desire to dominate, to destroy and attempting to swallow the Burrow whole with their gaping maws. Succeeding only in tearing pieces of the structure asunder.

A cacophony of cheers rang out, the Death Eaters gleeful in their attack, a grating sound that stung Harry to his core. A dissonance supplemented by the roar of fiendfyre then finally, a dangerous chord had been struck.

The blood was in his ears as he stepped out from the foliage. Fleur reached forward, a hand that tried to counsel caution, urge care over recklessness, or at the very least, form a plan.

A rational Harry would've listened; he'd learned enough over this year to know his haphazard inclination to rush to battle was only a disservice to him. A rational Harry would've seen the odds. The Death Eaters had numbers near twenty. Despite all his leaps and bounds in martial magic, the odds seemed insurmountable.

But he was anything but rational. His emotions ran high. Magic thrummed through his tendons; a crescendo was being built, he shedded her reaching hand, rather than heeding it and took one more step.

With his approach, a final note was played.

The war drums made themselves known for the first time in months. He had once prepared himself for the eventuality that they might arise once more. Yet, they failed to make themselves known against the Horcrux, that was enough for him to believe it might be an isolated incident.

And here, he paid for his naivety. The savagery called to him, welcoming him into its embrace as if he was an old friend. His scar burned as if he'd been branded, the familiar dull throb echoing in his forehead.

Rend, the primaeval voice urged.

Maim.

Tear.

If he was of sound mind, maybe he could've curtailed the murderous intent that brewed and boiled within him. For a moment, the drums stopped, the compulsion haltered.

He was free from the spell.

The forefront of his mind was conquered by a single thought.

Fleur.

She's using her allure.

It was not a difficult deduction to make. His neck craned of its own accord, turning to peer back towards her. The foreground faded from view; his peripheral became a blur. The heat against his face was of little notice against the one beneath his chest.

Her silver hair shone in the light of the fire, but her eyes seemed to burn brighter.

Come back to me. A voice whispered, urging him to flee.

She had never used her allure on him, at least, not consciously. Now, he was enraptured by the soft melody in his ears, called home by a Veela's song.

The war within was eased until his feet stood rooted to the ground once more, a second voice spun its tale.

They are cowards, are they not? It mocked inside his head. The Weasley family was of little harm to anyone, now they've been razed. Their superiority is born from preying on the weak, forged from the ashes of trampling innocents underfoot.

It could have been Fleur, it sounded like her - but it wasn't.

They think themselves superior, born to believe sharing blood with lives long since past gives them the right to spill it. The blood in his ears pounded harder in an attempt to block out the competing melody.

Show them the toll of such actions, let them know the feeling of fighting true power.

Strike back.

The final sentence rose within his mind as an almost indecipherable command, a serpentine hiss following the demand. Fleur's hold on him wavered for a moment, a final plea echoing within his ears.

"Fight it."

And he tried.

A spell arced across the distance between them, as hot and vengeful as the flames. It cast their silhouettes brightly, painting their figures clearly against the trees.

They had been seen.

The spell struck true, a bright flash of crimson, a spill of ichor and Fleur fell to her knees, nursing a wound on her shoulder. He did not comfort her as he once would have, did not seek to ease her agony. He instead took position in front of her, shielding her from the curses that would soon come.

Harry Potter was wroth.

His wand was hot in his palm, hissing as the voice in his mind had. He held it aloft as they had, power pooling at its tip.

He stood, a man tall, emboldened by his own mind's words and perverted by wrath.

The war drums had reached their apex, the pounding in his ears long passed the crescendo.

Then, the chaos that the recess of his mind yearned for erupted.

Another spell fired towards them. The rest seemed intent on controlling their beasts made of flames. The sickle-shaped curse flew skywards, assisted by Harry's own wand in a quick parrying motion.

Water issued from the tip of Harry's wand, a thin stream that coalesced into something far greater.

The tempest had been summoned, the muscles in his forearm pulled taught, tendons threatened to snap under the release.

He flicked his wrist, and the torrent reared backwards as if it was a serpent poised to strike. Another flick of his wrist sent it arcing forward towards his foes, carving a water-soaked path through flame and flesh alike.

Another spell came towards Fleur only to be redirected once more. His counter-attack had gained the attention of some, but not many. The others were forced not to allow the inferno free reign.

His next spell was conducive to its predecessor. A tendril of lightning pooled at the tip of his wand, casting a bright light on the surroundings, enough to garner the attention of the more attentive Death Eaters that could afford to break from the fiendfyre. Each foe that moved their wand from the Burrow dulled the scarlet glow, freeing one of the many beasts from attack.

The ball of lightning arched forward faster than any could comprehend. It struck the outskirts of the group closest to Harry, scattering earth and darkened robes alike. The brown plumage of dust and dirt that rose into the sky earned the attention of even more, and soon, Harry found himself thoroughly engaged.

