It took him forever to perfect it--but he had nothing but time here, time and the four dank walls of his cell, and the occasional scraps of newspapers his guards threw his way. Some of them did not even read English, so it was surely intended to torment him, those fluttering pages of the Prophet that spoke so highly of the wizard who defeated him.
He wondered what they might have done if they had any idea what he actually used those pages for.
When he was a young man--and ah, he had been so young!--he never stayed still long enough to think. Now he had all of twelve feet to pace, and so he must let his mind do the wandering for him. He was wandless, but they gave him chalk, and sketched out probabilities all over the cold, rough walls. They would not give him research materials--of course they would not--but he did not need them. No one had done this before. No one had been daring enough to try. No one had been bored enough to try.
He experimented. It gave him ten years of ferocious headaches, but finally, finally, he perfected the spell.
After nearly five decades of imprisonment, Gellert Grindelwald was ready to break free. In a sense.
"A most impressive CV," said Albus, lowering the scroll of parchment and crooking that one eyebrow, damn him. "But I'm still not sure what draws you to the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Mr. Lockhart."
"Oh," he said, airily. Gellert had read Lockhart's many endless, pointless, self-puffing interviews, could hardly believe there was nothing better to report upon. If he ruled the world-- But it did help him maintain the mask. "I thought, why shouldn't the youth of Hogwarts benefit from my great experience?"
"And your Gringotts account benefit greatly from it too," said one of the witches on the committee, a severe-looking woman nearly as tall as he was. "I see here you're planning to assign all your books as part of the course."
"At a steep discount," he said. "I'll sign them all for free--and the little tykes can resell them at a profit, if they can bear to part with such precious collectibles and great literature!"
He thought the short one was trying very hard not to laugh at him. He didn't take it personally. Gilderoy Lockhart was a joke, so the laughter meant his impersonation must be up to snuff, as the English said.
"How charitable of you," drawled another committee member, a sour-faced hideous man of indeterminate age.
"Isn't it?" he asked, with a toothy grin. "I am a most benevolent wizard--for example, I am happy to donate samples from my line of hair-care products to you." He turned to Albus again, as the other wizard sputtered. "I understand that Hogwarts does not pay its professors very much, but I am willing to overlook such paltry considerations for this irresistible opportunity."
Albus laid his hands flat on the table and tilted his head to one side. "I have one question," he said, and Gellert had an instant of both panic and arousal at the glint in his blue eyes. "What is the name of your tailor, and is he or she accepting any more clients?"
"That's two questions, Headmaster," said the staid witch with the mousy hair.
"Ah. Thank you, Pomona. Two questions, then."
Gellert twirled his fingers, produced a slip of paper with a name he'd seen in the Prophet on it. "She's very exclusive," he said, and sent it fluttering Albus's way. "But I'll try to work my magic on her."
The hideous one made a sound like he was going to be sick.
Albus just twinkled and said, "Thank you, Professor Lockhart."
"Please," he insisted. "Call me Gilderoy."
That brought out a wariness that only Gellert would have been able to detect. He didn't have much time to think on it, though; he had to get Lockhart's body back home before his control of it collapsed. On the Knight Bus back, he signed a few books and constructed a false memory: that the staff of Hogwarts had begged lauded author Gilderoy Lockhart to teach the Defense Against the Dark Arts course, that they had treated him like a second Merlin.
That had been one of the results of his research, that it was better to possess a narcissist. Most ordinary people would be confronted by one acquaintance or another about their strange absences and behaviors, their lapses in memory. The neurotic and the self-doubters spent enough time examining themselves to notice any change or presence immediately, and cast him out. And there were a handful of those so fragile that their minds were like marbles: apparently impenetrable, but simple to shatter with enough pressure. And useless once they'd been shattered.
But narcissists, particularly those who courted publicity as fervently as Lockhart, were the easiest to posses. Their minds were like Swiss cheese, soft and full of holes. They lacked an objective sense of reality, and were easily placated by any scenario, no matter how implausible, that suggested they were great--no, the greatest. He suspected that even if Lockhart knew the truth, he would somehow convince himself that being possessed by Gellert Grindelwald was a sign of his own greatness--either that Gilderoy Lockhart posed a threat to the most feared Dark Lord in history, or that Gilderoy Lockhart was in possession of powers that Grindelwald wanted for himself, or both. It was very boring, but very useful--not at all as difficult as pretending to be a renown, upright Auror or three.
He opened his eyes and noticed that his dinner gruel had been served and already grown cold.
"O happy day," he said, and picked up a spoon.
The life of Gilderoy Lockhart, ridiculous fraud, was about as boring as Gellert had anticipated. He flitted in and out of the man's consciousness to make sure his plans wouldn't go awry, but it wasn't worth the effort to stay when Lockhart wasn't even at Hogwarts yet. The man didn't have the willpower or the imagination to override Gellert's schemes, and so on the thirty-first of August he found himself in a hired coach filled with trunks containing colorful silk robes and a variety of hair products and endless framed and autographed pictures of Gilderoy Lockhart.
God in heaven, he thought to himself. It should not be a surprised by now, and yet every time he saw that the only books Lockhart owned were the ones he wrote, it depressed him. He would have to stop by the bookstore in Hogsmeade and acquire some theoretical and historical works or he would go mad.
There was a copy of the Prophet, at least, and a few back issues of Witch Weekly. The former was good for gossip, and the latter for a long, long fit of laughter.
The severe-looking witch, Minerva McGonagall, met him at the castle gates. She was not brimming with disapproval so much as spilling over with it.
"Professor Lockhart," she said. It was amazing how much disdain she could put into those two words. How did Albus get all the good minions?
"I thought the headmaster would want to greet me in person," he said, rather more put out than he expected Lockhart would be.
She sniffed. "Professor Dumbledore has a great deal more important matters to attend to."
He cast an eye up towards the castle, pretended to be unaffected. "I understand," he said, with all of Lockhart's twinkle. "Running a school must be nearly as exhausting as battling magical beasts across Europe for the better part of the year--and, of course, he is rather getting on in age!"
