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Atonement by Hourglass nomineeModPermanent AccountWiki StaffThe Owl Post StaffHourglass winnerChristyCorr

Rating: PG-13. Created: January 10th, 2008. Updated: January 10th, 2008. Read Reviews (9)
Disclaimer: Characters, the magical world, etc, is property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros, not the owner of this fic.

Atonement

 

The circular walls are marked with occasional scratches—desperate attempts by prisoners to delay, if only for a moment, the fate that awaits them in this gloomy fortress. There is blood spattered on the stair steps, ageless grime and occasional spider webs adorning the stones. Torches on the wall flicker, enchanted with Gubraithian Fire; their undying flames create an eerie atmosphere.

Gellert Grindelwald always had a penchant for theatrical settings.

Albus climbs the stairs quickly, trying not to let his thoughts dwell on the nightmare that is the fortress of Nurmengard. For it is precisely that, a nightmare—a castle of horrors filled with the worst torments Grindelwald's warped mind could conceive. Screams from the dungeons still echo in this haunted place, hollow like the foundations of the so-called "better world" Grindelwald tried to build.

It has taken Albus many years to return to this place. Time, of course, is of little or no importance nowadays, not where this place is concerned. Nurmengard has changed little since 1945. He has not visited it since that day, and he does not regret it. After a lengthy duel against Grindelwald, Albus deconstructed the hostile magic that radiated from every stone in Nurmengard, and then turned the fortress against its creator; the dark wizard's torments are enhanced by the hatred exuded by the soil beneath his feet.

Albus was merciful; he locked Grindelwald up in the topmost tower, where the dark creatures that now roam Nurmengard cannot reach him. But Gellert was never afraid of the dark, and Albus knows this. In all likelihood, he does not appreciate this small gesture of kindness.

It has been too long since the two men last spoke, but Albus fancies that Grindelwald has not changed—maybe he remains brilliant and arrogant, that untamable young man who had inebriated Albus with dreams and power. The alternative is harsh, even in the eyes of an ordinarily pragmatic man like Albus: the rumours that he has broken his friend may be true. Age and loneliness may have caused Grindelwald to go insane in his cell, lost in ravings and deliriums of reliving his glory days, but this time with abject horror, finally convinced that he has done evil.

Albus reaches the last flight of spiral staircases. It is too easy to assume that guilt has brought him here, but this is a lie. He regrets, perhaps, that his friendship with Gellert should have ended this way, but he acknowledges that this sad ending was necessary.

The door to Grindelwald's cell is sealed with charms that only Albus—and probably Gellert himself, should he obtain access to a wand—can undo. The cell is bare, but well-lit; Dumbledore saw to this when he first locked Grindelwald up, knowing that the shadows of Nurmengard would haunt him without the assistance of the castle's grim atmosphere. The abrupt change of lighting hurts his eyes, and Albus closes them for a moment.

"You are bored," a rasping voice mutters from a corner. It is unfamiliar, and Albus finds himself wondering once more how much Nurmengard has changed Gellert. He faces the prisoner with a callous sense of curiosity, and examines the face before him with wonder. Nothing in these sallow features reminds him of the Gellert he once knew, or of the dark wizard he battled against a few years ago—thirty? Has it been that long?

"I am not bored, in fact," Albus replies evenly with a kind smile. "Would you rather that this were my reason to visit you?"

"The alternatives are far less interesting." The reply is guarded, and the tone in which it is spoken does not betray desperation or longing for human contact. Gellert has not seen another human being in thirty years, but he does not appear to be glad to have a visitor.

This pleases Albus, for the real reason behind this visit was nothing more than a whim, and maybe a wish for astute dialogue. He suspects that Gellert wastes his days in conversation with memories of his past—perhaps even with Albus himself, on particularly bad days—and this will be no different.

"It has been many years, Gellert. You cannot truly expect to understand my current motives."

Grindelwald's face contorts in a horrible, twisted smile. "You're quite correct. You have been bored all these years, and before that, even; something must have changed." He is pensive. "Have you found a new dark wizard to nurture? Perhaps you have come to say goodbye."

Albus arches an eyebrow. He has forgotten how unnerving it can be to challenge someone who is so like him. "There is a new dark wizard in Britain, yes."

"Did he study with you? Did you train him?" Gellert's nostrils flare in amusement. "You are a very able teacher."

"He is young, and ruthless."

"You are worried."

"Yes."

Gellert stands up with a deep breath. His spine is slightly arched, as though he no longer bothers to walk around his cell. It seems to hurt, and he presses his hand on his lower back. Albus' statement wounds his ego; he thought that there was no pride left to affect, but it is clearly not the case.