Two had fallen to the thunderclap of lightning, sending them writhing to the ground with the acrid smell of burnt flesh in their nose.

Salvos of spells crossed the distance, their attention now affixed to Harry. It was far too many to shield conventionally; enough flew wide as they attempted to aim true.

He weaved under what he could and shielded what he couldn't. Throwing his wand forward in an underhand turn, an earthen barrier rose to protect what he could not. Immediately battered by barrages of curses, Harry turned to confront the foes on his other flank.

He had been forced to remain static, his face sweltering under heat and exertion.

It was a simple, yet difficult truth - he was outmatched.

For all his strides, leaps and bounds, for all his knowledge, experience and practice - the task before him was too great. Slowed by his injuries, his senses dulled by inactivity, this was not a fight to be won.

A spell pierced through the barrier as he fought another, scattering him with chunks of hard earth. He responded in turn by banishing the remnants of his barricade back towards them, sending foes toppling over to be free from the debris' path.

He swivelled in time to block another onslaught, weaving on his feet to avoid what he could - which was never destined to be much. His wand was out of position; his body contorted off-centre. The inbound curses would have struck true, consigning him to the fate that lay at the end of his enemies wand.

If not for a sudden screech and a heavenly barrier that leapt to his defence.

He braved a look behind him.

It was Fleur, although not as he ever knew her.

She stood tall, whatever few precious inches he had wielded over her were long-since forgotten. Her robes were torn and tattered; instead, she was cloaked in fine feathers, as silver as her hair. Her hands extended beyond their reach, crowned with a series of sharp talons, as did her feet, finely honed claws bursting through her shoes.

Her silver plumage glittered in the light of the fire, feathers fluttering as wings formed from her back, dispersing air as they tested their newfound limits.

The heavenly barrier remained stalwart for the moment as her face began to contort. That was perhaps the most notable to Harry. Her eyes were no longer the dark blue he knew, nor her features recognisable.

It had morphed beyond familiarity, her already sharp features became sharper, forming a keen beak where her mouth once laid. Her eyes were what caught his own; they glowed a cruel bright-yellow that shone brightly against the night.

She's transformed, Harry recognised.

Fleur Delacour was a Veela.

It was an easy thing to forget; beyond her beauty, she rarely allowed any indication of such. Now, he was confronted with the full weight of such a revelation. Now, she balanced the equilibrium of avian and human.

He had seen it from afar at the world cup, though none seemed as refined as this. The irascible Veela fought the leprechauns, but none sprouted wings as she had nor possessed the same beautiful plumage. He had seen remnants of it in her eyes at Slughorn's party - when she allowed anger to reign over her features.

She had schooled her features and beat back the urge, though such a compunction was not present here. She ruffled her feathers against the wind and expanded her full wingspan.

A few tentative beats of her wings ensued, lifting her off the ground and buffeting both robe, grass and hair with each wave.

"Harry." Her voice was scarcely legible, rather than her accented voice it was instead a sharp, avian wail that wanted him to nurse his ears.

Though she did not need to speak any further, her wand was gripped gently between her talons and the barrier between them and their advancing adversaries fell. In her other, a fireball plumed into existence, radiating a pulsing blue heat.

They had fought enough against one another that fighting alongside was a change less jarring than it might have been.

Where he failed alone, together, they would triumph.

She took to the air, her wings forcing her upwards into the ash and smoke hazed sky. Wand and flame threw spells and heat downwards towards their foes. Harry followed close beneath her, capitalising on eyes cast from him to the angelic figure spiralling through the twilight.

This is her element, Harry thought, the air is the dominion of a Veela.

One of the few thoughts to break through the haze of his own mind. She had spoken of their mastery of the air, but he had taken it as pride more than fact.

He had been so very wrong.

He parried an incoming curse, returning a chain of his own that resulted in a spray of crimson and a pained shout. A gust of wind sent a group off-balance as his wand sung in his hand, leaving them exposed to the blue inferno that rained down.

Another torrent of water flung from his wand, debris transfigured to steel and earth turned to weapon. All sent with the intent to separate flesh from bone, to batter down their offensive.

He worked his way to the Burrow, routing enemies with arcing sweeps of his wand, thrusting blows of magic.

Though power had its price.

Each piece of magic he cast sapped his strength, tore at his core and flesh. His arm ached, muscles stretched to tearing point to sustain his offensive.

Though, each Death Eater downed removed power from the fiendfyre. Now, after the offensive of their own, the scarlet beasts struggled to remain tether from whatever hell they had been summoned from.

Another gust of wind battered his opponents against the ground, sending two in front of him sprawling. His aching arm made to cast another spell until he was struck from behind.

One of the downed Death Eaters had regained his feet, brandishing his wand once more. His dark wand had been flung towards him, an incantation unheard at his lips. Harry made to avoid whatever followed, but couldn't.