Her face went white and her nostrils quivered with fury. Gellert congratulated himself, but then she made him carry all Lockhart's trunks--and there were eight of them--up to the castle himself. Even a fraud should be able to afford an extendable charm, he thought, disgruntled, and didn't care too much when he heard the glass from one of the pictures smash.
His attempts to sit next to Albus were blocked at every meal--first by McGonagall, and then by what he suspected was a half-giant (really, Albus, he wanted to ask, what will you collect next? A werewolf?) and then by the extremely unpleasant, and even more hideous than Gellert had initially thought, Severus Snape.
"Professor Snape seems to have taken an instant disliking to me," he told Albus, when he finally got the chance. "I can't imagine why--although perhaps it is envy. So many wizards allow that to prejudice them, when they see my spectacular career, my winning smile, and my curls."
Albus choked on a laugh and a mouthful of yogurt. "Or perhaps," he said, not seeming as distracted by Lockhart fingering his own golden locks as Gellert would have liked him to be, "he is upset that you forgot your promise."
Gellert stared back at him, lost, and Albus said, "You promised him hair products."
No deeper meaning, no hint that Albus knew who he was and what he was doing. Gellert breathed easier, but the moment of panic was enough to make him glad he did not sit next to Albus much. Besides, when he was not paying attention to Albus, he could pay attention to the food--and what glorious food it was. He had never been one for English fare, but he'd been living on even worse for the last forty-seven years, and in comparison even the most boiled of vegetables was full of flavor.
He took most of the meals and staff meetings and weekends, and let Lockhart handle most of the classes. It was an equitable division of labor, and besides, he knew far too much about the Dark Arts. If he taught as Lockhart, someone would catch on.
His plan was simple, but he could afford to take his time, and besides, he was enjoying himself. After the monotony of Nurmengard, the novelty of Hogwarts, of colors and space and people who didn't spend all their time a mandated twenty cautious feet away from him, were a delight he planned to savor. Besides, his plan would, in the end, rely on him having a body capable of standing and moving for long periods of time, or longer than his current frame could manage, so in the moments when he was not Lockhart and not asleep, he was performing what calisthenics he could, and chasing down (slow) insects for the excitement. He even ate the disgustingly overcooked meat they brought on weekends, although he suspected eating the bugs might be more flavorful and nutritious.
He was making progress--it was glacial, but it was progress--and then, when he finally managed to snag a seat next to Albus at the Halloween feast, when he finally managed to idly touch Albus's left arm, and have Albus not instinctively pull away, the damned cat died, there was blood on the walls, and the whole castle descended into chaos.
November first Gellert had spent so much time in Lockhart's body that he felt hungover. And then he thought: he missed hangovers. He missed being drunk. He ought to go down to one of the pubs in the nearby town, get properly drunk, and leave Lockhart's body to suffer through the hangover the next day.
Then he thought, Albus would appreciate such a scheme. And then he thought, he should tell Albus, and that was a uniquely terrible idea. Perhaps it was because Lockhart had such a bad brain. Perhaps it was because--
Albus. It had been decades, and he had spent most of them angry, but then watching Albus last night, alert and engaged, curious, brought back memories of the boys they were. Made him want to act like the boy he had been. They could have been great together, he thought, not that it was a new thought. They could have been ruling together, Albus straight-backed and spry for a wizard of his age, and Gellert not wrecked by decades in confinement. But that stupid boy had had to interfere, and then Ariana had died.
He came back to his own body, suddenly and without volition. Too much strain, too much emotion. He'd been drooling on his thin blankets. When he pushed himself to a sitting position, his arms hurt nearly as much as they had before he'd started the exercise regime.
Gellert refused to die here, a weak shell of his former self, from, according to a prophecy he'd had, a pitilessly unshakeable cold. He was meant for greater things than to go down at the feet of Albus Dumbledore. He meant to achieve something lasting before he died--something that was not the prison he'd built himself, that he could only temporarily and with great effort escape from.
He didn't particularly enjoy being Gilderoy Lockhart. It could be amusing, sometimes, to parody the man, especially in the knowledge that he was infinitely more clever and powerful, but mostly, after Halloween, and the Chamber, and Albus, it was frustrating. He wanted to be Gellert Grindelwald. He wanted to be a hero instead of a helpless joke.
Gellert grew resentful of Severus Snape over the next few weeks. He had never liked the wizard before--he was pompous and he was tiresome and he was very much in need of a professional shampoo--but it was aggravated by the new crisis. Gellert would have liked to say that it was because Snape used the Chamber situation to wage a petty feud against a twelve-year-old boy, but if he was going to be entirely honest with himself, and he would much rather not, it was because Albus seemed to trust and rely on Snape.
He started the dueling club with the intention of humiliating Snape, and then backed out of it, let Lockhart take over because he didn't trust himself when every part of his body was singing for blood. He stewed when Albus consulted with Snape--when Albus consulted McGonagall too, but, well, Gellert knew what Albus liked, even if Snape was a rather poor specimen of the gender. When he was back in his own body he channeled that rage into exercises, and found himself able to lift himself up by his no longer spindly arms, jog in place on legs that were slowly growing sturdier. He was crushing beetles against the flagstones, and even occasionally catching flies with a leap in the air.
He tried to spend more time with Albus, and mostly he succeeded, but it was down to Albus being distracted by the business of running a school that was under siege from within. Albus considered Lockhart mostly harmless, when he considered him at all, and barely turned his head when Gellert touched his shoulder, or made a point of ruffling Lockhart's wavy golden hair. Honestly. The only thing Lockhart had in his favor were his looks, and they achieved nothing.
He was with Albus, in a fetching lilac and gold robe, his calf pressed firmly against the headmaster's as he faked Lockhart's interest in a Transfiguration Today article that referenced his book, when they brought the news of the second boy to be petrified. And because he was looking into those familiar blue eyes, at the time of the announcement, he saw it.
Albus was always so guarded, but that flash of a thought escaped. Gellert wasn't a natural Legilimens, but he had always had a keen interest in what other people were thinking (mostly of him), and that was crucial to building up the skill. (He wondered if Snape was a Legilimens like himself--the man was certainly nosy enough.) And he was very interested in what Albus was thinking, and, at that moment, Albus was thinking about a boy.
