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26 July 2009 @ 02:29 am
A study in grey  

Storytime!

Title: In Fragments Unsettled
Pairing: Albus Dumbledore/Gellert Grindelwald
Rating: Slightly NSFW
Word Count: ~2,000
Summary: Great things come at a great price, especially for two wizards whose deeds once decided the fate of their world. As their now separate lives draw to a close, regrets continue to mount against all their covert wishes for peace, for the irreparable to be mended.
Notes: This fic is a somewhat dark and fairly minimalistic take on Albus and Gellert's downfall. It reminds me slightly of The Absolute Almost, but the difference is that while I had to put myself in Gellert's shoes in that story, this one plays more on the objective principle where I tried to examine instead of taking sides. I think the way Albus and Gellert ended up couldn't have been caused by any one problem or disagreement, no matter how grave, and while Albus is usually (and with good reason) portrayed as the more admirable of the two, he is no saint himself and aware of the fact. From the perspective of this fic, I can't honestly say either he or Gellert was more "in the right". It's all open. Sympathize with either or neither or both. Also, feedback is much appreciated.
Warnings: Stemming from the above - you know those dismal stories that still contain some hopeful, uplifting element in spite of everything else? This is not one of those fics. (Though the angst itself isn't overly flashy.)
Disclaimer: The Harry Potter universe belongs to JKR. I make no profit and intend no copyright infringement.


In Fragments Unsettled


Gellert is sitting in his cell in stark, resonating silence. In his head a jumble of thoughts, actions, emotions played out countless summers and hellish winters ago, yet still not harmlessly dormant. The shadows have stretched towards him; the night ascends. His hands are trembling as a growing, gnawing weakness that radiates off the very walls continues to have its way with him, troubling him with a myriad ailments most unfit for a once illustrious overlord. Struggling lungs, rheumatism, diarrhoea. He is motionless now, though. His chest feels too heavy to lift with a breath. His feet have been chilled to the bone ever since October started. It has been many years. Petty time, his old consciousness whispers. Then defy it, echoes the cage.

He slips into sleep as easily as he used to invade others’ minds, and as every night he dreams the same dream turning increasingly vague. Gellert lies silent.

*


He didn’t struggle against the shackles, the harsh treatment, his protesting wounds, after Albus had brought him to justice. He had anticipated, though, that the victor of their dismal battle would at least have the decency for a proper exchange to close off the duel. Indeed, Albus soon appeared in the futile room that would house Gellert from now on, sent the attendants and sneering guards away, and stood by the door as if uncertain. Neither spoke. Then finally, feebly, Gellert: “Why couldn’t we win together.” A question in words, but not in tone.

Again, silence, until broken by Albus’s answer bearing a hint of sarcasm. “I am not the one you should ask. It isn’t as if I remember any invitation to rejoin your mighty campaign, Gellert.”

Gellert had asked, begged, entreated many times, but always only in his mind. He had to stand his ground. He still has to. “I respected your country—”

“While you ravaged the rest of Europe and plotted expansion across the globe. Moreover,” Albus hesitates almost imperceptibly, but Gellert knows him well, “any man who fled from the site of a little girl’s murder will not lecture me on my errors, many though there may be.” His voice is like cold steel, and cuts deeper.

“I still counted on you!” The gash on Gellert’s side reminds him sharply of its presence. Silence falls again. Footsteps shift by the door.

“For all I knew, you had forgotten,” Albus says. They both know this is not how it should have ended. The tragedy of their situation hangs overwhelmingly in the air, but the thing that Gellert remains unaware of is that Albus desperately wants to soften it. He reaches out to his opponent—former opponent; somehow everything this broken man has ever been to him is prefaced with the descriptive former. Nothing can really be done. Nor does Albus plan to do anything dramatically changing but, for the moment it takes to utter a sentence, he pushes this knowledge aside as if ignorance could alter his motives. It still seems cruel, irrationally wrong, to leave Gellert in Nurmengard without a single link to the world outside. “Gellert, I’m at your disposal.”

