Author's Note: This is the third part of my series Insidious Intents, though it should make sense on its own. The first parts are We Have Lingered in the Chambers of the Sea and Indeed There Will Be Time, and are in my profile. This comes to you un-betaed, so I deeply apologize for all the mistakes I didn't catch.
Disclaimer: JKR's universe. I'm just playing in it. Titles all come from T. S. Elliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
Nuremgard was not a pleasant place in the slightest. It never had been to begin with, but now that it had become an obvious prison, there was something strange and wrong with it. At first Albus had been able to pretend Nuremgard was a castle like any other- like Hogwarts, even- but then he went in and saw the dungeons. Then he went in and saw where they would keep Gellert Grindelwald, up in a high, unpleasant tower with bars that striped the sunlight and let the wind in, to blow one's hair into elf knots and tangle one's thoughts together into nothingness.
Dumbledore left Nuremgard after casting several extremely powerful wards with the Elder Wand. He went back to Hogwarts after that and sat in his high tower room with the windows open, holding his head in his hands. Albus had cast almost unnoticeable charms to keep Gellert warm in winter and cool in summer, to keep out the mice and the insects, to make sure Gellert's shaving water stayed warm and he never ran out of ink, or parchment, or quills. It was incredibly stupid.
Dumbledore hated himself for his strange, unconquerable weakness around Gellert. He couldn't attend the trial and couldn't read about it in the newspapers. Minerva had come to him on the day of the trial, her black hair falling out of her neat bun.
It occurred to him that he didn't really like the name 'Albus'. True, it had a certain poetry to it, but Albus. It didn't have a terribly interesting meaning either. 'White'. Ha. It was a strange, silly sort of name. 'Dumbledore' admittedly wasn't much better, but it had some semblance of gravitas. Albus sounded like the name of an Irish setter or a golden retriever. Dumbledore stroked Fawkes's long, swan-like neck.
He turned. "Yes Minerva?"
She brandished the paper at him. "Have you read The Daily Prophet?"
"No, and I assume that you wish to tell me everything I need to know about it." He smiled at Minerva over Fawkes's brilliant red plumage. She looked like a student in her long black robes, though the robes washed her out and made her look strangely pale.
"You really ought to read the papers, Albus."
"Oh, they enjoy telling so many lies about me I'll grow too confused to teach lessons. Would you care for a sherbet lemon, Minerva? Oh, I'm sorry, you like biscuits better. I may have some excellent Ginger Newts left over from tea. Fawkes is so very fond of them."
"Albus!" Minerva exclaimed.
"No one ever has time for sweets anymore, do they?" Dumbledore asked, taking a biscuit and crumbling it up. "Fawkes, will you take another?"
"Yes?" Dumbledore asked, as Fawkes calmly ate of his hands.
"Sir, Gellert Grindelwald has been sentenced to several lifetimes in Nuremgard."
"I had expected that," he managed to say, more or less indifferently. He closed his eyes, until he could pretend everything in the world was as calm and quiet and dark as what he saw. "Anything else?"
"Well, he pleaded 'not guilty' because of exonerating circumstances." Dumbledore heard the grimace in her voice. "As in… oh, the way they summarized it! 'His attempts to better the world, Grindelwald argued, surely mitigated the regrettable loss of life. He asked the court to consider the vastly improved quality of life in his empire. Grindelwald is considered to be responsible for roughly five million deaths, including most of the Muggle deaths caused by Grindelwald's puppet, Hitler.'"
He opened his eyes, the gray stones of his office swimming back into view. "Grindelwald's puppet?"
"Well, yes, Albus. Everyone knows Grindelwald had been controlling him, using him as a sort of Muggle decoy."
He looked around sharply at Minerva, who stood behind him with the open paper, the paper itself starkly white under the black newsprint. "The Imperius curse stopped working. Hitler tried to throw it off several times and the struggle drove him insane."
"And that makes Grindelwald's atrocities any better?" Minerva demanded. "He drove the Muggle insane, Albus. Grindelwald's still as responsible for this as if he'd been controlling Hitler the whole time."
"We cannot make such casual distinctions, Minerva," Dumbledore replied sharply. "Grindelwald thought that he was doing the right thing."