Countless splinters and shards of blackened wood were torn from the remnants of the Burrow, embedding themselves in his chest and legs.

His hand was not his own at that moment, his wand acting of its own accord.

In hindsight, it had all seemed far too easy.

Muscle memory came to the forefront, a spell unspoken, a swipe of his wand and a flash of magic. It had all seemed a blur.

Timber tore from the Burrow, as his opponent had done seconds ago, ashen, burnt and following the tip of his wand. Striking through his foe with a visceral thud, a second spell left his wand before he could stay his hand.

The cloaked figures mask shifted slightly, a bright silver countenance that wasn't engraved as the others were. A uniform piece of armour that covered all save his eyes, which widened under the mask, before it fell.

Beneath, little but a boy.

Older than Harry, most likely, but not by much. Fear was alight in his eyes for a brief moment before a bloody swath formed across his throat, a tear that ran from ear to ear.

Whatever stupor Harry was in dropped the moment their eyes met.

I killed him.

He had no doubt maimed many this night, possibly killed as well. Yet, that was an evil he was never forced to confront in such a fashion. Quirrel had been little but ashen remains cast to the wind.

Green eyes met brown, a gaze more visceral than any bloodshed.

The wind seemed to whisper to him, a mocking howl.

Killing is easy, should you be able to pay the price for such. And you, Harry Potter, have enacted quite the toll here tonight, have you not?

The Death Eater - the boy, fell to one side, his side pinned to the dirt by the wood. A pang of agony emanated from the boy, his magic's final gambit to save itself.

His final gasp for breath was audible, eyes once brown now nought but an empty gaze that bore through him and onwards.

The battlefield seemed still for a moment.

He was my age.

He didn't recognise him. It didn't matter. He killed him; he could've disarmed him, could've stunned him. But he didn't. He killed him because he wanted to. Because he was too weak to fight his own emotions.

He did not recognise him - he did not need to. For he had killed him over any other manner of battle. He did not seek to incapacitate nor disarm, sought harm instead of healing.

All because he could not win the war within.

His mind was a whirlwind, attempting to rationalise his own actions.

He would have killed you, had you not killed him.

But his thoughts were little solace.

He was probably coerced into this, the opposite side of his mind argued.

A boy dragged into a war of bigotry, as he had been. Born with no dogmatic inclinations against Muggles, Muggleborns or Half-Bloods, instilled in him by a society who needed him as fodder for battle.

The war was never meant to be theirs, yet Harry had lived where he hadn't.

No words could take the edge off of such a thought.

He reached a gentle hand down and closed the boys' eyes, the first he'd ever truly closed.

They will not be the last. The wind mocked once more, You shall close all manner of eyes.

With the final words uttered, the presence left with the wind, the remaining attackers seemingly fleeing towards the forests in pursuit of it.

The smouldering wreckage of the Burrow remained alight, though the beasts had fallen silent.

Stinguio baratrum.

Alabaster-hued water spewed from his wand, circling around the structure before falling, snuffing the remnants of the fiendfyre that encompassed it with a sharp hiss and a burst of smoke and steam.

The structure was all but cinders. The uppermost section of the building was subject to the beast's ire; hence, it merely ceased to be.

Suddenly, a loud screech brought him back from his thoughts.

Fleur.

That single thought had him bound to the other side of the structure as she began her descent from the skies. Her grey visage and feathers covered in blood and darkened with ash.

Her feet met solid ground once more. Her fine silver feathers retreated back into her skin as she winced in agony. Talons became appendages once more and wings faded into her back.

Fleur's robes had become tatters, doing little to converse her modesty, he averted his gaze as he stepped towards her. Weak legs faltered beneath her; scratches littered her body as it did his.

Tentative steps seemed to come from her newly reverted form, managing a few before she fell downwards, his arms leaping forth to steady her.

"Are you okay?" Harry asked.

His voice was hoarse, turned raw from smoke and ash. His words, all he could think to ask.

She opened her mouth as if to speak. But she knew as well as he, no platitudes would amend the situation, nor what had transpired. They feared to speak, lest it cement the tragedy that had befallen them.

He took a few shaky steps forward, but Fleur remained behind.

The Death Eaters that had not fled with the rest were either incapacitated or dead, in a single instance. There were eight of them, maybe. More than half of what they brought, that alone was improbably enough.

He braved a journey into the Burrow, what was likely the last, stepping through the charred remnants of the door into the blackened lounge room. The roof and every floor had been toppled, allowing a gaze into the constellations above.

And the colossal skull he hadn't noticed, green-hued with a serpent protruding from its mouth like a tongue.

There was little to be seen in the wreckage. Somewhere along the line, he found the body of the ghoul, whatever magic still clung to it had protected its blackened corpse from immediate incineration. It could no longer beat its sorrowful tune on the pipes, although the situation so desperately called for it.

Maybe they escaped.