It wasn't like Albus's concern for Harry Potter--the tragic orphan, who of course would tug on Albus's heartstrings--no, this was something entirely different, although there was not enough time and exposure for Gellert to determine how. He only got a sense of heat, and an image.
But what an image it was. The boy was sixteen, maybe seventeen, and he was beautiful. Dark hair, dark eyes, skin like fresh snow. A face and a form that would find love wherever it went, and Albus was thinking of him with some passion, and Gellert was suddenly back at his cell in Nurmengard, his brittle fingernails digging into his palms. He had left Lockhart to surely say something like, "I'm sorry, what were we talking about?" during the discussion of the latest attack, and quite frankly it's more in character than Gellert could have managed now.
It was somehow more of an insult than Snape--because for all that Albus and Snape were close, Gellert knew that if there was anything between them, it would have been consummated, but with such a young student Albus was surely nobly holding himself back and denying what he wanted and generally being insufferably moral. And that was worse, far worse than whatever seedy, unsatisfactory sex Albus might have had with Snape; it was something Albus felt strongly about, as Gellert had witnessed for a second in his mind. He couldn't bear it. He seriously considered murdering the student in question and placing the blame on the monster.
But the student wasn't to be found. He wasn't in Lockhart's classes, which was a surprise, because Albus's type would definitely be studying advanced Defense Against the Dark Arts. (Not that that was what Lockhart was actually teaching, but the students signed up for NEWTs before they knew their professor would be a joke.) And he wasn't in the library, or the trophy hall, and he wasn't--
"Gilderoy," Albus said. His hand was on Lockhart's arm. His hands had lost none of their strength with the years, and Gellert imagined, for a pleasant second or ten, them all over the Elder Wand. "You've been glowering at the Ravenclaw table for the last few minutes. Has one of your students been quibbling with your footnotes?"
"I'm terribly sorry," he said, with a false hearty laugh. "I was miles away!" And the worst part was, he couldn't ask anyone, or he'd be the first suspect when the boy ended up missing or dead. He certainly couldn't ask Albus who that beautiful boy was, and what he was doing in Albus's brain.
"Happens to the best of us," said Albus cheerfully, but Gellert knew him well enough to see he was suspicious. Somehow this meant he did not remove his hand. "Once I turned a fourth year into a parakeet because I was stuck on that morning crossword in the Prophet."
"I was once asked to be the crossword editor for the Prophet," said Gellert. He hated crosswords and all sorts of puzzles, but he had a fairly good sense for Lockhart. "They were amazed at how fast I solved the puzzles and how fiendishly clever my suggested clues were. But I had to turn it down to save the world, one backwater Eastern European village at a time."
Albus nodded, suspicion allayed, and removed his hand, damn it.
He couldn't find the boy at school, so he probably wasn't. A former student, gone on to a glorious Ministry career? A pureblood removed to get away from Albus's pernicious, Muggle-loving influence? A troublemaker of some sort, who went too far and had been expelled? (Albus had been known to have soft spots for expelled schoolboys--stop it, he ordered himself.)
Gellert made a point to listen in on his Slytherin classes. From what he remembered of the Knights of Walpurgis, Slytherins adored malicious gossip, especially when it came to their ideological opponents. But, like the Knights of Walpurgis, his crop of Slytherin students weren't good for much, and the most interesting thing he discovered was that one of the younger brats had been insulting Lockhart almost constantly in his homework.
He was fairly sure Lockhart's method of grading papers was to run a spell to see how many times his name appeared on the parchment, and wouldn't have bothered to check the words surrounding said name. Calling the boy out now might be the wrong move, but perhaps... if he could create goodwill, the boy did seem rather connected, and he might know....
"Master Malfoy," he said, "if you would remain after class to discuss your latest assignment."
The problem was that the student was a Malfoy. Malfoys weren't reliable, and he didn't think that had changed much in the past fifty years. He'd invited them to join his cause and had received an immediate rejection because apparently in his early career, he'd killed some third cousin of theirs, and thus earned the entire ridiculous family's enmity. He couldn't even remember the act, or the man's name. It was an entirely disproportionate grudge, considering the fate of the wizarding world hung in the balance, but that was the sort of people they were.
"Yes?" asked Malfoy, sneering.
"I see that you've been making a few jokes at my expense." Gellert couldn't bring himself to care about Lockhart's ego, but he made a stab at brash, yet vulnerable. "Like here," he said, "where you quote me as saying, 'Don't worry, I'm a worthless wizard,' to the constabulary, or eating the local delicacy of Pus-Stuffed Slobberworm Skins, or feeling at home in the tiny village of Go Away, You Hideous Fraud (And Take Potter with You)." The Potter was what had caught his attention: Albus cared about Potter, and if he could bring some nefarious Slytherin plot about the boy to Albus's attention--
Malfoy was looking at him. He seemed paler than usual but since he was normally nearly white, it was hard to tell. "My father wanted to send me to Durmstrang, Professor, so he made sure I learned German," he said, flatly.
"Commendable," said Gellert. "But I don't see what this has to do with insulting me, unless it's a complaint about the hiring practices and standards at Hogwarts--"
"Ah," said a cheerful voice from the door. "Lucius has made a number of objections to my running of this school." Albus sounded proud of himself, damn him. Like he was so bored that tilting against a Malfoy brat was entertaining.
"Headmaster," said this Malfoy brat, very quickly, and in a German that, while grammatically correct, was almost as atrociously accented as the teenaged Albus's had been, "Professor Lockhart is upset because I made a few jokes in my papers--but he said, sir, in Traveling with Trolls, that he doesn't speak a word of German, so he couldn't possibly have understood."
Ah. Albus's light blue eyes looked over the boy, and Gellert decided to let Lockhart deal with this. The man was good for nothing except, of course, being good for nothing.
After that, he didn't dare take control of Lockhart around Albus. He popped in, peeked out, could feel Albus's gaze on him--and then fled like he was sixteen all over again.