"I never worried you." He states the obvious, his mind grasping at straws in an attempt to keep his anger from showing. They both know this, even if the rest of the world deemed their duel to be a confrontation between equals. In fact, their battle consisted of Albus facing his own shadows, facing the fears of his own repressed history; though Gellert had prodigious skill, his sole leverage was the Elder Wand. "I am envious."

Albus closes his eyes. If this were a little easier, he would confide in Gellert and reveal his true concerns. However, it is not, and he is no fool to reveal his vulnerabilities this early in the game.

"You must be glad, then."

Dumbledore does not respond to this. He merely appears amused, as though discussing the inappropriate emotional responses of a complete stranger and not his own.

Gellert waves his hand in a vague gesture of irritation. "We are too old for excuses and pretenses, Albus. Your school bores you."

"That is not true."

"Of course it is! You need the power, you thrive on it—you chose to remain at Hogwarts because it is a powerful place, because there you can experiment undisturbed. And I imagine no one looks over your shoulder now that you have proved your worth by defeating me." He laughs mirthlessly. "You have never fooled me, old friend."

Albus' clear blue eyes gaze into Gellert's with conviction—a picture of open honesty. His voice is calm when he declares, "I am not you."

The statement amuses Grindelwald, who sits before Albus with a lenient smirk, as though willing to indulge him. "You have been trying to convince us both of that fact for many years now."

"You saw in me nothing but a mirror of yourself. That is the only reason you were drawn to me. You tried to make me like you, Gellert, and failed."

The tone of Gellert's voice changes, but it is not yet accusatory. "Why put me here, then? Why not kill me instead?"

"Death," Albus says calmly, "is mercy. You deserve none."

"Nor do I wish to have it."

"I know."

After a moment of silence, the corners of Gellert's mouth twitch. "Stop."

Albus smiles for the first time.

"This is very irritating—you do realise it, yes?"

"I do," Albus admits, bowing his head.

"I seem to have lost my knack for maintaining a conversation with you without letting you manipulate my questions and reactions."

"Well," Albus replies with a broad grin, "you never truly had it, if that comforts you to some extent. Few people do."

"Does this new Dark Lord—?"

"Merlin, no," Dumbledore sighs. "He has no subtlety, and he is far too obsessed with his own potential. He has chosen the Dark merely because it is enticing—he fancies himself the heir of Salazar Slytherin, I suspect."

"Birthright." Gellert rolls his eyes. "Idiot."

"His followers are terrified of him, with no exception, and few are truly loyal to him. He wishes to purge wizarding society of Muggle-borns and blood traitors. Ah, and he calls himself 'Lord Voldemort'—an anagram of his true name, to hide his half-blood origins."

This makes Gellert laugh. "And this... Lord Voldemort actually worries you?"

"He is powerful."

"He is a Flobberworm, Albus. You could defeat him, if you so wished."

"I believe he has made Horcruxes."

Gellert is astounded. "Plural?"

"Yes."

He whistles. "Daring. And, of course, reckless and moronic. I see what you mean."

Albus smiles. "Have you no sympathy? Don't you feel the need to hope he'll win—revenge?"

Gellert raises both eyebrows. "I should hope that the wizard brilliant enough to defeat and imprison me should be sufficiently powerful to defeat anyone."

"Ah. Pride."

"Naturally."

They sit in silence for several minutes.

"Why have you come?"

"I am not bored," Albus repeats.

"Quite on the contrary: I would say you haven't felt this alive—and, dare I say it, entertained—in decades. Are you organising defences and task forces—doing the thing properly this time? I told you back then, Albus, that it is no fun to step in and save the day alone. You need a certain amount of theatre, of emotion and combat... Since you have chosen to toy with the boring side, you may as well liven things up as much as you can."

"I have lost friends in this war, Gellert, people whom I admired and liked."

Gellert shrugs; he is no stranger to loss. "They chose to die for the cause." He pauses, laughs. "For you."

Albus stares at him for some time before admitting, "Yes."

"You allowed them a chance to die nobly, to die in a fight that will make them remembered in the pages of wizarding history. Surely you do not begrudge yourself this."

He frowns. "Sometimes."

"Liar."

"Sometimes I think a curse should rest on me—because I love this war. I know it's smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment—and yet—I can't help it—I enjoy every second of it. Sometimes not even I understand how I can live with myself knowing that I don't regret letting it come to this."

"How long has it been?"

"Eleven years."

"Perhaps you will grow weary of this Voldemort soon. You are more than welcome to use Nurmengard to imprison him, of course—not that I look forward to comparing notes with him or anything."

"You would despise Tom Riddle."

"Probably. But it would fit your ideal of everlasting torment—for both me and him—far better to have us on the verge of murdering each other for decades to come."

Albus chuckles, and Gellert grins.