The prisoner fixes him with a disbelieving stare. “Disposal,” he repeats, painfully shifting the meaning of the word. His chin trembles for a moment, freezes, and then his face is averted, hidden. He is a ragged heap on the floor, slumped against the wall in a pool of destruction that not even he could have wrought during his reign.

Albus feels completely and utterly inadequate.

Suddenly, jerkily, Gellert staggers to his feet. The chains binding his wrists and his ankles rattle far too loudly for the small cell that seems empty even with both of them for occupants. Albus briefly considers escape, but of course he stays where he is, braced for the blow that will surely come in one shape or another. This time, it is a genuine question.

“Why?” The silence after that is tense enough to start sporting cracks. “Why couldn’t you have joined me? Albus—not even now?”

Albus says what he has to, a well-rehearsed phrase. “It was for the best that I didn’t.”

“Whose best?!”

“The greater good,” he replies, propelling Gellert backwards with the unexpected sting of his own famous catchphrase. A choked sound emanates from the new prisoner—must be a sigh, a cough, some sort of breathing malfunction. It is stifled before it has a chance to develop into anything.

As Albus leaves, the words are ringing in his skull from ear to ear and front to back: the greater good, the greater good. The greater good, a polite handshake with the new master of Nurmengard. Carved above the gate to the prison, THE GREATER GOOD. The greatest evil.

*


Beautiful, Albus is beautiful, with a body that envelops all the tremors and sighs and ideals of youth. They traverse the sweaty summer nights in a smear of undocumented ecstasy; their lips feed off one another like their minds and thrilling natures have done ever since their first encounter. Beautiful, always in Gellert’s cell, as he dreams the dream he cannot help.

*


Elphias is chatty that morning, bustling around pouring tea, swishing his wand to the tune of the old record humming in the background to assemble delicious pieces of toast on the platter between him and Albus. Not excellent with the important spells but always doing well when he wants to please, old Elphias. Albus gives him a small smile, if only in compensation for his own absent-mindedness, but Elphias accepts it gratefully and offers a generous reply. “Bad business with the Order these days, isn’t it? At least the Potters should be safe now, what with You-Know-Who bound to target the wrong person. Who knows, it might be over sooner than we all realize . . .”

Albus wishes it could already be over. Voldemort’s followers are everywhere, waiting to strike quick like snakes to do the bidding of their barely human master. The Secret Keeper plan is good—so good, in fact, that Albus himself cannot spot any obvious, inviting flaws. Still, the danger of Voldemort must never be underestimated, whatever decision there is to make, however swift it has to be. Over, soon it all could be over.

“Albus?”

He thinks of Gellert in his cell.

*


He thinks of Gellert often, although it does him no good. Pondering the conversation they had, Gellert trying to persuade him to reverse everything he had spent the previous decades working for. He plays the words in his mind, knowing he should have said them, knowing equally well that he couldn’t then and still cannot. Counter Gellert’s entreaty for them to reunite . . .

“You have done everything to ensure our previous relation could not continue. Do you expect me now, Gellert, to take back what you have done, as well as the mistakes committed by myself, and give my quiet blessings to your new order? You ask what is beyond my power and my will.” Then Albus would leave, turn his back, and those sentences would be the last Gellert would hear of him. A sterling-silver summary of a lifetime’s worth of rust.

Gellert always took what he wanted. He wanted Albus once and so, with a smile, in one deadly sweep he promised glory and enacted love. For as long as it suited him, he granted Albus happiness. When faced with the turning point of a decision, he vanished as lightly as he had appeared, shrugging off emotions like cobwebs—all involvement sliding off him like water off a rock—saving himself, tearing off. Albus watched him from wreckage worse than anything he could have imagined. Not a single word of goodbye. Not a word of acknowledgement through the ensuing years.