That hope would have to sustain him for the moment.

A glimmer in the corner caught his eye, contrasting itself against the moonlight and burnt house. He dashed over, eager to see what may have survived the onslaught, dispersing rubble and charcoal with his foot to see what lay underneath.

His shoe caught fabric, clinging to his foot as he kicked it forward.

My cloak. He thought in a brief moment of shock.

It was covered in ash, but the silver cloth remained whole.

It must've fallen when my trunk burnt.

But how did it survive?

Though there was more than one object of importance within his room.

Hedwig.

He peered upwards. There would be little way to discern if she lived or died, that alone sent a pang of pain through Harry's heart.

Dumbledore's journal, Dad's handbook.

They were ash.

Lumos.

His wand shook in his hand, desperate for light to better search with. The apex shimmered slightly before it died.

Lumos.

He tried once more, his arm stung at the magic but did not light. He did not bother pursuing the avenue any further, merely placing his wand at his belt.

The floo powder was knocked from the fireplace. The sand-like emerald substance had burnt into the foundations and left behind a sickly-green mark of corrosion. He didn't want to think of the implications of having it scattered among the ash.

Reparo.

He retrieved his wand once more, a naive attempt at trying to restore the house to its glory. But it yielded similar results to his attempt to light it.

He stuffed it back into his belt and with a final glance backwards, exited the structure, leaving behind a house of the family that had been like his own.

Fleur was outside, sitting on the ground with her robes somewhat repaired, gazing into the forest. Harry wanted to comfort, but nothing witty or comforting made itself known.

Words would not do their pain justice.

Silence reigned between the pair; Harry made to sit down beside her. But something drew his attention away, that same nipping at his neck, the boiling in his naval.

Something was brewing.

The full moon shone brightly, illuminating the path ahead, however unsure that path was.

He tensed, the feeling of something arising was palpable.

Silence.

Then a howl, at first one, then many.

They haven't retreated, he thought shakily. They've regrouped.

He brought Fleur to her feet as flares of red shot into the sky in the same section of the trees the Death Eaters had retreated into.

Werewolves.

They had survived by the grace of surprise; every element save numbers had been on their side. Now, they fought against those who knew their strength and sought a weakened foe. There was a phantom pain in the scar tissue of his hand as he reached to grasp her own, leading her towards the orchard.

There was nothing left for them here, whatever purpose the Burrow served died in that fire.

If they weren't quick enough, they'd surely follow suit.

With bounding steps, he leapt into the water of the river, Fleur soon behind him. He paddled across with relative ease, although Fleur experienced more difficulty then he. The river was not deep, the Weasley kids would often swim there as children, but it was wide. Wide enough that by the time Fleur had crossed, their pursuers had reached the other side of the bank.

He could not count their numbers, but it was five, at least. The leader of the pack stood taller than the rest by a head—tattered fur wind-swept and his face a cruel amalgamation of human and lupine features.

A lumbering step forward towards the water of the river followed his appearance, muscles rippled beneath the matted hair of his chest, held together by the blood that dripped from his maw.

They must've made other attacks tonight.

The moonlight caught his features; it was a face he had seen before.

Fenrir Greyback.

He'd never seen him transformed, but he supposed few had. But the same features carried into his transformation, he'd seen them plastered across enough posters to recognise.

The werewolf bared his fangs in some form of a menacing smile before it struck.

To Harry, he was little but a grey blur. He shot across the water without touching it in a mighty leap. With relative ease, he tossed Harry aside, his muscled form making easy work of the comparatively skinny teen. His hand lost Fleur's as he stumbled backwards.

"Master wants you, not her." He growled.

It was a testament to his power over his lycanthropy that he maintained a semblance of sentience in his transformation. His voice was animalistic, grating - coarse enough to make Harry wince as it entered his ears.

"A good meal." He finished, eying Fleur menacingly to the position she was knocked to.

Even in his broken English, Harry could clearly understand the insinuation. He rose to his full height, his legs shaking with exhaustion.

Greyback had foregone his pursuit of Harry in favour of the prone form of Fleur.

"Pretty."

Harry's wand shot into his hand from his robe pocket without a second thought. Fleur reached for her own, tired eyes widening as she earned the Werewolf's attention. The rosewood barely met her fingers before it was struck from her grasp, a mocking paw batting her hand away.

He made to grab her. Harry rolled his wrist: the wand felt heavy and without warmth. His arm still ached, but magic came to his call once more.

Power rushed to his unknowing call, and finally, he had expended enough. The tendons in his forearm tore, Harry cried out as muscle and ligament fell to his spell.

The thundering crack had been deafening, echoing throughout the valley. A sudden flash of magic. Elegant, graceful, angelic. Wrought from the same holy beauty as the Patronus but possessing none of its grace.

It struck the stagnant form of Greyback and tossed him across the land, scattering the rest of his pack as he tumbled across the ground with a sick thud.