Minerva stared at him over the paper, looking entirely shocked. "Albus, I don't understand. Unless… you… have doubts about what you did?"
Dumbledore glared down at Fawkes, almost lost in the familiar resentment, the familiar isolation. No one ever understood him entirely. They got so incredibly tired of swimming in rough, gray seas of thought and had to see only the incredible whiteness of the wave tips and the unfathomable blackness of the deep. There was nothing in between.
Minerva, though she was a clever girl, though she was intelligent and put-together and very wise for her age, failed to understand him and pressed on. "Is it… how… did you defeat Gellert Grindelwald?"
Dumbledore forced himself to blink away the resentment and turned back to her with a smile. "What do you mean, Minerva?"
She looked uncertain. "Did you… have to do something very… underhanded, sir, to win? Something Slytherin?"
Dumbledore considered this carefully. "In a manner of speaking, yes." He took the paper from her and couldn't immediately force himself to look at it. It had just come out and the newsprint had smudged the ink all over Minerva's pale hands. "And I cannot allow myself to think that the ends justified the means. No, Minerva, I am greatly disappointed in myself."
"Is that why you've been throwing out all the calls for you to become a member of the Ministry?"
"More or less," Dumbledore lied. He knew he would become corrupted by the power. He had never been as strong as Gellert who remained true to his vision, as terrible and terrifying as that vision had become. He forced himself to read the article.
There was something off-putting and almost cruel about seeing the entire record of the battle, the trial, and Grindelwald's newly named Reign of Terror, captured in several short, clipped sentences, imprisoned in black type on white paper.
"Sir?" Minerva asked, touching Albus on the sleeve of his blue-gray robe. "You did the right thing."
How could anyone ever determine that?
He felt adrift, embittered, tainted and- and nigh on evil. He had used Gellert's love for him to force Gellert into prison. Yes, Gellert's actions had been wrong, unequivocally wrong and his empire unjustified, but Gellert had been so sure he was doing the right thing.
And Dumbledore had known Gellert's greatest weakness and ruthlessly exploited it. He didn't allow himself to think if it was right or wrong, lying to Gellert, breaking Gellert by depriving him of their love. He had done what he had had to do in the situation, and if he tried to fix it in the sliding grayscale of morality, he knew that it would be far darker than he could comfortably live with.
Dumbledore wanted to break something, to force out the overwhelming wave of anger at the sheer malevolence of defeating Gellert with more lies than truth, at driving the one person he would ever love into an insanity that had always crackled behind Gellert's smile, hidden in the sheer force of Dumbledore's infatuation.
He smiled instead. "Thank you Minerva."
When she left, he threw the paper into the fire, until it burned into gray flecks of ash. Dumbledore poked at the fire furiously, the flames leaping up, distorting everything in his office with its yellow-ish light. Fires were such strange things. They had so many colors in them, blue at the tips (always surprising), red in the burning embers, that odd spectrum of yellow and orange in the flame itself-
The Minister of Magic's silver-haired head popped up into the flames, and Dumbledore hid his scowl in a badly faked cough.
Marjorie Stelthack turned to glare up at him. "About time you started up a fire. We've been trying to contact you for a week. Funnily enough, our owls seem to all have gotten lost."
Dumbledore assumed an innocent expression. "Oh really?"
Stelthack continued to glare at him, the blue bits of the flames licking around her pearl earrings, her gray eyes intense. "Yes."
"How very strange."
"We thought so too."
Dumbledore did cast a very good Befuddlement charm.
She eyed him speculatively. "Dumbledore, I don't suppose we can interest you in a governmental office? You can keep your position at Hogwarts and you can assume as many or as few responsibilities as you so desire."
"Oh, I'm afraid you can't," Dumbledore replied cheerily.
"How else are we to thank you?" Stelthack demanded.
Dumbledore forced his smile to stay on his face. "Oh, I'd really rather not be thanked, but I am very fond of lemon drops and chocolate frogs."
Stelthack stared. She often did when confronted with Dumbledore's cheery façade. "I don't think I'll ever quite understand you. Well, no matter. I hate to ask, but if you would kindly visit Grindelwald to recheck the fortifications…?"
"I already warded the cell," Dumbledore replied, moving away from the fire. "I was just having tea. Would you care for a Ginger Newt, Minister?"