It was immensely frustrating. His plan was utterly ruined, if Albus even suspected--
That stupid Malfoy brat watched him too, when Gellert took over Lockhart during class or meal periods. He made a face at him just once, and Malfoy narrowed his eyes back, and that evening a hand clapped down over his shoulder as he was leaving the Great Hall after dinner.
"Gilderoy," said Albus, with false jollity, "I feel like you have been avoiding me."
He was sure Lockhart has, the old fraud. The increased scrutiny from Albus must make Lockhart think he was on the verge of being found out as a fake--although frankly, Gellert believed Albus already knew, and had always known. "Nonsense," Gellert said, with a gleaming grin. He fluttered his eyelashes as he drew closer to Albus, because any sign of flirtation seemed to chase him off. "I always value your company, Headmaster."
"But value it at what, Gilderoy?" Albus didn't back down. He was suspicious, and whatever he was inclined to do, his concern for the students of the school--or perhaps his own curiosity--drove him on.
Gellert gave him another blinding smile. "I think you'd be surprised," he said, and for a mad moment he considered getting caught. It might be worth it just to get assurance that the dark-haired boy was dead.
Albus tilted his head, and someone fussily cleared his throat from the entry hall.
"Ah, Minister!" Gellert had never met him, suspected Lockhart hadn't either, but he'd read the paper. He rushed forward to pump Fudge's hand. "Come with a quandary for me?"
"Not quite," said Fudge, extricating himself. "Dumbledore, as far as the matter with Hagrid stands--" He looked down at his feet, or, rather, stared at his belly, which was in the way. "--I mean, I can't let such things slide, Dumbledore. The parents--and the governors--there will be hell to pay, if there's another attack, and you see--"
"He wasn't the guilty party before, Cornelius," said Albus grimly, "and he isn't now."
"Well, maybe not, but the appearance of the thing--"
Albus held up a hand. 'The wise aren't fooled by appearances."
Gellert managed, just barely, not to laugh, and when Albus shot a glance at him, said, "They may not be, Headmaster, but we're not talking about the wise. We're talking about the public."
"So little faith in your fans?" Albus turned back to Fudge. "However, as he has confessed to having a monster at the time, there is nothing I can do to protect him. I will take you to him on the condition that the Ministry provides him what comforts it can in Azkaban."
The speech's contents and concern enraged Gellert so much that it flung him out of Lockhart's body again, and when he returned to it he discovered that the Board of Governors had removed Albus from the school during the night.
Gellert's mood was so sour, and his behavior towards the students so awful, that he thought he saw Snape giving him approving looks. When he realized that, he shuddered, and tried to discipline himself. Albus would be back--he was invincible, and he was unstoppable--and the best way to regain his good graces was to look after the students.
It was not so easy as Gellert would have assumed. Oh, the children didn't present any problems, they were all terrified of whatever was stalking their school, but Gellert was quite certain he could take on this heir and his monster, if only the heir weren't so cowardly, if only he showed himself.
But he didn't, and Lockhart was worse than useless when it came to combat, and Gellert had to return to his own body if he didn't want it waste away completely. So there were stretches of time when he had no idea if any of the students were actually in danger, only the gut-churning knowledge that if they were, Lockhart would only make it worse.
Over a few weeks he adapted the spell to let him slumber, as it were, in Lockhart's body, to be awakened when something worthy of his attention happened. It was draining, and it was dangerous. All his attempts to physically strengthen himself would be undone if this went on too long. But if the heir wasn't caught, Albus wouldn't come back, and if more children were harmed, Albus would never forgive--
The girl died. Gellert shuddered to consciousness in Lockhart's body.
Lockhart had been packing his trunks: his rollers, three favorite hairbrushes, best robes, Pudge-B-Gone charmed pants (in teal and lilac) and as many photographs of himself as would fit. Gellert had to fight him for control like never before: Lockhart's narcissism came with a large dose of self-preservation that screamed at him to flee.
You coward, he raged, and that confused Lockhart long enough for Gellert to seize the reins, and that was when Potter, and Potter's friend, whose name he forgot but whose hair he remembered, knocked at Lockhart's office door.
In the back of his mind Lockhart was still gibbering: she was a pureblood! I'm a pureblood! I'm not safe!
HOLD YOUR MOUTH! Gellert roared at him, while Potter accused him of running away.
Lockhart wasn't going quietly. It helped Gellert's impression, because he was certainly nervous and distracted, and even though Lockhart wasn't aware of what Gellert was saying he exposed the secret of the books: the more talented witches and wizards, the memory charms, the utter disregard Lockhart had for morality and truth. He wouldn't really have much of a use for Lockhart's body once the secret got out, but he was so furious he didn't care what happened to Gilderoy Lockhart. Why couldn't Gellert ever have a competent collaborator? Of course, the spell and his imprisonment had limited the selection this time, but it was like that during the war, too. The best wizard he'd ever worked with had forsaken him, defeated him, and here he was, struggling on Albus's behalf.
No. On his own behalf. On his grand plan's behalf. It was simply that he needed Albus to trust him--
The entrance to the Chamber of Secrets was in a girl's bathroom. Potter hissed it open with Parseltongue, and Gellert made a face as he slid down the pipe with the ginger following behind. The tunnel they ended up in was disgusting, he thought. At least his cell in Nurmengard was dry.
He made appropriate noises as Lockhart, wished they were physically separate so he could strangle the man, and then a shape loomed out of the darkness.
Lockhart seized control of his body. And then, if that weren't bad enough, he grabbed the ginger's broken wand.
What are you doing? Gellert screamed. What do you think you're doing?
He could feel Lockhart's magic gathering, and then the idiot said, still holding the broken wand, "Obliviate!"
And Gellert couldn't help it. His mind, his memory, was all he had left. Gellert fled, and woke up halfway across Europe with a blinding headache and a gnawing in his insides and a strangely weighty sense of regret.
He'd exerted himself too much. Even his jailers seemed concerned. They propped him up against the back of his bed, force-fed him broth--good, meaty broth, not thin leavings from vegetable peels and chicken bones.
Early on he'd ascertained that they would not allow him to die. His time here was not to be pleasant, but it was to be long. But these days his guards were young, and had never lived through his reign of terror, and when they looked at him all they saw was an old man who'd been terribly ill.
