Frieda returned to Germany in a state of unusual perturbation. She distractedly gave the memory to Grindelwald and then sat and watched him re-live it.
"Did you-" Frieda asked, before cutting herself off. The letters were in her pocket.
'My beloved Albus' swirled in her mind, burned against the inside of her eyelids.
"Did I?" Grindelwald asked, with a maniac sort of grin. He strolled over to the bars. "Did I what?"
"Step away from the bars," said Frieda, as calmly as she could, her wand aimed at Grindelwald's heart. "Step away from the bars or I will curse you."
"It wouldn't do any good. I know you're dying to ask. Ask."
"Did you- why did you do it?"
Grindelwald grinned again, an expression somewhere between a grief so intense it broke the mind and a wild ecstasy as equally hard to understand. "Ah, you still don't know? I won't tell you then. You'll have to wait and find out. You're not a quick girl, but you're smart enough. You'll figure it out."
"Dumbledore… gave you letters," Frieda said, with some difficulty. She pulled them out.
Grindelwald just watched her.
"He called you Dorian Gray."
"He did do that, at times." Grindelwald leaned back on his bed. His smile was oddly sweet. "May I have my letters?"
"How could he love you?" Frieda demanded.
"Easily enough," Grindelwald replied. "Very easily. It is always easy to love someone who understands you. Letters, Frieda?"
She tossed them in and they landed on the bed.
Grindelwald favored her with a beatific smile. "You are so very kind, Frieda. I trust you read them? You should understand then."
"I don't," she said harshly, the bitterness rising up to almost choke her (the lock of white hair, the pain of the acid she threw on her own face, the endless rows of tattooed numbers on corpses). "How could-" No, she thought suddenly, viciously. Don't ask. Don't ask him about Dumbledore, don't ask him how a hero could love such a villain. "No, I will never understand you. No one will ever understand you again."
"You will," Grindelwald said placidly.
Frieda did, eventually.
Conrad was late that day. Even Grindelwald noticed, as he petted his cat and pretended to read the latest issue of the British newspaper, The Daily Prophet.
"He's not coming," Grindelwald informed her placidly, shaking back his now snow-white curls. "Not at all."
"Do not talk to me," Frieda informed him, trying to be calm, cool, collected- everything she did not feel, could not feel with the 'my beloved Albus' circling through her thoughts.
"He's not coming. Voldemort found him." Grindelwald took a particular relish in saying the name and Frieda shivered.
"I said, don't talk to me."
"Alright. But, if I were you, I'd hide in the toilets very soon."
She did not ask, though she desperately wanted to know.
"Voldemort is going to find me. He's not stupid. He'll want the Hallows. Here. Take Wulfric. He oughtn't to die." He passed the cat through the bars and Frieda took him cautiously.
There was a sudden crash and a chorus of shouts from outside.
Frieda felt a thrill of terror and looked up to see Grindelwald grinning, his blue-green eyes locked on her face.
"Now," Grindelwald said, "is when you hide. Keep Wulfric quiet and take very good care of him. He was a present from someone I love very deeply."
"Just what do you think is going to happen?" Frieda demanded sharply.
"I'm going to die!" Grindelwald exclaimed, in the tones of a child informing the world at large that he was going on a pony ride. "Voldemort is going to come and ask about the Elder Wand. You don't know what it is and you don't need to know. Voldemort is a very predictable villain like that." Grindelwald's grin grew. "He doesn't understand. He never will. Now go quickly. If you live the door open slightly, you might be able to hear. Voldemort will be too angry to inspect everything. He's very careless. He'll never be as successful as I was."
It was suddenly very difficult to think. She hugged the cat.
"If you won't do it for yourself, do it for poor Wulfric. Also, don't be a hero. Let that Potter puppet of Dumbledore's do it. Go tell someone once Voldemort's gone. Oh and feed Wulfic. He likes to chase ice mice and he has to be brushed in the mornings or he sheds everywhere."
"And abandon you to Lord Voldemort?" Frieda frowned. "You are an evil bastard, but I'd rather see you alive and suffering than dead. And how do I know you won't-"
"It's not like I'd join him," Grindelwald replied, sounding rather insulted. "And what can he do to me that hasn't been done already? I was tortured for years before you had your change of heart, girl, and I laughed it off. I don't see how this will be any different."