It sent them flying over the hill. He felt powerful, his wand, however, could not sustain the energy. The crack was not the magic alone; the holly had split, fragmented. The shaft had been separated down the invisible seam.

The Phoenix feather lay dormant in its casing.

His wand was broken.

He could hear the werewolves howl over the hill, not in eagerness like earlier, but pain. A sorrowful rallying cry. They were beaten for the moment, but their pursuit would be ensured.

He stuffed his broken wand back into his robe pockets, another painful revelation for a painful night. He ran over, taking Fleur's hand once more.

Together, they took off into the Forest.

He wasn't sure where they'd go.

On the continent, the life of Albus Dumbledore was different - very different.

The Alps were terribly cold during the winter, frigid winds and snow-shrouded skies stretched as far as he could see. A sudden flash of flames deposited his feet on familiar ground, a soft trilling following their appearance.

"Thank you, old friend." Dumbledore offered to Fawkes, the Phoenix perched upon his uninjured arm, presenting his crest to be scratched.

They'd come to the foothold of the smallest in a trio of mountains and the small town below lay ahead, a shadow cast over them by the peaks.

Berg de Dunkelheit, a fitting name if ever there was one.

Fawkes trilled once more before vanishing in a plume of smoke and flames.

It was Christmas Day, and although the village was relatively small, it bellowed with a festivity of a population far greater. Many forms of decoration adorned the streets and buildings. As the day progressed, as would those same festivities - the present-giving that he had admired so much as a child.

He began his path to the town and to the passage beyond, a journey that would be relatively short.

The children played in the daylight and regarded him little as the man dressed in eccentric clothing cut through the town. Some briefly stopped, if only to think of him as the Muggles' Saint Nicholas. They tossed lumps of snow to and fro, decorated small trees and made sculptures from the frost.

He had crossed to the other side of the village in good time, this side considerably less decorated than its counterpart. The buildings seemed more derelict, chipped and worn at the edges, the area wearing fewer festivities and the children merely ambling around with little joy.

The atmosphere and position closest to the mountain was not happenstance, becoming progressively worse as he neared the boundary of the village.

Frowning, he walked closer to one of the walls. The bricks were chipped and the grout blackened with time. With a cursory glance over his shoulder, he tapped the worn stones with his wand and willed a change.

Soon, a wreath appeared at the apex of the wall and began to spread. The lengths of holly and baubles weaving themselves through the cracks and crevices of the considerably lighter wall. He stowed his wand back into his robes and took a moment to compose himself.

One upon a time, he could've done such a piece of magic with ease, he wouldn't have even needed to draw his wand. But times had changed, he was no longer the man he once was, for better and for worse.

It was the least he could do, given this was his fault.

Soon enough, he'd passed through the village onto a winding stone path that decorated the alabaster-coloured mountain.

He began the ascent upwards. It was relatively uneventful. Birds flew overhead, chirping animatedly in the cold breeze, one of the only signs of life within the peaks.

Soon enough, the hard path beneath him ended, the darkened stone revealed for the first time. Had he been ignorant of such things, he may have passed over it without a second thought, only to be redirected by magic.

But he walked a familiar path.

He wasn't kept waiting long, a barrier emerged in front of him, although not one of conventional creation. It flared brightly, heat melting the stagnant snow at his feet before it disappeared and a man appeared from beyond.

"Herr Dumbledore." The man said in a faux-cheerful tone. He was short, stocky. A thick brown beard enshrouded his features and scars littered the parts that were unmolested by the thicket of hair.

He was resplendent in his light blue robes, a pair of white lines bisecting his robe down the middle and a pair of epaulettes adorned each shoulder, denoting his rank and membership as an agent of the International Confederation of Wizardry.

"Warden." He replied in the same tongue, although his attempt wore the rust of time and sounded more foreign than it once might have.

Dumbledore stepped forward, and with a quick flick of the Wardens hornbeam wand, the opening in the barrier closed, another motion cleared the snow from the path ahead, and the true height of the mountain above became visible.

It was now the tallest of the mountain range, although not only in part to its tectonic superiority but also the castle that sat at the apex.

Nurmengard.

The castle rose in a single, impressive tower. Wrought from black stones in a way that seemed it was carved from magic alone. Sharp architecture and few windows made it more austere than the winter could ever be.

It held much significance in this world, even if it went unnoticed by most. Here, Gellert Grindelwald began his quest. It was here he rallied acolytes and Lieutenants. Here, he launched a campaign that plunged the magical world into a war that tore apart countries.

Here he had lost a friend.

It was here, that their paths diverged, where ideologies collided and the disparity became too vast.

I sought to change the world with tolerance, and he sought violence. Albus thought, And in the end, we both failed.

Even now, their ideals seemed righteous.

But in the end, the approaches they chose were so very different. Grindelwald was enticed by war and Albus, morality.

