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Here's the quote from Deathly Hallows:

Neither Dumbledore nor Grindelwald ever seem to have referred to this brief boyhood friendship in later life. However, there can be no doubt that Dumbledore delayed, for some five years of turmoil, fatalities, and disappearances, his attack upon Grindelwald. Was it a lingering affection for the man or fear of exposure as his once best friend that caused Dumbledore to hesitate? Was it only reluctantly that Dumbledore set out to capture the man he was once so delighted he had met?

We know that they met after Albus met Grindelwald after he graduated from Hogwarts, which was in 1899. In the late summer of that year, Ariana was killed, which was the last time they met. This puts their legendary duel, according to this quote, in 1904. However, we all know the duel happened in 1945, which is more than four decades after 1904.

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4 Answers 4

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The “five years” isn’t counted from when they last met.

However, there can be no doubt that Dumbledore delayed, for some five years of turmoil, fatalities, and disappearances, his attack upon Grindelwald.

This line refers to a period from about 1940 to 1945. Grindelwald caused turmoil, fatalities, and disappearances during this time. Dumbledore hesitated to do anything. Then, at the end of that time, he pursued, duelled, and defeated Grindelwald.

There is no connection between the start of this five-year period and the date when Dumbledore and Grindelwald last met face-to-face. It counts from the start of Grindelwald’s reign of terror.

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    Hesitated? He was unable to do anything about it according to Fantastic Beasts 2.
    – rtaft
    Oct 5, 2021 at 16:51
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    @rtaft it's for that reason why I consider FB2 and onwards non canon, no matter how many stamps of legitimacy Rowling lends that branch of the Potterverse. This isn't the appropriate forum for my grievances so I'll just say, if you read the books, FB2 is a huge disrespect to your investment in Dumbledore's character.
    – skytreader
    Oct 5, 2021 at 22:15
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    @rtaft Not having seen FB2, I’ll just say that my answer refers to what’s in the quote. Skeeter says that Dumbledore hesitated (okay, “delayed”), just as she says there were five years of turmoil. I have fact-checked neither claim! Oct 6, 2021 at 5:48
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    @rtaft That particular plot point in Fantastic Beasts 2 is what we call a "retcon" in the industry. The reasoning did not exist when Rowling published Deathly Hallows, but because it was deemed necessary for the film, it was added in as a plot point, and is now the (ostensible) canon reason for Dumbledore not directly engaging with Grindelwald up to that point.
    – TylerH
    Oct 6, 2021 at 16:14
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    @TheAsh my head-canon for the Cursed Child is that it is an in-universe play - something that Albus and Scorpius came up with. With that in mind and using the Potter Puppet Pal voices while reading it aloud made it incredibly entertaining.
    – Rob Watts
    Oct 6, 2021 at 17:29
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In Chapter Thirty-Five of Deathly Hallows Dumbledore explains the timeline more clearly:

“The argument became a fight. Grindelwald lost control. That which I had always sensed in him, though I pretended not to, now sprang into terrible being. And Ariana... after all my mother’s care and caution... lay dead upon the floor.”

“Well, Grindelwald fled, as anyone but I could have predicted. He vanished, with his plans for seizing power, and his schemes for Muggle torture, and his dreams of the Deathly Hallows, dreams in which I had encouraged him and helped him. He ran, while I was left to bury my sister, and learn to live with my guilt and my terrible grief, the price of my shame. “Years passed. There were rumors about him. They said he had procured a wand of immense power. I, meanwhile, was offered the post of Minister of Magic, not once, but several times. Naturally, I refused. I had learned that I was not to be trusted with power.”

“But while I busied myself with the training of young wizards, Grindelwald was raising an army.

I delayed meeting him until finally, it would have been too shameful to resist any longer. People were dying and he seemed unstoppable, and I had to do what I could.

It is clear from this that there were many years between when they first separated after Ariana's death and when Dumbledore delayed fighting him.

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They dueled (at least twice).

The first duel in which Arianna was killed happened when they were young and ended their friendship. Afterwards Grindlewald went on to wage his war, which was ended when he again dueled Dumbledore in 1945.

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When Dumbledore and Grindlewald first met they were both young teenagers. When they both parted after the incident around Ariana Grindlewald was not yet the mighty dark wizard he was about to become much later.

He already had his ideas about the „greater good“, but he did not have his power yet. Later -about 40 years later- he became the (in)famous dark wizard. But even after his rise Dumbledore waited 5 years before he finally confronted and duelled him. 5 years in which Grindlewald committed a large number of cruel crimes. By that time Dumbledore had become teacher in Hogwarts, but he had not yet become headmaster.

These five years of his rise from a wanted criminal to one of the darkest wizards in history are shown in the -to be continued- Harry Potter prequel movie series „Fantastic Beasts…“. It is expected that these will either contain or even end with the final duel between the two.

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