Frieda hesitated, then dove into the bathroom, just by the door out of Grindelwald's cell. Wulfric was still fast asleep. Frieda hid him on top of the tank of the toilet and locked the stall door. She really didn't want Wulfric running out into what would apparently be a showdown between the two most powerful wizards still living. Frieda Disillusioned herself and, propping the door to the bathroom open slightly, peered out to watch. Grindelwald sat down on his bed.
He looked around and then pulled a stack of letters, tied with silver ribbon, out from under his mattress. He read them with every appearance of enjoyment before taking three out and quietly burning all the rest. Grindelwald meticulously Spellotaped the remaining letters together and read through them.
After a moment, he paused, lifted his lined, wrinkled face to hear better and then turned to grin widely at the window.
"You fritter away too much time by killing people," Grindelwald announced to the shadows. "It's very wasteful and completely unnecessary. You oughtn't to kill anyone unless you absolutely needed to."
"And you waste my time, old man."
Frieda shivered. That voice was evil. There was no other way to describe it. And it- it came from a shadow in the barred… previously barred window. But then the shadow unfolded itself-
Frieda saw a pale face and a pair of glowing red eyes before the figure turned to face Grindelwald.
"Excuse me, just who established a highly successful pan-European fascist regime with an army of Inferi and just who got defeated by an infant?" Grindelwald smiled. "Go on, guess, milord. What a poncy name! Why not stick with your own?"
Voldemort. It was Voldemort. Frieda clutched at her wand and willed herself into stillness.
"You will also note that I maintained my good looks while you look like a snake. What did you do with your nose?" Grindelwald sounded almost plaintive. "People ought to have noses. It was just strange when you got rid of yours. Albus, at least, broke his nose. It never quite healed."
"Shut up," snarled Voldemort.
"No," said Grindelwald. "I am over a hundred and ten years old. I conquered all of Europe, the Indian subcontinent, and a good chunk of Asia and the South Pacific. You only have England. Do you still think you're the better evil overlord?" Grindelwald apparently had a death wish and burst out laughing. "I can give you a good piece of advice."
"About world domination!"
"You can tell me where the Elder Wand is?"
"I can tell you never to invade Russia! It's always winter there! It doesn't work."
Voldemort lunged forward, seizing Grindlewald by the front of his robes. "What about the Elder Wand!?"
Frieda could see Grindelwald's grin over Voldemort's shoulder.
"I never had it."
Grindelwald still laughed in the face of Voldemort's scream of rage.
"Tell me, or I will kill you!"
"Kill me then, Voldemort, I welcome death! But my death will not bring you what you seek… There is so much you do not understand." He was giggling now. "No, you will never understand and that's why you're going to fail." He dragged out the 'fail' in a horribly sing-song sort of voice.
"Just what don't I understand?" hissed Voldemort, flinging him back on the bed with enough force to break every bone in Grindelwald's skeletal old body.
"You don't understand why I fell."
"You have ten seconds."
"I surrendered. You wouldn't understand why if I told you. And that's why you're going to die. And it's going to be very painful for you." Grindelwald broke out into peals of laughter that echoed like ringing bells off of the stone walls.
"You grow tiresome."
"You threaten too much without actually saying anything." Grindelwald popped out his dentures and used them as a hand puppet.
It was, quite possibly, the strangest thing Frieda had ever seen.
"Look!" Grindelwald demanded gleefully. "This is you! Watch your mistakes." In a very bad imitation of Voldemort's snake-like voice and British-accent, Grindelwald clacked his dentures together and hissed, "I am Lord Voldemort and I gave myself a meaningless title because I'm compensating for my deep-seated insecurities. I hate Muggles and I hate you, so I'm just going to kill at random to breed resentment among my underlings instead of filling them with the righteous fear of loyal lieutenants. Who needs the loyalty of good, intelligent minions who understand that you are much more powerful than they could dream of being and that you also will not kill them unless it is absolutely imperative to do so, and who actually know what a filing system is, and I will talk and talk and talk and- bam!" Grindelwald punched his own hand, sending his dentures flying. "You see how you get beaten by infants, now?"