And the better world was never built.

The boy he once was, the one that held bright hopes for the future had disappeared somewhere along the way.

Where did that boy go, I wonder? He mused sadly. When did he perish? Was it when I killed my sister? Or when I shared a bed with a man that would almost tear the world apart? That same boy that had once yearned to be Merlin, somewhere in his journey, became Morgana instead.

He had nearly a century to make peace with such a life, but time did not make such a thought any easier.

But it would do no good to brood on the roads not taken and the choices he made. That was the vice of old men - long done with the world. While his age was undeniable, his path was not yet finished.

Soon, they made their way into the grim fortress. The stone doors parting with nought but a screech of the hinges as he stepped into the castle beyond. Given he had put the man in here, they humoured him and allowed his infrequent visits. Despite him losing his position as Supreme Mugwump, they still allowed him that respect, although he rarely chose to exercise it, until now.

They ascended the central staircase and began passing other cells. They were too once filled with the Lieutenants of Grindelwald who would neither renounce leader nor ideology. The most dangerous of those individuals found themselves where they begin, in a rare element of poetic justice from the ICW.

The Frank Twins, Bischoff, Eisler.

The names could be droned on for quite some time, suffice to say, that time had long since passed. They had all since perished save one man, the staff of the castle soon departed too, dwindling from the respect they once commanded to guarding one man. A posting detested by new enforcers of the ICW.

Soon, he found himself in the tallest tower, the last surviving prisoner in its clutches.

The Warden looked at the door. Before tapping his wand in what appeared to be some arbitrary code, although Dumbledore knew better, it swung open after a moment, and the Warden ushered him in.

"Gellert Grindelwald." The Warden announced disdainfully, without a second look, he left back through the door, the wall sealing where it once was.

The cell was spartan, a hard bed and toilet were all that furnished the cell. Outside of that, a thin blanket that covered a thinner man. The man swung his feet over the bed and for the first time in some time, Albus saw the man that was once a good friend.

Time had taken his hair from him. His once handsome face was marred with age, wrinkles, age spots and sagging skin. His face was gaunt—a shade of the man that Albus once knew.

"Hello, Gellert." Albus offered gently.

"Albus." He said coarsely, although not unkindly. "It has been a great many years, and I sense such a visit is not born from your need to see an old friend."

He is anything if not to the point. There was comfort in that familiarity.

"I came to seek your counsel." Albus admitted.

"You imprison me in my own castle for decades, and you want a favour?"

"Humble, I know." Dumbledore joked, for all the animosity one shared, they were still tentative friends.

"What has led you here?" Grindelwald asked, although lacking the coarseness, rather out of curiosity now.

"Voldemort has returned." He began, the story was long and arduous, so he chose there to begin.

"I have seen it." The man returned. "I had not dreamt for some time. Now, all I am allowed to glimpse is a brown wand and my death encircling me with many arms."

It was easy to forget the man saw with more than eyes.

Dumbledore simply took his glove off, rolling down his sleeve, bringing the necrotic tissue to light. He had long since lost feeling, the necrosis corroding the nerves and with it, his ability to feel, pain or otherwise.

It was an action without thought, remembering a truth he had forgotten as the man in front of him stared aimlessly towards him.

Gellert Grindelwald was blind.

"I'm dying." Dumbledore announced for him, "An old curse, necrosis. It has taken my arm and soon, my core."

And soon, me.

"Tell me, did you not think to merely cut away the rot?"

"By the time I could stifle it, It was already in the marrow." Dumbledore explained, "Agitating the corruption merely would have expedited it."

"If you had come to me when it began, I might have been able to give you longer."

"If my time is near its end, I won't seek to prolong it." Albus answered, "There is little taste living past your time. Though, I have always wondered what lay beyond this."

"All wonder, at some point and all find out. I'm afraid once you learn that truth, there is no forgetting it."

The undertone to his words was clear.

You're making a mistake.

"I have lived a lifetime; I shall seek no more. I have made mistakes and triumphs, the former perhaps more than any man might ever know." Dumbledore laughed though his old voice carried no humour. "Would you speak the truth if I asked it from you?"

"Have I ever done anything less?"

A great many times if I remember correctly.

"Was I a good man?" Dumbledore's voice waved.

"No." Grindelwald decided after a moment of thought, "But you were better than most."

"If a choice presented itself to change the world as we had once tried, would you pursue it as you once did?"

"You needn't try and shroud meanings with ornate words, Albus." Grindelwald laughed, "Would I begin a war once more?"

"Would you?" Dumbledore agreed.

"Is there anything left to fight for?" Grindelwald asked, "Are there still muggle machines trampling us under heel and tread? Is our countryside still littered with craters? Are we still bartered like livestock?"

"The wounds have healed, but the scars remain."