"You wouldn't wake up," one said, his hand on Gellert's bony shoulder.
"I'm awake now," he said. His head was pounding and his mouth was dry.
They didn't bring wands into his cell. One guard stood outside, at the ready, or at least used to, but they clearly didn't fear he might physically overpower anyone these days. He could barely keep himself seated upright with the wall of his cell to lean against.
"Should we get a Healer?" the guard asked, wiping Gellert's mouth. It was an indignity and yet only the pain and weakness stopped him from following the fingers as the guard drew away. It had been so long since anyone touched him, and even longer since that someone was young and good-looking. He was half-tempted by the offer of a healer, but the healer would only be a fat old wizard with callouses as thick as his accent, and diagnostic spells from the other side of the room, when what Geller wanted was a young redheaded trainee with clever hands and--
He shuddered. "It won't be necessary. It's a consequence of my advanced age, nothing more." And if they were to recognize he'd been doing mind-magic-- "Thank you for the soup, by the way. It's been a long time since I had anything that delicious."
The young man blushed, but it wasn't from the innuendo, it was from shame that they'd been so negligent of an old man's health. Gellert hated thinking of himself as old, hated thinking of himself as weak, but he'd spent part of the year as someone in the prime of his life, and now he didn't even have the strength to dive back into Lockhart's body.
He supposed that if anything truly catastrophic occurred, he'd hear of it in the paper. He let the guard tuck him into bed like an infant, and then sleep took him. He did not dream.
After a few days of soup and bread and suddenly attentive guards, Gellert felt strong enough to once more press across the distance, reaching out for Lockhart's feeble mind in the bruise-colored country of the subconscious.
He opened his eyes in Hogwart's hospital wing. It was dark--well, he thought, calculating the time difference, the sun wouldn't have set yet, but the patients must have been nearing bed time.
Or rather, patient. Lockhart seemed to be the only one.
He saw the matron--whose name he couldn't remember, but it had something to do with morphine, he thought, or perhaps apples--bustling about shutting curtains and readying the ward for the night, and he cleared his throat. "I say."
She was a skinny woman who looked disapprovingly at him. As Gellert was currently Lockhart, he couldn't blame her.
The damage from the misfired memory charm must have been particularly strong if Lockhart was still in the hospital wing. He was physically intact, but-- "I don't suppose you've seen a chap with a beard? Old sort, wearing glasses and green robes?" He paused, for verisimilitude. "Or were they mauve?"
"The headmaster," she said, "has quite enough to do. And he was just here, during visiting hours. He left you that."
Gellert looked to where she was pointing, and there was--he nearly groaned--a folded copy of the Daily Prophet sitting there.
"Oh," she said, "so you do remember you're not in the paper." She swept out.
At least Lockhart's personality hadn't fundamentally changed, Gellert thought, picking up the Prophet. He would have had trouble possessing him if it had.
There were no headlines about dead children, so Gellert supposed that Potter and the ginger had managed things fine without his help. Well, and Albus was back, although Gellert didn't think Albus had bothered waiting for the governors or the Ministry to clear him. He was a far cry from the blushing youth of eighteen Gellert had known.
He wondered what Albus left the paper for, if not to assuage Lockhart's ego. There was an article about an upcoming knitting convention, a review of a play about a cursed mirror, and a political cartoon that made absolutely no sense to him.
And then he saw the crossword. There were only three answers filled in: three down was July, seven across St. Mungo's, two down post meridian, although none of the answers matched its clue.
July third, he thought, at two in the afternoon.
Gellert could make it He hardly had anything better to do.
Later, back in his cell, he realized that Albus knew--something. And he realized that that made him look forward to their meeting all the more.
On July 3, at half past one, Gellert opened Gilderoy Lockhart's eyes.
He was in a hospital ward, which he had been half expecting, from Albus's note, from the sense of Lockhart's mind, and from Lockhart's sheer incompetence.
Thankfully there was no Healer in the room with him. Rooting through Lockhart's memories for a sense of his progress proved futile. Lockhart truly didn't remember anything. He thought he was in here because he'd developed a condition that the St. Mungo's staff find absolutely fascinating. It would be named after him--although some days he couldn't remember what his own name was. There was a stack of photographs by the bedside, and--
Oh, he thought, flipping through them. There were some with smears of ink all over. Lockhart had lost the ability to write.
Gellert shuddered. If he had been in Lockhart's body when the curse hit, what would have happened to him? The infirmity of the past few weeks had been humiliating enough, but the thought of losing his sense of self--of not even being able to write--of complete and total amnesia, of dementia, filled him with a horror that jail itself did not.
To take his mind off of it, he started in on the stack of letters. Lockhart's fan mail, he noted, was a great deal less unhinged than his own fan mail. Yes, most of them wrote in lavender ink and dotted their i's with hearts, but no one had sent Lockhart a severed finger as proof of their devotion, although there was a tuft of armpit hair Spellotaped to one perfumed scroll. Gellert was trying to fathom the motivation behind that when the door opened an an overly cheerful voice said, "Oh, Gilderoy! You're holding it the right way up this time, you clever boy!"
"I am?" Gellert asked, faking vacuousness. He was fairly sure the ability to speak was among what remained of Lockhart's memory. "Of course I am. I'm terribly clever, you know."
"You are, and I do." She lied very pleasantly. Gellert wondered if she'd consider being his minion. "You have a visitor, Gilderoy! It's your old headmaster."
He turned, and saw Albus.
Albus was wearing a robe in deep plum, and he conjured himself up an armchair of the same color. Gellert couldn't help but look at the wand as he did so.
Albus's eyes tracked his. It was as good a giveaway as anything.
"Thank you, Belinda," said Albus quietly. "How should I summon you--or another Healer--if Gilderoy here should need you?"
"The bell." She pointed. Gellert saw it by the bed, an old brass thing, presumably with a Protean charm on it. "But I don't think it will be necessary, he's been no problem at all."
"Yes, he was rather agreeable as a teacher. The students miss him."