"Is this why you have come to me, Albus? For atonement? Did you hope that I would comfort you with the idea that you had the best interests of your world in mind? That I would justify your actions and agree with them—just because I am the only one who can? You have no one else."

"You came to me when you obtained the Deathstick."

"Are you looking for a pat on the back? Would you like me to offer you my congratulations and state that you are, at last, being true to your nature and sending pawns forward to wage this war against yourself simply because you prefer to watch from above the board and play both sides? You have found an incompetent adversary, Albus, and you help his endeavours simply because you are bored. I cannot condone this waste of potential, this artificial combat waged for selfish reasons. Allow me the pleasure of denying you this small satisfaction."

Albus says nothing.

"I had a cause. You fabricated yours, and not because you were afraid of doing what was necessary to realise our ideals—I hope you know by now that you are perfectly capable of doing what it takes. It was not the death of your sister that turned you, Albus."

"To some degree, it was."

"You could've come to me once the shock wore off. You could have used your grief."

"I was not blameless in Ariana's death."

Gellert glowered at him in exasperation. "You didn't even like her, Albus. In the weeks that we spent together, you barely acknowledged her presence! You resented her, and you know it. Coward! You were afraid of suffering personal loss, yes, but above all you were afraid that people would find out the truth about you! You don't mind being seen as a lunatic, this I know. Everyone knows you're eccentric, but for the most part they respect you, and they admire you. No one knows what you're capable of—the things you've done, the things we did and could do together."

"I did care about her!"

"Just as you cared for your friends that died in this war? I do not doubt it." Gellert shakes his head. "You think that the fact that you do care redeems you—the fact that you have a higher purpose when you manipulate their lives. You're pathetic, Albus. You cannot be at peace with yourself about the choices you make, and yet... And yet you know that you're better than these people. You know yourself to be superior, and your false modesty convinces everyone to think the same."

Rage flashes in Albus' eyes. His prolonged silence alarms Gellert, who finally realises what inspired this visit.

"I will not indulge you," Gellert announces, the tone of his voice hard and offended. "I will not berate you for the choices you make just because you can't find a way to make yourself feel truly guilty."

Albus nods. He has been expecting this. "I suppose there is no reason for my visit to bother you any longer," he says, and stands up, heading towards the door.

Gellert battles with himself for a moment before recommending, "Kill him, Albus. Voldemort."

Albus does not turn to face him. "I cannot. There is—a prophecy. Voldemort knows about it now, and I need to protect the child who is destined to defeat him."

A prophecy! Gellert can hardly suppress a laugh. "So you have a new project! You've bought yourself twenty years, at least. Interesting."

Dumbledore rests his hand on the door. "I did not plan this."

"Well, of course you didn't, but it's fortunate all the same, and fate seems to have taken matters into its own hands since you refuse to play your part in this. One has to wonder, however, what this child will turn out like with you as a mentor." He chuckled. "You would make a phenomenal dark wizard, Albus. I am impressed."

This reminds Albus of a fact he had intended to share with Gellert. "I have the Cloak of Invisibility, you know. The child's father gave it to me last week."

"It is ironic that you should not have obtained only the Hallow that enticed you the most."

"The irony has not escaped me." Albus turns to him once more. Gellert knows his weak spots—and the conversation no longer consists of the reprimands Albus thought he needed. This is perilous territory.

"Someday, people will find out about you, you know. I don't doubt that you will somehow procure the Stone. It is comforting to see that you have not abandoned your old ambitions."

"It was a moment of weakness."

"No. Strength."

"I will return the Cloak."

"Of course you won't."

"Yes, I will—in fact, I will go to Godric's Hollow tomorrow morning to return it. It is dangerous to keep such an item in my possession."

Gellert ignores this. Albus will do no such thing—he's too far gone now. "Promise me one thing."

"Yes?"

"When you unite the Hallows, come to me. Free me. You know it will have meant that I am right—not that I am not—but I will stand by your side. Promise me this. Swear."

Albus hesitates. He will regret this, but it is a reasonable request. If greed were to get the best of him, and he did indeed choose to unite the Hallows, he would want Gellert by his side. "I swear."

"Albus—"

He feels overwhelmed, and knows that he must leave now. Gellert is still a danger to him, probably more than he ever was. He is not ready to face him like this, vulnerable and with all his weaknesses in plain sight. It is an unequal dialogue, and Gellert has turned the tables.

Without another word, Albus reaches for the door, and opens it.

"Coward," Gellert mutters spitefully.

Albus turns one last time, and waves his wand. Gellert's eyes become glazed over and vacant for a second.

"I was not here today," Albus states. "You will remember this conversation as a mere hallucination. You will never see me again after today. Understand?"

"Yes."

"It is... for the best. Happy Hallowe'en, Gellert."

"Happy Hallowe'en, Albus."

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