"Shut up!" Voldemort raised his wand, his black robes billowing back to reveal a pale, thin forearm. "Tell me where the Elder Wand is, or I will kill you!"
"Kill me then. You will not win, you cannot win! That wand will never, ever be yours-"
Voldemort growled in frustration and there was a flash of blinding green light. When Frieda blinked away the spots swimming across her vision, Voldemort was gone. Grindelwald fell across his bed, his toothless gums parted in a smile.
Frieda crept out of the bathroom, wand up. Voldermort was completely gone. She made the cell bars part with an impatient wand wave, and looked around. It was utterly trashed. The most powerful and successful Dark Lord of the century laid sprawled on his bed, dentureless. Frieda thought she perhaps ought to straighten out his robes, but then she saw the letter clutched tightly in his hand.
Frieda crept up and pried the parchment out of Grindelwald's fingers.
Voldermort has not only turned the Resurrection Stone into a Horcrux (ironically enough), he has also taken Slytherin's pendant, Ravenclaw's diadem, and Hufflepuff's cup. I doubt that I will be able to find them all. It will be up to Harry.
I appreciate any insights you may have on Voldemort at the moment, besides the speculations of your last letter on the symbolic significance of Tom's missing nose.
I am very short on time. Please write quickly and coherently.
My beloved Albus,
You cannot blame me for rambling when I write. You so rarely write to me that I must exercise my pen as much as I can when I am guaranteed an audience. You did not ask about the health of my cat. I realize that defeating Voldemort can cause enough stress to create memory gaps, so I shall forgive you this once. Wulfric is alive and well. He has recently learned how to fetch. I throw crumpled indictments against me across the cell and Wulfric very kindly brings them back. He enjoys the ice mice, by the by, almost as much as I do.
To address your question: There is no doubt of Voldemort's defeat. He does not plan well. He kills unnecessarily and thoughtlessly. His regime is very messy in that respect; he allows his followers to kill without reason and without order. It is infuriating to think of the waste of potential talent. I confess that I myself find little enough in common with him, but there is this- Voldemort holds himself to be more than human. He wishes to be immortal and so holds himself over all mortal notions and values- and, as you speculated, love in particular.
He will never understand that all true power stems from love. I never would have ended up in this cell with only Wulfric for company if I hadn't loved you and surrendered. It will defeat him- and, from what little you have told me about your boy Snape, and all that I have guessed, it will. He did not know what extremes he pushed Snape to when Snape joined you and he will not understand what Snape may do. You will have to rely on him. Doubtless, Voldemort's random killings will cause more people to rise up. No one can remain at peace when someone they love has died, or is as good as dead.
Voldemort is also a terrible copy cat. He will attempt everything I did, but, because his ideological principles are not the same and because he does so insist on killing everyone, he will not do it as successfully. I don't understand his hatred for Muggle-borns. Clearly the manifestation of magic in an individual raises them above the masses of the ordinary, immaterial of birth. The focus on birth and background itself is vastly irritating. He is focusing on the wrong details entirely. I suppose he has the liberty to do so; if what you say is true, he has split his soul so horrifically that he has moved somewhat beyond basic mortality and morality. I would find it admirable, if the waste of his regime and his ideas did not so disgust me. He is an exceptional man, no doubt, but love will be his downfall as much as it was mine. Even more so, because he has never felt it and will never experience it.
That is a very bad plan. I realize you raised this boy to be a sacrifice, but let him stay a sacrifice. He is appallingly stupid. I know you said not to believe the papers, but to allow such garbage to go published and unchecked? From what you have told me, his instincts are good, but he has no brain at all. If you must have him search for the Hallows you would do better to let that intelligent, cautious girl you told me about have control of the clues. It will end very badly if you do not.
I found where you hid our old letters in the book you sent me. That was a lovely summer wasn't it? I was sixteen, you were eighteen, and we hadn't yet learned that some things were impossible.
I love you as much now as I did then.