"Then, I won," Grindelwald answered, it was a conversation that had taken place in this same cell more than once. "It is a point too fine to be comprehended by ears unwilling. I fought their world to save ours, Albus. After all these years, asking the same question will never yield a different answer."

I don't think any of us truly won.

"Thank you."

The man sat forward on his bunk, milky eyes once blue seemed to bore into him despite possessing no vision.

"And you seek my counsel, on what? War?"

"Not war." Dumbledore shook his head as if he could see, "There's a boy."

For all his rehearsal, this was a conversation that preparation could seldom make easier.

"I was never one for romantics, Albus."

Albus chose to ignore the man's jape, as uncharacteristic as it might have been.

"There was a prophecy, one I never spoke of - a child destined to defeat Voldemort."

"And I'm to make something of this revelation?" Grindelwald asked.

"Soon, I'll be gone - a month, if luck persists and I had planned to give him the wand."

"Even you could not be so cruel," Grindelwald said, his anger rising. "Heavy is the hand that wields that thing; it has turned hardier men astray in search of something greater. You'd be best off snapping it and burying it with yourself. Let its legacy die with us."

"If a choice had been more favourable, I would have sought it out." Dumbledore placated, "But you know as well as I the ICW will offer no help, our advantages against Tom are few and far."

"Nothing good will come from that wand passing hands."

"Then help him." Dumbledore pushed, "Let him build the world we once sought. No blood-born hegemony, no cyclical wars."

"Your efforts to grasp hope seem naive, Albus, even for you." Grindelwald waved off, "A fanciful dream, one you cling to foolishly, it seems."

The truth behind his words was, once again, abundantly clear.

We failed.

"Dreams shape the world, Gellert."

As ours once did.

"And what would you have me do in this situation?"

"Stay here." Dumbledore answered, "Await him - temper him, as I have. Help him seek allies and help him change our world. The best of me lives within him; now, he needs something else."

"Tell me, what do I provide this boy, by this theory of yours?"

"Contrast."

"Contrast?" Gellert scoffed dismissively, "There is little I have left that should be taught to anyone."

"If there were any other way, any other opportunity, I'd grasp it. But our legacy dies with us, yet it could live on within him. The best parts of our vision, with none of our errors."

"It dies with us." Grindelwald said, "That is for the best."

"After all this time, you'd be content with dark flags reigning over our world forevermore?"

"If I cannot see them from my window, the banners they bear matter little."

A twitch in his cheek, the squint of milky eyes was a clear enough tell.

"You are a good man, Gellert Grindelwald, but a poor liar."

"What would I gain from such an arrangement?" Grindelwald asked.

"Your dream, a fleeting joy?" Albus said.

"My dream will not warm me in winters like these, nor will joy."

"Who would sacrifice their life for a chance, only to wail for the remainder of it when the possibility became a reality once more?"

Grindelwald pondered that question and after a long moment of contemplation, a sudden sigh.

Perhaps it was acquiescence, or was it anger?

"What is this boy's name?" Gellert questioned.

"Harry Potter."

Their conversation droned onwards as the day progressed into the night—a brief detente in the turbulent life Albus Dumbledore.

They had been running for what felt like an age.

The full moon had been high in the sky when they began. Now its gaze had lowered nearer to the dawn - but not quick enough. Hope seemed to await them at the horizon, but the moon's descent only emboldened their pursuers. They were emboldened by their fear of returning to their master empty-handed.

Every hundred meters or so, Fleur would scatter their scent to throw off their pursuers, to little avail. Each spell she cast alerted the wizards and witches pursuing them, they had attempted to apparate only to have Death Eaters appear directly behind them.

They tired quickly. No further apparitions were feasible lest they be trapped. Instead, somewhere along the line, some Death Eaters had retrieved brooms. Pursuing them above the thick forest canopy to ensure they were not lost.

Death Eaters had tried to herd them into an advantageous position, flames ensnared the trees, ensuring their directions were limited. Enemies would apparate within feet of them to try and catch them unaware, most being dealt with by Fleur's wand, others fleeing for assistance.

But the groups grew bigger, their attempts to locate them more accurate - the outcome seemed bleak.

A tree behind them splintered, cracked and fell under the force of a blasting curse. Salvos of spells pelted their rear as the Death Eaters caught up once more. Fleur shot a gust of air backwards to scatter fallen leaves and loose foliage, obscuring their attackers' view.

Fleur passed her rosewood wand to him, trading to minimise the exhaustion they felt. It could not offer him the same warmth, for it was not his own. Though the holly shaft was now shards, rattling in his pocket with each stride.

It was a pain that would have to wait. For now, they were trapped.

A group of broom-mounted foes passed overhead; lighting leaves on fire to alert their allies to their position.

Acrius Aerem.

Fleur's wand was held aloft in Harry's hand, targeting foes passing skyward. They swung around on brooms in another attempt to hail curses towards them.