It was all Gellert could do not to laugh: the students thought Lockhart was a terrible teacher, but they enjoyed watching him make a fool of himself, and knew he wouldn't be able to tell if they copied one another's homework, and he said as much after the Healer had left the room.
Albus frowned and put the wand away. "Gellert," he said, "why have you done this?"
Gellert was three sentences into an explanation before he realized that Albus had not asked how. That Albus was not marveling at what Gellert had been able to do, what no scholar in mind magic would have believed was possible. "I was bored," he said. Albus of all people had known, must still know, the feeling. "Does it matter?"
"I suppose that altogether depends on how much harm you've done."
Gellert balled Lockhart's moisturized, manicured hands into fists. "Harm? I was trying to save two of those idiot children, and I nearly got my sense of self completely erased, because this idiot's cowardice was stronger than my control! In this body I did nothing but talk!" Albus had raised one of his eyebrows, so Gellert added, "And eat. And sometimes sleep in his luxurious sheets. But I didn't intend to harm anyone."
Albus was now cleaning his glasses on the sleeve of his robe, his eyes averted. He didn't look up for a long time; the lenses must have been spotless long before he put them back on.
"And Gilderoy Lockhart?" he asked, finally. "What harm have you done to him?"
"Who cares," Gellert snarled, and for a second Albus smiled, before he remembered he was supposed to be better than that.
"Is that why you chose Lockhart? Because you didn't think anyone would care?"
"I chose Lockhart because you've always been partial to blond hair and a roguish smile."
Gellert, over the years, had grown used to thinking of Albus as the awkward, auburn-haired boy who'd been madly in love with him. It made it easy to forget the wizard who'd dueled him to defeat, the mythical hero that wizarding Britain made of him in that war, and the one that came after. Gellert saw that man now, in the sudden stoniness of Albus's face, a tense readiness to fight, a certainty that he would win if he did. He had forgotten why he was half-infatuated with Albus back then, too: Albus was the most powerful wizard he'd ever met. He sensed it then, like an overflowing bathtub; he sensed it now, like a thundering waterfall.
"I was trying to make a joke. You English have no sense of humor." He sighed. "There is a certain type of personality that is easy to inhabit, long-term: very dim, and very self-centered. Lockhart is perfect for that--his looks are simply a lagniappe." Gellert stroked Lockhart's hair, remembered the firmness of his skin, the breadth of his shoulders. "I am not as pretty as I once was."
"I remember," said Albus dryly.
Gellert supposed he'd earned that. He'd made a lot of very bad style choices in his thirties, and forties, and fifties. There were things dark magic did to the body, rituals that leeched out one's attractiveness. There were times when he'd looked in the mirror and wondered if the price had been too high--and then he'd stolen the appearance of one of the most attractive senior Aurors in New York, because he could. "And yes, there are quite a lot of stupid, self-regarding people out there whose bodies I could inhabit. But I have to know of them first, and Lockhart was all over the Prophet. So I projected myself into him, for a break from the monotony. It's nothing malignant. He was hardly using his body for anything better."
"That wasn't your decision to make," said Albus.
"I nearly lost my mind because of it," said Gellert. "And I nearly died because I was trying to look out for the students when this imbecile was more concerned about his curls drooping than coming attacks, so spare me your moralizing."
Albus frowned, leaned forward in his chair. "Tell me," he said, and Gellert did.
It wasn't until Albus was leaning back in his chair, hands steepled thoughtfully against his lips, that Gellert remembered his old friend had always been by far the more talented when it came to mind magic.
"A suggestion," said Albus lightly, "not a compulsion. I had the idea from a former student of mine, and it comes in handy."
There was a suspicious brightness behind the glasses that almost looked like tears. Gellert's recriminations shriveled and died, unspoken.
"Thank you for trying to save my students," he said, at last.
"I didn't do it for them."
Albus looked away. "I know."
Albus couldn't visit Lockhart too often, and he left with a promise to send Gellert the dates for another meeting. He still had to deal with the consequences from the basilisk fiasco--some signing off on students who were petrified for most of the year and unable to take exams, some reassuring of parents (of course, the parents were all Muggles, so Gellert didn't know exactly how reassuring they'd find Albus, with his jokes and his turquoise smoking jackets), and some politics about the board of governors--and then he would have school.
"But I should be able to stop by during the Christmas holidays," Albus said. "Keep an eye on the crosswords in the Prophet."
Gellert groaned. "I hate crosswords."
Albus didn't need to say he remembered; his smile said it for him.
Of course, were Gellert to be completely honest, he himself needed time to recover. The guards were much more attentive, after what they considered his near death, but it didn't take long for Gellert to wonder if Albus was in contact with the guards, checking to see if he's falling into trances or behaving oddly. He wouldn't put it past Albus. Gellert had made no promises to not try on another body and another mind, and he had not said that Lockhart's was the only one he could use.
He did use Lockhart, briefly but regularly, to be sure he was still in St. Mungo's, but also as he might exercise his muscles, or take notes on paper. He also stretched his mind out to others he knew of from the Prophet, or his time in Lockhart's body. Skeeter sensed something wrong almost immediately, and the Hogwarts staff were almost all bad fits, personality-wise. Some of the older students had the right personality, but they were all so tiresome, being seventeen and full of hormones, that he fled after a few minutes. He'd had his mind on more important things at that age, he assured himself, but it was so long ago that he couldn't truly say.
He wasn't as careful about hiding it from the guards as he could be. He liked their concern, and wanted to know if they had motivations beyond his health. He thought that if it got back to Albus, Albus might demand another meeting, much sooner, but it didn't, or he didn't, or both. It wasn't until next June that he got another Prophet with a date filled in the crossword. He wondered how Albus managed that from half a continent away, then realized belatedly that Albus had gotten him to check the crosswords all the time. To look at the clues.
They could have taken over the world together, but Gellert was beginning to doubt that he would have ever been in charge.
It was also around the same time that he realized that he'd been mostly bored with projecting his mind over the past year because it wouldn't be like their meeting in St. Mungo's; that it wasn't as much fun if Albus didn't know it was him.