Thank you, my friend. I must leave, now so I haven't much time to write.
I have a feeling of foreboding, so I will, at least, put this to paper- you have been the one great joy and the one great tragedy of my life.
I love you.
Wulfric had woken up as she was reading, and padded over to Frieda.
She knelt down to scratch his head. Well, hell. Stranger things had happened than- than Gellert Grindelwald being human. Such as Gellert Grindelwald, oddly enough, trying to be a hero.
Frieda had never been a good hand at Divination, but she had a sudden, powerful flash of something that was not a dream and wasn't memory-
The fog swirled around the train station, where an old man sat on a bench, polishing his glasses. A train whistle pierced the silence, just as a figure emerged from the fog. It was Grindelwald, stooped and dentureless, his white curls blending in with the mist. Frieda looked back at the old man on the bench and he had suddenly become young again- his hair a bright auburn, flowing over his shoulders, his cheeks smooth, his bright blue eyes sparkling behind glasses he pushed up an unbroken nose. Frieda looked back and Grindelwald was suddenly the young man she'd seen in pictures and posters and propaganda when she had been very young. He practically glowed, his blond curls framing a bright, merry face, his figure straight and lithe and well-formed.
"You're late," said the other man, folding his arms over his old-fashioned modified Muggle clothes, and a midnight blue robe.
"Voldemort monologues incessantly," replied Grindelwald, with a grin that made him suddenly and indescribably handsome. "That and I had… a great deal to atone for." There was a pause and the two of them smiled like the awkward teenagers they appeared to be.
"You avoided me," Grindelwald said, in an abrupt non-sequitor.
"Can you blame me?"
Grindelwald shook his head. "Not at all, Albus."
Dumbledore smiled ruefully. "Thank you. I was slightly afraid of that, and… all that happened to you-"
"We all have our crosses to bear," Grindelwald said, with a wolfish sort of grin. "Mine were considerably heavier than yours, I think, but, then again, we both suffered for taking on responsibility. Mine was just more visible. It's nice to have my teeth back. How dreadful it was to be old." A pause. "I know you said that we couldn't go back to the past, but…." He paused, puzzled, frowning. "Perhaps we could still… try to start again."
Dumbledore smiled and Frieda realized that Dumbledore had been rather handsome as a young man. "I have always believed in second chances, Gellert."
They intertwined their hands together, one, inseparable circle, and disappeared into the fog.
To think, Gellert Grindelwald had a point after all. Villians were never as bad as they were made out to be and heroes-
Her mind balked at the implication.
The world still needed horoes, needed people without the failings of humanity to show them they would be alright- didn't they?
Did people- did anyone really need the truth?
Did anyone need to know Dumbledore won because Grindelwald loved him too much to kill him? Did anyone need to know that, at the last, Grindelwald tried to save the world? Perhaps the last; everyone needed a good story of redemption after all. No one needed to hear about a fallen hero.
Frieda looked at the letter. It was too hard, sometimes, to see that everyone was human after all.
She crumpled the letter into a ball and let it drop to the floor. It was, perhaps, a bad decision, but it was one that had been made many times before, and would be made many times afterwards. Humanity had to be saved from itself at times- and, Frieda thought, it was up to anyone aware of it to decide how and why and when it was to be saved. For a moment, she thought of the dogmatic lessons of the Grindelwald Youth, the professor's oddly taught expression as she told Frieda nothing bad happened to her parents, that the reeducation camps were just like a free vacation, really. Frieda looked around the cell.
There was nothing salvageable here; she would give orders to burn everything later.
"Come, Wuldric," Frieda said, before forcing herself onward. She steeled herself for the awful, awful carnage she would see. All this was somehow worse than the Reeducation Camps, than the Grindelwald Youth- and even if Grindelwald turned out to be… well, human, after all, it was still horrible to realize all these people, all her subordinates had died for him.
Wulfric caught the crumpled parchment before it tumbled out of the window. He seized on it, tail lashing behind him with pride, and jumped up into Grindwald's lap.
The rising sun softened Grindelwald's smile and, when Wulfric batted the paper into his curled hand, Gellert's smile seemed to outshine the dawn.