Sometimes, Albus fancies Gellert could recall the same things as he does and be moved belatedly in the too narrow cell that housed him now, that he might finally understand. But they were each made of different matter, obvious already when they met. In Albus’s mind—he has convinced himself that in his memory, too—Gellert did not brood; he acted with breathtaking single-minded efficiency. He took, he discarded, he ripped into shreds without batting an eye. He had once conquered a large enough part of the world to make Roman emperors envious. As Albus thinks this, he shudders at the persistence of his naivety, at his predilection to always expect something. Gellert had on more than one occasion acted like a monster. He maintained a safe distance: a quality that Albus himself had always lacked. He was more than likely still unrepentant, trapped in that tower of his own making. Albus recalls the unidentified broken sound Gellert made on the day he was imprisoned. It must have been a hitched breath. The youth who had disappointed Albus and the man who tyrannized Europe was ruthless. Malicious, cold. He made it a point. Why on earth would Gellert have cried?

Still too soft after all these years, Albus decides, too philosophical. Gellert always had it simple. He can have it simple in prison.

*


Gellert is slightly less stoic than his friend-lover-victim-punisher forces himself to believe.

Slightly, not extremely. He realizes things that would before have hindered him, compromised his goals, or plainly disturbed his allegiance with himself. He needed his own loyalty. His own sympathy.

Someone who once tried to change the world for the greater good cannot be entirely without sensibility. Albus probably called it self-righteousness afterwards.

There is nothing for Gellert to do. Thoughts seem to permeate the air like morning fog, but there are moments—like now—that the fog lifts to reveal raw insight. Gellert is alone, finished, but he no longer feels blinded.

And he prepares to send a blast to Albus’s mind like that sanctimonious hypocrite hasn’t felt in years. He has no way of knowing whether he succeeds.

*


Albus does try to make contact once. No answer, but he hopes beyond hope there might be something, some resolution worth waiting for. More realistically, he imagines the rejection, the shrugging shoulders of the guards when their most infamous prisoner repeatedly refuses to accept a letter from the only living person to whom the name Grindelwald apparently evokes concern instead of revulsion or moral outrage. He waits all the same, not sure whether this entire project should make him feel elevated or weak.

Eventually, the letter comes back in a re-sealed package. When Albus sees the envelope with the logo of the Nurmengard prison, he knows that it is too late.

*


Years pass, blunting the sharp edges. Neither of them does anything to bridge the gap. They think of each other—more or less, at times equally; when they care to admit it, they even miss each other. Time, something they never had enough of when they could have used it, now allows more than enough room for contemplation. Regrets take concrete shape before seeping back into the underlying blackness. Sometimes Albus wishes to undo all the damage, sometimes Gellert does. Things left to be said assume the form of words, then again lose their clarity, forever untold. It is a shame.

Voldemort rises in power. The world is weary of war. Gellert hears of Albus Dumbledore’s death and spends the night in limbo.

One day, the doors of Nurmengard are thrown open and the new Dark Lord approaches the old. The shadows in the corners seem to come alive, curling around their master, sneering at the decrepit old man who has only retained the bare residue of his magical power. Voldemort voices his questions. Gellert has half-expected this.

And he has it simple.

 
 
Current Mood: pensivepensive
 
 
 
Ramblings of a madman: Remorseghostangel on July 26th, 2009 01:35 am (UTC)
Grey, that's a good word for it. In a well written sort of way. I can see this very much the way it really was.
See you later, instigator: Oscar Wilde (by plastic_clown)oudeteron on July 26th, 2009 11:50 am (UTC)
Thanks a lot! I'm glad to hear it seems plausible.
Melmo: light it upmustntgetmy on July 26th, 2009 04:02 am (UTC)
Oooooh, I love when you do this! I love when you hit upon the intensity of their relationship in relatively few words. First of all, I have to say I love the simple and effective way you broke this up.

Next...my two favorite parts: “Whose best?!”

“The greater good,” he replies, propelling Gellert backwards with the unexpected sting of his own famous catchphrase.
Normally I am not a fan of the question mark/exclamation point combo in serious writing, but oooh, the way the story really coalesced at that point. Fantastic.

My second favorite part is definitely the ending. Establishing that Gellert had things simple worked very well and then to end on it was perfect because it's a real STOP moment. You're doing basically a summary here with some very important slow downs (which are my favorite parts) and you do it brilliantly.