She made a 'tsk'ing noise. "No thank you. Yes, I know you did, but we'll have to ask you to go at least one every six-month to recheck the wards. The jailors insist on it and I'm sure the public will as well. You'll need to go more frequently for the first two years, at least. Most escapes happen immediately after imprisonment."
"He won't escape," Dumbledore remarked, a little off-handedly.
"How do you know that? How can you say with such absolute surety that he will not escape?"
He poured himself a cup of tea and, with a lazy flick of his wand, stirred in cream and an appalling amount of sugar. "I will never be able to say I could make Gellert Grindelwald do anything he did not wish to do already, but I very much doubt he'll be inclined to leave captivity."
Stelthack raised her eyebrows. "And you can say this because…?"
"Because," Dumbledore replied imperturbably, "he's seen what happened to his other followers. And because he knows that if he leaves captivity I will die before letting him regain power. He does not want that. I know that to be true."
The fire crackled. Perhaps crackle was not quite the right word? It seemed such a brown sound, like hazelnuts, and fire was always bright-
"Visit him within the month," Stelthack said, and vanished.
The month technically ended in a fortnight, but Dumbledore maliciously waited four weeks, until Stelthack set him a chocolate frog card with his picture on it, to go back to Nuremgard.
It was very dark when he arrived, and it took the guards several minutes to realize who he was and let him into the fortress. Gellert's main guard herself came down to lead Dumbledore up to Gellert's cell.
"I'm glad you've come," the guard said, flicking her bangs out of her eyes. "Grindelwald's been a right nuisance for the past fortnight."
Technically, Dumbledore had promised Gellertto visit every month as well.
"Has he been?"
"Yeah. Took out an entire detachment when we tried to subdue him. Not much fight left in him now."
"Oh really?" Dumbledore asked, from behind his smile.
"Yeah." She waved away what seemed like an entire platoon of guards as they went through a ridiculous number of doors and wards. "Here we are."
Grindelwald's hair looked black in the shadows of her tower cell, his gray nightshirt the same color as the blocks of moonlight on the hard stone floor. He lay motionless on his cot.
"Asleep," the guard informed Dumbledore, nodding at the nine guards on duty.
Dumbledore walked forward and suddenly realized that everything was wrong. Where was Gellert's flash? His sparkle? That wild, golden, uncontrollable energy that blazed like the summer sun or flashed like sheet lightening? And his hair…. "Leave us, please? Lock the door after yourselves."
The guard lifted her shoulder in a shrug and flicked her bangs out of her eyes again. "Suit yourself."
She had blood on her hands.
Albus felt sick. "Gellert," he hissed, once all the guards had gone, "wake up. It's Albus."
He didn't move.
Dumbledore wrapped his fingers around the bars, his glasses pressed against his face. Gellert looked terrible, with his golden hair matted with blood, and more bruises and cuts than clear skin. Legs weren't supposed to twist like that, and surely you had to breathe more often than that-
Albus slashed the Elder Wand down across the bars and nearly ran over to Gellert. He was too thin under Albus's hand, his shoulder-bones jutting out like the hewn-off stumps of angel wings. "Gellert, please. It's Albus."
Gellert shifted positions and Albus, panicked, sent every healing spell he knew at Gellert. No, no, no, Gellert couldn't be- why couldn't Albus see Gellert? Where was the boy he'd fallen in love with, who sparkled like broken glass and sheet lightening? Where was his smile? Where was his bubbling enthusiasm?
Where was his life?
Gellert opened his eyes, disoriented, and stared at Albus a few minutes.
"Are you alright?" Albus asked.
"I hate you," Gellert said and, closing his eyes, rolled over to go back to sleep.
Albus stared at the back of Gellert's nightshirt and watched the bruises on Gellert's back fade. The nightshirt, Albus realized, had actually been one of the white ones he'd bought at Gellert's request. It had only looked gray because Gellert's back had been entirely black with bruises and badly healed, clotting cuts. Albus felt terrible and so incredibly guilty he wanted to crawl back into his office and never, ever look anyone in the face again. "You're quite allowed to do that. Perhaps you would like me to help you wash your hair, first?"
"I couldn't move me arms for a week, and I still hate you," Gellert told his pillow. "Go away."