Of course, one of the first thing Albus did--after smoothing his forest-green robes and handing over a box of chocolate frogs and a bouquet of begonias--was to ask, "Have you been possessing other members of the Hogwarts staff?"
"I missed you too," he said with a mock-pout. Lockhart didn't look bad when he was pouting; Gellert once took possession of his body when he was practicing expressions in the mirror for his seventeenth Witch Weekly cover or some such rubbish.
Albus pursed his lips, unamused, but it was the truth. Gellert sighed. "Your staff aren't good fits for possession. Sprout is very self-aware, Flitwick's too cheery, the ghost is already dead." And McGonagall scared him, but he wouldn't admit it, and instead waved a hand dismissively. "The only one self-centered enough is Snape, but then I'd have to be Snape, and if I wanted to brood endlessly over old grudges and never bathe, I can do that in Nurmengard."
"Gellert," Albus chided, a smile lurking in his voice.
"You haven't been inside his head, Albus." Although frankly, one didn't need mind magic to tell Snape was a miserable bastard. "I'm sure it won't surprise you, but the man's a virgin, still hung up on a girl he fell in unrequited love with as a teenager--"
He saw Albus turning pink, and stopped either too late or at just the right time.
"No," he breathed, amazed as Albus avoided his eyes. He was flooded with desire, and something more powerful than that: a sense of finding something he thought he'd lost. Albus was his, he thought, had always been his, had never been touched by anyone else, had never touched anyone else, and all because of him. He was half in Albus's lap before Albus twisted deftly away--Disapparated out from under him, to a post near the door.
"Albus," he whined, and pulled a lock of hair out of his mouth. "You cannot say that, and expect that I will not--"
"You were speaking derisively of it not two minutes ago."
Gellert got to his feet. "Derisively of Snape. It's different when it's you."
Albus raised an eyebrow. He was still rather pink in the face, and Gellert was amazed by it: he had made Albus Dumbledore, most powerful wizard in the United Kingdom, more than a century old, blush like a schoolgirl. "Or perhaps," he murmured, "it's different when it's you."
Gellert couldn't argue with that. He couldn't really think. For all that he'd hated how full of hormones teenagers were, Lockhart's forty-one-year-old body wasn't much better. "She died, the girl."
"But I'm still here."
Albus looked at him then, holding his gaze for an eternity. "You are not here," he said. "Your mind is, yes, but it's bad enough for you to take over another's existence because you're bored; to do--that--with their body is an even greater breach, Gellert."
He was tempted to argue that he was handsomer this way. They both knew he'd lost his looks, between the time that had passed and his dissolute, dissipated life before that. But he also heard that Albus didn't approve of the possession--but was willing to tolerate it because he wished to speak with him. (Was this why he'd only visited twice? Rationing out what he desperately wanted, overcoming his moral objectives.) He was tempted to tell Albus that Albus could have replied to his letters any time. But he wasn't going to squander, to spoil, this opportunity, so he said, "Then come to me in Nurmengard."
He heard Albus's breathing hitch.
"If you don't want Lockhart's body... used like that, come to me in Nurmengard. I'm quite certain they'll let you in." He smiled in what he hoped was an inviting manner, but it was Lockhart's face, so it probably just looked smarmy.
No matter. Albus wasn't here for Lockhart's face.
"Next year," Albus said softly, and turned pink again when he said, "I've a fair amount of research to do, this summer."
"Next year," said Gellert. He wanted to touch Albus very badly right now. He'd never been particularly good at delaying gratification. He stood, and gave Albus a whisper of a kiss.
"Next year," said Albus, a bit more firmly, fixing his glasses and pushing Gellert back so he could escape.
It wasn't until several minutes after he was gone, which Gellert had spent back in his body thinking about what he's going to do to Albus's, that he realized Albus never even bothered to secure his wand.
"You didn't come," said Gellert.
"My apologies," said Albus. He didn't look sorry. Mostly he looked tired. "Other things have come up."
He'd read the Prophet, had heard of how the Triwizard Tournament went disastrously wrong, but then again, a student died in that death trap of a school at least once a decade. Still, he knew better than to remind Albus of that. "I know Diggory's death must have been difficult," he said, patting Albus's knee. Today the robes were a somber midnight blue, but still rather sumptuous, and Gellert liked the feel of them--and Albus's leg--under his hand. "But that's all the more reason for you to take a vacation. Take your mind off things."
Albus didn't look tempted, or consoled; he almost looked like he wasn't even in the room, mentally, which Gellert found incredibly insulting. He squeezed, brought Albus back to him. "I appreciated the chocolates," he said. "But my jailers did think they were rather cruel."
That got a laugh out of Albus. "I'm afraid I couldn't resist."
Gellert himself had laughed. He'd rather have had Albus, but the scandalized looks on his guards' faces when they brought in the box of chocolates, the card that read, Happy anniversary. Love, Albus, had set him to snickering so badly he had trouble breathing afterwards. They'd thought it in poor taste, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the duel like that--taunting an old man who'd been imprisoned half his life--and Gellert had had to refrain from asking if they had seen the sort of things Albus wore. No one who had would expect taste form him.
There'd been a little notation in ancient runes on the card, to mark the date of their next encounter, and that was when Gellert had known Albus wouldn't be coming this summer.
"They were particularly offended you'd signed it 'love,'" said Gellert. "And I must confess I was rather put out as well; you used to sign your letters 'yours.'"
Albus sighed. "I felt 'love' to be more accurate. Did you at least enjoy the chocolates?"
"I did." Gellert looked him straight in the eyes. "I savored each with a memory. Naked."
"Do you remember the time we went swimming?" Gellert did, vividly. They'd stripped down to their smooth young skins, and Gellert had been thinking he might--if all went well, he might--
He hadn't had much reason to masturbate in Nurmengard, but he'd faced the windows, letting the chocolate melt on his tongue. He was old, and it was nowhere near as easy as it once had been, to get hard, to stay hard. The chocolate was finished long before he was. But the poetic license was worth it to see Albus blush again.
"I remember," murmured Albus. "You were scared. You hadn't told me you didn't know how to swim."