...This sounds like a comment on crack. I really liked it, is my point :)
See you later, instigator: Albus/Gellert (by ushitora_icons)oudeteron on July 26th, 2009 12:30 pm (UTC)
Wow, I'm happy the structure worked for you! I was going for a sort of condensed version of the story. The canon here is so limited, and I've written more detailed fics before, so what was left was just a different approach.

This is the first time I've used "?!" in a fic, I'm pretty sure. I agree that it hardly ever fits, but I figured this was already so fragmented and subdued (for the situation, at least) that it could use a contrasting point. At any rate, glad you liked it!

Yay, you caught the "simple" moment. I wanted to play with that a bit, seeing as what Albus thinks is simple for Gellert isn't necessarily the whole of it. In the end, the simplest thing is just not giving in when Voldemort appears, by which Gellert doesn't work against Albus, but for him. (Yeah, I like irony.) Anyway, thanks, the "summary with important slow downs" is exactly what I was trying to accomplish.

Crack-comments are the best. :D
Melmo: marked manmustntgetmy on July 27th, 2009 07:01 am (UTC)
While I definitely can tell the difference between your more detailed fics and this fic I've always thought you had a great strength in this particular pairing in encapsulating an entire relationship (which no matter how limited the canon spans many, many years and many key incidents that need to be discussed both canon-wise and fanon-wise that you choose to include). I love that and I love that you mixed up the way that you came at it in this one.

And you didn't add an additional adjective explaining the tone of the "Whose best?!" so the "?!" stood on its own. That's just a hardcore college prejudice there, sorry :)

Yes! I love what you did with "simple." Wordplay + thought provoking = love.

:D
See you later, instigator: Caution Sparta (by: SOURCE WANTED)oudeteron on July 27th, 2009 12:45 pm (UTC)
Okay, I'd be stupid if I tried argue with that (not that there's any reason to). So yay. :D

That would've been redundantly redundant. And this is the kind of prejudice I can share. XD

Thanks a lot again! So glad you liked it.
Melmo: she killed Sirius I'll kill hermustntgetmy on July 28th, 2009 06:45 am (UTC)
No, you should definitely tell me how wrong I am :P

I look forward to the next one!
See you later, instigator: Dr. Manhattan - photographoudeteron on July 28th, 2009 02:07 pm (UTC)
I know... I'm horrible. XD

I hope not to make you wait too long!
rising_lark: Grindeldorerising_lark on July 26th, 2009 05:33 pm (UTC)
Yay, a story!
I love the unbiased perspective, and the way it's written, at times almost like a poem when you shift from one image to another. I also love the brief image of their youth in Gellert's dream; it's so vivid. And how Albus is forever uncertain, wondering if Gellert finally understands and at the same time blaming himself for being naive. And the ending made me want to reread DH..
See you later, instigator: Albus/Gellert - castoudeteron on July 26th, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad the unbiased perspective works - really, I've written fics from Albus and Gellert's point of view and felt like I needed to shake it up. As for the style, you don't know how pleased I am to hear "vivid" in regards to that. Albus's uncertainty, I'm afraid, is pretty likely in that situation. And making you want to reread the book is an awesome thing to accomplish. :D
(Deleted comment)
See you later, instigator: Wesker - complete global saturationoudeteron on August 1st, 2009 07:18 pm (UTC)
I'm really glad it works for you. I've spent some time wondering how likely it would have been for Gellert, as Rita Skeeter put it, to "come quietly" - and decided on very unlikely. I mean, he must have been convinced he was right, and that kind of conviction doesn't just go "poof!" the moment he's physically defeated in battle, even if it's by his presumably strongest opponent. I'd say that trying to at least "save face" was the only thing he could do when he was robbed of every other way to assert himself. Then again, the same probably goes for Albus there, hence the tragedy of this fic.

Thank you! Yeah, I wanted to make it one of those moments where nothing one can do or say changes a thing about the reality they're facing. So I gather it worked? :D

I figured the little nod to Oscar's lovely style could be relieving amidst all that minimalism. XD I'm glad you picked up on it!