"It's far too late for that," Albus replied cheerily.
Gellert rolled over to glare at him. "Just fuck off, Albus."
Albus stared. "G- Gellert?"
"You lied," Gellert said. "You didn't come and I got angry and they were just waiting."
"I didn't mean- what did they do to you?"
Gellert sat up. "Everything I did to them when they first tried to do something but I didn't have a wand." He flexed his wand hand unhappily. "I can't do much without a wand, though I did enough."
Albus didn't know what to say, and stared at anywhere but Gellert.
"Why didn't you come?" Gellert demanded suddenly, pushing away Albus and his coverlet. He forced himself onto his feet, the moonlight making his nightshirt almost transparent. He was so painfully thin under his nightshirt, little more than a series of dark lines under the white fabric.
"Why do you think?" Albus asked.
"I can't think!" Gellert snapped, fisting his hands in his bloodied hair. "I can't think up here and when you didn't come I got angry but I have no wand so I couldn't blow anything up for weeks and it drove me insane until I made my old bed explode and they just waited for it and…." Gellert cut himself off, pressing his lips together and humming the Flight of the Valkeries. "You didn't come."
"I couldn't!" Albus snapped. "Gellert, how could I face you after I'd-?"
"Because I forgive you!" Gellert snarled, sounding the least forgiving Albus had ever heard him. "Because we love each other."
Albus stood from his crouch by Gellert's bed. "Gellert, you have no idea what I've had to go through."
"You think I can't understand you?" Gellert demanded, incensed. "We've always understood each other, we're the only people to understand each other, and I wouldn't understand you?" Gellert suddenly whirled on Albus and punched him in the jaw.
Albus tried to grab Gellert, who, for all his bruises, was still as uncontrollable and uncontainable as ever when he didn't want to be controlled or contained, and they fought furiously. Neither ever had the upper-hand. They knew each other too well, guessed at each others' next moves, knew each others' weaknesses and exploited them almost ruthlessly until Gellert broke Albus's glasses and burst into tears.
"You didn't come!" Gellert howled, spent, clutching Albus desperately. "You didn't come and you promised!"
They slid down onto the floor together and Albus cradled Gellert to him, stroking his matted hair. It was fairly disgusting so Albus used a covert Scourgifyuntil Gellert's hair gleamed like gold leaf on old books. "Shh, shh. I know."
"That doesn't make it alright!"
"No, it doesn't."
"You're a liar!"
"Of course I am. Gellert, you are one of the few people in the world who are actually, truly honest. You never did pretend you didn't have those ambitions. "
Gellert clung to him, his forehead against Albus's neck. "I don't even have a cat yet."
Albus tapped the shattered remains of his glasses with the Elder Wand. "Reparo. I'm sorry, Gellert. You wanted a ginger one."
"Yes, and I'm sure you notice my obvious lack of cat. Albus, you have gray hairs." Gellert tapped Albus's jaw. "In your beard. You must have them in your hair, too. That's sad. I like your hair. It's the color of phoenix feathers. Albus, they kept saying I was evil. It was very bothersome."
"Gellert, you sort of… were."
Gellert fluttered his fingers. "I didn't think you'd say you'd define me like that. We never went in for labels."
"You can't say we're above morality," Albus said, stroking Gellert's golden hair.
"Of course I'm not saying that," Gellert replied, looking surprised. "All I mean is that morality in and of itself Albus, is highly subjective."
"You deny that there's an absolute right and an absolute wrong?"
Gellert looked up him, his sea-green eyes looking dark and different in the moonlight. "No. But those are concepts so huge and unshakable it would break any mind other than ours to understand it completely."
Albus shook his head, breaking off eye-contact, though he clutched Gellert to him as desperately as ever. "No, Gellert. I cannot agree. There is definite Good and definite Evil. The problem is that those are very… very stark concepts and there are various interlayerings of morality in between the two extremes. It's much easier for ordinary people to see plain good and plain evil and not the whole spectrum in between."
Gellert nestled in Albus's arms, his pneumatic warmth tantalizingly familiar and wonderful and terrible all at once.
"You do have a point." He looked up at Albus. "Do you think I'm evil?"
"No more than me," Albus replied bitterly.