"I did know how to swim," Gellert insisted. It was something of a sore point, even now. "I was merely distracted, I--"
He'd been thinking of physically seducing Albus. Twenty years after that summer, he wouldn't have found the idea so daunting, but there, and then, they were naked in a dark pond, with nothing but water between them, and something had brushed against Gellert's foot and he'd lost his equilibrium and Albus, being Albus, had been all too quick to save him, with his front to Gellert's back, an arm around his middle, carrying him a few yards safe to shore.
Gellert had knelt there, coughing up algae, feeling slimy and pathetic and utterly humiliated. The absolute opposite of desirable, really: defeated and a little green.
Concern and laughter had warred on Albus's face, his hair plastered down and dark with water, his eyes somewhat unfocused without his glasses. Gellert couldn't look at that smile, couldn't help but feel mocked, so he looked away--
Directly at Albus's cock. Which was visibly bigger than his, and that seemed the very final indignity. He'd grabbed his clothes and gone back to Aunt Bathilda's in a huff, all plans of seduction forgotten.
"--I was thinking of what might have been, if I hadn't nearly drowned."
And there was a silence to that, and Albus was no longer pink. Gellert realized that of all the things he should have wished had happened differently, that was hardly the most important to Albus. It wasn't the most important to him, either, but in terms of missed opportunities, it was the one he'd intended. Ariana's death had been an accident.
"I think a lot about that summer," he said. And he did. The memories of the war were pure frustration, battles he'd refought again and again in his mind until he was sick of all the ways he could have won and didn't. But that summer: most of it is simplicity. Happiness. Connection. One day when everything went wrong, but even that couldn't taint the power of the times before, not for him.
"I think of it as well," confessed Albus. "And all the things I could have done differently."
Gellert half-smiled. "I'm surprised you don't blame me for it all."
"That would be easier. But it wouldn't be right, in either sense of the word." He looked away from Gellert. "Some years back, I found the Cloak--found isn't the right word, it practically fell into my lap. But because it did, two of my students died."
His voice was heavy with grief. Gellert reached out and took one of his long, thin hands in his own--well, Lockhart's own--and held it, and did not speak.
"It's not only Diggory's death," said Albus, after a while. He still wasn't looking at Gellert. "Voldemort's back."
"I haven't-- ah. That's why there have been veiled insults to you in the Prophet. Not only will they not say his name, they will not acknowledge his existence." Gellert didn't understand why Albus was so worried now, why he had such trouble dealing with that upstart the last time around. Voldemort could hardly be the trouble Gellert had been at the height of his powers. "How aggravating that must be for you." The most politic he'd ever seen Albus was as a lad of eighteen, trying to court him. He'd learned from the war, from the newspapers, that Albus was mostly accustomed to doing what he wanted, when he wanted, and ignoring any opposition. Albus's only compromises on something he'd wanted had been in the service of something he wanted more, and the British Ministry had treated him like a demigod for five decades. "No more dictatorial rule."
Albus sighed. "There are real consequences to their obstinance." He didn't bother to refute the charge of dictatorship; no doubt he considered it benevolent. For the greater good. "And it makes things more difficult. Only--"
Gellert scoffed. "You can't seriously suggest he's anywhere near as powerful as you. Or is it because you taught him?"
"He's taken hostages." He seemed disinclined to say more, and the contemplation of his dilemma drew Albus away from Gellert, weighing the risks, fighting the war in his own mind.
"Well," said Gellert, and took hold of Albus again, "when he is finished, and you need a vacation, you know where to find me."
Albus smiled, but wearily. "Do you know, today is my vacation?"
"Next time make it longer. And bring more chocolate."
And that made him laugh, and Gellert held onto that, having made Albus laugh when he dearly needed it. And he did, after all, have a few chocolates left, and endless time.
By the time he next saw Albus it wasn't quite their anniversary, the Daily Prophet had accepted Voldemort's return, and Albus had injured himself.
"What have you done?" he demanded, grabbing the blackened hand around the wrist, in case the skin was painful.
Albus hissed and Apparated--actually Apparated--two feet away.
"It hurts that much?" Gellert asked.
Albus shut his eyes. "After all this time," he murmured, and Gellert was quite annoyed that the Prophet never mentioned he took a wound--unless it was before that, and then they never mentioned that Albus had dueled with a wounded hand.
"You should have warned me," he said. "It looks like it's dead. Like it can't feel anything. You're at St. Mungo's, consult a damn Healer."
Albus shook out his sleeve so that it covered the hand. "I already had it looked at. There's no cure, I'm afraid."
"You're supposed to live with a maimed hand the rest of your life?"
Albus seemed to find his outrage sad and comical. He supposed he sent worse curses at Albus, once upon a time. But it was different, it was him.
They sat. It was awkward, with Albus's pain between them.
He asked Albus about the war, and Albus told him. Assessed Scrimgeour, wondered if Gellert had any contacts left among the goblins. (After decades it wasn't likely, but the little bastards lived for a long time, and so he gave Albus a few names.) Albus asked about the time and concentration needed to do the long-range possession again, and seemed disappointed, yet resigned, to Gellert's answer.
Albus asked about the tower. Whether Gellert got last Christmas's fruit basket. Gellert had. He didn't disguise the monotony of his days, embellished the attractiveness of his attendants, tried to make Albus laugh.
"I am old," he said, towards the end of the visit. Mindful of Albus's injury he took his left hand. "I would like to see you again. Properly. In person. Promise me that when the war is done, you will."
Albus hesitated. His blue eyes were suddenly bright with tears. Gellert knew it was a dirty and obvious manipulation, but he used his free hand to cup Albus's face. The beard was fine and smooth as silk, the skin soft with age, and warm.
When he finally spoke, his voice was rough with suppressed emotion, a pointless effort considering the few tears tracing down his cheeks. "The war will be difficult," he said. "And it will demand much of me. This may be the last time I see you for a long time."
He closed his eyes, and Gellert couldn't help but feel victorious.
"But after," he said. And then he kissed Gellert, despite all his high and mighty moral objections.
"After," Gellert breathed.
Albus looked back as he left. "Gellert. I truly am sorry."
"For what?" Gellert asked, but Albus was already out the door.