The irony, indeed. I like to think that when the ultimate decision came in the form of either helping or not helping Voldemort, Gellert did act in accordance with his love for Albus - it's not like he had anything more to lose by then. The saddest thing to me is that Albus might well have thought Gellert "had it simple" and that objectively made it the right thing not to cut Gellert any slack (like Albus might have wanted to), while in fact Gellert "had it simple" even when he made the final choice in Albus's own favour. Ironic, yeah. I'M RAMBLING, CAN YOU TELL?
Well, I'm flattered. That's an awesome compliment!

ILU ♥ No, seriously, I'll be so happy if you do. If you manage that by next week, that is. XD
(Deleted comment)
See you later, instigator: Albus/Gellert - castoudeteron on August 2nd, 2009 06:09 pm (UTC)
(awesome!)

Sad but true. I think after all those years, it would really be too much part of Gellert's attitude as well. As if everything he'd done after 1899 had been despite his plans for a future with Albus failing, and as much as he might have preferred that route, he couldn't just leave his actual one behind.
if he "came quietly", everything he did in his life loses purpose from one second to the next; he wouldn't have that.
EXACTLY.

That's just it. I think at some point, their involvement in each other's lives just got stretched beyond capacity - from a brilliant start to a tragedy, from friends/lovers to enemies, from enemies to winner and loser... There's no way to undo all that.

That's a very good point too. I can't imagine Gellert being intimidated by Voldemort in the first place, precisely for the reasons you've pointed out. In fact, he could add his past with (and without) Albus right to that - "there is so much you don't understand" - and even make it fit the principle overall.
Well, it's insightful rambling. :D

Conveniently enough, you can click the "actual stories" tag right here! Or, if you only want the longer fics, "one-shots". I'm organized like that. XD
(Deleted comment)
See you later, instigator: Albus/Gellert (by ushitora_icons)oudeteron on August 3rd, 2009 08:05 pm (UTC)
(Let's just focus on the layout thingy. XD)

Very true. And a lot of dedication to his own cause.

Yeah. Forced fluff like nothing else.

Aww. I'm afraid I can't do anything about the happy train rides, but as for the disturbance on Thursday, I can offer you a Chat with the Author event for compensation. Or maybe some chocolate. XD
(Deleted comment)
See you later, instigator: Velvet Goldmine - Smokeoudeteron on August 5th, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)
(Good for you. Tell me about it... I still love my old laptop, even.)

Exactly. It's sad how people screw themselves over, no matter what they do.

I'm sure it's been done well, so hey.

Glad it's enough to make up for the inability to analyze in peace and quiet! :D
(Deleted comment)
Likimeya: HP 7_likimeya on June 23rd, 2010 08:14 am (UTC)
So I followed you "rec", as promised! :)

*sniff*

To have their history (or rather, non-history) written out like that is heartbreaking. You managed very well to tell whole long story by showing us a few significant moments in spotlight. I particularly like how you’ve written Voldemort’s appearance in the last paragraph. It gave me shivers.

I don’t know how you see it, but to me it’s always seemed like kind of a happy ending, that Grindelwald didn’t cooperate with Voldemort. Damn, I think now I have to re-read the book, at least before the movie is coming out! Dumbledore’s youth will be in the first part, right?
See you later, instigator: Albus/Gellert - castoudeteron on June 23rd, 2010 07:37 pm (UTC)
Hey! :D

Thank you, I'm very glad you enjoyed this. You said exactly what I had in mind with this fic - what those two have is much closer to a "non-history" than anything else. There's nothing more tragic than wasted potential, I'd say, and the way things turned out between Albus and Gellert is a perfect example of that. Oh, and the last part is my favourite as well! I still think Gellert could own Voldemort's ass even as an aged prisoner by the power of his stubbornness will alone.

I don’t know how you see it, but to me it’s always seemed like kind of a happy ending, that Grindelwald didn’t cooperate with Voldemort.
Yes! It's like it was his final service to Albus and himself, not cooperating with Voldemort. I think I should reread it too, though - pretty sure Albus's history appears in the first movie. Well, enough time till November. XD