Gellert shifted to kneel in front of Albus, cupping Albus's face in his hands, tilting his head as if to re-examine Albus. "You're not evil. You're Albus."
Albus nearly wanted to cry. After all that he'd done to Gellert- and after all the millions of people he had not saved- "Gellert-"
"Shh." Gellert closed the distance between them and kissed Albus, sweetly, gently, softly- almost chastely. "Do you still love me?"
Albus leaned his forehead against Gellert's. "How could I stop?"
"Then you're not evil," Gellert replied, matter-of-factly. "I don't think anyone really evil knows how to love like we do. I've studied it. You gave me books." He waved vaguely at the shelves around him. "Like Dorian Gray. He started off pure and virtuous and beautiful and he had a portrait painted. When he stopped loving people, when he began to love himself and his own pleasure above all, the portrait changed and mutated and distorted and reflected how evil he'd truly become. Their love becomes tainted, corrupted. Ours isn't. We can't be evil, then."
"Gellert, you created a totalitarian regime that caused five million deaths, untold casualties, a wizarding and a Muggle world war, and a legacy of anti-Muggle sentiment that will drive us back even further into isolation."
Gellert scowled. "Well yes, but I had good intentions."
Albus tried to laugh, but didn't quite manage it. He kissed Gellert instead, and wondered how he'd ever managed to live so long without it. "I don't think that was enough."
"Is this?" asked Gellert, kissing him again. When Albus closed his eyes, they were both still young again, and everything else melted away in the flame of their passion, bright and hot and all-consuming. Albus could never forget the feel of Gellert, the unexpected softness of his hands, the way his curls caught at Albus's fingers. Gellert impatiently undid Albus's belt and yanked off his own nightshirt until nothing separated them at all.
Gellert gently traced the curve of Albus's cheek, smiling faintly at the feel of Albus's beard against his fingertips and traced down his neck to his chest, placing a hand over Albus's heart and splaying his fingers there. "Be honest with me."
"I couldn't be otherwise," Albus replied, and it was impossible for him to lie when they were like this, and Gellert's smile seemed so strangely sad. He could see the scars and cuts and fading bruises all over Gellert, could see how painfully thin he was. The flesh of Gellert's face felt paper-thin when Albus cupped Gellert's cheek and slid a hand up into his hair again.
Gellert's flawed, imperfect body was the most beautiful thing Albus had ever seen, and he kissed Gellert, feeling the rush of pleasure in touch, the startlingly hedonistic thrill of Gellert's lips against his throat and face as they clung to each other like shipwrecked sailors to pieces of wood, hands dancing, trailing fire over changed curves and panes.
Gellert lay on top of him, the only source of warmth in the dull, dismal cell, and Albus loved him so fiercely he could do nothing but cling to Gellert and roll them over, trying to blindly push them closer and closer and closer until everything separating them melting away in Gellert's pants, hot against his lips, and their tangling hair and that building thrill of pure pleasure. Gellert felt feverishly hot as he pressed back against Albus and his heat melded them together- he was so gloriously, familiarly Gellert, his fingers dancing down Albus's spine, making the blood rush to Albus's skin and making him feel so gloriously alive, tingling with Gellert's touch.
They held each other in the darkness until the sun rose behind the clouds, casting a dull, dim gray light into the cell.
"It's back to good and evil now," Gellert said into Albus's chest.
"Unfortunately," Albus replied. He kissed Gellert and dressed.
"Every month," Gellert said, burrowing into his sheets and the shadowy corner of the cell where his bed was. "And no lying to me, because I don't like fighting with you."
"I promise," Albus said, and left the cell.
The head guard looked at Albus and followed him out of Nuremgard. The wind blew her dark bangs into her eyes, and tangled Albus's hair as caressingly as Gellert's. Albus closed his eyes against the memory of Gellert's hair sliding through his fingers, and the feel of Gellert's body pressed against his own.
"I'll come back in a month," Dumbledore said, turning to the guard. "You won't have any trouble with him."
The guard nodded and Dumbledore silently went back to Hogwarts, to sit in his own gray tower room and cross off the days- black ink against white parchment again, everywhere- until he could leave Hogwarts at dusk and return at dawn, in a different gray room where, for a night, everything could be just as complicated as he knew it to be.