A/N: I got caught up in looking for a job – which, let me tell you, is not a walk in the park. Fortunately, it seems like I've landed one. In celebration, let me present an interlude (I know, I know, it's not a 'real' chapter, but at least you know I'm still alive and so is Visionary). All feedback is appreciated. Thanks, guys. Please, keep encouraging me. Ta,
The walls were made of solid stone, apparently. There were no bricks or tiles to count and no interesting cracks in the ceiling to map out. There were seventeen vertical bars between his cell and the corridor – five of those made up the door.
The opposite cell had twenty-one bars, owing to a different floor-plan, caused by the placement of the staircase.
His window was small, barred as well (three vertical, one horizontal bar) and looking south-east over the snow-covered, cloud-obscured summits of Alps.
He had been interred here for sixty-one days, and was presently waiting for his one hundred and eighty-fourth meal. It would be his first, and hopefully only, Yule dinner in this Merlin-forgotten place.
"I tried to call Fawkes. He would not come to me," Albus said to shatter the silence.
"Oh?" Gellert asked, not bothering to disguise his utter disinterest as he perused the front page of a newspaper. "Why, I wonder."
"Mr Potter forbade him."
Gellert did not turn to face him, but Albus detected obvious amusement, quite likely schadenfreude in his tone of voice when he said: "Is your phoenix friend so fickle?"
"Fawkes made a bargain for my life," Albus protested. He knew, with the certainty of a man who had repeatedly put his life and reputation on the line for the good of other people, that Fawkes was firmly loyal to him. He would not suffer an insult to the phoenix. "The price was that he would not help me regain my freedom."
"A fair bargain, I allow. Oh, would you look at that." Gellert folded the newspaper and started reading an article on the second page. "Revolutionising the law enforcement already! A joint effort between well-known personalities of the traditionally opposed camps-"
"It will not work," Albus interjected, resigned rather than cynical. He, too, had once dreamed of a world in which the differences between the Light and the Dark would be wiped away, but such a concept could not stand the test of time. In his more than hundred years, he had only seen the sides uniting once: during the war against the man sitting opposite him and said man's armies. By nineteen fifty, the temporary alliance had fallen apart and the original conflicts returned with heightened aggression.
"It is working now," Gellert replied. "The Riddles are leaders, Albus, the likes of which your country needs desperately at this time. I dare say, were you as young, you may have been there with them." He chuckled. "But you are old, and fossilised, and you represent the system they are taking apart, so here they put you mit meiner Wenigkeit."
"It is perplexing. I would have expected such a move from Tom perhaps fifty, forty years ago, but not today. And Harry… he used to be such a good boy."
"Such a thoughtless, nad've Gryffindor, you mean?" Gellert returned, smirking. "I thought about what you told me, and I believe I understand how your homicidal Dark Lord came into existence."
"The older one – Tom – said that he was old enough to be 'his husband's grandfather', right? Well, there you have all your answers."
"Harry has not aged. He has not remained in the past and waited until it caught up to present… he has returned. Likely already from the forties…"
"Genau. Continue, Albus. You're half-way to the solution."
"They are both immensely powerful. How would their bond have reacted to Harry's return to his time…?"
"And the great Albus Percival Wulfric Brian sees the light." Gellert folded the newspaper and let his hands rest on his knees. There was a hint of genuine mirth in his smile.
Albus looked away from him, focusing his mind on disentangling the conundrum, which would have been rather unnecessarily difficult, were he watching his erstwhile friend at the same time. "It did not snap because Harry was not dead. It must have… merciful Merlin…"
"There you have the reason for Tom Riddle's insanity," Gellert pointed out easily.
"I thought it was the horcruces-"
"Horcruces? As in, multiple of them? I'm impressed." Gellert glanced up and, having spotted Albus' disgusted expression, huffed a chuckle. "Well, if used judiciously, they might have helped him alleviate the strain of the bond, but they certainly had not improved the state of his mind."
Albus clenched his jaw. It had been many decades since he had been capable of freely showing such disregard to human life. "It is the vilest magic in existence-"
"Hardly," Gellert cut him off, dismissively waving with the newspaper. "It is rather unimaginative. But I give you that it is Dark, and the chances of reversal are minimal. The young one must have selected a wedding oath that would help him collect the pieces upon his return to the future… Oh, Albus, my respect for the two is steadily increasing."
"They are terrorists, Gellert," Albus pointed out coldly.
The other warlock laughed. "So was I. So were you, although I have no doubt you will die before you admit to it."
"I did not kill people. I did not seek eradication of a minority I disapproved of. I did not covet dominance-"
"You sent others to do your killing for you," Gellert spoke, amusement replaced with recrimination. "If you imagined it was anything else, then you are either blind, or as naďve as you were a century ago. Your need to control your environment is obsessive. It's something I believe you developed because of me, but I will not apologise for following my convictions and being proud of who I am. That you have never understood. You spent the better part of your life feeling sorry for yourself."
Albus took a deep breath. It did not seem to be helping. He did not wish to, quite desperately, in fact, to ever think again on that halcyon time. If he had ever been happy, it had been the summer of 1898. Nigh on hundred years had passed since then, and Albus still hadn't managed to completely exorcise the memory.
But he could pretend. Oh yes, he could pretend.
"You deceived me."
"Never, Albus." Gellert pulled himself tall and regal in his armchair, as if he were enthroned again and there were no bars separating him from the rest of the world. "I enticed you. Enthralled you. But I have never been anything but honest about my aims. You fancied yourself devoted – until the point when you betrayed me. Betrayed us. And then you became… this."
"I have read all the articles, Albus. All of them. You cite me as your biggest disappointment. Well, guess what? You were mine."