It overshot the leader, who manoeuvred outside of the path of the purple spell but connected with the second in the formation. The broom shook violently before the rider careened towards the forest floor with a sickening thud.

Bile rose at his throat; the voice hadn't spoken true. No matter how many spells they cast against him, no matter how close they came, the killing was not easy - not for him.

That, perhaps, was the defining factor.

Accio.

The fallen broom shot into his hands, and for the first time that night, he felt like they might have gained an advantage - regardless of how slight that advantage might have been.

The wooden shaft shot into his outstretched hand, an older Comet model he wasn't familiar with - though familiarity was the least of his concerns. He shuffled forward on the shaft and stuck his feet in the stirrups, Fleur followed him and wrapped her arms around his midriff and together, they shot forward, weaving through the foliage as the Death Eaters shot back around from making their failed pass.

He didn't dare emerge them above the treetops, from here only his direct pursuers could see him, whereas if he went any higher, the entirety of the Death Eaters mounted on brooms may see.

He could hear the telltale crack of trees falling under the barrage of curses behind him. He weaved to and fro to avoid them, the forest alight with purple, green and red hues.

Eventually, the distance began to shrink between them and their mounted pursuers. He had clearly taken a broom that was inferior to the others, the bristles had taken a few curses, and the speed suffered as a result.

What I wouldn't give for my Firebolt.

Soon enough, a rider was alongside them and Harry was forced to manoeuvre and duel simultaneously. The Death Eater shot a sickly purple curse towards him, forcing Harry to pull hard upwards on the shaft, his head tickling the top-most branches.

Flagrate Flagellum.

The thin tail of flames coiled from his wand as he twirled it around his head, careful not to clip Fleur or his own broom. Once the tendril had fully extended, he dove near his opponent, circling over him in a move that made Fleur give out a little squeal of surprise.

Had the situation been any different, he might have called it cute.

His wand flicked forward, and the flame whip coiled itself around the wooden shaft of the Death Eater's broom, pulling his hand back the searing flame tore through the few protective enchantments on the broom and tore it in half.

The ebb and flow of the airborne duelling continued for some time and soon, a second flier emerged with a third—Harry dove low in an attempt to separate them. The one to his left appeared to be less skilled than his counterpart. In an effort to isolate the weak link, he plummeted to the ground below once more, twisting to the side to emerge meters below him.

The man tried desperately to fend Harry off, his curse, presumably dark, met Harry's bludgeoner in the middle. Blue met yellow in a sickly mingling of motley coloured power. Harry clearly overpowered the man although he didn't need to worry, in his concentration of the duel, his foe clipped an errant branch, sending him sprawling to the forest floor.

The only remaining foe was the leader of their sortie. He had the better broom and was better skilled than those he dispatched prior. They traded spells intermittently, back and forth for what felt like hours but in reality, was a few crucial minutes—braking to manoeuvre from spells, spinning to avoid the hail of curses.

The comet began to show signs of its damage, ill-placed branches and curses took their toll on the broom. It began to lose speed slowly, their window to escape was closing. Eventually, an inopportune set of trees forced him to emerge from the cover of the canopy into the open air, exposing him to a wealth of other mounted attackers.

A single red spark flung from his pursuers wand and the pursuit began again in earnest. Tossing spells from a great distance meant inaccuracy. Soon enough, a rogue spell struck not them, but their closest attacker. He seemed to fall still on his broom, before slumping off towards the earth.

Eventually, the inaccuracy that had been a boon initially soon spelt their own doom. A curse landed, the bristles tore, the broom shook and spluttered. Whatever waning power clung to the enchantments was torn away in a single spell, Harry and Fleur spiralled downwards towards the hard floor.

Harry grasped Fleur tightly and turned his feet from the broom as they spiralled. The descent wasn't terminal, but the landing wasn't going to be pleasant.

He turned to ensure he would impact the ground first, the rough ground knocking the air from him instantly. Fleur fared better than he did, crashing into him rather than the ground.

She stumbled frantically; they'd landed on the edge of a rockface, a startling drop hidden in the forest. The rockface of the decline was loose, and within its midst, it held a small cave, but enough to conceal them for the moment. She took her wand from Harry's hand as he struggled to contend with the lack of oxygen.

She sent a gust of wind towards their landing site, scattering the dead leaves and dirt to hide their landing site.

Harry struggled with consciousness, a battle against exhaustion and pain, one he was quickly losing. Fleur slowly dragged him into the cramped atmosphere of the cave.

"The cloak." Harry wheezed, his eyes drooping. Fleur took a brief moment before she reached over him, taking his invisibility cloak and throwing it over the pair.

He began to drift into a world he desperately wished to avoid but was unsuccessful in that endeavour.

The last image he could grasp from closing eyes was a lance of light peering brightly through the foliage, obscured by platinum hair and blue eyes trapped in a frantic gaze with his own weary ones.

Dawn had come; a new day had risen.

For better, or worse.

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